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The Treasure of Atlantis
By J Allan Dunn

Reviewed by Rob Gates
Rating: none given

Different people collect different things—Star Trek figures, comic books, videos, trading cards, you name it. Although I’ve been known to collect a number of these things, my real passion is for books. Old books, new books, good books, bad books—you name it, and I’ve got them in abundance. I’m hard pressed to pass a bookstore, new or used, without going in; and harder pressed to keep from buying something while there. My obsession has resulted in my discovery of a number of bombs, but also in a number of real gems. The Treasure of Atlantis is one of the gems.

The Treasure of Atlantis was originally published in 1916 in a single issue of All Around Magazine and was republished in 1970 by Centaur Press as part of their “Time-Lost” Series of books. The “Time-Lost” series was a valiant attempt to preserve and spread some of the best swashbuckling high adventure and heroic action stories from the early 20th century adventure magazines. These magazines were one of the spawning grounds of such grand masters as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard and H. Rider Haggard among others.

The Treasure of Atlantis, by J. Allan Dunn, has all the trappings of the classic mysterious adventure tale - wealthy adventurers, mysterious artifacts, remakings of history, scheming jealous queens, love, old gods and rituals, danger, and destruction. All packed within a little over one hundred pages. With today’s market appeal of stories encompassing thousands of pages - such succinctness was refreshing.

It begins with the arrival of an orchid hunter and friend to the home of Stanley Morse - wealthy, carefree adventurer. The orchid hunter tells a gripping tale of his discovery of what may be a mysterious, hidden city, Dor, of castaways from ancient Crete - and backs his tale up by producing a golden vase of unquestionable Cretan origin. Alas, after recanting his tale about his vision of the City in the Sky and a briefly glimpsed stone stairway - Murdoch the orchid hunter dies, asking Morse to unravel the mystery of the vase and the city of Dor. An adventure for which Stanley Morse is only too ready!  After discussion with a local museum curator friend, he is joined by Gordon Laidlaw a historian, archaeologist and adventurer who theorizes that “the lost country of Atlantis, or its remains, is to be found somewhere on the American continent, where it was left after a mighty cataclysm split the earth into the continents of Africa and America and formed the Atlantic Ocean.”  This theory has made him somewhat of a laughing stock in academic circles, and he is eager to travel with Morse to prove his theory.

The two men follow Murdoch’s maps, meet with tribesmen with legends of the mysterious city, and eventually find their way to the plateau from which Murdoch first glimpsed the City in the Sky and the stairway. They and we are tantalized by a vision of the city in the sky in the mists from a river as the sun sets—letting them and us know that indeed the mystery shall soon be unraveled. As the two men and their two native companions prepare to cross the swollen and mighty river (which includes a whirlpool), they witness a remarkable scene as the rock face opposite them opens and men come out bearing a bound and gagged man. The men are unique looking natives, but the bound man is “distinctly a Greek”. Our heroes rush their plan to cross to the other side in order to rescue the man—after protecting him from the vultures who come to feed on his living flesh. The man they rescue turns out to be Kiron, the King of New Atlantis, who has been betrayed by his cousin Rana, the Queen of New Atlantis. And Ru, the high priest of Minos.

The two Americans are taken into the fabled city of Dor by Kiron, and thrust into the middle of the political scheming of Rana and RU They are welcomed into the city, feasted and eventually invited to take part in a ritual making them nobles of New Atlantis. Rana uses her ethereal beauty and charms to lure Morse into her web of schemes, only to find him difficult to conquer. Indeed, Morse’s strength of will is only matched by his strength of body as he defeats a local boxing champion to win the hearts of the people. But as the schemes of RU and Rana slowly begin to take shape, trouble is brewing. The volcano which looms over New Atlantis has been becoming more active, and the waters of the lake have been heating up. After an attempted murder during the ritual marking them as nobles, Morse is rescued by the beautiful Leona, the virgin High Priestess of Pasiphae, the Moon Goddess. With a beauty surpassing that of Rana, and her strong personality, she quickly wins the heart of Morse. But his love could not be requited, for she is forsworn to the Goddess...or could it?  Tragedy at the Festival of Pasiphae gives Morse an opportunity to repay the life debt when he rescues Leona from drowning in the lake, and before she is taken away he sees confirmation in her eyes that indeed she loves him too.

Everything comes to a head over the course of the next 24 hours - Morse sneaks to the island of the priestesses and confronts Leona; they are caught embracing by RU’s men; and the couple are faced with certain doom as a way to appease the gods who seem to be growing angrier with the clouds growing from the volcano and the lake temperature rising quickly. But with the help of Kiron, his own love (a priestess herself) and Tele the ancient astrologer, the heroes win the day, save themselves and their loves and escape the doom that befalls New Atlantis.

There was nothing new in this wonderful adventure—the settings, the characters, the plot have all been seen countless times before. But Dunn has managed to weave together an entirely entertaining story. He even adds a few twists - making the women Leona and Lycida as heroic as the men as they fight alongside their lovers in the final escape from the mobs of New Atlantis.

And of course, the book is filled with homoerotic undertones. There are countless references to the manly physiques of both Morse and Laidlaw - the men are almost always stripped down to minimal clothing and much time is spent describing the hard muscled bodies of their native guides and others while women are described simply by saying they were remarkably beautiful. Upon seeing the vision of the city in the mists, “Morse and Laidlaw turned in common impulse and clasped hands”....and as they prepare for the difficult raft ride across the river, Morse suggests “We’d better strip, Laidlaw” who obliges by peeling his “sweat-glued shirt from his massive chest”. Language like this could easily be found in the erotic gay stories of today.

All in all, The Treasure of Atlantis was a wonderful book from start to finish. It left me wanting to see more, and reminded me just why it is that I love to scour used bookstores and purchase obscure books. It's a practice I’ll definitely continue because this was certainly The Treasure of the Bookstore!

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