Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Ozar the Aztec -- Valentine Wood (Walker A. Tompkins)

You’ll need to pull out your pulp adventure checklist for this one. Let’s see . . .

Lost city? Check. Takes place in Karnux, a lost city populated by Aztecs and located in the crater of an extinct volcano in northern Mexico, five hundred years after the Aztec empire was destroyed in Cortez’s conquest of Mexico.

Stalwart hero? Check. Larry Starling is the infant son of a pair of American geologists whose expedition runs afoul of . . . well, we’ll get to that.

Beautiful heroine? Check. Esta, the young, hot queen of the Aztecs.

Evil villain? You bet. Tarx, the high priest who sacrifices Larry Starling’s parents and is about to kill the innocent toddler when King Montezirka intervenes and decrees that the kid must live because he might turn out to be Ozar the Aztec, who, according to legend, is supposed to be a fair-skinned god who will someday come to free the people from oppression. So Larry Starling, instead of being sacrificed, is sent off to live in the mountains with the old arrow-maker Claxitl for the next twenty years, after which time he will return to Karnux to see if he can fulfill the Five Sacred Commands that will prove him to be Ozar the Aztec.

Back in the Twenties and Thirties, it was a common practice in pulp magazines to run a series of linked novelettes that, read in order, constitute a novel of sorts. Quite a few such serials were later published as fix-up novels, in fact. In the six issues from January through June of 1933, the Street & Smith pulp TOP-NOTCH published the Ozar the Aztec series, written by Walker A. Tompkins under the pseudonym Valentine Wood. The titles of the stories are “Ozar the Aztec”, “Ozar and the Plumed Serpent”, “Ozar and the Jade Altar”, “The Death Drums of Ozar”, “Ozar and the Black Skull”, and “Ozar’s Crown of Victory”. Each story recounts another story of Ozar romancing Queen Esta and foiling the nefarious plots of the high priest Tarx.

If you’ve read this far, you probably have a pretty good idea whether or not you’ll like these stories. They’re full of action and melodrama and were rather obviously inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs. More than anything else, though, they reminded me of a Thirties movie serial, full of death traps, secret passages, and narrow escapes by our hero Ozar. I can almost see it in my mind, with the Republic Pictures back lot standing in for the lost city of the Aztecs, Ray Corrigan or Buster Crabbe playing Ozar, and William Witney and John English directing the action. It would’ve been a dandy.

Walker A. Tompkins is better known as a Western writer, and I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time. His plots tend to have some holes in them, and that’s certainly the case in these stories, but I like the headlong pace and the way his writing flows. I thoroughly enjoyed the Ozar stories. They’re going to be reprinted soon in a single volume by Beb Books, and if you’re still in touch with your inner 12-year-old, as I am, I think you might enjoy them, too. Just imagine you’re reading one of those small-size Ace paperbacks from the mid-Sixties, with a Roy G. Krenkel or Frank Frazetta cover. Ozar would have been right at home in one of those. My only complaint is that the stories are left crying out for a sequel, and as far as I know, there never was one. If I had more time and a market, I’d be tempted to write it myself . . .


David Cranmer said...

James, I'm a student of these old pulps and there's been more than one occasion where I've seen a series come to an abrupt end or is calling out for a continuation. This sounds great and I'm making a note to order. Hopefully you'll find the time to write that sequel before I finish it.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds like it's right down my alley. Gonna have to look for this one.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is really appropriate or not, but I couldn't find contact information anywhere else on your website. I have two unrelated things that I want to pass on to you.

First, I am promoting my new web comic, Lovecraft is Missing, at http://www.lovecraftismissing.com. The first pages went up last week, and I will be posting 2 or 3 new pages each Wednesday. I'm a long time HPL and pulp fan, and I think I have a different take on a Lovecraft comic. It would be great if you could take a look at it; if you like it, any mention or link would be overwhelmingly appreciated. I have a trailer up on YouTube, but the only way I know of to get to the pulp fans is to go blog by blog.

The second is that I take note of your western interest. I never read any of the paperback series like Longarm, but I have a decent chunk of Western Story Magazines in my collection - over 400, including the first two pulp issues from 1919 and a slew from 1920, including the infamous triple dated issue. I also have two issues of the dime novel issues, the transisition between the New Buffalo Bill Weekly and the pulp. If you're interested, I can send you jpg images of the covers of some of these early issues.


Larry Latham

James Reasoner said...

I should have mentioned in the original post that Valentine Wood is a house-name. I don't know if Tompkins wrote any of the other stories that appeared under that byline. The name was used on a previous series about a character named Kroom, but it appears that Tompkins didn't write any of those.