I Was Lin Carter’s Friend
by Steven Aulicino
I was Lin Carter’s friend during the last years of his life and knew him very well. Over the years, I have checked the Internet for anything on him but found only a few references, usually related to his Conan writings. I hadn’t looked in a long time, so I was pleased to find your site last month. I always felt bad that nothing was done to properly mark Lin’s passing. On the first anniversary of his death, I wrote to the New York Times Book Review in an attempt to commemorate the day, but the letter was never published.
I met Lin in late ’83 or early ’84 when he moved into the apartment across the hall from me. The evening of the day he moved in, he knocked on my door and asked what time it was. That was Lin. When we introduced ourselves, I asked if he was THE Lin Carter and he was honestly flattered and even more so when I showed him my bookshelf. I had none of his science fiction or sword and sorcery work, but I did have his TOLKIEN: A LOOK BEHIND THE LORD OF THE RINGS and IMAGINARY WORLDS as well as most of the books he edited for Ian Ballantine under the Adult Fantasy imprint.
We became friends, good friends. He was “Boss” and I was “Pard.”
At that time, he was working on FOUND WANTING, and DOWN TO A SUNLESS SEA was just being published. We enjoyed many evenings together talking, and drinking. We went to a local movie to see Conan the Barbarian when it opened, and when we saw 2010, he told me about his friendship with Arthur Clarke.
I never cared that much for his fantasy writing. I admired him more as a scholar of fantasy literature. His work on Tolkien was, I believe, the first major critical study on the Lord of the Rings and his introductions to the volumes in the Adult Fantasy series are informed, erudite, and demonstrate the range of his knowledge. He was an extremely important figure in the renaissance of fantasy literature, a role for which he has not been given proper credit.
Lin did things to excess. When he had money, he spent it generously. When he had none, he’d come around asking for some, but always paid it back. He drank too much and he smoked too much. I was flattered when he asked me to be his guest at a dinner meeting of the notorious Trapdoor Spiders. While I spent a pleasant evening with Isaac Asimov and other members of the group, Lin held forth as that night’s host. I remember afterwards walking with him from the restaurant on 46th Street up Eighth Avenue, holding on to his arm, trying to keep him on a straight path.
Lin suffered from emphysema as result of years of smoking, but in 1984 he developed a growth on his upper lip. Eventually, it spread into his upper jaw and palate and finally he had to undergo radical surgery that left his face severely disfigured. When I took him to University Hospital in Newark, he smoked his last cigarette (He smoked Raleighs.) while waiting to be admitted. Over the next few years he would be moved to the veterans’ hospitals in East Orange and at Kingsbridge in the Bronx. When he was home it was difficult. He had to have oxygen most of the time and he found it difficult to care for himself. He continued to drink (Baileys Irish Cream and peppermint schnapps) and made life intolerable for the caregivers who visited him regularly.
Throughout, Lin continued to work and books were published: MANDRICARDO, CALLIPYGIA, DRAGONROUGE, HORROR WEARS BLUE. Near the end, he returned to the OZ stories he had loved as a child. He’d send me out to the local rare book dealer to find old editions of OZ books, and he was writing stories based on some of the OZ characters. He was also writing poetry. He began what he called Carter’s Book of Beasts, short, humorous, Ogden Nash-ish ditties describing various animals that took his fancy. He’d slip these under my door and I’d come home or wake in the morning and find them. One morning in the autumn before he died, the following poem was slipped under my door:
A damp and restless wind whines ‘round the eaves
And prowls through rustling drifts of scarlet leaves.
Above, a gaunt moon grins through misty wrack,
Tangled and caught in branches bare and black.
Here in the darkness of my lonely room
One weeping candle struggles ‘gainst the gloom.
In the uneasy light I bend to look
Through the unwholesome pages of my Book.
That sound! That gust! My flame dies to a spark,
Goes out, and leaves me helpless in the dark.
Is that the wind? – I fumble for a match –
Or phantom fingers groping at the latch?
On an evening in February 1988, I returned home to find a message on my answering machine from a doctor at the vets’ hospital in East Orange. Lin had died that day. He had been alone.
Almost all of Lin’s books are out of print now. Interest in his brand of fantasy has waned probably because it is not “sophisticated” enough for today’s audience. But he deserves recognition from the generation that has grown up reading the likes of Terry Brooks and others, and from those authors who have benefited from the renewed interest in the fantasy genre that Lin initiated thirty years ago.
Montclair, New Jersey
March 6, 1999