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The Mask of Circe
By Henry Kuttner

Reviewed by Michael Cornett
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 clearly proves.

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