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(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In an afterword to The Compleat Enchanter titled “Fletcher and I,” L. Sprague de Camp reveals that it was Fletcher Pratt who first proposed this collaboration between the two. “The Roaring Trumpet” first appeared in John W. Campbell, Jr.’s fantasy magazine Unknown in May, 1940. “The Mathematics of Magic” followed in August, 1940, and “The Castle of Iron in April,” 1941.

The project stayed on hold until after World War II, when the two authors rewrote and expanded “The Castle of Iron,” eventually republishing it in book form in 1950. The last two novellas in the series, “The Wall of Serpents” and The Green Magician, also saw magazine publication before being combined in a single volume. Besides the Harold Shea stories, the two also collaborated on other works of fantasy. Although other adventures were planned for Shea, such as having him travel to the world of Persian myth, they were never written because Pratt died suddenly in 1956 of cancer.

According to de Camp, Pratt furnished the imaginative element and de Camp the controlling logic. Their relationship calls to mind that between their two main characters, Shea and his older mentor, Chalmers. De Camp notes that Pratt despised Robert E. Howards Conan stories and, surprisingly, J. R. R. Tolkiens Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955), considered by many to be the classic fantasy adventure, for their occasional crudities and lapses of logic.

David Drake, in his preface to The Complete Compleat Enchanter, classifies the Harold Shea stories as rigorous fantasy with humor. He states that the rigor appears through the authors display of their expert knowledge both of the myths that form the framework for the novellas and of the real conditions of the worlds on which the myths are based.

A key element in all the stories is their humor. Pratt and de Camps apprentice magician, whose spells misfire as often as not, is an appealing hero....

(The entire section is 636 words.)