Where the Summer Ends - By Karl Edward Wagner

Foreword: My Friend Karl

by Stephen Jones

When I first met Karl Edward Wagner in 1976, it was almost by accident.

My friend Brian Mooney, from the British Fantasy Society, invited me along to the Tavistock Hotel in London’s Tavistock Square to meet legendary pulp writer Manly Wade Wellman, who was visiting London from his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Now I certainly knew Manly by reputation. He was one of the legendary contributors to the pulp magazine Weird Tales, and in my mind I equated him with such luminaries as H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Robert Bloch and many others of that era. There was no way that I was going to miss having a drink with one of the giants of the genre!

So, on the appointed evening, we turned up in the tiny hotel bar to find not only Manly and his wife Frances (also a veteran of “The Unique Magazine”), but also their friends Karl and Barbara Wagner, who were fellow residents of the North Carolina university town. Karl and Barbara were much younger than the Wellmans, and to a London boy in his early twenties they still looked like hippies, but everybody quickly bonded over their love of genre fiction and English beer, and lasting friendships were forged that evening.

In fact, it turned out that I had briefly met both couples at a small comics convention the previous year when they had been visiting, but we had not been introduced. As the evening continued and the rounds of bitter kept coming, I found myself talking more with Karl who, it seemed to me, was the driving force of the group. He had organized the vacation and contacted the BFS, and he was incredibly knowledgeable about the kind of fiction that I enjoyed reading.

At the end of a very pleasant evening, as we were saying our reluctant good-byes, Karl and I swapped addresses and he kindly gave both Brian and myself copies of the second issue of Gary Hoppenstand’s small press magazine, Midnight Sun.

Now I had never heard of Karl or the magazine before that evening. So on the tube train home I started reading. It included three stories by Karl—“The Last Wolf,” a poignant fragment about the last writer in the world, and two stories featuring his cursed barbarian character Kane: “The Dark Muse” and the second part of a serialization of the unexpurgated Darkness Weaves.

I was already familiar with such heroic fantasy characters as Robert Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian, Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone and Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lemuria but, during that rattling ride beneath the streets of the city, I first encountered an intelligent, brutal and complex character that surpassed all those sword-wielding heroes whose exploits I had previously read about.

What I didn’t know at that time— mostly because they had not been published in the UK yet—is that while attending medical school, Karl had been inspired by the sword & sorcery adventures of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and Howard’s barbarian hero Conan. He then set about creating his own fantasy character, Kane, the Mystic Swordsman.

Kane was an immortal, flame-haired warrior and sorcerer, loosely based on the Biblical figure, who wandered the Earth selling his sword and his loyalty to the highest bidder.

The first Kane novel, Darkness Weaves With Many Shades..., was a paperback original published in 1970 by West Coast porn imprint Powell Publications. Sportinga totally inappropriate cover and heavily edited by some 20,000 words, the book was eventually reissued in a revised edition eight years later under the shortened title Darkness Weaves.

Karl had trained as a psychiatrist, but he eventually dropped out of medical school and instead decided to turn to writing fulltime. Death Angel’s Shadow (1973) collected three original Kane novellas, “Reflections for the Winter of My Soul,” “Cold Light” and “Mirage.” The book was a moderate success, and he followed it with a new Kane novel, Bloodstone (1975).

In an attempt to expand the popularity of the series, Warner Books commissioned a cover painting by the legendary Frank Frazetta, whose artwork a decade before had helped launch the revival of Robert E. Floward’s Conan in paperback. The strategy worked, and Karl’s writing career finally took off.

His next Kane novel was Dark Crusade (1976), which was again graced by another stunning Frazetta cover.

It was not long before I received a letter from Karl telling me how much he had enjoyed the visit, and from that point onwards we kept up a regular and voluminous correspondence that lasted