Sunday, May 3, 2015

Battle in the Dawn: The Complete Hok the MIghty by Manly Wade Wellman


In the original Dungeon Master's Guide, one of the authors listed in that original Appendix N, is Manly Wade wellman.

I had never read any of his material before.

I don't feel too bad about it. Much of his material, like many writers of his era, has long since been out of print when I was growing up.

On G+, where fellow readers had mentioned Manly Wade Wellman, one of the posts leading directly to an older Grongnardia post, that I decided to buy one of the books. Paizo has collected Manly Wade Wellman's material into two separate volumes.

One is Battle of the Dawn, the Complete Hok the Mighty. The second, which is out of print at places like Amazon, but still available from the Paizo site directly, is Who Fears the Devil.

Being an Amazon Prime member, I went with the Battle in the Dawn.

Battle of the Dawn is a trade paperback weighing in at 272 black and white pages. It collects all of the Hok the Mighty short stories and some additional material by Manly Wade Wellman.

I hate the cover. With some of their Planetary fiction line  the covers sometimes have nothing to do with the interior. I'm assuming that the blonde haired barbarian on center, is Hok. With an ornate two-handed sword that doesn't exist in the volume and a red haired lass in danger which also doesn't exist in the collection.  Shame as I know that one of the editors at Paizo, Erik Mona, is quite the collector and aficionado of these older stories.

While the cover is disappointing, the fiction of Manly Wade Wellman is not. The introduction by David Drake provides a peek into Wellman's mind and it's one that focuses on bringing elements of realism or at least what was thought of at the time as scientifically accurate.

Wellman's fiction compared to today's lumbering novels and multi-volume sagas is quick and to the point but never boring. While compared to the in-depth analysis of character's and motivations that might take place in today's fiction, Manly Wade Wellman brings you a colossus of a hero in Hok, the strongest, fastest, most clever of all his people as they fight against the more physically powerful neanderthals, called Gnorrls here, who are not tool users, or at least not to the same extent, that Hok and his people are.

During this trials and tribulations faced by Hok, we see the barbarian take a wife, create the bow, explore 'Atlantis', create a sword, and other adventurers in which Hok, who is at heart an explorer, partakes and triumphs in.

The biggest negative about the tales? Hok is untroubled by his troubles. Wellman makes it clear how powerful, clever, and what dynamic physical prowess Hok has and it's difficult to picture him in any real danger regardless of what he's facing. It makes him a fearless explorer, but also a touch one-dimensional. It works for these tales which hail from 1939-1941 and would make Hok a great contemporary in terms of ability, to say, Conan.

Manly Wade Wellman also provides some background to the tales. For example, I put 'Atlantis' in ' because Wellman doesn't actually refer to it as such in the text, In the text, it's called Tlanis. Wellman indicates that the tales of Hok are later attributed to other heroes such as Hercules. It's an interesting writing technique to pass off some legitimacy to his own hero and fits in well with the short narratives of the stories.

One of the things that stood out to me was Maie. She is a native of Tlanis and to me, she is far more of a warrior woman the the first attributed one, Jirel. "I have many such beads," Maie told him. "I am rich, I have lands and servants and warriors."

Although only a short story, Maie shows that she is not subject to others desires such as when Cos, the ruler of Tlanis attempts to take her by force. Rather, she leads a rebellion against him. She seems to have more agency although her actions due result in her passing.

In addition to the Hok tales, collected here is Day of the Conquerors. It's a tale of Hok's tribe versus Martian Invaders. It works surprisingly well and was clear of some of the more amusing antics of say, Mars Attacks. It's the only story that derails the 'historical' methodology.

Many Wade Wellman is one of the original Appendix N authors. The writing is fast and easy to read. If you're looking for a quick moving action based story, Battle in the Dawn is right up your alley.