Lin Carter
Created: February 2017 | Updated:

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Linwood Vrooman Carter (June 9, 1930 – February 7, 1988) was an American author of science fiction and fantasy, as well as an editor, poet and critic. He usually wrote as Lin Carter; known pseudonyms include H. P. Lowcraft (for an H. P. Lovecraft parody) and Grail Undwin. He is best known for editing the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in the 1970s, which introduced readers to many overlooked classics of the fantasy genre.


Carter was born in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy in his youth and became broadly knowledgeable in the field. He was also quite active in fandom.

Carter served in the United States Army (Infantry, Korea, 1951–53), after which he attended Columbia University (1953–54), during which time he attended Leonie Adams's Poetry Workshop. He was a copywriter for some years before writing full-time. He married twice, first to Judith Ellen Hershkovitz (married 1959, divorced 1960) and later to Noel Vreeland (married 1963, while they both worked for Prentice-Hall publishers; divorced 1975). He was an advertising and publishers copywriter (1957–69). From 1969 he was a freelance writer and editorial consultant. During much of his writing career he lived in Hollis, New York.

He was a member of the all-male literary banqueting club the Trap Door Spiders, which served as the basis of Isaac Asimov's fictional group of mystery solvers the Black Widowers. Carter himself was the model for the Mario Gonzalo character. He was also a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America (SAGA), a loose-knit group of Heroic fantasy authors founded in the 1960s, some of whose work he anthologized in the Flashing Swords! series. In the 1970s Carter issued his own fantasy fanzine, titled Kadath, after H. P. Lovecraft's fictional setting (see The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath). Only one issue appeared; it was well-printed but in extremely low numbers, and it was scarcely circulated. The magazine contained Carter's Cthulhu Mythos story "The City of Pillars" (pp. 22–25).

In 1985, his quality of life was severely reduced when he developed oral cancer and had to endure extensive surgery to have it removed. Only his status as a Korean War veteran enabled him to receive treatment, which failed to cure his illness and left him disfigured.

In the last year before his death, he had begun to reappear in print with a new book in his Terra Magica series, a long-promised Prince Zarkon pulp hero pastiche, Horror Wears Blue, and a regular column for Crypt of Cthulhu magazine. Despite these successes, Carter had increased his alcohol intake, becoming a borderline alcoholic and further weakening his body, already ravaged by his cancer and therapy. The disease subsequently resurfaced, spreading to his throat and leading to his death in 1988. He resided in East Orange, New Jersey in his final years, and died in nearby Montclair, New Jersey.

The editor of Crypt of CthulhuRobert M. Price, had published a Lin Carter special issue - Vol 5, No 2 (whole number 36; Yuletide 1985). Price, who was appointed Carter's literary executor, was preparing a second all-Carter issue when Carter died; it was turned into a memorial issue - Vol 7, No 4 (whole number 54 Eastertide 1988). Two further issues of the magazine were devoted to Carter alone, totaling four special Carter issues (see References below).

Writing career

A longtime science-fiction and fantasy fan, Carter first appeared in print with entertaining letters to Startling Stories and other pulp magazines in the late 1940s—one in 1943. He issued two volumes of fantasy verse, Sandalwood and Jade (1951), technically his first book, and Galleon of Dream (1955) (see Poetry in Bibliography below) His first professional publication was the short story "Masters of the Metropolis" by Carter and Randall Garrett, published by Anthony Boucher in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1957. Another early collaborative story, "The Slitherer from the Slime" (Inside SF, September 1958), by Carter as 'H. P. Lowcraft' and Dave Foley, is a sort of parody of H. P. Lovecraft. The story "Uncollected Works" (Fantasy and SF, March 1965) was a finalist for the annual Nebula Award for Best Short Story, from the SF and fantasy writers, the only time Carter was a runner-up for a major award.

Early in his efforts to establish himself as a writer, Carter gained a mentor in L. Sprague de Camp, who critiqued his novel The Wizard of Lemuria in manuscript. (The seventh novel Carter wrote, it was the first to find a publisher, appearing from Ace Books in March 1965.) Due in large part to their later collaborations, mutual promotion of each other in print, joint membership in both the Trap Door Spiders and SAGA, and complementary scholarly efforts to document the history of fantasy, de Camp is the person with whom Carter is most closely associated as a writer. A falling-out in the last decade of Carter's life did not become generally known until after his death.

Carter was a prolific penman. He claimed that after something like twenty-five books appeared bearing his name, after The Wizard of Lemuria was published in March 1965 before it was revised and reissued in 1969 as Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria; that means he averaged about six books published per year during that four-year period. From 1966 to 1968 he also wrote two dozen times as "Our Man in Fandom", a nearly-monthly column in If, edited by Frederik Pohl.

Unknown to many of his fans is the fact that Carter was a major scripter for ABC's original Spider-Man animated TV show during its moody, fantasy-oriented second season in 1968-69.

Carter had a marked tendency toward self-promotion in his work, frequently citing his own writings in his nonfiction to illustrate points and almost always including at least one of his own pieces in the anthologies he edited. The most extreme instance is the sixth novel in his Callisto sequence, Lankar of Callisto, which features Carter himself as the protagonist.

Carter was not reluctant to attack organized religion in his books, notably in his World's End epic, in "Amalric the Man-God" (both promising but never finished), and in The Wizard of Zao, portraying religions as cruel and repressive, with heroes who have to escape from the inquisitions of said religions.

As a fiction writer most of Carter's work was derivative in the sense that it was consciously imitative of the themes, subjects and styles of other authors he admired. He was quite explicit in regard to his models, usually identifying them in the introductions or afterwords of his novels, and introductory notes to self-anthologized or collected short stories. His best-known works are his sword and planet and sword and sorcery novels in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and James Branch Cabell. His first published book, The Wizard of Lemuria (1965), first of the "Thongor the Barbarian" series, combines both influences. Although he wrote only six Thongor novels, the character appeared in Marvel Comics's Creatures on the Loose for an eight-issue run in 1973-74 and was often optioned for films, although none were produced.

His other major series, the "Callisto" and "Zanthodon" books, are direct tributes to Burroughs' Barsoom series and Pellucidar novels, respectively.

Other works pay homage to the styles of contemporary pulp magazine authors or their precursors. Some of these, together with Carter's models, include his "Simrana" stories (influenced by Lord Dunsany), his horror stories (set in the "Cthulhu Mythos" of H. P. Lovecraft), his "Green Star" novels (uniting influences from Clark Ashton Smith and Edgar Rice Burroughs), his "Mysteries of Mars" series (patterned on the works of Leigh Brackett), and his "Prince Zarkon" books (based on the "Doc Savage" series of Kenneth Robeson). Later in his career Carter assimilated influences from mythology and fairy tales, and even branched out briefly into pornographic fantasy.

Posthumous collaborations with Howard and Smith

Some of Carter's most prominent works were what he referred to as "posthumous collaborations" with deceased authors, notably Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. He completed a number of Howard's unfinished tales of Kull (see Kull (collection)  and Conan the Barbarian, the latter often in collaboration with L. Sprague de Camp. He also collaborated with de Camp on a number of pastiche novels and short stories featuring Conan.

The posthumous 'collaborations' with Smith were of a different order, usually completely new stories built around title ideas or short fragments found among Smith's notes and jottings. A number of these tales feature Smith's invented book of forbidden lore, the Book of Eibon (Cthulhu Mythos arcane literature). Some of them also overlap as pastiches of H.P. Lovecraft's work by utilising elements of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. These stories, which are uncollected, include:

For further info see Steve Behrends, "The Carter-Smith Collaborations" in Robert M. Price (ed). The Horror of it All: Encrusted Gems from the Crypt of Cthulhu. See also Lin Carter deities.

Pastiches of H. P. Lovecraft

Carter wrote numerous stories in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. Many have been collected in Robert M. Price (ed) The Xothic Legend Cycle: The Complete Mythos Fiction of Lin Carter. Despite the title, there are many uncollected Mythos stories by Carter. These include:

See also Xothic legend cycle. For further info see Robert M. Price "The Statement of Lin Carter", Crypt of Cthulhu 1, No 2 (Yuletide 1981), 11-19.

Pastiches of Lord Dunsany

Carter wrote two cycles of stories set in "dreamlands," paying tribute to the fantasy of Lord Dunsany, Ikranos, from his fan days, and Simrana, after he became a professional writer.

Unfinished projects

Carter is known to have left a number of projects unfinished. A number of his stand-alone books contained obvious hooks for sequels that were never written. He regularly announced plans for future works that never came to fruition, even including some among lists of books he had written in the fronts of other books. His 1976 anthologies Kingdoms of Sorcery and Realms of Wizardry both included such phantom books among his other listed works, titled Robert E. Howard and the Rise of Sword & Sorcery, The Stones of Mnar and Jungle Maid of Callisto. The first of these, presumably a non-fiction study along the lines of his Tolkien: A Look Behind "The Lord of the Rings" (1969), never saw print; the second seems to be related to The Terror Out of Time, a collection of Cthulhu Mythos tales he had pitched unsuccessfully to Arkham House (the existing material for which was eventually gathered into his The Xothic Legend Cycle (1997)); the third was apparently a working title for Ylana of Callisto (1977), published the year after the anthologies.

Several of his series were abandoned due to lack of publisher or reader interest or to his deteriorating health. Among these are his "Thongor" series, to which he intended to add two books dealing with the hero's youth; only a scattering of short stories intended for the volumes appeared. His "Gondwane" epic, which he began with the final book and afterwards added several more covering the beginning of the saga, lacks its middle volumes, his publisher having canceled the series before he managed to fill the gap between. Similarly, his projected Atlantis trilogy was canceled after the first book (The Black Star), and his five-volume "Chronicles of Kylix" ended with three volumes published and parts of another (Amalric).

Another unfinished project was Carter's self-proclaimed magnum opus, an epic literary fantasy entitled Khymyrium, or, to give it its full title, Khymyrium: The City of the Hundred Kings, from the Coming of Aviathar the Lion to the Passing of Spheridion the Doomed. It was intended to take the genre in a new direction by resurrecting the fantastic medieval chronicle history of the sort exemplified by Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae and Saxo Grammaticus's Gesta Danorum. It was also to present a new invented system of magic called "enstarment", which from Carter's description somewhat resembles the system of magical luck investment later devised by Emma Bull and Will Shetterly for their "Liavek" series of shared world anthologies. Carter claimed to have begun the work about 1959, and published at least three excerpts from it as separate short stories during his lifetime – "Azlon" in The Young Magicians (1969), "The Mantichore" in Beyond the Gates of Dream (also 1969) and "The Sword of Power" in New Worlds for Old (1971). A fourth episode was published posthumously in Fungi #17, a 1998 fanzine. His most comprehensive account of the project appeared in Imaginary Worlds: the Art of Fantasy in 1973. While he continued to make claims for its excellence throughout his lifetime, the complete novel never appeared. Part of the problem was that Carter was forcing himself to write the novel in a formal style more like that of William Morris and quite unlike his own.

Career as editor and critic

Carter was influential as a critic of contemporary fantasy and a pioneering historian of the genre. His book reviews and surveys of the year's best fantasy fiction appeared regularly in Castle of Frankenstein, continuing after that magazine's 1975 demise in The Year's Best Fantasy Stories. His early studies of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien (Tolkien: A Look Behind "The Lord of the Rings") and H. P. Lovecraft (Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos) were followed up by the wide-ranging Imaginary Worlds: the Art of Fantasy, a study tracing the emergence and development of modern fantasy from the late nineteenth century novels of William Morris through the 1970s. Peter Beagle faulted Carter's scholarship, saying "He gets so many facts embarrassingly wrong, so many attributions misquoted, that the entire commentary is essentially worthless."

His greatest influence in the field may have been as an editor for Ballantine Books from 1969–1974, when Carter brought several then obscure yet important books of fantasy back into print under the "Adult Fantasy" line.Authors whose works he revived included Dunsany, Morris, Smith, James Branch Cabell, Hope Mirrlees, and Evangeline Walton. David G. Hartwell praised the series, saying it brought "into mass editions nearly all the adult fantasy stories and novels worth reading." He also helped new authors break into the field, such as Katherine Kurtz, Joy Chant, and Sanders Anne Laubenthal.

Carter was a fantasy anthologist of note, editing a number of new anthologies of classic and contemporary fantasy for Ballantine and other publishers. He also edited several anthology series, including the Flashing Swords! series from 1973 to 1981, the first six volumes of The Year's Best Fantasy Stories for DAW Books from 1975 to 1980, and an anthology format revival of the classic fantasy magazine Weird Tales from 1981 to 1983.

Together with SAGA he sponsored the Gandalf Award, an early fantasy equivalent to science fiction's Hugo Award, for the recognition of outstanding merit in authors and works of fantasy. It was given annually by the World Science Fiction Society from 1974 to 1981, but went into abeyance with the collapse of Carter's health in the 1980s. Its primary purpose continues to be fulfilled by the initially rival World Fantasy Awards, first presented in 1975.

Posthumous revival

Wildside Press began an extensive program returning much of Carter's fiction to print in 1999. All remain in print, and one original book was issued in 2012, collecting the short stories about Thongor. See the bibliography for Wildside reissues.