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Literature / Harold Shea

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Actually, that's probably Astolph...

The Harold Shea series is a set of fantasy short stories and novellas. The series is sometimes referred to as the Enchanter series or The Incomplete Enchanter series, from the names of the collected volumes. The first three stories were written in 1940-1941, and the subsequent two in 1953-1954, all of which were co-authored by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. A further nine stories were written from 1990-1995, two of which were written by L. Sprague de Camp and the rest by other authors. One more story (by Lawrence Watt-Evans) was published in 2005 in a tribute anthology dedicated to L. Sprague de Camp after his death.

In the stories, Harold Shea and other characters visit various universes from mythology and fiction. Each story has one primary setting that is visited, although some visit other settings briefly. The primary setting for each story is: Norse Mythology, The Faerie Queene, Ludovico Ariosto's epic poem Orlando Furioso, The Kalevala, Irish mythology, Orlando Furioso (again), Oz, Journey to the West, Don Quixote, The Aeneid, The Tale of Igor's Campaign, Baital Pachisi, John Carter of Mars, The Tempest, and finally Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan.

The original five stories from the forties and fifties were collected in three volumes:

  • The Incomplete Enchanter ("The Roaring Trumpet" and "The Mathematics of Magic")
  • Castle of Iron (expanded version of the third story)
  • Wall of Serpents ("The Wall of Serpents" and "The Green Magician")

Some of the later stories were collected in:

  • The Enchanter Reborn (five stories)
  • The Exotic Enchanter (four stories)

An omnibus edition containing the first two stories plus the expanded version of the third was released as The Compleat Enchanter—somewhat ironically, as it was released long after the fourth and fifth stories had been published. A later omnibus containing all five original stories was released as The Complete Compleat Enchanter. Another omnibus containing all the original stories, plus all of de Camp's stories from the nineties, was released as The Mathematics of Magic.

Tropes featured include:

  • Action Girl: Belphebe/Belphegor, Britomart/Bradamant
  • Adaptational Wimp: Most knights, who are easily defeated with Shea's fencing arts. The cake definitely goes to Sir Roger. Good that Shea never ran into his sister...
  • Affably Evil: Busyrane in The Mathematics of Magic. He even looks saintly.
  • All Myths Are True
  • And I Must Scream: In The Mathematics of Magic the wizard Dolon keeps his former apprentice Roger naked and immobilized as a living torch-holder, having discovered that Roger was actually a spy for Queen Gloriana.
  • Bawdy Song: When Shea and Chalmers are forced by the Blatant Beast to recite an epic poem or else be killed, the only poem Harold can remember is The Ballad of Eskimo Nell. The Beast is so shocked by the poem's subject that he walks off in confusion.
    • This becomes doubly funny when one learns that in Spenser's political allegory, the Blatant Beast represents the Puritans.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Belphebe makes her first appearance rescuing Shea and Chalmers from the ape-like Losels who are attacking them.
  • Black Magician Girl: Duessa, in "The Mathematics of Magic."
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Many heroes and warriors met by Shea, including Thor in his very first adventure.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Bayard who is immune to magic since he doesn't believe in it.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Gertrude Mugler
  • Damsel in Distress: Subverted in the third story, when Harold breaks into the tent of Belphebe's captor to rescue Belphebe, finds a Bound and Gagged person there... who is Belphebe's would-be captor, who had been tied up by her.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: between the characters from the modern world and the inhabitants of the alternate universes they visit.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In The Castle of Iron, our heroes come upon Roland massacring a peasant village. The reason? The peasants boiled his venison instead of roasting it.
  • Evil Sorcerer: A whole Chapter of them work to bring down the kingdom of Faerie in The Mathematics of Magic.
  • Expy: In-story example: The Faerie Queene has expies of characters from Orlando Furioso.
    • However, is there really any such character as "Belphegor" in Orlando Furioso that is an expy of Belphoebe? I looked and didn't find any character name resembling that. And the names don't seem to be related, either; "Belphoebe" is from the the name of a Titan from Greek mythology plus a prefix meaning "beautiful", whereas "Belphegor" is from the name of a Moabitish deity "Ba'al Pe'or" mentioned in the Torah (or so says That Other Wiki).
      • In this case the "Phoebe" in "Belphoebe" is probably not the Titaness, but another name for the Moon-Goddess Artemis, who, as a virgin goddess, represents for Spenser the chastity of "Elizabeth I" (as Gloriana represents her "glory" and Mercilla her "mercy").
  • Extreme Omni-Goat: In the first story, one of Thor's goats takes a big bite out of Shea's coat and swallows it. According to Thjalfi, the goats once ate a pile of human corpses as well.
  • Forced Transformation: Shea's colleague Vaclav turns into a wolf whenever he tries to use magic to change his shape. It's because of his East European ancestry.
  • Genre Savvy: Harold visits worlds that inspired our works of fiction, and uses his knowledge of the stories to avoid trouble. At times, this has even been used for prophecy — he remembers how the story came out.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Belphebe
  • Insufferable Genius: Ras Thavas from the John Carter of Mars setting
  • Literal Genie: Magical spells sometimes give results different than what Shea or Chalmers intended, because they fit the literal meaning of the words rather than the implied.
  • The Load: Shea himself is a slight example in the first novella. He is less physically capable than his more battle-hardened or supernatural companions, and his 20th century science turns out not to work at all in the world of Norse Mythology. This changes once he starts figuring out how to use magic.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Magic is stated to act this way, although how consistently the rules are applied may be debatable.
  • Massive Multiplayer Crossover
  • Misplaced a Decimal Point: Doc Chalmers has to prove his magical skills by invoking a dragon, but accidentally shifts the decimal point two places to the right and summons 100 dragons. Luckily the dragons are vegetarian.
    • A later attempt to perfect the spell produces a dragon approximately 0.01 times the size of a normal dragon. It's ten inches long, breathes fire, has a sting in its tail...and was summoned into a cage made for the normal-sized dragon the characters were hoping to get. It promptly escapes by flying between the bars...and it's not happy.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Grantorto/Dolon in The Mathematics of Magic seems like an Affably Evil Small Name, Big Ego and doesn't even do anything particularly villainous. Then at the end, after the rest of his Chapter is killed, he traps Shea and Belphebe and would have tortured them to death, had they not been sucked into another dimension by Harold's spell.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The wivern that Busyrane rides in ''The Mathematics of Magic," described by Harold as "some kind of a long-tailed pterodactyl."
  • Our Gryphons Are Different: The hippogriff, Buttercup, in The Castle of Iron.
  • People Jars: Dolon in The Mathematics of Magic has a collection of small faery folk imprisoned in bottles.
  • Public Domain Character: ...and public domain settings, too.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Britomart (as in The Faerie Queene)
  • Shared Universe: Orginally the character belonged only to Pratt and de Camp (with one unauthorized use (See Take That!, below)); many years later, de Camp, the surviving partner, allowed other authors (so far, Roland J. Green, Holly Lisle, Frieda A. Murray, John Maddox Roberts, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Tom Wham, and particularly Christopher Stasheff) to play with the Enchanter universe.
  • Take That!: "Sir Harold and the Gnome King" has one directed at a certain other author who wrote Harold Shea into one of his stories without permission—and killed him off. (He got better.)
  • The Tourney: In the Faerie Queen world.
  • Trapped in Another World: The characters sometimes are prevented from returning to the "real" world until they've accomplished something.
  • Warrior Poet: Lemminkäinen from The Wall of Serpents.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The story from 2005, "Return to Xanadu", is about what happened to a minor character from "The Wall of Serpents".
  • You No Take Candle: The trolls in The Roaring Trumpet, Odoro the Imp in The Castle of Iron.

Alternative Title(s): The Incomplete Enchanter