Philip José Farmer
4106 Devon Lane
Peoria, IL 61614
REPLY TO WAYNE HOOKS' REVIEW
in S F Booklog, No. 12, Nov. - Dec. 1976
FLIGHT TO OPAR, Philip José Farmer
DAW, UW1238, $1.50.
This letter is sent to you for publication since SF Booklog prints only short complimentary comments from writers, editors, etc.
Usually I ignore reviews or criticisms unless they contain something worthwhile, such as pointing out a technical error or plot discrepancy. I've found that unjust and incorrect reviews are forgotten by the readers. The work lives on; the review sinks into limbo. Occasionally, however, I became aroused when a reviewer is, to put it charitably in this case, much mistaken.
To begin, Hook says, "Many publishers are reviving popular characters whose authors are deceased. andrew offut is reviving Cormac MacArt, a character originated by Howard. Farmer is recreating Opar of Edgar Rice Burroughs fame."
Actually, Opar is a city, not a character. Hooks doesn't make this clear, leaving the reader unacquainted with the series with the impression that Opar is a living being.
"The most unfortunate aspect of this revival is that Phil Farmer, attempting to remain true to Burroughs, has also retained the racism inherent in may of Burroughs' work."
As I'll demonstrate, Hooks is wrong on two counts in this statement. I'm not attempting to remain true to ERB, and I've not retained the supposed racism of ERB.
Hooks goes on to remark that the heroine is blond (I would have said blonde) and white. "Hadon, the hero, is darker in hair and complextion, but he is more Mediterranean than Negroid. However, the setting is Africa, and, as usual with Burroughs, no blacks allowed except as extras and casualties fighting against the white men. In FLIGHT TO OPAR blacks are excluded, which is preferable to the stereotyped cannibals and savages of Burroughs' other works."
It's necessary to describe the background of the series to refute the above charges.
The background of the Opar series is the Khokarsan Empire. In my historical fantasy it's the first civilization, preceding the Sumerian by approximately 8600 years. It arose around the northern shores of a great lake, a small sea, in Central Africa. The most readily available evidence for this is in Willy Ley's Engineer's Dreams. (I am speaking of the central sea, of course, not the Khokarsan Empire.)
The first Khokarsans came to the northern shores of the northern sea around 12,000 B.C. This spread over what is now Chad and neighboring regions, the last remnant of which is Lake Chad. To its north are the Tibesti and other mountain ranges. The lower sea drowned what was to be the Belgian Congo and French Equatorial Africa. The seas may have been connected by one or more narrow straights. I assume in the series that one did.
These two great lakes, or small seas, existed in the late Pleistocene times, during the Ice Age. The water level was highest around 25,000 B.C. As the climate took a turn for the dry, they began to evaporate. They may also have drained out when a cataclysm formed a chanel in the mountains, permitting the water to flow down into the western Congo region.
At the time of the Khokarsa culture, the Sahara was still a well-watered, green area. It was populated by great herds of elephants, hippos, antelopes, and other animals, and very small tribes of Old Stone Age peoples roamed its extent.
Both Opar books (HADON OF ANCIENT OPAR and FLIGHT) are provided with maps which show the situation as a glance. HADON details the environmental background and one of its appendices outlines the history of Khokarsa, starting in 12,000 B.C. The events of HADON begin 10,011 B.C.
Hooks objects that the Central African characters in FLIGHT are all white. However, as I stated in HADON, anybody in this area would probably be Caucasian, unless they were brought in from West Africa. According to what I've read, Negroes were confined at this time to that area. It wasn't until around 10,000 B.C. that Negroes began to move out into other areas of Africa. The migrations were slow and did not end until the Bantus (Zulus, Khosas, etc.) reached South Africa in the 17th century A.D.
There they met the Dutch, who were coming into the extreme souther region of South Africa at the same time. However, the Bushmen and Hottentots preceded both, only to be slaughtered first by Bantus and then by the Dutch.
There is some evidence that at one time Bushmen and Hottentots lived in North Africa but were pushed south by the Caucasians and then even farther southward by the Negroes. The physically smaller, less numerous, technologically inferior peoples had to live in the deserts, just as the pygmies (and their Asiatic counterparts, the Negritos) were driven into the rain forest by their larger, more numerous enemies, Negroes and Mongolians respectively.
The Negro claim that they were first present in Africa my not be valid. From present evidence North Africa was always the domain of Caucasions (discounting temporary invasions by Sudanese blacks into Egypt). Negroes apparently first appeared in West Africa.
The area in which Negroes originated is unknown. It's a puzzle which the anthropologists have not yet solved. In ancient times Negroes were in two main widely separated groups. One was in Africa; the other, in New Guinea and the Melanesian Islands. (The Australian aborigines are not Negroes but are generally classified as archaic Caucasians.)
The problem is: If Negroes originated in Africa, how did they get to the New Guinea area? Or, if they originated in New Guinea, how did they get to Africa? The distance between the two areas is tremendous.
The most widely held opinion is that they originated in southern India. Over the course of many millenia, some groups made their way to Africa and some to New Guinea-Melanesia. Still, though some skulls with Negroid characteristic have been found in south India, these are not clearly those of Negroes.
Did Negroes originate in India and then spread out in two directions? Were they pushed out by the Indian Caucasians?
The Negroes who went westwards would have had to travel through India, Iran, the Fertile Cresent, across the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, and sown int the area of West Africa. Presumably, they woudl have liked to settle down in desirable areas but were pushed on by Caucasians. The process would have taken many thousands of years.
The Negroes ousted from India eastwards probably did not cross the Bay of Bengal to Burma or Thailand. At that time the paleolithics did not, as far as we know, have sea-going craft. They probably followed the shoreline up India but were driven on by the Mongolian tribes of southeast Asia and eventually ended in the unoccupied areas of New Guinea and Melanesia. They could have island-hopped or even crossed on land bridges, since the oceanic levels were lower then.
The distances traveled seem very long for such primitive peoples.
However, another race (or subrace) traveled even farther. Consider the Ameridians. Originating in Siberia or Central Asia they migrated across the Bering Bridge to Alaska. Thousands of years later some reached the southern tip of South America. Thus, such long-distance migrations are possible.
I am assuming in my series that the ancestors of the Khokarsans migrated, over many millenia, from Central Asia to Central Africa. I intend to describe this probability in an appendix to a future Opar novel. This will also describe (in outline form) the Khokarsan language. It will suggest that this might be related to the Algonquian languages of North Amerinds.
Why would Caucasians be speaking a distant descendant of proto-Algonquian?
For one thing, the proto-Amerinds seem to have been a hybrid of generalized Mongolians and archaic Caucasians. This mixture of genes took place in Central Asia anf Siberia perhaps 200,000 years ago. Perhaps even earlier. It can be presumed that some of these more-or-less distinctly Caucassian and Mongolian progenitors shared a common language, though they spoke different dialects.
Consider the Ural-Altaic peoples (Turkics, Ugrics, Fins, Huns, etc.). Though many if not most of their languages are unintelligible to each other, they did originate from a common tongue. (Just as English, Russian, Italian, Greek, Hittite, and the Central Asiatic Tokharian sprang from a common speech.)
In fact, linguists have recently claimed that Japanese is related to the Ural-Altaic languages. But its antecedents are so ancient that only a linguist who's made a detailed comparative study of Japanese and Ural-Altaic could "prove" a relationship.
Note also that the anthropologist, Robert A. Hall, Sr., has suggested that the language of the Ainus (originally a Caucasian people) might be related to Algonquain. This is only a suggestion, springing from very little evidence, but he does want some qualified linguist to look into this hypothesis. We do know that the Ainu lived in Siberia before migrating to the Japanese Islands. At that time the Mongolian Japanese tribes were living in a much warmer climate, probably south China or southeast Asia. After the Ainus had occupied the islands, the Japanese migrated, invaded the islands, and drove the Ainus into the remote areas.
So, I'm postulating that the Khokarsans originated in Central Asia. They spoke a language which was related to the proto-Algonguian tongue. They would have picked up some Mongolian and Amerind genes. Then they wandered over a long stretch of time to North Africa. Eventually, some tribes crossed the mountains to the south of what is now the Sahara Desert and foudn the northern Central African sea.
Given the examples noted above, this is not beyond the bounds of probability.
There the Caucasian Khorkarsans found no Negroes. The latter had not started the series of migrations that would end with their occupation of sub-Sahara Africa. The Khokarsans did find the shores occupied by the last of the Neanderthals. These had been pushed south by the North African Caucasians, were diverted southeastward by the blacks of West Africa, and settled down to make a miserable living on the Sea of Khorkarsan. But the Caucasians then found them, perhaps fifty thousand or more years later, and pushed them south again. Hybridization occurred, so that the tribes along the western shore of the upper sea, the Klemqaba, were half-Caucasian, half-Neanderthal.
The only "pure" Neandethals left were those which had migrated to the southern sea. Not until gold and silver were found in this area did the Khokarsans enter in large numbers. And, as was the universal custom of ancient civilizations, the numerically and technologically inferior people were enslaved.
If Hooks had read HADON, he would have known that Negroes were not in Central Africa at that time. However, I can't expect that the reader should know all previous books in a series. And I should have described Hadon in the detail covered in the first book.
But it never occurred to me that someone would seize on the "whiteness" of ancient Central Africans and make a racist argument from that.
On the other hand, what if there had been black Africans in that area? Why should Hadon especially notice a black unless he or she were involved significantly in the story? Most blacks would have been slaves in Korkarsa, just as they were in ancient Egypt, Rome, etc. Slaves are just part of the background to the masters. If they're not in the action there's no reason to comment on them any more than there is to comments on the hundreds of white slaves who formed part of the background in FLIGHT.
To reprint the foreword and the appendix of HADON in each one of the series would make the page count too high. Especially when the planned appendices would also be attached.
One of these appendices will describe the plants available in Central Africa in 12,000 B.C. It will point out that the lack of certain plants would have prevented the rise of any civilization there. But this difficulty was overcome when Sahhindar brought in the needed food plants from North Africa and the Mideast. Sahhindar is the supposed God of Time, Bronze, and plants in the series. Actually, he is Gribardsun, the time traveler of my TIME'S LAST GIFT.
The above should remove any charge of racism. I will point out that, as noted in HADON, some expeditions from Khorkarsa to West Africa had captured some blacks who were then brought into the cities as slaves. However, the majority of slaves were white. Moreover, the Khorkarsans, free of color prejudice had a system whereby slaves, black or white, could buy their freedom. A freed slave was permitted to marry whites or blacks, and the children were automatically free.
A freeman, a mulatto beat Hadon in a race during the Great Games. He was mentioned because his role in HADON was large enough for comment.
The Opar series is not just another slapdash jerrybuilt series of ancient days in which a brainless mightly-thewed superman swordsman hews his way through countless foes. It's a carefully detailed, well-researched construction of what was not but could have been -- given the presence of the time traveler, Gribardsun-Sahhindar. Every aspect of the cultures of the two seas has been considered. These include prehistory, history, economy, religion, languages, writing, drama, philosophy, science, technology, agriculture, sociology, geology, botany, zoology, architechture, etc.
Hadon is somewhat introspective, and his character develops as the series progresses. In the first two books his is a very good swordsman but not yet the greatest. Towards the end, he becomes middle-aged and his strenght declines.
It's a complicated series in both the personal and politcal situations, and there is always a sense of doom in the air, thickening as the peoples of the two seas head for the destroying cataclysm.
I'd also like to note that the series should not be included in the sword-and-sorcery genre. It's an achronic story in which it is assumed that magic doesn't work but science does. If magic seems to work it is only because it's a delusion.
Anyway, if Hooks is as familiar with my books as he claims to be in his review, he should never have accused me of racism. From the beginning of my writing career I've made evident that I loathed racism of any kind. Need I list THE LOVERS, FIRE AND THE NIGHT, MY SISTER'S BROTHER, the Riverworld series, many more stories, and yea-many anti-racist statements and references in my works.
Under no circumstances would I retain ERB's supposed racism in the Opar series.
I say supposed because the case against ERB is so ambiguous. There are remarks in his works which can be construed as racist. On the other hand a student of his works knows that he also excoriates whites, the Caucasian civilization as a whole. He does have "noble" blacks and a "noble" Jew. I refer Hooks to THE MOON MAID for the latter.
Hooks is wrong when he speaks of the "stereotyped" cannibals and savages" of ERB's works. He forgets that there were just such cannibals and savages, that these stereotypes did exist in the period covered by the Tarzan novels.
Nor were all the blacks in his works just "extras and casualties fighting against white men." Consider Mugambi (THE BEASTS OF TARZAN), the Waziri tribe, and the hospitality and compassion given lost and starving Jane and the baby by a tribe of blacks (BEASTS).
It's true that there were many black villians in the Tarzan novels. But there were also many white villians, and by no means were all of them non-American and non-British.
Surley Hooks doesn't think that all African blacks are noble types? If he does, he's a racist.
A minor quibble before I get back to the main criticisms by Hooks. He says that the girl on the cover illustrations of FLIGHT has ample breasts but no nipples. I suggest he take a closer look or get a new pair of glasses. The nipples, though in shadow, are obvious.
Next, Hooks says that the "unremitting violence nearly kills it." By "it" he means the novel. "Outnumbered by more than thirty to one, he (Hadon) wipes out most of his attackers. Continually he fights dirty, yet he is continually postured as being noble. As a hero, Hadon is brutal, cruel, and violent. There is very little admirable about him."
For the sake of those who've not read FLIGHT, I'll reconstruct the fight he refers to. Minruth's forces are chasing Hadon and his band. This consists of Hadon, two women, a child, a dwarf, a bard, and a middle-aged warrior. The band has reached a narrow pass at the top of a mountain. Lalila, one of the women, has sprained an ankle. She can't go on Hadon makes the others leave.
If he can hold Minruth's soldiers and their dogs long enough, all but Lalila and himself may get to a safe refuge. Lalila climbs a tree, hoping to be unobserved.
Hadon, though believing that he'll eventually be killed, stays behind to make sure the others get away. He is sacrificing himself for the child, her mother Lalila, and him empress, Awineth. (Even though Awineth hates him.) If the others are caught they'll be tortured and then killed.
So, he fights "dirty." That is, with every trick and all the strength and swiftness he can muster against an overwhelming force. And he uses everything available, rocks, boulders, etc. instead of standing in the pass and fighting until he's worn down.
Yet Hooks reproaches Hadon for not fighting according to the Marquis of Queensbury rules. If Hadon had performed a similar feat in modern times, he'd be given a Congressional Medal of Honor or the highest medal for valor of whatever nation he happened to belong to.
Is Hooks a male chauvinist? His sympathies are obviously on the side of Minruth, who wants to destroy the ancient equality of men and women in Khorkarsa and established a male-dominated pattern.
As for Hadon not having all the humanitarian values of moderns, I'll plead guilty. Guilty by reason of realism. This is a historical series (pseudohistorical, anyway), and I'm trying to be realistic. Ancient peoples did not have the viewpoint of moderns. (I should say, the lip-service viewpoint of moderns.)
As a whole, the ancients were more bloddy-minded, vicious, brutal peoples. In short, even the "civilized" were tribal peoples. An enemy was a person to be used as a slave or killed. It was normal for the conquerors to slay every living being in a city, including the animals. See the ancient Hebrew treatment of their victims in the Old Testament, a quite candid account. And these were the good guys. All ancient cultures of the civilized variety, and most of the preliterate variety, acted similarly.
Moreover, their concept of justice just was not modern.
So, to be realistic, my Khokarsan characters will be more brutal and bloody-minded that your average liberal, conservative, or reactionary of the Western world. Nevertheless, even in ancient times there were exceptional individuals, people ahead of their times. Hadon is actually more humanitarian than most ancients and so are some other characters.
As for Hooks' assertion that the Opar series is based on Burroughs, he is about one-fifth correct. It is also based on H. Rider Haggard, Robert Graves, and Longfellow. And on Farmer.
Just as Opar is a lost hidden colony of the ancient empire postulated by Burroughs, so are some other lost cities described in Haggard's Allan Quartermain series and in SHE. These were either survivors of the cataclysm which destroyed Khokarsa or founded by refugees from the cataclysm. Except for Kôr, which will be founded by Hadon's son.
In addition, Lalila and Pag(a) are derived from Haggard's ALLAN AND THE ICE GODS. At the end of this novel these two were in a dubious situation. They might or might not survive. I rescued them and brought them down from the Europe of the Ice Age to Khorkarsa. This was done by the intervention of Sahhindar. Since Haggard didn't chronicle their further adventures, I thought I would.
A part of the Khokarsan culture is based on Robert Graves' concept of the pre-Indo-European, pre-Semitic mediterranean cultures. (See THE WHITE GODDESS and other works by Graves.)
Also, there is, at least in the character of Kwasin and Kebiwabes, some of Longfellow. Kwasin is based partly on Kwasind, Hiawatha's strong-man friend. There are also elements of Hercules and Gilgamesh in him. Not to mention Rabelais' Gargantua. Kebiwabes, the bard, is obviously based on Chibiabos, Hiawatha's singer friend.
But, overall, Khokarsa and its peoples are Farmerian.
Hooks states: "Farmer is too aware of Burroughs. He is unable to transcend the shortcomings and flaws of ERB. Much social change has transpired since Burroughs wrote. By adhering so closely to the original, Farmer severely dates this book..."
As I've shown, I haven't "adhered" to the original. And how could a work realistically dealing with the ancients be "dated." A writer of historical novels doesn't (or certainly shouldn't) portray his characters as 20th-century contemporaries. He or she tries to think as they thought, show them as they were. Does Hooks consider THE ILLIAD and THE ODYSSEY, the epic of Gilgamesh, Malory's MORTE d'ARTHUR dated? Would he want them rewritten to portray Achilles, Odysseus, Lancelot, etcetera as moderns?
What does social change in the 1970's A.D. have to do with the goings-on of 10,000 B.C.? For that matter, what does it have to do with the worlds of Roland and Oliver, King Richard III, d'Artagnan, Roderick Random, David Copperfield, or even Huckleberry Finn?
(A point against Hooks I just remembered. Burroughs' heroes would never have had the sexual freedom of Hadon. Burroughs would have considered Hadon's attitudes as quite reprehensible. So, one more element in which I did not adhere to Burroughs.)
However, it's now time to consider an objection by Hooks which might be valid. Two, in fact. Hooks states the he was confused by the introduction of some characters. He wasn't clear in his mind (where else?) about just what they were doing in FLIGHT. I think he was probably confused about the gray-eyed stranger who appeared in a marketplace in a certain area. Then he dropped out of the story.
FLIGHT is only the second in a series that will probably include ten or twelve volumes. The grey-eyed man, whom I took care to hint was Sahhindar, the supposed god, will appear in a minor role in some sequels.
Since it's obvious that FLIGHT is part of a series, Hooks could have considered this. And he could have said to himself, "Well, the gray-eyed stranger will probably show up in other books." He might even have been curious enough to read the first book. If he had, he would have been illuminated on various points.
Hooks also objects to my cliff-hanger ending. Actually is wasn't really that. FLIGHT ended with Hadon having reached Opar, his major enemy in Opar conquered, and the birth of La, his daughter. Obviously his adventures will continue, since there is the big problem of Minruth to be overcome.
But Hooks has a valid complaint. It would be nice if each book of a series did have a seemingly conclusive ending. I've ended many of my books in various series with cliff-hangers, and the only ones who object strongly are a small minority. other writers have done this, so why should I be singled out for criticism?
On the other hand, why not? I've been the most guilty.
This is because I regard my series as not just being fantasies. I try to make them realistic. That is, as near real life as possible considering their outré environments. In real life, people enter one's life, stay awhile, then drop out, perhaps reappearing later, perhaps not. It's the essence of a series that's its like the flow of life, not ending until the protagonist dies or has conquered his major enemies, himself, his opponents, social forces, Mother Nature's rages, or whatever problem is the main-stream of the series.
In every story, of course, self-inclusive or part of a series, no character should appear who doesn't have something, major or minor, to do with the story. So, if one of my characters does appear only briefly, if he seems to have no relevancy to the story, don't believe it. He or she will show up later, probably in a larger role.
Most of my readers have gone along with my series, waited for the next in line more or less patiently. These know that down the corridor, around the bend, sooner or later, they'll come to the end. No more doors marked TO BE CONTINUED.
----Philip José Farmer