Literary encounter: Taking on the manticore

I’ve been reading some classic fantasy and adventure stories in recent months and something that strikes me is how many stories includes concepts that I also connect with classic D&D and modern OSR fantasy gaming. Some can actually be confused for parodies of D&D, although they are written long before Gary Gygax was even born.

I going to share some of these literary encounters here. As enjoyment, as inspiration and as an illustration of the history of the fantasy-genre.

First out is an epic and rather random encounter from E. R. Eddisons classic The Worm Ouroboros from 1922. Two epic fighters, Lord Juss of Demonland and his brash friend and vassal Brandoch Daha, are climbing the unclimbable mountains of Koshtra Pivrarcha in Impland in company with a native named Mivarsh. Their goal is to find the mighty Goldry Bluszco who, according to a dream of his brother Lord Juss, has been captured and transported there by the fey sorcery of Witchland.

When climbing the icy, unforgiving cliffs they encounter a hiddeous monster which leads to a very exiting battle:

Brandoch Daha looked over his shoulder. Mivarsh took his bow and set an arrow on the string.

“It hath scented us down the wind,” said Brandoch Daha.

Small time was there to ponder. Swinging from hold to hold across the dizzy precipice, as an ape swingeth from bough to bough, the beast drew near. The shape of it was as a lion, but bigger and taller, the colour a dull red, and it had prickles lancing out behind, as of a porcupine; its face a man’s face, if aught so hideous might be conceived of human kind, with staring eyeballs, low wrinkled brow, elephant ears, some wispy mangy likeness of a lion’s mane, huge bony chaps, brown blood-stained gubber-tushes grinning betwixt bristly lips. Straight for the ledge it made, and as they braced them to receive it, with a great swing heaved a man’s height above them and leaped down upon their ledge from aloft betwixt Juss and Brandoch Daha ere they were well aware of its changed course. Brandoch Daha smote at it a great swashing blow and cut off its scorpion tail; but it clawed Juss’s shoulder, smote down Mivarsh, and charged like a lion upon Brandoch Daha, who, missing his footing on the narrow edge of rock, fell backwards a great fall, clear of the cliff, down to the snow an hundred feet beneath them.

As it craned over, minded to follow and make an end of him, Juss smote it in the hinder parts and on the ham, shearing away the flesh from the thigh bone, and his sword came with a clank against the brazen claws of its foot. So with a horrid bellow it turned on Juss, rearing like a horse; and it was three heads greater than a tall man in stature when it reared aloft, and the breadth of its chest like the chest of a bear. The stench of its breath choked Juss’s mouth and his senses sickened, but he slashed it athwart the belly, a great round-armed blow, cutting open its belly so that the guts fell out. Again he hewed at it, but missed, and his sword came against the rock, and was shivered into pieces. So when that noisome vermin fell forward on him roaring like a thousand lions, Juss grappled with it, running in beneath its body and clasping it and thrusting his arms into its inward parts, to rip out its vitals if so he might. So close he grappled it that it might not reach him with its murthering teeth, but its claws sliced off the flesh from his left knee down ward to the ankle bone, and it fell on him and crushed him on the rock, breaking in the bones of his breast. And Juss, for all his bitter pain and torment, and for all he was well nigh stifled by the sore stink of the creature’s breath and the stink of its blood and puddings blubbering about his face and breast, yet by his great strength wrastled with that fell and filthy man-eater. And ever he thrust his right hand, armed with the hilt and stump of his broken sword, yet deeper into its belly until he searched out its heart and did his will upon it, slicing the heart asunder like a lemon and severing and tearing all the great vessels about the heart until the blood gushed about him like a spring. And like a caterpillar the beast curled up and straightened out in its death-spasms, and it rolled and fell from that ledge, a great fall, and lay by Brandoch Daha, the foulest beside the fairest of all earthly beings, reddening the pure snow with its blood. And the spines that grew on the hinder parts of the beast went out and in like the sting of a new-dead wasp that goes out and in continually. It fell not clean to the snow, as by the care of heaven was fallen Brandoch Daha, but smote an edge of rock near the bottom, and that strook out its brains. There it lay in its blood, gaping to the sky.

Now was Juss stretched face downward as one dead, on that giddy edge of rock. Mivarsh had saved him, seizing him by the foot and drawing him back to safety when the beast fell. A sight of terror he was, clotted from head to toe with the beast’s blood and his own. Mivarsh bound his wounds and laid him tenderly as he might back against the cliff, then peered down a long while to know if the beast were dead indeed.  [ ]

The problem with Lord Juss and Brandoch Daha is their general epicness. They are so fracking awesome that it is seldom you feel that they are at any real risk during their adventures. But this scene shows that they actually are sort of mortal. The manticore is giving them problems that they don’t just shrug off.

I really like this setup and execution of a meeting with a wandering monster. It’s very well composed and I especially like the combination of monster and lethal environment. I have actually never presented or encountered a manticore myself during my many adventures. Might be time to remedy that. It would be nice to play with a monster that has “murthering teeth” and roars like a thousand lions.

The illustration above by courtesy of David Eagleton and all rights belong to him. Se other works by him here:

Bellow is Lord Juss, Brandoch Daha and two other nobles of Demonland from the original illustrations:

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