I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me nearly twenty-five years between acquiring it and reading it. It was the focus of issue 5 of Amberzine. As best I recall, I ordered a subscription, and the available back issues. The back issues came all together, and I skimmed them all when they arrived, and when I saw this one was dedicated to some dumb story of which I had never heard and which wasn’t even about Amber (plus some people talking about the dumb story), I just put it down and moved on to the next.
It’s worth noting that Kuttner co-wrote many of his works with his wife, C. L. Moore, and it’s believed that she wrote most of the Dark World but they put Kuttner’s name on it because he was the one with a story due. I really like the tempo of the prose. Had I come upon this without a name attached, could have believed it a Zelazny story. And in some ways it is, as its echoes can be heard in Zelazny’s work. At the very least, The Dark World is godfather to Amber. I’ll comment on some of the similarities I noticed as I progress through this recap.
Please be advised that this recap contains spoilers. Read on at your own peril.
The Dark World is the story of Bond, Edward Bond, who had been a soldier in World War II, and who now seems to be undergoing some kind of slow-motion mental collapse that began when he was shot down in that war.
"What is it, Ed? Do you have any inkling at all?"
"Psychologically I suppose you could call it a persecution complex," I said slowly. "I believe in things I never used to."I like that bit. It reminds me of the piece when Corwin is discussing his memory loss in Sign of the Unicorn, and of the exchange in Hangman about the Hermacis complex. It strikes me as distinctly Zelaznian, in that the protagonist is trying to make sense of the unknown by trying to define it in terms of his existing schema. People do that all the time, indeed, I’d go so far as to call it as one of the defining characteristics of humanity, but it’s a trait that’s seldom well-depicted in genre works. It goes back to what I love about Zelazny’s writing. It always reminds me of a line from a different Ganelon: “Their voices lack the thrust and dip of men chewing over their words and tasting them.” When reading Zelazny, I always feel that he’s fully thought through the ramifications of what he’s telling us, that he’s tasted his words before sharing them with us.
And from a 1994 interview
Zelazny likes to develop different systems of magic, but his emphasis is on systems. He feels the magic should be worked out and contain no contradictions. It should run more like science and not be too supernatural in which anything goes. That route leads to magic being a crutch to move the plot along. He also likes to use the mystery plot. He feels that there is an elegance to having a puzzle overlaid on a fantasy or SF novel. The mystery helps build the mythic elements in fantasy, but is also akin to the process of discovery in science.I like it when my fantasy worlds make sense. God knows the real world doesn’t.
Enough navel gazing. Back in the Dark World,it turns out what really happened is that Bond was swapped by for his counterpart in the Dark World, Ganelon. He is called back to the Dark World by his coven, “The Coven”.
The name for the group might not be particularly evocative, but the members of the Coven are a vividly painted crew. Zelazny calls them “semi-mythic” and he’s not wrong.
Matholch: I turned, and saw, framed against the dark portiere, the rangy, whipcord figure of a man, clad as I was in tunic and trunks. His red, pointed beard jutted; the half-snarling curve of his full lips reminded me of something. Agile grace was in every line of his wiry body.
Edeyrn: Not even now could I see the face; the shadows within the cowl were too deep. I felt the keen glint of a watchful gaze, though, and a breath of something unfamiliar-cold and deadly. The robes were saffron, an ugly hue that held nothing of life in the harsh folds. Staring, I saw that the creature was less than four feet tall, or would have been had it stood upright.
Medea: I turned, getting slowly to my feet. Medea stood there smiling, very slim and lovely in a close-fitting scarlet gown. In her hand was a small black rod, still raised. Her purple eyes met mine.
"You have remembered," Medea said. "Ganelon is ours again. Do you remember me-Lord Ganelon?" Medea, witch of Colchis! Black and white and crimson, she stood there smiling at me, her strange loveliness stirring old, forgotten memories in my blood. No man who had known Medea could ever forget her wholly. Not till time ended.
Ghast Rhymi: Ghast Rhymi, who has more power than any of us, but is too old to use it.
We have pills for that now.
That’s kind of an awful name, right? It’s not just me? I think the second part is pronounced “rhyme-y”, like what a poem is, and it takes me out of the story every time I see it.
I remembered Ghast Rhymi, whose face Edward Bond had never seen. Old, old, old, beyond good and evil, beyond fear and hatred, this was Ghast Rhymi, the wisest of the Coven. If he willed, he would answer my groping thought. If he willed not, nothing could force him. Nothing could harm the Eldest, for he lived on only by force of his own will.
The Coven retrieves Ganelon from his exile, but he still believes himself Bond at first.
"The artificial Earth-memories are still strong, then. Ghast Rhymi said you would remember eventually, but that it would take time. The false writing on the slate of your mind will fade, and the old, true memories will come back. After a while." Like a palimpsest, I thought-manuscript with two writings upon its parchment. But Ganelon was still a stranger; I was still Edward Bond.Zelazny’s knowledge was so broad that it’s certainly possible that he would have encountered the concept of the palimpsest elsewhere. However, as Yama likens a mind with false memories to a palimpsest in Lord of Light
Ganelon’s personality eventually asserts itself when he realizes the Coven has betrayed him. (Rage had opened the floodgates, and Edward Bond was no more than a set of thin memories that had slipped from me as the blue cloak had slipped from my shoulders-the blue cloak of the chosen sacrifice, on the shoulders of the Lord Ganelon!) They sought to sacrifice him because they foresaw their ruination at his hands, but, in a twist as old as Sophocles, it is their betrayal that sets him on that path. Something similar happens in Amber when Fiona tells Corwin that Brand sought to kill him because he saw a vision in Tir’Na’Nogth, but I’m reluctant to say this is some kind of homage, because this is pretty standard prophecy trope.
He’s rescued by the Men of the Forest before he can be sacrificed. When Bond and Ganelon were originally switched, Bond aided the forest men, and they rescued him here, thinking him still Bond. During his time with them, he had grown close to one of their number, the woman named Arles, who is described as follows.
She stood high upon a boulder that overhung the stream. She was dressed like a man in a tunic of soft, velvety green, crossbelted with a weapon swinging at each hip, but her hair was a fabulous mantle streaming down over her shoulders and hanging almost to her knees in a cascade of pale gold that rippled like water. A crown of pale gold leaves the color of the hair held it away from her face, and under the shining chaplet she looked down and smiled at us. Especially she smiled at me-at Edward Bond.
And her face was very lovely. It had the strength and innocence and calm serenity of a saint's face, but there was warmth and humor in the red lips. Her eyes were the same color as her tunic, deep green, a color I had never seen before in my own world.
Green eyes. I’m just saying…
There is some question to his identity among the rebels, so he is taken to Freydis, a wise women, because she will know if he is Bond or Ganelon.
This is my favorite part in the book. Ganelon enters her cave, confident he can pass as Edward Bond.
Strange to relate, I felt sure of myself as I walked up the sloping ramp in the darkness. Ahead of me, around a bend, I could see the glimmer of firelight, and I smiled. It had been difficult to speak with these upstart woodsrunners as if they were my equals, as if I were still Edward Bond. It would be difficult to talk to their witchwoman as if she had as much knowledge as a Lord of the Coven. Some she must have, or she could never have managed the transfer which had sent me into the Earth-world and brought out Edward Bond. But I thought I could deceive her or anyone these rebels had to offer me.
The small cave at the turn of the corridor was empty except for Freydis. Her back was to me. She crouched on her knees before a small fire that burned, apparently without fuel, in a dish of crystal. She wore a white robe, and her white hair lay in two heavy braids along her back. I stopped, trying to feel like Edward Bond again, to determine what he would have said in this moment.
Then Freydis turned and rose. She rose tremendously. Few in the Dark World can look me in the eye, but Freydis' clear blue gaze was level with my own. Her great shoulders and great, smooth arms were as powerful as a man's, and if age was upon her, it did not show in her easy motions or in the timeless face she turned to me. Only in the eyes was knowledge mirrored, and I knew as I met them that she was old indeed.
"Good morning, Ganelon," she said in her deep, serene voice.Ganelon is startled, but recovers himself and makes his pitch. They both want to destroy the Coven, so if Freydis wants the rebels to succeed, it’s in her best interest to tell everyone that he’s Bond.
She agrees and assists him in the recovery of Ganelon’s memories, and the description parallels Corwin’s recovery of his memories when he walks the Pattern.
DW: Ganelon's life came back in pictures that went vividly by and were printed forever on my brain. I knew his powers; I knew his secret strengths, his hidden weaknesses. I knew his sins. I exulted in his power and pride.
9PiA: The currents subsided and more of my memories returned, memories of my life as a prince of Amber. . . . No, they are not yours for the asking: they are mine, some vicious and cruel, others perhaps noble-
She then vouches for his identity, and the rebels prepare for the assault on the coven with the modern weapons Bond had helped them develop, which reminds me of Guns of Avalon. Ganelon reflects on the nature of the members of the Coven, and this bit shows where Kuttner and Zelazny diverge in their approach to magical systems.
And such minds, with their new powers, would develop tools for those powers. The wands. Though no technician, I could understand their principle. Science tends toward simpler mechanisms; the klystron and the magnetron are little more than metal bars. Yet, under the right conditions, given energy and direction, they are powerful machines.Each author posits system of magic that is logical and follows its own internally consistent set of rules, but I find Zelazny’s approach superior. I think Zelazny would use magnetism as an analogy, that we don’t fully understand the mechanism of the wand, but it appears to function in a fashion similar to magnetism, so we’ll use magnetism as a metaphor to describe it. With Kuttner, he’s essentially saying that the wands are elaborate magnets.
Well, the wands tapped the tremendous electromagnetic energy of the planet, which is, after all, simply a gargantuan magnet. As for the directive impulse, trained minds could easily supply that.
That was the aspect of the book that I enjoyed the least, and I do think it arises to the level of something subjectively wrong about it. When a well-educated lay person of the 1940s understands alien super-science well enough to manipulate it, it makes that science seem a lot less super.
I find the second of the book less interesting. Ganelon leads his rebels in their assault on the Coven. He loots the secret armory of the Coven for tools that will compel Ghast Ryhmi and protect him against the others.
My big problems with the second half of the book are twofold. I’ve already covered the first. Keats once said that Newton 'has destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow, by reducing it to the prismatic colours.' I normally applaud this kind of thing. Understanding the mechanism underlying a phenomenon enhances my appreciation, and I like my magic to fit a pattern, but the Dark World goes too far in the specificity of the functioning of the artifacts, to the point where it reduces the magical to the thoroughly mundane.
The other is that the revelation that Ghast Rhyhmi is an earth-born human (implied to be Merlin) doesn’t add very much to the story, and, much like the rest of the final act, doesn’t really build on what came before it. Same deal with Llyr being born a mutant and causing the schism that separated our earth and the Dark World. Both twists come out of nowhere and go nowhere.
The first one does give us the title of the post, and the second one explains why Llyr has an Irish name rather than one with all those vowels and apostrophes that eldritch monstrosities usually have, so there is that.
Overall, I like it, even with my caveats, for many of the same reasons I like Zelazny’s writings. It’s short, it’s punchy, it’s got a consistency and an enthusiasm to it. Ganelon is a great protagonist and the interplay with the supporting cast is solid. The prose probably reminds me most of Amber and the story of Jack of Shadows.
Further, there are the occasional segments that seem to have inspired similar passages in the Amber books, and those are like little Easter Eggs.
DW: I reached out, gripped Matholch's tunic, and shook him till his teeth rattled together. Hot fury filled me and something more.
This reminded me of the part in 9PiA when Corwin confronts Random about almost shooting the trucker. "I can take care of my own honor," I told him, and something cold and powerful suddenly gripped me and answered, "for he was mine to kill, not yours, had I chosen," and a sense of outrage filled me.
There are also several essays in the issue.
Imprinting Imagination - Jane Lindskold: She’s examining the influences of the Dark World on Zelazny’s writing, and takes a specific look at which Ganelon, Kuttner’s or the traitorous vassal of Charlemagne was a larger influence on Zelazny’s character. It’s a very precise, academic piece. I don't agree with her conclusions, but I very much appreciate her observations that the Dark World is the Primal Pattern underlying Amber,
Henry Kuttner: A Neglected Master - Ray Bradbury: A reprint of an introduction to an earlier Kuttner collection, saying should be better known. It doesn't have any particularly trenchant observations about the Dark World in particular, as it was intended to serve as the forward to a collection of a number of Kuttner stories, but it's Ray flippin' Bradbury, so it's brilliant, and brilliantly written.
Introduction - Roger Zelazny: I picked out my title for the post before seeing that Zelazny had used it to conclude his essay. I’m in good company! He mentions that he tried to emulate Kuttner's versatility and remarks that Theodore Sturgeon said to him "You know, Zelazny, you don't just have one style. You have many." which strikes me as kind of crazy, because Roger Zelazny is my very favorite author, but he had a very distinctive style in which he was versatile and accomplished but from which he seldom diverged.
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble: Essay on Kuttner & Merritt - Carl Yoke: This was an interesting essay. Yoke painstakingly points out numerous parallels between The Dark World and an earlier work, Dwellers in the Mirage. The Dark World is primarily of interest to the Zelazny fan because of what it inspired in Roger Zelazny, and it's just fascinating to look at what influenced the Dark World.