On My Shelves: Myth Adventures by Robert Asprin and Phil Foglio



     Robert Asprin wrote quite a number of books and was well-known as an editor on others, and a co-creator of the fairly successful Thieves' World shared-world setting, which I may write about in another entry. But what he may have been best known for was his comedic fantasy entry Another Fine Myth and the subsequent long-running series of novels based on the adventures and misadventures of young failed thief and would-be wizard Skeeve, scaly, blustering, and devious "demon" Aahz ("Oz?"  "No relation."), and a diverse cast of characters spanning multiple countries and dimensions.


     The first of these novels, Another Fine Myth, was later adapted into graphic novel format under the title "Myth Adventures" by none other than the great Phil Foglio, himself best known for his work on Girl Genius (and among geeky gamers for his "What's New?" strip in Dragon magazine). Foglio's detailed, expansive, exaggerated, and lush style was perfectly suited to this tale, which moves from the pathetic to the comedic to the epic by turns, and often combines all three.


     What makes this graphic novel version of Myth Adventures darn near unique is that it is actually superior to the original book in almost every way. That's somewhere between rare and unheard of in adaptations, and especially comic-book adaptations which often have to delete large swaths of prose in order to get the story told in reasonable time and space.


SPOILERS will abound in the following discussion, so if you don't want any, I'll just say that it’s a really awesome story and you should go read it if you want some lighter fare that's really well done.

















     The basic idea driving the story is that Skeeve was a not-very-successful young (I'm not sure of his exact age, but I don't think he starts the book at more than 20, and maybe considerably younger) thief who got caught trying to rob a reclusive wizard's hut. The wizard, named Garkin, saw something in Skeeve that others hadn't, and instead of punishing him took the near-starved boy in as an apprentice.


     Just as Skeeve has succeeded at his first real feat of magic – lighting a candle with his mind alone – Garkin decides to celebrate by showing Skeeve what a fully advanced wizard can do, and summons a demon.


     Garkin is shot dead by an assassin just as the summoning completes, although Garkin's final spell kills the assassin as well. The demon, however, is still present, and Garkin's death unbound the wards that held it.


     However, the joke's on Skeeve; "demon" is actually short for "dimensional traveler", and the "demon" that Garkin summoned, while fearsome looking, is actually a colleague of Garkin's; the two of them have a bargain that allows them to summon each other as the "demon" to scare their respective apprentices. They also tend to play jokes on each other when doing the summons.


     Unfortunately, Garkin's death poses a problem for both of them, as it turns out Garkin's last joke was to douse the demon, Aahz, in a powder that removes his magical powers. It's easily curable under the right circumstances… but with Garkin dead,it becomes much harder. And there is the looming question of who wanted Garkin dead… and what that means for Skeeve's continued survival.


     This forces Aahz to team up with Skeeve; Skeeve may be untrained but he can, at least, do magic, while Aahz may not be able to do the magic but he knows a lot about it, and can teach Skeeve. They quickly discover that behind the assassination is an old enemy of both Garkin and Aahz: a very powerful and amoral wizard named Isstvan.


     This is one of the areas in which the adapted version is far superior to the original. In the original, Isstvan was, while crazy, in many ways a fairly generic Evil Wizard Guy. In the adapted version, he's an old enemy of Aahz, Garkin,and a number of other characters we meet along the way, who was in fact responsible for Garkin – a very powerful and skilled wizard –living in a hut in the woods of a backwater dimension. Isstvan had put a curse on Garkin that made him able to drain magic from anything in his environment and use it to power his spells.


This made Garkin potentially inconceivably powerful. Unfortunately, doing this was like using a drug, filled with pleasure, hideously addictive, and ultimately leading to Garkin turning into a rampaging magic-drunk force of destruction, consuming all the magic in range in order to gain the power to consume MORE magic and cast more spells. In order to keep from being a monster, Garkin had to give up magic almost entirely. It says a great deal about what Garkin saw in Skeeve that Garkin was willing to risk getting involved in magic again to teach Skeeve.


Myth Adventures continues in this vein, introducing standard fantasy tropes and then torquing them around anywhere from just a tiny bit "off" to a full 180-degree turn, and occasionally a complete 360, spinning the trope so far that it comes back to meet itself in the middle. While the book itself was highly entertaining, I again must emphasize that the combination of Asprin and Foglio is considerably superior – especially in the final denoument which is resolved with far more dramatic and comedic effectiveness, as well as clarifying what Isstvan's motives were for the entire sequence of events.


I won't spoiler the novel further; either the comic or the original are well worth reading, and the series continued for quite some volumes. I think the later ones became somewhat weaker, but at least the first three or four were very good and follow Skeeve's development into a competent wizard and perhaps more, while constantly becoming involved with various threats ranging from the personally annoying (getting paid for doing work) to the world-threatening.  I very much recommend the series!







Your comments or questions welcomed!