The Original Series
The protagonists utilize a system of symbolic logic to project themselves into the worlds they visit, but it is an inexact science, and they miss their target realities as often as they hit them. For example, in the first story, "The Roaring Trumpet," Shea intends to visit the world of Irish Mythology, and instead ends up in Norse mythology. Most of the worlds visited have systems of physics different from ours, usually magical, which the heroes devote a considerable amount of effort to learning and applying. Much humor is drawn both from the culture shock of their encounters and from the reality that they usually do not understand the local systems well enough to be able to predict the actual effects of the spells they attempt.
Much of the series' attraction stems from the interaction of the psychologists' logical, rationalistic viewpoints with the wildly counterintuitive physics of the worlds they visit. Their attitudes provide something of a decontructionist look at the basic rationales of these worlds, hitherto unexamined either by their inhabitants or even their original creators. Essentially, they allow the reader to view these worlds from a fresh viewpoint. The "worlds" so examined include not only the Norse world of "The Roaring Trumpet," but those of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene in "The Mathematics of Magic," Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (with a brief stop in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Kubla Khan) in "The Castle of Iron," the Kalevala in "The Wall of Serpents," and finally (at last), Irish mythology in "The Green Magician."
With "The Green Magician" the original collaboration ended, Pratt's early death precluding any additional entries. A final planned story set in the world of Persian mythology was never written, nor was a projected response to L. Ron Hubbard's misuse of their hero in his novella The Case of the Friendly Corpse (1941). (De Camp would finally address the latter issue in "Sir Harold and the Gnome King".)
Reviewing the 1950 edition of The Castle of Iron, Boucher and McComas described the series as "a high point in the application of sternest intellectual logic to screwball fantasy.". Damon Knight characterized the series as "relaced, ribald adventure . . . priceless," saying that "no fantasy reader should be without them." In 1977, Richard A. Lupoff described the series as "whole planes above the hackneyed gut-spillers and skull-smashers that pass for heroic fantasy."
Read more about this topic: Harold Shea
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