Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Thongor Against the Gods by Lin Carter

Howdy Friends and Neighbors!  

I got news!  Been busy lately, expanding the availability of my stories.  As I'm sure you know, I already had stories available on Amazon, and also on DriveThru Fiction.  Now, I'm also at Barnes & Noble!  See the links on the top right-hand side to visit any of my stores!

I've really no idea to what to write about this time, so I decided to cheat!  I'm recycling an old article that I wrote a few years back for my "Odd Reviews by Oddcube", a feature of he former Abandoned Towers ezine.  It's about the science fantasy adventure story "Thongor Against the Gods".  I've only slightly re-purposed it for here.

Be warned, There Are Spoilers!  Let's begin:

So anyway, the book is called “Thongor Against the Gods”, and it’s written by Lin Carter, I found it some months ago when I took my Poor Old Mother ™ to one of the local used book stores.  The cover says it is “A classic of science and sorcery by the master of fantasy” and I just had to chuckle because apparently whoever wrote that doesn’t peruse the same internet sites that I do.  Cruising around certain online forums that shall remain nameless, I get the definite impression that Lin Carter is considered a great fan and a wonderful editor who used the extent of his power and influence to promote science fiction and fantasy literature to the very utmost best of his ability.  But as a writer, he seems to get shrugged off as a kind of hack.

Now in the undeniable words of Chico Marx (hey, I only quote from the best) from the movie “Duck Soup”:  “Atsa not my idea, atsa his idea.”  Actually, after minimal online research, I think that if nothing else, Lin Carter knew what he liked…and tried to emulate it.  He wrote a whole bunch of books that were homage’s to various classic authors.  He basically wrote “His Version Of…” whatever he liked.  He’s got a series that’s His Version Of John Carter of Mars, and another series that is His Version Of Doc Savage, and another series that is His Version Of Conan.  The man was apparently a master of “the same thing, only different”.  You know, like in that episode of “Futurama” when they make fun of “The Wizard of Oz” and the not-Munchkins sing “We resemble, but are legally distinct from, the Lollipop Guild”.

Anyway, as I was saying, I found the book at a used book store.  I read the title, I read the blurb, I looked at the cover by Kevin Johnson (of a warrior with sword and shield looking down at the burning skeletal remains of an enemy warrior, all beneath a gigantic sliver of yellow moon) and knew that it was my kind of cheese!  There were actually two books there, “Thongor Against the Gods” and “Thongor At the End of Time”.  Well, they turn out to be books three and five (respectively) of a six-book series.  Ain’t that always the way?

First off, I want to make it clear that this was (more-or-less) a stand-alone story.  I think this is a series because they are all about Thongor, not because it’s seriously an ongoing storyline.  On the other hand, I think there were some characters and references to events from the two earlier books.  So I don’t know if it would have been helpful to read them first or not.  I had no problem following the story without them.

The story begins in a shadowy, subterranean meeting-chamber beneath the city of Tsargol, where four or five bad-guys sit around whining about what a pain in the buttocks Thongor is.  Apparently Thongor started out as a barbarian wanderer in the northern part of Lemuria, but by the beginning of this book he is the king of the city-state of Patanga, and allied with two other city-states.  One of these bad guys, Hajash Tor, general of the armies of Tsargol, has a plan…

So they send Zandar Zan, the Thief of Tsargol into the city-state of Patanga to kidnap Thongor’s wife, Sumia, and his newborn son…whose name I can’t remember and am too lazy to look up.  (He was supposed to get kidnapped, but didn’t, then you, like never hear about him again.)  Zandar Zan sneaks into the royal bedchambers and grabs Sumia, who calls out in surprise, of course, and alerts Thongor who just HAPPENED to be on his way to her anyhow.  Thongor busts in and chases the kidnapper to the roof of the building, where Zandar Zan swipes an airship and runs for it. 

Yes, I said “air ship”.  There’s a little bit of Burroughs mixed in with the Howardian influence.  The air ships are made from a manufactured magical metal called urlium, which floats instead of falls.

Anyway, Thongor hustles to the next convenient air ship and proceeds to give chase.  Meanwhile, Thongor’s friends, allies, and advisors say “What happened?” and quickly figure out that Sumia is kidnapped and Thongor is in hot pursuit.  But, what if this was a coy ploy designed to get us all in hot pursuit so some bad-guy could march into town with his army and take over?  Only one thing to do:  go visit the ancient and wise Sharajsha, the Wizard of Lemuria, and ask him for some advice.  No lie!  The King and Queen of the free world are lured or taken directly into untold danger, including a possible ambush, but we can’t do anything about it until we have a committee!  So this prince from another city-state, a guy named Karm Karvus, goes to see the wizard.

Meanwhile, Sumia, the kidnapped queen, gets bored and tries to save herself.  She KO’s her kidnapper—while her hands are still bound!—and then tries to get herself untied.  Zandar Zan quickly wakes up, but has no idea how long he was unconscious.  Their air ship flies into a cloud bank and crashes into a mountain.  Basically, Their Airship Sank!

Thongor, who was, as you remember, in hot pursuit, sees one person jump from the air ship before it crashed, but could not make out if it was male or female.  The front of the ship bursts open at the seams, and the metal spreads out like flower petals (just like in the cartoons!) and gets caught on the mountain.  So, of course Thongor just HAS to board the wreck and see if his chick is there.  So he anchors his air ship on a rocky outcropping, and walks across the top of the ruined airship.  The only way he can find to get inside is by stepping onto a three-inch-wide ledge and climbing in through the big gaping hole in the front of the ship.

Except that when he steps onto the three-inch ledge, he shifts the weight of the ship and it floats away.  Oh snap!

So it turns out that the one who jumped was Sumia, and she just HAPPENS to fall into a convenient lake at the base of the mountain.  She also just HAPPENS to be spotted by this exiled prince of the Jegga tribe of Rmoahal nomads.  These Rmoahal people are humanoid, but eight or nine feet tall, blue, and have no hair.  Sorta like the Na’vi from “Avatar”, but bald.  His name is Shangoth, and he thinks she’s a goddess who fell from the sky, so he jumps into the lake to save her.  When he pulls her out, she is unconscious, and he thinks she’s dead.  He realizes she’s not a god because, hey, gods don’t die!  So he plans to burn her up in a pyre, cuz hey, it’s the least he can do.

So, Karm Karvus goes to see Sharajsha, the Wizard of Lemuria, who already seems to know what’s going on.  Well, he IS a wizard!  And he tells Karm Karvus that the whole thing is being orchestrated by some bad-guys in Tsargol and to rally the troops before they conquer Patanga!  He also announces that he is dying, cuz he’s like nine hundred years old and is entitled.  So he tells Karm Karvus to take this book of magic and lock it up with the most treasured relics of Patanga cuz you guys are gonna need it in the future.  Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe not until two books later, but you guys are gonna need it!  (Spoiler:  they did NOT need the magic book in this story!)

Meanwhile Thongor (remember him?  He’s the hero?  His name is in the title?)  is still standing on a three-inch-wide ledge on the mountain waiting for the wind to push his air ship close enough to him that he can make a daring leap.  Instead it gets caught in an updraft and Zandar Zan jumps aboard and flies away!  Well, the ledge Thongor is standing on begins to crumble beneath him.  With no other possible choice, he takes a flying leap…

Sumia wakes up before Shangoth; the big, blue, bald not-an-Indian; can burn her up in a pyre.  She kills this wild boar-thing that he’s been hunting so as to make peace with the Gods.  She explains what she’s doing there.  Shangoth explains that he is the son of the Chief of his tribe, but the evil tribal Shaman got them exiled.  Shangoth was going to take her back to camp to meet his dad, but they are inexplicably drawn to a tower of black glass…

Thongor jumped off the mountain and found free-floating debris from the crashed airship.  By grabbing some, it acted like a parachute and lowered him safely to the lake below.  He captures a triceratops-looking beast to ride, and just HAPPENS to find the exiled Chieftain of the Jegga nomads.  His name is Jomdath, and he is being tortured by Tengri, the evil Shaman who got him exiled.  Thongor decides that an evil Shaman with three or four henchman beating up on an old guy is dirty pool, and quickly intervenes.  His not-a-triceratops tramples over them so only the Shaman and one henchman escape.

Thongor befriends Jomdath and they decide to relocate the campsite to a predetermined alternate site that Jomdath’s son, Shangoth, will be able to find.  However, in order to get there, they have to ride through this field of POPPIES, Poppies, poppies; except in Lemuria they are called the Rose-of-Death.  Their fragrance knocks you out and as you sleep, their vines suck out all your blood; I expect you can find these in Mr. Mushnik’s Flower Shop down on Skid Row, right next to the Audrey Two.  (That’s a “Little Shop of Horrors” reference, folks!)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I mean, city-state…of Patanga:  Karm Karvus returns and tells the rest of Thongor’s friends, allies, and advisors that the bad-guys are in Tsargol.  They all talk it over and decide to load all the soldiers onto air ships and fly over the enemy’s walls and just plain old, kick butt!  They proceed with this plan as the narration cuts to General Hajash Tor, who apparently expects this and hints that he has a secret weapon…bum, bum, BU-UM!

But all this does nothing for Thongor and Jomdath who are sleeping in a field of POPPIES, Poppies, poppies with no means of escape.  But that’s okay, cuz Tengri the evil Shaman comes back with more henchmen and save them from the bloodsucking flowers!  Tengri takes them back to the ruins that the Rmoahal are currently living out of and plan to burn them at the stake.  His fellow nomads are kinda nervous about this, because the lives of Chieftains are supposed to be holy, and they are worried about ticking off the gods.  They feel these worries are justified when a big metal thing flies through the sky towards them!

It is Zandar Zan, the Thief of Tsargol wondering where in the heck he is and how to get somewhere that might be safe for him.  He decides this ain’t the place.  But the chaos his arrival causes is adequate distraction for Thongor to escape.  The nomads quickly denounce the evil Shaman and reinstate Jomdath as Chieftain.  Jomdath’s first order of business is to banish Tengri and his trusted henchmen, promising to burn them at the stake if they ever dare come back.

Meanwhile, the grappling line Thongor used to anchor his air ship to the mountain was still hanging loose; he jumped for it, climbed up to the airship and fought Zandar Zan, who ends up plummeting to his death in a marvelous accident.  The paperwork is always easier when it’s an accident.  And then Thongor gets a vision of Sharajsha, the wizard of Lemuria, who says “I’m dying and you can’t do anything about that, but you can stop your chick from dying if keep going this-a-way.”  Thongor says “thanks” and floors it!

Meanwhile back with the princess and Shangoth in the mysterious Tower of Black Glass…  Well, it turns out to be a wizard’s tower, but who didn’t see THAT coming?  The wizard is Adamancus, who is one of the Council of Nine, a group of evil wizards who rule the Black City of Zaar.  He has had absolutely NOTHING to do with the story so far, and arrives out of nowhere to try to tie this adventure to the first two books by claiming the evil wizards of the Black City of Zaar have some grand scheme to release these demony things upon the world and that Thongor keeps screwing it up!  But now he has Thongor’s wife, Sumia, and he plans to rip her soul out of her body and replace it with an elemental spirit that he can control, bwah-haha-ha!  And yes, he even did the evil laugh so that we knew he meant it!  Oh yeah, as an afterthought he also mentions that the Patangan armies are rushing into a trap.

Of course, he summons the elemental spirit, but before he could bend it to his will Thongor’s air ship crashes through the wall!  Adamancus shrieks an expletive, and it wasn’t “Holy Guacamole!” and jumps back—out of his protective circle—and the elemental spirit, no doubt upset for missing his favorite episode of the Simpsons due to this rude summoning, attacks the evil wizard and drags him back to the elemental’s home dimension.

So Thongor And Sumia are reunited! And after a round of “I’m ok, are you ok”, Thongor Accompanies Shangoth back to his dad and tribe.

Meanwhile, the armies of Patanga are loaded onto their airships and drop in (that’s right, I said it, I ain’t got no shame) on the evil dudes in Tsargol.  But General Hajash Tor knew the guy who originally made the anti-gravity metal urlium that the air ships are made out of.  He also knows the recipe for another unnamed element that takes away the anti-gravity effect!  Oh snap!  He’s got this stuff in dust form, in glass orbs that his armies fire with catapults.  The air ships get hit and saunter vaguely downwards.

To make a long story short (yeah, I know, too late), our good-guy army is getting their butts kicked.  But then Thongor shows up with his airship full of Rmoahal nomads who help us win the day.  Whew!  I don’t know about you, but I was worried!

Presumably, everyone who lived, lived happily ever after…until the next book!

So, now I’ve read it, I have to say that I was right all along:  it IS my kind of cheese!  This was a fun book.  Was it some highbrow, socially-relevant literature?  Heck no!  That’s what they used to MAKE you read in high school, this is what you wanted to read instead!  This is Grade A Saturday afternoon matinee serial-style material here.  I recommend it whole-heartedly.  And if this is the sort of “hack” material that Lin Carter came up with, then I’m pretty sure I’m gonna have to read some more of his stuff!  (Actually I’m relieved about that, cuz I’ve got some other books that he wrote.)

(And Now...We Return To Today!)

You know, I still haven't read that other book, or looked for the rest.  But I DID enjoy it!  I need to get around to that...

Until then, I wish you all...

Good Adventuring!

Timothy A. Sayell 

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