Paul Edwin Zimmer
|Paul Edwin Zimmer|
October 16, 1943|
|Died||October 18, 1997
Schenectady, New York, United States
|Occupation||Writer, poet, author|
|Genre||Poetry, fantasy, science fiction|
He is best known for his Dark Border series - a set of four published books: The Lost Prince, "King Chondos' Ride, A Gathering of Heroes, Ingulf the Mad and one still awaiting publication, The King who was of Old. He also co-wrote The Blood of Colyn Muir with his foster brother Don Studebaker (who writes fantasy under the name of Jon de Cles) and Hunters of the Red Moon and The Survivors with his sister. He is also supposed to have collaborated with Bradley without credit on The Spell Sword.
Some of his poetry available in the collection A Woman of the Elf Mounds. His long poem "Logan" appeared in Jerry Pournelle's There Will Be War vol VIII. The poem is about a 19th Century First Nations leader, so it did not fit into the anthology's theme about future warfare, but Pournelle included it out of respect for its merits.
Zimmer began his writing as a poet, experimenting with Welsh and Old Norse forms before turning to prose. Nonetheless he weaves what sounds like ancient poetry through his stories, such as the ballad of "Pertap's Ride", parts of which are scattered through the Dark Border series.
Zimmer was also one of the original members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, where he was known as Master Edwin Berserk, as well as being active in Bay Area poetry and neopagan circles. He is credited with having popularized the bardic circle originated by Karen Anderson, a self-entertainment at parties in which each participant can read, recite or sing, ask someone else to do so, or pass. Whether the creditation is accurate, Zimmer was widely considered one of the best coordinators of bardic circles, and was frequently asked to run them wherever he happened to be.
Although not of Scottish heritage, Zimmer was often seen at conventions and other public occasions dressed in the MacAlpin tartan, complete with sporran. At home, he frequently wore a blue bathrobe, appearing in normal clothing only when needing to deal with officials or others outside his circle. Zimmer habitually wrote at night, and many visitors can attest to him pacing up and down as he thought through plot and wording problems, or pausing to do a martial arts dance with his swords.
Zimmer spent much of his life at Greyhaven, the sprawling communal house in Elmwood district of the Berkeley hills, the home of noted author Diana L. Paxson (among others), and is featured in the (out of print) Greyhaven Anthology which was edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley.
Some of the characters in Paul Edwin Zimmer's books, such as the Hastur share names with characters created by Marion Zimmer Bradley (c.f. The Heritage of Hastur (1975)). Zimmer himself claimed that the similarity of names was due only to shared influences, and the shared names are found in the older works of literature (see below).
Many fans believed because of their names that Bradley and Zimmer were married. However, those that knew the pair (ibid) have said that while Paul Edwin Zimmer:
was perfectly willing to collaborate on such books as Hunters of the Red Moon, The Survivors, and The Spell Sword, nobody marries a writer who criticized his early efforts at storytelling - even if she isn't his sister.
Zimmer died while a guest of honor at Albacon, a science fiction convention in Schenectady, New York, which he attended in part so he could visit his older brother on the family farm. He suffered a heart attack in room 707 at the Boskone party. EMTs in the room immediately started CPR, to no avail. He was cremated and his ashes buried in the family plot in Canandaigua, NY.
In his Dark Border novels Paul uses a lot of names that would be familiar to fans of both his sister and H P Lovecraft, such as Carcosa, Hastur, Hali and Hyades amongst others. And the imagery that he conjures of the dark things the evil protagonists in his books might lend credence to a conjecture of Lovecraftian influence.
But that is not the case. Rather, Lovecraft, Bradley, and Zimmer were influenced by Robert W. Chambers (in turn influenced by Ambrose Bierce), author of The King in Yellow, an anthology of interconnecting grim supernatural stories. This is clearly evident in the eponymous play that features as the centerpiece of the book, whose central characters are Cassilda, Camilla, and The King.
This is an excerpt:
"Cassilda's Song" from Act I, Scene 2 of the play: Along the shore the cloud waves break, The twin suns sink beneath the lake, The shadows lengthen In Carcosa. Strange is the night where black stars rise, And strange moons circle through the skies But stranger still is Lost Carcosa. Songs that the Hyades shall sing, Where flap the tatters of the King, Must die unheard in Dim Carcosa. Song of my soul, my voice is dead; Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed Shall dry and die in Lost Carcosa.
Fans of the Dark Border series will recognise the reference to the twin suns, Carcosa, Hyades, the nameless lake, and strange moons.
Background to the Dark Border series
Zimmer's tales were set on a world that was divided between the forces of light and darkness, within a universe that had been ravaged by ancient malevolent cosmic entities - known as the eight Dark Lords - that were capable of destroying entire galaxies.
This world was repopulated by men brought from another universe by a benign and immensely powerful being known as Hastur, who in tandem with Awan A'Towith, last of an immortal race of giants who possessed vast powers over gravity and mass, had driven the eight Dark Lords from the reclaimed world and then from the universe itself. A thousand years later, when mankind had spread over all the world raising great kingdoms and realms that lay across the various continents like a jeweled mantle, a thief broke into the great fortresses of Carcosa, the chief stronghold of Hastur, and stole a mystic artifact. This theft broke the spell that held the Dark Lords at bay behind the vast mystic barriers erected by Hastur and allowed these fell beings to return.
Unimaginable devastation followed as realm after realm was ravaged and consumed in the wake of the passing of the Dark Lords, even the Hasturs were not safe from their onslaught, far across the sea on the Island continent of Y'Gora their great city of Astorimin was taken from the world by the dark things and trapped in another dimension, where it is said, that it lies sleeping still protected by the magic ring of Hastur.
To make matters worse Hastur himself and his ally Awan A'Towith had disappeared, leaving only their less powerful descendants to face the might of the eight Dark Lords and their hordes of evil servants.
In a conflict that was long and hard-fought, that saw great losses suffered by the Hasturs and their allies. The sons and grandsons of Hastur, with the aid of the great Elf Host of Mananan and Nuadan, succeeded in driving the Dark Lords from the world and once again raised the weakened barriers.
But they were not entirely successful in ridding the world of evil, many of the lesser creatures of the dark; demons, vampires and goblins the least powerful of the evil servants of the Dark Lords - lingered and forged a realm on the slopes of the mountain chain that ran almost the entire length of the main continent. Using dark magic, they caused a shadow to perpetually cloak their realm making it safe from the sun, which was an anathema to them, and from the powers of the Hasturs.
Drained after their efforts to banish their great foes and too weak to rid the world of these lesser creatures, the Hasturs raised mystic wards that fenced in the area infested with the dark things.
Thus was created the Dark Border over which the Hasturs maintained an ever vigilant watch. Over the thousands of years that has followed the Dark Border has fluctuated. Sometimes the dark things had surged forth and ravaged the kingdoms of man that bordered their land and increased the size of their realm. Other times they have been driven back by the valour of men and the power of the Hastur clan.
The danger of the dark things is ever present...
A thousand years ago the Shadow consumed the Empire of Tarkkaria forcing the last of the Takkars to flee to a province that was all that remained of their land. Little more than a century ago a Seynyorean mercenary Ricarrho Divega married into the royal family and begun to forge a kingdom, he humbled the proud Mondavans and conquered Mahapor, he also brought the many squabbling principalities and city states into line. His son Olansos continued his work conquering the rich city states of the seas coast and the fertile lands north of the Border countries and grew rich on taxes he levied on the conquered territories.
Twenty years ago Olansos wife Tarani gave birth to twins.
One was stolen at birth by a renegade wizard and raised within the depths of the Shadow. For years heroes searched the shadow for the lost prince to no avail.
The Dark Things have devised a plan of conquest that involves the twin princes, that if successful will allow the borders of the Shadow to be pushed to the Sea and perhaps beyond.
Hastur, An ancient and immensely powerful being possessing both psionic and mystical abilities, leader of the Hastur clan, the guardians of the world against the dark things. Hastur himself is never seen but his descendents are, chief amongst them is Kandol Shadow-slayer who is approximately 5000 years old.
Dark Things, evil creatures that rule the shadow, the realm founded on the mountain range of the main continent fenced in by the mystic barriers of the Hasturs.
Istvan Divega, a world-renowned swordsman who is a master of the three swords school and mercenary leader, who travels the world fighting for various kings and emperors as well as the Hasturs when required. Zimmer told his friend Bruce Byfield that Divega was based partly on watching noted science fiction and fantasy writer Fritz Leiber as an old man fencing.
Istvan is an older man who has outlived his son and wife, and who fears the onset of old age and the infirmity that it brings. Yet despite these fears his skill with the sword is undiminished. His body, although not as strong as it once was, still has its lightning quick reflexes honed through years of battle and training, while his mind is as sharp as it ever was, despite all the horrors and ruin that he has seen in his years of fighting. Istvan remains a man of principle, a man of honour, whose word once given is unbreakable. He has been summoned by his cousin Olansos the King of Tarencia to help oversee the investiture of his son prince Chondos. Olansos is aware that Chondos has personal issues that could lead to his undoing once he is gone and hopes that Istvan may aid the young prince in sorting them out before they become a danger to himself and the Kingdom at large.
Istvan bears a Hastur sword, a weapon made by the Hasturs that reacts to the presence of the dark things, and that is capable of destroying creatures of shadow and is virtually indestructible.
Despite his skill as a swordsman he is best known as Istvan the Archer - a name he hates and is ashamed of, because it refers to an incident in his youth in which he slaughtered men from afar. Ironically, it was in this incident that he first gained fame and his almost inhuman skill with the bow became known. In "A Gathering of Heroes" a famed Elven archer tells Istvan that it has been almost a century since he has seen a mortal shoot as well as Istvan.
Martos of Onantunga, a young hero who has come to Tarencia seeking fame in the long struggle against the creatures of the Dark Border. He is the foremost student of Birthran of Kadar an old friend of Istvan Divega who is also a sword master of the 3 swords school. He struggles to balance his sense of honor against his love of fame and his need to make his way in the world, and his wish for accomplishment against his sense of responsibility for his pregnant lover Kumari. When tragedy results in civil war, he finds himself pitted strategically—and, occasionally, personally --- against Istvan Divega in a clash that, as in the Iliad, has no right or wrong side and could be a tragedy for both.
Ironfist Arac, A giant warrior who is famed for his freakish strength and legendary skill with the axe. An old comrade of Istvan, he leads a mercenary troop of Carrodian Axe men, a form of heavy infantry. They have been hired by the King of Tarencia to help patrol the dark border.
Svaran, Commander of the armies of Sarlow and their deadliest warrior. He is not as skillful or as fast as Grom Beardless or as strong as Vor Half Troll his lieutenants. However, he wears a close fitting suit of dwarf forged plate armour that is proof against mystic Hastur and Elven swords, rendering Svaran virtually invulnerable in combat. He is sometimes known as Svaran the Invincible or the Black. He appears in "A Gathering of Heroes" and "Ingulf the Mad".
Grom Beardless, a Captain of the armies of Sarlow, an exceptionally skilled warrior and deadly swordsman who is feared and respected throughout the Island continent of Y'Gora. He is acknowledged even by the sorcerers of Sarlow as their best swordsman. He appears in "A Gathering of Heroes" and "Ingulf the Mad".
Carroll Mac Lir, Most famous of the heroes of Y'gora, a former slave of the Sarlowaq he escaped and discovered the mystic sword he now bears, which was said to belong to the last great hero of the former realm now known as Sarlow before its conquest by the Sarlowaq. He has fought all along the borders of the three kingdoms that lie on the edges of the vast forest of demons on the Island continent of Y'Gora battling the armies of Sarlow and their allies the Norians. He has fought Svaran the invincible and Grom Beardless and lived to tell the tale. He appears in "A Gathering of Heroes" and "Ingulf the Mad".
Paul Edwin Zimmer's world building
Although his Dark Border world is filled with Elves, Dwarfs, Demons and Goblins, and the level of technology is about that of medieval times, the supernatural skills displayed by the elves and Hasturs are treated in a fashion that hints at super science and an incredibly high level of psionics rather than the usual convenient fantasy spells. Similarly, the dark malevolent creatures that exist in other realities possess reality warping capabilities and the ability to travel between dimensions—and warriors with no special abilities such as Istvan appear to be aware of the existence of other worlds and universes.
This approach gives Zimmer's work a more realistic, harder-edged feel than most fantasies.
Harmonics play an important part in the magic used in the books of the Dark Border series. In "A Gathering of Heroes," Elves are shown to sing mystic songs that pierce the veil of reality to create inter-dimensional gates that allow the Elven Host to go to the aid of the beleaguered Hastur clan during the "Age of Terror" and chant "spells" during the forging of elven swords and during the battle against the extra dimensional demon the Tromdoel.
Similarly, While in "Ingulf the Mad," a renegade wizard in league with Sarlow is seen summoning a powerful demon using a spell whose words when correctly pronounced vibrate in a way that allows reality to be folded.
Zimmer conveys a sense of history and depth to the world he has created by having many of the characters discuss and derive inspiration from various legends of past battles and events. These only ever appear as fleeting references in the books, but serve to remind the reader that these legendary heroes of the past fought the same Dark Things which his contemporary characters battle.
Rather than simply recount the past in a single narrative or conversation, or even in a preface, Zimmer instead demonstrates his mastery of world building by using oral history, songs and poetry to sketch an impression of a conflict that has raged for thousands of years, in the same way that warriors of times past would, in reality have passed down such lore. Thus he adds a realism and density to his world-building.
Like Tolkien, Zimmer knows far more about the world than he ever reveals, except for the occasional aside or hint. This technique helps to create an even greater illusion of depth, because it hints that there is more to the world than what readers are shown. Possibly, had Zimmer lived and continued to write, more of this information would have been revealed to readers eventually.
Books and short stories of the Dark Border
- Short stories
- "The Shadow of Tugar" [Istvan DiVega], (ss) Fantasy Book Vol. 2 No. 3, August 1983
- "A Swordsman from Carcosa" [Istvan DiVega], (nv) Fantasy Book Vol. 5 No. 1, March 1986 & Vol. 5 No. 2, June 1986
- "The Vision of Aldamir", (ss) Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine Vol. 1 No. 2, Autumn 1988
- "The Wolves of Sarlow" [Prince Tahion], (nv) Fantasy Book Vol. 3 No. 3, September 1984
- The Dark Border Vol. 1: The Lost Prince - Publisher: Berkley (September 15, 1983)
- The Dark Border Vol. 2: King Chondos' Ride - Publisher: Berkley (September 15, 1983)
- A Gathering of Heroes - Publisher: Ace Books (August 1987)
- Ingulf the Mad - Publisher: Ace Books (June 1989)