Appendix N Challenge: The Ship of Ishtar By Abraham Merritt

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.



6 thoughts on “Appendix N Challenge: The Ship of Ishtar By Abraham Merritt

    1. I’m planning on reading as much of his work as I can tbh, Ishtar was such a great story, a real pleasure to spend time with. He’s definitely one I’ll be coming back to. Thanks for taking the time to comment, much appreciated.


    2. Glad you discovered this classic novel! As John says, don’t stop with SHIP OF ISHTAR. That’s what I did and spent two decades missing out on the writings of a titan of weird literature. I mean, this is a guy that Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, CL Moore, Poul Anderson and Karl Edward Wagner all admired. There’s good reason for that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve taken Johns advice and I’m reading Burn Witch alongside my Appendix N activities, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s been great to reconnect with an almost forgotten love of reading, which I hope is coming across in my reviewing. Thanks for replying, I’m looking forward to taking a look at your blog later today.
        edit. Have now taken a look at the blog, and it’s closed down 😦 Damn shame too, the world needs more, not less R.E.Howard.


      2. BURN, WITCH, BURN has a sequel in CREEP, SHADOW. Both are excellent. The sequel has Italian mobsters, Texan gunslingers, living shadows and reincarnated princesses from the sunken city of Ys trying to bring back a Lovecraftian demon-god! Merritt makes it all work. A fine swan song for the author.

        Regarding the TC blog… there are a lot of posts there to read, despite being shut down. It started out as an REH blog, but quickly morphed into everything from Howard to JRRT and everything cool in between. The posts from Steve Tompkins (RIP) are especially good.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thanks to the ridiculously cheap collections on Amazon I picked up the complete works of Merritt for less than a cup of tea, a true bargain.
        I’ve skimmed over the sight and added it to my bookmarks, there’s a huge REH hole in my knowledge base, and that’s despite being a fan for over 30 years. Thank God you’re never to old to learn new things.


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