Friday, January 6, 2017

Everybody Gets Thirsty and Pays a Price

The first publication of "Black Thirst"
in Weird Tales, April, 1934 
Northwest Smith was sold to me as a Han Solo devilish rogue type of hero, and in Black Thirst, we get nothing more than a glimpse of that.  For the second time, Northwest confronts an ancient evil hellbent on drinking his soul.  This time around the evil is far older, and far less subtle in its seduction.  Where the Shambleau played on Northwest’s chivalry, the Alendar plays on Northwest’s curiosity.

His is the curiosity of a Lovecraft character.  He knows danger lies ahead, but he doesn’t know how ancient nor how all-consuming that danger is.  Which is fitting given the Weird Horror tenor of the threat.  Alendar checks all of the boxes:
  • Ancient and spawned from a black pool of slime
  • Mysterious in that no man has ever penetrated to the depths of the Minga palace
  •  Seductive to the point of literal mind control
Add in an utterly uncaring attitude towards mankind and his place in the universe and you've got yourself another Lovecraft villain.  Where the Shambleau plays on the tale of the Medusa, which lulls men into complacency, the Alendar plays on the tale of Dracula, with his massive but largely empty mansion, hints of pleasure beyond imagining, and a constant refrain of playing with his prey.  The Alendar teases Northwest with visions of beauty and knowledge no man has experienced before finally simply his (its?) will.  Once the Alendar has Northwest down in the uttermost depths of his pleasure palace, the real struggle begins.

The final confrontation takes place when Northwest Smith is nearly driven insane by a creature that wants not just to feast on his flesh, but to consume his soul.  This departs only in that Northwest manages to escape from the thing’s clutches, only with the help of Vaudir, and only long enough to get a shot off.  The following race for the exit to the Minga palace also winds up being a purely internal struggle as Vaudir, her soul poisoned by the Alendar, fights to retain enough sense of self to guide Northwest out of the dungeon.
In an odd bit of juxtaposition, Alendar's doom results from his own curiosity.  The long eons of drinking the same kind of (female) beauty has left Alendar vulnerable to a desire for something new and different, and Northwest's rugged beauty proves to be too much temptation for Alendar to resist - much to his chagrin.  If he had only been content to limit his exotic meal to the brains and beauty of Vaudir, he might have lived to drink another man's soul another day.
This is the second Northwest Smith adventure solved by means other than two fists and a gun. It’s nice to read “two fisted pulp stories” that carry so much emotional weight, if only that they give lie to those who think these older works are lacking in intellect or substance.  Chalk up another data point supporting the contention that the, “Don’t read anything written before 1980,” crowed consists of frauds, ignorant fools, and downright liars.
That counts for something, but frankly I’ve had enough psychological thrills.  I’m ready for some two fisted action with guns blazing and daring escapes from the literal jaws of death, and the next title (The Bright Illusion) doesn’t fill me with much hope.

1 comment:

  1. *Chalk up another data point supporting the contention that the, “Don’t read anything written before 1980,” crowd consists of frauds, ignorant fools, and downright liars.*

    You said it.

    Is there an AMEN corner around here? There's a bit of draft where I'm standing.