It's time to return to Tanith Lee's 1985 hardcover collection from DAW, The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales! This week I read three more stories from the book, "Monkey's Stagger," "Qatt-Sup," and "Draco, Draco." I have been loving the stories in The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales; let's hope the love continues!
"Monkey's Stagger" appeared originally in the fourth issue of Sorcerer's Apprentice, a short-lived quarterly aimed at the RPG market. In the issue's Letter from the Editor (called "Troll Talk") editor Ken St. Andre praises Lee to the skies (I'm with you Ken!) and warns readers that the story contains sexual content. (You can read St. Andre's column and learn more about Sorcerer's Apprentice here.)
This 11-page story revolves around a pun, and is full of other jokes that did not make me laugh.
Centuries ago a space ship crewed by white people known as the "Inglish" crashed on Darzilla, a planet inhabited by blue people with a medieval level of technology. With their superior technology and will to dominate, the Inglish set themselves up as lords of the planet, building mansions and coercing the natives to be their servants. The native Darzillans are an easy-going sort and do not rebel, but are able to temper their masters' rule because they know the spells that prevent attack from the planet's demons, spells which none of the Inglish know; the Inglish need to maintain a decent relationship with the natives or the demons will be able to prey on them.
The jokes are largely about the English character; the Inglish are imperialistic, the Inglish love animals, etc. These jokes are not bad, but they didn't make me laugh, either.
The plot of the story involves Edmund, a young Inglishman who, as the second son of his family, cannot inherit the family mansion and instead is sent out to live the life of a knight errant, fighting demons and protecting the weak. He encounters an attractive demon and after some homosexual sex with the demon is given one hour to figure out the riddle which will allow him to escape being torn to pieces by the demon. By luck Edmund figures out the riddle, which would have been easy to figure out if he spoke Darzillan. So, after his escape, Edmund travels the countryside, convincing the Inglish to learn the Darzillan tongue, which improves life for both the Inglish and Darzillans.
This story is just OK, a competent trifle. I'm generally not into jokey stories. I think maybe Lee was going for a Jack Vance vibe, here.
Another pun? Another jocular story? This story is less than four pages long, and as far as I can tell, only ever appeared in this collection. It seems that in some printings it appears as "Quatt-Sup." It includes a joke for all you Star Trek fans.
This is one of those switcheroo stories. A guy is irritated when a cat who lives in his neighborhood steals from his refrigerator instead of keeping down the mice, as he had hoped it would. Then he gets captured by a giant space alien who is travelling the galaxy, collecting specimens. In the same way that the cat on Earth figured out how to get into his fridge, giant space cats who are supposed to be keeping down the giant space mice population figure out how to get into the Earthman's quarters. They kill him.
I don't really like gimmicky switcheroo stories.
"Draco, Draco" first saw publication in an anthology of fantasy stories edited by Maxim Jakubowski. This story is much closer to what I hope for when I start a Tanith Lee tale, and I really enjoyed it.
It is northern Europe, maybe Britain, in the later days of the Roman Empire. The story takes place in territories which only in the last generation or so were within the Pax Romana, but now are beyond the borders of Roman control. A traveling apothecary meets a soldier (perhaps a deserter?) who hasn't a horse; the two travel together to a village which is plagued by a dragon. (I guess this is an alternate universe version of our world.)
The villagers regularly tie a virgin to a post in front of the dragon's cave as a sacrifice to the monster, in hopes of appeasing it. Such a sacrifice is scheduled for the day after our travelers arrive, and the apothecary and soldier accompany the procession to the dragon's cave, and deal with the dragon.
This is a sort of revisionist, cynical, slightly feminist retelling of the traditional dragon story. The virgin begs that the apothecary drug her so she will be able to go to her doom without becoming hysterical. The dragon is "realistic;" it isn't much bigger than a crocodile and it doesn't breathe fire. While the villagers and apothecary watch, the soldier confronts the dragon and gets knocked to the ground, and then the dragon rips the girl to bits and eats her. When the dragon retreats to its cave the soldier follows it into the darkness; when the soldier comes out, he reports that the dragon has been killed, and is feted as a hero. He is rewarded with a horse and many of the local girls show their appreciation in private, if you know what I mean.
The soldier realizes that the apothecary gave the sacrificial girl poison, enough poison that it killed the dragon; his sword couldn't even penetrate the dragon's scales, and it died in the cave without him having struck it. The soldier wants to maintain his reputation as a hero, and threatens the apothecary, lest he reveal the secret. Then our dragon slayers part ways.
An above average fantasy adventure story, well-written, with good images and a solid plot.
The course of true love never did run smooth! "Monkey's Stagger" is just OK, and I have to give a thumbs down to "Qatt-Supp." Fortunately, I quite liked "Draco, Draco." So I put aside The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales on a positive note.
I'm sure I'll get to the two remaining stories in The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales eventually, but my next Tanith Lee encounter will be with the 1982 DAW paperback of her Cyrion stories. I have high hopes!