Henry Kuttner’s The Dark World
At his best, Henry Kuttner was one of top SF/F writers of the Golden Age.
The Dark World is not Henry Kuttner at his best.
Essentially I only picked this up because it had been a while since I read any Kuttner, and this paperback original fit nicely in my bag on my trip to Stavanger. Even though this shows up on the Cawthorn and Moorcock Fantasy 100 list, and Roger Zelazny cites it as an influence on the Amber books, it’s a very uneven (and sometimes overwritten) parallel world fantasy. Protagonist Edward Bond has returned home after a plane crash and long period of jungle convalescence in World War II. He finds himself drawn from his house to a “need fire” by people claiming to need his help in another world. Traveling to the world with them, he discovers he’s actually Ganelon, one of the leaders of The Coven, who ruled the dark world of the title, and who has been bonded to Llyr, a powerful being who demands sacrifice. Ganelon had been exchanged for Bond (his doppelganger on earth) by the magic of his enemies, but whose memories of the dark world are still incomplete. After his fellow Coven members secretly dress him in the robes of sacrifice, he decides that some adjustment of loyalties is in order…
Despite it’s brevity (The Dark World clocks in at 126 pages), modern readers are likely to have problems with this. For one thing, the prose occasionally takes florid flights that betray its pulp-era origins. (“Medea and Edeyrn and Matholoch! The names of the three beat like muffled drums in my brain.”) Exclamation points are freely dispensed, frequently in one-word sentences. (“Llyr! the though of it-of him-crystallized that decision in my mind.”) In the world of post-Lord of the Rings fantasy, the Dark World seems both underdeveloped and under-populated, and the semi-scientific mutant explanation is unconvincing.
It’s not awful; the story moves along at a steady clip. There are also a few points of formal novelty. It was probably rare to have a novel told from the viewpoint of the bad guy, and who remained the bad guy, pretty much all of the novel. Also, the scene where Edward Bond and Ganelon face off against each other in some sort of nether corridor between the worlds makes you wonder if Don Ingalls, the screenwriter for the Star Trek episode “The Alternative Factor,” read The Dark World, given the obvious parallels.
if you haven’t read any Kuttner, this is not the one to start with.