It's a Dark, Dark World

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"You're going to love this one," Erik told me when we decided to publish Henry Kuttner's The Dark World. "It's amazing."

"Cool," I said, and left it at that. After all, while being publisher of Planet Stories has given Erik the chance to accelerate his ascension to pulp scholarship, we see a lot of good books around here. So I got a little excited, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then I saw what some other folks had to say about it.

"I consider the work of Henry Kuttner to be the finest science fantasy ever written. The Dark World was the best fantasy I have ever copy is already half thumbed to death as I imagine I have read it at least twelve times."
Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of The Mists of Avalon

Oh. Well...

"Henry Kutter was a neglected master... a man who shaped science fiction and fantasy in its most important years."
Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451


"The Kuttner story which most impressed me in those most impressionable days was his short novel The Dark World. I returned to it time and time, reading it over and over again, drawn by its colorful, semi-mythic characters and strong action.... Looking back, Kuttner and Moore—and, specifically, The Dark World—were doubtless a general influence on my development as a writer."
Roger Zelazny, author of the Amber series

Okay, guys, I get it! Geez!

The honest truth, though, is that The Dark World is amazing. In Kuttner's fast-reading fantasy classic, WWII airman Edward Bond returns home from strange events during the war to discover that his mind is no longer his own. Instead, he now shares his body with his identical twin from an alternate dimension, the evil wizard Ganelon. Sucked through a portal to the mysterious fey realm known as the Dark World, Bond finds himself trapped between two warring factions. On one side is the Coven: a werewolf, a hooded immortal, and a beautiful and seductive witch, all eager to acknowledge Ganelon as their sinister ruler. On the other is the white sorceress Freydis and her band of forest rebels that want nothing more than to see the warlock's head on a spike. Within the first few pages, the book's central conflict comes out swinging: will Edward/Ganelon join with the rebels to release the oppressed world from the grip of a tyrannical, sacrifice—hungry god—or embrace the Coven to become the world's greatest villain?

It's a classic premise—the man drawn into another world of magic and swordplay—honed to the sharpest possible edge by Kuttner's clever brand of mythology backed by science. Yet the vibrant, instantly familiar setting isn't what makes this book stand out. No, what made it startlingly different in its day was its moral ambiguity. In an era—remember, we're in 1946—when you could reasonably expect any given protagonist to be a hard—jawed paragon of virtue, instinctively punching and slashing his way to justice without fail, Kuttner's hero is literally torn between good and evil. And for the first time in my pulp—reading career, I began to actually fear that our hero might not win. That the temptations of tyranny, unlimited power, and a life of luxury might be too much, and Edward Bond might—to quote another science fiction classic—give in to the dark side.

So take heed of what Marion, Ray, Roger—and, yes, Erik—have been saying and give The Dark World a shot. There are witches. There are vampires. There are werewolves. There are zombies. There are wizards and warlocks, dark gods with bloody sacrifices, and things that go bump in the night.

And they're winning....

James Sutter
Planet Stories Editor

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Tags: Dark World Henry Kuttner Planet Stories
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