Wright on Knight

The illustrious John C. Wright adds to the increasingly incandescent luster of the Castalia House blog with his first regular post there:

It is an eerie thing to reread the half-forgotten stories treasured in one’s youth. For better or worse, the hold haunts never look the same. The worse happens when eyes grown cynical with age will see tinsel and rubbish where once glamor gleamed as fresh and expectant as the sunrise in the Garden of Eden. And, to the contrary, the better happens when one discovers added layers of wonder, or deeper thoughts to savor, than a schoolboy’s brain can hold.

So I decided to read, in their order of publication, the Conan stories of Robert E Howard. I was not a devout fan of Conan in my youth, so some stories I had read before, others were new. But in each case I was surprised, nay, I was shocked, at how much better they were than I recalled.

In this space, time permitting, I hope to review each tale as I read it, starting with Phoenix on the Sword. But before any review talks about what Conan is, let me tell the candid reader what Conan is not.

As with HP Lovecraft’s spooky tales or with the adventure yarns of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the unwary reader often confuses the popularized and simplified versions of iconic characters, Cthulhu or Tarzan, with the character as first he appeared in the pages of a pulp magazine. Tropes now commonplace, endlessly copied, at the time were stark and startling and one-of-a-kind.

The original character who is later taken into a franchise or revised for comic books, film and television, or who is copied or reincarnated by the sincere flattery of lesser talents, is inevitably more raw and real than such dim Xeroxes of Xeroxes. These franchise writers, imitators, and epigones rarely do justice to the tale they copy, some, for whatever reason, do grave injustice.

And, of course, certain writers of modest talent and no memorable accomplishment delight to assume the pen and mantle of the art critics and connoisseur in order to diminish the stature of author they cannot match. They do a deliberate injustice to iconic characters, and further muddy the perception.

Read the whole thing there, and not just because Mr. Wright administers Damon Knight, the John Scalzi of the Silver Age of Science Fiction, a well-deserved posthumous kicking. It is ever so fitting that the SFWA Grand Master award bears that petty little mediocrity’s name.