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Volume 1731
The ERB / Lin Carter Connection
LIN CARTER'S CALLISTO SERIES

Part 1 of a series of 12
by Den Valdron
.

 Lin Carter Callisto Articles by Den Valdron

Carter's Callisto
Shape of Thanator
Alien Races of Callisto
Civilization of Callisto
Barsoom-Thanator Connection
Callisto Pellucidar
Callisto Future
Literary Zanthodon
Literal Zanthodon
Linguistic Zanthodon, 
Pellucidar, Mangani, Pal-ul-don
, ,
Colonial Barsoom
Colonial Appendix
,
 
In the 1970s, Barsoom had a revival.   This was when I found the books and discovered that Burroughs could do more than simply write Tarzan novels.

The initial wave of Barsoom's popularity, in the '20s and '30s, spawned imitators in the form of Ralph Milne Farley and Otis Adelbert Kline, who were very close to Burroughs in their own environment and sensibility.

This second wave in the latter half of the 20th century spawned its own tribute series, the most notable being Michael Moorcock's Mars trilogy, Leigh Brackett's ‘Eric John Stark’ and Martian novels and stories, and Lin Carter's Callisto series.

Lin Carter was a writer and editor, although with a name like that, he almost sounds like he should be some long lost cousin to John Carter.   Interestingly, like Burroughs himself, he became a character in some of his own books, a contact or confidant for the hero, John Dark, and even an actual hero, star of one Callisto book as Lankar of Callisto.   So perhaps his fictional altar ego really is a blood relative of John Carter.

Set in orbit on Callisto, a moon of Jupiter, the series of eight books played like a faithful rendition of the Barsoom series, down to flying warships, exotic princesses, daring swordplay, evil masterminds and nonstop heroics in the Burroughs tradition.

Where Morocco's Mars really is substandard and hasty, and where Brackett's Stark operates with decidedly grittier and modernistic sensibilities, the Callisto series, though set on a different world, is by far the most faithful to the spirit and tone of Barsoom.

It is the truest throwback to the pulp era, and on this basis, its worth taking a look at.


A Tongue in Cheek Outline of the Books

Jandar of Callisto
John Dark is an adventurer in the far east of the late sixties, early seventies.  While doing emergency medical flights, he gets in trouble over Cambodia and finds his way to a fabled lost city.  Stumbling into a well, he finds himself transported to another world, which he gradually figures out is Callisto.   Stumbling is pretty much all he does.  John Dark's first act on his new world is almost being eaten by a predatory Yathib.  Luckily, he is rescued and taken as a prize/slave by the Yathoon, in whose captivity he learns the language.  Escaping, he stumbles into a beautiful Princess, Darloona, performs an inept rescue, and is taken as a slave again by rival Yathoon.  But before too long, they're rescued by an aerial warship and meet Prince Thuton, who Dark proceeds to insult for no good reason.  The result is a humiliating beating and more slavery, this time at the wheels of the airship.  Taken to Zandahar, he escapes and stumbles onto a fencing master who takes pity on him and teaches him to fight.  Then in a bone headed attempt to rescue Darloona, who doesn't particularly want to be rescued, he incites a slave revolt, and then proceeds to waste his chance at freedom by engaging in a sadistic revenge match with Thuton and almost gets himself killed.  Rescued at the last minute by his pals in a stolen airship, they somehow escape into the jungle, reuniting with Darloona's people.  But Dark's ineptitude wins out, and while he's congratulating himself, Darloona gets captured by the Black Legion.


The Black Legion of Callisto
Before the beginning of the first book, the Black Legion, a sort of mongol horde/mercenary company, managed to take over Darloona's city, Shondakar, leaving her and her followers cooling their heels in the jungle.   Now the Black Legion has captured Darloona and the leader of the legion intends to consolidate his hold over the city by marrying her off to his son.   It's hardly a fate worse than death, all things considered, particularly the way that Dark has been going about making an ass of himself in front of her.  Anyway, although his blonde hair and blue eyes stick out like a sore thumb, somehow Dark manages to infiltrate the city and the Black Legion.  Next thing you know, he ingratiates himself by saving the life of the Legion Commander's son.  This gives him the run of the place, and so he spends time wandering the secret tunnels.  Eventually he ruins the wedding, and the Ku Thad of Shondakor invade to take back their city, using the same secret tunnels.   At the same time as the Ku Thad invade, the Zandahar invade with their aerial fleet, so it's a three way fight.   The short of it is that the Black Legion are decimated, the Zandahar driven off and the Ku Thad are victorious...  Except of course, that the wily Zandahar prince, Thuton, has managed to kidnap Darloona.  Dark, failing to get the message that the girl is seriously not interested in him, must go off after her.  By the way, it turns out that the cause of all the trouble is a rogue priest named Oola, who is actually a dreaded Mind Wizard, he dies an accidental death at Dark's hands.
Sky Pirates of Callisto
Dark decides to use a captured Zandahar airship to conduct a raid on the city of the Sky Pirates.   His friends tell him it's a crap plan, but they go along to keep him out of trouble.    Unfortunately, his endlessly bad judgment persuades him to take a Zandahar officer aboard.   The next thing you know, he's pitched into the sea and the officer sets out to wreck the ship, crippling it so that it drifts into the arctic circle before repairs can be made.  Meanwhile, Dark manages to swim to shore where he is captured by the Perushtar and enslaved once again (see a theme here - one wonders if Dark perhaps has a masochistic impulse or two).  Unfortunately, Dark has no useable skills, so the frustrated Perushtar pawn him off on the Zandahar, and he winds up in the gladiator pits.  He does okay for a while, but being John Dark, soon screws it up.  Just as he is exposed, starting another slave revolt, his friends in a repaired airship show up and pull his bacon out of the fire.   Then they 'accidentally' blow up the entire city.  Bummer.  But, he's finally got Darloona to himself, and all the other likely suitors are dead, so she decides to go with it.

Mad Empress of Callisto
Is Zamorra of Tharkol who is not really mad, and not particularly angry.   She launches a bid for world domination, by kidnapping Jandar and Darloona from a hunting expedition...  With a balloon no less.   She gets away with it because none of Jandars pals think to look up.   They wind up in her Executive Dungeon (its pretty nice), but a wily Thief named Glypto comes along and helps them escape.   Jandar wastes an entire chapter realizing that if the Mind Wizards are telepathic...  Then they can read your mind!!! and put thoughts in your head!!!  (John Dark isn't very bright, its physically painful to watch him work it out.)   Along the way out, Dark gets the bright idea of kidnapping Zamorra, and stealing the balloon.  Once aloft, Dark discovers it has no steering wheel.   Later a Ghastosar (pterodactyl like beast) comes by, Dark manages to provoke it into attacking, resulting in all of them crashing and being captured by the Yathoon.  Luckily, Glypto helps them escape again, and they wander around on the plain, harassing poor walking trees.    Then they get captured by a trading Caravan from Soroba, which is actually a military mission in disguise.  Luckily, an aerial galleon appears and they flee onto that, which turns out to be a newly built Tharkol ship.  This is the ace in the hole of the Empress, her city has learned to build airships.   Darloona talks some sense to Zamorra, who then overhears Ang Chan boasting of his powers, and then its all over.  Zamorra joins the good guys.  It turns out Glypto was a spy from Soraba all along.   The three cities, Tharkol, Soraba and Shondakar decide to take out the mind wizards once and for all.
Mind Wizards of Callisto
Dark and his buddies set out with an armada of four airships (four? Does that qualify as an armada?) over to the unknown far side of Callisto to find Kuur, citadel of the Mind Wizards.  While traveling, Dark spots a flock of flying creatures, but deciding that they're too big to be dangerous small creatures, and too small to be dangerous big creatures, he ignores them, until they attack.   It turns out that they were dangerous, giving us yet another example of John Dark's staggeringly poor judgment.  Dark and a hapless cabin boy, Tomar, gets captured by the creatures who are Zarkoons.  They're taken to the Zarkoon's colony, where they wait to be eaten.  Luckily, they run across a jungle girl, Yllanna, who figures out that Dark is as dumb as a post, and the three of them manage to escape the Zarkoon's lair, just in time to be picked up by Dark's friends Lukor and Koja, in a five-man flier.  Unfortunately, the Zarkoon manage to puncture their tanks as they make a get away, and they wind up crashing in the jungle of the Cor Az.   They blunder into a plesiosaur, and their fight attracts Yllanna's unwanted boyfriend, Xangan and his buddies, who take them prisoner and they wind up in the middle of caveman politics.  Turns out the cavemen venerate the Mind Wizards, so Dark and his friends are in a jam.  Luckily, Dark is a man of action, so he introduces his friends to the game of checkers and sets about writing his memoirs.  Sadly, his autobiographical efforts are interrupted when Yllanna comes by, sneaks them a knife and warns them that the Mind Wizards are on their way, so they escape temporarily but get captured again.  Meanwhile, the ‘armada’ blunders around looking for Jandar and his friends and eventually splits up, with three going on to look for Kuur, and disappearing without a trace.  The fourth finds Yllanna and Jandar's memoir, putters around, and eventually goes home.   And for the record, not a single damned Mind Wizard actually shows up anywhere in this book.  To add insult to injury, the book cover features a purple tyrannosaur, but good luck waiting for one of those to show up anywhere.   On the positive side, this is actually one of the best, or better of the Callisto books, with enough novelty and action, and genuine sexiness to keep things fresh all the way.
Lankar of Callisto
Is actually Lin Carter.   I find myself wondering if, in this fictional universe, Lin Carter is related in any way to John Carter of Barsoom, and I think he drops a few hints to that effect.  Traveling to Cambodia to pick up a manuscript, Carter accidentally falls into the teleport, winding up on Callisto.   Much against his will, the middle aged, chain smoking, coffee guzzling writer and editor is forced to be an adventure hero, sort of.  At first he stumbles through the jungle, but he makes friends with a local dog, an Othode, who becomes his constant companion.  Together they fight a Vastodon.  Then Carter blunders into a giant spiderweb where he meets a youth, Tarin.  Rescued by his dog, he travels with the Youth until they blunder into Shondakar forces.   Trading on his relationship to Jandar (whom he has never met) Carter hangs about in Shondakar and eventually joins the rescue fleet searching for Kurr.  His dog discovers the secret entrance to the hidden city, but Carter, less impressively, gets himself captured.  He meets Jandar who fills in a lot of backstory and explains the danger the Mind Wizards pose to Earth...  (My ass, there are only 17 of them and they've been screwing up with only a handful of Bronze age city states on Callisto?  I think Earth is pretty safe.)   They are rescued from the Mind Wizards prison by the boy and the dog, and there's a big battle (barely described) where the Mind Wizards are wiped out.   Carter goes back to Earth.   It's an odd novel, more travelogue than adventure, and Carter's constant references to other works of fiction are a bit annoying.   More than annoying, the constant references to other novels or artworks suggests a painful lack of imagination.  In this novel, the impression of Thanator being a photocopy of a photocopy comes through most strongly, and its especially troubling because the plot and action is so thin.  We have literally nothing to do but to observe the hollowed out derivativeness of the setting and action.  As an action hero, the fictional Lin Carter is basically a tourist, the ‘dog’ that adopts him does practically all the work.  It's like he stumbled onto the Thanatorian version of Rin Tin Tin or the Littlest Hobo.
Yllanna of Callisto
Jon Dark and Lin Carter hardly appear at all.  Carter has gone back to Earth at the end of the last book, but the timeline of this book is set before his departure.  Most of the story revolves around the last surviving Mind Wizard who kidnaps the jungle girl, Yllanna and her boyfriend Tomar, who appeared all the way back in Sky Pirates. as he flees to his final refuge...  The cave people.  Yep, this guy really thought it out.   The Mind Wizard bumbles about until Yllanna and Tomar and her dad escape and head for the River People.   The new chief, who has deposed Yllanna’s dad, sends a hunting party after them.  Then Yllanna is kidnapped by a River People group wanting to start a war.  Tomar turns out to be useless but well meaning.   We get way too much cave man politics, ending in a duel between two tribes troops of malcontents, while the old chiefs watch with considerable satisfaction.  Yllanna and Tomar hook up and presumably live happily ever after..  The last Mind Wizard gets eaten by a Plesiosaur, which is fairly ironic but rather unsatisfying.  Better than Lankar of Callisto, Carter makes a real effort to keep the pages turning.  But sadly, he offers nothing new and nothing remarkable, the plot is thin with complications literally shoehorned in.

Renegade of Callisto
Nothing much happens here, what with all the great big villains being put paid to and everyone officially married happily ever after.   There's been a period of peace, during which Shondakar begins constructing its own airships and Jandar starts up a program to produce an internal combustion engine in order to fly the airships more easily.  Tharkol, Soraba and Shondakar exist in a de facto political and economic alliance.   Taran, who featured in Lankar of Callisto as Lin Carter's protégé (i.e. - keeping him alive while he stumbled around in an alien jungle), has been adopted as Jandar's ward.   It seems that goofiness is transmissible, because an accident leaves Taran, Koja and an othode (Thanatorian dog) named Fido adrift in a small disabled airship.  No one notices that they’ve all disappeared, so they wind up drifting far out onto the plains where they get taken prisoner by a Yathoon horde. There, Koja meets a human Princess, Xara of Ganatol, and they strike up a tender interspecies romance.  Xara had been on her way to Shondakar originally, to plead for an alliance, given that the Empire of Perushtar was starting to crowd them.  Unfortunately, Xara's interest in Mister Tall Dark and Shelly is interrupted by a cattle stampede.  Koja and another Yathoon prisoner, Borak (who appeared in Mad Empress) wind up escaping to Koja's horde.  Koja resumes command of his troop, disposing of a poser, and life is pretty good.  Meanwhile, Taran and Xara are rescued by a small airship that Jandar had sent out to find his lost friends.  Xara, the fickle slut that she is, immediately gets the hots for her rescuer, Captain Vandar.  Sadly, once again, before she can get laid, they get ambushed by a horde of Yathoon, who take them to their hidden city of Sargol.  In Sargol, the focus shifts to Koja who ends up challenging the Emperor of the Yathoon.  The Wily Emperor decides that the duel will consist of a game of Darza (a sort of Thanatorian version of Chess) with live players, playing to the Death!!!  (Shades of Chessmen of Mars!!!)   For no good reason, Xara, Valkar and Taran are dragged in as players on Koja's side.  As slaves of a rival horde, they have no status at all, and therefore Koja has no right to enlist them and they have no right to compete, but who's counting?  Anyway, the game falls to pieces when the Othodes get involved, so it comes down to single combat between Koja and the Emperor.  Koja wins, Jandar shows up at the last minute, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Postscript
My information on the series comes from Carter himself, through his eight novels and the appendices or glossaries of Thanatorian names, plants and animals and words.  In addition I've also relied upon an essay which he wrote, which is available on the net, as well as made use of reviews on the net and backstory as set out in various books like Lankar and Ylanna, which refer to events not in the books themselves.  I believe that there may have been a comic book series, but have made no use of that.   I apologize in advance for anything that I've gotten wrong.  The books largely are out of print now, but copies can be found regularly, if erratically, in used bookstores.   The Sky Pirates in particular, seems to be pretty common, but Jandar and the Black Legion are also easy enough to find.   They're fun and faithful, so feel free to track them down and give them a chance...


An Overall Review

Lin Carter seems to have been an ultimate fanboy.   As a person, he seems to have come across as a touch eccentric.   He was a tall gangly man with wild hair and a great bushy beard.  He favoured a cane, the rumour was that he had been injured in service in Korea, but the truth was, he just liked canes.  He dressed flamboyantly, but was married for many years.  By all accounts, he was an entertaining raconteur at conventions and in fandom.

His life was not as happy as it might have been.   He seems to have been a compulsive personality, smoking heavily, drinking like a fish and addicted to coffee.  His marriage failed.   Some stories have him hanging out at conventions, sleeping in chairs in hallways and cadging meals from sympathetic editors or fans.   His chronic smoking caught up with him in the form of mouth cancer, and he died in 1988.

As an Editor he was highly regarded, some say that he was in terms of editing fantasy, what Tolkien was to the writing of it.  He pioneered a line of books that renewed or revived many of the classic fantasy writers, including Tolkien.   He wrote several nonfiction books on fantasy writers or topics, including Tolkien.

He was also an immensely prolific writer, chugging out something like fifty novels, together with zines, stories, chapbooks and poetry, in a writing career that spanned only a few decades.   Sadly, I had a few Lin Carter books, but never really got into him before starting this project.

As a writer, Carter was fairly hit and miss.   His books are generally short, perhaps 50,000 or 60,000 words apiece.  They tend to break down into five or six segments apiece, each of which breaks down into four or five chapters.   I'm not sure why he stuck to this particular format, except possibly that he was serializing or hoping to serialize into magazines.   I see no evidence of this on copyright notices.  It might be that he was simply comfortable with this format.

On the other side, he tended to write his books as series, with anywhere from four to eight books in a series.   The series varied widely, ranging from just re-using the same characters and settings, to forming a single organic whole.  The Callisto series, one of his longest, falls in the middle of this, with the first six books forming two fairly distinct trilogies, and the last couple being standalone.  His series often showed signs of burnout, as if in later books, he was running out of ideas or enthusiasm, and relying more and more on plot twists or literary tricks.

The thing with Carter is that he wrote what he liked, which meant that he wrote exactly like the authors that he liked.   Thus his World's End series in style, plot and subject matter is indistinguishable from Jack Vance's dying Earth series.  He wrote a Robert E. Howard style Barbarian, Thongor, in the mold of, and voice of Conan.   With Sprague L. Camp he actually wrote licensed Conan novels.  Doc Savage was the model for his Zarkon series of books.   Clark Ashton Smith's voice inspired his Green Star series.   Leigh Brackett inspired his Martian novels.  He even wrote Oz books or stories, though I'm not sure if any of those were commercially published.

Carter was, to his credit, well aware of this.   He was both unapologetic about it, and not shy about admitting or acknowledging his inspirations.   It was simple.   He loved to read these men, and his writing in their voices was an expression of that love, a tribute rather than a plagiarism.   He probably wrote far too quickly and far too much for his own good, and he may well have been a hack.   But he was a hack who brought love to his craft.  I think that stands well for him.

Carter's biggest inspiration was Edgar Rice Burroughs.   The Callisto series was a take off on Barsoom through and through.   The Zanthodon series was a faithful reproduction of Pellucidar.   Burroughs also appears as a primary or secondary influence in his Martian books, his Green Star series and his Thongor novels.

Turning to the Callisto series, though, I'm sad to say that it reads as inferior Barsoom.   Sadly, Carter never quite gets up to snuff in terms of matching Burroughs writing.   It's inferior to Otis Adelbert Kline's Mars and Venus books as well.

It's not actually terrible.   The original trilogy, beginning with Jandar of Callisto and ending with Sky Pirates is quite good.   The world and the hero are fairly vivid, the action moves quickly.  It's hardly deep, but it is fun.

The series hit its high points with Mad Empress and Mind Wizards, which are rousing, fast paced adventures.   Mind Wizards is filled with genuine tension and strangeness, and the cliff hanger ending as Jon Dark conceals his notes even as his pursuers close in on him is genuinely gripping.

On the downside, the quality of the books was sometimes uneven. Lankar of Callisto is frankly embarrassing to read, what with its endless references to others works, the obvious self consciousness and ‘tweeness’ of the author, and the fact that just about everything interesting happens offstage and to other people.  It's an interesting conceit, but sadly it fails.  Yllanna of Callisto is only slightly stronger.  The writing is just weak, its constantly 'telling' rather than 'showing'.   Many passages feel more like an outline for a novel, rather than the novel itself.  Flashes of humour and wit fail to make up for an aimless and meandering plot.

Renegade of Callisto was somewhat of a recovery, and there are indications that Carter was laying groundwork for a new series of Callisto books.   It's acceptable, even good.  But by this time, I think, the series had worn out its welcome, both with the audience and for Carter himself.  I think he was perfectly happy to move on and do something else.   That's fair.   He'd written his Callisto series over a relatively short period of a few years. Whereas in comparison, Burroughs martian tales took place scattered over three decades, so even his inferior Barsoom books tend to contain a certain freshness.

Overall, I think that Callisto has two problems.   One is that unlike Mars or Venus, or unlike the mysterious East, darkest Africa, the wild West, there was no great mythic narrative that Carter could tap into.   All of these other places existed as psychic landscapes in the popular imagination, in the common mind.  They were places that resonated, that had some deeper subconscious meaning to people.   Africa was primordial savagery, the West was about manliness, Mars was the dying ancient world and Venus the surging young eden.

Callisto?   Callisto had no mythic narrative, no psychic landscape to it.  It was just a place to have derring do adventures.  But it didn't have any deeper identity or significance.   Carter did his best at world building, but in some ways it was sketchy.   He tries to call it the ‘Jungle World’ but that never really amounts to much.  The Perushtar were never much more than a stock race written in shorthand, it took Carter eight books to really give us an insight into the Yathoon's inner life.

There is some depth to the place, obviously there's enough to it,  consciously and subconsciously, to support the sort of rigorous analysis that I put it through.    You'll read from this, a series of essays investigating and analysing the world that Carter built.  Not every fantasy world will sustain this sort of examination, sometimes you push straight through and have to admit its all rubbish.   Callisto has a bit too much depth to be rubbish, pulp perhaps, but not rubbish.

But Callisto and its characters and adventures often have a hard time coming to vivid life the way Barsoom does.

The other part of it is that Jon Dark is kind of an arrogant jerk.   I mean, here goes:   He winds up on Thanator, while escaping from the Yathoon he meets his Princess.  He ineptly rescues her from a predator, sort of nice, but not inspiring.  Then he commits a verbal faux pas which makes him seem like a gauche and vulgar lout.  He compounds this by getting them both captured, leaving her with the impression he lured her into slavery... that's got to be endearing.  Later on, escaping again, they wind up rescued by the Prince Zandahar.... who he proceeds to obnoxiously pick a fight with, and gets a mighty thrashing for his troubles.   Later in Zandahar, he breaks into his Princesses parlour and tells her a bunch of what she believes are filthy lies about her prospective boyfriend.  He starts a slave revolt, but then drops it and wastes his time serving up humiliating payback to the Prince, in front of her, on the assumption that a display of petty sadism will get her panties wet.  He ends up kidnapping her, dropping into the jungle and putting her life at risk, so that she eventually winds up in the hands of her enemies....    And this is only the first book!

John Carter actually romanced Dejah Thoris, Burroughs took the time and effort to make their relationship believable.   In contrast, Jon Dark's encounters with Darloona are sporadic and invariably bad.  There's no chemistry, there's not even an opportunity to develop chemistry.  This is  a huge weakness, both for the books and for the character of Dark.

Nor is this the end of Dark's flaws.   Over and over again, he comes across as a bit of an egotist, calling himself the greatest swordsman on two worlds.  He's constantly getting into trouble with half baked plans, and is regularly rescued by his friends or saved by dumb luck.   He has terrible judgment.  Beyond that, however, he's only the standard action hero.   Generic in that he's tall, strong, good looking and self-absorbedly charismatic.  There are no personality quirks, no particular well of self knowledge, insight or humour, which would make us like him, or make him distinctive or memorable.   His shortcomings might have been a vein for sly or broad satire, a la Harry Flashman, but instead, they're presented straight on, and uncritically.   Jon Dark is a jerk, but Lin Carter never seems to quite realize it.   The particular quality that made John Carter likable and exciting, despite his being a bloodthirsty homicidal maniac, is simply missing here.

I found myself wanting to like Callisto more than I did.   It has its moments, and for the most part, it reads well.   I'm certainly happy enough to recommend it to any Barsoom fan, though I might direct them to Kline or Farley first.  Certainly I put it ahead of Moorcock's Mars novels, and it has much more of the spirit of Barsoom than the 'Post-Colonial Mars' novels of Brackett and others which also drew on Burroughs.

Interestingly, although Callisto left me lukewarm, I found his Zanthodon series to be just terrific, shoulder to shoulder with Pellucidar, and I enjoyed the World's End series immensely.   So, on that basis, I'm happy enough to recommend Carter.

Tastes are idiosyncratic.   I suspect that there are some who may find Callisto to be a worthy companion series to Burroughs and Kline, on the same level.  Fine with me.  Even for those who find it a lesser work, it's still enjoyable in its own right as a work on its own or as a clone.

So, enjoy...

LIN CARTER'S CALLISTO SERIES

 Lin Carter Callisto Articles by Den Valdron

Carter's Callisto
Shape of Thanator
Alien Races of Callisto
Civilization of Callisto
Barsoom-Thanator Connection
Callisto Pellucidar
Callisto Future
Literary Zanthodon
Literal Zanthodon
Linguistic Zanthodon, 
Pellucidar, Mangani, Pal-ul-don
. .
Colonial Barsoom
Colonial Appendix
.
To the Main Navigation Chart
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Den Valdron's Fantasy Worlds of ERB


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