Robert E. Howard is the master of 1930s pulp action. One of my favorite writers. It was Conan that got me into Fantasy, and it was getting back into reading Conan that brought me back and excited about the Pulp Revolution happening right now.
But, I have to admit that I have not read very much of Howard’s non-Conan stories. So when I came across this beast for 4.99 in the Kindle store I picked it up. Holy shit it was awesome. When I get big ass short story collections I usually read a few in between novels, or I read one or two stories during my lunch breaks. Not this time. I read this collection all the way through.
This collection is massive, with 30 or so stories and a bunch of assorted poems. The stories span Howard’s entire career and are chock full of his usual badass action. You get everything from ghost haunted sailors, voodoo zombies, cursed rings, desert explorers, and weird western.
Howard’s characters are not your usual pansies that populate modern horror. No, these guys are tough motherfuckers that when presented with tentacled horrors from the stygian depths they go a killing with sword and pistol. In one of my favorite stories, The Horror from the Mound, when our cowboy protagonist accidentally digs up a 17th-century Spanish Vampire buried by Conquistadores who begins murdering the local Mexicans, he doesn’t run away. Hell no, he breaks its spine and sets the moldy motherfucker on fire.
One thing I want to mention that some of you readers might find sacrilegious. I think Howard writes Lovecraftian fiction better than Lovecraft. I like the idea of Lovecraftian more than I actually like Lovecraft’s writing. I find all his crap boring as all shit, filled with idiotic purple prose. Lovecraft’s characters are boring, unmemorable, wimps(I think Lovecraft was some loser recluse himself, either way he looked like Pongos owner in 101 Dalmatians,) who are usually professors or tourists. The whole “ohh muh god I saw something that made me go insanee.. soo horrible, much tentacle,” nonsense bores me to tears. Howard’s characters respond to the Lovecraftian shit by going “da fuck is that, ok deep breath, I have to kill it.”
My favorite stories in the collection are pieces well worth reading: Pigeons From Hell, a scary haunted house story featuring voodoo, slaves, and southern plantations, Black Cannan about a bunch of racists and a black revolt involving some terrifying swamp creatures, The Fire of Asshurbanipal where two treasure hunters end up in a haunted desert city, and one that really did it for me, Out of the Deep, where the washed ashore body of a sailor is really a fucked up sea creature.
Of course, like in all huge collections, some of the stories aren’t my kind of beer. There were a few stories, and this is a theme both Howard and Lovecraft share, focusing on some de-evolved proto-humans living beneath the earth. Not a huge fan of the whole racial memory, obsession with miscegenation these guys had, and the stories were mostly dudes going down into holes where indescribable shit was going on. Worth reading but not my favorite. Give me the voodoo zombie vampires.
So yeah, drop the 5 bucks and pick this collection up. If you like short stories, pulp fiction, and Conan, this one will not disappoint. I think my next Howard read will focus on Solomon Kane.
Addendum to the post: I hope much more knowledgeable pulp readers correct me if I am wrong. It seems that Howard is not only the father of Sword and Sorcery but also the Weird Western. The story I mention above, The Horror from the Mound, about a cowboy digging up a vampire on the Texas frontier, was written in 1932. My google-fu indicates that this is the first story mixing a realistic wild west setting with the supernatural in a modern fashion.
I am in this old school D&D, Sword and Sorcery, adventure, and horror kind of mood. So far this collection is fantastic, some stories even eclipse his Conan pieces.
Check out this book on Goodreads: The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8151962-the-horror-stories-of-robert-e-howard
***Potential Spoilers Below***
As far back as I remember my choice of visual entertainment has been the long form television show. While I enjoy a good movie I prefer the long arcs and character development found in television. Star Trek:TNG, DS9, Babylon 5, and The XFiles is what I loved. You can imagine how happy I am that we are now in a golden age television. Even better, we are at the beginning of entire seasons instantly released so one can binge entire shows in one sitting.
Netflix’s Stranger Things is a must watch example of this new format. A pastiche of 80s horror, scifi, and pop culture, that pays homage to everything and everyone including Stephen King, Stephen Spielberg, John Carpenter, The Clash, and classic Dungeons and Dragons.
The show takes place in Hawkins, Indiana over several days during the Fall of 1983. A 12 year old boy mysteriously vanishes one night. His close friends begin searching for him on their own while the town Sheriff begins His disappearance sets in motion a chain of events involving secret government projects, psychics, and a horrible evil force from beyond.
Stranger Things has an outstanding cast of young actors complimented by a fantastic performance by Winona Ryder. If you enjoy 80’s genre horror/scifi movies like E.T., Poltergeist, Carrie, and Stand by Me, you will love this show.
**Some Potential Spoilers**
While I enjoyed the 80’s references and old movie homage what I truly enjoyed about the show was the really good somewhat esoteric occult symbolism. Off the top of my head several things stood out.
The failure of fathers. Every father figure character in the show was a failure. From the creepy Dr. Breener the evil scientist abuser to Will Byers self serving waste of a father. Even Sheriff Hooper failed as a father in his own eyes and attempts to redeem himself. This theme coupled with El being a somewhat angelic figure(The gold wig, levitating above water) that is sacrificed alludes to a few occult/biblical themes. Contrasted with the portrayal of mothers it gives you plenty to think about.
Running away with the horrible father theme you could see the whole show being about child abuse. Specifically abuse by fathers. El is clearly the victim of Dr. Breener who she calls “Pa.” The other main victim is Will Byers, the son of a druggie abuser who abandoned him, his brother, and mother. The Byers family has an alluded element of darkness and child abuse that is not hard to catch.
El’s name is Eleven. When you look at numerology and occult symbolism of the number just by doing a quick google search you realize it was intentional. It represents duality, psychic power, super intellect and danger.
The idea of duality in 11 is the key symbolism. She is two different things, on one hand a innocent child on the other a powerful weapon. The world is shown having more dimensions with the Upside Down, a good and a bad.
What does this mean? I think that the main monster, the Demogorgon is actually the Upside Downs representation of child abuse. The Demogorgon is the other side of El, the other half of Eleven, the representation of all the child abuse alluded or shown in the series. At one point El even states “I am the monster,” in one of the episodes.
What do you guys think, any other theories? I love weird occult stuff believe that symbolism of this sort adds depth to stories allowing for greater connection and enjoyment.
The Shirley Jackson Awards were announced today, they honor great writing in the field of horror, suspense, and dark fantasy. I don’t often follow awards due to my tastes being somewhat different than what usually goes up for most of them, but this time I am fully on board. Dale Bailey won for best novelette The End of the End of Everything, hands down the best piece of short fiction written last year. Do yourself a favor and read it, and go and pick up his short story collections. Excellent writer and amazing story.