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[Editor's Note: The following article originally appeared in Volume 2, Numbers 2 & 3 of The Starship Express Copyright © 1988 Philip J De Parto. It is reprinted with permission of the author/editor.]
Charles Garofalo announced at our February meeting that sf/fantasy writer and editor Lin Carter had recently passed away. It is perhaps the finest testament a man can have when he leaves the world, or just a corner of it, a better place for his having been born. Lin did just that.
He did not do that through his literary efforts. Although he did at times turn out passable work, he was too in love with his idols--Robert E Howard, H P Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith, etc.--to discover his own muse. I know of at least one editor who was prepared to offer Lin a generous advance if he would pursue something truly original. But Lin chose to write for love and not money.
Where Lin made his mark was as an editor. Today the shelves are so chock-full of fables of dragons and elves and sorcerers and barbarians that it is easy to forget that twenty years ago things were quite different. Oh, there had always been a certain amount of fantasy around. Robert Bloch's "Hell Bound Train" had won one of the first Hugo Awards. Andre Norton was continuing her odyssey from mainstream sf like Sea Seige to borderline fantasy like Judgement on Janus to the unabashed magic of the Witch World series. Tolkien had been in print ever since the Ace/Ballantine flap over competing editions of Lord of the Rings. Thomas Burnett Swann, Mervyn Peake, E R Eddison and others surfaced from time to time. But Worlds of If was no more. Lancer Books would soon go out of business, buying up the rights to Conan the Barbarian and Elric of Melnibone for years. And then came Lin.
In 1967 he successfully pitched the idea of a book about J R R Tolkien and his influences to the Ballantines. He signed on as consultant to the fledgling "Adult Fantasy" series the following year.
It was a magnificent line. He introduced a new generation to people like James Branch Cabell, lured out of retirement Evangeline Walton, whose fabulous The Children of Llyr is all the justification any line could need, discovered new writers like Katherine Kurtz (yes, Deryni fans, she was unearthed by Carter), and presented a wealth of classics few of us had even heard of.
What he did not do was turn a profit. After five years and sixty titles the plug was pulled.
One is always wiser with hindsight. If Adult Fantasy had done fewer titles, perhaps six per year, there would have been more time for word of mouth to build sales and a lower proportion of obscure material. The Dungeons and Dragons phenomena and the Conan Comics were broadening the base of fantasy readership, as was Norton, but the real fantasy boom would not begin until the late 70's.
After his dismissal at Ballantine, Carter turned in his best work for DAW and Dell Books. Of particular importance was his editorship of the first six volumes of DAW's The Best Fantasy of the Year. But he never regained that initial fire and years of bad habits took their toll.
It is a crime that his best book, Imaginary Worlds, (Ballantine Books, 1973), has never been reprinted. As a random example, here's Carter on Jack Vance:
This sort of thing requires a fine ear for tone and coloring in prose, and for the intrinsic cadence of the English sentence. The art of pure language regarded as an end in itself is generally considered to have died out with the collapse of the 1920s. In those days connoisseurs lingered over a well-burnished page of Cabell or Arthur Machen or Edgar Saltus with sensitive appreciation, savoring the bouquet of a book or essay as they might the fragrance of a rare vintage wine.
While all fantasy fans owe Lin a debt, this is especially true of those in New Jersey. The reason I attended my first meeting of what became the New Jersey Science Fiction Society was to meet him. He was the first professional guest speaker at that group in May 1977. During the next two years, he would speak three more times. He was the official dragonslayer at their first picnic. He invited the club to come to his annual Halloween party in Hollis, Queens.
Ah! What a place that was! Three floors of books, artwork and curios. The centerpiece of the dining room table was a human skull and crossbones. He had at least one sarcophagus in the house, a hoard of rare books, and a human skeleton. The covers of all his books had been framed and lined the walls and stairs.
Lots of interesting people could be met at those parties. I remember meeting Jim Frenkel and Joan Vinge in Lin's tiny kitchen which was holding about a dozen people at the time. Upstairs in the library is where I met Margaret Purdy, who later became N J S F S president and newsletter editor.
Without Lin Carter, there might be no thriving New Jersey fandom. E S F A might still be puttering along with their half-dozen members and the Mt. Holz S F S (the Leeper's Group) developed independently, but the S F A B C would certainly not exist. Since I was the one who recruited Salvatore Capaldo, Nancy Cucci, and John Mullen who were among the key replacements for the original founders of what became N J S F S, I doubt that group would have survived. Naturally, I made sure that Lin was one of our first year's guests when I founded the Science Fiction Association of Bergen County.
So goodbye, Lin. Wander Beyond the Fields We Know with Dunsany, Baum, Morris, Cabell, Howard, Smith, Lovecraft and the rest of the gang. Drink deeply from the waters of the well at the world's end.
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