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Some Tributes from People Who Knew Him

I Remember Lin Carter

by Robert M. Price

Lin Carter photo

I had read and enjoyed Lin Carter's fantasy and science fiction since discovering him amid my intitial enthusiasm over the Lancer paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan. I was delighted with the Thongor books and was as eager to get hold of anything else by Lin as I was to secure any additional Howard material. I was not so uncritical as to ignore any qualitative difference between the two writers' work. Of course, there is a substance, color and depth to Howard that is lacking in Carter, but this is no judgment on Carter! He had his own magic spells to work, and having now read every published scrap of his fiction, I stand by my earliest enthusiasm for the Carter work that first won me to his cause. I do not hold his later output in anything like the same esteem that I have for his work written up to, say, 1971, after which he seemed to do little but repeat himself. Still, a lot of the latter is fun to read, and some traces of his original inspiration are still evident, particularly in the Jandar books (not that I wouldn't trade them all for one more line of MAN WITHOUT A PLANET or THE STAR MAGICIANS).

It was because of my critical evaluations of Lin and his work that I first got to know him. When still a callow lad of 14 years and reading the first Thongor books, I had taken it upon myself to send Lin perhaps the most elaborate fan letter he ever received: a 5 or 6 page comic book parody of Thongor Against the Gods! He was still answering fan mail in those days, and I was absolutely thrilled to receive a letter from him one fine Saturday morning on Ballantine Books stationery thanking me for my efforts.

But it was many years before I met him. I had never attended a SF convention of any kind. If I had, I no doubt would have at least seen him in person, heard him speak. But I hadn't. In fact, I had dropped out of the fantasy field for several years and was lured back in 1976-77 by Edward P. Berglund's anthology DISCIPLES OF CTHULHU, which featured Lin Carter's "Zoth-Ommog". In 1981 I discovered Lin's paperback revival of Weird Tales and began collecting and reading his Cthulhu Mythos fiction. About this time I was starting up Crypt of Cthulhu, and for the second issue I wrote a critical survey of his Lovecraftian stories called "The Statement of Lin Carter." Based on this article I decided I'd be able to write a pretty good book on Lin's work as a whole. So I proposed it to Roger Schlobin, editor of Starmont House's Reader's Guide series. He okayed it, but publisher Ted Dikty nixed it. In the meantime, before the ax fell, I was able to contact Lin, who was flattered at the idea of the book. Eventually I did get to write the book (Lin Carter: A Look Behind his Imaginary Worlds), after Lin's death as it turned out. So he never saw it.

Lin was a great egotist, as anyone can tell from reading his various book introductions. He just loved the roles of fantasy scholar and of published novelist, and he played them to the hilt! He would make humorously sententious pronouncements and condescendingly assure one that he could not be taken by surprise: he had read EVERYTHING. And it pretty much seemed he had. The first evening I interviewed him, at one of his favorite bars on the East Side, he paused and said he enjoyed talking with me because I knew the right questions to ask to get him to talk about himself and his work.

I may be making him sound like a jerk, but he wasn't. I don't know if you have ever known someone such as I describe, but if they carry it off in style, as Lin did, they are delightful. Lin was a character in the true sense of he word. He was generous to his friends. His Halloween parties from the old days are legendary, though I came to know him only in later years and never attended one. But every couple of weeks in the early 80s he hosted the New Kalem Klub in his Manhattan apartment. It was a small and select group o weird fiction authors, critics, and fans, and it was great sitting there soaking in the atmosphere of his lair, festooned with many of the eldritch artifacts with which he bedecked the sanctum sanctorum of his occult detective Dr. Anton Zarnak (whose eldritch adventures I and others have take it upon ourselves to continue). The place was practically wallpapered with original art by Gray Morrow, Hannes Bok, and others. The gem of his collection (which disappeared after his death but has, thank Crom, recently resurfaced) was the Roy Krenkel/Frank Frazetta cover painting for the Lancer Books' King Kull. There was also a collection of astonishing pornographic cartoons featuring colorful demons in all imaginable (and some not so imaginable) states of sexual congress. These were the work of Mahlon Blaine, and Lin rejoiced in the rumor that their previous owner had been Nelson Rockefeller.

Lin Carter cheerfully received criticism of his work. I was never able to offer him uncritical fannish adulation, something which I regard as pathetic and embarrassing to anyone to whom it is directed. That was fine with him. Lin had his personal weaknesses, blind spots, and shortcomings. He was in many ways his own worst enemy, and I cannot deny that he deserved some of the shameful reputation he eventually garnered for his lack of professionalism and his treatment of some of the writers he published. But none of this ever impacted on me.

Lin Carter lived in a fantasy world, in many ways like one of the humorously hapless protagonists of those stories in Unknown. He could not keep his financial affairs in order and was evicted three times in the years I knew him. He would get big royalty checks and blow them just as quickly. He had expensive, wasteful, and destructive habits. He saw the world through the lens of fantasy, remarking that "the gnomes" had directed his attention to money lying on the street (and occasionally he was reduced to scanning for it--see his semi-autobiographical Simrana fable "The Benevolence of Yib"). Once when he and I were strolling on the Upper East Side, he pointed out an old fellow crossing the street and observed, "Look! There's the classic gnome--short, bald, swag-bellied!"

And as with many fans of fantasy and science fiction I have known (now including myself) he understood that it was enough to seek transcendence in the realm of the imagination; one need not delude oneself that one actually lives in a comfy cosmos of protective deities and salvific miracles. He was a staunch atheist and once told me that if he were to choose a creed, it would be Gnosticism because of its fantastic and baroque complexity. He always had a soft spot for the Golden Dawn and Theosophy for the same reason.

If you wish you could have known Lin Carter, it is not too late. You need only read his wonderful autobiographical esay. "Here and Back Again" in his collection BEYOND THE GATES OF DREAM, and you will see what made the man (really, the boy who never grew up) tick. It will no doubt, as it does for me, invoke your own earliest days of literary fandom in a golden haze of nostalgia, and it is that aurora of "Happy Magic" in which Lin Carter chose to make his home. He still lives there, as you can see anytime you pick up one of his books.

Robert M. Price
July 1, 1997

If Lin Carter changed or affected your life, and you would like to write a brief tribute to him, please get in touch with me the way Mark did, and your words could wind up on this page also.
Ken . . . 4/24/200

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