The Complete Compleat Enchanter (1989)
Spine Front Cover Book Details
L. Sprague de Camp
Fletcher Pratt
Publication Date 1997
Format Leather-bound (215 x 145 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Fantasy
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Fantasy
No. of Pages 498
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on
Rating 10
No. of Reviews 6
Frontispiece/Illustrator Ron Miller
Introduction/Foreward David Drake
Original Details
Original Publisher Spectrum Literary Agency
Original Publication Year 1989
Due to popular demand, Harold Shea of The Compleat Enchanter has had new adventures which have been published separately as The Enchanter Completed. Now, Baen Books presents a single volume of all the adventures of Harold Shea, master logician and wizard without peer. Original.

One approach to the subject was taken by Unknown, published as a companion fantasy magazine to John W. Campbell's science-fiction magazine, Astounding. Campbell hoped to restore the good name of fantasy by obtaining stories written with rigor and humor. In the first issue, published in March 1939, he wrote, "It will offer fantasy of a quality so far different from that which has appeared in the past as to change your entire understanding of the term." The magazine ful filled his promise, publishing stories that retain their charm to this day and even creating a new fantasy field as important, perhaps, as the science fiction he is credited with transforming. The magazine changed its name to Unknown Worlds in 1941, and then, sadly, was killed by wartime paper shortages in 1943, but it is still wistfully remembered and its stories and novels remain in print.

What was their charm?

Campbell tried to explain it in a foreword to a 1948 retrospective, From Unknown Worlds: An Anthology of Modern Fantasy for Grownups:

The old "Unknown Worlds" believed that fantasy was intended for fun; it used the familiar creatures of mythology and folklore, but treated them in a most disrespectful fashion. Fantasy - and the Things of fantasy - are, we felt, much more fun than any thing else, if you'll just take off those traditional wrappings of the "grim and gharstly." . . .

The Weird Tales kind of fantasy, the Lovecraftian Gothic with its special conditions of darkness and isolation, evoked feelings of terror and sometimes of loathing; it used archaic language to remind its readers of the long-past eras when a belief in witchcraft and magic was commonplace, or to describe the indescribable. But what if modern humans, in the midst of their everyday occupations, were confronted by the supernatural, or ordinary people, with ordinary sensibilities, were thrown into worlds in which magic worked? The result might be surprising: adventure, sure, of a kind that the reader might well identify with by the light of day, but often funny, too.

One analyst, Les Daniels, has commented that "the typical [Unknown] tale recognized the humorous incongruity of the super natural in urban life and demonstrated that even magical intervention in the affairs of men was unlikely to relieve the frustration of the human condition." The stories weren't all like that, of course - some of them dealt with urban horrors and contemporary paranoia, and some of them helped develop the kind of sword-and-sorcery category that Robert E. Howard had already pioneered - but the majority of the stories had an element of the comic.

The language was different, too. The ordinary characters spoke ordinary, colloquial English, and the contrast with their supernatural encounters made the situations even more hilarious. As David Drake has pointed out, L. Sprague de Camp was one of the first to defend the use of contemporary speech in heroic settings when he wrote a letter to the editor of Argosy concerning The Harp and the Blade by John Myers Myers. But de Camp and Fletcher Pratt already had practiced such usage in their Harold Shea novels, adopting it, perhaps, from Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Twain's novel, like Thorne Smith's The Night Life of the Gods and his other comedies of the supernatural reappearing in today's world, has not been given sufficient credit for providing a precedent for Unknown's new approach.

The same authors who were creating the Golden Age for Campbell's Astounding readers were drawn to the challenge of this new fantasy genre. Unknown assembled a remarkable roster of contributors: L. Ron Hubbard supplied Slaves of Sleep, "The Indigestible Triton," "Fear," and "Typewriter in the Sky"; Robert A. Heinlein, "The Devil Makes the law," "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag," and "They"; Fritz Leiber, eight stories including "Two Sought Adventure" and the unforgettable Conjure Wife; Theodore Sturgeon, sixteen stories, including "It," "Shottle Bop," and "Yesterday Was Monday"; A. E. van Vogt, The Book of Ptath; Jack Williamson, The Reign of Wizardry and Darker Than You Think.

But the uncrowned king of Unknown was L. Sprague de Camp, who published fifteen stories in the magazine; even more remark able, ten of those were novels. He published as many stories in Astounding during the same period, but only The Stolen Dormouse was a novel; still, one of his Unknown novels, the classic Lest Dark ness Fall, was a great alternate history treatment (and is classified today as science fiction) and would have been published in Astounding had Unknown not existed.

De Camp, who was born in 1907 and, like another Golden Age marvel, Jack Williamson, is still writing at the age of 90, earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from the California Institute of Technology and a master's degree from Stevens Institute of Technology. He worked for the Inventors Foundation and International Correspondence Schools, and held other positions while he was breaking into the writing business. He published his first story, "The Isolinguals," in Astounding in 1937, and he collaborated on a novel with P. Schuyler Miller, Genus Homo, that didn't get published until 1941, but his career blossomed under the editorship of John W. Campbell, who took over at Astounding in late 1937.

World War II, in which de Camp served as a lieutenant-commander, working alongside Heinlein and Isaac Asimov at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, interrupted his writing career. He returned in 1949 with a series of future-history stories and novels based around the concept that Brazil would become the dominant world power and Portuguese the dominant language: The Queen of Zamba, Rogue Queen, and The Hand of Zei are the leading examples of his Viagens Interplanetarias series.

In the mid 1950s de Camp was attracted to Howard's Conan stories and devoted much of his later career to resurrecting, restoring, and adding to the Conan legend. He also contributed his own novels to the sword-and-sorcery genre as well as non-fiction books such as Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers and Blond Barbarians and Noble Savages and anthologies such as Swords and Sorcery and Warlocks and Warriors. He has written well regarded historical works such as Lands Beyond (with Willy Ley), Lost Continents, The Ancient Engineers, and Great Cities of the Ancient World, as well as historical novels such as An Elephant for Aristotle and biographies of Howard and H. P. Lovecraft, Dark Valley Destiny and Lovecraft. He also wrote the Science Fiction Handbook in 1953 and revised it, with Catherine Crooke de Camp, who has collaborated on much of his later work, in 1975.

De Camp won the International Fantasy Award in 1953 for his non-fiction book with Ley, Lands Beyond; SFWA's Grand Master award in 1978; and the World Fantasy Life Achievement award in 1984.

But it is his Harold Shea stories, written with Fletcher Pratt, and published over a series of years, that provided impetus to de Camp's early career. The idea itself, of a psychologist projected by symbolic logic into a series of fantasy worlds, originated with Pratt. An SF and fantasy writer who also was a prominent naval historian, Pratt died at the age of 59 in 1956. His best-known novels are The Well of the Unicorn (1948) and The Blue Star (1969). In addition he published three dozen historical books, most of them about the U.S. Navy, particularly its role during World War II. He also wrote about spaceflight and was co-founder of the American Rocket Society.

The Harold Shea novels got started in the May 1940 issue of Unknown with The Roaring Trumpet, in which Shea projected himself into the world of Norse mythology, and advanced to The Mathematics of Magic (Spenser's The Faerie Queene) in the August 1940 Unknown and The Castle of Iron (Ariosto's Orlando Furioso) in the April 1941 issue. The Wall of Serpents (the Finnish Kalevala) was published in the June 1953 Famous Fantastic Novels and The Green Magician (Irish myth) in the No. 9 issue of Beyond Fantasy Fiction in 1954.

One of the sources for the Harold Shea adventures, and for other uses of magic in Unknown, was Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough (1890, rev. 1911-15), which suggested that magic recognized "immutable laws" just like science, and that these laws could be systematized as the Laws of Sympathy, the Laws of Similarity, and the Laws of Contact. As Reed Chalmers, a fellow psychologist, suggests in the early pages of The Roaring Trumpet, "Medicine men . . . believe they are working through natural laws. In a world where everyone firmly believed in such laws . . . the laws of magic could conceivably work . . . . Frazer and Seabrook have worked out some of these magical laws . . . ."

In addition, the novels incorporate ideas about multiple universes that have more scientific persuasiveness now than they did in the 1940s: " is an infinity of possible worlds, and if the senses can be attuned to receive a different series of impressions, we should infallibly find ourselves living in a different world," Chalmers points out. Well, Shea tries it, and it works. The result is a series of delightful adventures (often described as "rollicking") in which the laws that govern those particular worlds may vary (the trick is to discover what the laws are before they prove fatal) but the comedy never does.

James Gunn
Lawrence, Kansas

Preface Start Page: 1
The Roaring Trumpet Start Page: 5
The Mathematics of Magic Start Page: 105
The Castle of Iron Start Page: 221
The Wall of Serpents Start Page: 369
The Green Magician Start Page: 437