East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


The scholar first, the fictionist second

Today marks the 57th anniversary of the death of Harold Lamb, one of the patron saints of Karavansara.
He was a writer of pulp fiction – a lot of his works were published in Adventure – much admired by Robert E. Howard among others, that later became so famous as an author of biographies and historical novels that his lighter and more adventurous side was almost completely forgotten.
He did work with Cecil Be Demille on his The Crusades, as a historical consultant.
It is not the first time I mention him here on Karavansara, and I am sure WordPress will add links at the bottom of this page.

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The Real Hawk of Outremere: al-Markis

“He was a devil incarnate in his ability to govern and defend a town, and a man of extraordinary courage”

This, according to Ibn al-Athir, Arab chronicler of the Crusades, was Conrad of Monferrat.
But then of course Sir Walter Scott got to work and gave the upstart Italian that had defeated Saladin and (more importantly, for Scott) opposed Richard Lionheart his just desserts.
And I, that I am sitting right now smack in the middle of Montferrat, never heard about the guy. Weird, considering this should be part of our History curriculum in school, right?
Looks like it’s time to set the record straight.

This is a story that will feature intrigue, politics, swordfights, courage and a mysterious death, the lot in the Holy Land during the Third Crusade.
Perfect for Karavansara.

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At the feet of a giant

41T7fyFa80L._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_I discovered Harold Lamb pretty late in my life, about ten years ago.
I had retrieved, as a kid, a pair of biographies written by Lamb, I had found in my grandmother’s attic. They were from my mother’s collection of young girl’s reads. I think one was Tamburlane, and the other might have been Theodora.
I don’t know what happened to those books – I guess my mother gave them away. I was not overly interested in historical biographies, at the time I liked dinosaurs.
Only much, much later I found the collections published by Bison Books and edited by Howard Andrew Jones, and it was a delight.
“Who,” my friend Claire asked, “Lamb the one of the Cossack?”

I knew, through my readings, that Harold Lamb was a great author of historical adventure, “always the scholar first, the good fictionist second” as one of his editors said, and I associated his names with Adventure magazine, that to me was possibly more iconic than Weird Tales or Astounding.

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Shameless adventures

adventure_19350815Do you mind if I rant?
You see, I don’t always call other people cretins, but when I do, it is usually because they pretend to know what they are talking about when they in fact they do not know.

Yesterday I was told that adventure stories – and genre fiction in general – is a second-rate form of cheap entertainment, aimed at housewives and blue-collar working-class brutes that can’t appreciate a good, solid, proper “real novel”.
And the word cretin erupted through my lips before I could think about something more scathing and cruel.

Then I launched in a long-winded rant the gist of which I will now inflict on Karavansara readers.
Because like a guy once said, I suffered for my art, now it’s your turn. Continue reading

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Lamb’s Birthday, too

lambdesk… and, as we are talking about birthdays, today is also Harold Lamb‘s birthday1.
Master storyteller and a giant in the field of historical fiction, Lamb was apparently so successful with his biographies of famous characters from the past – Genghis Khan, Hannibal, Tamerlane etc. – that his biographies actually pushed his narrative work into oblivion.
Much of Lamb’s catalog has been reprinted recently – and he’s certainly an author worth discovering.

We’ll have to talk about him, in the future.
For starters, here’s a small gallery of (some of) his books…


  1. yes, Burroughs and Lamb share a birthday – it gets you thinking, right? 


Swords of the Four Winds

The so-called ebook revolution has brought back a number of genres and formats that for a few decades had been marginalized to say the least.
The short form is back – novelettes and novellas, novels in the 40.000-words standard of the paperbacks of old.
Pulp is making a big comeback, in all its assorted flavors – from hero pulps to adventure cliffhangers to sword & sorcery.

And for a fantasy reader, the return of sword & sorcery – the small-scale, proletarian, none-too-heroic kind of fantasy that normally involves rogues trying to save their own skin, not champions trying to save the world – is a much welcome event.

I’m currently reading – and very much enjoying – Dariel R.A. Quiogue’s Swords of the Four Winds, a highly satisfying collection of sword & sorcery stories set in the East. Continue reading

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Crusaders to Babylon

A short post just because.
Knights_Templar_SealChristendom (how pleasantly Medieval a word!) is cheering the election of the new pope – and turns out the family of the South American Jesuit now known as Francis the First was originally from the hills area where I live.
While the locals scramble to arrange something to surf the long wave of the Vatican election, I like to remember that from the Monferrato area a 13th ccentury crusade moved south and east, with the purpose of liberating Babylon from the infidels.
The crusade did not reach its purpose, or its destination, from the little I know – but it’s the sort of factoid Harold Lamb would have used as a starting point to weave a great epic tale.

The Monferrato territory was also seat of a number of Templar forts and churches.
Which is something I might explore – phisically – this summer.