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The Curved

The Official Harold Lamb Site

Khlit the Cossack

Khlit is Lamb's most inspired creation. A wandering Cossack hero, Khlit defies conventional stereotypes: he is not a lover, nor is he youthful or flamboyant. An excellent horseman, he is also a fine swordsman, with a fine sword (the sword itself has an interesting past, which Khlit only discovers as the series progresses), but he isn't flashy. He is gruff and moody, but no anti-hero swathed in shades of gray--he protects the innocent when it is in his power to do so. He is a firm believer in swift, sharp justice and devout in his faith, though not given to prayer or religious musings. It is his keen wit that allows him to survive through countless treacheries and intrigues. Aside from James Bond, who, when well-scripted, survives by his intellect, there are no modern heroes with whom he may be compared.

Khlit is already old when the series begins, and is forced into retirement by his brother Cossacks within the first few stories. But Khlit is hardly ready to take up life in a monastery with other aging Cossacks, and rides off to see the world. In an article written for Pulpdom magazine, Al Lybeck detailed the many lands visited by Khlit: "Circumnavigating Central Asia, Khlit encounters Persians, Turkomans, Uzbeks, Kallmarks, Chinese, Rajputs, Arabs--and frequently at loggerheads. He travels the areas of Lake Baikal, Samarkand, Hindustan, the Punjab and Kashmir, China, the river Kerulan, Tibet, Afghanistan--here is the Grand Tour of the Border which so enthralled Lamb. . . Overall, the series is more than adventure for its own sake, it is a stirring and perceptive travelogue of little-known history with sketches of the high and the low of those perilous times."

(Lybeck's entertaining and informative article, published in 1996, discusses many Lamb stories in detail, and can be purchased for a very small fee from Pulpdom.)

The Khlit stories are a pleasure even to a jaded reader, for they defy predictability. Cycles of adventure stories written by most authors become formulaic--not so the Khlit tales. While there are some standard elements within them (Khlit surviving by his wits, or sometimes teamed up with a independant woman), they are predictable only in the consistency of Khlit himself. Rarely falling back on deus ex machina, Lamb has Khlit escape from the complex situations in which he finds himself, usually by clever stratagems which the reader does not anticipate. If you often find that you can predict a story's end or plotline within the first few pages, these stories (and Lamb's fiction in general) will be a delight.

Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan and numerous other heroes, listed Lamb as a favorite author, and one can certainly see Lamb's influence in some of Howard's stories. Fritz Leiber may also have read some Lamb, for the wanderings of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have some similarities to Khlit's own. Both Howard and Leiber wrote of sorcery and imaginary worlds, whereas Lamb did not--but Lamb's settings are so different to the modern Western reader that he might as well have been writing of Burroughs' Mars.

It is my contention that Lamb's fiction has cast a long shadow over the entire fantasy genre, one that for the most part remains unacknowledged. Readers of modern fantasy and sword and sorcery will feel very much at home with Khlit.

All of these stories have at last been collected by Bison Books in four large volumes, and can be found in many bookstores as well as at

The following chart lists the stories in the Khlit cycle in order, and indicates in what format they were published.



Book Appearance

Issue of Adventure Magazine



The Mighty Manslayer

Nov. 1 1917


Wolf's War

The Mighty Manslayer

Jan. 1 1918


Tal Taulai Khan

The Mighty Manslayer

Feb. 14 1918



The Curved Saber

August 1 1918


The Mighty Manslayer

The Curved Saber

Oct. 15 1918


The White Khan

The Mighty Manslayer

Dec. 15 1918


Changa Nor

The Curved Saber

Feb. 1 1919


Roof of the World

The Curved Saber

April 15 1919


The Star of Evil Omen

The Curved Saber

July 15 1919


The Rider of the Gray Horse

The Curved Saber

Sept. 15 1919


The Lion Cub

The Curved Saber

June 1 1920


Law of Fire


July 15 1920


The Bride of Jagannath

The Curved Saber

Aug. 1 1920


The Masterpiece of Death


Sept. 15 1920


The Curved Sword


Nov. 1 1920



The Curved Saber

Sept.30 1925


White Falcon

White Falcon

Nov.30, Dec. 10, 20 1925


The Winged Rider

The Mighty Manslayer

Jan. 10 1926


The Wolf Master

Kirdy: The Road out of the World

Dec. 8, 1926

The FOUR stories "Law of Fire," "The Masterpiece of Death," "The Bride of Jagannath," and "The Curved Sword" feature Khlit teamed up with the formidable Abdul Dost, a Moslem swordsman who appears in his own cycle of stories. All of these tales can now be found in the Bison collection Warriors of the Steppes.

The Curved Saber and The Mighty Manslayer

(Doubleday, 1964, Doubleday, 1969)

The Curved Saber and The Mighty Manslayer collect most of the Khlit stories. Unfortunately, both are out of print. Editions are occasionally available on online book search services. The smaller volume, The Mighty Manslayer, is still affordable, and can even be found in paperback, but The Curved Saber is rare enough and in high enough demand that it can be somewhat expensive. The preceding chronological list of Khlit's adventures details the contents of both volumes.

White Falcon

(McBride, NY, 1926. Originally published in Adventure in three parts)

This novel features an aged Khlit, his grandson Kirdy, Ayub, and Demid. Khlit bargains with Czar Boris Gudonov for the release of Demid and his Cossack troop, the condition being that they must raid a Moslem stronghold beyond the Aral Sea. Fast-paced and crammed with action, this is one of Lamb's finest stories. It is now extremely hard to come by. The hardback does not contain Lamb's introduction to the piece, detailing the actual history behind the story, nor does it contain the song of the Cossacks, both of which were printed in Adventure.

For this novel Lamb bent his chronology somewhat--in two earlier tales of Demid and Ayub it is stated quite clearly that Czar Gudonov is dead, but he is very much alive here, and the events obviously take place after those of the earlier Ayub and Demid adventures. Lamb apparently found a story that was too good not to tell, and saw it fitted for his existing characters. Being the stickler for historical accuracy that he was, he set it at the proper time with the proper Czar and ignored the slightly jarring inconsistency.

Kirdy: The Road Out of the World

(Doubleday, 1933. Originally published as The Wolf Master in Adventure)

Khlit, elderly by this time, appears only briefly in this novel, which is centered around Kirdy's search for the false Czar, Dmitri. Dmitri has betrayed a troop of Cossacks and Khlit's grandson tracks him from place to place as the Czar's fortunes turn, encountering numerous obstacles and winning the hand of the lovely Nada, granddaughter of "The Wolf Master" along the way. I didn't find this story as stirring as the others in this series, perhaps because I missed wily old Khlit. It is a little easier to find than copies of White Falcon. Kirdy also appears in "Bogatyr," "White Falcon," and "The Winged Rider."

Khlit's End

The last we hear of Khlit is in the final Ayub story, The Outrider: "Khlit had vanished again, going off somewhere alone after Kirdy was lost in the steppe." Readers of Kirdy, of course, know that Kirdy found love in the steppe in the person of Nada and wandered over the Himalayas with her, but we are left wondering what becomes of Khlit. The elderly warrior by this time is too weak to handle his famed saber, which he has turned over to Kirdy. His one wish was to see Kirdy installed into the ranks of Cossacks with which Khlit had ridden as a youth, and there is no indication that Kirdy returned to do this. Surely Khlit would not have been pleased that his grandson, a promising warrior, apparently chose domestic bliss over a career like Khlit's own. Readers might have wished a different end to the cycle, but perhaps it is best that Khlit, whose home is the Steppe, disappears at last within it like an old soldier fading away.




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