Thursday, March 15, 2012

At the Dawn - Duar the Accursed

   According to Lin Carter in the notes of his "New Worlds for Old" anthology, after C. L. Moore, the next author to pick up the fallen torch of Robert E. Howard was Clifford Ball.  There's little biographical information available (well, that I could find) about him other than that he was (maybe) born in 1896 and died (probably) in 1947.  For four and half years he wrote six stories, all printed in Weird Tales.
   In his "Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers", Sprague de Camp (recently reviewed by Brian Murphy over at The Silver Key) accords a few notes and eight short paragraphs to the three swords and sorcery stories Ball wrote.  So far I've only been able to get a copy of the first story, "Duar the Accursed".  It was first printed in Weird Tales - May 1937 and then reprinted in Carter's "New worlds for Old".  It's a fun, very, very Howardesque tale, but with some interesting ideas that might have been developed into something interesting had Ball not stopped writing.  
   We meet Duar, known as the Accursed, when he is brought before Queen Nione of Ygoth, a prisoner captured following his killing of three of her subjects.  The description of Duar will sound familiar to any fan of Conan; "the height of the mountain men, ... the black hair of the cavemen, the blue eyes... the swift strength of the dwellers of the plains".  He's also been an adventurer, a mercenary and pirate and a king.  
   Nothing in the basic description of Duar is particularly original or non-Conanesque.  However, and it's a substantial however, Duar has a cloaked and mysterious past.  He has no recollection of any events in his life before awakening on the field of Sate in the service of King Taerus.  Since then his adventures, merely his  "roving inclinations" have led him from one adventurous undertaking to the next.  During his life he's been shadowed by dark portents such as a great raven that flies above his pirate galley and earthquakes and hurricanes that level his kingdom.
   Duar is a not a bold and haughty man.  Despite being offered safe passage from Ygoth in exchange for a promise of a peaceful exit, Duar stands his ground and refuses.  In return for his recalcitrance he ends up imprisoned in the lightles dungeons of the Pits of Ygoth.  It's there we learn something of Duar's mysterious background.  In the distant unrecallable past, Duar was the high priest of the "God of Gods, the Ancient One".
   It's also revealed that Duar is not merely passing through Ygoth.  He's been drawn to Nione's kingdom to steal the Rose of Gaon, "a jewel magnificent in size and beauty", from the Black Tower.  The tower, while housing the gem, also serves as the place of punishment for citizens guilty of crimes too horrendous to allow for a clean death.  They are marched in and left to powers unknown for the execution of their sentences.  Needless to say, though by unexpected means, Duar manages to escape his imprisonment and makes for the Rose of Gaon, by way of a detour to the Queen's bedchamber.
   I liked the story.  The writing is straightforward and the plotting is tighter than Kuttner's Elak stories.  While he doesn't really rise above being a fairly straightup Conan clone, Duar's background is tantalizingly dark and mysterious.  It's a great high concept setup that left me curious about what Ball would do with it next.  Unfortunately, according to to de Camp, Ball's other two S&S tales, "The Thief of Forthe" and "The Goddess Awakes" , drop the character and focus on other things.
   The story isn't great, or important, but it's a taste of of how the genre started to crystallize in the wake of Howard's death.  C. L. Moore and Clark Ashton Smith forged their own trails in the genre.  Clifford Ball was guided by Howard's lamp and did a credible job in his first go at crafting an intriguing tale of heroic adventure.


   That being said, I still would like to check them out at some point.  I'm trying to learn as much of this genre's roots as I can get my hands on.  After their original appearances in Weird Tales, the first managed a reprint in "Savage Heroes", ed. Eric Pendragon and the second saw the light of reprint day in yet one more Lin Carter anthology, "Realms of Wizardry".  Since the former doesn't have anything I don't have in at least one other book I don't see buying anytime soon.  The latter, a typical agglomeration of new and old or obscure fantasy tales, has intros to all of them by Carter which means at least a decent trove of information.  Which means I'll probably spring for it on Amazon (about nine -fifty bucks with shipping).


6 comments:

  1. I'm not familiar with this guy. I've got a copy of New Worlds for Old, so I'll give him a try.

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  2. Same thing. I've had the book lying around for a couple of years and never read the story. Definitely worth the half hour.

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  3. A great introductory story for a character that had potential. I like it so much I ended up getting the WT issue containing it. Great illustrations went along with the story. I agree with your overview although I feel the story is a bit more important as far as the genre and it's beginnings are concerned.

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  4. I'm open to convincing. It's definitely a great story that leaves you waiting for and wanting more. De Camp's words aside (go figure), I still would like to check out his other S&S stories. He had something going on and it's sad he wasn't able/chose not carry on.

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  5. Well the story looks good to read, but im curious about the character Duar, because my name its Duar, so I would like to know more about him if possible and if its possible to find the book.

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  6. Not much aside from reading the story. Clifford Ball seems to have been one of those writers who came and went and was never heard from again. What language is the name Duar?

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