Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Harold Lamb and The Wolf

A few weeks ago I picked up the Big Book of Adventure Stories. I've read three of them so far, and all of them were great: but one shone out, The Mighty Manslayer, by Harold Lamb. On the strength of this single story I ordered eight Harold Lamb books the very next day!

He has been called the unacknowledged grandfather of swords and sorcery. The story I read didn't have any flat-out sorcery in it, but it certainly smacked of the mysterious, as the action revolved around the discovery of Genghis Khan's tomb. The hero, who bears the unfortunate name of Khlit (supposedly pronounced Ka-leet) is a Russian Cossack who is already past retirement age, deciding to wander the Middle East and Asia seeking adventure instead of living out his days in peace. Lamb wrote many stories about this man known as "the Wolf."

This story was written in 1918, yet it seems incredibly fresh. I guess one of the things that stood out about Lamb back in the old days was his simple, direct style, which was clearly a huge influence on Robert E. Howard (who said Lamb was one of his favorite writers). It rolls along at a brisk pace, doesn't waste many words on exposition or set-ups, just smashes along from scene to scene. It's a little long for a short story but once I picked it up, I didn't put it down (which is saying something - that anthology is one of the thickest, heaviest books I own).

It's also cool that Lamb's heroes are often non-Western, which was a rarity then and now. I think of Antonio Banderas' character in The 13th Warrior as being fairly representative of the type of heroes Lamb writes about, but we'll see: I'm a Lamb newbie. 

Today the four-volume collection of Lamb's Cossack stories should arrive, as well as a four-volume collection of his stories about Crusaders, Vikings, Arabs, and Mongols. I have way too many new books on my shelf right now, so I imagine I'll read these stories piecemeal over the next few years when I want a jolt of historical action.

If, in collecting his Big Book of Adventure anthology, editor Otto Penzler aimed to give readers some bait, sending them diving headfirst into the world of pulp esoterica, he has certainly succeeded in my case. I'm sure I'll post more about stories from this anthology in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment