Monday, December 19, 2022

Pulp Fantasy Library: Adventure in Lemuria

If you look at the nearly 300 entries in the Pulp Fantasy Library series on this blog, you'll notice that there are a number of names that recur again and again – Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, C.L. Moore, and Clark Ashton Smith, to name just a few. By and large, I expect that many, if not most of these names, would be familiar even to casual readers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, as they're among the writers of the Pulp Era generally acknowledged to be the best and most worthy of lasting attention. 

At the same time, they're not the only writers from that storied period of popular literary history. For every Robert E. Howard or H.P. Lovecraft, who are esteemed widely today, there are probably a dozen other workaday writers whose tales entertained their readers in the past but who have subsequently been forgotten. As a mediocre writer myself, I can't help but feel a little kinship with these men and women, more than a few of whom, I think, are worthy of interest, if not necessarily of effusive praise. 

A case in point in Frederic Arnold Kummer, Jr. He was born and grew up in Baltimore County, Maryland, where I spent my own formative years. His career as a pulp fictioneer was short; he published 34 stories during a two-year period between 1939 and 1940. While most of them could broadly be called "science fiction" in nature (many were sword-and-planet or space operas), a handful belong to the category of sword-and-sorcery. One such fantasy yarn was "Adventure in Lemuria," which appeared in the May 1939 issue of Fantastic Adventures, edited by the legendary Ray Palmer (later of Amazing Stories).

"Adventure in Lemuria" is another entry in the very popular genre of fantasy stories set in the prehistoric past of Earth, before one or more mythical continents had sunk beneath the waves following a cataclysm of some kind. I imagine it was Ignatius Donnelly's Atlantis: The Antediluvian World that kicked this genre off, but, in the years after its initial publication in 1882, many others had elaborated upon his claims or developed their own. As its title suggests, Kummer opted not for Atlantis or Hyperborea as the setting for his tale, but rather Mu, located somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Lemuria is another, older name for Mu and one Kummer uses primarily for the title. 

The story's protagonist is a stranger to Mu.
"Khor the Wanderer, men call me," he said. "From the land of Crete in the Upper Sea, I come. For more than a hundred moons have I traveled east. And now I have reached this land of Mu, called by the travelers the home of the gods."

Khor's world would seem to be vaguely like Howard's Hyborian Age in that it's heavily based on aspects of the ancient world of Earth, though mythologized and including many fantastical elements. Khor's Crete, for example, would seem to be some analog of the Bronze Age Minoans, given by his use of a double-headed axe in battle, said weapon being an important symbol of that ancient civilization. On the other hand, the reader should no more mistake Khor's Crete for the real Crete than he should Conan's Cimmeria for the real one. Kummer, like Howard, is using the names and broad details of the ancient world as a foundation on which he builds his fantasy.

Shortly after arriving on Mu, Khor observes "a slender dark-haired young man clad in a blue mantle" attempting to fend off an attack by "four warriors in gleaming gilded armor, squat swarthy men, their faces aglow with fierce exultation."  

Khor marveled at the skill with which the youth, armed only with a light hunting sword, defended himself against the four flashing blades; yet it was evident that his was a losing battle, that the men in the golden armor were intent upon keeping him occupied until a loss of blood and exhaustion would cause him to drop, an easy victim, at their feet.

It was this latter fact that decided Khor. Brave men, he felt, would fight to kill ... but this wearing out an opponent and then slitting his throat at one's leisure was the work of cowards. Grimly he raised the burnished bronze axe, and, with a shout of encouragement to the man in the blue mantle, sprang from the shadow of the trees.

Khor's attitude is another way in which "Adventure in Lemuria" reminds me of Howard's work. The Cretan wanderer adheres to a rough but honest code of honor of a sort not too different from that of Conan. He saves the youth, who name we learn is Jador, not because he objects to what appears to be banditry but because he disapproves of the way that the four golden-armored men toy with their would-be prey. 

Jador thanks Khor for his assistance and reveals that he is the ruler of Zac, "which is part of the great nation of Lemuria ... Mu."

"A prince!" Khor grinned ironically, glancing at the bodies of the gold-clad warriors. "And these ...?"

"Followers of my half-sister, Lalath." The youth's face darkened. "Five years since, when I was still a child, she seized the throne of Zac. Only through the loyalty of my guard was I able to escape. Five years in hiding, I spent, and now, having come of age, I seek to regain my throne, reestablish the worship of Narayama, the true god, in place of blood Molech. Today, accompanied by a few loyal retainers, I came here to await the arrival of those who espouse my cause, peasants, merchants, nobles, all sworn to assemble here during the night, attack the city tomorrow. By mischance we encountered Lalath's warriors ... and the rest you know."

Khor, being an experienced and well-traveled man, tells Jador that "no handful of rebels" will be sufficient to achieve what he intends. The prince, however, is unperturbed and explains that "Narayama the true god shall aid us." He then adds, "When I return to the throne of Zac, you will be rewarded. Thanks and may the gods keep you."

Despite his intention to leave the young man to his doom, Khor cannot abandon Jador. Instead, he joins him in his ascent up a nearby mountain, upon which "lies the secret tomb of [Jador's] ancestors," where he shall pray to Narayama for guidance. The prince takes Khor's change of heart as evidence that the Cretan "must have been sent by the true gods," just as he does the wanderer's suggestion he might could aid him by entering the city alone and "at the appointed hour fall upon the guards of some postern gate, open it to admit your armies" – a plan to which Jador readily agrees.

Of course, things don't go quite as simply as that. Khor is captured before he can execute his plan and he is taken as a prisoner before Lalath, where he is given the choice of joining her or becoming another sacrifice to Molech. It's at this point that the story really takes off and Kummer – and Khor – reveals he has a trick up his sleeve, leading to a fairly satisfying climax. "Adventure in Lemuria" is a brisk, straightforward yarn that held my attention for the entirety of the time I was reading it. Certainly, it doesn't hold a candle to even the lesser entries in, say, the Howardian canon, but it was fun and, when it comes to pulp fantasy, that's not nothing. If you'd like to give it a read yourself, it's been collected, along a number of other similar tales, in Heroes of Atlantis & Lemuria.


  1. I'll say this for it, giving the protag over nine years to make his way from Crete to somewhere in the Indian Ocean is a pretty reasonable timeframe. Neither rushed nor overly slow, assuming the guy's supposed to be at least in his mid-to-late twenties.

    I've read a number of Kummer Junior's other stories on Project Gutenberg, all scifi. Not bad at all as I recall. Not sure why he stopped writing, although perhaps WW2 interrupted him and he just never resumed. His bibliography lists a few things from later on - 1942, 1945 and 1950 - but only a few.

    His father was a fairly successful author and screenwriter as well, with seven films adapted from his work from 1914-1923.
    Also had a Liberty ship named after him, perhaps in memoriam - he died in 1943. I suppose his father's death might also have led Junior to make a break with writing.

  2. Lost continental nitpick: Lemuria was proposed by Philip Sclater (a zoologist) as a land bridge in the Indian Ocean to explain the presence of lemur fossils in India and Madagascar, but not in the lands between. Mu was a lost continent in the Atlantic Ocean proposed by an archaeologist named Le Plongeon. An occultist named Churchward later moved it to the Pacific Ocean. The two never-existing continents are often conflated, though.

  3. A bit more on topic, this story was collected in "Heroes of Atlantis & Lemuria" (DMR Books, 2019) along with 2 others by Kummer, 5 by Manly Wade Wellman, and 1 by Leigh Brackett.

  4. Of course there are real lost continents.

    Then there's Atlantis (maybe?).