Saturday, March 11, 2017
recent re-read; Prince Raynor
In the 1930s, pulp writer extraordinaire, Henry Kuttner, tried his hand at sword-&-sorcery. Elak (of Atlantis) is the better known series but Kuttner also contributed to the genre with a different set of tales, featuring a character named Prince Raynor.
Raynor only lasted two stories, each appearing in STRANGE STORIES - another pulp that tried to go to the mat with WEIRD TALES. Lasting thirteen issues, STRANGE STORIES lasted slightly longer than STRANGE TALES, which only managed seven issues.
"Cursed Be The City" appeared in the April 1939 issue. The city of Sardopolis is under siege. A prophet within the city declares the city's doom. But he also declares the conquering King Cyaxares shall also be cursed. The doom that once dwelt in Sardopolis shall return.
Cyaxares conquers, kills the king, and places the king's son, Raynor in the torture chambers. Raynor escapes with the aid of his faithful Nubian servant, Eblik. They save a dying priest, and Raynor's path is set. He must free the great god Pan, whose altar once stood in the wild place that became Sardopolis.
I won't give away any more.
"The Citadel of Darkness" appeared in the August 1939 issue. In aftermath of Sardopolis's doom, Raynor, Eblik, and their female companion, Delphia, are wanderers. Grouping together some of the city survivors, they are beset by brigands and Delphia is kidnapped. A wizard named Ghiar aids Raynor, but pulls a sorcerous double-cross. Raynor finds himself in a battle with the brigands and the wizard and mighty powers of darkness beyond the ken of men.
The Raynor tales are darker than Kuttner's Elak of Atlantis stories. There is a feeling of direness and darkness akin to Robert E. Howard. While Kuttner was no stranger to employing the Cthulhu Mythos in his stories - indeed, one of the Elak stories is titled "Spawn of Dagon" - the crushing inhumanity of cosmic forces are conveyed more effectively in the timbre of the Raynor stories.
In "Cursed be the City," Raynor's willingness to unleash preternatural powers in his vengeance bring to mind Bran Mak Morn and "Worms of the Earth." Karl Edward Wagner pointed out there is a tragic/dark feel like Moorcock's Elric. Raynor is the last royal remnant of a destroyed empire, after all.
Reading the two stories in succession does highlight a formula. Both end with the hero employing a talisman to bring about the destruction of his foes. Kuttner sets the stage so that the resolution does not smack too heavily of Deus Ex Machina. Reading the two stories back-to-back, the technique feels a little heavier handed than it probably is.
As others do, I wish Kuttner had cranked out a few more Raynor adventures. It would have been interesting to see where he went. I wonder if he would have continued to formula or changed some plotting to be different, or it if would have been enough to crank them out easier with a set format and get his pay.
I first encountered Raynor in the excellent, three volume series ECHOES OF VALOR. Published by TOR, Karl Edward Wagner presented various selections from classic pulps, and Wagner knew his stuff.
The two Raynor stories were also tagged onto the end of Paizo's ELAK OF ATLANTIS book as part of their PLANET STORIES line.
Both print books are, unfortunately, out of print.
Griasol produced some STRANGE STORIES replicas but it doesn't appear that they replicated the issues featuring Raynor.
Luckily for us, the two stories have been collected for ebook (at least, for Kindle.)
If you are a sword-&-sorcery fan and have not read Prince Raynor, I encourage you to do so.