Henry Kuttner, along with his wife C. L. Moore, were seminal figures in the early years of science fiction and fantasy. Kuttner influenced many of the “names” in the field today. Bradbury, Dick, Matheson, Zelazny, and Marion Zimmer Bradley cited his influence, patience, and encouragement. That he’s not as well known today among general readers lies mostly because of his early death at forty-three from a heart attack. One can’t help but wonder if he’d lived a full life…
This edition is from Planet Stories and has an introduction by Piers Anthony, probably best known for his Xanth fantasy series. There, he talks about the “golden age of science fiction/fantasy as the time when you first begin reading it.” For me that would have been about twelve. Kuttner’s stories weren’t the first for me, but were among the half dozen or so writers I discovered at that early age.
THE DARK WORLD was published in 1946 and is the story of Edward Bond who’d blacked out in his plane during WWII and woke up in the jungles of Sumatra, being nursed back to health by natives who’d found him in the wreckage with only minor injuries, but a raging fever. The old medicine man seemed afraid of him. telling him that someone was chasing him.
Indeed, over the next few years, Bond never felt the same as before that plane crash and often had strange dreams of hairy, wolf-like creatures, robed dwarfs, the need for a sword, nothing like before. He awoke once to find something standing over him, only to have it bound out a window. Was it real or had he just been dreaming?
His uncle thinks he’s going crazy when he discusses it and Bond is not sure but that he might be headed that way.
But when he’s thrust through a portal into an alternate dimension, he really begins to doubt his sanity. Even when he comes to accept the reality he’s been told, that he is really Ganelon, his soul having been switched with that of Edward Bond by the white sorceress Freylis to rid the forest people, the rebels, of him, he still sees himself as Bond. But flashes of his warlord self comes through, the contempt for those beneath him. He trusts no one and masks what he knows from everyone.
At times both sides want him dead, both sides want him leading them against the other. He wants to crush one, then the other. The war goes on inside his head. Who is he really? The old Ganelon? The Edward Bond who had given the forest people hope of freedom from slavery and sacrifice? A mixture of both? He’s certainly not the monster of old, though he still thinks of himself as such.
In rereading this novel after so many years, one can see the blueprint for the, literally, hundreds of fantasy novels that have came along since this talel first saw print. Kuttner peopled his dark world with all sorts of exotic creatures, sorceresses good and evil, Gods, those who would enslave people for the sheer power of control, the ones who opposed them.
To readers of today, Henry Kuttner is most certainly a neglected master. If you haven’t read this one, you should seek it out. Well worth a look. The Planet Stories series is bringing back some of these older works, some later that show the influence, and new books in the same vein.