Some in fandom think “Eye of Argon” author Jim Theis “never wrote anything again.” Not true. He wrote at least one more Grignr the Barbarian story, “The Sacred Crest.” Son of Grafan 13 printed part of it.
As the 17-year-old editor of the May, 1972, issue of SON OF GRAFAN, the mimeograph newsletter of the Graphic Fantasy Society of St. Louis, I was excited to receive from my friend and fellow club member Jim Theis – one year older than me – a copy of the manuscript for “The Sacred Crest,” his new Grignr the Barbarian story, and permission to publish it in SOG #13.
This was like being handed fanzine content gold.
I knew a couple of years earlier, Grignr had debuted in “Eye of Argon.” Jim’s story published another St. Louis fanzine, OSFAN 10. I vaguely knew it had garnered attention in science-fiction fandom; I wasn’t active in it. I was a comics guy. I didn’t really know or care that “Eye of Argon” was the subject of some ribbing. I was in awe that a peer was generating long-form fiction, and grateful that on a monthly schedule with pages to fill, I had material!
JIm and I were friendly but never close, and I drifted out of GRAFAN by 1975, engulfed in college, the student newspaper and theatre group, jobs, life, girlfriends, fun. I was shocked and sorry to hear, in 2002, he had died, waaaaaaay too young. My memories were fond, and I considered myself lucky to have been given the opportunity to help publish his early 70s work, first Jim’s review of Marvel’s Conan comics in Grafan 9, then the Grignr story in Son of Grafan 13.
The issue kicks off with a cover by St. Louis cartoonist Larry Nolte.
Here’s the indicia and my editorial introduction. I wrote, genuinely, not ironically, in the style of a 18-year-old Stan Lee wannabe:
Fans of Grignr, that pulse-pounding savage barbarian creation by Jim Theis, will certainly be delighted by the three-part sword-and-sorcery novella that begins in this issue. “The Sacred Crest” is Jim’s latest journey into heroic fantasy – and features Grignr at his best!!! “Diamond” Jim won the notorious J. T. Rickosh award from OSFA, the local SF group, for his first story, which appeared in their clubzine and drew a lot of attention. “The Sacred Crest” equals, if not surpasses, that well-remembered epic.
After a few pages of regular material – “Fandom Report,” a summary of GRAFAN meetings past and yet to come, and current activities of its members – we come, on page 7, to the issue’s main attraction. Aspiring artist me drew the gripping hand and broadsword directly on to the mimeograph stencil, the first half of what I thought would make a striking double-page spread.
“The Sacred Crest” by James Theis begins:
Squatting a full bow shot from the foliage of the royal forest was a lone oak tree; its bent limbs and twisted boughs lifted from an earth that stifled its roots and stunted its glory. Twisted shadows writhed over downcast limbs like formless wraiths; shambled and twined in an ever-mingling chaos that bore upon mighty limbs a weight which broke a haughty arrogance and prostrated them with an ignoble despair. But, out they grasped, gnarled and stooped with disgrace, that they may some day shatter their bounds and mount the somber throne of destiny.
Gliding from behind the oak, seeming as one with its eldritch mysteries, was a crouched form — stealthy as a stalking panther, despite its ponderous bulk. The dying sun glinted dully from dented helm and crimson corselet as it dipped redly into a horizon clouded by the smoke of battle; glinted from eyes the tint of a horizon recoiling from volcanic upheavel — eyes smoldering with mingled hate and despair that is the lot of few mortals to bear. Jutting beneath the stormy eyes was a broad nose, tapering and hooked at its end so that, combined with broad sunken cheeks and square outjutting chin, it lent to already craglike features the predatory sneer of a descending vulture coupled with the aloft and noble bearing of a soaring eagle.”
Eventually Grignr must confront an enemy captain, a “mercenary from the tribes south of the Borthunian wastes.”
Grignr passed his eyes rapidly over the captain and licked his chops with anticipation of locking arms with a worthy opponent.
“Ho scullion maids, be you afraid to set steel against a lone foreman?” taunted Grignr, his eyes ablaze and a wide grin curling his lips.
A tide of nervous movements swayed the column of troops, but none dare sally forth to battle.
The captain’s eyes blazed with ctempt and the scars upon his face burned redly with anger.
“What dogs do I command, that they quake at contemplation of a lone renegade! Set to it, and take him alive, before I step in and rip your yellow guts out with my own blade!”
This part of “The Sacred Crest” ends as the battle builds to climax.
Curse your hide, but you can fight,” muttered the captain as his eyes locked with Grignr’s, “but now you’ve drawn blood from this scratch a set my guts aboils for yours. If I cant take you alive then, by the Gods, I’ll split you like a boar and bind your head to the palace gates.
A wolfish grin curled Grignr’s lips; he raised his sword to cleave the captain’s skull as he recovered his lungs. Shadows crept behind cover and glided through the branches of the bent oak. The sword descended with a whistle of cleft air,
A few paragraphs later, the story is “to be continued… of course.”
The rest of the comparatively calm issue ends with a few “From the Outside” fanzine reviews by me…
…and the 1971 Comic Art Fan ballot, seeking votes for “favorite pro comic book” from nominees The Avengers, Conan, Green Lantern and The New Gods.
It would be two issues, not one, before Grignr appeared again. The second part of “The Sacred Crest” appeared in Son of Grafan #15, May, 1972. But that’s another story.
Or more accurately: a continuation.
It was only recently, in 2021, that a mutual friend hinted that Jim’s original Grignr story, “Eye of Argon,” had gained a kind of infamy in science-fiction fandom. I genuinely had no idea. When I read online reviews that suggested, in a hazy, seeming word-of-mouth backstory, Jim “never wrote anything again,” I thought, well, regardless of what one thinks of Jim’s teen-age writing or the outsized, somewhat cruel reaction to it, that fact is just not true.
He wrote “The Sacred Crest.”
And Grignr lived again.
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