Red Sonya, Red Sonja and the Dirty Old Wizard Part 3 (now we’re definitely NSFW)

The beautiful Linda Behrle, living up to Frank Thorne’s fantasies.

Okay, time to wrap up this series. My apologies for the delay — it’s been a busy few weeks. And oh yeah — if you didn’t get it from the title, we’re getting into some nakedness today so this entry ain’t for kids or folks at work. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So what to say about Frank Thorne’s Ghita, a sword-and-sorcery warrior woman, with all the baggage, good and bad, that accompanies such a title?

I guess that depends very much upon whether you see her as an independent character, or as an outgrowth of Frank Thorne’s Red Sonja obsession — an evolution, an homage, a pastiche or an entirely different individual.

When I first discovered H.P. Lovecraft in my youth I took it upon myself to read every story that the master had written. Unfortunately, in my haste I ended up absorbing those stories that were, in those days anyway, marketed as “posthumous collaborations” between HPL and his chief champion, August Derleth, and Mr. Derleth’s spin on the dark cosmic horror of the Lovecraft universe was a bit off kilter.

Don’t even bother trying, Conan. You’re not getting any of that.

Both Derleth and others who have followed his lead such as Brian Lumley saw the Lovecraft universe, not as a dark dead-end for the human race in which we are less than worms beneath the feet of incomprehensible cosmic forces, but as simple tales of good versus evil. Much of what used to be considered HPL canon was the result of Derleth’s meddling, and his creation of such entities as the Elder Gods, whom he saw as the ceaseless foes of the Great Old Ones like Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth. Dwelling on a distant star (Betelgeuse, I believe), the Elder Gods were benevolent defenders of mankind against the ceaseless cosmic evil and diabolical plots of Cthulhu and his minions. It was Derleth who popularized the term “Cthulhu Mythos” (Lovecraft himself never used such terminology) and invented other aspects of the lore, such as insisting that the Old Ones were based on the classic elements (Cthulhu was water, Shub-Niggurath earth, and so on — since he couldn’t think of a fire deity, Derleth invented Cthugha the fire-god) and speculating that bands of heroic humans could face down the evil machinations of the Old Ones and their minions.

A sketch of Ghita. I think we can all agree exactly where Frank Thorne’s head is at, can’t we?

Okay, taking a universe of dark and hopeless cosmic horror and turning it into good versus evil Saturday morning serials is all well and good, but I’m of the opinion that if you don’t like what an author is doing, you should write your own stories, not pastiches that tell a completely different story. The book that I’m currently rewriting is my own effort to put Lovecraftian concepts into a slightly less dark and hopeless universe, for example.

So after that long-winded introduction, how does that relate to Ghita re: Red Sonja? Well, I guess it’s this: if Ghita was Frank Thorne’s “Derleth Mythos” — an attempt at doing Red Sonja “correctly” or “as she should have been” then I’m not terribly thrilled. If it was an attempt to take elements of the Red Sonja book and make something new out of them, I’m less put off.

More Sonja, cuz I say so.

Keep in mind that Red Sonja as we know her is really a creation of Marvel Comics, and there are some aspects of her that I find kind of offensive. As noted in previous entries, Marvel’s Sonja is a victim who picks up a sword and is blessed by a goddess. She wields her sexuality as a weapon, an enticement, and a motivation for her to go slice men’s heads off.

This notion that a woman can gain that kind of power only by being raped really bugs me. Conan was never raped (that we know of, anyway) — he picked up a sword because he was a Cimmerian, and that’s what Cimmerians fucking do. The same can be said for REH’s other heroines — Dark Agnes, Belit, Valeria. God damn, the man could write kickass female characters. The Marvel Sonja might have come from his pen, but she’s definitely a lesser character than the others, who fight because they want to, not because some wandering goddess made them do it.

That said, Ghita’s actually a little less offensive and sexist in some ways that Marvel’s Sonja. Of course, she starts off the book as the sexy, golden-haired concubine of King Khalia, lounging naked in her bedchamber with her lover, a bearded, slightly paunchy, aging wizard named Thenef…

Ghita basks in the afterglow with that wizard who looks kinda like a certain artist we all know and love…

Hey, wait a second! A bearded, wisecracking, aging wizard? Could it be that… No, no… It can’t be more self-portraiture from Frank Thorne, the wizard who conjured the five Red Sonjas…?

Naaaah, that would be silly…

Well, Thenef isn’t really a wizard, he’s a stage magician who’s convinced the brave and handsome (but apparently rather stupid) King Khalia that he’s a powerful sorcerer, and he slips a little to Ghita whenever Khalia is off slaying trolls.

Unfortunately it just so happens that Khalia himself has fallen in battle with said trolls, and they’re about to sack the ancient city of Alizarr. Mortally wounded, King K is brought back to the palace, insisting that Thenef perform a ritual to resurrect Alizarr’s ancient hero, Khan-Dagon. His advisors agree that this is a great plan. What could possibly go wrong?

Khalia gives Thenef the ancient stone, the Eye of Tammuz, said to have the power to resurrect the dead, but he predictably bungles it, leaving it to Ghita to grab the gem and inadvertently bring Khan-Dagon back from the dead.

Khan-Dagon doesn’t turn out to be what the dying king and his advisors expected — upon arising naked from the slab, he sets his piggish little eyes on the bountifully-endowed Ghita, declaring “Woom-an! Wet notch! Smooth melon-teats! It has been too long! Where is the gin-mead? My jungs are afire! I must have her!”

Khan-Dagon, sword and sorcery fratboy.

Apparently Khan-Dagon was on the varsity football team in high school, because instead of stepping in to save his beloved city from the troll hordes he grabs Ghita, tears off her clothes and has his way with her, bellowing “I shall ride this mare till sunup!!”

Okay, so Ghita’s origin as a sword-slinging heroine starts off with her being raped as well. Thorne definitely plays it for laughs, but I’m not sure how many people might find it funny. Being a bit timid, Thenef grabs a dagger but doesn’t kill Khal-Dagon but instead passes the dagger to Ghita, who stabs the resurrected king, reducing him back to mummy status, takes his sword and retrieves the gem.

As in so many similar stories, Ghita shrugs off being raped by an undead ancient god-king as if it was a minor inconvenience. “By the fates, Thenef,” she declares, “he was swollen like a horse’s wad.”

Well, as the walls have fallen and the trolls are busy ravaging Alizarr, I guess there are more important things to worry about, and so Ghita and Thenef scavenge weapons and armor prepare to slip out of the city.

Ghita! Be careful! That thing’s sharp.

In the tunnels leading out they encounter a sycophantic half-troll named Dahib who immediately decides that Ghita is a goddess. Ghita bandages Dahib’s injured leg and in return Dahib modifies some of the armor that she stole from the tomb so that she can wear it. Presto! Ghita now looks a lot like you-know-who and her extremely minimal panoply.

Now Ghita’s acting kind of strange. Apparently Khan-Dagon’s spirit passed into her when he raped her, and now she’s carrying him around with her, along with his insane martial schemes and desires for violence. Her first victim is the sword she stole.

“I must press the blade between my breasts,” she says “I would run it along my belly. My crotch will rub against it… This death-shaft will be my lover. I will kiss and fondle it… It is a great penis! Eternally erect. Forever hard!”

Gah. Our narrative is about to break what the MST3K guys called the goofy meter, and in a slightly unsettling fashion.

Well, she does what she says, humps the sword and orgasms all over it. Did I mention that 1984 magazine was clearly marked “adults only”? It was a pretty bizarre book, let me tell you… Maybe I’ll discuss it more fully someday.

So now fully equipped with magic gem, warlord’s soul and penis-like sword, Ghita and her companions fight their way out of the city. She was never much of a fighter before, but now Ghita’s a hot blond vege-matic, slicing and dicing dozens of trolls while also making hundreds of julienne French fries. She realizes that it’s Khan-Dagon who’s making her do this, and she isn’t thrilled.

“Khan-Dagon,” she says, “you are within me, and I loathe your presence.”

Keep it classy, Thenef. Keep it classy.

Drunk, overworked and still dealing with that whole possession thing, Ghita passes out once they’ve escaped and Thenef slings her across his saddle bow, charming saying as he does so, “You’ll ride with your bare bum looking at the stars, and you owe me the privilege of kissing it!”

From there, our trio seeks out an army to retake Alizarr. Dahib suggests his own fellow half-trolls, who hate the trolls and would follow her. After wandering about a bit and never missing an opportunity to take off her clothes, Ghita rejects the advances of a real, live unicorn (he’s important later in the saga), then does the hoochie-koochie for a bunch of evil trolls in a tavern, shaking her “teats” (also repeatedly referred to as “paps” and “nubs” every chance that Thorne can get) long enough to distract them, then cuts them into tiny pieces. An attempt to raise slain human warriors with the Eye of Tammuz fails, so Ghita and company end up in a refugee camp with a bunch of other Alizarrian expatriates.

Trolls are evidently quite easy to distract. But then, so are most guys.

Among them is the devastatingly handsome pretty-boy Temmen who wants to join her army. Ghita looks him up and down, notes that he doesn’t wear very many clothes either, and lets him join up as they ride to find the home of the vengeful half-trolls.

Once she’s (pretty easily) won over the half-trolls to her cause, Ghita slips away with Temmen for some “tumbumping” (another term that gets used to great excess) while the disappointed Thenef watches from the bushes.

Fortunately for the heartbroken Thenef, it turns out that Temmen is actually a troll assassin in disguise, and when he tries to stab the blond-haired goddess, she turns the tables and rids the world of him. She and Thenef go off for some drunken shagging (excuse me… tumbumping), and after she passes out from too much gin-mead, Ghita is kidnapped by high priest Sef, who doesn’t want his fellow half-trolls worshipping a chesty blonde bimbo instead of their traditional god, an amorphous thing called Drill (???).

Thenef watches his snuggle-muffin doing it with an empty-headed young stud. Hey bro, I know those feels.

Sef has a pretty unhealthy relationship with Drill (or at least with Drill’s psuedopod). “Love of mine,” he tells Drill as he offers Ghita’s naked (naturally) body to the god, “my faithfulness was tested by this vile woman. She tempted me. She would have me fondle her and desired that I frig her in each of the seven gates of her wretched body. I blush to say how many times she begged the use of my stout rod. But I did not succumb to her allure. Nay, I was true to you, my love.”

Hey, Sef — you’re supposed to love your god. Not LOOOOOOVE your god…

Dahib and Thenef arrive just in time to intervene in the sacrifice, but unfortunately Ghita and Sef go tumbling into the darkness, toward the god Drill who lies below.

Sef doesn’t mind, as the caption tells us. Sef cackles triumphantly as they plummet downward toward his god-lover. With his free hand he rapidly strokes his scaly penis to an instant bespattering climax. Finally union with his deity will at last be realized and Ghita, the debauched false goddess, will be delivered to the fires of purification.

Now say what you will about Sef, but the ability to rub one out while plummeting toward your death is nothing to sneeze at.

Sef the Love-Troll, ladies and gentlemen.

It turns out that Drill is actually a vast protoplasmic creature that lives in the depths and Thenef figures out that the Eye of Tammuz can be used to control it. After dispatching Sef, Dahib helps Ghita escape the pit and with her army of half-trolls and a gigantic slimy amoeba at her command, she begins the assault on golden Alizarr.

Before the attack Ghita allows herself to be captured by the trolls in the hope that they will bring her before their king, Nergon. It’s also an opportunity to see her captured, stripped and variously humiliated by the trolls, but she eventually gets close enough to Nergon to behead him as her army and it’s monocellular battering ram bash through the city walls and liberate the oppressed humans of Alizarr.

What the fuck is a “thrush-muffin” anyway?

In the aftermath, Ghita returns Khan-Dagon’s sword and tells him what a prick he is, then rejects an offer from the goddess Tammuz to continue to fight as her champion. Ghita’s first adventure ends with her being declared empress of Alizarr, and choosing to rule jointly with Thenef and Dahib.

The second story in Eros’ Ghita collection is called The Thousand Wizards of Urd, and is actually a pretty decent story, moving beyond the farcical sexual aspects of the first and actually dealing with some fairly thoughtful emotional issues. The Eros volume concludes with The Deathman’s Head, clearly created several years later (possibly especially for this volume), with art that is more delicate and nuanced than Thorne’s earlier work.

So to recap, what are we to make of Ghita? On the surface, it’s Frank Thorne sexualizing his beloved Red Sonja, but on closer inspection there really isn’t a huge amount sex in the book — it’s all very R-rated, much tamer than his stuff in “Iron Devil,” for example.

Ghita kicks some troll ass, while of course showing off some of her own.

What there is, I think, is a lot of vulgarity, with its talk of “paps,” “jungs,” “tumbumping,” “wet notches” and “teats,” its sword-humping, its sacred prostitution, casual rape and Thorne’s shameless self-portraiture. Sex in the Thorne world is pretty tawdry, not at all romantic and to me not terribly sexy. Others I’m sure find it appealing, but it really doesn’t do much for me.

But there’s also gold here, and a halfway decent tale of vengeance, possession, swords and sorcery. Part One, The Golden Goddess of Alizarr is a bit of a diamond in the rough however, and the increasing sophistication of The Thousand Wizards of Urd — a tale that actually put me somewhat in mind of Fritz Leiber’s saucier fantasies — makes one wonder where the series would have gone if Thorne had kept up.

Thorne continued along the erotic route after Ghita, doing an SF series called Lann for Heavy Metal and a bizarre hardcore book called Iron Devil for Eros. He also brought us Danger Rangerette (National Lampoon) and Moonshine McJuggs (Playboy) which were about what you’d expect from the titles.

Worst… Issue… Ever…

Unsurprisingly Thorne’s Ghita had detractors. A couple of letters to 1984 are reproduced in the Eros book, saying variously “Series such as Herma and Ghita are insults to any mature person. Only an incompletely developed, grossly warped point of view could have led to the base fantasies found within your magazine,” “How could you even consider presenting a no-talent hack like Frank Thorne in the copy of such excellent artists as Richard Corben, Rudy Nebres, Alex Nino, Alfredo Alcala and Wally Wood?” and “I know it won’t do any good for me to beg you not to publish more of Thorne’s grade-z imitation garbage.”

In the pages of Dave Sims’ Cerebus the Aardvark, the warrior-woman Red Sophia declared that no man would have her who had not first defeated her in battle. Needless to say the titular Aardvark does exactly that, so Sophia ends up marrying him. At one point in the series, the demented wizard Henrot creates a magical clone of Sophia, and explains it to Cerebus thusly:

Henrot: I wanted to remove the negative parts and accentuate the more (ahem) positive aspects

Cerebus: You wanted them to hang to her knees.

Henrot: Precisely! I mean: Don’t be a wiseass aardvark. But it didn’t work. She started calling me “Foul toad-humper, when are you gonna croak? Huh? When?” and coming home drunk and drinking at all hours of the night, singing and making lewd noises with various parts of her anatomy. I named her “Geeta” after an old Borealean word meaning “She of the foul mouth and dynamite knockers.”

Wendy Pini’s Red Sonja outfit. Now if only she’d illustrated Elfquest while she was dressed like this, some fans fantasies would be complete.

Sims was a fan of Thorne’s but I read an interview in which he mentions that he created Geeta as a response to Ghita, as he didn’t much like where Thorne had taken the character.

Did Thorne take the beloved Red Sonja and get her all sexed up? My answer is no – at least no more than did Roy Thomas and the folks at Marvel. The tough-talking, no-nonsense warrior woman from Shadow of the Vulture certainly traveled a long way, and the notion of turning her into an outraged rape victim was, I think, a somewhat greater crime than making her a sacred warrior-whore.

The idea that a goddess would directly intervene in human affairs and make Sonja her champion is a lot more of a comic book idea than anything like what Howard wrote, anyway. While I’m a huge fan of REH, I’m anything but an expert and I don’t have an encyclopedic memory for the details of the Conan saga. That said, I do not remember gods intervening directly very often and even then their presence is minimal – Conan himself is pretty cynical about the whole thing, even being surprised when he meets a priest who actually believes in his god (in Jewels of Gwahlur, I believe). So to have a goddess personally manifest and gift Sonja with her unique (and uniquely frustrating) curse – no sex until she’s beaten in combat – is a little odd.

I REALLY need to start attending more comic cons. BTW, Brittany Love’s version of Sonja clearly has the “Fight in high heels” feat…

But (and as I’m currently amassing the complete Savage Sword of Conan collection from Dark Horse it might be a topic for future entries) that’s pretty much par for the course, as the comics Conan loses some of his punch and drama when compared to his literary counterpart. Let’s face it – the only guy who really did justice to Conan was his creator – all the others, be they pastiche writers, revisionists or comic book creators, can’t ever equal REH’s understanding of the character.

So I’m giving Frank Thorne a pass here. Ghita is a lot of things – vulgar, overwritten, self-indulgent, with crude language and gratuitous sword-masturbation, and as a consequence not as sexy as I’d like her to be. On the other hand, Ghita is also intriguing, well-plotted, beautifully illustrated and had the potential to go in some very interesting directions. But if you’re looking for Red Sonja, you really can’t do much better than to read the master himself, Robert E. Howard, and wonder what might have been had he lived on.

2 thoughts on “Red Sonya, Red Sonja and the Dirty Old Wizard Part 3 (now we’re definitely NSFW)

  1. Tanilen

    Ah, finally the nsfw part of the article, my favorite =)

    Actually, I have enjoyed the whole series; there is a lot more than I ever imagined to the She-Devil than just her red hair and chainmail bikini. I think I actually have a Ghita graphic novel somewhere in a box in the spare room and now I feel inspired to go digging through them. Just for research, of course, to verify your findings.

    But even more pressing, I fee, is the need to get some genuine REH on my Nook to read this week. Shadow of the Vulture here I come

  2. Anthony Pryor Post author

    It’s always nice to rediscover an author’s greatness. I think my copy of SotV was lost in one of my many moves, so I’ll have to pick up some more of the new REH anthologies. Maybe Sonja’s evolved a lot since those days, but I still think you can’t beat going back to the original source material.

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