The Dark World: Another great fantasy from Kuttner & Moore

The Dark World Mass Market Paperback – 1965 by Henry KuttnerThe Dark World by Henry Kuttner & C.L. MooreThe Dark World by Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore

1946 was a very good year indeed for sci-fi’s foremost husband-and-wife writing team, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore. Besides placing a full dozen stories (including the acknowledged classic “Vintage Season”) into various magazines of the day, the pair also succeeded in having published three short novels in those same pulps. The first, The Fairy Chessmen, which was released in the January and February issues of Astounding Science-Fiction, was a remarkable combination of hardheaded modernist sci-fi and almost hallucinatory reality twists. Valley of the Flame, from the March issue of Startling Stories, was an exciting meld of jungle adventure, Haggardian lost-world story and unique fantasy. And that summer, in Startling Stories again, the team came out with The Dark World, a work that is pretty much a “hard” fantasy with some slight scientific leavening.

In this one, the American flier Edward Bond is whisked from the Pacific theatre during WWII and transported to the eponymous Dark World, an alternate Earth that has diverged from its parent in space as well as time. His counterpart on the Dark World, Ganelon, head of a coven of mutated overlords who are busy keeping that realm subjugated, is sent to our Earth with Bond’s memories. The book’s plot is difficult to synopsize, and gets a bit complicated when Ganelon is brought back to the Dark World sometime later, his body now housing two distinct minds and personalities. Thus, the understandably mixed-up warlock can’t quite decide whether or not to help his fellow “Covenanters” wipe out the forest-dwelling rebels, or join those rebels and destroy the Coven, not to mention the dreaded, sacrifice-demanding entity known as Llyr. Though called the Coven, Ganelon’s fellows number only four, and include Medea, a beautiful vampire who feeds on life energies; Matholch, a lycanthrope; Edeyrn, a cowled, childlike personage whose power the authors choose not to reveal until the novel’s end; and Ghast Rhymi, an ancient magus whose origin really did surprise this reader.

Peopled with colorful characters as it is, and featuring a nicely involved plot and ample scenes of battle, sacrifice, magic and spectacle, this little book (the whole thing runs to a mere 126 pages) really does please. That small scientific admixture that I mentioned earlier takes the form of rational explanations for the vampire, werewolf and Edeyrn phenomena; these explanations, while not exactly deep or technical, do tend to make the fantastic characters on display here slightly more, well, credible. But for the most part, The Dark World is a somber fantasy, and a darn good one, at that. Not for nothing was it selected for inclusion (as was Valley of the Flame) in James Cawthorn and Michael Moorcock‘s excellent overview volume Fantasy: The 100 Best Books. “I consider the work of Henry Kuttner to be the finest science fantasy ever written,” says Marion Zimmer Bradley in a blurb on the front cover of the 1965 Ace paperback (with a cover price of 40 cents) that I just finished, and readers of The Dark World will probably not feel inclined to give her argument.


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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3 comments

  1. Paul Connelly /

    Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Falcons of Narabedla has a number of resemblances to The Dark World–although I think the inspiration for both novels was A, Merrit’s Dwellers in the Mirage.

    • sandy ferber /

      Hmmm, an interesting thought, Paul. That hadn’t occurred to me…and I even reviewed that Merritt book once. My old FanLit review can be found here: http://www.fantasyliterature.com/reviews/dwellers-in-the-mirage/

    • deuce /

      The resemblances to “Dwellers” are obvious. Moore and Kuttner were both Merritt fans. Brackett’s THE SWORD OF RHIANNON is another novel deeply indebted to DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE.

      I’ve heard — not read — from more than one source that Bradley supposedly asked Moore about the authorship and CLM said that she wrote THE DARK WORLD basically by herself.

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