The tireless and Argus-eyed Ashley, editor of Mammoths by the dozen (The Mammoth Book of Fairy Tales, 1997), focuses here on fantasy, 23 drafts of the pure stuff. In Theodore R. Cogswell’s “The Wall Around the World” (1953), 14-year-old Porgie goes to school on a broomstick, studies elementals, Practical Astrology, and magic, and wants to build a machine to lift him over the 1,000-foot-high glass wall that runs around the world. Oddly familiar? Ursula K. LeGuin offers “Darkrose and Diamond,” a new and still uncollected addition to her “completed” Earthsea landscape. Robert E. Howard’s “The Valley of the Worm” (1934) finds Howard in brilliant form, coalescing many famed heroes into a single figure (not Conan), while George MacDonald’s “The Golden Key” (1867) is a kind of adult fairy story. Also here: Lord Dunsany’s “The Hoard of the Gibbelins” (1911) and Harlan Ellison’s “Paladin of the Lost Hour” (1985). A.A. Merritt’s classic “The Moon Pool” (1918) is seen in its hardly ever reprinted short-story form, wherein its lost-world effects emerge far more strongly than in Merritt’s pallid later novelization. Shining amid these jewels is “The Last Hieroglyph” (1935), in the diamond-crunching style of lost poet Clark Ashton Smith.
“I am breaking a long silence to write this review of the lost papers of mysteriously weird Mammoth editor Michael Ashley, who disappeared into Hyperborea in 2002. How did I come across these papers? Well may you ask . . .”