L. Sprague de Camp and Terry Fletcher
Completed 7/18/2014, Reviewed 7/23/2014
This is a collection of the five comical stories which deal with magic by sending psychologists into parallel dimensions which are based on mythologies. It’s about 400 pages of entertaining fluff, grounded in the details of our epic fantasies. It’s an early forerunner of other genre parodies like “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, the “Myth-Adventures”, and many of Terry Pratchett’s works. While not quite as satirical as more current parody literature, it’s loads of fun.
Of the five stories, my favorites were:
“The Roaring Trumpet” – based on Norse mythology,
“The Wall of Serpents” - the Finnish mythology of the “Kalevala”
“The Green Magician” - Irish mythology.
The two I didn’t like as much were:
“The Castle of Iron” - Ludovico Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso” with a little “Kubla Khan”
“The Mathematics of Magic” - “The Faerie Queen”
The two I didn’t care for as much felt too drawn out. In “The Castle of Iron” and “The Mathematics of Magic” I thought the authors got bogged down in trying to make the languages too realistic and at the same time funny. I often found it hard to follow. But according to the forward, it had to do with the authors’ making fun of the belief that fantasy always had to be told in medieval wording, and this was their response to that criticism.
I liked the other three because I felt like they were having more fun creating these universes. For example, a fun part of “Trumpet” is that all the Norse giants speak like New York thugs. Or perhaps, it was because I know less about Irish, Norse, and Finnish mythology and thus find them more interesting than standard medieval English and Arab fantasy.
The basic plot is that Harold Shea, a psychologist at a research institute, with his colleagues discovers you can travel to parallel worlds by using mathematical logic equations, the “magic” of our universe. However, once in a different universe, you can perform the “magic” of that universe, as defined in the mythologies it’s based on. To return to our universe, you must use the magic of that universe.
There’s an ongoing sub-plot of what’s happening in the real world, which involves the constant disappearance of these people, and the subsequent missing persons investigations by the police. One of the most fun characters is one of the detectives, who accidently ends up in the third story in complete denial of what’s going on, but ends up completely buying into it by the fifth story.
Another fun sub-plot is that Harold, and basically all the other psychologists, are socially inept, but by going to these parallel universes, they have a chance of meeting their dream girls. In one of the stories, Harold meets Belphebe, which adds the humor of an American having a relationship with a medieval maiden archer. With the first story being published in 1948, you’ll find some archaic, sexist language and roles. But to the authors’ credit, Belphebe is quite a strong and independent female character.
This collection of stories is quite a fun read. It’s a great concept, a bunch of socially awkward, analytical psychologists bumbling with magic in our cultural mythologies. Having always been a fan of parody, I enjoyed my time with it. And I love when you can tell that authors were having fun when while they were writing their books. Four out of five stars.