The Rime of the Postmodern Mariner

More ramblings of Rhys Hughes.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Henry Kuttner

Baen Books are responsible for some of the worst covers in the SF and Fantasy book worlds. And yet many great authors are published by that company, including Philip José Farmer, Poul Anderson and L. Sprague de Camp. Recently I picked up Mountain Magic. I have been a fan of the weird-hillbillies-in-the-back-of-beyond sub-sub-subgenre ever since picking up a copy of Manly Wade Wellman's John the Balladeer more than fifteen years ago, a collection of short stories featuring 'Silver John', a wanderer with a guitar who meets, greets and beats supernatural powers among the Appalachian forests. That particular cycle of fantasies inspired my own 'Tin Dylan' sequence of tales about a Welsh bard who wanders the lesser hills and woodlands of Wales, meeting supernatural powers and failing to beat them.

Mountain Magic is a collection of three sets of such stories by David Drake, Eric Flint and Henry Kuttner. Each author gets a section of the book to themselves, and they work very well together, although the different stories weren't originally intended to appear under one cover. It was Kuttner's name that initially attracted me to the book. Years ago I read an obscure SF anthology of stories from the '40s and Kuttner's contribution ('The Voice of the Lobster') stood out a mile above the others for its ironic tone, intelligence and quality prose.

In Mountain Magic Kuttner's genius is demonstrated by 'The Hogben Stories', four interlinked tall tales of a mutated family of hillbillies who originally came from Atlantis (via Europe) and possess a selection of very peculiar talents, certainly not limited to turning invisible, flying and hypnotising animals. Although written before Wellman's 'Silver John' stories (which they possibly inspired) I regard them as superior: more inventive, imaginative and clever, and more in keeping with the flavour of the archetypal backwoods 'tall tale'. I wish I had discovered them sooner!

Henry Kuttner's 'Hogben Stories' have made me want to write a similar set of such stories myself. Ideas are turning over in my mind right now. I have begun far too many story cycles that still aren't finished, and I really ought to stop creating new ones, but I don't choose my schemes: they choose me. I guess my own sequence will be set in West Wales, probably somewhere in Pembrokeshire, beyond the 'Little England Beyond Wales', as the south of that region is known.


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