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I don't feel comfortable calling this anything other than a guilty pleasure, but man, A. Merritt was master of his chosen genre, where his chosen genre was, essentially, Indiana Jones-type fantasy-pulp swagger. This one (originally published in 1924), is not, I think, as good as his Seven Footprints to Satan (1927), which was basically the quintessence of whatever one calls that sort of thing, but it was still-- look, I can't use the word good, but can we settle on awesome?

This is the sort of fantasy in which people have thews, and the point of it is to throw one cool and/or pretty thing at you after another. Last-minute daring escapes, magic beyond mortal ken, wars between the gods, sudden dashes into remarkably misunderstood Babylonian mythology, a hero who goes from being an everyman millionaire archaeologist from our world to being basically Conan the Barbarian, occasional sudden Metaphysics! which almost typographically signals when it has stopped being Profound, lots and lots of naked women but no sex beyond Significant Kissing, ladles and ladles of color-words for ridiculously impressive interior decorating... this book has everything. Vikings, I mean. There are even Vikings. Despite this being Babylonian mythology.

The prose is godawful (his later stuff is a tad more polished), the casual racism, sexism, and assumption that Slavery Is Fine Because We Need It To Row The Boat are winceworthy, and David Lindsay these Metaphysics! ain't. But there are levels on which I totally don't care. This book moves, and Merritt has a sense of humor, and this is really the primordial soup for a lot of stuff that came later. Also it remains the sort of book about which people are likely to use words such as 'rollicking' (I can't help myself, I'm sorry), and if you like this sort of thing (which is to say, Robert E. Howard and early Leiber), well, this is not where to start with Merritt but it is thoroughly enjoyable. And awesome in the same sort of way as an earbleeding heavy metal guitar solo, and for some of the same reasons.

(Note: I happened to be around this book because we gave a copy of it to B.'s cat for Christmas. Her name is Ishtar. So far she has not expressed an opinion, but she has sat on it several times, so I assume it has gone over well.)


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March 2017

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