Friday, January 10, 2020

Forgotten Books: Ki-Gor: The Beast-Gods of Atlantis - John Peter Drummond

Art by George Gross

Since I’ve finished with the Altus Press volumes reprinting the Ki-Gor series in order that have been published so far, it’s time to start skipping around in the series. I just read an e-book version of THE BEAST GODS OF ATLANTIS, the 47th novel in the series, originally published in the Summer 1950 issue of the pulp JUNGLE STORIES. That entire issue can be found for free on-line.

This one begins in the middle of the action, with Ki-Gor, his wife Helene, and their friends Tembu George (the chief of the Masai tribe) and the pygmy warrior N’Geeso in a canoe, fleeing down a river gorge from a couple of boats full of river pirates. They have to shoot a rapids between two high stone walls, and when they come out on the other end they find themselves in an even worse fix, because they’re trapped by the survivors of a colony from ancient Atlantis. Before you know it, they’re enmeshed in some dangerous political intrigue involving the beautiful empress, a stalwart (but possibly scheming) soldier, an evil high priest and his minions, and another soldier who’s definitely a craven plotter.

This yarn moves like the wind. Admittedly, the whole colony-from-ancient-Atlantis setup is overdone and already was even in 1950, but whoever was behind the John Peter Drummond house-name this time around takes that stale concept and springs a few welcome surprises along the way in terms of both plot and character development. And he does so in tough, lean, hardboiled prose that delivers with a vivid setting and plenty of gritty, brutal action. Ki-Gor is almost Conan-like in places in this novel. Helene doesn’t have a lot to do, but the author keeps Tembu George and N’Geeso busy being the fine sidekicks they are. By this time in the series, George’s origin as an American from Chicago seems to have been completely forgotten, but he’s still a good character. No mention of Marmo the elephant.

The author crams so much into this tale that he sets up a few things and then never gets back to them, but that’s all right in a story that has so much else going for it. THE BEAST-GODS OF ATLANTIS is regarded by some Ki-Gor fans as one of the best in the series, and I can see why: good writing, good characters, plenty of action, and an epic ending. It’s certainly one of the best I’ve read so far, and as always, I’m looking forward to reading more Ki-Gor novels in the near future.


Walker Martin said...

Great cover. You can't go wrong with girls and skulls. Raphael Desoto once told me they did a study and found this combination sold the most magazines.

Rick Robinson said...

I have yet to try one of these, maybe this would be a good start, or is there an origin type of story to begin with?

James Reasoner said...

The first story, KI-GOR, KING OF THE JUNGLE, is an origin story of sorts, as it explains how Ki-Gor first met Helene and gives the background of how he came to be in the jungle. There's some loose continuity for the first three or four books, but after that you can read them in any order. Actually, THE BEAST-GODS OF ATLANTIS wouldn't be a bad place to start. The author drops the reader right into the middle of the action, but it's pretty easy to figure out the relationships between the characters.

Anonymous said...

All right, James! You finally hit on one of my half dozen favorite Ki-Gor yarns.
When I first read this one I marveled at how the unknown author was able to build a story out of a tall stack of very familiar tropes and make it all spring to life.
Like you, I was also reminded of Conan more than once, especially when our jungle lord was basically fencing with enemies using only his dagger.
And the emotional twist at the end gives the whole package greater resonance than it probably deserves.

So, now that you’re freed up from reading them chronologically, which Ki-Gor is next?

John Hocking

James Reasoner said...

I'm not sure which one I'll tackle next. I have quite a few of the reprints from Adventure House but can't get to them easily right now, so I'll probably stick with the ones I can read on my Kindle for a while. I have LOST PRIESTESS OF THE NILE, NIGHT OF THE WASULI DEATH, THE GOLDEN CLAWS OF RAA, THE SWORD OF SHEBA, THE MAD MONSTER OF MU-UNGU, ZOMBA HAS A THOUSAND SPEARS, THE SILVER WITCH (the one from 1953), and FANE OF THE PYTHON PRINCESS. I may have a few other e-texts somewhere, but those are the ones on my Kindle right now.

Anonymous said...

So, which of the two « Silver Witch » novels is the « good » one?

More importantly, how do we pronounce « Ki-Gor »? Rhymes with TIE-gore or BEE-gore or maybe FIG-or? Also, do we say « KAY-zar » or « kuh-ZAR »?


James Reasoner said...

I believe the second SILVER WITCH (the one I have, from 1953) is supposed to be the better one, but don't quote me on that. I think Ki-Gor rhymes with TIE-gore. And it's KAY-zar, in my head, anyway.

Anonymous said...

I’ve always said KAY-Zar too.

So...Sub-MARE-in-er or Sub-maREENer?

Dark -SIDE or Dark -SEED?

Ginger or Mary Ann?


James Reasoner said...

Mary Ann. No contest.
And as a bonus, Bailey over Jennifer on WKRP. Also no contest.

Anonymous said...

LOL! I almost added the Jennifer or Bailey question!

You are, of course, absolutely correct. Bailey all day long.

- b.t.

W Robjertson said...

Great review, James. I'll read BEAST-GODS next -- but not immediately because a few days ago I finished another popular Ki-Gor story, STALKERS OF THE DAWN-WORLD, which was really good -- and Helene wasn't merely window dressing; she pulled her weight big time in that one.

As much as I enjoy the Ki-Gor stories, I have to pace myself and put a little distance between them, so I've picked up Rex Stout's THE BLACK MOUNTAIN; how's that for a change of pace!

I appreciated Walker Martin's reminding us the other day not to overlook the non-Ki-Gor entries in Jungle Stories; I see some interesting ones I'd like to try.

Glancing back through your previous Ki-Gor reviews I see an early (rough) pattern of a few months between them, but just lately that's extended to more like half a year. Are they wearing thin, or it is just the ebb and flow of life, or have you had too many bad Ki-Gors in a row to hold your interest? Looks like there's nothing but good ones ahead now that you're more selective.

Thanks for the great blog -- lots of fun!

-Will R.

James Reasoner said...

I believe STALKERS OF THE DAWN WORLD is John Hocking's favorite in the series, so I need to get to it sooner rather than later. Spacing out the Ki-Gors more isn't deliberate, more like a case of me having the attention span of a six-week-old puppy. I'm always finding stuff that's new (to me) and intriguing. Also, these days I'm being pulled more and more toward the idea of rereading some old favorites, something I swore I'd do only very rarely. I haven't actually done much of it so far, but I suspect that day is coming.

THE BLACK MOUNTAIN is a good book, although it's not your typical Nero Wolfe novel. I love that series, too, and have read all of them.