In 1953, perhaps, the plot, characters, and high fantasy paraphernalia of The Tritonian Ring were fresher. Much of the novel now seems clichéd: the quest pattern, the noble prince who learns about the world, the griping but faithful servant, and the use of a pre-Iron Age magical world as a setting. That is no fault of de Camp, however. Although it lacks the epic vision of Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (1977-1983) or J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (1968), de Camp’s The Tritonian Ring does suggest a greater level of craftsmanship than usual in this often hackneyed genre.
Unlike many turgid quest novels, de Camp’s work is touched with ironic humor. For example, the female satyr who rescues Vakar demands that he satisfy her sexual appetites (she is, after all, a satyr). Wounded in the shoulder, he demurs and nonchalantly orders his servant to make love to the beautiful creature, much as he would order Fual to clean his boots. Vakar’s combination of arrogance, dry wit, and intellectual thirst make him an intriguing hero. His growth throughout the work is subtle, and he never becomes the insipid hero a more timid modern author might create.
On a more serious level, the book is an allegory of the arms race of the 1950’s. De Camp, after all, lived in the postwar world, not the Hyperborean age, and his works are relevant to the day. During the 1950’s, as the United...
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