The Mask of Circe
Reviewed by Michael Cornett
By Henry Kuttner
Rating: none given
I recently read two books by two fantasy
greats, written decades apart but remarkably similar in their plots
and themes. The first was The Ship of Ishtar by A Merritt.
The other book is Henry Kuttner's The
Mask of Circe (1948); it parallels The Ship of Ishtar
in many ways. Jay Seward is called to the shore one night,
where he boards a spectral ship that bears him away to another dimension.
It seems that Seward is the reincarnation of Jason (of "Argonaut"
fame); and the sorceress Circe is calling him back to help in a
war of the gods.
But this isn't the typical war that you
might find in modern fantasy. It's dark versus light, yes;
but this time around the light is evil and darkness is good.
It seems that all the Greek gods are dead, save for Hecate and Apollo
(who killed them all, trying to be supreme). The gods are
really extradimensional alien beings of highly-advanced technology;
and objects like the Golden Fleece and the title's mask are scientific,
not magical. Circe herself is long dead, but her personality
has been programmed into the mask, a sort of supercomputer (advanced
thinking for this book's time).
The Mask of Circe is half the length
of Merritt's work; but it's far more entertaining and enthralling.
Its inversion of the usual stereotypes is intriguing; and its ruminations
about man and his gods is fascinating without interfering with the
brisk action. The characters are very sympathetic; we care
about them greatly. (After Merritt, this is a lovely change.)
I heartily recommend The Mask of Circe
without reservation, and less heartily The Ship of Ishtar.
High adventure and fantastic settings are all well and good; but
character is what really makes a story tick, as The Mask of Circe