Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard

Howard penned the original Conan mythos back in the Nineteen twenties, almost a hundred years ago now. He was a Texan, and one of the very early American writers of the fantastic, usually mentioned alongside his friend and mentor H.P. Lovecraft. Like Lovecraft, Howard was published primarily in Weird Tales an early pulp magazine which catered to the macabre, the swashbuckling, and early sci-fi.

In this collection of republished tales, Howard addresses werewolves, dream-serpents, more werewolves, and other things that go bump in the night. It is possible that at the time these tales felt innovative; my mental chronology of fiction from the time just isn't quite tight enough to be able to say for certain. But they all feel like retreads.

Harder to deal with than their lack of fresh content is the decrepitude that infects Howard's language, making each paragraph a wooden, plodding affair, in which subjects and verbs seem as soggy and downtrodden as the settings and characters within. I'm willing to give some fair amount of blame here to the simple passage of years; it’s equally challenging to fight through, say, Natty Bumpo tales. Language has evolved, and some types of construction used regularly here seem as if they would be better to have remained buried. However, since there are some writers from equally long ago whose prose remains supple, Howard must ultimately shoulder some of the blame.

As a result, this collection isn't so much dreadful as it is dreadfully boring. Even as vacation reading, it was a challenge to plow through.

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