Pulp Story Review, Robert E. Howard, Sword and Sorcery

The Frost-Giant’s Daughter

The Frost-Giant’s Daughter (first published in 1976)

by Robert E. Howard

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This very short story opens with the last two warriors stand over the snowy field of battle between viking-like fighters, one side with blonde beards and the other hair as red as flame.  One of the tall combatants is a red-headed Vanir named Heimdul, the other is a youthful man with mane of black different from the others as Cimmerian named Conan.  After a brief exchange, Conan slays Heimdul and is the last man standing in this bloody battle of eighty men on frozen fields.

Yet he spies a woman with milky white skin and completely bare of clothing despite the freezing temperature.  She posses an elfin beauty with fair of neither Vanir red nor Aesir but a blend of each.  Conan remarks he knows of no village nearby she could be from.  The beautiful woman leads across plains of hoar-frosted snow to low hills that give way to towering mountains.  It is these silvery mountains of blue ice that the woman springs her trap upon the barbarian warrior.  Her brothers, giants seemly carved of snow and ice with thick armor and frost covered axes, strike  at Conan with the fury of a winter storm.

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This story was originally rejected by Weird Tales hence the publishing date of more than 30 years after the author’s death during the 1970’s fantasy and sword and sorcery boom.  This tale is perhaps the earliest account in Conan’s adventurous life as he is younger than most of Howard’s original stories.

As for the story itself, I can partly understand why it was rejected.  It comes in at a scant seven pages making it the shortest of the Conan stories.  Additionally, there isn’t a whole happening in this story as well.  Conan is the last warrior in a battle of eighty men (which comes off rather incredible even for Conan).  He follows a strange naked beauty for several miles in some strange lust-fueled obsession only to be attacked by frost giants.

For me, The Frost-Giant’s Daughter may be my least favorite Conan story between The Black Stranger and Vale of Lost Women both which are better stories but have elements I dislike more than any of The Frost-Giant’s Daughter.  With The Black Stranger it is swashbuckler/pirate Conan which just seems out of place for the character.  While Vale of Lost Women is one of Howard’s more racist stories though it does have Conan fighting a creature seemly inspired by H.P. Lovecraft.

Bottomline, this is not a particularly good Conan story though it is serviceable and short enough to read without leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

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H.P. Lovecraft, Pulp Story Review

At the Mountains of Madness Review

At the Mountains of Madness (originally published in Astounding Stories in 1936)

by H.P. Lovecraft

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     This novella, like many other of Lovecraft’s tales, is a first person account. This time it is Dr. William Dyer, professor of geology at Miskatonic University who previously led a scientific expedition to Antarctica in 1930 (presumably six years ago being published in 1936).   Dr. Dyer is writing this amendment to his account of the expedition to dissuade further scientific study of the frozen continent.  Like many other of Lovecraft’s narrators Dyer speaks of the dangers of humanity learning too much about the universe as the human mind is simply incapable of some horrible truths.  He explains that he and surviving expedition members purposely redacted the more fantastical discoveries they uncovered in the extreme south of the planet.   Things he hoped he would never be forced to reveal.  However, he has decided to shed additional light on what happened those many years ago to stop others from making the same mistake.

Dr. Dyers begins by recapping some of the resources, routes, and scientific data collected during expedition.  Lovecraft, like in Shadow Over Innsmouth, uses the convention of telling the reader that the finer details can be found in past newspaper articles, telegraph/wire transcripts, and other sources.  Simultaneously cutting down on the supposedly information for the story and giving the tale a fell of authenticity as only be a part of a larger body of information.

At the last portion of the voyage to the Antarctic, describes a bizarre wind that howled through the summits of the Admiralty Mountain Range.  He describes the sound as similar to that of, “half-sentient piping music” that both reminded of a painting Nicholas Roerich of the Plateau of Leng and of the Necronomicon written by the mad Arab Abdul Alharzed.  Almost a month later, while temporarily lost above the icy world of the Antarctic, Danford, a graduate assistant of Dyer, witnesses the volcano of Mt. Erebus which reminds him of a passage in Edgar Allen Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym. 

Months later in the expedition, Professor Lake of the Biology department  at Miskatonic University radios to the base camp while flying as part of a sub-expedition discovers a mountain range that may rival the Himalayas with peaks taller than even Mount Everest.  Lakes aircraft is later forced to land before they can reach camp.  Not wanting to waste time or opportunity Lake radios back about strange cubical formations upon the highest peaks on this colossal mountain range than appear to give off strange reflection of light and wants to set up a camp there. The following day Lake’s sub-expedition discovers a cave in the ice while drilling core samples.  Inside were a whole host of fossils many different ages in geology.  More fantastic than the treasure trove of fossils was the discovery of large plant-like specimens eight feet tall, with a three and half foot diameter with five ridges with tubular, wing-like growths folding within the ridges of the main barrel shapedImage body.  Dark grey in color the things have five light gray tentacle appendages around its pentatonic body.  The things are topped an apparent head like a starfish tipped with reddish globe like eyes.   Even as a biologist, Lake as difficulty determining if the things are vegetable or animal.  What is known it the sled dogs hate the things and likely would destroy them if given a chance.

I like this the adventurous nature of the At the Mountains of Madness.  The idea of being on a scientific expedition appeals to me a great deal and I even enjoy the little details that Lovecraft throws in to make it feel like you are in fact reading the account of a geology professor.  Unlike earlier works of Lovecraft, he goes into great detail to describe the Elder Things that are discovered in cave Lake drilled and blasted into.  By virtue of having scientists as the protagonists, Lovecraft could go into great clinical detail about them.

As as I like the setup of this story, I feel that Lovecraft plays the ending too close to the vest.  I want to know what Danforth saw or at least have his experiences more than a few fragmented words and references to other stories and the Cthulhu Mythos at large.  I will admit though, like any good horror writer, Lovecraft likely stop the story where he did so the reader who have to wonder what exactly happened as have their imagination put together what they think it was.

My biggest compliant with In the Mountains of Madness, is a theme that sometimes appears in many of Lovecraft’s other weird horror stories: man should not explore the universe as its truth can only cause madness.  The only reason that Dyers wrote this is to stop any future expedition to Antarctica.  I understand his reasoning, the Elder Things and shoggoths are extremely dangerous creatures that can wipe out mankind.  If they were to learn of humanity existence, it may very well mean our extinction or at very least subjection by this ancient beings.  I am not sure of H.P. Lovecraft’s stance on science because of this.  He dabbles into science-fiction and clearly likes using academics as his protagonists, but he keeps coming back to this line mankind should never explore.  I’m just not a fan of the trope, “things man was not meant to know.”

Elder Signs

Bottomline, while I have a slight issue with the theme of In the Mountains of Madness, it is a chilling tale of exploration and discovering ancient monsters.   Six out of six Elder Signs.

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H.P. Lovecraft, Pulp Story Review

The Dunwich Horror Review

The Dunwich Horror (first published in Weird Tales 1929)

by H.P. Lovecraft

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by Santiago Caruso

The novella begins with a prolonged setup of the Massachusetts town of Dunwich and the surrounding features such as Round Mountain, The Devil’s Hop Yard, and Sentinel Hill atop which a strange ring of stone columns thought to have built by now extinct tribes of Indians. It is perhaps these stones that started the stories of witches and devils that haunt the areas around Dunwich, however, what is know is the general disdain travelers have for loitering in the town any longer than they absolutely have to.  The Dunwich folk are mostly composed of but a few families such as the Bishops and the Whatelys.  A few of the branches of these familial trees have fallen into degeneration over the decades.  It is one such family that story revolves largely around.

Wizard Whately and his albino daughter, Lavina, bizarre and deformed part of the degenerated Whatelys living our at a farm near Dunwich.  The xenophobic townsfolk usually take little interest in affairs others, but the birth of Lavina’s son is of note for several reasons.  For one, the boy is a bastard with the father unknown by any in Dunwich.  Cursorily, Lavina doesn’t shun the boy, but in fact, seem proud of the goatish looking baby.  The other oddity is the the boy’s, Wilbur,  astonish rate of growth and mental development.  By a year and half the boy had grown to the size of a child normally thought to be four.  Wilbur began speaking at eleven months seemly skipping lisping and forming sentences almost immediately.

Wizard Whately began odd projects soon after Wilbur’s  birth.  He found renewed wells of stamina to repair and make additions to his old dilapidated home.  Old Whately also began to purchase additional cattle though the surrounding folk noted that his herd size never appeared to increase.  For years after none of the people of Dunwich paid this branch of Whatelys any mind as was common for them to mind their business.  However, ten years after the birth of Wilbur, the boy who have the appearance and demeanor of a man aided his grandfather in restoring the old barn on the property for some strange purpose.  It was later in the spring that old WIzard became worn out and sick.  The Whippoorwills had gather in frightening number at the Whately farm.  According to Wizard to try an take his soul as he died.

With the death of old Wizard Whately, it was up to Wilbur to finish what sinster task his grandfather has started.  To do so required an earlier edition of the Necromonicon written by the Mad-Arab Abdul Alhazred for a passage written on page 751.  Wilbur writes many universities and even visits Arkham’s own Miskatonic University to get his hands on own.  It only by Dr. Henry Armitage’s refusal that the boy is unable to get the required knowledge from the book.  Yet something urgent is requiring Wilbur to return to home…

The Dunwich Horror is a departure from Lovecraft’s normal first person narrative.  Although, the author doesn’t stray that far from it.  The story is still told in a typical account style writing that gives feels like Lovecraft wanted to have it told from single source (such as a newspaper reporter) but could make all the elements he wanted fit.  This does allow the story to give the reader information  and immediate tension not usually found in his story.  Because the story isn’t written after the fact, the climax can actually generate a more visceral experience that typically found in H.P. Lovecraft.  Not withstanding first short chapter, the Dunwich Horror has an easier narrative for readers new to H.P. Lovecraft to follow.

Elder Signs

Bottomline: The Dunwich Horror is one of my top five favorite Lovecraft tales.  It makes a good entry into reading the author as the story is about villains trying to bring about the end the world and academicians attempting to stop them. Six out of six elder signs to keep the gate and the key of Yog-Sothoth sealed away.

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H.P. Lovecraft, Pulp Story Review

The Colour Out of Space Review

The Colour Out of Space (originally published in Amazing Tales in September 1927)

by H.P. Lovecraft

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By Darksorrow 666

The narrator of this short story is a man sent to New England to survey land for a new reservoir.  Even from the city of Arkham the narrator is told this area known as the Blasted Hearth is evil though the younger folk don’t known why and the elders won’t say other than, “strange days.”  Curiosity gets the better of the him, and he finally gets the name of someone that might talk about those strange days.  He warned not to believe Ammi Pierce’s crazy stories about the past and the desolate area known as the Blasted Hearth.  Instead, the narrator seek Mr. Pierce out immediately.

Using the reservoir surveying as guise to ask about the story behind Blasted Hearth and the strange days, the narrator talks to Ammi and discovers the old man to be far more intelligent that he was led to believe.  Ammi states it would be better for what had happen during those strange days to be under water.  Without much prodding however, Ammi retells the story of Gardner Farm as well as its fall.

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by Rafa García de la Mata

Decades ago in 1882, a strange meteorite fell on the Gardener Farm and intrigued professors from Miskatonic University to study it.  The meteorite seemed to shrink in size after hitting the Earth according to Nahum Gardener.  It was composed of a malleable material that was warm to the touch and seemed to completely inert to acids and many other chemicals.  In fact many of the test performed by the professors yielded result not like any material known.  After gouging deeply into it, the University geologist discovered a strange substance that could only be describe as a colour, though it was not like any in the known spectrum and entirely impossible to describe.  Only one of these colour globules were found within the odd meteorite.  After a thunderstorm the meteorite was struck by lightning according to Nahum and the professors could not find any remains of the meteorite.

It was this that Nahum’s farm began to produce huge, mutated crops that completely inedible.  Disgusting in taste the entire crop was useless.  Soon after, the animals began to act strange and the livestock also impossible to eat as the meat took on a horrid taste.  After more than a year, the surrounding vegetation grow strange.  The flower bloomed colors unlike they ever had and even the grasses were prismatic in their array of colors.  The Gardener’s were not immune to what ever was causing this strange growth.  Nahum grew taciturn though most though it was from the hard times at his farm.  Mrs Garden fell into a madness, and the Gardener child became ill and died.  By harvest, the Gardener Farm and the area surrounding the farm the vegetation was crumbing to gray ash like powder.  Like the color and life had been sucked out.  That was forty-four years ago.

The Colour Out of Space is brilliant blend of science fiction and horror.  I always put myself in the shoes of Nahum Gardner who not only is his livelihood falling apart, but his family is either becoming ill and dying or insane.  The Colour’s effect happens over the course of a couple years forcing Nahum to endure the menace and dread of such a tragedy far more than a simple serial killer or mad man chasing after the protagonist.  He is truly helpless against this force from beyond the stars that even the brightest minds of Miskatonic University can’t understand.  What is most frightening is that the Colour may continue to expand, perhaps faster, even after the reservoir is place over the Blasted Hearth.  I always took the strange effect the Colour had on the environment as well as the heat from the meteorite to be a sort of radiation.  Or even the Colour itself being or giving off toxic radiation that mutated and drove mad living things before draining the life and color out them.

The Colour, like the Nothing is the Neverending Story, is purely literary concept as Lovecraft goes out of his way to make the reader known it was a color know like any known shade or type.  I can’t help to at least think a little of the impossibility of such an idea as I’m fascinated by electromagnetic radiation including the visible spectrum of light.  However, I don’t let that bother me from such a chilling tale.

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Bottomline:  The Colour Out of Space is a tale that even to this day gives a heavy gut from the tragedy and horror it produces.  The idea of a thing so subtly destroying your life without concern and perhaps one day becoming a threat to the entire world is a spine chilling one.  I give The Colour of Space 6 out of 6 magnetic field producing elder signs.

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Pulp Story Review, Robert E. Howard

Blue Flame of Vengeance Review

Blue Flame of Vengeance (originally titled Blades of the Brotherhood and first published in Red Shadows in 1968)

by Robert E. Howard

This short story was never published in Howard’s short life time and was finally published more than thirty years after the author’s death.  The story, as many Howard stories often do, opens sans the title character between a duel between the offended Jack Hollinster and a nobleman named Sir George Banway near the shore of an English town.  Sir George had offended Jack by publicly slandering, Mary Garvin, the woman he loves.  The local magistrate halts the duel after Jack’s quicker blade wounds Sir George’s arm.  While the magistrate considers the matter of honor concluded, the two men seek a clash of rapiers to the death.  However, each second as well as the magistrate break up the two men before it becomes lethal. Image

Jack Hollinster decides to walk the English shore line to cool his head where he encounters a tall swordsman dress in black with a slouch hat, the only bit of color about him a green sash made of fine silk.  The wanderer introduces himself as Solomon Kane and speaks with Jack who is still furious from the duel.  Kane has come here seeking Jonas Hardraker, whom some call The Fishhawk.  Out on the sea is a black ship keeping its distance from the English settlement and Kane believes it to be the Fishhawk’s.

Later, Jack Hollinster wakes from nightmares to discover from his Mary has been abducted by Sir George.  Jack takes with him Sam who told him of the fiend’s deed to go to Banway’s home to rescue poor Mary.  Jack and Sam reach the dilapidated home of Banway, and before Jack can find entrance he is betrayed by Sam.

When Jack awakens he finds himself in the the large cellar of the Banway estate bound hand and foot.  He is surrounded by garish and dangerous pirates as well as Sam and Sir George.  Mary is bound to a great oak ring with him in the cellar where the couple is taunted by Sir George.

The carousing pirates at interrupted by Solomon Kane who had infiltrated the Banway estate.  Armed with two wheellock pistols Kane seeks to rescue Jack and Mary and pierce the black heart of the Fishhawk with a pistol bullet.  The Fishhawk realizing he is dead-to-rights frees the captives and taunts Kane.  He calls Solomon a coward for not having the courage to face him in an honest duel. The ploy works as Kane hands his pistols to Jack and prepares to duel the Fishhawk in a fight with daggers.  Kane armed his dirk and the Fishhawk banishing a wicked-looking Turkish dagger.

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     The Blue Flame of Vengeance is only complete story that Howard wrote about Solomon Kane that has no fantastic or supernatural elements to it.  Even the uncompleted fragments of Kane stories alluded to some sinister supernatural start.  It may have been the lack of any fantastical elements that prevented Howard from being able to sell this story.  It is merely a work of swashbuckling action without any of usual weirdness to it.  This does not take away from the story.  The swordplay and action scenes are Robert E. Howard’s usual visceral and vividly descriptive style the author is known for.  As are the expertly crafted visages of the pirates.  I felt like I was there in the cramped cellar with these brigands.

This story may also be one REH’s more dialogue heavy stories.  Unfortunately, the author tends to be a little weak there, but in Blue Flame of Vengeance to conversing is serviceable.  The character of Mary is largely a plot device which like Red Shadows and nearly every other Howard story with notable exceptions (Red Nails being one) is very typical for him.

As I stated before, I’m a bigger Solomon Kane fan than Conan fan, and I enjoy this story as standing apart fro the other Kane stories having no supernatural element.  It is a good read and well worth it for a fan of swashbuckling action, sword and sorcery, and 1930s pulp stories.  In terms of Solomon Kane stories I rate it a little less than middle of the road.

Bottonline: This is the one Kane story without any supernatural elements that is a decent enough read.  However, it is a little less than average writing for Robert E. Howard and not likely to sway someone who is not already a fan.

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H.P. Lovecraft, Pulp Story Review

The Call of Cthulhu Review

The Call of Cthulhu (originally published in Weird Tales 1928)

by H.P. Lovecraft

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by Neil John Buchanan

The short story begins with a short diatribe on the mercy of ignorance written in the first person of the narrator (presumed to be Francis Wayland Thomas of Boston).  He is the great-nephew of the deceased Doctor George Gammel Angell, Professor of Languages at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island (note of trivia: this is Lovecraft’s hometown).  The narrator is Professor Angell’s sole heir and executor.  While searching through the deceased files and and boxes, the narrator discovers a lock box without an obvious key.  Curious, he solves the puzzle of where the key is found opens this box to discover various manuscripts, articles, and papers on people having strange dreams and even more bizarre cults as well as a clay bas relief of modern construction of exceedingly ancient hieroglyphics and design.Image

Among the papers and manuscripts in the lock box is the account of its sculptor an Anthony Wilcox of the Rhode Island School of Design written in his dead great-uncles own hand.  It seems that Wilcox created the bas relief after a fit of nightmares of a strange  city of unimaginable size with colossal lumbering things miles in height.  In this terrible city Wilcox heard a language unknown to him but didn’t seem human.  The only words he could make out were, “Cthulhu fhtagn.”  Wilcox later falls into a strange fever-like delirium for more than a week where the young man plagued terrible visions of this same strange place with the sounds “Cthulhu” and “R’lyeh” are most repeated.  When the fever breaks, Wilcox hads no memories of the previous days.  The narrator’s uncle learns that Wilcox malady was isolated as many poets, painters, and other artist had similarly fallen a fever-like delirium with similar accounts all occurring within the span of little more than a month.  And all stopping on April 2 the same day as Wilcox’s recovery.Image

The next bit of evidence found within the lock box the narrator introduces is that of an account from Inspector John Raymond Legrasse of the New Orleans police.  He was investigating a strange statuette that had seized after what most called a voodoo cult.  However, what Inspector Legrasse saw during that raid was far more sinister than he could imagine in the blackest part of Africa.  The statuette was craved to look-like a thing with a vaguely humanoid form with a octopus-like head with a mass of tentacle feelers and narrow wings.  The work seemed to be centuries old yet no expert could recognize the school or culture it cold be part of.  Even the soapy green stone with flakes of gold seemed unlike anything known in modern geology.

It wasn’t until Inspector Legrasse collaborated with a Professor William Channing Webb, a professor of anthropology at Princeton made any sort of connection.  Professor Webb while touring Greenland and Iceland to study the native peoples, came across a similar strange tribe or cult of West Greenland to that of Inspector Legrasse.  Both cults were chanting the same phrase, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” which the professor had translated as, “In the house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

The Call of Cthulhu is an interesting way to structure a story with much of it done via the narrator relating the artifacts and notes to the reader as he finds and examines them from his dead great-uncle’s lock box.  Lovecraft also selects some fantastic locations for many of the accounts within the story such as the swamps of Louisiana, the tundra of west Greenland, and even the south Pacific.  Even today these places invoke a sense of mystery and isolation from the rest of the world.  I also enjoyed how Lovecraft feeds the reader just a little more about Cthulhu and what is occurring slow building the story and giving everything involved, such as the dreamers and cults, a grounded surrealism to it.  The way that Lovecraft chooses to tell the story is genius; as the reader and the narrator investigate the clues and evidence before engaging in humanity’s fight against Cthulhu.  Lovecraft alludes to the idea that like the narrator, Francis Wayland Thomas, finding his deceased great-uncle’s notes and thus becoming involved.  We the reader, having read his account and seen the evidence, take his place as he took his great-uncle’s in death.

It has been some years since I read this story, and I will honestly say I forgotten nearly all of the first chapter.  What remember most about this story was the raid of the cult in the swamp and the encounter with the sailors near the end.  The Call of Cthulhu is not one of my favorite Lovecraft stories.  Unfortunately, I did find the framework of the story more interesting than the story itself.  However, if you like the idea of the Cthulhu mythos this story is mandatory reading.

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Bottomline: It is a very innovative way of telling a story.  Lovecraft outdid himself in attempting to create a coherent series of events of near end of the world.  I give The Call of Cthulhu 6 out of 6 elder signs sealing the ancient one away until the stars are right once again.

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Pulp Story Review, Robert E. Howard, Sword and Sorcery

Red Shadows Review

Red Shadows (first published in Weird Tales, August 1928)

by Robert E. Howard

ImageTraveling on a moonlit night the puritan wanderer named Solomon Kane discovers a mortally girl.  Asking what fiend had done this to her the girl gives the name Le Loup.  As the girl’s body goes limp, Kane’s is filled with righteous rage and swears an oath, “Men shall die for this.”

Later, at the lair of bandit Le Loup, his men tell tales of Solomon Kane vengeance as if he were demon.  Kane has slew nearly all of Le Loup’s men leaving the initials SLK carved into the cheeks of the dead.  Even now the last remaining bandits escaped with barely their lives.  In fact, these survivors have led Kane back to Le Loup’s lair.  It is only by treachery and trickery that Le Loup escapes Kane.

Months, perhaps even years, have passed since the confrontation between Kane and Le Loup.  The trail has lead Solomon to the Dark Continent of Africa after his quarry.  The fire of vengeance no less intense even after countless miles.  Kane has his ship wait for seven days afterward they can assume that he will never return from the jungle.  Solomon attempts to sneak upon the African village that Le Loup has joined in hopes of surprising the Wolf and finishing what Kane believes to be God’s justice.  As stealthy as Kane is, he bested by a humungous African warrior named Gulka, the gorilla-slayer.

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Kane painfully awakens bound in a hut with a ju-ju man.  N’Longa, the ju-ju man, offers deal to Kane to work together to bring down Songa the chief of the village and his new partner Le Loup.  Before Kane can react, he and N’Longa are pulled from the hut and bind him to a post in front of the Black God, a huge, black parody of the human form.  He meets again with Le Loup who is cockly describes all the near misses two of them had in their chase from Italy to Spain.  Le Loup explains that he was never truly concerned to confront Kane, but found the chase far more enjoyable.  That is until now.  Now he has decided he has grown weary of the game and it must end with Kane’s death to the Black God.

Suddenly N’Longa appears as if by magic only to be felled by the great brute Gulka.  Also tied to a post it appears that N’Longa and Solomon Kane are to burn in sacrifice to the Black God.  As one of the villagers begins to set fire to N’Longa, the ju-ju man threatens his enemies with magic he has never let living men see.  The torch man falls dead seemingly of fright.  N’Longa goes into a trance and the once dead man rises once again and moves toward chief Songa…

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   While this is not my favorite Solomon Kane story, I do think it is an excellent example of the tenacity of the character.  The story also foreshadows Kane’s future adventures in Africa has well as the strange friendship between the puritan and N’Longa the ju-ju man.  The story’s basic frame Kane seeking to help a young girl/woman for no reason beyond it being God’s will or good will be seen again in The Moon of Skulls.

I also think it is important to spend sometime in this review to go over the racism or perceived racism found within this and other Robert E. Howard (REH) stories.  Yes, Howard describes Gukla as having an ape like head and many of the African villagers having flabby red lips.  Chief Sulka is given a particularly unsavory description.  Even N’Longa speaks pigeon English in this story.  However, I do not believe it was Howard’s intent to make the Africans seem inferior rather Sulka and Gukla are villains and as such given ugly features as short hand to their villainy.  In the later story The Hills of the Dead, N’Longa speaks highly eloquently in Kane’s dreams due to the ju-ju man’s vast intelligence not bound to the crudeness of language.  In fact N’Longa demonstrates in that story to understand the universe better than Kane or really any other white man with his knowledge of the supernatural.  Finally on this subject, I will state that REH lived in rural portions of Texas his entire life in the early part of the twenty century.  There is was nothing stopping him from being much more racist that he writing are given the place and time he lived, and yet some of his writing seems to contradict this.  I won’t say that his stories don’t have any racism when view through contemporary values, but that I believe that his critics are far more harsh toward him that he truly deserves.

I want to finish up by stating that Solomon Kane is my favorite Robert E. Howard protagonist.  I enjoy his adventures far more than Conan’s exploits.  However, I can see why Conan has wider appeal.  Kane is too rigid and fanatical in his cause seeming less like a man and more, as I’m sure Howard intended, a weapon of God’s justice.  REH himself noted that using earth’s own history was often times more of a noose that required far more research for creating a story than it was worth.  While nearly all of Conan’s world has a fairly obvious real world equivalent, Howard used this a short hand and changed the parts he wanted or was ignorant of to serve plot of Conan tales.

Bottomline: Red Shadows was still early in Howard telling of his stories and has a few rough parts.  Additionally, the African depictions could be offensive to modern readers depending on how they interpret them.  However, this story is a very good tale of swashbuckling and sword and sorcery.

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