Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, October 20, 2022


 Dwellers in the Mirage by A. Merritt (first appeared in six parts in Argosy, January 23-February 27, 1932 , reprinted in book form, 1932, then reprinted at least 44 times, with editions in Japanese, French, Italian, German, Hungarian, and Romanian)

From the back cover of the 1976 Avon edition:  "Angry warrior, modern man -- Leif Langdon was suddenly ripped from the 20th century and plunged into the ancient world of The Mirage.  But his entrance into this awesome land waked awakened the slumber Dwayanu, who in this strange incarnation was also Leif.  Thus, two-men-in-one battle with the beautiful witch-woman Lur and the ethereal beauty Evalie for the glory of The Mirage."

Not entirely accurate, but we'll let it pass.

From the H. P. Lovecraft Wiki:  "The novel concerns American Leif Langdon who discoverss a warm valley in Alaska.  Two races inhabit the valley, the Little People and a branch of an ancient Mongolian race.  In a debased cult setting, they worship Khalk'ru, an evil extra-dimensional monstrosity resembling the Scandinavian kraken which they summon from another dimentsion to offer human sacrifice.  The inhabitants recognize Langdon as the reincarnation of their long-dead hero, Dwayanu.  Dwayanu's spirit posesses Langdon and starts a war with the Little People.  Langdon eventually fights off the presence of Dwayanu and destroys the Kraken."

Perhaps a little more accurate in describing the plot.  

It should be noted that the H. P. Lovecraft Wiki states at the beginning of the article, "This article's connection to the Cthulu Mythos is unclear."

Really?  A many-tentacled extra-dimensional monstrosity who happens to be a destroyer of worlds and whose name evokes Cthulhu, which Lovecraft coined some eight years earlier?  Hmm.  Go figure.

A couple of other things.

The descendants of the very ancient Mongolian race happen to be, in both ancient times and modern, the Uighurs, who survive today as a Turkish ethnic group who are now native to Northwest China -- at least for the moment, despite China's attempts at genocide.  According to Merritt, the reace that devolved into the Uighurs were also the ancestors of the Scandinavians and some North American Indian tribes, all of which makes it convenient for them to survive in a mirage-protected valley in an unexplored part of Alaska.

Also, I cannot speak to the Freaudian influences on the author but, my God, does he go on and on about female breasts.  The woman -- all of them, including the Little People females, spend most of their time exposing them.  Many go topless as a matter of fact.  Some, usually the warriors, expose only one breast, a la the Amazons.  From children to adults, the females seem to be indulging a ta-ta lover's dream world.  Although there are no mountains in the valley, there are peaks, each of which is specifically referred as resembling the female breast.  As far as I could tell, there is only one woman who does not bare her mammaries, and that is Evalie, the beautiful full-sized foundling raised by the Little People and Lief Langdon's love interest -- a Evalie first appears in a sheer, diaphanous robe that does little to hide her charms (although she does wear a white girdle under her robe so that at least some of her charms are hidden).  Makes sense because you really can't have the hero's love interest flopping those things from the get-go.  I cannot remember such a fixation on that part of the female anatomy in any other Merritt's other books.

(I should also mention that there are two versions of Merritt's story.  In his original ending, Merritt had killed off Evalie, but the editors at Argosy did not like that, so in the magazine serial and in the hardbound books that followed a more cheering ending prevailed.  Merritt's original ending was published in the January 1941 issue of the fanzine Bizarre.  His original intended ending was also included when the tale was reprinted in Fantastic Novels, April 1941.  It may have also appeared in some of the later printings of the novel.)

Merritt published nine fantastic novels in his lifetime, perhaps the most noted being The Moon Pool (1919).  His works proved extremely popular and he has been read for over a century, although his purple-laden prose makes him less of a favorite to today's readers.  When it comes to imagination, action, and consistency in quality he has few rivals.  "Consistency in quality," though, does not exclude a basic clunkiness so common in the early pulps.

Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas in their "Recommended Reading" column in the June 1951 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction said of Dwellers in the Mirage that the book will attract "those who love wild adventure even when shallowly written."  Count me as loving wild adventure and being more than willing to overlook shallow writing.  I could have done with a little less t-and-a (without the a), though.

By the way:  I finish the novel this Thursday, one day after Lawrence Person posted on his blog that he had acquired the first edition of Dwellers in the Mirage.  The post incudes a neat photo of the original dust jacker.  Check it out.

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