Blog: Commentary from the den of a pulp super-fan

Prince Zarkon, Lord of the Unknown

Posted by at 10:00 am Wednesday, June 17, 2015 in Captain Hazzard, Doc Savage, New Pulp, Pastiche, Review, The Avenger
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Prince Zarkon, Lord of the Unknown

"The Nemesis of Evil"An interesting, if sometimes overlooked, pulp homage is Lin Carter‘s short-lived Prince Zarkon series. It ran for five novels in the 1970s and ’80s, and it was one I enjoyed when I was looking for something like Doc Savage or The Avenger, both of which this series resembled.

Lin Carter is too often overlooked or even looked down upon. A longtime fan, he wrote quite a bit, much of which is pastiche or homage of others, such as H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Edgar Rice Burroughs (his Green Star, Zanthodon, and Callisto series), Robert E. Howard and more.

He is sometimes better regarded as an editor and critic for works such as his excellent Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, which brought back into print several important works along with anthologies he edited, and his retrospective works on J.R.R. Tolkien and Lovecraft.

The Zarkon series is clearly a homage of both Doc and The Avenger:

  • “The Nemesis of Evil” (1975)
  • “Invisible Death” (1975)
  • “The Volcano Ogre” (1976)
  • “The Earth-Shaker” (1982)
  • “Horror Wears Blue” (1987)

All were originally published in hardback by Doubleday. Only the first three where reprinted in the ’70s in paperback by Popular Library. Wildside Press has reprinted those first three, so this makes the last two a bit harder to find. Took me years to find them.

In the first book we are introduced to Prince Zarkon and his aides, called the Omega group. We learn his origin, which is pretty unusual. He’s actually from the future, a product of selective breeding, sent back to the past to help ensure the future. Arriving in a small European country, he helps them out and is made their prince, hence his title. Moving to Knickerbocker City (a stand-in for New York City), he gathers a group of five aides: “Scorchy” Muldoon, bantamweight boxer; pilot Francis “Ace” Harrigan; Nick Naldina, former stage magician; mental marvel Theopilus “Doc” Jenkins; electrical wizard Menlo Parker. They all owe their lives to Zarkon, and so are loyal to him.

At the beginning of each story is a short interlude where Zarkon drops by the Cobalt Club and meets the various pulp heroes or their associates, including those connected to Doc, The Avenger, The Shadow, The Spider, etc. As the stories are set in more modern times, most are now retired. One interesting point is Carter has Doc’s cousin having married Doc pastiche Captain Hazzard.

The first novel has the team going up against a cult leader named Lucifer, who is operating out of Mount Shasta. The second novel has someone calling himself the Grim Reaper extorting money from people, or he will kill them. The third novel has the team head to the island of Rangoon to deal with a volcano monster menacing people.

"The Earth-Shaker"The fourth novel seems to harken back to an old Doc adventure, as someone is creating artificial earthquakes against banks in Knickerbocker City. Interestingly, the girl from the third novel comes back, along with a henchman of Lucifer. In the fifth novel, Zarkon and team must confront The Vulture and his blue men.

A sixth novel was promised, “The Moon Menace,” but never written. I wonder if he left any notes or if anyone would be interested in doing further Prince Zarkon stories?

I really enjoyed this series when I read it back as a kid. Others seemed turned off by the convoluted background that Carter gave (he claims the “origin” he gives is made up, to cover up the “real” story about Prince Zarkon, alluding to him being a real person), and probably the appearances of all the old pulp characters. I guess it’s one of those things where you need to be at the right age (or right mindset) to enjoy.

I do wish Wildside Press would reprint the final two novels so all five could be easily accessible. But do check out this series.

4 Comments

  1. I really enjoy this series, and give it a go every so often. If somebody wanted to write The Moon Menace, I’d certainly read it.

  2. Found the Volcano Ogre at a used book store years ago. Some of the hardbacks turned up in the local public library. Really good reads.

  3. The two hard-to-find novels are easily available at abebooks.com, and not too pricey either.

    • They are easier to find today thanks to on-line sources like abebooks. Back then I had to scour used bookstores to fill my collection of pulp reprints and new works like Carters, Wellman and others.