Monday, April 26, 2021

Pulp Fantasy Library: Warrior of Llarn

For various reasons, I've been on something of a sword-and-planet kick. As a sub-genre of fantasy, it's one of my favorites, due in no small part to my encountering the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs at an impressionable age. Invariably such stories feature ancient, dying worlds dotted with decadent civilizations, bizarre monsters, and science so advanced that it is indistinguishable from sorcery. That's a heady mix of ingredients for exciting tales of adventure – little wonder, then, that the text of the three little brown books of Dungeons & Dragons frequently refers to Barsoom and the exploits of John Carter there.

Warrior of Llarn is Gardner F. Fox's entry into the field of sword-and-planet fiction, first published in 1964. This initial release boasts a terrific cover by none other than Frank Frazetta. This is several years prior to his moody paintings gracing the covers of the Lancer Conan paperbacks that would soon be found on spinner racks everywhere. Heresy though this probably is, I actually like this cover better than some of his Conan efforts. I think it's the red-tinted nighttime sky that does it for me, I'm not sure.

Warrior of Llarn begins portentously, as the protagonist, who later identifies himself as Alan Morgan, is awakened by "an alien voice," saying, "Come to me, man of Earth! I call! I call!" Morgan tells the reader that 

This was not the first time I had heard it, not even the hundredth. It had come to me ever since I can remember, first as a small child, then as a youth and now – as a man. It was an old friend.

Morgan ponders the mystery of this voice.

What did this voice want of me? What mission was I to go on for this being whose mind was so incredibly powerful it could bypass the barriers of the space-time continuum to find and summon me? I lay there and tried to think, to go over what part the voice played in my life, its meaning and its inexorable hold on my body and my mind.

All my life I have heard the voice.

Morgan then describes to the reader – through first-person narration, like John Carter before him – that he was the "youngest son of a prosperous Middle West lawyer" and that he had gone to the "right schools," played the "right sports," and had even spent time in a military school, where he learned to shoot and duel. He enjoyed fishing and hunting and had learned survive in the wilds on his own. Morgan suspects that the voice had been guiding him in his choices, as if preparing him for something. Furthermore, it contributed to his natural restlessness, his sense that he "belonged to another place and another time." 

While out hunting "in the Goose Island country," where his family owns a cabin, Morgan encounters a wolf that had been terrorizing the region. Though he had intended to put it down, the beast gets the drop on him and leaps at him, biting his arm. Morgan falls backward and suddenly finds himself "lay[ing] on my back under a huge, hot sun." Beneath him was sand and there was no sign of his rifle – or his clothes – though he bore a wound on his arm from where the wolf had bitten him. 

Rather than being shocked or frightened by his circumstances, Morgan quickly assumes he must be on some other world. He waits for the voice he'd since childhood to address him, but it does not. Not wasting time, he gets up and assesses his circumstances. He notices that "my body seemed to be stronger, my step lighter," which leads him to conclude that the world on which he found himself must be smaller than Earth and with a lower gravity. If this all sounds familiar, it should.

Morgan walks until his feet are sore. He notices "a mighty band of glistening matter" in the sky and concludes that this planet had rings about it, though it is clearly not Saturn. After more walking, he encounters a group of blue men "mounted on some sort of four-legged beat like a horse." The blue men have horns on their heads and a "beast-like appearance." Nearby is a "long dark altar of bright black stone" upon which rests a metal ball, no bigger than a marble that somehow he knew "was infinitely important." Through his actions, one of the blue men is slain and the others flee. With the metal ball in hand, he takes the blue man's clothing and weapons and then mounts the weird horse-like animal to explore this alien planet to which he has been brought for reasons still unknown.

Would you believe that Morgan eventually finds and rescues a local princess, Tuarra, from a larger group of blue men – Azunn, we later learn they are called – after her flier crashes in the desert? Her skin is golden rather than red and, though she is certainly lovely, she's never once described as "incomparable," but astute readers know the score. Warrior of Llarn continues like this throughout. It's a (no pun intended) naked pastiche of E.R. Burroughs's Barsoom novels, though, to his credit, Fox does throw a few wrinkles into the formula. Despite this, I liked it well enough. Its brevity (about 150 pages) is a huge point in its favor and Fox's prose is similarly brisk. Whether that's enough for anyone else I leave to readers to decide for themselves.


  1. Gardner Fox was beyond merely prolific as a writer, with a great deal of his work being in comics, mostly for DC where he produced upwards of 1500 (maybe as high as 2000, which puts him up there with fellow madman Bob Kanigher) stories over the years. I first ran into him through the Adam Strange comic and didn't realize he was also a novelist until encountering some of his Kothar books in a used book store in the 80s. Love his work (even the utter cheese like the Lady from L.U.S.T. books) and he was responsible for some of most memorable (and just plain gonzo) comics of the Silver Age.

    Apparently you can read quite a bit of his work free online over here:

  2. That alien horse Frazetta drew is evocative enough that I'll definitely use it for some game.

    Have you heard of the Otis Kline vs Burroughs Venus feud? Both wrote remarkably similar stories set on Venus.

    1. I have and it's quite a fascinating story, if true. However, I've read sources that suggest the whole thing is merely a legend without any solid basis in reality.

  3. That color scheme is really unusual for Frazetta. I was surprised it was him!

    1. I felt the same way. One of the reasons I like it so much is the more vibrant color scheme.

  4. That is one of my favorite Frazetta's and one of my earliest memories of his work. It is quite different, before he hit on his dark fantasy style. The original is long missing which is why we don't see higher resolution images of it, back then his original work wasn't returned back to him, so it is either long gone or in someone's forgotten collection.

  5. I've read "Warrior of Llarn" a few years ago and I remember it being very uninspired, to the point I was expecting a twist of sort, some kind of self-awareness about a lantern-chin protagonist so masculine he borders on parody.
    I cannot be sure of all details anymore, but my recollection is that each of three times the protagonists eats something specific, it is always a steak of some kind except this one time he in very many details highlighting his honesty traded something for roadway fruit.
    Some adversaries don't even have descriptions - one former enemy was described only after he became an ally. I don't think the main bad guy was ever described. I vaguely recall some convoluted coincidences, such as a party which Alan just happened to meet in the whole desert was lead by the son of one of the antagonists, and him meeting a first roadway peasant who just turns out to be in a rebellion against an evil lord, or something to that effect.

    People confuse Alan Morgan for a member of species said to dwell in underwater places, as his skin is so very pale comparatively to their (it is often repeated in the text how very pale it is), but this happens even after he tanned. By the way, he walked those days in desert under a bitter sun with no clothes, and didn't suffer any health consequences whatsoever (still being pale enough for people to confuse him with underwater people).

    The front picture, some environment descriptions and names are about the only good thing about the book from my recollection. I will take Lin Carter's Green Star over 'Warriors of Llarn' any day, and Ginger Star saga over Green Star.