At last! Sword and sorcery junkie Fletcher Vredenburgh has finally relented and done a good turn to his own self by reading a masterwork by the great A. Merritt:
I read somewhere that Merritt wrote with “lush, florid prose,” but that wasn’t the case in Burn, Witch Burn. However he may have written his other books, that’s not the case here. He writes, yes, with occasional overwrought flourishes, but with precision. His prose rushes the reader along, winging him deeper and deeper into the story’s nightmarish events.
With the nighttime arrival of a patient who seems to be suffering from no known malady, accompanied by his mobster boss, Merritt kicks the book off at full speed. With each ensuing chapter, the tension builds and Lowell and his compatriots’ fear increases. Gradually, the action moves from crisp and clinical corridors of Lowell’s hospital to the druggy, psychedelic chamber of Madame Mandilip, highlighting the fight between reason and unreason. Slowly the curtain obscuring the villain is raised, until we see her in her full, dark horror. Merritt knew how to grab you by the lapels and keep shaking you with increasing ferocity to the very last page.
Read the whole thing!
Fletcher’s assessment is completely on point here. Merritt’s writing is among the best of the best… and yet much of the commentary on him seems carefully engineered to steer people away from the guy. As another example, that same source that Fletcher mentions there regarding Merritt’s supposedly “lush, florid prose” neglects entirely to mention that he was known as The Lord of Fantasy.
And while you can maybe wrap your head around the fact that some guy you never heard of held that distinction in the twenties and thirties, you may not be able to grasp just how long Merritt was able to hold on to that particular appellation. As Deuce Richardson points out:
…Merritt’s title of “Lord of Fantasy” went unquestioned here in the States from the 1920s until the 1960s. I’ve spoken with numerous pulp scholars and all agree that Merritt’s sobriquet went virtually unchallenged during that period. Donald Wollheim, the most important publisher/editor in the history of SFF, repeatedly called Merritt by that moniker for decades. Tolkien’s reign is only now reaching the longevity that Merritt’s enjoyed.
That’s right. A. Merritt was as central to the definition of fantasy before 1970 as Tolkien was after it. He’s that big.
If you haven’t read his works already, you really owe it to yourself to check him out.