mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
mordicai caeli

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69 Love Gods. (13)

The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt.

Cry "wine! Power! Death!"
Then-- in the Temple of Zones
the beasts of the gods!

I liked this quite a lot, in fact. Not just as a successful pulp, either, though that is what it is. It is is the "man out of place" Weird Tale-- modern man hurled into an age of superstition. It is the swords & socery genre, but it is also the swashbuckling milieu. More to the point: Merritt is one of the building blocks in the foundation of fabulist fiction. I've been talking a lot lately about "Forgotten Masters". Merritt is a brick in the base of the pyramid; you see the blocks in front of it, on the facing-- H.P. Lovecraft, C.A. Smith-- & you could forget that behind them sits another, supporting their weight. The Planet Stories edition from Paizo comes complete with period interior illustrations that really anchor this to the best part of its roots as otherworldly adventure tale. The pin-up style of the cover doesn't really do it service.

No surprises in race relations or gender relations. Well, it isn't quite as simple as some of the patronizing & insulting ilk in its period (the early twentieth century). The women do fight-- they are the hellcat stereotype, the vixen, the Selina Kyle. There is a definite "mastery!" theme to the romance-- oh BDSM, how you do rear your dear old head! The racial break is...well, complicated as well. You've got the best-buddies of the white American & the white Viking, but they are also mates with the Persian & the Ninevite; do "deep historical" non-whites count? There is mention made of "two black slaves" who stand out from the oarsmen on the ship. Oarsmen? Rowers.

A. Merritt writes a heck of a yarn, has a sterling command of language-- like when he calls the marks left by the taskmaster's whip "blood runes"-- & knows his source material. I can't tell you how nice that latter bit is; for the dabbler it is fine to gloss over your mythological details, but Merritt knows his readers are going to be aficionados. His Persian characters compare Nergal to Ahriman, he calls Marduk "Bel" to be period specific & adorns his altar with "cherubs" of the proper make-- sphinxlike! Being a Mordicai, or "Mardukai" with a penchant & phobia of predator cats with the heads of women & the wings of raptors, that sort of thing is important to me. Tim Powers nails some of the most memorable scenes in his introduction: the bit with the Sultan of the Two Deaths & the description of the Temple of the Seven Zones. The latter scene of which is actually quite breathtaking, & definitely the aphelion of the text.
Tags: books, haiku

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