Friday, January 9, 2009

Book Review: 'Ariel: The Book of Fantasy' by Thomas Durwood

3/5 Stars

'Ariel: The Book of Fantasy' (1978) was one of the more unusual experiments in retail fantasy literature and art publishing in the mid-70s. There were four issues (‘volumes’) printed between 1976 and 1978.

‘Ariel’ was a large (12 “ x 9 “, 80 – 100 pp), full-color magazine printed on quality paper stock, and featured illustrated fiction and comics from a number of well-known genre authors and artists. Ariel carried a steep cover price ($6.95) for the mid 70’s, which unfortunately placed it out of ready reach for the burgeoning, but young and poor, generation of SF and fantasy fans then starting to make their economic presence felt (albeit if only in a modest way). After four issues had been produced Ballantine decided to pull the plug on the magazine, and there really hasn’t been anything quite like it on the retail shelves since (perhaps a sign that this form of publication just doesn’t strike much of a chord with the US buying public).

It appears that Ballantine was trying to tap into the audience that had supported its Adult Fantasy paperbacks series (which ceased publishing in 1974, but continued in some fashion under the Del Rey imprint). It also may have been the case that Ballantine was trying to tap into the audience purchasing trade paperbacks on fantasy art, issued in the mid-70s, by rival publisher Bantam Books / Peacock Press. In any event, ‘Ariel’ was of sufficient quality and sophistication so as to avoid being (ill-)considered in retail circles as a ‘stoner’ publication, like Heavy Metal magazine (which started appearing in April of 1977).

Issue three of ‘Ariel’ (edited by Thomas Durwood) featured as its cover an arresting illustration (‘Devil’s Lake’) by the English artist Barry Windsor-Smith, who is the subject of an interview in the magazine. By 1978 Windsor-Smith had long since departed Marvel and ‘Conan’, and was making a living as a studio artist. The interview is an informative one and touches on the artist’s philosophy of the ‘New Romantic’ movement in art and illustration, and his admiration for the artists of the Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite eras.

Among the other entries in volume three is a new Elric story, ‘The Last Enchantment’, by Michael Moorcock, with illustrations by Tim Conrad; a poem by Robert E. Howard, ‘Musings’, with an illustration by Jack ‘King’ Kirby; an admirable comic adaption of Harlan Ellison’s story ‘Along the Scenic Route’ by Al Williamson; and a short story, ‘The Halls of the Frost Giants’, by Alexander Heart, with illustrations (in an Arthur Rackham style) by Michael Hague.

A nonfiction article is also featured; ‘A Visit With Frank Herbert’, by Paul Williams, who chatted with the famed SF author on a visit to Herbert's farm near Seattle. The profile focuses on the various eco-projects (wind power, methane from chicken manure, etc.) Herbert was engineering on his homestead. I can’t say I was ever a fervent fan of Herbert’s work, but the article is an interesting look at someone trying out a ‘green’ lifestyle back when such a thing was considered a pastime either of the comfortably affluent, or hippies trying to hold on to the fast-fading echoes of the 1960s.

The quality of the reproductions appearing in the magazine is quite good, particularly when one remembers that ‘Ariel’ appeared in the pre-computer-based typesetting and printing era.

Issues of 'Ariel' (ranging from ~ $10 to $20, depending on the book's condition) are available from a number of online vendors of used books and comics.

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