This letter is sent to you for publication since SF Booklog prints only short complimentary comments from writers, editors, etc.
Usually I ignore reviews or criticisms unless they contain something
worthwhile, such as pointing out a technical error or plot discrepancy.
I've found that unjust and incorrect reviews are forgotten by the
readers. The work lives on; the review sinks into limbo. Occasionally,
however, I became aroused when a reviewer is, to put it charitably in
this case, much mistaken.
To begin, Hook says, "Many publishers are reviving popular
characters whose authors are deceased. andrew offut is reviving Cormac
MacArt, a character originated by Howard. Farmer is recreating Opar of
Edgar Rice Burroughs fame."
Actually, Opar is a city, not a character. Hooks doesn't make this
clear, leaving the reader unacquainted with the series with the
impression that Opar is a living being.
"The most unfortunate aspect of this revival is that Phil Farmer,
attempting to remain true to Burroughs, has also retained the racism
inherent in may of Burroughs' work."
As I'll demonstrate, Hooks is wrong on two counts in this statement.
I'm not attempting to remain true to ERB, and I've not retained the supposed racism of ERB.
Hooks goes on to remark that the heroine is blond (I would have said blonde)
and white. "Hadon, the hero, is darker in hair and complextion, but he
is more Mediterranean than Negroid. However, the setting is Africa, and,
as usual with Burroughs, no blacks allowed except as extras and
casualties fighting against the white men. In FLIGHT TO OPAR blacks are
excluded, which is preferable to the stereotyped cannibals and savages
of Burroughs' other works."
It's necessary to describe the background of the series to refute the above charges.
The background of the Opar series is the Khokarsan Empire. In my
historical fantasy it's the first civilization, preceding the Sumerian
by approximately 8600 years. It arose around the northern shores of a
great lake, a small sea, in Central Africa. The most readily available
evidence for this is in Willy Ley's Engineer's Dreams. (I am speaking of the central sea, of course, not the Khokarsan Empire.)
The first Khokarsans came to the northern shores of the northern sea
around 12,000 B.C. This spread over what is now Chad and neighboring
regions, the last remnant of which is Lake Chad. To its north are the
Tibesti and other mountain ranges. The lower sea drowned what was to be
the Belgian Congo and French Equatorial Africa. The seas may have been
connected by one or more narrow straights. I assume in the series that
These two great lakes, or small seas, existed in the late
Pleistocene times, during the Ice Age. The water level was highest
around 25,000 B.C. As the climate took a turn for the dry, they began to
evaporate. They may also have drained out when a cataclysm formed a
chanel in the mountains, permitting the water to flow down into the
western Congo region.
At the time of the Khokarsa culture, the Sahara was still a
well-watered, green area. It was populated by great herds of elephants,
hippos, antelopes, and other animals, and very small tribes of Old Stone
Age peoples roamed its extent.
Both Opar books (HADON OF ANCIENT OPAR and FLIGHT) are provided with
maps which show the situation as a glance. HADON details the
environmental background and one of its appendices outlines the history
of Khokarsa, starting in 12,000 B.C. The events of HADON begin 10,011
Hooks objects that the Central African characters in FLIGHT are all
white. However, as I stated in HADON, anybody in this area would
probably be Caucasian, unless they were brought in from West Africa.
According to what I've read, Negroes were confined at this time to that
area. It wasn't until around 10,000 B.C. that Negroes began to move out
into other areas of Africa. The migrations were slow and did not end
until the Bantus (Zulus, Khosas, etc.) reached South Africa in the 17th
There they met the Dutch, who were coming into the extreme souther
region of South Africa at the same time. However, the Bushmen and
Hottentots preceded both, only to be slaughtered first by Bantus and
then by the Dutch.
There is some evidence that at one time Bushmen and Hottentots lived
in North Africa but were pushed south by the Caucasians and then even
farther southward by the Negroes. The physically smaller, less numerous,
technologically inferior peoples had to live in the deserts, just as
the pygmies (and their Asiatic counterparts, the Negritos) were driven
into the rain forest by their larger, more numerous enemies, Negroes and
The Negro claim that they were first present in Africa my not be
valid. From present evidence North Africa was always the domain of
Caucasions (discounting temporary invasions by Sudanese blacks into
Egypt). Negroes apparently first appeared in West Africa.
The area in which Negroes originated is unknown. It's a puzzle which
the anthropologists have not yet solved. In ancient times Negroes were
in two main widely separated groups. One was in Africa; the other, in
New Guinea and the Melanesian Islands. (The Australian aborigines are
not Negroes but are generally classified as archaic Caucasians.)
The problem is: If Negroes originated in Africa, how did they get to
the New Guinea area? Or, if they originated in New Guinea, how did they
get to Africa? The distance between the two areas is tremendous.
The most widely held opinion is that they originated in southern
India. Over the course of many millenia, some groups made their way to
Africa and some to New Guinea-Melanesia. Still, though some skulls with
Negroid characteristic have been found in south India, these are not
clearly those of Negroes.
Did Negroes originate in India and then spread out in two directions? Were they pushed out by the Indian Caucasians?
The Negroes who went westwards would have had to travel through
India, Iran, the Fertile Cresent, across the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt,
Libya, Algeria, and sown int the area of West Africa. Presumably, they
woudl have liked to settle down in desirable areas but were pushed on by
Caucasians. The process would have taken many thousands of years.
The Negroes ousted from India eastwards probably did not cross the
Bay of Bengal to Burma or Thailand. At that time the paleolithics did
not, as far as we know, have sea-going craft. They probably followed the
shoreline up India but were driven on by the Mongolian tribes of
southeast Asia and eventually ended in the unoccupied areas of New
Guinea and Melanesia. They could have island-hopped or even crossed on
land bridges, since the oceanic levels were lower then.
The distances traveled seem very long for such primitive peoples.
However, another race (or subrace) traveled even farther. Consider
the Ameridians. Originating in Siberia or Central Asia they migrated
across the Bering Bridge to Alaska. Thousands of years later some
reached the southern tip of South America. Thus, such long-distance
migrations are possible.
I am assuming in my series that the ancestors of the Khokarsans
migrated, over many millenia, from Central Asia to Central Africa. I
intend to describe this probability in an appendix to a future Opar
novel. This will also describe (in outline form) the Khokarsan language.
It will suggest that this might be related to the Algonquian languages
of North Amerinds.
Why would Caucasians be speaking a distant descendant of proto-Algonquian?
For one thing, the proto-Amerinds seem to have been a hybrid of
generalized Mongolians and archaic Caucasians. This mixture of genes
took place in Central Asia anf Siberia perhaps 200,000 years ago.
Perhaps even earlier. It can be presumed that some of these more-or-less
distinctly Caucassian and Mongolian progenitors shared a common
language, though they spoke different dialects.
Consider the Ural-Altaic peoples (Turkics, Ugrics, Fins, Huns,
etc.). Though many if not most of their languages are unintelligible to
each other, they did originate from a common tongue. (Just as English,
Russian, Italian, Greek, Hittite, and the Central Asiatic Tokharian
sprang from a common speech.)
In fact, linguists have recently claimed that Japanese is related to
the Ural-Altaic languages. But its antecedents are so ancient that only
a linguist who's made a detailed comparative study of Japanese and
Ural-Altaic could "prove" a relationship.
Note also that the anthropologist, Robert A. Hall, Sr., has
suggested that the language of the Ainus (originally a Caucasian people)
might be related to Algonquain. This is only a suggestion, springing
from very little evidence, but he does want some qualified linguist to
look into this hypothesis. We do know that the Ainu lived in Siberia
before migrating to the Japanese Islands. At that time the Mongolian
Japanese tribes were living in a much warmer climate, probably south
China or southeast Asia. After the Ainus had occupied the islands, the
Japanese migrated, invaded the islands, and drove the Ainus into the
So, I'm postulating that the Khokarsans originated in Central Asia.
They spoke a language which was related to the proto-Algonguian tongue.
They would have picked up some Mongolian and Amerind genes. Then they
wandered over a long stretch of time to North Africa. Eventually, some
tribes crossed the mountains to the south of what is now the Sahara
Desert and foudn the northern Central African sea.
Given the examples noted above, this is not beyond the bounds of probability.
There the Caucasian Khorkarsans found no Negroes. The latter had not
started the series of migrations that would end with their occupation
of sub-Sahara Africa. The Khokarsans did find the shores occupied by the
last of the Neanderthals. These had been pushed south by the North
African Caucasians, were diverted southeastward by the blacks of West
Africa, and settled down to make a miserable living on the Sea of
Khorkarsan. But the Caucasians then found them, perhaps fifty thousand
or more years later, and pushed them south again. Hybridization
occurred, so that the tribes along the western shore of the upper sea,
the Klemqaba, were half-Caucasian, half-Neanderthal.
The only "pure" Neandethals left were those which had migrated to
the southern sea. Not until gold and silver were found in this area did
the Khokarsans enter in large numbers. And, as was the universal custom
of ancient civilizations, the numerically and technologically inferior
people were enslaved.
If Hooks had read HADON, he would have known that Negroes were not
in Central Africa at that time. However, I can't expect that the reader
should know all previous books in a series. And I should have described
Hadon in the detail covered in the first book.
But it never occurred to me that someone would seize on the
"whiteness" of ancient Central Africans and make a racist argument from
On the other hand, what if there had been black Africans in that
area? Why should Hadon especially notice a black unless he or she were
involved significantly in the story? Most blacks would have been slaves
in Korkarsa, just as they were in ancient Egypt, Rome, etc. Slaves are
just part of the background to the masters. If they're not in the action
there's no reason to comment on them any more than there is to comments
on the hundreds of white slaves who formed part of the background in
To reprint the foreword and the appendix of HADON in each one of the
series would make the page count too high. Especially when the planned
appendices would also be attached.
One of these appendices will describe the plants available in
Central Africa in 12,000 B.C. It will point out that the lack of certain
plants would have prevented the rise of any civilization there. But
this difficulty was overcome when Sahhindar brought in the needed food
plants from North Africa and the Mideast. Sahhindar is the supposed God
of Time, Bronze, and plants in the series. Actually, he is Gribardsun,
the time traveler of my TIME'S LAST GIFT.
The above should remove any charge of racism. I will point out that,
as noted in HADON, some expeditions from Khorkarsa to West Africa had
captured some blacks who were then brought into the cities as slaves.
However, the majority of slaves were white. Moreover, the Khorkarsans,
free of color prejudice had a system whereby slaves, black or white,
could buy their freedom. A freed slave was permitted to marry whites or
blacks, and the children were automatically free.
A freeman, a mulatto beat Hadon in a race during the Great Games. He
was mentioned because his role in HADON was large enough for comment.
The Opar series is not just another slapdash jerrybuilt series of
ancient days in which a brainless mightly-thewed superman swordsman hews
his way through countless foes. It's a carefully detailed,
well-researched construction of what was not but could have been --
given the presence of the time traveler, Gribardsun-Sahhindar. Every
aspect of the cultures of the two seas has been considered. These
include prehistory, history, economy, religion, languages, writing,
drama, philosophy, science, technology, agriculture, sociology, geology,
botany, zoology, architechture, etc.
Hadon is somewhat introspective, and his character develops as the
series progresses. In the first two books his is a very good swordsman
but not yet the greatest. Towards the end, he becomes middle-aged and
his strenght declines.
It's a complicated series in both the personal and politcal
situations, and there is always a sense of doom in the air, thickening
as the peoples of the two seas head for the destroying cataclysm.
I'd also like to note that the series should not be included in the
sword-and-sorcery genre. It's an achronic story in which it is assumed
that magic doesn't work but science does. If magic seems to work it is
only because it's a delusion.
Anyway, if Hooks is as familiar with my books as he claims to be in
his review, he should never have accused me of racism. From the
beginning of my writing career I've made evident that I loathed racism
of any kind. Need I list THE LOVERS, FIRE AND THE NIGHT, MY SISTER'S
BROTHER, the Riverworld series, many more stories, and yea-many
anti-racist statements and references in my works.
Under no circumstances would I retain ERB's supposed racism in the Opar series.
I say supposed because the case against ERB is so ambiguous.
There are remarks in his works which can be construed as racist. On the
other hand a student of his works knows that he also excoriates whites,
the Caucasian civilization as a whole. He does have "noble" blacks and a
"noble" Jew. I refer Hooks to THE MOON MAID for the latter.
Hooks is wrong when he speaks of the "stereotyped" cannibals and
savages" of ERB's works. He forgets that there were just such cannibals
and savages, that these stereotypes did exist in the period covered by
the Tarzan novels.
Nor were all the blacks in his works just "extras and casualties
fighting against white men." Consider Mugambi (THE BEASTS OF TARZAN),
the Waziri tribe, and the hospitality and compassion given lost and
starving Jane and the baby by a tribe of blacks (BEASTS).
It's true that there were many black villians in the Tarzan novels.
But there were also many white villians, and by no means were all of
them non-American and non-British.
Surley Hooks doesn't think that all African blacks are noble types? If he does, he's a racist.
A minor quibble before I get back to the main criticisms by Hooks.
He says that the girl on the cover illustrations of FLIGHT has ample
breasts but no nipples. I suggest he take a closer look or get a new
pair of glasses. The nipples, though in shadow, are obvious.
Next, Hooks says that the "unremitting violence nearly kills it." By
"it" he means the novel. "Outnumbered by more than thirty to one, he
(Hadon) wipes out most of his attackers. Continually he fights dirty,
yet he is continually postured as being noble. As a hero, Hadon is
brutal, cruel, and violent. There is very little admirable about him."
For the sake of those who've not read FLIGHT, I'll reconstruct the
fight he refers to. Minruth's forces are chasing Hadon and his band.
This consists of Hadon, two women, a child, a dwarf, a bard, and a
middle-aged warrior. The band has reached a narrow pass at the top of a
mountain. Lalila, one of the women, has sprained an ankle. She can't go
on Hadon makes the others leave.
If he can hold Minruth's soldiers and their dogs long enough, all
but Lalila and himself may get to a safe refuge. Lalila climbs a tree,
hoping to be unobserved.
Hadon, though believing that he'll eventually be killed, stays
behind to make sure the others get away. He is sacrificing himself for
the child, her mother Lalila, and him empress, Awineth. (Even though
Awineth hates him.) If the others are caught they'll be tortured and
So, he fights "dirty." That is, with every trick and all the
strength and swiftness he can muster against an overwhelming force. And
he uses everything available, rocks, boulders, etc. instead of standing
in the pass and fighting until he's worn down.
Yet Hooks reproaches Hadon for not fighting according to the Marquis
of Queensbury rules. If Hadon had performed a similar feat in modern
times, he'd be given a Congressional Medal of Honor or the highest medal
for valor of whatever nation he happened to belong to.
Is Hooks a male chauvinist? His sympathies are obviously on the side
of Minruth, who wants to destroy the ancient equality of men and women
in Khorkarsa and established a male-dominated pattern.
As for Hadon not having all the humanitarian values of moderns, I'll
plead guilty. Guilty by reason of realism. This is a historical series
(pseudohistorical, anyway), and I'm trying to be realistic. Ancient
peoples did not have the viewpoint of moderns. (I should say, the
lip-service viewpoint of moderns.)
As a whole, the ancients were more bloddy-minded, vicious, brutal
peoples. In short, even the "civilized" were tribal peoples. An enemy
was a person to be used as a slave or killed. It was normal for the
conquerors to slay every living being in a city, including the animals.
See the ancient Hebrew treatment of their victims in the Old Testament, a
quite candid account. And these were the good guys. All ancient
cultures of the civilized variety, and most of the preliterate variety,
Moreover, their concept of justice just was not modern.
So, to be realistic, my Khokarsan characters will be more brutal and
bloody-minded that your average liberal, conservative, or reactionary
of the Western world. Nevertheless, even in ancient times there were
exceptional individuals, people ahead of their times. Hadon is actually
more humanitarian than most ancients and so are some other characters.
As for Hooks' assertion that the Opar series is based on Burroughs,
he is about one-fifth correct. It is also based on H. Rider Haggard,
Robert Graves, and Longfellow. And on Farmer.
Just as Opar is a lost hidden colony of the ancient empire
postulated by Burroughs, so are some other lost cities described in
Haggard's Allan Quartermain series and in SHE. These were either
survivors of the cataclysm which destroyed Khokarsa or founded by
refugees from the cataclysm. Except for Kôr, which will be founded by
In addition, Lalila and Pag(a) are derived from Haggard's ALLAN AND
THE ICE GODS. At the end of this novel these two were in a dubious
situation. They might or might not survive. I rescued them and brought
them down from the Europe of the Ice Age to Khorkarsa. This was done by
the intervention of Sahhindar. Since Haggard didn't chronicle their
further adventures, I thought I would.
A part of the Khokarsan culture is based on Robert Graves' concept
of the pre-Indo-European, pre-Semitic mediterranean cultures. (See THE
WHITE GODDESS and other works by Graves.)
Also, there is, at least in the character of Kwasin and Kebiwabes,
some of Longfellow. Kwasin is based partly on Kwasind, Hiawatha's
strong-man friend. There are also elements of Hercules and Gilgamesh in
him. Not to mention Rabelais' Gargantua. Kebiwabes, the bard, is
obviously based on Chibiabos, Hiawatha's singer friend.
But, overall, Khokarsa and its peoples are Farmerian.
Hooks states: "Farmer is too aware of Burroughs. He is unable to
transcend the shortcomings and flaws of ERB. Much social change has
transpired since Burroughs wrote. By adhering so closely to the
original, Farmer severely dates this book..."
As I've shown, I haven't "adhered" to the original. And how could a
work realistically dealing with the ancients be "dated." A writer of
historical novels doesn't (or certainly shouldn't) portray his
characters as 20th-century contemporaries. He or she tries to think as
they thought, show them as they were. Does Hooks consider THE ILLIAD and
THE ODYSSEY, the epic of Gilgamesh, Malory's MORTE d'ARTHUR dated?
Would he want them rewritten to portray Achilles, Odysseus, Lancelot,
etcetera as moderns?
What does social change in the 1970's A.D. have to do with the
goings-on of 10,000 B.C.? For that matter, what does it have to do with
the worlds of Roland and Oliver, King Richard III, d'Artagnan, Roderick
Random, David Copperfield, or even Huckleberry Finn?
(A point against Hooks I just remembered. Burroughs' heroes would
never have had the sexual freedom of Hadon. Burroughs would have
considered Hadon's attitudes as quite reprehensible. So, one more
element in which I did not adhere to Burroughs.)
However, it's now time to consider an objection by Hooks which might
be valid. Two, in fact. Hooks states the he was confused by the
introduction of some characters. He wasn't clear in his mind (where
else?) about just what they were doing in FLIGHT. I think he was
probably confused about the gray-eyed stranger who appeared in a
marketplace in a certain area. Then he dropped out of the story.
FLIGHT is only the second in a series that will probably include
ten or twelve volumes. The grey-eyed man, whom I took care to hint was
Sahhindar, the supposed god, will appear in a minor role in some
Since it's obvious that FLIGHT is part of a series, Hooks could have
considered this. And he could have said to himself, "Well, the
gray-eyed stranger will probably show up in other books." He might even
have been curious enough to read the first book. If he had, he would
have been illuminated on various points.
Hooks also objects to my cliff-hanger ending. Actually is wasn't
really that. FLIGHT ended with Hadon having reached Opar, his major
enemy in Opar conquered, and the birth of La, his daughter. Obviously
his adventures will continue, since there is the big problem of Minruth
to be overcome.
But Hooks has a valid complaint. It would be nice if each book of a
series did have a seemingly conclusive ending. I've ended many of my
books in various series with cliff-hangers, and the only ones who object
strongly are a small minority. other writers have done this, so why
should I be singled out for criticism?
On the other hand, why not? I've been the most guilty.
This is because I regard my series as not just being fantasies. I
try to make them realistic. That is, as near real life as possible
considering their outré environments. In real life, people enter one's
life, stay awhile, then drop out, perhaps reappearing later, perhaps
not. It's the essence of a series that's its like the flow of life, not
ending until the protagonist dies or has conquered his major enemies,
himself, his opponents, social forces, Mother Nature's rages, or
whatever problem is the main-stream of the series.
In every story, of course, self-inclusive or part of a series, no
character should appear who doesn't have something, major or minor, to
do with the story. So, if one of my characters does appear only briefly,
if he seems to have no relevancy to the story, don't believe it. He or
she will show up later, probably in a larger role.
Most of my readers have gone along with my series, waited for the
next in line more or less patiently. These know that down the corridor,
around the bend, sooner or later, they'll come to the end. No more doors
marked TO BE CONTINUED.
----Philip José Farmer