“Personally,” I said, “I shared Bloch’s opinion of the stories. There was too much emphasis placed on sex. Once I wrote a very critical letter to Editor Wright about the prevalence of sex in some Weird Tales stories, citing the Conan stories as an example.Willis Conover, 14 Aug 1936, Lovecraft at Last 43
About the Conan tales—I don’t know that they contain any more sex than is necessary in a delineation of the life of a lusty bygone age. Good old Two-Gun didn’t seem to me to overstress eroticism nearly as much as other cash-seeking pulpists—even if he did now & then feel in duty bound to play up to a Brundage cover-design.H. P. Lovecraft to Willis Conover, 14 Aug 1936, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 382
In the 1930s editor of Weird Tales Farnsworth Wright recognized that sex sells—or at least, that a tasteful nude on the cover seemed to improve sales. Yet Weird Tales was not in any sense a pornographic magazine, and the “delineation of the life of a lusty bygone age” that Lovecraft spoke about was relatively prudish compared to an episode of Game of Thrones. Robert E. Howard would have an occasional female character disrobed, might hint at sex, but it would have been impossible to publish anything relating to male genitalia, penetration, or any oral sex beyond a passionate kiss in the 1930s, even if he had been so inclined to write such things. Even Howard’s stories for the Spicy magazines, which promised more sizzling sex than other pulps, were more likely to involve a particularly hard spanking than coitus, and paragraphs would peter out into ellipses before getting to any sort of explicit description.
Robert E. Howard’s hardboiled fantasy stories of Conan the Cimmerian would long survive him and grow in popularity, and as restrictions on sex in publishing eased (particularly after Grove Press, Inc. v. Christenberry, 1959), sword & sorcery fiction began to gradually grow more explicit. Fritz Leiber’s “The Sadness of the Executioner” (1973) for example, features “a deliciously slender girl of no more than sixteen, unclad save for four ornaments of silver filigree” as a violent and insane member of a mad king’s harem, and Leiber doesn’t mind describing her anatomy—but he stops short of pornography. Again, there were limitations to what most publications would accept.
The earliest sexually explicit efforts in that vein were, oddly enough, probably inspired by Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian comic, which began publication in 1970. “Gonad the Horney” was published in the San Francisco Ball in 1972, and the Tijuana bible style Red Sonja and Conan – Hot and Dry was published in 1977. Both of these sexually explicit little comics were parodies of the Marvel material, much as how in later years Hustler would create This Ain’t Conan the Barbarian (2011). Tongue was firmly in cheek, and the point was generally amusement rather than titillation or telling a good story.
Yet with the boom in paperback fantasy in the 1960s through the 1980s, the market for adult-oriented Sword & Sorcery grew…and a few pornographic novels were published to meet that market segment. Two in particular stand out as of particular interest to fans of Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft, The Coming of Cormac (1974) and The Seductress of Eden (1982) by Mark Farris—and these novels are worth consideration and comparison.
The Coming of Cormac (1974) by Caer Ged
During the fifth cycle of man, before the cataclysm that drove Atlantis from the depths of the sea and split the face of the earth, there was a oneness of the land called Augura by its inhabitants. Though darkness and its creatures and daemons still walked unchained, there rose five kings who rallied civilization and its boundaries. These kingdoms were called Telus,Nebula, Waldrop, Agila and Valana, and war was constant among them.
Beyond these boundaries of man was wilderness. To the south was Sartar with burning deserts and steaming jungles inhabited by savage men of black skin. To the east was the Land of Shadows with the Mountains of Krath barring entrance. To the west were the unknown waters of the Great Sea. And to the north was the frozen wasteland called Bifrost with its warring barbarians.
It was from this bitter land of cold that Cormac came to seek his fortune in the cities of civilization . . .
from The Book of Cormac, Aram Akkad.Caer Ged, The Coming of Cormac 1
“KNOW, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars—Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen- eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.”Robert E. Howard, “The Phoenix on the Sword”
—The Nemedian Chronicles
The Coming of Cormac was billed as “the first ‘sword and sorcery’ book to ever hit the stands—with plenty of hot far-out, uncensored sex!”—and that statement may well stand the test of time, because while it is not the first erotic speculative fiction novel, it is the earliest one I’ve seen that was blatantly and obviously based on Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories (the title no doubt a reference to The Coming of Conan, an early collection). Cormac of Bifrost is essentially a clone of Conan the Cimmerian (and not far off from another Howard character, Cormac Mac Art). The basic premise of the tale, which involves rescuing a princess and some encounters with giant snakes, a witch, undead, and “demons” along the way is very much in the mold of the 1970s Sword & Sorcery pastiche, right down to casual references to “savage men of black skin,” the very sort of thing that Charles R. Saunders noted in his essay “Die, Black Dog! A Look At Racism In Fantasy Literature” (1975). Take out the naughty bits and the story could essentially have run in any fantasy magazine or as a script in Marvel’s Conan comics.
The story is very sexually explicit indeed. Like most erotic novels, that is both the promise and the problem: stopping the plot every few pages for a lengthy sex scene tends to disrupt the flow and pacing of the story, while trivial attempts at titillation are more likely to be eye-rolling than enticing:
A half-clad amazon hastened to the summons. The top-heavy girl panted as she trotted before the priestess of Krath. Her massive tits bounced and bobbed beneath thin veils of black gossamer cloth.Caer Ged, The Coming of Cormac 94
In terms of content, a great deal of focus is on rape of one sort or another; the princess Avalona gets used and abused in more way than one before Cormac can rescue her, fulfilling the dark promise of such villains. Cormac, once he is inevitably captured, is likewise abused. Not every encounter is nonconsensual, but this is very much the kind of story where the gaze is unflinching…and that is the point. This is all the kind of X-rated stuff that Robert E. Howard and most fantasy authors that came after him could at best hint at, but never put on the page.
The actual action sequences—such as when Cormac is fighting Yog-Sarez, the great serpent who is the son of the serpent-god Seth—are decently written. There is comedy in the book, although it is not quite what readers might expect. For example, at one point Cormac is in The Labyrinth, “a section of the city known for its thieves, robbers, and assassins” (plainly based on “The Maul from Howard’s “The Tower of the Elephant”) and encounters a pair of familiar characters:
To the barbarian’s left a large, blonde northerner, who looked no older than the Bifrostian, shared a table with a smaller youth dressed in grey garments. The two chattered endlessly of their adventures. Like magpies, they tried to out-brag the other, while guzzling bottles of cheap waterfront wine. Eventually, their ramblings turned to Avalona and a brazen plan to steal the princess from under Onard’s nose and to return her to Heres for the reward. The grey-clad youth’s fingers seemed to trace a path across a yellowed parchment spread before them. Slowly but surely, teh wine took its effect and the pair passed out, sprawled across the table.Caer Ged, The Coming of Cormac 83-84
The pair are patently intended to be Fritz Leiber’s sword & sorcery heroes Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser. Their appearance here isn’t unprecedented; Roy Thomas and John Buscemea had joking inserted “Fafnir and Blackrat” into Conan the Barbarian #6 (1971), and there’s reason to believe that the author here was more than familiar with comic books. At one point Avalona is kidnapped by a rapacious madman with a singing sword looking for his wife Aleta—a reference to Prince Valiant—and later in the novel the witch-priestess summons four demons from the far future who turn out to be, basically, the Fantastic Four. That eventually turns out to be the witch’s X-rated undoing:
Abruptly, the thing stopped and roared. Its gigantic hands fell to tis waist and clawed at the flimsy cloth covering its sex. The blue material tore away, revealing a cylindrical organ of living stone, fully a foot long, hung like a pachydrem. As the creature’s boulder-shattering roars continued, the shaft jerked upward in a throbbing path.Caer Ged, The Coming of Cormac 148
As Conan pastiche novels go, The Coming of Cormac is a bit below the level of Lin Carter’s Thongor series. The worldbuilding is sparse, the sorcery sparser, and the plot is a bit perfunctory, episodic, and often failing to build tension. The tongue-in-cheek pop culture inclusions are the sole real humor in what is otherwise a fairly cheerless novel of a feckless princess who is passed around and used by one person after another, but without any philosophical meditation a la the Marquis de Sade’s Justine. It accomplishes what it set out to do, but not much more.
“Caer Ged” is an obvious pseudonym, which has been attributed to George Wyatt Proctor, a fantasy fan and novelist. I’m not entirely sure what the basis for this identification is, although a contemporary fanzine Godless #8 (1974) claims “Caer Ged” is also “Lee Wyatt,” which is another pseudonym attributed to Proctor.
The Seductress of Eden (1982) by Mark Farris
My friends say that I am a man who was born out o fhis time, that I should have been one of the Trojan warriors or Hyperborean adventurers I have devoted my life to studying.Mark Farris, The Seductress of Eden 5
Where The Coming of Cormac was set in a prehistoric past, akin to Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age, The Seductress of Eden is set very firmly in the contemporary 1980s. Enter Joseph Kade, a Canadian anthropologist with an interest in fantasy who decides to do some first-hand anthropological exploration of the dark underworld of sex—and ends up in a pulpy adventure that will take him all over the world, meeting (and bedding) all manner of beautiful women, almost getting killed multiple times, and finally stumbling into the ruins of a lost civilization in the Australian Outback while searching for the Phallus of the Old Ones.
If the principal focus of The Coming of Cormac is Robert E. Howard, the focus of The Seductress of Eden is Lovecraft, although the author slips in sly references to the works of Clark Ashton Smith and Howard as well. Kade is caught up in a quest for an eldritch artifact, and the story tends to careen from passionate sexual act to almost gratuitous violence and back again. The pulp aesthetic firmly establishes this as a Lovecraftian fantasy, but one that veers closer to Howardian action, despite references to the Necronomicon and the odd serpent-man:
It stood like a man, about six feet tall, but it resembled a lizard It had green, scaly skin and the head of a snake. It hissed at me and a long, forked tongue slithered out. Its unblinking eyes stared into mine and it raised clawed hands and moved toward sme, dragging an eight-foot tail behind it. […]
“Father was doing experiments with evolution,” said Gloria. “it was his theory that we all evolved from the basic forms of life, encompassing reptiles, and that it was not only possible forus to communicate with them but to evolve back to their forms. This was one of his experiments.”
“Father also believed that the continent of Eden was partially inhabited by a prehistoric race of snake-men. This experiment added credibility to that theory.”Mark Farris, The Seductress of Eden 111-112
The Seductress of Eden is very fast and loose with the Cthulhu Mythos; this is not quite the setting readers familiar with Lovecraft and Howard will be familiar with. Instead of shoggoths, for example, there are shontothes; and instead of Cthulhu, there is quite literally Satan. The Howardian sword & sorcery elements don’t really come in until very late in the novel, though there they are rather explicit, once Kade picks up an ancient axe:
And I had wielded it before…in other lifetimes. I had fought with it on the steps of Atlantis, protecting my queen. I had wielded it on the wastelands of Cimmeria, a barbarian defending his homeland. I had struck with it in the depths of Nemordia, to free my mate from the lair of a wizard. And now I was using it to save a goddess…Mark Farris, The Seductress of Eden 235
The main problem with The Seductress of Eden is that all of those past lives, reminiscent as they are of Howard’s James Allison stories, sound like more exciting and titillating adventures than the one chronicled in the book. While the action moves fast, it’s not a particularly deep plot, and the post-climax ending where Kade confesses his sins to a priest feels bowdlerized. A huge chunk of exposition at the end of the novel finally lays bare the writer’s version of what’s going on with the Phallus of the Old Ones, and it is so far from anything a Lovecraft fan might recognize it is almost parody.
Except that is the main difference between The Coming of Cormac and The Seductress of Eden: the story is played straight. This isn’t Howardian pastiche except for a couple of paragraphs near the end, nor is it a Lovecraftian pastiche despite the references to the Necronomicon. There are no tongue-in-cheek drop-ins of Prince Valiant and the Fantastic Four. It is an original story which plays out with as much seriousness as it can muster considering that Kade and his new girlfriend have to literally hump their way to their final goal.
Yet when the story assails the reader the Vatican assassins, the sex mutants, the mercenaries, the monsters, the repeated gangbangs, and a sex toy which is quite literally “What if H. R. Giger made a Sybian?,” the result is more like an X-rated serial than a coherent novel. The Seductress of Eden is very much a collision of fantastical pulp elements with hardcore sexuality, and the end result strains belief long before we get to the shontothes or the Golden Phallus of the Old Ones.
“So,” I went on, “now we try to get the scroll and map. And this Contessa has … the scroll?”
“And I have to seduce her to get it?”
“This,” I said for about the millionth time, “is amazing!”Mark Farris, The Seductress of Eden 73-74
As with Cormac in The Coming of Cormac, the protagonist Joe Kade isn’t a rapist—but there’s a lot of rape in the book. Weirdly enough, for all that the story is predicated on Kade encountering the darkest and most lurid parts of the sexual underground, the actual content is a bit vanilla: there are relatively few kinks on display, not many taboos presented or broken. Kade isn’t forced to expand his sexual horizons very far…and that is probably by design. The attraction of this book is the weirdness of its plot more than the weirdness of the sex itself.
The Seductress of Eden was published under the Tigress Books imprint, which also published Brian McNaughton’s Sheena Clayton novels such as Tide of Desire (1983). All of the Clayton novels had Mythos references in them, and it’s possible that “Mark Farris” was a house name that was used by McNaughton as well—however, the other Mark Farris novels for Tigress aren’t known to have Mythos references, and McNaughton himself never made any claim to the name. More to the point, The Seductress of Eden doesn’t read much like a McNaughton novel, who was prone to be much darker and less heavy-handed in his use of Mythos lore.
Women In The Novels
Both The Coming of Cormac and The Seductress of Eden are told primarily from the point-of-view of the male protagonists, although Cormac has a few chapters dedicated to Princess Avalona’s viewpoint—those chapters where she is raped. Which presents a substantial difference between the two novels worth discussing.
The recovery of Princess Avalona in The Coming of Cormac is the point of the novel, the central driving plot. She begins the novel as a blushing virgin, and through several chapters of degradation and forced sexual intercourse is used and abused, transported against her will, and finally, after many lives have been lost and the major villains are dead, is comfortable enough in her own sexuality to make advances on Cormac himself. It is not exactly a bildungsroman, but as a tale of Avalona growing up it parallels in some ways a much more X-rated and darker version of Queen Yasmela in Robert E. Howard’s “Black Colossus.” While Avalona never quite gets Yasmela’s agency, she at least comes to overcome her initial sexual trauma and take charge of her own sexual needs and desires.
By contrast, Gloria in The Seductress of Eden starts out the novel as a high-priced escort raised in a family of sex mutants with aspirations to gain the Phallus of the Old Ones to become a goddess, and her every action in the story is bent exclusively toward the goal. There is no innocence to be lost, no self-discovery, and ultimately no redemption of the character. She enters into the novel utterly confident in her own sexuality and repeatedly unfazed by any effort to degrade her through rape or any other form of sexual violence. In comparison with The Coming of Cormac, Gloria has more in common with the witch-priestess Sheheit than she does to Avalona—and that kind of represents part of the odd characterization of women in both stories.
In both The Coming of Cormac and The Seductress of Eden present sexuality as inherently positive, at least the relatively limited sexuality on display here. Cormac has no idea why the civilized people are so hung up about the whole virginity business, Kade is protective of Gloria because he loves her, but not overly jealous when she ends up having sex with someone else. While it isn’t quite the aftermath of the free love of the 1960s, sex is definitely not presented as a phenomenon that only happens within the confines of legal matrimony. Yet the women characters who have most embraced their sexuality or try to use sex for their own ends are presented as the ultimate villains.
It is not an uncommon characterization in pornographic works: sexual experience and lack of sexual mores is generally seen as a positive trait, but aggressive or self-serving sexuality is a hallmark of an evil character. This isn’t entirely unusual in fantasy either—in Howard’s “A Witch Shall Be Born” one of the key differences between Queen Taramis and her evil sister Salome is that the latter is sexually active and open about it—but in the context of a pornographic novel, it rather highlights the disparity between male and female characters. Cormac and Kade’s sexual exploits to sate their lusts don’t mark them out as sluts deserving of some dark fate, and they are rarely forced into sex against their will. By contrast, the women in these stories face most of the sexual violence, and most of the consequences of sex, including pregnancy and death.
Publishing has come a long way since Robert E. Howard first wrote the Conan stories. Softcore sword & sorcery novels like Lin Carter’s Tara of the Twilight (1979) have given way to explicit sexual scenes in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. There is more permissiveness in what can be openly published than ever before—yet the fundamental narrative problem of how (and if, and why) to weave hardcore eroticism into the story remains. For The Coming of Cormac and The Seductress of Eden, the sex is the point, it’s how they were marketed.
It is really odd to look back at erotica produced before the age of the Internet. While a writer’s imagination might be unlimited, and fanzines were free to publish the occasional nude drawing or naughty limerick without too much fear of the postal censor, as a commercial prospect any sort of really weird fiction or sword & sorcery-based pornographic novel had to be a bit of a daunting prospect—not because it couldn’t be done, but because you had to be able to both advertise that work to the correct audience and make something worth reading. In that respect, The Coming of Cormac and The Seductress of Eden are both game attempts to try and meet the needs of a very small and speculative market…and in doing so, they demonstrate how hard it is to produce commercial literature on demand.
Both novels suffer from trying to balance hardcore sex with their pulpy adventures. Howard’s original Conan stories sometimes include lingering gazes at the female form or hints of sexual activities that may happen or are about to happen, but these are largely small titillations that don’t affect the flow of the stories. Erotic fantasy adventure is a difficult prospect at the best of times, as the litany of B-movie sword-and-sorcery films that have struggled to pass muster with rampant female nudity and threadbare plots and acting can well attest.
What’s striking about both of these novels is that they’re coming from about the same place, and even if they don’t use quite the same means, they’re headed for the same goal: to try and capture some of the energy and tropes pulp fiction while injecting hardcore eroticism. On the surface, this shouldn’t be terribly difficult. Read Howard’s description:
Bêlit sprang before the blacks, beating down their spears. She turned toward Conan, her bosom heaving, her eyes flashing. Fierce fingers of wonder caught at his heart. She was slender, yet formed like a goddess: at once lithe and voluptuous. Her only garment was a broad silken girdle. Her white ivory limbs and the ivory globes of her breasts drove a beat of fierce passion through the Cimmerian’s pulse, even in the panting fury of battle. Her rich black hair, black as a Stygian night, fell in rippling burnished clusters down her supple back. Her dark eyes burned on the Cimmerian.
She was untamed as a desert wind, supple and dangerous as a she-panther. She came close to him, heedless of his great blade, dripping with blood of her warriors. Her supple thigh brushed against it, so close she came to the tall warrior. Her red lips parted as she stared up into his somber menacing eyes.Robert E. Howard, “Queen of the Black Coast”
A lot of what makes pulp fiction work is that readers have to use their imagination. Nothing any writer comes up with will be able to match the sex that Bêlit and Conan have in the reader’s mind. Like the unnamable horrors so often attributed to Lovecraft, to render them in exquisite and clinical detail—to measure Conan’s sword to the nearest millimeter—is to rob them of some of their mystery and magic. If the mating dance of Bêlit in “Queen of the Black Coast” had turned to actual coitus, the entire tone of the story might not have shifted, but the infinite possibilities in the reader’s mind would have collapsed into a single certainty. The possibilities are often much more tantalizing than the execution.
But it ultimately depends on what you’re going for. The Coming of Cormac and The Seductress of Eden draw these comparisons specifically because, like erotic fanfiction they rely to a greater or lesser extent on existing properties. Without Conan, there is no Cormac or Kade. They invite comparison to Robert E. Howard because they are riffing off of Howard. Original works without trying to ape the themes of older fiction might have more leeway to forge their own balance with a more explicit tone, as Martin did in his Song of Ice and Fire series and as Karl Edward Wagner did in his Kane series.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).
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4 thoughts on “The Coming of Cormac (1974) by Caer Ged & The Seductress of Eden (1982) by Mark Farris”
Related, you may be interested in the men’s adventure/sword and sorcery “portal worlds” series BLADE by (author I can’t remember at the moment, something Lord, maybe?) from the 1970s. I remember them having some fairly explicit sex.
The Richard Blade series. The basic idea was drawn from Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter of Mars novels, although Robert E. Howard did something similar in his science-fantasy novel ALMURIC.
As a collector of Tijuana Bibles, I’d love to get a copy of that Red Sonja TB. Might it be for sale? If not, would photocopies be purchasable? Gumball@teleport.com
I have photos of all the pages, but they’re not great. I’ve been trying to find a copy of this one for my own collection for years, with no luck at all. The mid-70s superhero 8-pagers are just rare beasts to find in the wild.