Echoes of Valor (1987) – Part 4: Wet Magic by Henry Kuttner

Karl Edward Wagner rounds out his collection Echoes of Valor with a modern Arthuriana story ‘Wet Magic’ by Henry Kuttner (1915-1958). This story was originally published in Unknown Worlds, February 1943. To date, Echoes of Valor is the only other place this story has seen print since. There has been a recent resurgence of re-prints of Kuttner’s work —Paizo’s Planet Stories collections and the F. Paul Wilson and Neil Gaiman backed Hogben collection from Borderlands Press—but even those are a few years in the past. I think Wagner’s inclusion of this story really has saved it from obscurity.

I’ve never knowingly read a story by Kuttner before however, that doesn’t mean I’ve never read a Kuttner story. Wikipedia lists seventeen names that he published under in addition to his own. He was also known for co-writing with his wife C. L. Moore —creator of Jirel of Jorey and Northwest Smith—so seamlessly neither could remember who wrote what. Wagner says “…Kuttner’s extensive use of pseudonyms would seem to indicate an author of multiple personalities, and to one extent this holds true: Henry Kuttner was an extremely versatile writer.” Wagner goes on to explain that Kuttner was a master of adapting his style to match the masters of whatever genre he was writing in. He quotes Robert Bloch as saying “Hank never became a superstar, because he was so versatile. He never became known for one style, one theme, one famous story.”

I think his most famous story now is ‘Mimsy Were the Borogoves’ which was adapted to film under the title The Last Mimsy in 2007. I’m certainly intrigued by his span of work, I feel like Kuttner is the type of writer where I’ll have to read a large body of work to get a sense of his style. I’m looking forward to the Kuttner stories that are included in Echoes of Valor III.

The story ‘Wet Magic’ stands out as being quite different from the first two stories in the collection in that it takes place in modern times, that being 1943 when it was written. An ex-Hollywood star turned pilot is shot down by a pair of German Stukas over Wales and parachutes to safety through the heavy mist. Through a series of comedic misunderstandings and intrigues, including a tree that kicks and an invisible maiden, the pilot Arthur Woodley finds himself trapped in the underwater lake kingdom of Morgan le Fay. He encounters several characters from Arthurian legend who either help or hinder his escape and eventually he has a final confrontation with Morgan.

Of the three stories in this collection ‘Wet Magic’ stuck with me the most after I finished. It has definitely been the story I’ve put the most brain power into turning over in my head. I was caught off guard by the slow tonal shift it carried from a goofy fairy-tale into a more serious fantasy. There was a gossipy bride to be and a drunken hiccupping wizard that had me wishing for flashing swords and mighty thews. The story reeled me in when it began to discuss the return of King Arthur at England’s time of greatest need. What better time than World War II? It also brings in the idea of myth changing as time progresses and that in turn changes reality. Arthur Woodley denies the call to action and the boon of Excalibur because ultimately he doesn’t feel worthy. Eventually, his plans go to hell and he has to confront Morgan anyway but now, without the help of Excalibur. The ending was a complex examination of failure and how to continue to move forward with heart.

I enjoyed all three stories in Echoes of Valor, I think it’s a pretty good anthology. It’s different from other anthologies I’ve read in that it contains just three stories. This gives each story a bit more heavy lifting to do. You can’t skip ahead to the next story without skipping 1/3 of the book. As I’ve said earlier in this series it’s fairly apparent Wagner’s goal with the collection was to save lost stories. Do I think Wagner was successful? Ultimately, yes. Adept’s Gambit perhaps didn’t need the assist, but the other two did and as a collection it was enjoyable.

Echoes of Valor (1987) – Part 3: Adept’s Gambit by Fritz Leiber

Wagner’s second selection for Echoes of Valor is a sword and sorcery tale from Fritz Leiber (1910-1992), the first written, but not published, Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story “Adept’s Gambit.”

Art by Ronald Clyne

Before the Fafhrd and Mouser stories were published, starting in the August 1939 issue of Uncanny, Leiber had been sending these stories around to his circle of friends. One of those friends happened to be H. P. Lovecraft who Wagner quotes as saying “Someday I hope the Fafhrd cycle will get into print, leading off with Adept’s Gambit.”

However, “Adept’s Gambit” wasn’t the first to be published. It eventually saw the light of day in an Arkham House collection of short stories by Leiber titled Night’s Black Agents —published in 1947. Wagner explains that this book became rare and the story wasn’t widely available to readers until 1969 when it was collected in the narratively chronologically ordered Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories– Volume 3 Swords in the Mist. Leiber, in order to have his cycle of stories fit together seamlessly, did some re-writes. Being an earlier story, “Adept’s Gambit” is set in our historical world rather than the world of Nehwon that Leiber would ultimately create.

Art by Jeff Jones

In Swords in the Mist Leiber adds a connecting story “The Wrong Branch.” In that story, the Gray Mouser takes a left instead of a right down one of the tunnels of the multi-dimensional lair of Ninegauble (their multi-eyed patron). Taking this ‘wrong branch’ leads the duo to our world, the magic alters their speech and memories so it’s as if they have always lived here.  At the end of “Adept’s Gambit” in the new version included in Swords in the Mist, the worlds blend and our world slips away like a dream leaving them back in Nehwon. The version that Wagner included in Echoes of Valor is the 1947 definitive text unearthed for our reading pleasure.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser get caught up in a power struggle between a woman, her brother (a magical adept), and his master. The whole reason the duo gets involved is that whenever Fafhrd and the Mouser kiss a woman she turns into a hog or a snail respectively. They set out on a quest to quell this ailment and realize they are being treated like pawns in a game.

This story is not one of the strongest Fafrhd and Gray Mouser stories, probably due to the fact that it was one of the first written. The banter between the duo is always fun and probably my favorite part of Leiber’s swordsmen. With a dictionary in hand, I was able to greatly enjoy those sections of the story. Leiber has wonderful swordplay in his later stories however in this particular one I was confused what was happening at certain moments. I’ve seen this story get criticism, for the story the woman reveals about her past and how this slows down the action and is not needed. I enjoyed getting to hear her story, but I will agree with those critics that it was a big tonal shift. What I especially enjoyed about that section was the breaks in her story for Leiber to describe what the travelers were currently doing. It was an interesting experiment in telling two progressing stories, past and present, in a parallel way.

Leafing through the two editions-1947 and 1969-I couldn’t spot many differences. It’s nice to have the clean definitive text easily readable again, but definitely not crucial. Looking at the first two stories in Echoes of Valor, I can detect a motivating force for Wagner being the preservation and rediscovery of fading or lost classics. Not only do I admire this, but it motivates me to keep Wagner’s own stories from fading away or being lost.

The Castle on the Heath: Gothic Style in Wagner’s Bran Mak Morn-Guest Blog at Mighty Thor Jrs!

Art by Jeff Jones


I had the opportunity to post a guest blog over at James R. Schmidt’s Mighty Thor Jrs. It’s all about Wagner’s take on Bran Mak Morn. Check it out below!

Echoes of Valor (1987) – Part 2: The Black Stranger (review)

As mentioned in my previous post about “The Black Stranger”, Echoes of Valor was the first time this story was published in its original form. I must have read this story at least twice out of my trusty copy of Del Rey’s The Conquering Sword of Conan but for some reason, I couldn’t remember which story this was. I figured that was because it must have been inferior in some way, boy was I wrong. This story was a great adventuresome piece.

The story takes place mainly in and around a fort sandwiched between the pirate-infested coast on one side and an ominous Pict infested dark forest on the other. The self-exiled Zingaran Count Velenso is beset by the Barachan pirate Strom who recently entered the bay in his famous pirate ship The Red Hand. The Count is saved at the last minute by a mysterious Zingaran Buccaneer named Zarono. Both Strom and Zarono imply they know the real reason Count Velenso is there, it is to find some sort of treasure hidden in the surrounding woods.

After a series of events involving a storm and a supernatural prowler, the three men decide to all make an uneasy alliance to find this treasure, the treasure of Tranicos. At this point, Conan arrives and becomes the fourth partner in the group. Through a series of double-crossings as well as sabotage by a mysterious person from Count Velenso’s past, the plans for retrieving the treasure all come crashing down in spectacular action.

One of the things I liked about this story is something I think of as very Howardian. When writing stories, in this case a Conan story, Howard will sometimes leave the titular character out until the end when they swoop in to either push the story forward into the final act or save the day. Howard uses this technique sparingly, and though other writers use it, reading his stories was the first time I noticed it. In this particular story, we get a taste of the Cimmerian in the opening and then don’t see him again until page 66! Howard leaves Conan in a cliffhanger the last time we see him and when he appears safe and in mysterious garb it gives me the sense, as a reader, that there are multiple things afoot going on behind the scenes of what I’m reading. It gives the story a multi-faceted feel. I think Wagner used the technique himself multiple times with his Kane novels. I’m thinking of the absence of Kane in the middle of The Dark Crusade in particular. In both Wagner and Howard’s writing, it opened up the narrative to other points of view.

I enjoy mighty thews as much as the next guy, but I absolutely love to read Conan when he’s being clever. Reading this story you can tell it’s later in the Cimmerians career and he’s at the top of his game. We get to see not just his fighting prowess, but also his tracking, planning, and quick decision making. Watching him outsmart the three men in “Chapter 5: A Man From the Wilderness” was incredibly pleasing.

The adventure aspect of this story is also top notch. I am a sucker for siege combat in literature and this story has not one but two separate siege scenes. We also get some close quarters scuffling inside the treasure cave as well as infiltration and sneaking in the woods. The story also features some supernatural combat which again displays Conan’s intelligence and experience.

In addition to bringing this work to light, I think there are several gothic elements to this story that may have attracted Wagner to it. We have the menaced women in Belesa and Tina (the niece and servant of the Count), wild foreboding nature as seen in the storm and the woods, the beachside fort made of shipwrecked wood, and the supernatural Black Stranger who is connected with the Count’s past. I can definitely see why this story appealed to Wagner.

I have to mention there is one moment that has not aged well. Conan’s motivation for not abandoning his fellow treasure hunters to the Picts, after the deal has already gone south, is because they share the same color skin. The intention, I believe, was not to let them be ruthlessly slaughtered by the Picts. I still enjoyed the story but this moment brought me out for a bit.

I’m shocked I didn’t remember ever reading this story before. I absolutely loved it. It shows a move on Howard’s part to keep expanding the world of Conan. I’m glad Wagner included this as the first story in his collection. It was a great way to get things started. In one week I’ll be covering the next story in Echoes of Valor, the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser yarn, “Adept’s Gambit”.



Echoes of Valor (1987) – Part 1: The Black Stranger by Robert E. Howard

In anticipation of our upcoming Season of Kane, I thought I’d get the fantasy pipe primed by taking a look at the first book in the Echoes of Valor series. Echoes of Valor was a classic fantasy series edited by Karl Edward Wagner. Published by Tor, only three volumes were ever released, they were published in ’87, ’89, and ’91.

Today I’m looking at the first story in the first collection “The Black Stranger by Robert E. Howard. “The Black Stranger has a very interesting genesis, it was re-written multiple times by several editors and even Howard himself, it wasn’t published in its original form until Wagner’s Echoes of Valor.

FantasyFiction-1953-03 Hannes Bok
Fantasy Magazine, March 1953 art by Hannes Bok

As Wagner stated in his introduction, Farnsworth Wright rejected the story for Weird Tales. Howard revised it as a pirate tale “Sword of the Red Brotherhood”, replacing Conan with Terence “Black” Vulmea, a 17th-century Irish peasant turned pirate. Unfortunately, this piece also never sold. Years later, after re-writes from L. Sprague de Camp and an added four opening paragraphs from Lester del Rey the story finally saw print in Fantasy Magazines, March 1953 issue. The title had been changed again, this time to “The Treasure of Tranicos”.

It was published several more times and culminated in a self-titled publication from Ace Books in 1980. The book included “Treasure” as well as several essays about the story and Howard himself. One essay was a reprint of a 1967 article from Amra Volume 2 Number 45 called “The Trail of Tranicos written by de Camp. In it, he states “There is reason to believe that the pirate version came before the Conan one.” However, Wagner in his 1987 introduction to the story seems to put the question to rest saying “I have the photocopy of Howard’s original manuscript of “The Black Stranger,” which clearly shows Howard’s efforts to change the story from the Conan to the Black Vulmea version.” In the introduction to the Red Nails collection of Conan stories Wagner compiled in 1977, he addresses Howard’s revision of “The Black Stranger” saying “A professional writer accumulates a stack of unsold manuscripts. The ability to revise and “salvage” an unremarkable story is a measure of his command of fiction and awareness of his own writing flaws.”

Amra volume 2 number 45 art by Alex B. Eisenstein

Karl Edward Wagner must have loved being able to include this story “The Black Stranger” in its original version. I imagine on a professional level it must have felt like a huge victory to be launching his new series of uncovered classics with a story he had been trying to publish since at least 1977. In the afterward of Red Nails Wagner mentions “The Black Stranger” again. “We have Howard’s original manuscripts for this and the other three Conan tales that were discovered after his death, and it is hoped that we will be able to present the stories as Howard wrote them once present contractual matters are resolved.” Those italics are all Wagner’s by the way. He finally got his wish 10 years later in his publication of Echoes of Valor.




Episode 9 ‘Where the Summer Ends’-A Thousand Stealthy Assassins w/ guests Michael Bukowski and Tim Mucci

Where the Summer Ends

Originally Published: Dark Forces, August 1980, edited by Kirby McCauley

Drink Pairing: Monkey Shoulder Batch 27 and Stewart’s Root Beer

I was honored having two amazing guests this week. Tim Mucci, who was in Episode 7 discussing River of Night’s Dreaming, and Michael Bukowski, artist of Yog-Blogsoth fame and Seventh Church Ministries, really added a lot to the discussion. Check out Mike’s version of the Kudzu Devil here. If you haven’t seen his work before you are in for a real treat, as mentioned in the episode he is nearing completion on his project started years ago to draw every creature mentioned in the works of H. P. Lovecraft. In addition to that project, his work often pops up on album covers and books. Now on to the hot links!

Pseudopod Episode 560-Where the Summer Ends here

George R. R. Martin not a blog post about Kirby McCauley here

Kudzu pics here

The Last Wolf-Karl Edward Wagner Documentary here

Kudzu Monkeys are real!

Bonus Episode #5: Author Interview with Victoria Dalpe

Victoria Dalpe stuck around after recording and we got a chance to talk about her recently published modern-gothic vampire novel Parasite Life published by ChiZine. Pick it up here. It’s a perfect stocking stuffer or present for that horror-loving friend. For those of you in the Providence, Rhode Island area check out her book launch this Sunday, December 17th 4pm at the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council.

Next Week: We cover Wagner’s tale, Where the Summer Ends. To close the season out we’ll have two guests!