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Elak of Atlantis
Henry Kuttner
Planet Stories, 244 pages
Elak of Atlantis
Henry Kuttner
Henry Kuttner was born in 1915 in Los Angeles, California. He moved to New York in 1940 after his marriage to C.L. Moore to be nearer the writing markets. Joint works included collections like Line to Tomorrow, Ahead of Time, and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and well-know short fiction like "The Twonky," "Don't Look Now," "A Gnome There Was," and "Mimsy Were the Borogoves." After burning out as writer, he used the GI Bill for a college education at the University of California. A few years thereafter, they worked doing in radio scripts and screen-writing when Henry Kuttner died in 1958.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Last Mimzy Stories
SF Site Review: Fury
Wikipedia page on Kuttner

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

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After Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, died in June 1936, a number of the works he had submitted before his death continued to be published in the pulps, particularly in Weird Tales. However, by 1938 this supply had largely run out, yet the demand for such fare hadn't -- so a number of authors attempted to fill the void, amongst them Henry Kuttner. Elak of Atlantis reprints for the first time, from the hallowed pages of Weird Tales four of Kuttner's tales of sword and sorcery set in Atlantis (publ. 1938-1941), featuring the rapier-wielding Prince of Atlantis turned wandering warrior Elak and his fat drunken but frequently useful sidekick Lycon. It also contains two similar tales from Strange Tales (publ. 1939), set in an ancient mythical kingdom in the region of the Gobi desert (1939), featuring Prince Raynor.

In his introduction, Joe R. Lansdale, states the Elak tales to have been important in the development of the sword and sorcery genre. The tales certainly bear all the plot elements and settings of sword and sorcery, but they strike me as lacking somewhat in coherence, the plot tending to shift suddenly in one direction or another. I might liken these stories to the B-movie fare of the era in which they were written, entertaining but nothing noteworthy. While one might conceive that the pairing of Elak and Lycon in these 1938 stories may have influenced Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories (which began in 1939 in Unknown), Leiber's creation was far better. When stories from the pulps -- particularly Weird Tales which has been endlessly mined for anthologies -- are finally reprinted nearly 70 years later, one may well ask oneself why did it take so long? Unless the pulp magazine is exceedingly rare -- which certainly isn't the case with Weird Tales -- it is generally because editors have found the stories to be of inferior quality compared to other available material.

I personally found the The Prince Raynor stories much better written, however "more formal and stiff" and having "less inventiveness and liveliness of style," as Joe Lansdale makes them out to be in his introduction. While set in a different time and place, the lead character of these stories is a bit more reminiscent of Howard's Solomon Kane character, than of Conan, and the sorcery aspects are much more limited than in the Elak stories. If I might make the analogy, an Elak of Atlantis tale is like a movie whose draw is its special effects, where a Prince Raynor tale, while perhaps less spectacular, is founded on a good screenplay.

All this might suggest that Henry Kuttner was a so-so writer, and that would be far from the truth. The stories in Elak of Atlantis were written before Kuttner's 1940 marriage to C.L. Moore. The two seem to have had a somewhat synergistic effect on the quality of their mutual and oft-melded outputs. Certainly Kuttner wrote far better science-fantasy novels in the late 40s-early 50s (Valley of the Flame, The Time Axis, The Well of the Worlds), which were later reprinted in the Ace Books' F series. Besides these, his short stories of an inventor at his best when he is staggering drunk, but who is unable to remember exactly what he has created -- including a narcissistic robot -- when sober, are among the best humourous tales of science-fiction (collected in The Robots Have No Tails, a.k.a. The Proud Robot)

An entertaining collection of sword and sorcery tales, Elak of Atlantis, is a sort of rare bronze dug up from the golden era of the genre. These stories, inspired by, if distinct from the creations of Robert E. Howard, aren't startlingly original, nor are they the best material Henry Kuttner ever produced, but they do shed light on how the genre evolved and what other such writing was out there in the late 1930s.

Copyright © 2008 by Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist whose interests lie predominantly in both English and French pre-1950 imaginative fiction. Besides reviews and articles at SFSite and in fanzines such as Argentus, Pulpdom and WARP, he has published peer-reviewed articles in fields ranging from folklore to water resource management. He is the creator and co-curator of The Ape-Man, His Kith and Kin a website exploring thematic precursors of Tarzan of the Apes, as well as works having possibly served as Edgar Rice Burroughs' documentary sources. The close to 100 e-texts include a number of first time translations from the French by himself and others. Georges is also the creator and curator of a website dedicated to William Murray Graydon (1864-1946), a prolific American-born author of boys' adventures. The website houses biographical, and bibliographical materials, as well as a score of novels, and over 100 short stories.


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