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WHY LIN CARTER'S NAME KEEPS COMING UP

David Bruce Bozarth

When the subject of contemporaries of Edgar Rice Burroughs come up Lin Carter's name is often mentioned. Most fans of Ed Burroughs have read Carter's homages Jandar of Callisto, the Green Star series, or Thongor of Lemuria. Many have also read his collaborations with L. Sprague De Camp on the Conan books of Robert E. Howard. A much smaller set of ERB fans is aware that Carter was an editor of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series and wrote a number of science ficiton titles for Ace during the 1960s. Beyond that, however, few know much about the life of Lin Carter, me included. When asked "What do you know about Lin Carter's life?" I've had answers such as "war hero," "drug user," "hack," "bum," "sf fan club speaker," "failure." I never knew Lin Carter personally, so I thought I'd find out a little about this author who keeps turning up in discussions at erblist.com.

Here's the short version:

Name: CARTER, Linwood Vrooman
Born: June 9, 1930, St. Petersburg, Florida
Died: February 7, 1988, East Orange, New Jersey
Interred: Cremated
Married#1: Judith Ellen Hershkowitz, 1959 (div 60)
Married#2: Noel Vreeland, August 17, 1963 (div 75)

As a young boy Lin Carter grew up reading kid fantasy such as Baum's Oz, and later grew into pulp fantasy and science fiction. He attended a cartoonist's school. Carter spent 1951 to 1953 in the Army during the Korean War–as a clerical typist in the back area. He was slightly injured in an accident which resulted in a Purple Heart. Upon his return Carter used his G I Bill funds to attend Columbia University in the 1950s, apparently with no intention of ever graduating; however his money ran out and he took work as an advertising writer.

During the next two decades Carter turned out a few titles of his own, but is more known as his time as an editor for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series which was responsible for reviving and reprinting nearly forgotten works by James Branch Cabel, Lord Dunsay, and others. He was later an editor for DAW and Dell, also in fantasy/sf fields. Carter's efforts as an editor included a number of brilliant essays and analyses of what is Fantasy and how to write it. Burroughs fans will want to obtain a copy of his Imaginary Worlds (Ballantine) which contains a chapter on the works of ERB.

Carter was instrumental in organizing sci-fi fandom in and about the New Jersey area. In later years he was often a guest speaker at these gatherings. Between 1967 and 1982 Carter worked with L. Sprague de Camp in extending the Conan series by Robert E. Howard. Thongor of Lemuria was Carter's homage to Howard–a traveling barbarian adventurer. As a fictional hero Thongor is nothing new, but the stories are competently written and have a charm of their own. The Callisto and Green Star series were inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars and Venus tales. Carter also produced many short stories based on fantasy worlds by Lovecraft, Smith (Clark Ashton), etc. When asked why he chose to write in the vein of earlier authors rather than in his own voice, Lin Carter is known to have responded he wrote what he liked and that writing novels of his own would be tedious. In his own words:

New Worlds for Old
Lin Carter

As a fantasy writer, I am sometimes asked why I persist in limiting my talents to what has been charitably described as "fairy tales for grown-ups." Since I earn my living and support my family through the produce of my typewriter, such helpful persons argue, why do I not write for a larger audience, and reap some of the millions of dollars publishers lavish on whomever can or cares to write a VALLEY OF THE DOLLS or LOVE STORY? Surely I have nothing against the idea of making a million dollars? Those who argue thus have no real conception of just how difficult writing a novel can be, and what grisly drudgery it is to write something for which one has no real enthusiasm or interest.

I was once a wide-eyed kid drinking in the marvels of such splendid films as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and The Thief of Bagdad or lost in the fascinating pages of DOCTOR DOOLITTLE, MARY POPPINS and the "OZ" books. A little later, a gawky teenager, I gloried in the pages of Planet Stories, Weird Tales, Doc Savage, Unknown, and Captain Future. That little boy, and that fascinated teenager, live somewhere within me to this hour--nor would I have it otherwise.

This being so, it naturally followsa that I am most interested in writing the sort of fiction that first stirred and excited and enthralled me as a youngster, and which still entertains me and stretches my imagination to this day. It is not so much that I would not like to write a bestseller and make a million dollars and sell a book to the movies and appear on the Tonight Show. It is just that, by great good luck, I am able to earn a good living writing exactly the sort of thing I most want to write.

The problems--and the pleasures--of writing the imaginary world romance fascinate me. I have assiduously sought out the work of those writers who made this curious art their particular province. The list is not long, but it is a pantheon of brilliant creative talents. I reproduce it here for your amusement.

Of course, this is a list of personal favorites. It might well be argued that since we are talking about people who consciously wrote fiction, such earlier writers as Voltaire, or William Beckford, or George Meredith, or George MacDonald should be included--to say nothing of such contemporary fantasists as Jane Gaskell, T. H. White, Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, Michael Moorcock, Andre Norton, or John Jakes. Each connoisseur will have his or her own list of personal favorites. But the eighteen writers above seem to me to have devoted a major portion of their careers to the delicate art of world-making, to have done their best work in this genre, to have "specialized" therein and thus to have excelled.

This obvious enjoyment of earlier writers fueled much of Carter's output as author and editor and for a good many years provided him and his second wife Noel Vreeland Carter with a very comfortable living. She remembers Lin this way:

Lin smoked at least two packs of cigarettes and about 9 cups of abominably strong coffee a day. I used to beg him to cut down on both, but he never did, and I am certain that both habits contributed to his early demise. He never used drugs since he considered his mind his great strength, and wanted to keep it sane and unabused. He evidently started drinking in his late years, but while we were married it was wine with dinner, and drinks out with friends, but never to excess, and always in company.

Lin was a successful advertising man, but when his group was fired for an unsuccessful Wolfschmidt's Vodka ad campaign, I suggested he do what he had always wanted -- just come home and write full time. It was out of that rather risky time that he wrote and sold Tolkien, a Look Behind the Lord of the Rings, and began editing the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series for Betty & Ian Ballantine.

Actually, as far as money is concerned, we lived very well in a nine-room house crammed with books, antiques, art, and animals. We gave several large parties a year as well as several smaller ones, traveled to various cons -- World Cons and Philcon, Balticon, etc every year for a decade or more, and gave a party in our hotel room or suite at each con. We lived rather high on the hog, to use a cliche, and while money could be tight at times after he quit advertising to write full time, we lived very well indeed. How Lin lived after I left may be a different story. But from 1963 to 1974, with some financial ups and downs, we lived a rather extravagant life.

Carter never wrote the great American novel–never had any intention of doing so, but he was a prolific and intelligent author and editor, particularly in the field of Fantasy literature.

Toward the end of his life Lin Carter's emphysema advanced. A series of set backs in his private life resulted in losing the majority of his possessions and eventually his home. Lin Carter died from throat cancer and was cremated. Perhaps these words by Carter which appeared in one of the many introductions he wrote for book collections sums up his life:

Some writers are born before their time and produce stories of great charm, beauty, and power for which the world is not quite ready or which a readership has not yet evolved. The fate of such writers is most unfortunate. They live in obscurity and die in neglect, and their stories vanish into the limbo of lost books.


BIBLIOGRAPHY
Carter, Linwood Vrooman
(USA, 1930-1988)
Series

Zarkon

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