The Tékumel Novels

I think most Tékumel fans developed their interest via role-playing games,  However, Barker’s most extensive published explication of the world of Tékumel was in his Tékumel novels.  Altogether, he wrote five Tékumel novels, and all can be collected.

The Man of Gold

Barker became acquainted with science fiction publisher Don Wohlheim through miniature sculptor Bill Murray, who produced the first miniatures for Tékumel, as discussed in this post.  Wohlheim was a collector of 54mm and 90mm miniatures, which Murray produced.

The acquaintance led to a deal and Wohlheim’s DAW Books published the first of Barker’s novels, The Man of Gold, in 1984. The book has a short biographical blurb on Barker that says he had worked on developing the world of Tékumel since the age of ten.  The same blurb directs readers to the Adventure Games booklets on the Tsolyáni language and to the imminent publication of the Swords and Glory sourcebook by Gamescience (both of which will be discussed in future posts).

The Man of Gold DAW Edition Summary

  • Author: M.A.R. Barker.
  • Publisher: DAW Books (DAW Collectors Book No. 586)
  • Date: 1984.
  • Artist: (Cover) Michael Whelan
  • ISBN: 0-87997-940-2
  • Paperback, 177mm  x 105 mm  367 pages
  • Original Price: $3.50
  • Number published. 15,000 (many later pulped).
  • Rarity: Common.
  • Value: $6-$8
  • Collecting Note: This is one of the most common collectible Tékumel items. Sellers will often ask for crazy prices, but it’s fairly easy to get the original DAW version cheaply.

There is an interesting collectible item related to the DAW version of The Man of Gold.  The files section of the Tékumel Yahoo! group includes a scan of a “Michael Whelan MOG promo card.”  Whelan sold series of trading cards of his art.  Number 71 of the 1995 series had the cover art of The Man of Gold.

Thanks to reader Don Kaiser in the comments below for pointing out yet another collectible item related to The Man of Gold. Apparently, DAW also released a 18″ x 30″ poster to promote the book.  Although people seem to collect everything, a quick Internet search did not turn up anything on DAW posters.  If one survives, it’s ultra-rare.

[Image Needed for the Poster!]

Wohlheim licensed the book to Century Hutchinson Ltd in London, which brought out a UK edition in 1985.  The front matter of the UK edition is a bit different but the text is an exact imprint of the U.S. edition (same text and same page breaks).

The Man of Gold UK Edition Summary

  • Author: M.A.R. Barker.
  • Publisher:Century Hutchinson Ltd.
  • Date: 1985.
  • Artist: (Cover) Peter Jones
  • ISBN: 0-7126-1051-0
  • Paperback, 192mm  x 124mm  367 pages
  • Original Price: £2.95
  • Number published. Unknown
  • Rarity: Common.
  • Value: $6-$8
  • Collecting Note: The UK edition is also commonly available on ebay, Amazon, and Abe Books.

A German edition published by Goldmann Verlag was titled Der Ungewöhnliche Goldmann: Abenteuer in Tekumel.  The translator was Susanne Grixa, who translated some works by other fantasy authors, including Lin Carter.   I do not understand German and do not know if there were any emendations in the German version.  The cover illustration on this version is by the famous American illustrator Rowena Morrill.  However, she does not seem to have been familiar with Tékumel and her drawing does not resemble anything in the Tékumel mythos.

The Man of Gold German Edition Summary

  • Author: M.A.R. Barker.
  • German Title: Der Ungewöhnliche Goldmann: Abenteuer in Tekumel
  • Publisher: Goldmann Verlagg (#23890)
  • Translator: Susanne Grixa aka Susi Grixa
  • Date: April 1986
  • Artist: (Cover) Rowena Morrill
  • ISBN: 0-7126-1051-0
  • Paperback, 175mm  x 114mm  416 pages
  • Original Price: DM 14.80
  • Number published. Unknown
  • Rarity: Common.
  • Value: $3.50
  • Collecting Note: Another common item.  Many are available on German Amazon for three Euros including domestic shipping.

Finally, I am sure that all of you Tékumel fans are aware that the Tékumel foundation published a new edition with nice illustrations and cover art by Giovanna Fregni (who also illustrated the three later novels — see below).  I was not able to discover any textual alterations, but the new version is a nice production that includes maps and proper accents on each of the Tsolyáni words.

The Man of Gold Tékumel Foundation Edition Summary

  • Author: M.A.R. Barker.
  • Publisher: Tékumel Foundation
  • Date: 2015
  • Artist: (Cover and interior illustrations) Giovanna Fregni
  • ISBN: 978-0-9864323-1-6
  • Paperback, 228mm  x 152mm  358 pages
  • Original Price: $18.95
  • Number published. Unknown
  • Rarity: Currently available.
  • Value: $18.95

The book traces the story of Harsan, a boy raised by non-human Pe Choi as he struggles to integrate into Tsolyani society without clan or the other usual necessities of Tsolyani life. It’s usually puerile to draw too many direct connections between an author’s biography and a work of fiction. Joyce was not Stephen Daedalus, though he may have been the man in the brown Macintosh.  Still, I’ll venture to say that Barker’s experience growing up as a near-sghted only child who moved frequently might have given him emotional insight into the isolation of a character like Harsan.

I will not recapitulate the whole plot of the book here, but needless to say, Harsan succeeds in his quest and by the end of the book has completed some impressive adventures and married two desirable women.

The plot of The Man of Gold the book has some pacing issues that reflect Barker’s inexperience as an author.  Barker admitted himself that he was not a virtuoso writer and I’d describe the style of the book as carefully workmanlike.  However, any fan of Tékumel will appreciate the thick description of the Tékumel world from Chakan proverbs to styles of dress to the details of other planar magic.  Some wonderful set pieces also give the flavor of religious celebration in Tsolyanu, as well as the “underpeople” of sentient and half sentient races that live in the shadows of human rule.


Though The Man of Gold does not seem to have been a best seller (half of the original run of 15,000 was pulped according to one source), DAW books published another of Barker’s Tékumel novels, Flamesong, in 1985.  Unlike The Man of Gold there is no UK or foreign language edition of Flamesong.

Flamesong is not a sequel to The Man of Gold and has a different cast of characters.  Flamesong is the best written of the Tékumel novels with some nice shading of character and a better structured plot. It’s not perfect, though, and one wonders about the plausibility of the dynamics among the soldiers. Regardless, the book is another gold mine of information for the Tékumel fan.

The first two novels are such a wealth of Tékumel information that it’s useful to know that  there are indices to both works prepared by the thorough Krista Donnelly and now in the file section of the Tékumel Yahoo! group here.

Barker and Wohlheim parted ways after Flamesong.  By one account, Barker wanted Wohlheim to take legal action against Raymond Feist for his Riftwar series, which clearly “paid homage” to Barker’s RPG work (see below), a request Wohlheim declined.  Barker also had become involved in a dispute with TSR over whether TSR had a right to royalties from the Tékumel novels.

Flamesong Summary

  • Author: M.A.R. Barker.
  • Publisher: DAW Books (DAW Collectors Book No. 643)
  • Date: 1985
  • Artists: (Cover) Richard Hescox
  • ISBN: 0-87997-940-2
  • Paperback, 177mm  x 105 mm  412 pages.
  • Original Price: $3.50
  • Number published. 7,000 (many later pulped).
  • Rarity: Common.
  • Value: $4-$8
  • Collecting Note: This is even more common than The Man of Gold.

The Three Later Novels

The next three Tékumel novels would not be published until 2001-2003. Joe Zottola was a player in Barker’s Thursday night group and his company, Zottola Publishing, acted essentially as a small vanity boutique press for Barker’s three novels.  Zottola Publshing also published the two-volume edition of Bob Alberti’s Mitlanyál as well as two issues of Volume II of the Seal of the Imperium fanzine. (Zottola Publishing also published at least one non-Tékumel-related book.)

The three later novels are all sequels to The Man of Gold, all  featuring Harsan, the Pe Choi-raised foundling.  In plot order the books are Lords of Tsámra, Prince of Skulls, and A Death of Kings.  However, for reasons I do not know, Prince of Skulls was published first in 2002, followed by  Lords of Tsámra in early 2003, and A Death of Kings in late 2003. (Hat tips to readers Joe Hoopman and Jim Fetzner for correcting me in the comments on this:  Lords of Tsámra was first released in a spiralbound self-published edition in November 2001 at  UCon.  A late August 2002 post to the Onenote forum (that became the Yahoo! forum) announces that Carl Brodt’s Tita’s House of Games now carried the novel. When Zottola Publishing released the nice paperback editions, Prince of Skulls came first in early 2002, then Lords of Tsámra in March 2003  and A Death of Kings in November 2003.)

The later novels were in much smaller print runs and, frankly, a step down in writing quality from the first two books.  The Man of Gold and Flamesong read as novels, but the last three novels read like well-edited renditions of an RPG game, which is what they were. (Edit: According to later information from Jeff Berry posted on RPGnet, the books were not recountings of actually played RPG campaigns.) However, these books are attractively designed with nice covers, interior illustrations, and maps by Giovanna Fregni, another Barker player.  Again these have so much background information that they are must-haves for the Tékumel fan.

Interestingly, A Death of Kings is the only Barker work that I know of that includes a dedication.  It is dedicated to “David L. Arneson, who has played Captain Hárchar hiVárshu so enjoyably over the years.”  (Arneson is of course the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons who was a friend of Barker’s.)

According to an Internet posting by Jeff Berry, Barker’s papers include partial notes for two other Tékumel novels, but there are no other published literary works.

Lords of Tsámra (Self-published edition) Summary

  • Author: M.A.R. Barker.
  • Publisher: Self-published
  • Date: 2001
  • Artist: No art
  • ISBN:None
  • Spiral bound.  8.5″ x 11″ and 412 pages.
  • Original Price: $50 autographed $37.50 not autographed
  • Number published. 50
  • Rarity: Extremely rare
  • Value: Not sold.
  • Collecting Note: I do not recall ever seeing one of these for sale.

Lords of Tsámra (Zottola Publishing edition) Summary

  • Author: M.A.R. Barker.
  • Publisher: Zottola Publishing
  • Date: February 2003
  • Artist: (Cover and interior illustrations) Giovanna Fregni
  • ISBN: 0-9725880-1-9
  • Paperback, 222mm  x 150 mm  286 pages.
  • Original Price: $19.95
  • Number published. 200-300
  • Rarity: Rare
  • Value: $75-$100
  • Collecting Note: There are not many of these, but they are available — for a price.

Prince of Skulls Summary

  • Author: M.A.R. Barker.
  • Publisher: Zottola Publishing
  • Date: November 2002
  • Artist: (Cover and interior illustrations) Giovanna Fregni
  • ISBN: 0-9725880-0-0
  • Paperback, 222mm  x 150 mm  193 pages.
  • Original Price: $19.95
  • Number published. 200-300
  • Rarity:Rare
  • Value: $60-$100
  • Collecting Note: Like Lords of Tsámra, there are not many of these but you can find them if you are willing to pay enough.

A Death of Kings Summary

  • Author: M.A.R. Barker.
  • Publisher: Zottola Publishing
  • Date: November 2003
  • Artist: (Cover and interior illustrations) Giovanna Fregni
  • ISBN: 0-9725880-4-3
  • Paperback, 222mm  x 150 mm 209 pages
  • Original Price: $3.50
  • Number published. 200-300
  • Rarity: Rare
  • Value: $150
  • Collecting Note: This seems to be the rarest and most expensive of the novels.

Raymond Fiest’s Riftwar

Riftwar is worth mentioning for the effect it had on the development of Tékumel publishing.   Raymond Fiest published the novel Magician in November 1982.  It is indisputable that the book, and later books in a long series called the Riftwar Saga, borrow heavily from Barker’s work.  Fiest apparently played in an RPG campaign that had elements of Tékumel and appropriated these elements for his novels.

Barker was understandably angry that Fiest had so openly taken from his work.  To a layman, it might seem cut and dry that Fiest was guilty of plagiarism. However, anyone who has worked on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) knows that the legalities of IPR do not well reflect principles of natural justice. The issue was also complicated because Barker (understandably — he was a new author) had not initially taken care to assert clear rights to his own work.

Barker apparently decided that the expense and distress of taking Fiest to court was not worth it. However, the episode colored his attitude toward collaboration for a long time. He subsequently was always protective and sensitive about his intellectual property rights.  Among some elements of the hobby, this sensitivity remains to this day.



10 thoughts on “The Tékumel Novels

  1. The reason Prince of Skulls was published before Lords of Tsamra, I believe, is because Lords of Tsamra had actually been made available in an earlier edition — spiral-bound, I’m guessing printed at Kinko’s or some similar copy shop?

    Here’s a photo of my copy. If I remember correctly, Joe Zottola initially offered them for sale in a message on the Blue Room mailing list. I actually had my copy hand-delivered — I live here in Minneapolis.

  2. Wow. This is great information. I will revise the post. The Blue Room mailing list was done by June 2000. However, I looked through the archive of the Tékumel Onelist forum (which became the Yahoo! group that still exists today) and I see that Carl Brodt offered a “spiral bound” edition in 2002 for the very high price (for the time) of $50. I have never seen a copy of this edition for resale. A true grail, I’d guess.

    • Yeah, that sounds similar to the amount that I paid for it. You might want to ask on the Yahoo! group — some of the folks there might be able to fill in more of the details on the spiral-bound edition.

      • Just to follow up a bit — it’s 8.5″ x 11″ spiral-bound. As soon as I lay hands on my copy (it’s, um, in a box. Somewhere), I’ll see if I can provide any more bibliographic info.

  3. The Spiral Bound edition of Lords of Tsamra first showed up at UCON in Nov 2001. I believe the issue was limited to 50 copies (mine is #20, and signed by M. A. R. Barker). IIRC, the books came with and without signature–with the signed versions costing more.

  4. FYI, DAW published full-size advertising posters (18″x30″) for book stores for the Man of Gold, featuring Whelan’s cover. I have one of the few surviving copies.

    • Great find. This would be an extremely rare item. The Michael Whelan cards I mention above are collected and there is an “aftermarket” on Ebay. However, I could not find anyone who sells or collect DAW posters.

  5. OK, I have my copy in hand now. As I said, it’s 8.5″ x 11″, spiral-bound (I’m guessing it was done at a Kinko’s or something similar. No copyright page or anything other than the line on the upper left corner of the front cover. My copy is autographed but not numbered, and is 412 pages long.

    Let me know if you have any questions or would like any additional photos or anything like that.

    • Thanks for this good information. I have updated the post to reflect this. I assume there are no illustrations inside?

    • No illustrations as such; just a word or two in Tsolyani script at the bottom of the last page; the same inscription from the ZotPub paperback.

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