Return to Atlantis

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ray Bradbury once referred to Henry Kuttner as "a neglected master... a man who shaped science fiction and fantasy in its most important years." Kuttner sold his first story, "The Graveyard Rats," to Weird Tales in 1936, the same year in which he wrote a fan letter to rising science fiction author C. L. Moore, mistakenly believing her to be a man. The two were married in 1940, and in the years that followed they collaborated constantly, publishing under at least 17 pseudonyms, most notably Lewis Padgett and Keith Hammond. As Joe R. Lansdale relates in the introduction to our forthcoming Kuttner compilation, Elak of Atlantis, the story goes that the two worked so closely together on most of their projects that when one got up from the typewriter to go to the bathroom, the other would slide into their place and seamlessly take up where they left off. Yet before the collaborations, before many of the Cthulhu mythos stories born of Kuttner's relationship with H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, before the television scripts and film adaptations like The Last Mimsy, there was Elak.

Elak of Atlantis was one of the first heroes of the sword and sorcery genre, and remains one of the most important. Whereas Howard's Conan waded brutishly into the public eye with little more than a sword and an attitude, Elak was something different entirely. Cultured—though still a thief, adulterer, and cold-blooded killer—this droll fencer with the flashing rapier and secret past made way for a whole new breed of protagonist, falling somewhere between the Grey Mouser and Errol Flynn. With his perpetually drunk, Sancho-Panza-esque companion by his side, Elak battled his way across the fantastic frontiers of ancient Atlantis, slaying gods, wizards, dwarves, and foul horrors from Dagon's darkened depths, thrilling the eager readers of Weird Tales and earning himself a permanent place in the fantasy pantheon.

In Elak of Atlantis, the new Planet Stories book that's shipping to the printer as I write this, we've collected all of the Elak of Atlantis stories, many of which are exceedingly difficult to locate, as well as two even rarer stories featuring Prince Raynor, Kuttner's slightly-better-behaved scion of Imperial Gobi, the empire which fell long before Mesopotamia gave birth to modern civilization.

Kuttner has been cited as an influence by everyone from Marion Zimmer Bradley to Roger Zelazny, and both Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury have dedicated novels to him. By bringing back these stories, it's our hope to introduce a whole new generation to one of the most influential writers of the genre.


James Sutter
Editor, Planet Stories

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