Friday, 22 February 2019

The Birth of Thurvok

I have been told that readers would be interested in how the Thurvok series came to be. So let me explain:

It is my view that as a writer, a large part of your job is reading. After all, you need to know what other writers are doing, take inspiration from their triumphs and failures. I am a pulp writer, therefore I read a lot of pulp magazines.

I have subscriptions to some two dozen magazines and buy the occasional issue at the newstand of at least a dozen more. Of course, I read the general interest magazines like Argosy and All-Story. For crime fiction, I read Black Mask, Detective Story Magazine, Thrilling Detective and True Detective. For hero pulps, I follow The Shadow, The Spider, Doc Savage, The Avenger and Operator 5. For westerns, I follow Western Story Magazine and Ranchland Romances. For science fiction, I read Astounding Stories and Amazing Stories. For weird menace, I read Dime Mystery, Terror Tales and Horror Stories. And of course, I read the crown jewel of the weird menace pulps, the unique magazine itself, Weird Tales.

Weird Tales is truly unique among the weird menace pulps, since they do not just publish the standard horror fare about vampires, werewolves, mummies, vengeful ghosts and scantily clad damsels. No, they also publish the occasional science fiction stories as well as thundering adventure tales featuring fighting men and the occasional woman having fantastic adventures in lands that never were.

Chief among those writers of fantastic adventure tales is the late lamented Robert E. Howard, creator of such inspiring heroes of Kull of Atlantis, Solomon Kane, the Puritan avenger, Bran Mak Morn and of course the king of them all, Conan of Cimmeria. Meanwhile, Clark Ashton Smith, another frequent Weird Tales contributor, pens beautifully written and evocative tales about Zothique and the Hyberborean age. And a talented young lady named C.L. Moore created Jirel of Joiry, an heroine whose brawn and skill matches those of her male peers.

It was those heroes and heroines and their fantastic adventures which were at the back of my mind, when my publisher Jake Levonsky called me into his office one day and showed me the cover painting for a new magazine he was about to launch.

"It will be called Tales of the Bizarre..." Jake told me, "...and it will be a bit like - what's it called again? - Weird Tales. You know, the one with the weird stories and sexy covers. So, can you write me anything for that? I'll even given you the cover, if you write me a story that matches the painting."

It was a challenge to be met and so I returned to my home on Long Island, set down at my trusty Underwood, the evocative painting that Jake Levonsky had shown me still fresh on my mind, and started typing.

And so Thurvok was born, a brawny and bronze-skinned barbarian and sellsword who offers his services to the highest bidder. I sent him travelling across the landscape from the evocative painting or one very much like it and introduced him to some suitably bizarre monsters. The result was "The Valley of the Man Vultures", which eventually appeared in the very first issue of Tales of the Bizarre.

Thurvok proved to be popular and the readers loved him, hence Jake Levonsky commissioned me to write more stories about him.

By the end of his very first adventure, Thurvok encounters a fellow traveller, Meldom, who introduces himself as "thief, cutpurse, assassin, whatever they pay me to do". I initially introduced Meldom only because I needed someone to resolve the mystery of the man vultures. But I liked him and so he stuck around.

Bob Howard's heroes are usually loners, but I like giving my characters someone to talk to and share their adventures. And so I sent Thurvok and his new friend Meldom on a quest to loot the lost tomb of a long dead king. True to form, they encounter more than they bargained for and escape with their lives, though without the treasure.

Weird menace fans love damsels in distress, the more scantily clad the better. So, for that matter, do pulp cover artists. And so I introduced Thurvok and Meldom to just such a damsel for their next adventure. Though Sharenna proves to be far more than just an damsel in distress.

It turned out that Thurvok was quite taken with Sharenna, the flame-haired sorceress, who joins Thurvok and Meldom on their adventures. But now that Thurvok had found a love interest, Meldom needed one as well.

And so I sent Thurvok, Meldom and Sharenna back to Meldom's old hometown and introduced yet another damsel in distress - Lysha, Meldom's childhood sweetheart, who's about to face the gallows - for a crime she has not committed, of course. Meldom, Thurvok and Sharenna rescue her and the quartet travels on to have adventures, search for treasure and fight witches and dragons.

So, dear readers, I hope that you will accompany Thurvok and his companions on their many exciting adventures...

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