Valley of the Flame: Quite a little package of wonders

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsValley of the Flame by Henry Kuttner & C.L. MooreValley of the Flame by Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore

Yeah, I know that one has to take inflation into account when computing these things, but still, what incredible deals the sci-fi lover could acquire 60 or so years ago! Take, for example, the March 1946 issue of Startling Stories, with a cover price of just 15 cents. For that minimal charge, the reader got stories by sci-fi greats Frank Belknap Long, Jack Williamson and Henry Kuttner, PLUS the entire novel Valley of the Flame, by one Keith Hammond. Hammond, as we know today, was just one of the many noms de plume used by the husband-and-wife writing team of Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, and Valley turns out to be yet another remarkable tale from this legendary pair.

Equal parts sci-fi, fantasy, Haggardian lost-world adventure and jungle epic, it tells the story of Brian Raft, an American medical researcher in the wilderness of the Amazon Basin, who goes in pursuit of a kidnapped colleague and discovers the hidden valley of Paititi. It is a fairy world of sorts, where falling boulders seem to drift like feathers and streams run like molasses. The reason: All life-forms in Paititi have been abnormally accelerated by the flame called Curupuri, a mass of living energy from the heavens that had crashed in the Amazon region aeons ago. The area’s native jaguars have evolved into catlike humans (this is not really a spoiler; the subtitle for the tale in Startling Stories reads “A Novel of the Cat People”) and numerous mutated plant and animal forms thrive in abundance. Raft becomes embroiled in a plot involving the madman Parror’s quest to strengthen the Flame; falls into intrigue at the castle court of the crazed King Darum; and becomes romantically involved with the feline Janissa.

The book features two tremendous set pieces; one in the Garden of Kharn, in which Raft must fend off all manner of monstrous flora, and the second in the cavern of the Flame itself, as Raft battles his tigerish madman foe at the brink of an abyss whilst the mountainous, mutating Flame threatens to destroy the entire region. Throw in a cave full of deformed mutants, duels with vicious taloned gauntlets, some high-tech superscience, hypnotism and magic amulets, and you’ve got quite a little package of wonders on your hands.

I don’t think it will surprise anyone to learn that Kuttner and Moore write wonderfully, with a surprisingly wide range of literary, artistic and historic reference (Balzac, Baldur, Brancusi, Arrhennius, Fenris-wolf and Birnam Wood are all brought up) that belies the novel’s pulpy origins. The book is as exciting, fast moving and colorful as can be, and was deservedly chosen by James Cawthorn and Michael Moorcock for inclusion in their overview volume Fantasy: The 100 Best Books. I enjoyed this novel even more recently than I did when I first read it 20 or so years ago, and think that it would make for an incredible film, if brought to the screen with respect by a team with the requisite $200 million. The 1964 Ace paperback edition, which is the one that I own, has a cover price of 40 cents, and I feel it is high time for this great fantasy work to be put back into print after 40+ years at today’s modern, inflated prices. Whatever price the reader winds up paying for this one, I think he/she will be extremely satisfied.


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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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