The Eighties. Bad hair, sad clothes, and great music. I was at school during the Eighties, and dinner time usually found me in the library, huddled in the corner with a book. I would read anything and everything that fell into my hands, naturally gravitating to the fantasy and science fiction section. One of my favorite books was Lord Fouls Bane by Stephen Donaldson, in which a leper from our world finds himself transported to ‘The Land’. The hero in The Ship of Ishtar similarly finds himself transported from our world to a different one where he likewise finds his life transformed.
Ever since Lord Fouls Bane I’ve had a real weakness for ‘transportation’ novels so this one caught me right in the feels. I had no idea going in what the story was about and so this key aspect was a complete surprise. It’s nice when life hands you a gift like that. I read the entire story in an evening after putting my Lil Buddy to bed and found myself sighing as I closed the e-book. Merritt knew how to tell a tale well.
Down to the nitty gritty then (Spoiler Alert!!!)
The story in brief. John Kenton is a historian/archaeologist who has been sent a sandstone block from a dig in Irag (Mesopotamia). He chisels into the block (I know, I winced to when I read this, the curse of modern eyes!) and discovers what looks like a toy ship. He touches it, well you would wouldn’t you and is transported onto The Ship of Ishtar. There he meets and falls in love with Sharane, priestess of Ishtar.
She’s not alone on the ship. Her opposite number is a priest of Nergal, darkness to her light. Kenton finds himself drawn into the proxy war fought between the two gods during which he is enslaved, brought down to his lowest point and then rises up, accompanied by men who are loyal to the point of death. He gets the girl, then loses the girl before finally getting her again and while all this is going on Merritt paints a picture that is bright, vivid and vibrant.
The story was unlike anything that I’ve read in a very long time indeed. Virtues such as bravery, loyalty, and love were given primacy and evil was defeated because of them. There were few shades of gray to be found and when they were they were shown to be weaknesses. Not a view that’s very popular these days to be sure.
I really wish that I’d discovered Merritt earlier, I can see clearly the points in my life when he would have made things seem a lot simpler. But, all things in their time I guess. I recommend this book, I enjoyed it and I hope that you will too. You can find it at Project Gutenberg Australia for free, or from Amazon as part of a collected works for a very reasonable price.
Thanks for reading.