Saturday, May 23, 2015

Continuing Zanthodon (HUROK OF THE STONE AGE/DARYA OF THE BRONZE AGE)

Since my last post, I've finished reading both HUROK OF THE STONE AGE, the third of the Zanthodon novels by Lin Carter, and its sequel, DARYA OF THE BRONZE AGE.  In addition to the similarities of setting to Burroughs' better known Pellucidar novels, we've got another odd link between the two series; DARYA and HUROK take place simultaneously, each novel following a different group of characters and their adventures in the underground world, much as TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S CORE, the fourth book in the Pellucidar series, and its follow-up, BACK TO THE STONE AGE, take place simultaneously while following different groups of characters following their separation.  TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S CORE, incidentally, was my first exposure to Pellucidar; I'd picked it up in a two-novel omnibus back in the '90s, packaged with, I think, TARZAN THE TERRIBLE.  The cover art with Tarzan crouching over a freshly-stabbed Pteranodon was not one my 10 year old self could resist.  

When I posted last, I had reached the point in HUROK where Professor Potter had realized his error in giving the Empress of Zar the secret of gunpowder and Eric Carstairs and his friends had been led away to await being sacrificed to Zar's god.  

Zar's god being, incidentally, an extra-large Tyrannosaurus, the only (normally) carnivorous dinosaur
a properly-vintage Tyrannosaur
we've seen so far in Zanthodon - oh sure, in proper pulp fashion the Triceratops' and Stegosaurus' of Zanthodon have forsaken their normal diet of plants to instead hunger for adventurers, but this Tyrannosaurus is the only properly carnivorous dinosaur we've encountered (I'm not counting the pterodactyls or plesiosaurs, because properly speaking they're not dinosaurs, but instead cousins).  The encounter with this god contains some of the best-written sequences I've come across so far in these books, with the aftermath of the Tyrannosaurus stepping on a cluster of Zarian convicts being very effectively described.

The one thing I struggle with here is the Tyrannosaur's name.  The Zarians refer to it as "Zorgazon," which sounds terrible to me.  That's something a 14 year old names his D&D character.  The Zarians are supposed to speak a pidgin of ancient Greek and the language of Zanthodon, something their names definitely don't reflect, but there's much more unity and sense of being from the same language among the names of human Zarians, and "Zorgazon" feels like a bizarre outlier, like Lin Carter was using it as a place-holder until he came up with something better.  

Zar also feels a lot less like Pellucidar and a lot more like an iconic location from the Tarzan novels - the city of Opar, last outpost of drowned Atlantis, buried deep in the African jungle.  In both cases we have a society descended from the mythical Atlantis (with Zar being descended from Minoan Crete, which likely provided the germ of the idea for Atlantis - in either case, the Zarians still have the legendary orichalcum metal of Atlantis), ruled by a beautiful queen who falls hard for the hero, only to be spurned - something she will not tolerate.  And while I know there was at least one attempt to sacrifice Tarzan to the "Flaming God" of Opar, I forget if Queen La was the one who initiated that or not.  I know in later books she sheltered him from the priests of the Flaming God, but I forget if his first encounter with her ended so well.  

In DARYA OF THE BRONZE AGE, we follow Darya (unsurprisingly), Eric Carstair's Cro-Magnon sweetheart, following her abduction by the pirates of El-Cazar, an enclave of surviving Barbary Coast pirates.  It's interesting that Carter chose to make them Barbary pirates, where Burroughs' Korsars were Spanish Main.  It puts a significant time difference between their origins, and as such the pirates of Zanthodon still maintain vague oral histories of their descent from the surface world.  They're also far more savage then the so-called "savages" of Zanthodon's jungles, with the same sort of byzantine plots and counterplots that we'd previously encountered in Zar.  I'm not sure if Carter's trying to make a Howardian point regarding civilization vs. barbarism with these cultures or not by having those dwelling in cities being so much worse than those dwelling in bamboo huts in the jungle.  

Another Howardian element comes in, I think, with how often Darya gets whipped in a very S&M-y sort of context.  The pirate that kidnaps her in the first place, Khairadine Redbeard, flogs her for not letting him rape her in his cabin on his ship, and he specifically is flogging her across the breasts and buttocks.  Later, when Darya is captured by Zoraida, the woman who'd held Khairadine's affections until Darya came along, Zoraida "avenges" herself of this "insult" by whipping Darya, and this time she's focused on whipped her not just across the breasts, but across the loins as well.  She gets whipped in the vulva and Carter makes sure to describe the whip itself and the act of whipping in luxuriating detail to emphasize the cruelty of the act.  I don't even have that sort of equipment and I'm cringing in pain as I read this.  

I don't know; it reminds me heavily of some of the C-list Howard Conan stories, like XUTHAL OF
more cavewomen like this, please!
THE DUSK, THE VALE OF LOST WOMEN, or A WITCH SHALL BE BORN.  

I'm also starting to get really uncomfortable with Lin Carter's choices of descriptors for the women in these books, specifically Darya and another young Cro-Magnon woman who appears, Yualla.  In both cases these women are specified as being "about 17" but the way Carter describes their physiques it sounds like he's describing 13 year old girls, especially in regard the "delicate, petite buds" of their breasts.  It never comes across as if he's using "bud" euphemistically for their nipples; it consistently comes across as "bud" as in their breasts are just beginning to develop, and I really just wish these were proper Frazetta-esque cavewomen with heaving bosoms and asses you could bounce a quarter off of.  


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