Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cimmerian sighting: The Tritonian Ring

Even the Gods so glorious must march at the last, down the dim dusty road to death the destroyer.

—L. Sprague de Camp,
The Tritonian Ring

I hesitate to mention the name L. Sprague de Camp ‘round these parts, given the resentment held against him for his character-sullying, inaccurate portrayals of Robert E. Howard in his REH biography Dark Valley Destiny and elsewhere. But if you can look beyond his REH sins (and that’s a big if), de Camp the fiction author has a few gems to offer fans of sword-and-sorcery.

One of de Camp’s more highly-regarded S&S stories is the short novel The Tritonian Ring. Though an imperfect work and not in the same class as Howard’s best, upon recent re-read I found that The Tritonian Ring remains a cracking good read and worth picking up, if you can still find it these days. It’s pure story and possessed of a reckless momentum that lovers of S&S will appreciate.

Though de Camp greatly admired Howard’s writings and Conan in particular, latching on to Howard’s tales and reissuing edited stories and pastiches of the Cimmerian with fellow writer and S&S aficionado Lin Carter, The Tritonian Ring is a deliberate attempt by de Camp’s to break from The Hyborian Age and its larger-than-life heroes. According to this Wikipedia article, de Camp intended Poseidonis to be “The Hyborian Age done right” (i.e., a pre-cataclysmic age of earth that may have logically occurred, based on de Camp’s conception of the science of geology). It’s also an overbold claim sure to irk Howard fans.

It’s unfortunate de Camp again steps in it (and on Howard) with his attempted Howard one-upmanship, as the setting of The Tritonian Ring is among its charms, and differs in a few significant ways from The Hyborian Age—but “done right” is another matter altogether. Despite de Camp’s best efforts and ambitions, the world of The Tritonian Ring is in no ways a superior imaginative work than The Hyborian Age, and as a work of art, it pales next to tales like “Beyond the Black River” and “Red Nails.”

To read the rest of this post, visit The Cimmerian Web site


Atom Kid said...

The only Conan books that were available when I was a kid were the L. Sprague De Camp, Lin Carter and Karl Edward Wagner edited editions. I still have an affection for their work and feel they got a bit of a bum rap.

Maybe they fudged a little with the Conan stories, but without them, we wouldn't know who Robert E. Howard is.

I was able to pick up a signed copy of Dark Valley Destiny back when I worked at a used book store, (Actually the seller was sci-fi author Joan Vinge) but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. One of these days I'll get around to it.

K. Forest said...

Yeah, like Atom I came upon Conan via my gramp's collection of Ace paperbacks. Even back then it wasn't difficult to perceive the difference between the writing quality of, say, "The Tower of the Elephant" and "The Return of Conan" (pew). I still have all the old Ace editions because (a) they have a pretty heavy sentimental value and (b) I'm a Frazetta nut.

As for Old Sproggy, I actively keep the Man Himself separate the Man's Work. And his work his a lot to offer. Comparing the Pusadian stories to Howard's Conan stuff is like apples and oranges. The approaches and aims of the authors (aside from the desire to entertain, obviously) are totally foreign to each other. To put it another way, we could cast aspersions on Fritz Leiber for not making his stuff more Howardian. And as much as I love Conan, he really has no business in Lankhmar. So while de Camp stupidly invites the comparison, it's better if you try to forget about the Howard connection altogether and just enjoy LSdC's weird sense of humor and idiosyncratic style. If anything, a work like The Tritonian Ring should redeem him in the eyes of S&S fans.

A little anyway.

Brian Murphy said...

Thanks for the comments guys. I continue to enjoy and to read de Camp regardless of his non-fiction missteps.

K. Forest puts his finger right on the issue--de Camp foolishly invites these comparisons by drawing attention to other author's perceived faults, and then showing his readers "how it's done." If the guy simply wrote and left well enough alone, his reputation would be much better off. And he did write some good material.

Atom: I too have all the Lancers (save Conan of the Isles) and will never part with them. The Lancers were my first exposure to REH after the comic books and helped start me down a path of lifelong reading. De Camp and Carter's passion for swords and sorcery was undeniable and contagious, even if some of their publishing and editing decisions were wrong.