Monday, October 20, 2008

Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp

I have a funny relationship with these two men. Not that I know either of them personally (both have been dead for a number of years anyway) but I have a weird relationship nonetheless.

Today, Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp are mostly known for making a hash out of the Conan stories, revising them (badly) and putting them in print in a badly expurgated form, and maintaining that state of affairs for many years until Del Rey recently stepped in and "saved" us by publishing original versions.

However, both were notable science fiction and fantasy writers in their own regard, although both also wrote a number of really derivative works. Lin Carter in particular aped other writers, especially Edgar Rice Burroughs with his Callisto series (like ERB's Mars books), his Green Star series (sorta like ERB's Venus books), his Zanthadon series (very similar to ERB's Pellucidar books), his Mysteries of Mars series (very similar to Leigh Brackett's Mars books), his Prince Zarkon (very similar to Kenneth Robeson's Doc Savage stories)... well, you get the idea. L. Sprague de Camp wasn't above doing it either with his eight book Planet Krishna series (very similar to Barsoom) and his Pusadian Series (marked similarities to Howards Hyborian Age.)

The difference between them is that Lin Carter was probably a less accomplished writer, yet he made up for it with his unabashed, earnest "fanboyism" of his source material, which made his poorly done copies somewhat endearing rather than annoying. L. Sprague de Camp, on the other hand, didn't really seem to understand what made those original works fun in the first place, and had the off-puttingly elitist attitude of "I'm going to get it right!" by "correcting" what he saw as literary absurdities in Howard's and Burroughs' work. His own, then, had a kind of dry lecturing taste to it, with faint hints of self-congratulation lurking in the corners.

That said, I kinda get the concept of being a fundamentally less talented yet enthusiastic fan of something and attempting to recreate it to some extent in your own image. I tend to think that I'm not exactly innovative and imaginative when it comes to generating ideas, but I do have some modest talent for synthesizing various elements, shamelessly borrowed, and putting them together into an attractive repackaging scheme.

So, in that regard, I find I can summon a fair bit of sympathy for L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. In spite of their rather pointedly second-rate "original" fiction. In spite of what they did to the Conan stories for decades. In fact, I wish I could be as successful as they've been, even if their success has turned out to be ephemeral. I'd take ephemeral success in a heartbeat for my own work, frankly.


Chris Perridas said...

de Camp was certainl;y more accomplished and more well known for his SF. However, I think it's safe to say they were professonal writers who captured the early sword and sorcery movement at its nadir.

Here is a copy of de Camp's letters (to Carter, et. al.) about that era.

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Chris Perridas said...

Not sure that the link worked well.

Joshua said...

Yes, de Camp had some actual accomplishments that weren't merely pastiches; his Shea books in particular were quite successful (and not just commercially) for some time. I do remember a few pretty decent science fiction books of his I read when I was younger that I quite liked as well.

That said, I think his name is not well known today, except as the editor and "posthumous collaborator" of Howard who made the Conan stories greatly inferior to their original vision.

The Evil DM said...

Well opinions vary on these guys, but all I can say is that if it wasn't for them and the conan books from the 70's It might have been years until I tracked down Conan on my own. I have nothing but great memories of those books, nostalgia I guess. I'm still a sucker for a good Frazetta cover.

Chris Perridas said...

Yeah, I first met Conan in college with Lancer paperbacks (I think 1974).