The Compleat Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt
The Compleat Enchanter collects five novellas following the magical misadventures of psychologist Harold Shea, who discovers that by a combination of thinking in terms of symbolic logic, chanting poetic spells and performing magical hand movements, he can physically transport himself into the worlds of myth and legend, where magic is a reality. Unfortunately, Harold has not quite mastered his new-found magical powers and trouble ensues.
The five novellas, ‘The Roaring Trumpet’, The Mathematics of Magic’, The Castle of Iron’, The Wall of Serpents’ and ‘The Green Magician’, find Harold transported to the worlds of Norse legend, Edmund Spencer’s The Faerie Queene, Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, the Finnish legend of the Kalevala, and finally to the world of Irish myth.
Similar adventures occur in all the stories, with Harold typically teaming up with a local Hero, to either help or hinder him in his quest, and Harold discovering more about his system of magic from the local magicians. In the second story, Harold meets Belphebe, his future wife, who then accompanies him in his subsequent adventures.
Originally written for the pulp magazines between 1940 and 1954, all the stories stand the test of time. Our protagonist has the typical 1940s attitude to women, but this is soon counterbalanced by the introduction of the formidable Belphebe, skilled in woodland lore and expert with a bow and arrow. Harold is soon put in his place.
If you are looking for a humorous read, and want to learn a bit about classic literature, along with myth and legend at the same time, then this is for you.
Recommended for lovers of lighthearted, historical fantasy.
The first two stories in the series, ‘The Roaring Trumpet’ and ‘The Mathematics of Magic’ have both been nominated in this year’s Retro Hugo Awards as best novella of 1940.
The collection has a complicated publishing history, so be careful which edition you buy. The first two stories were collected in ‘The Incompleat Enchanter’(1941). This was followed by ‘The Compleat Enchanter’(1975), which collects the first three stories. All five stories were then published as ‘The Complete Compleat Enchanter’ in 1988 and this was republished in 2000 as ‘The Compleat Enchanter’, part of the Fantasy Masterworks series. And just to confuse things further, the 1988 edition was published in the UK under the title ‘The Intrepid Enchanter’!