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The Mystery of the Thirty-nine Girdles
Posted by: Pharpetron (IP Logged)
Date: 25 January, 2019 02:22PM
The Theft of the Thirty-nine Girdles is, of course, a Hyperborean story, and a sequel to the Tale of Satampra Zeiros, as well as being among the last stories CAS ever wrote.

I enjoy this fun little tale, but I noticed something very odd about its publication history (as described in the Collected Fantasies) that makes no sense to me.

Apparently it was rejected at F&SF because: “The only fantasy element lies in its Hyperborean setting, and the events themselves, in your words, ‘though extraordinary, are not beyond nature.’ Result: an entertaining crime story in an extravagantly exotic setting rather than, strictly, a fantasy.”

And yet the main event the story turns on depicts a powder being ignited that unleashes a horde of illusions in the form of ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and other stranger monsters, which succeed in frightening away everyone in the temple where this took place. This is clearly a supernatural, or fantastic, occurrence.

So then, why does a character within the tale, and the first editor to read it, both say there is nothing beyond nature in the story? Was this something they just overlooked, or am I missing something here?

Re: The Mystery of the Thirty-nine Girdles
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 26 January, 2019 10:57AM
I think you have a valid point when considered in fine detail.

Stylistically, the story reads a lot like Lieber's Fafhred and Grey Mouser stories, and its themes are simple as in that series, although I believe that the narrative frame--Zeiros' (sounds pretty Greek, huh? :^) ) telling the tale from a POV of age, and the fondness for his lost love and partner in thievery adds to it somewhat.

So, the use of the powder is very similar, in the context of that world, to employing knockout drops. It's pretty commonplace for that social group, one gets the impression.

But yeah, it does seem to me to be technically speaking, a fantasy story. Perhaps it was "too close" to Lieber's stuff, and if Leiber sold to that magazine, it might have been a sort of political move to keep on the right side of Lieber, who was certainly a reliable contributor, if ever there was one.

BTW, I don't feel it is anywhere near as good as The Tale of Satampra Zeiros, do you? Just the setting of the ruins of Commorium as still very vivid in my mind, and the historical connection to the back story--that quasi-human highway man whom they repeatedly executed unsuccessfully--worked really well for me. And it was told by the royal executioner!!!

Thanks for posting such a fun topic!!!

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: The Mystery of the Thirty-nine Girdles
Posted by: Pharpetron (IP Logged)
Date: 28 January, 2019 02:27PM
Thanks Sawfish.

The 'knock-out drops' theory makes a certain amount of sense; I hadn't thought of that. I suppose the main problem with it might be that if the powder was 'too' commonplace, the people in the temple would have recognized it and would not have fled. Or, at least, not all of them. Interesting.

While I really love the F&GM stories, I'm not very knowledgeable about their original publication history. I see what you mean about this story being similar to those, and that could have played a part in this story's rejection.

And, yes, the original Zeiros story is the better one—though I consider Thirty-nine Girdles a worthy entry in the Hyperborean cycle.

Re: The Mystery of the Thirty-nine Girdles
Posted by: Martinus (IP Logged)
Date: 29 January, 2019 11:27AM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Perhaps it was "too
> close" to Lieber's stuff, and if Leiber sold to
> that magazine, it might have been a sort of
> political move to keep on the right side of
> Lieber, who was certainly a reliable contributor,
> if ever there was one.
>

Impossible. The first Fafhrd & Gray Mouser story was published in 1939, by which time CAS's career as a fiction writer was already virtually over (and "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" was published in 1931).

NB! Leiber -- E before I.

Re: The Mystery of the Thirty-nine Girdles
Posted by: Pharpetron (IP Logged)
Date: 29 January, 2019 04:42PM
I think this got tripped up a little. Thirty-nine Girdles was the subject, and that story was written 1952-1957, published 1958. I believe that was the story Sawfish was comparing to F$GM.

Re: The Mystery of the Thirty-nine Girdles
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 30 January, 2019 05:28AM
I always thought of The Testament of Athammaus as the follow-up story to The Tale of Satampra Zeiros. It is my favorite of the three.

Re: The Mystery of the Thirty-nine Girdles
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 30 January, 2019 06:42AM
On second thought, technically the events in The Testament of Athammaus seem to have happened before The Tale of Satampra Zeiros.

Re: The Mystery of the Thirty-nine Girdles
Posted by: GreenFedora (IP Logged)
Date: 30 January, 2019 04:23PM
Pharpetron Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> And yet the main event the story turns on depicts
> a powder being ignited that unleashes a horde of
> illusions in the form of ghosts, ghouls, goblins,
> and other stranger monsters...


I think the key word here is "illusions." CAS called the concoction the "Powder of Fetid Apparitions" and referred to its effects as "phantoms" that had no "material impact" on people. If the ghosts and monsters are nothing more than illusions produced by "natural" means, then it isn't truly a fantasy, or borderline at best. In fact, since the story's only invention is a chemical that can produce illusory images, it would technically be science fiction!

Re: The Mystery of the Thirty-nine Girdles
Posted by: Pharpetron (IP Logged)
Date: 30 January, 2019 05:19PM
GreenFedora Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
>
> I think the key word here is "illusions." CAS
> called the concoction the "Powder of Fetid
> Apparitions" and referred to its effects as
> "phantoms" that had no "material impact" on
> people. If the ghosts and monsters are nothing
> more than illusions produced by "natural" means,
> then it isn't truly a fantasy, or borderline at
> best. In fact, since the story's only invention is
> a chemical that can produce illusory images, it
> would technically be science fiction!


I see what you're saying, but I don't think I could quite call it sci-fi myself. I would think there would need to be more of a technological, or mechanical aspect to it--like if the illusions had been created by some kind of projector or holograph. The kind of illusions depicted in the story seem more like magic to me.

That said, there can be no doubt the magic here is far, far weaker than that of all the other Hyperborean stories (White Worm, White Sybil, Ice-Demon, etc.)

P.S. I agree about Athammaus--it's one of the very best Hyperborean tales, and that's saying something.

Re: The Mystery of the Thirty-nine Girdles
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 30 January, 2019 09:35PM
GreenFedora Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Pharpetron Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
>
> > And yet the main event the story turns on
> depicts
> > a powder being ignited that unleashes a horde
> of
> > illusions in the form of ghosts, ghouls,
> goblins,
> > and other stranger monsters...
>
>
> I think the key word here is "illusions." CAS
> called the concoction the "Powder of Fetid
> Apparitions" and referred to its effects as
> "phantoms" that had no "material impact" on
> people. If the ghosts and monsters are nothing
> more than illusions produced by "natural" means,
> then it isn't truly a fantasy, or borderline at
> best. In fact, since the story's only invention is
> a chemical that can produce illusory images, it
> would technically be science fiction!

...or LSD... ;^)

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: The Mystery of the Thirty-nine Girdles
Posted by: Pharpetron (IP Logged)
Date: 1 February, 2019 02:34PM
Sawfish Wrote:
> ...or LSD... ;^)


Ha! Good one.

Though I see some possible other explanations, I still think that something got overlooked on this tale. Magic seems the most ready and plausible explanation for these events.

Re: The Mystery of the Thirty-nine Girdles
Posted by: GreenFedora (IP Logged)
Date: 8 February, 2019 02:30PM
Pharpetron Wrote:
>
> ... I don't think I
> could quite call it sci-fi myself. I would think
> there would need to be more of a technological, or
> mechanical aspect to it--like if the illusions had
> been created by some kind of projector or
> holograph. The kind of illusions depicted in the
> story seem more like magic to me.
>
If I might go slightly off-topic, this all points to a larger issue: that of taxonomy. I think it was Robert Silverberg who bemoaned the pigeon-holing of fiction into genres, the result being that people react to the genre rather than the fiction itself ("I don't like science fiction/fantasy/westerns/etc."). Whether CAS's story is fantasy or science fiction or science fantasy, or just an "exotic crime story" is all academic and pointless in the end. Read the story, like it, don't like it, who cares how you classify it? Of course, magazines and their editors are free to make judgment calls in regard to what they publish -- after all, they know their audiences best -- but slapping a label on a story is hardly a helpful indicator of its quality or interest.

It may be a miniature rebellion against such constrictions, but I notice a lot of fiction these days is being described as genre "mash-ups."

That's me, vented. And now I want to thank you very much.

Re: The Mystery of the Thirty-nine Girdles
Posted by: Pharpetron (IP Logged)
Date: 11 February, 2019 03:06PM
Excellent points about genre categories. I’ve sort of made my peace with the concept.

The short version of my viewpoint might be stated as: Genre categories are useful… right up to the point that they aren’t.

Some years ago (reading books on physics) I found myself struggling with light sometimes being referred to as a wave, and sometimes as a particle. It started driving me crazy – in different discussions, one or the other description would be used. How could it be both? Why didn’t they just pick one and stick with it? I eventually came to realize that the ‘model’ is not the thing itself, only a useful way of looking at the phenomenon. In a specific situation, one model might be more useful than the other. Light is light, no matter what model or models are used to describe it. (It took an embarrassingly long time for me to fully grasp this.)

I think something comparable is happening with genres. In certain situations these distinctions are useful, and even desirable, while in other situations the flaws and shortcomings become clear. So I say: use genre categories where appropriate, but acknowledge their limitations.



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