Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
de Camp, L Sprague

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(1907-2000) US writer, married from 1939 to Catherine Adelaide Crook de Camp (CACDC) (1907-2000); it has been increasingly been recognized that the two have been a creative team for almost all of LSDC's career. LSDC has been known – from the beginning of that career in 1937, when he published "The Isolinguals" in Astounding Science Fiction – as an author of both sf and fantasy, much of the latter being Sword and Sorcery set in Planetary-Romance venues and hard at times to distinguish from his sf adventures set on floridly conceived space-opera planets.

As a writer of fantasy, LSDC was associated with Unknown from its start in 1939, and the Rationalized Fantasies he wrote for the journal, often in collaboration with Fletcher Pratt, precisely accorded with editor John W Campbell Jr's penchant for strategies of fantasy in which the irrational or the exorbitant could be controlled, explained, rendered amusingly harmless. Such fantasy – in which Metamorphosis tends to be comic, and in which strange belief-systems are subject to Yankee scrutiny – can at times remarkably resemble lazy sf; and not all of LSDC's work escapes a slapstick flatness, especially in later years when the flattened affect of early heroes like Harold Shea (see below) could no longer be papered over by double-takes.

The best of LSDC's fantasy is contained in the Incomplete Enchanter or Harold Shea sequence (all but the 1990s titles with Pratt): The Incomplete Enchanter (1940 Unknown; fixup 1941; vt The Incompleat Enchanter 1979 UK) with Pratt; The Castle of Iron (1941 Unknown; 1950) with Pratt; Wall of Serpents (fixup 1960; vt The Enchanter Compleated 1980 UK) with Pratt; Sir Harold and the Gnome King (1991 chap); The Enchanter Reborn (anth 1992) ed with Christopher Stasheff and The Exotic Enchanter (anth 1995) ed with Stasheff. The Incomplete Enchanter and The Castle of Iron were assembled as The Compleat Enchanter: The Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea (omni 1975), and with Wall of Serpents were eventually assembled as The Intrepid Enchanter: The Complete Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea (omni 1988 UK; vt The Complete Compleat Enchanter 1989 US). This is a playful plethora of titles for the reader to cope with; but it boils down to relatively few individual stories, in each of which Shea is catapulted via Portal into a different Alternate World, each being either a world of Myth or a non-mimetic environment created by an individual author. LSDC makes no distinction between the Reality levels that might seem to differentiate the relics of a belief system and the world of a writer.

The Incomplete Enchanter assembles two stories. In "The Roaring Trumpet" Shea visits the world of the Norse myths (see Nordic Fantasy), and in "The Mathematics of Magic" (a title delicately attuned to Campbell's sensibilities, and perfectly expressive of the terms under which Magic found easy mention in Unknown) he enters, through another skewed portal, the world of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene (1590-1596). In The Castle of Iron Shea moves deeper into the mysteries of being, entering Lodovigo Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (1516), a text which is a kind of Archetype for Spenser; and indeed he here finds himself facing a sort of problem in practical ontology, as the Belphebe with whom he fell in love in Spenser's world turns out to be an Avatar (of sorts) of the original Belphegor from Ariosto. Wall of Serpents assembles two further tales: "Wall of Serpents" (1953 Fantasy Fiction), in which Shea arrives in the world of the Kalevala, and "The Green Magician" (1954 Beyond), in which he visits the world of Celtic Fantasy and meets Cuchulain.

Other LSDC/Pratt collaborations include The Land of Unreason (1941 Unknown; 1942), whose hero is taken by denizens of Faerie to a land ruled by Oberon where, after suffering Transformations, he emerges as a Hidden Monarch, Frederick Barbarossa, and The Carnelian Cube (1948), whose hero is himself – by virtue of having discovered a particularly proactive Philosophers' Stone – responsible for various transits into a series of Wonderlands, satirically conceived as places where various kinds of logic run amok. The other main LSDC/Pratt collaborations – the Club Stories assembled as Tales from Gavagan's Bar (coll 1953; exp 1978) – are fresh, inventive and unforcedly comic.

Solo, LSDC wrote several further tales for Unknown, some – like "The Wheels of If" (1940 Unknown) – being sf. Fantasy stories include "The Undesired Princess" (1942 Unknown) – republished in The Undesired Princess and The Enchanted Bunny (anth 1990) with a second story by David A Drake – the hero of which enters yet another Secondary World, and Solomon's Stone (1942 Unknown; 1957), whose protagonist – possessed by a Demon – travels to a reality whose inhabitants are dream versions of their earthly selves. After Unknown's demise, and after WWII, LSDC concentrated for some time on sf, although the title story of The Tritonian Ring and Other Pusadian Tales (coll 1953) is a fantasy of novel length. In the late 1950s he began once again to focus on fantasy, concentrating initially on completing works by Robert E Howard (whom see for details). Fantasy remains his main field.

Later non-Conan fantasies include the Novaria sequence: The Goblin Tower (1968), The Clocks of Iraz (1971) and The Unbeheaded King (1980), all three assembled as The Reluctant King (omni 1985), plus The Honorable Barbarian (1989) and a pendant set in the same world, The Fallible Fiend (1973). That world, a Land-of-Fable Hellenistic Mediterranean, comprises a friendly venue for further rationalized-fantasy adventures. The Incorporated Knight sequence – The Incorporated Knight (1987) and The Pixillated Princess (1991), both crediting CACDC – carries on the tradition, with a hero who Learns Better from his misadventures with Dragons and the like.

Throughout his extremely long career, a combination of acute intelligence and a flattening indifference to his created worlds has made LSDC, frustratingly, a writer impossible either to ignore or fully to celebrate. [JC]

other works (fantasy): The Reluctant Shaman and Other Fantastic Tales (coll 1970); The Best of L. Sprague de Camp (coll 1977), some sf; The Purple Pterodactyls: The Adventures of W. Wilson Newbury, Ensorcelled Financier (coll of linked stories 1979); Footprints on Sand (coll 1981) with CACDC; Heroes and Hobgoblins (coll 1981).

other works (fantasy anthologies): Swords and Sorcery (anth 1963); The Spell of Seven (anth 1965); The Fantastic Swordsmen (anth 1967); Warlocks and Warriors (anth 1970).

other works (historical fiction): An Elephant for Aristotle (1958); The Bronze God of Rhodes (1960); The Dragon of the Ishtar Gate (1961); The Arrows of Hercules (1965); The Golden Wind (1969).

other works (sf): Lest Darkness Fall (1939 Unknown; exp 1941), whose protagonist arrives in ancient Rome via a fantasy Timeslip; Divide and Rule (coll 1948), whose title story has been published separately as Divide and Rule (1939 Astounding; 1990 chap dos); The Wheels of If (coll 1948); Genus Homo (1941 Super Science Stories; 1950) with P Schuyler Miller (see SFE link below); The Glory that Was (1952 Startling Stories; 1960); A Gun for Dinosaur (coll 1963); The Great Fetish (1978), fantasy-like adventures in an sf frame; The Venom Trees of Sunga (1992); Rivers of Time (coll 1993).

The Viagens Interplanetarias sequence: (nominally sf, but sometimes very close to fantasy), being Rogue Queen (1951), The Continent Makers and Other Tales of the Viagens (coll 1953), some of the stories in Sprague de Camp's New Anthology of Science Fiction (coll 1953 UK), "The Virgin of Zesh" (1953) – which appears, with The Wheels of If (1940 Astounding 1990 chap dos), in The Virgin and the Wheels (coll 1976) – Cosmic Manhunt (1949 Astounding as "The Queen of Zamba"; 1954 dos; vt A Planet Called Krishna 1966 UK; with restored text and with "Perpetual Motion" added rev vt as coll The Queen of Zamba 1977 US), The Search for Zei (1950 Astounding as the first half of "The Hand of Zei"; 1962; vt The Floating Continent 1966 UK), plus The Hand of Zei (1950 Astounding as the second half of "The Hand of Zei"; 1963; cut 1963) – both these latter titles superseded by publication of the full original novel, The Hand of Zei (1950 Astounding Science Fiction; 1982) – The Tower of Zanid (1958 Science Fiction Stories; cut 1958; with "The Virgin of Zesh" added vt as coll The Virgin of Zesh/The Tower of Zanid 1983), The Hostage of Zir (1977), The Prisoner of Zhamanak (1982), The Bones of Zora (1983) with CACDC and The Swords of Zinjaban (1991) with CACDC.

Nonfiction: Lands Beyond (1952) with Willy Ley, recipient of an International Fantasy Award; The Science Fiction Handbook: The Writing of Imaginative Fiction (1953; rev 1973 with CACDC); Lost Continents: The Atlantis Theme in History, Science, and Literature (1954) (see Atlantis); The Conan Reader (coll 1968), Blond Barbarians and Noble Savages (coll 1975 chap) and Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy (coll 1976), essays on fantasy; Spirits, Stars, and Spells: The Profits and Perils of Magic (1966) with CACDC; The Day of the Dinosaur (1968) with CACDC; Scribblings (coll 1972 chap); Great Cities of the Ancient World (1972); Lovecraft: A Biography (1976) (see H P Lovecraft); The Miscast Barbarian: A Biography of Robert E. Howard (1975), much augmented as Dark Valley Destiny: The Life of Robert E. Howard (1983) with CACDC and Jane Whittington Griffin; The Ragged Edge of Science (1980); The Fringe of the Unknown (coll 1983).

Lyon Sprague de Camp


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.