Monday, November 20, 2017

Lin Carter's Lost Fantasy Series

The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series, which published some 70-odd books from 1969-1974, is justly renowned, and Lin Carter (1930-1988) is often acclaimed as the editor of the series, but he was not the editor.  Look at the footer of every single one of his introductions to books in the series: his title is given as "Editorial Consultant, The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series."  The Editor of the series was actually Betty Ballantine.  What titles Carter suggested for the series had to have her approval, and since Carter's own taste was known to reach pretty low, we can be grateful to Betty Ballantine for holding the reins and keeping the standards higher. Thus I think the series as a whole was much better than if Carter had had carte blanche over the selections.  

Carter did have the chance of editing another fantasy series. He described it in an interview published in March 1980: 

"Zebra will be doing the Lin Carter Fantasy Selections. They'll be doing seven books a year, and I am able to cross over the borders into other genres. It doesn't have to be "like Tolkien", the epic fantasy sort of thing that was the premise at Ballantine. I'm able to do straight weird fiction, both novels and short story collections. I can do real science fiction, and some lost race and things like that. We're  starting with, I think, a very exciting book, Elak of Atlantis by Henry Kuttner, which will be the first time all of Kuttner's sword-and-sorcery has ever been in one place at one time. I've been trying to get this book into print for years through various people. . . . Some of the first titles we've already got in the works are John Silence by Algernon Blackwood, Phra the Phoenician by Edwin Lester Arnold, and a collection of Robert Bloch's Cthulhu Mythos stories.  It'll be called The Histories [sic] of the Worm, after the title of Bloch's imaginary volume in the Cthulhu Mythos [De Vermis Mysteriis]. We'll be doing one of these a year, one book out of the seven which will put together all the Cthulhu Mythos stories by the authors who wrote in the mythos. The only exceptions will be Derleth and Lovecraft, because those are available elsewhere, but we'll be doing a book of Kuttner's Cthulhu mythos stories, as well as Howard's and Frank Belknap Long's. I envision a collection of about eight volumes, which will bring into print all the Cthulhu mythos stories up to this date, at least by the older authors. I'm not sure we can get all of Ramsey Campbell's work into on place, and so on. Anyways, we'll also be putting out a collection of miscellaneous Cthulhu Mythos stories, by people who only wrote one or two; Carl Jacobi wrote one, Manly Wellman wrote one, there's a couple by Wandrei. Eventually, we 'll have a library of the Cthulu mythos, which I think will be a great thing. . . . I learned some lessons from Ballantine, that the sort of thing I thought should be in print wasn't commercial enough, and I don't like spending other people's money. Therefore, with the Zebra series, even though I hate the idea, I'm going to have to turn away from doing any more Clark Ashton Smith, or any more Kai Lung, because these things have to make cash, they have to be viable on the market-place. I'm going to be doing a number of adventure-fantasy novels, like Valdar the Oft-Born, Phra the Phoenician. I have some Atlantis novels I want to do and quite a bit of good stuff. I have a magnificent original novel from someone I've never heard of before, who's done a sequel to The Dying Earth with the permission of Jack Vance. I looked at it and said, "Nah, not a chance."  Then I read it and I was very impressed. It was such a good imitation, it was really a lot of fun. In other words, in the Zebra series, I can sprawl across categories much more broadly than I was ever allowed to at Ballantine, which is good." (Science Fiction Times, v. 1 no. 7, March 1980)

Carter had previously published with Zebra. He contributed an introduction to the July 1978 Zebra reprint of H. Rider Haggard's Eric Brighteyes, which sold well enough to achieve a second printing.  Zebra followed this title with three further Haggard titlesThe Wanderer's Necklace; Morning Star; and Pearl Maidenand while these titles did not have Lin Carter introductions, he probably suggested them to Zebra. Zebra also published in October 1979 Carter's original novel Tara of the Twilight, which Carter himself described as "elegantly written porno." Carter's editor at Zebra was Roy Torgeson (1936-1990), best known for editing ten volumes of Zebra's original anthology series Chrysalis (1977-1983).

So, pulling out the details from Carter's statement above, here is an alphabetical list of the proposed titles of the Zebra fantasy series.

Arnold, Edwin LesterPhra the Phoenician [Originally published in 1890, under a slightly different title, The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician]

Blackwood, Algernon. John Silence [Originally published in 1908]

Bloch, RobertThe Mysteries of the Worm [Book of Cthulhu Mythos stories. See below]

Campbell, Ramsey.  [Book of Cthulhu Mythos stories. Campbell's Lovecraftian stories were first collected in Cold Print (Scream/Press, 1985); an expanded edition came out in 1993.] 

Carter, Lin, presumed editor. [Book of misc. Cthulhu Mythos stories, including two by Donald Wandrei, and one each by Carl Jacobi and Manly Wade Wellman. Depending upon how expansive one's definition of the Cthulhu Mythos is, Wandrei, Jacobi and Wellman can be considered to have written several more Cthulhu Mythos stories than the few suggested by Carter.]

Griffith, GeorgeValdar the Oft-Born [Originally published in 1895]

Howard, Robert E.  [Book of Cthulhu Mythos stories. Twelve stories were collected in Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors, by Robert E. Howard, edited by David Drake, and published by Baen Books in May 1987.]

Kuttner, HenryElak of Atlantis  [A limited edition of 500 copies, containing four Elak stories and editorial matter by Gary Lovisi, was published under this title by Gryphon Books of Brooklyn in 1985]

Kuttner, Henry. [Book of Cthulhu Mythos stories. Ten of Kuttner's Cthulhu Mythos stories, plus one collaboration and with stories by other hands, were collected in The Book of Iod, published by Chaosium in 1995] 

Long, Frank Belknap. [Book of Cthulhu Mythos stories. In June 1979, prior to the Lin Carter interview, Zebra published Night Fear, a large collection of stories by Frank Belknap Long, edited and with an introduction by Roy Torgeson. It includes Long's Lovecraftian novella, "The Horror from the Hills," originally published in Weird Tales in 1931.]

[Unknown author, a sequel to The Dying Earth by Jack Vance and authorized by him. This can not refer to Michael Shea's sequel to The Dying Earth, A Quest for Simbilis, also authorized by Jack Vance, for it was published by DAW Books in 1974]

Though this interview with Lin Carter was published in March 1980, only one of the books of his proposed series was ever published by Zebra. Mysteries of the Worm by Robert Bloch came out a year and a half later in August 1981 as "A Lin Carter Fantasy Selection" comprising thirteen stories by Bloch, and Introduction by Carter, and an Afterword by Bloch. A second edition, revised and expanded (including three additional stories), edited by Robert M. Price, was published by Chaosium in 1993, and a third edition (also edited by Price), adding four more stories, was published by Chaosium in 2009.

Thus with Mysteries of the Worm Lin Carter's fantasy series with Zebra died.

Alongside the Zebra fantasy series, Carter was editing for the same publisher a revival of the magazine Weird Tales in mass market paperback form. This will be covered in a subsequent post. 


  1. Thanks for this interesting post, Doug. I'm particularly grateful for the setting-straight on Betty Ballantine as editor of the Ballantine Fantasy series.

    Are sales figures for the BAF series books available somewhere? I'm not surprised that the Kai Lung books evidently didn't sell many copies, but, though I am not a fan of Clark Ashton Smith, I would have expected his books to sell better than some of the other offerings in the series that are not mentioned here by Carter.

    Dale Nelson

    1. I don't know of any sales figures for the BAF being given anywhere, but the first Clark Ashton Smith book, Zothique, apparently did rather better than any subsequent one (Hyperborea, Poseidonis, Xiccarph). Other reportedly poor sellers were Beckford's Vathek, Meredith's The Shaving of Shagpat, and Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday.

    2. I'll bet Crawford's Khaled wasn't a big seller, also.

    3. I think Carter said elsewhere that the more a book was like Tolkien, the better it sold.

  2. "Other reportedly poor sellers were Beckford's Vathek, Meredith's The Shaving of Shagpat, and Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday. "

    Worldcat lists editions of the Beckford and Chesterton books being published from Penguin and Oxford University Press in the early 1970s. So if these weren't big BAF sellers, it might have been because they were already available from other publishers (unlike, say, "Lud-In-The-Mist" or the Cabell books, which had previously been out of print
    for decades).

    1. This is precisely true. And with regard to Cabell, BAF never did Cabell's bestselling book Jurgen because it was available from another publisher.

  3. Awesome blog, i always enjoy & read the post you are sharing!
    Thank for your very good article...!

  4. There was the early Ramsey Campbell very Lovecraftian book, the arguable juvenilia of THE INHABITANT OF THE LAKE AND LESS WELCOME TENANTS, which Arkham had published while RC was in his teens. I suspect Campbell was in no hurry to have that back out, or else Zebra probably would've been willing to snap that up.