*Worry not. I am all right. But taking two days of doing bloody nothing this week left me with two days worth of what Dan calls “administrivia” in both house and business to do, which means I’ve spent te morning running around like a port-wine drunken turkey with its had cut off (a story for another time.) So…. Thank you to Christopher Chupik who doesn’t mind my putting his post up late. – SAH*
Leaving Your Mark
By Christopher M. Chupik
I open the book and see the name inscribed in neat handwriting on the end paper:
“Irene M. Montgomery”
I smile. We meet again.
Over the past fifteen years or so, I have purchased a dozen books which used to belong to Irene:
Pirates of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Warrior of Llarn and Thief of Llarn by Gardner F. Fox, Prince of Peril by Otis Adelbert Kline, Three Against the Witch World by Andre Norton, The Legion of Space and The Legion of Time by Jack Williamson Lost Worlds and The Years Best Fantasy Stories volumes 1, 2, 4 and 6, all edited by Lin Carter.
From time to time I find people’s names in books I purchase used. One person even had a personalized stamp for his name. Some used bookstores stamp their books. But this is the first time I’ve ever run across the same person’s name again and again. And it makes me curious about the person whose books I’ve inherited. Just who was Irene M. Montgomery?
Googling brings up an Irene M. Montgomery who died in 1917. Clearly not her. Of course, “Montgomery” could well have been her maiden name and she is now listed under her married name. But I have no way to know. So I am left to judge her from her books.
And what can I deduce?
For one thing, she took very good care of her books. These are in great shape considering their age. For another, her reading tastes dovetail very closely with mine. It’s clear Irene had a passion for both the Planetary Romance and Sword and Sorcery subgenres. Likely she was one of the millions who discovered Burroughs during the reprint boom of the ’60s. I can relate, having discovered him myself twenty years later. Many of my ERBs are Ace editions, with Frank Frazetta covers, like the one Pirates of Venus sports.
The popularity of ERB prompted Ace to reprint authors like Otis Adelbert Kline, ERB’s chief rival during his life time. Now, OAK wrote about Venus first, back when ERB was writing about Mars. When ERB wrote about Venus, OAK switched to Mars. Legends of a “rivalry” between the authors seems to be just that — legends. As to the book itself, well . . . Prince of Peril isn’t that great, I’m afraid, but it’s perhaps not entirely OAK’s fault. Despite the “complete and unabridged” which adorned every Ace reprint, Ace did in fact abridge novels, the works of OAK included. Paizo’s short-lived Planet Stories line reprinted OAK’s Martian novels unabridged and while they are a slight improvement, Kline still comes in a distant second to Burroughs.
OAK’s biggest flaw was that his alien worlds never feel as exotic as they should. His names lack the same ring of romance that ERB brought. There’s a nagging feeling at times that if you took out the alien animals and advanced technology, they could just as easily be taking place in some far-off place on Earth. OAK’s most important contribution to the field was being the literary agent of Robert E. Howard.
When Ace ran out of older authors, they started publishing pastiches by contemporary authors like Norton, Fox and Carter. Fox’s Llarn novels are fairly standard Burroughsian fare, but with some interesting twists. Fox was a pulp veteran, and one of the most prolific comic writers of all time, creator of the Flash, Hawkman, Adam Strange and many, many more. Norton’s Witch World series is too big a topic for this post, but I will note how the series starts off in Burroughsian territory (Earthman transported to other world) and gradually shifts into Fantasy over the course of the first six books.
I can also tell she was a big reader of DAW during its yellow-spine days, back before they courted respectability. It’s not a surprise that Irene was a big reader of Ace and DAW: Donald A. Wollheim was editor at both. Wollheim was a big Burroughs fan, and one of the first publishers willing to take a chance on Fantasy back when SF was king. The early DAW leaned heavily into Sword and Sorcery, the subgenre created by Robert E. Howard during his short but prolific life.
Carter’s Years Best Fantasy anthologies are interesting. While Lin Carter may not have the most sterling of literary reputations, there’s no denying his enthusiasm. The man loved Fantasy, especially Sword and Sorcery and made no apologies for it. While his own works varied from decent to hackwork, his work as an editor is better regarded. Though one is not sure whether to be galled or amused by the audacity of Carter always including one of his own stories in with the year’s best.
Looking through his table of contents, I see a number of familiar names: Charles R. Saunders, Gardner F. Fox, Tanith Lee, Jack Vance and Karl Edward Wagner. There’s even an early story by George R. R. Martin, back when he was still writing (I kid!). It’s a pretty impressive lineup.
Lost Worlds was a very influential book for me. When I first signed it out from the library back in the early ’90s it was the first time I was exposed to Carter, as well as Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith.
I don’t have anything of hers from later than 1980. Since her tastes ran towards two genres that had almost died out by then, it’s not hard to imagine why. Despite the success of the Milius Conan film, Sword and Sorcery was on the wane by the ’80s. Marvel’s Conan comic was limping along and most of the literary output in the genre was in the form of Tor’s decidedly uneven and repetitive Conan pastiches. Planetary Romance was also gone, save for Kenneth Bulmer’s Dray Prescot novels and John Norman’s — shall we say controversial? — Gor series. And I think that Irene wouldn’t have been interested in that. Both series were published by DAW and came to an end in 1988. Of course, it’s entirely possible she did continue buying new books and I just haven’t bought any of them. I’d like to think she still found things worth reading.
My hometown once boasted six used bookstores and now has three — and one of those is closing. Almost all the new bookstores belong to the same chain. The experience of walking into a bookstore and running across some unexpected rarity from another decade is becoming a lot harder.
Not all hope is lost. The e-book revolution has brought many older works back into electronic print. Gardner F. Fox’s Llarn series, for instance, has been reissued as part of an initiative by his estate to reprint all his works. And while scrolling through Amazon lacks the romance of browsing bookstore shelves, sometimes you can still be surprised by what you find.
All used books once belonged to someone else. But it’s rare that we’re reminded of that fact. Without Irene’s name written inside, I would have never given any thought about the person who owned these books before me. Because she did, I am reminded of her each time I open them up.
Irene M. Montgomery, you have not been forgotten.