Tuesday, November 25, 2014
THE 100 GREATEST CROSSOVERS OF ALL TIME #37
The above illustration doesn't precisely represent the memorable crossover story presumably within. The male hero might be a passable visualization of the titular C.L.Moore protagonist "Northwest Smith," except for the fact that he's carrying a rapier rather than his trusty futuristic "heat gun"-- Smith being a space-opera hero who lives in some era when Earth has colonized the planets of this solar system.
The female illustrated, though, could never pass for the other character in the crossover, Moore's currently better-known Jirel of Joiry, an imperious noblewoman who lived in a fictitious medieval French setting. The original Jirel would never cling like the woman in the picture does: she was a fiery swordswoman who could lead her followers into battle without a second thought and could slay a sorcerer as soon as look at him.
The story "Quest of the Star-Stone" was published in a 1937 issue of WEIRD TALES, some time after both Jirel and Northwest Smith had earned some cachet, though Moore never wrote more than a dozen stories for either character. "Quest" is the only one of these in which Moore collaborated with her husband Henry Kuttner, also a renowned SF-writer, and it may be that they did so in order to let their own personal romance infuse the story.
The "Starstone" of the title, a sort of magical dingus, is what Hitchcock called a "Macguffin" over which the characters could contend. In medieval Joiry, the warrior-woman breaks into the castle of the warlock Franga to kill him. He escapes, but Jirel takes possession of his valued Starstone. Franga, who has not yet had a chance to tap its powers, can only recover it by either winning the stone from her in battle, or by forcing her to give it up of her own free will.
For no clear reason Franga travels in time to find the one agent who can help him: cosmic troubleshooter Northwest Smith. Smith accepts Franga's commission to recover his stolen property. When Franga takes Smith into the past, he inadvertently also takes Smith's Venusian buddy Yarol as well; when Yarol tries to stop Smith from going.
As a result of Franga's manipulations, Smith, Yarol and Jirel (whose names are suspiciously similar!) end up in an extradimensional world, and Sniith divines that Franga plans to double-cross his agents and leave them, and Jirel, stranded once the wizard gets the stone. Thus Jirel and Smith are forced to make common cause despite their differences.
Though Moore and Kuttner certainly don't invent any wheels here, "Starstone" is a heady pulp-action story which is given special resonance by the instantaneous lust experienced by both Smith and Jirel when they see each other. They continually check one another out whenever they're together, and only the exigencies of the narrative keep them from bumping uglies. Moore and Kuttner also throw a few humorous moments to break the tension, as when Jirel calls Smith by the name "Smeet."
This one's a treat worth seeking out in the few collections where it's appeared.