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Old 19-03-2014, 03:05 PM   #1
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Default Robert E. Howard - Creator of Conan, Kull

Two paperback collections of tales by Robert E. Howard have come my way lately, Bran Mak Morn and Kull the Fabulous Warrior King. They have captured my imagination unlike any fiction for a long time. I had read Conan the Usurper a long time ago but that was by one of the later authors of Conan stories, L. Sprague Decamp. No offense to L. Sprague - he is a fine writer, but the quality of his work barely approaches that of the master, Howard.

In Bran Mak Morn we have a hero of an ancient and dying race, the Picts, who stand behind him to fight wave after wave of invaders in Bronze Age Briton. The Picts, known to themselves as the First Race have been marginalized and forced to hide in the wastelands, mating with giants such that they have became misshapen and crude. Bran is from a line of pure Pictish royalty from the remote past. The last hope of the Picts, he is compelled to defeat the Roman invaders or die trying.

From Men of the Shadows

The ancient jerked up his head angrily, eyeing me savagely. Then he continued.
“There, in the dim haze of unnamed past, had the tribe won up from crawling sea-thing to ape and from ape to ape-man and from ape-man to savage.
“Savages they were still when they came down the coast, fierce and war-like.
“Skilled in the chase they were, for they had lived by the hunt for untold centuries. Strong-built men they were, not tall nor huge, but lean and muscular like leopards, swift and mighty. No nation might stand before them. And they were the first Men.
“Still they clad themselves in the hides of beasts and their stone implements were crudely chipped. Upon the western islands they took their abode, the islands that lay laughing in a sunny sea. And there they had their habitation for thousands and thousands of years. For centuries upon the western coast. The isles of the west were wondrous isles, lapped in sun-lit seas, rich and fertile. There the tribe laid aside the arms of war and taught themselves the arts of peace. There they learned to polish their implements of stone. There they learned to raise grain and fruits, to cultivate the soil; and they were content and the harvest gods laughed. And they learned to spin and to weave and to build them huts. And they became skilled in the working of pelts, and in the making of pottery.
“Far to the west, across the roaming waves, lay the vast, dim land of Lemuria. And anon came fleets of canoes bearing strange raiders, the half-human Men of the Sea. Perhaps from some strange sea-monster had those sprung, for they were scaly like unto a shark and they could swim for hours under the water. Ever the tribe beat them back but often they came, for renegades of the tribe fled to Lemuria. To the east and the south great forest stretched away to the horizons, peopled by ferocious beasts and ferocious ape-men.
“So the centuries glided by on the wings of Time. Stronger and stronger grew the Nameless Tribe, more skillful in craftmanship; less skilled in war and the chase. And slowly the Lemurians fared on the upward climb.
“Then, upon a day, a mighty earth-quake rocked the world. Sky mingled with sea and the land reeled between. With the thunder of gods at war, the islands of the west plunged upward and lifted from the sea. And lo, they were mountains upon the new-formed western coast of the northern continent. And lo, the land of Lemuria sank beneath the waves, leaving only a great mountainous island, surrounded by many isles which had been her highest peaks.
“And upon the western coast, mighty volcanos roared and bellowed and their flaming spate rushed down the coast and swept away all traces of the civilization that was being conceived. From a fertile vineyard the land became a desert.
“Eastward fled the tribe, driving the ape-men before them, until they came upon broad and rich plains far to the east. There they abode for centuries. Then the great ice-fields came down from the Arctics and the tribe fled before them. Then followed a thousand years of wandering.
“Down into the southern continent they fled, ever driving the beast-men before them. And finally, in a great war, they drove them forth entirely. Those fled far to the south and by means of the marshy islands that then spanned the sea, crossed into Africa, thence wandering up into Europe, where there were then no men, except ape-men.
“Then the Lemurians, the Second Race, came into the northern land. Far up the scale of life had they made their way and they were a swart, strange race; short, broad men were they, with strange eyes like unto unknown seas. Little they knew of cultivation or of craft, but they possessed strange knowledge of curious architecture and from the Nameless Tribe had they learned to make implements of polished obsidian and jade and argillite.
“And ever the great ice fields pushed south and ever the Nameless Tribe wandered before them. No ice came into the southern continent nor even near it, but it was a dank, swampy land, serpent-haunted. So they made them boats and sailed to the sea-girt land of Atlantis. Now the Atlanteans were the Third Race. They were physical giants, finely made men, who inhabited caves and lived by the chase. They had no skill in artizanship, but were artists. When they were not hunting or warring among themselves, they spent their time in painting and drawing pictures of men and beasts upon the walls of their caverns. But they could not match the Nameless Tribe in craft, and they were driven forth. They, too, made their way to Europe, and there waged savage warfare with the beast-men who had gone before them.
“Then there was war among the tribes and the conquerors drove forth the conquered. And among those was a very wise, very ancient wizard and he put a curse upon the land of Atlantis, that it should be unknown to the tribes of men. No boat from Atlantis should ever gain another shore, no foreign sail should ever sight the broad beaches of Atlantis. Girt by unsailed seas should the land lie unknown until ships with the heads of serpents should come down from the northern seas and four hosts should battle on the Isle of Sea-fogs and a great chief should rise among the people of the Nameless Tribe.
“So those crossed to Africa, oaring from island to island, and went up the coast until they came to the Middle Sea which lay enjeweled amid sunny shores.
“There did the tribe abide for centuries, and grew strong and mighty, and from thence did they spread all over the world. From the Afric deserts to the Baltic forests, from the Nile to the peaks of Alba they ranged, growing their grain, grazing their cattle, weaving their cloth. They built their crannogs in the Alpen lakes; they reared their temples of stone upon the plains of Britain. They drove the Atlanteans before them, and they smote the red-haired reindeer men.
“Then from the North came the Celts, bearing swords and spears of bronze. From the dim lands of Mighty Snows they came, from the shores of the far North Sea. And they were the Fourth Race. The Picts fled before them. For they were mighty men, tall and strong, lean built and gray-eyed, with tawny hair. All over the world Celt and Pict battled, and ever the Celt conquered. For in the long ages of peace, the tribes had forgotten the arts of war. To the waste places of the world they fled.
“And so fled the Picts of Alba; to the west and to the north and there they mingled with the red-haired giants which they had driven from the plains in ages gone by. Such is not the way of the Pict but shall tradition serve a nation whose back is at the wall?
“And so as the ages passed, the race changed. The slim, small black-haired people, mingling with the huge, coarse-featured, red-haired savages, formed a strange, distorted race; twisted in soul as in body. And they grew fierce and cunning in warfare; but forgotten the old arts. Forgotten the loom and the kiln and the mill. But the line of chiefs remained untainted. And such art thou, Bran Mak Morn, Wolf of the Heather.”

It gets even better in stories from Kull's time when Atlantis was young. In The Shadow Kingdom shapeshifting reptilians in the barbarian king's own court attempt to assassinate him.

"Slay, Kull!" rasped the Pict's voice. "They be all serpent-men!"

The rest was a scarlet maze. Kull saw the familiar faces dim like
fading fog and in their places gaped horrid reptilian visages as the
whole band rushed forward. His mind was dazed but his giant body
faltered not.

The singing of his sword filled the room, and the onrushing flood
broke in a red wave. But they surged forward again, seemingly willing
to fling their lives away in order to drag down the king. Hideous jaws
gaped at him; terrible eyes blazed into his unblinkingly; a frightful
fetid scent pervaded the atmosphere--the serpent scent that Kull had
known in southern jungles. Swords and daggers leaped at him and he was
dimly aware that they wounded him. But Kull was in his element; never
before had he faced such grim foes but it mattered little; they lived,
their veins held blood that could be spilt and they died when his
great sword cleft their skulls or drove through their bodies. Slash,
thrust, thrust and swing. Yet had Kull died there but for the man who
crouched at his side, parrying and thrusting. For the king was clear
berserk, fighting in the terrible Atlantean way, that seeks death to
deal death; he made no effort to avoid thrusts and slashes, standing
straight up and ever plunging forward, no thought in his frenzied mind
but to slay. Not often did Kull forget his fighting craft in his
primitive fury, but now some chain had broken in his soul, flooding
his mind with a red wave of slaughter-lust. He slew a foe at each
blow, but they surged about him, and time and again Brule turned a
thrust that would have slain, as he crouched beside Kull, parrying and
warding with cold skill, slaying not as Kull slew with long slashes
and plunges, but with short overhand blows and upward thrusts.

Kull laughed, a laugh of insanity. The frightful faces swirled about
him in a scarlet blaze. He felt steel sink into his arm and dropped
his sword in a flashing arc that cleft his foe to the breast-bone.
Then the mists faded and the king saw that he and Brule stood alone
above a sprawl of hideous crimson figures who lay still upon the

Lest you get the impression Howard's characters mere one-dimensional hack-and-slashers, they have a philosophical streak of immense depth. From The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune

Kull began to wish that he might enter the personality beyond the
mirror for a space, to see what might be seen; yet should he manage to
go beyond that door could he ever return? Would he find a world
identical with the one in which he moved? A world, of which his was
but a ghostly reflection? Which was reality and which illusion?

At times Kull halted to wonder how such thoughts and dreams had come
to enter his mind, and at times he wondered if they came of his own
volition or--here his thoughts would become mazed. His meditations were
his own; no man ruled his thoughts, and he would summon them at his
pleasure; yet could he? Were they not as bats, coming and going, not
at his pleasure but at the bidding or ruling of--of whom? The gods? The
Women who wove the webs of Fate? Kull could come to no conclusion, for
at each mental step he became more and more bewildered in a hazy fog
of illusory assertions and refutations. This much he knew: that
strange visions entered his mind, like flying unbidden from the
whispering void of non-existence; never had he thought these thoughts,
but now they ruled his mind, sleeping and waking, so that he seemed to
walk in a daze at times; and his sleep was fraught with strange,
monstrous dreams.

"Tell me, wizard," he said, sitting before the mirror, eyes fixed
intently upon his image, "how can I pass yon door? For of a truth, I
am not sure that that is the real world and this the shadow; at least,
that which I see must exist in some form."

"See and believe," droned the wizard. "Man must believe to accomplish.
Form is shadow, substance is illusion, materiality is dream; man is
because he believes he is; what is man but a dream of the gods? Yet
man can be that which he wishes to be; form and substance, they are
but shadows. The mind, the ego, the essence of the god-dream--that is
real, that is immortal. See and believe, if you would accomplish,

The king did not fully understand; he never fully understood the
enigmatical utterances of the wizard; yet they struck somewhere in his
being a dim responsive chord. So day after day he sat before the
mirrors of Tuzun Thune. Ever the wizard lurked behind him like a

Looking forward to more Robert E. Howard with Conan and Solomon Kane and the others!

Last edited by supertzar; 19-03-2014 at 03:06 PM.
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