It will come as a surprise to no one that Jeffrey Lord, supposedly the scribe behind 37* books about a dimension-hopping James Bond/Conan the Barbarian ripoff, is entirely fictional. The Richard Blade books aren’t the sort of thing any author with an ounce of self-respect would attach their real name to. And no one would churn out nearly 40 of these things unless they were some sort of literary sadomasochist.
So who were the poor souls being paid by the word behind this ultra-pulpy series? According to Wikipedia, Manning Lee Stokes wrote the first eight books. He then handed off scripting duties to Roland J. Green, who would pen all the rest of the books with the exception, for some reason, of #30, Dimension of Horror, which was written by Ray Faraday Nelson.
But Manning Lee Stokes wrote the first octet of Blade novels, including the three books reviewed so far, setting the tone for the rest of the series. So in this post let’s dig into what we know about the guy. We’ll save Mr. Green and Mr. Nelson for another day.
This is, unfortunately, something of an exercise in filling in the blanks, since there’s not much out there on the internet about Mr. Stokes, other than his extensive bibliography.
Manning Lee Stokes died in 1976, but was fairly prolific right up until the end. He had a 16 books published under his own name – mostly murder mysteries (this includes the amazing title, Corporate Hooker, Inc). He wrote another 69(!) books under pseudonyms, many of which were series that, similar to the Richard Blade books, featured a rotating stable of writers. In the late 40’s and early 50’s Stokes also wrote some comic books. This would have been right before the crash and the institution of the notorious Comics Code Authority. Unsurprisingly, he also contributed stories for men’s magazines of the era, such as Action for Men.
Stokes also had a couple of novels published in French, believe it or not. Almost makes him sound like a classy guy, but then you remember that he wrote Corporate Hooker, not to mention Slave of Sarma.
The weird thing is that Stokes does bring a certain air of dignity even to the loincloth-clad adventures of Richard Blade. The vocabulary he deploys is miles above what is necessary for this kind of sleazy pulp. I have had to look up a couple words every time I cracked open one of Stokes’ Blade novels.
He also plots his books much more densely than the subject matter strictly requires – occasionally to the books’ detriment, as the various twists and intricacies get tiresome at times. The reader just wants to see Blade fight monsters and bone sexy ladies, and here comes Stokes layering on the subtleties and intrigue.
Stokes’ literary career, such as it was, picks up with The Wolf Howls “Murder” in 1945, which strongly suggests that Stokes fought in World War II. In his thirties during the war, he would not have been too old to take part.
I find Stokes’ writing in the Richard Blade series to be an odd blend of highbrow and lowbrow. It makes you wonder if he could have written something really fine, if he’d had time to take a breath and slow down for a minute. Instead he was churning out books for multiple series at what must have been a dizzying pace for most of his career.
Richard Blade wasn’t even Stokes’ first stab at writing a series featuring a James Bond ripoff. The Nick Carter (aka “Killmaster”) series was another house series that he wrote for. Nick Carter, as far as I can tell, never traveled to Dimension X, though.
Detailed biographical information about Stokes is sketchy. I can tell you that he married his brother’s wife after his brother died. I bet there is an interesting story there. Given his willingness to write under virtually any name for virtually any genre and even to try different mediums (magazines, comic books), he was clearly writing mostly to put food on the table. Was he content to slog in the trenches, writing pulp and sleaze under a series of pseudonyms? Or did he aspire to more?
Stokes did very little writing for ‘respectable’ publishers during his career. Pre-code comics, men’s magazines, pseudonymous pulp series, romance novels – this stuff was the dingy and disreputable bottom of the literary barrel. And yet, here is a guy who knew more than a few words and whose mastery of French was fine enough to write novels in the language.
I’m guessing that Manning Lee Stokes had aspirations beyond the pulps. Too bad for him, he never really got a chance to express them. But pop culture got some stuff that was a little more highbrow and erudite than it deserved.
If anyone finds any links with more information than what I’ve managed to unearth here about Stokes, I’d love to see them. Leave a comment.
We now return to our irregularly scheduled reviews of Richard Blade novels.
* That’s 37 books… in English. Here’s a fascinating tidbit from Wikipedia:
In the early 1990s the Russian publishers could secure the rights to only the first six books in the series, and approached the translator – Mikhail Akhmanov – to write the further adventures of Richard Blade. Together with then young sci-fi author Nick Perumov and others, Akhmanov wrote over sixteen sequels to the adventures of Richard Blade[.]
I dearly wish I could read Russian.