Saturday, March 05, 2011


By A. Merritt

Did you ever wonder what heroic fantasy was like before Conan and Kull? It looked like The Ship of Ishtar, big, bold, and fantastic.

Abraham Merritt is perhaps best known as an sf writer, though like many early scientifictioneers, he could switch hit on the sword & sorcery side. He hit a homer with Ishtar. The tale is about John Kenton, a WW I vet who can no longer relate to the everyday world. When a friend sends him a mysterious inscribed stone unearthed at Uruk, Kenton releases an ancient curse that draws him into the world of Ishtar’s ship. The crew live under an age-old curse where they must forever fight the battles of Ishtar, goddess of Love and Life, against her hated rival, Nergal, Lord of Death.

Kenton proves a first class sword & sorcery hero, and has quite a match in Klaneth, the Black Priest of Nergal. The supporting characters include a beautiful priestess of Ishtar, a wayward Viking, a Persian from the time of Cyrus the Great, and Gigi, a bald dwarf from Nineveh who is one of the coolest sidekicks a hero could have.

I read the 1949 reprint with b/w illustration by Virgil Finlay. That in itself was a treat as Finlay was one of the greats of magazine illustration from the ‘30s on. Yes, some of his magic girls look a bit more like pinups from the hanger of an Army Air Corps base than Sumerian priestesses, but hey where you gonna get a Sumerian to model for ya?

The Ship of Ishtar is a neglected sword & sorcery classic. Give it some attention, it misses you.
-Dave Hardy

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