Saturday, June 2, 2012

B-List Barbarians: Clifford Ball's "Duar the Accursed""

In the month of June in the year 1936, Robert E. Howard chose to put a bullet through his head. That choice ended a promising career and left a void in the fledgling sword and sorcery genre fan base. Over the decades, many authors have tried to fill that void, but Clifford Ball was the first. Not much is known about Clifford Ball. Perhaps Lin Carter gives the most information known about Ball in his notes for the anthology Realms of Wizardry:

"Between [May 1937] and November 1941, when [Clifford Ball's] last story was published, Weird Tales printed a grand total of six stories under his byline. As far as I've been able to discover, he never published anything else (at least under that name). Nothing by Ball appeared in any of the weird-fiction magazines outside of Weird Tales; neither did he have anything in the exotic adventure pulps, like Magic Carpet, Oriental Stories, or Golden Fleece. He may have been a visitor from another fictional genre, who dropped in to try his hand at Howardian swashbucklery, then dropped out and returned to more lucrative neighboring fields. No one seems to know" (170).

I have three of those six stories in my possession. "Duar the Accursed" was reprinted in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy anthology New Worlds For Old, edited by Lin Carter; "The Thief of Forthe" was reprinted in Savage Heroes, edited by Michael Parry (also in The Barbarian Swordsmen, edited by Sean Richards); lastly, "The Goddess Awakes" saw reprinting in the also Lin Carter edited, the aforementioned Realms of Wizardry. To the best of my knowledge, two of the other three have never been reprinted ("The Swine of Ææa" and "The Little Man"). "The Werewolf Howls" was reprinted in 100 Creepy Little Creature Stories.

In this installment, I will look at "Duar the Accursed".

Duar's introduction in this story is as a captive to Queen Nione of the Krall Dynasty, ruler of Ygoth. Upon the revelation of his true identity to her, it is obvious that Duar has a reputation throughout the realm:

"'Duar the Accursed'!' breathed Nione. 'What demon brings you here?'...'Demons have always prompted your inclinations, O Duar! Even in this secluded mountain kingdom have we heard of your familiars from Hell! Whence came the red rain of blood that covered the battlefield of Kor and blinded the eyes of the Sivian hosts while your followers cut them to ribbons? And where the giant black raven that flew above your pirate galley when you ravished the coasts of Krem? Why did the mountains of Fuvia shatter themselves over your castles while the mighty hurricane destroyed your villages and your fields as the raging seas finally obliterated the whole of the kingdom King Duar had raised with his pirate hordes?Why, O King who is now a slave?'"

From this short inter-story introduction, a good bit of back ground is laid for Duar, who is known as Duar the Accursed. First, it is obvious that Mr. Ball intended his Duar to be a Clonan. Like the barbarian of REH creation, Duar has done and seen much in his days. He has been a warrior, a pirate, a king and now a slave. Later in the story, it is learned that he has a past life in which he was a high priest of an elder god. This is one thing that sets him apart from Conan. He seems destined to re-live this past life, but Duar also seems un-eager to do so.

His turning away from his fate is inferred as the cause of his cursing, hence the title "The Accursed". Duar himself states: "Mine has been a strange life, it's true. Perhaps there is a destiny for me. I sometimes think that when I have swerved from the chosen path the Gods ordained, it is the very elements who rise to set me back".

This is perhaps the single most important element that marks Duar as different from Conan. Conan's god Crom gives men strength and bravery at birth, but leaves them be from there. They must make their own path, and Conan does, always of his own free will. In the universe of Duar, men are fated by the gods, and a free willed warrior such as Duar is cursed for exercising his own fate. There are other elements, Duar is often visited by a spirit of sorts named Shar who seems to be entwined with his past life. In this story, Shar sets him upon the path to find and destroy the Rose of Gaon. Beyond that, I wish to give nothing more of the story away.

Of  the story "Duar the Accursed" , L. Sprague de Camp states: "Ball had here a number of portentous ideas, which he didn't quite know what to do with", and to that count, he may be right as this is the only story featuring the barbarian. Mr. Ball also stole some ideas out right, for instance Ball mentions "...the great white apes of Barsoom" and didn't even attempt to hide the fact that this is stolen straight out of Edgar Rice Burrough's Mars books. That aside, I think de Camp's dismissal of Ball is out of hand.

While Duar is clearly a Clonan, Ball did pack a lot of interesting background around the character and that was rounded out by a fast paced story written well enough to carry it along. It is a shame that Clifford Ball never did return to the character of Duar. I would like to know if the poor barbarian ever escaped his fate, or was he a victim of it?

1 comment:

Jason Shrum said...

One of my single favorite Sword & Sorcery stories. So much potential but being in REH's shadow must have been too much for Clifford Ball. Perhaps he received personal hate mail from fans of Conan and was inclined to shelf the character. Whatever it was it is unfortunate for us S&S fans who still believe that there are not enough stories and novels written well enough to do the genre justice.