Slaves of Sleep was the third fantasy novel that L. Ron Hubbard wrote for the modern fantasy magazine Unknown, and it is one of several tales that helped shape the tradition of antiheroic fantasy begun in Unknown’s pages by Hubbard, L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt in their “Incompleat Enchanter” series, and Fritz Leiber in his tales of the warrior thieves Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Jan Palmer is the quintessential Hubbard hero, a milquetoast of a man who discovers the true force of his personality only after being thrust into a situation in which his survival depends on it. As with all of Hubbard’s heroes, Jan’s greatest challenge is not any of the external threats he encounters but instead his struggle to overcome his ingrained reserve and unlock latent powers inside himself.
Like most of Hubbard’s fantasy writing, the story is wildly humorous and focuses on the incongruity that follows a collision between real life and the world of fantasy. Its comic undermining of the heroic ideal can be read as a response to Robert E. Howard’s blood-and-thunder tales of Conan the Barbarian, which ran in the pages of Weird Tales in the early 1930’s and set the tone for most heroic fantasy written outside the pages of Unknown.
The story follows the narrative pattern that Hubbard established in his first fantasy novel, “The Ultimate Adventure” (Unknown, 1939; book form in...
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