Abraham Merritt’s second novel, The Metal Monster, first saw the light of day in 1920, in Argosy magazine. It was not until 1946 that this masterful fantasy creation was printed in book form. In a way, this work is a continuation of Merritt’s first novel, The Moon Pool (1919), as it is a narrative of America’s foremost botanist, Dr. Walter T. Goodwin, narrator of that earlier adventure as well. As Goodwin tells us, he initially set out on this second great adventure to forget the terrible incidents of the first; if anything, however, the events depicted in The Metal Monster are at least as mind-blowing as those in the earlier tale. While Goodwin had encountered underground civilizations, frogmen, battling priestesses and a living-light entity in the earlier tale, this time around he discovers, in the Trans-Himalayan wastes of Tibet, a surviving Persian city, a half-human priestess, AND an entire civilization made up of living, metallic, geometric forms; an entire city of sentient cubes, globes and tetrahedrons, capable of joining together and forming colossal shapes, and wielding death rays and other armaments of destruction. As in the earlier tale, Goodwin is joined in his epic adventure by a small group of can-do individuals that he meets in the most unlikely, godforsaken areas of the world. This time around, it’s a brother-and-sister team of scientists, as well as the son of one of Goodwin’s old science buddies.
The sense of awe and wonder so crucial to good adventure fantasy is of a very high order in this book. Goodwin & Co., in one of the book’s best set pieces, explore the living city of metal, and witness the life forms feeding off the sun, reproducing, and preparing for war. Later on, Merritt treats us to a titanic battle between the metal folk and the lost Persians, as well as an hallucinatory cataclysm at the novel’s end. Indeed, much of the book IS hallucinatory, with the metal shapes coalescing and morphing like crazy Transformers gone wild.
A book by A. Merritt would be nothing without his hyperstylized, lush purple prose, and in this tale, his gift for somewhat prolix prose is given full vent. At times these incessant descriptions wear a bit thin, and at others they paradoxically fail to stir up pictures in the reader’s mind eye. (I defy anyone, for example, to say that he/she was able to fully visualize Goodwin & Co.’s initial nighttime entry into the city of the metal people.) For the most part, though, these descriptions are amazing. Just take this one small sample. Whereas other writers might simply say that Goodwin entered a chamber with multicolored lights, here’s what Merritt gives us:
…a limitless temple of light. High up in it, strewn manifold, danced and shone soft orbs like tender suns. No pale gilt luminaries of frozen rays were these. Effulgent, jubilant, they flamed–orbs red as wine of rubies that Djinns of Al Shiraz press from his enchanted vineyards of jewels; twin orbs rose white as breasts of pampered Babylonian maids; orbs of pulsing opalescences and orbs of the murmuring green of bursting buds of spring, crocused orbs and orbs of royal coral; suns that throbbed with singing rays of wedded rose and pearl and of sapphires and topazes amorous; orbs born of cool virginal dawns and of imperial sunsets and orbs that were the tuliped fruit of mating rainbows of fire….
Almost like prose poetry, isn’t it? With writing like this, a well-thought-out plot, exotic settings and some great action sequences, The Metal Monster does indeed live up to its rep as a fantasy classic. There ARE some unanswered questions by the book’s end, but that only adds to the aura of cosmic mystery that Merritt has built up. The Metal Monster is a winner, indeed.