From 1953 onwards, Ballantine Books was responsible for many fine science fiction titles under their characteristic logo of a pair of mirrored “B”s. Often distinguished by evocative Richard Powers cover art, they specialized in paperback originals—sometimes published simultaneously with hardback editions—and printed important titles by such authors as Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Vance, Theodore Sturgeon, and Frederik Pohl.
Ballantine was also the first authorized American publisher of the books of J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings trilogy had not been properly registered for copyright in the United States, and as the work was (arguably) in the public domain, Ace Books published the three volumes between May and July 1965 without any royalties payable to the author. Although they were (again, arguably) within their legal right to do this, their actions were morally questionable, and Tolkien was quick to denounce Ace, who eventually bowed to the considerable pressure that was brought to bear and agreed to withdraw the books and pay a royalty to the author, although it took almost a year.
Tolkien came to an arrangement with Ballantine to bring out an authorized and very slightly revised version of the trilogy and its predecessor, The Hobbit. These they proceeded to publish from August 1965 onwards, adding a further title, The Tolkien Reader, a collection of shorter pieces, in September 1966. The considerable success of these books prompted Ballantine to produce more fantasy titles, and further books began to appear in 1967, starting with E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros in April. In the next two years another eleven titles appeared, including Eddison’s Zimiamvia series (Mistress of Mistresses, A Fish Dinner in Memison, and The Mezentian Gate) and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy (Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone). These were all reprints and were primarily older titles, the exceptions being A Fine and Private Place and The Last Unicorn, both by Peter S. Beagle, which had first appeared in hardcover in 1960 and 1968 respectively.
Overall sales evidently warranted a continuation of the publication of fantasy books, but one suspects that there was a dilemma in deciding what to publish. Ballantine had neither the time nor the knowledge to decide upon suitable future fantasy titles; they were presumably not prepared to compromise the standards that they had been setting with the books that had appeared to date, and were keen to maintain both the quality and the frequency of publication.
Fortunately, help was at hand. In 1967, Lin Carter had signed a contract with Ballantine for the publication of a book about Tolkien’s trilogy looking at its influences and its antecedents, a book that would eventually be published in March 1969 as Tolkien: A Look Behind “The Lord of the Rings.” This excellent book included many knowledgeable references to earlier works of fantasy, and it prompted Ballantine to employ Carter as a consultant, his task being to recommend suitable books for what was to be their ongoing fantasy list. Carter’s eventual appointment as editor of the series was formalized on 22 November 1968, with Carter nominating works and Betty Ballantine, cofounder and copublisher of Ballantine Books, having the final say in what actually saw print.
The first title under the “Ballantine Adult Fantasy” imprint, using the logo of a unicorn’s head, appeared some six months later; this was The Blue Star by Fletcher Pratt, originally published in 1952. The rationale for the series was outlined by Carter in his introduction to the first book, emphasizing both the “adult” and the “fantasy” aspects:
Some of the most sophisticated novels of the last two centuries have been fantastic romances of adventure and ideas; books which few, if any, children would be capable of appreciating ... many of these books are long out of print, scarce and rare, known only to a handful of collectors and connoisseurs.
The Blue Star heralded the publication of more than sixty books over a period of five productive years, and those years saw many fine titles appear, the vast bulk of which were indeed “scarce and rare.” As well as the first paperback editions of such writers as Lord Dunsany, William Hope Hodgson, and Clark Ashton Smith, Carter reprinted novels that had been unjustifiably languishing in oblivion for many years, including first-rate works by Hope Mirrlees, F. Marion Crawford, and William Morris. Original novels also began to appear as well as several outstanding Carter-edited anthologies that often brought back into print long forgotten short stories and writers.
The books were almost without exception well-made productions, and each of them was enhanced by an interesting and insightful Carter introduction. The series was characterized by evocative cover art, much of it produced by Gervasio Gallardo. His paintings were particularly suited to the dreamlike themes of classic fantasy, while Bob LoGrippo also contributed some memorably eerie art, principally for the titles by William Hope Hodgson and Arthur Machen.
The Blue Star appeared in May1969. It is an intricately plotted novel set in an alternate eighteenth-century Europe, a locale of magic and intrigue. It is not particularly easy to read, but it ultimately does reward perseverance. It was followed in June by The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany, the first of the author’s books to appear in many years and a fitting introduction to the writer’s inimitable style. This is probably the best of his novels, a classic fantasy that should always be in print. The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris appeared in July. A good book that again rewards the patient reader, it is written in an unusual style that is not easy to come to terms with—there are, for instance, no punctuation marks to distinguish dialogue, and there is much archaic language. This novel was perhaps not the best way of introducing Morris to readers, particularly when his excellent and accessible The Well at the World’s End was waiting in the wings, eventually to see publication a year later.
The Silver Stallion by James Branch Cabell appeared in August, the first of what were to be a total of six Cabell volumes. Carter was clearly an admirer of the writer’s fiction, which is not to everyone’s taste, and there were ultimately perhaps a few too many of his books in the series. Lilith by George Macdonald came in September—first published in 1895, it is an interesting dream-world novel, but like much fantasy of its era it tends to be verbose and heavily descriptive. October brought two fine anthologies edited by Carter: Dragons, Elves, and Heroes covering older fantasy fiction, some of it much older (for instance, a translation from Beowulf which was written around 750 ad), and The Young Magicians, featuring more modern works covering most of the twentieth century and presenting an interesting contrast to its companion volume.
Figures of Earth by James Branch Cabell was the November offering and the second Cabell book of the series. It seems strange that Jurgen, generally acknowledged as the author’s best book (and certainly his most famous), never appeared from Ballantine; we can speculate that this is due to rights issues, for if it had been available, then Carter would surely have wanted to publish it. This was followed by Hannes Bok’s The Sorcerer’s Ship in December, an enjoyable novel written very much under the influence of A. (Abraham) Merritt and its first printing since an initial magazine publication in 1942. The cover of this particular title had a redesigned series colophon—the unicorn’s head was retained but in outline and enclosed in a double circle, this being retained for all subsequent titles.
1970 began with Land of Unreason by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp, a light-hearted fairy tale originally serialized in Unknown Magazine (as were their more famous Harold Shea “Incompleat Enchanter” stories). The High Place by James Branch Cabell, the third Cabell book, followed in February. March saw the publication of Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees, a book that had first appeared in England in 1926 and in America the following year and had never been reprinted; it very much encapsulated the raison d’être of the series, being a title that hardly anyone had ever heard of but which was a genuine lost classic that thoroughly deserved its renaissance. At the Edge of the World by Lord Dunsany came in March. A superb collection, perhaps the best Dunsany compilation ever, it included examples from most of the author’s early fantasy works and was enhanced by Carter’s informative bibliographic and biographic notes to the majority of the stories. The April title was Phantastes by George Macdonald, the second Macdonald novel to appear in the series, originally published in 1858, nearly forty years before Lilith.
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft in May was a collection of Lovecraft’s “Dunsanian” fiction, including the short novel of the title, and it became the first book in the series to be reprinted (in July of the following year). Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith in June was the first paperback collection of Smith’s stories, graced with a fine George Barr cover and collecting all of the tales set on Earth’s last continent in the unimaginably distant future. A good proportion of Smith’s best fiction appears in these pages, and it was a splendid introduction to anyone unfamiliar with the writer.
July 1970 brought The Shaving of Shagpat by George Meredith, an Arabian Nights fantasy first published in 1855. The Island of the Mighty by Evangeline Walton also appeared in July; it is a fantasy based on the Welsh Mabinogion. Originally published in 1936 as The Virgin and the Swine, Carter and Ballantine unsurprisingly chose to retitle it.
In August, Deryni Rising by Katherine Kurtz was the start of a lengthy series by the author and the first original publication in the Adult Fantasy series proper. Kurtz went on to write two more Adult Fantasy volumes and many more titles afterwards, all based in her alternate version of twelfth-century Wales. (The most recent and perhaps final volume appeared in 2014.) William Morris’s The Well at the World’s End was published in two volumes in August and September 1970. First published in 1896 and perhaps Morris’s best fantasy, it had been out of print for something like fifty years until this edition appeared. It was reprinted at least twice over the next few years, ultimately in one thick volume in 1975.
Golden Cities, Far, edited by Lin Carter, came in October 1970 and was another interesting anthology, again devoted to very early fantasy. This time there is a story from The Book of Thoth, originally set down 3,300 years ago. Beyond the Golden Stair by Hannes Bok was the November offering. It was originally published as The Blue Flamingo in 1948 in a severely edited form (reduced from 70,000 words to 35,000), and the full version of the novel was found only after Bok’s death. As with The Sorcerer’s Ship, the book is stylistically very reminiscent of Abraham Merritt, of whom Bok was a devoted aficionado, but it is an extremely agreeable fantasy.
Although there had been no title in December 1970, the first time that a month had been missed, 1971 saw a solid continuation of monthly publication (in fact, there were sixteen books published in the year, the series’ high water mark), and again there were a number of real gems to be found in the titles that appeared.
The year started with The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson, a superb novel first published in 1954 and revised by the author for this edition, demonstrating Anderson’s complete grasp of how to write memorable fantasy. The Boats of the Glen Carrig by William Hope Hodgson followed in February, the first paperback publication of Hodgson’s classic and the first time it had been in print since 1946. It is one of the genuinely great novels of terror, one that insidiously sustains its menacing atmosphere throughout its full length. February 1971 also brought The Doom That Came to Sarnath by H.P. Lovecraft, another collection of the author’s early “Dunsanian” fantasies and effectively a companion volume to The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. However, one has to question the inclusion of such a late story as “In the Walls of Eryx,” a 1935 collaboration with Kenneth Sterling, a fine story but one which hardly fits the terms of either “early” or “Dunsanian.”
Also in February 1971 but separate from the Adult Fantasy list, Ballantine reissued August Derleth’s “posthumous collaborations” with Lovecraft, The Survivor and Others, together with the Lovecraft volume of verse Fungi From Yuggoth and Other Poems; both had Gervasio Gallardo covers and several end pages advertising Adult Fantasy titles, and they looked like a part of the series, albeit missing the Unicorn’s Head logo. It may have been felt that the predominantly macabre content of these two books was not entirely in keeping with the Adult Fantasy theme, but that did not stop them issuing the anthology, The Spawn of Cthulhu, later in the year (nor had it influenced their decision to print The Boats of the Glen Carrig).
Something About Eve by James Branch Cabell appeared in March as did Red Moon and Black Mountain by Joy Chant, the second original novel to appear in the series, a good if derivative fantasy. This book was reprinted in November 1973 with completely different art, the first cover having been by Bob Pepper and the second by Ian Millar; this is the only instance of this happening, all other reprints retaining their original artwork. Hyperborea, the second Clark Ashton Smith collection, was issued in April, and as there were only ten stories and a prose poem set in Hyperborea, there were also four tales included which were set at the World’s Rim.
Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley (May) is a fine novel that vies with The King of Elfland’s Daughter as Lord Dunsany’s best long fantasy, again unavailable for many years and again a truly excellent book. Vathek by William Beckford, followed in June; first published in 1785, this edition was the first complete version, including three separately printed stories that were originally intended to be incorporated in the novel. The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton (July) was an unusual choice for the series, a satire first published in 1908, and it is apparently now one of the most difficult titles to obtain, suggesting a low print run. This book has a list of “Recent Ballantine Adult Fantasy Titles With Introductions by Lin Carter,” including City of Sorcerers and The Elder Gods by Henry Kuttner and John Campbell, presumably two novellas in one volume. This never did appear, and it remains something of a mystery as to why it was described as a recent Adult Fantasy publication.
The Children of Llyr by Evangeline Walton (August) was the sequel to The Island of the Mighty, originally written many years earlier but never previously published, the author’s suggested title having been The Doom of the Dark Woman. The fifth Cabell book, The Cream of the Jest, came in September, and the same month saw Carter continuing his excellent anthologies with New Worlds for Old. This time he gathered together stories and poetry from such writers as Poe, Dunsany, Howard, Lovecraft, Oscar Wilde, and Mervyn Peake as well as two pieces from his own pen (!). But readers would have welcomed seeing such hard-to-find verse as George Sterling’s “A Wine of Wizardry” and Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Hashish-Eater” appearing in paperback. The Spawn of Cthulhu edited by Lin Carter (October) was a collection of Mythos fiction by various authors, a good selection of stories but with little that was new to the devotee.
Double Phoenix by Edmund Cooper and Roger Lancelyn Green (November) comprises two novellas—“The Firebird” by Cooper, an original publication, and “From the World’s End” by Green, first published in 1948. The Water of the Wondrous Isles by William Morris (November) first published in 1896, is a good but difficult fantasy; a random opening of the book produces these not atypical lines:
Wore the days now, till on a night of October, toward the end thereof, the witch went a-night-tide to the Sending Boat, and Birdalone followed her as erst.
Birdalone is, however, a very strong contender for the title of the most enchanting heroine in fantasy!
December’s Khaled by F. Marion Crawford was another Arabian Nights–style fantasy and another forgotten book that Carter rescued from the unwarranted anonymity in which it had languished since its initial publication in 1891.
1972 was another good year for the series, starting in January with The World’s Desire by H. Rider Haggard and Andrew Lang. First published in 1890, this sequel to The Odyssey shows the Wanderer (Odysseus) seeking Helen of Troy in Egypt. Xiccarph by Clark Ashton Smith (February) was the third Smith collection to appear, and while it covers various story cycles, it is still a nicely rounded collection. The Lost Continent by C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne (also February), an entertaining Atlantis adventure dating from 1899, has a cover and title pages that consistently misspell the author’s name as Cutliffe Hyne. Also appearing in February but not under the Unicorn’s Head logo was Carter’s Lovecraft: A Look Behind the “Cthulhu Mythos”; with its distinctive Gallardio cover and its content, it looked as if it should be a part of the Adult Fantasy series. Discoveries in Fantasy, edited by Lin Carter, appeared in March, an anthology of stories by four authors (Ernest Bramah, Richard Garnett, Donald Corley, and Eden Phillpotts) whose names would have meant little to contemporary readers but who in their time were much renowned. The contents capably demonstrate that such renown was not undeserved. A second March title was Domnei by James Branch Cabell, the sixth and last Cabell book to appear.
Kai Lung’s Golden Hours by Ernest Bramah (April) is perhaps the best of the Kai Lung books and an excellent introduction to the stylish elegance of Bramah’s imaginary China. Deryni Checkmate, by Katherine Kurtz (May), was the second in Kurtz’s series of original novels. Another May title was Beyond the Fields We Know by Lord Dunsany. This is notable for the inclusion of the whole of Dunsany’s first book, The Gods of Pegana (its first printing since 1911) and for featuring a play and a number of poems as well as various other short stories. The Three Impostors by Arthur Machen (June) was a reprint of the whole of the original 1895 version of the book, which had been abridged in many subsequent editions. An extra story was also added, “The Red Hand,” which features Dyson, the main character in The Three Impostors.
In July, The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson was published simultaneously in two separate volumes and was a welcome reprint of a real classic of weird fiction, an astounding, genuinely unique novel, one that has drawn much criticism but which succeeds magnificently on its own terms. This first paperback publication was in an abridged version, Lin Carter actually referring to the excised scenes as the “nadir of taste ... excruciating emotional excesses.” Various other authorities have also commented on what they perceive as a weakening of the overall effect by the romantic interludes, but they form an integral part of the whole and add to the book’s power rather than detracting from it. Fortunately the unedited version is nowadays readily available.
The Song of Rhiannon by Evangeline Walton (August) was the first new novel that the author had written in many years and the third in her sequence of retellings of Welsh myth.
Great Short Novels of Adult Fantasy #1 edited by Lin Carter (September) featured four long stories with original publication dates ranging from 1856 to 1953. The contents are “The Wall of Serpents” by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp (a Harold Shea story); “The Kingdom of the Dwarfs” by Anatole France; “The Maker of Moons” by Robert W. Chambers; and “The Hollow Land” by William Morris.
Evenor by George Macdonald (November) comprised two short stories and a novelette from 1867–75 by the author of Lilith and Phantastes. This book’s introduction indicates that a companion series was to be launched, Magic Kingdoms, which was intended to cover classic fantasy novels for children, but that project never came to fruition.
The regular monthly schedule had started to stutter by the end of 1972 with only one title printed between October and December, but the series was still thriving in a literary sense and the following year saw no letup in the standard that the readers had come to expect.
1973 opened with what was the start of an intended sequence of prose translations of Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso, which was first published in 1513(!). No subsequent volumes appeared, although presumably they would have, had the Adult Fantasy series continued. Volume 1, The Ring of Angelica, translated by Richard Hodgens, is entertaining and easy to read. Another fine Lord Dunsany novel was February’s The Charwoman’s Shadow. It was reprinted in September, a mere seven months later, suggesting that the initial print run must have been low, perhaps indicative of unimpressive sales figures of the series in general and a cutting back on the publisher’s part.
Great Short Novels of Adult Fantasy #2, edited by Lin Carter (March), was another high quality anthology, this time containing the four novellas “The Woman in the Mirror” by George Macdonald; “The Repairer of Reputations” by Robert W. Chambers; “The Transmutation of Ling” by Ernest Bramah; and “The Lavender Dragon” by Eden Phillpotts. One does, however, have to question Carter’s definition of “short novel,” as the Macdonald story is only 24 pages long!
In May 1973, The Sundering Flood by William Morris was the fourth title by that author to appear, this being his last novel, the draft of which was finished only twenty-five days before his death in 1896 then edited by his daughter May Morris, and published posthumously the following year.
Imaginary Worlds by Lin Carter (June) is a very interesting history of fantasy. Carter really knew the genre—all of it—and was particularly capable at getting his knowledge and enthusiasm across in a readable and entertaining way. Poseidonis by Clark Ashton Smith (July) was the fourth Smith collection that Carter published, featuring all of his Atlantis fiction plus other unrelated stories.
Appearing in August, Excalibur by Sanders Anne Laubenthal was another new novel, a fascinating and compelling modern-day Arthurian adventure set in the unlikely location of Kentucky. High Deryni by Katherine Kurtz (September) was the third in the series, and Hrolf Kraki’s Saga by Poul Anderson in October was a further original novel, the third in a row for the imprint. While not up to the admittedly very high standard of The Broken Sword, it is still an excellent example of forceful storytelling. The People of the Mist by H Rider Haggard (December) was a lost race novel which had first appeared in 1894.
Again the books were appearing a little fitfully rather than at the regular monthly intervals that had been the case between the introduction of the series and late 1972. Some months were missed, although September 1973 did see the reprinting of eight books, several of them third printings, plus a further three that bore the Unicorn’s Head symbol (David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros, and Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn) although their original Ballantine publication had preceded the commencement of the Adult Fantasy series. Similarly, later reprints of Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy also had the logo.
1974 saw the end of the series with the last three books appearing. February’s Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat by Ernest Bramah was chronologically the third of the Kai Lung books and the second published by Ballantine. While not quite as good as Kai Lung’s Golden Hours, it is still a volume to savor as is Over the Hills and Far Away (April), their final Lord Dunsany collection, which included the remaining stories from the World’s Edge and various other stories as well as two first-rate plays. Merlin’s Ring by H. Warner Munn was published in June after Carter’s departure, and it lacked the Unicorn’s Head colophon, but his introduction specifically refers to it as a part of the Adult Fantasy series, and it should therefore be included in the list. It is a solidly entertaining Arthurian fantasy and has been reprinted several times since its first publication.
The fourth and final volume of Evangeline Walton’s Mabinogian, Prince of Annwn, appeared in November 1974, also after the series had formally ended. Though the last written, it is chronologically the earliest of the four. (The cover is by David McCall Johnson, who had provided the cover for two earlier Walton novels as well as Carter’s New Worlds for Old and the first volume of the translated Orlando Furiso.)
No further new volumes appeared under the Ballantine Adult Fantasy banner. Presumably sales did not justify its continuation, and although several of the books did see multiple printings, this was perhaps counteracted by the fact that others sold poorly. Ballantine Books had been bought by Random House in 1973, and it would seem that it was commercial dictates that led to the demise of what had been an exceptional succession of titles, many of which really had enriched the field.
Titles Carter intended to publish as per his introductions to various books in the series included a continuation of the Great Short Novels of Adult Fantasy anthologies; The Roots of the Mountains by William Morris; Averoigne by Clark Ashton Smith; further volumes of the translations of Orlando Furioso; The Twilight of the Gods by Richard Garnett; The Revolt of the Angels by Anatole France; a collection of stories by Voltaire, provisionally titled Zadig, and Other Marvels; a collection of short stories by Donald Corley; a “few” novels by Eden Phillpotts; a volume of short fiction by William Morris; and “several” books by Roger Lancelyn Green. Had the Adult Fantasy series continued, one assumes that these would all have appeared together with many other welcome reprints and original novels, but that was not to be.
Lin Carter continued to be active in the fantasy arena, editing The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories series for DAW Books from 1975 onwards, and in 1976 two interesting compilations appeared from Doubleday under Carter’s editorship: Kingdoms of Sorcery and Realms of Wizardry. The covers described each as “An Anthology of Adult Fantasy,” and each had a Carter introduction and commentaries on the individual stories. They were precisely the sort of collection that had been appearing under the Unicorn’s Head logo from Ballantine, which in the meantime began to concentrate on new fiction, reprinting only the more popular of their Adult Fantasies. In 1977 they relaunched both their science fiction and fantasy lines under the imprint of Del Rey books; their first new title was the fantasy, The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks’s successful and influential epic.
It is certainly a matter of regret that the Adult Fantasy series ceased, but Ballantine and Lin Carter are to be thanked for providing readers with what they did. Not everything that was published was classic, but a far greater proportion than might be expected did come close, and several titles were undoubtedly of that stature.
Mike Barrett lives in Wilmington, Kent.