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SINCE the days of E. Rider Haggard's orientally imaginative novels, weird, mystical, and scented with the unfathomable agelessness of Asia, there has appeared scarcely another novelist whose taste for the exotic mystery of much infinities has carven a readable story. Quite in this older, manner Mr. Merritt has harked back to Ancient Babylon and spun an interesting and curious, if not so successful, fantasy. Unfortunately the latter's hero makes his first blow in a luxurious apartment in contemporary New York and after demolishing an archeological monolith from Babylon, is whisked back a score of centuries without the slightest warning. He finds himself on a fated galley, the Ship of Ishtar, peopled with two hostile factions factions, the puppets of contending deities. From this point begins a bizarre tale, absorbing enough in itself, but constantly interrupted by the hero's inexplicable and purposeless transubstantiation to a modern American gentleman for the nonce.
These jarring transitions when coupled with such an abrupt initial opening do much to destroy the artistic illusion of reality which is elsewhere carefully sustained. Mr. Haggard in "She" and "Ayesha" dealt with equally fastastic romantic themes, but he blended the elements of time and space in such a way as to heighten the reality of the supernatural.
Leaving aside the defects of Mr. Merritt's power as a conjurer, the reader who is in search of an antidote to the present school of literary photography will doubtless enjoy "The Ship of Ish, tar." It is an adventurous glimpse at at a forgotten civilization which the author has convincingly re-created. There are to be sure, dull parts in the story, and at times the narrator loses himself and his reader in a labyrinth of suggestive but unintelligible passages. A glance at the jacket, however, is reassuring. There is no mention of subtle satire or of involved philosophical values. It is a book which need not affright the intellectually lazy: it is a book which to the intellectually wearied may provide keen relaxation.
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