What is this Sorcery?

So what is this nonsense? 
 Excellent question, glad you asked. Sons of the Bear God is an awful and forgotten swords & sorcery novel written by Norwell W. Page in 1935, the second book in an unsuccessful personal project by this bewilderingly prolific contributor to The Spider stories (under the pseudonym Grant Stockbridge). Did I mention it was awful?

His bronzed body was naked to the breechclout and on chest and thigh and shoulder the fiery hairs bristled like individual flames in the sunlight — each with its seperate defiance of the hovering death. He set his crouching thighs against the pull of the arrow and his muscles looked like gnarled oak roots thrusting up through forest-mould. The hands of his small companion trembled on the arrow and his pendulous lips quivered.
 It goes on like this for 142 pages. Nothing goes un-adverbed, everything is bristling and defiant and bulging. Names and locations are lifted from history and flung together at random as the protagonist, Prestor John, fights Mongols, Romans, dwarves(?), and the Ainu in his righteous crusade to get 10'000 converts to "Christos", his new god. A god who wouldn't hold it against him if he made yet another evil empire (he's had two) under his banner in the meantime, of course. As long as he gets the promised 10'000 bums on pews it's all good.
 This sounds quite bad, and it is, but like almost all S&S it has a streak of pure genius running through it. The relationship between the hero and his side-kick being a particularly good example, one a little hate filled wizard and the other being Prestor, the egomaniac ex-gladiator, ex-king, who takes every opportunity to insult and bully, the tiny sorceror who used to be a mighty wizard ruler in his own right before having all his co-rulers killed by Prestor. The details are fuzzy. However, we do know this ends up in a wonderful arrangement where it is obvious that Prestor keeps the wizard around purely so he has someone to tell his stories of greatness to, and the wizard is there because he is equally power-hungry but as craven as Prestor is full of himself. This set-up creates a constant cycle of betrayal, where the wizard jumps on any sign of Prestor's weakness in comparison to his enemies' and stabs him in the back, sometimes literally, only to be taken back when the tables turn again since Prestor is a massive egotist who refuses to see the wizard as a threat.
 There are other fun things as well, such as the dialogue. Taken in context it is, again, awful and hammy. Traditional neo-Shakespearean pulp crap speckled with "thee"s and "thy"s. But, like a beautiful cut-up poem they look wonderful when ripped up and placed in a new setting. The series of events are also fun and very S&S. At one point he kills a sacred bear and has to replace it as the official executioner, taking the bears tittle, property, and hoes, how cool is that?

 Quite. So I decided to re-write it and every other book that tries to convince me that S&S is bad. I've read a lot of old S&S books, far more than I can remember if the shelves behind me are anything to go by. I go through them looking for certain texts, often coming across a musty old book and suffering an involuntary shudder as my deepest memory instinctively recoils from remembering it. Even the so-called "greats" like Jirel of Joiry are just bad. Very bad. I'm sure you can put a lot of it down to the time-period, but then you remember that these were written after Conan, along side Elric, Kane and Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser. No excuses!  And thus, re-writing them. I will rip out the quivering spines of these novels, separate them from their flabby, muscle-bound bodies and stick them in lean, minimalist, densely written machines. Smaller machines. About 50% smaller. After you take out all the hamming and flexing there really isn't much left.

 I'll continue to put up sections of the book as it gets torn apart. It's a harder job than first expected as you can only follow the book for so long before the already silly plot becomes out-right ludicrous. This requires some vigorous punching and editing and punching. More battered remains soon.

1 comment:

  1. I openly advocate and encourage the continual tearing of it apart, I am looking forward to more critique of the battered remains to come.