Archive for the 'Robert E. Howard' category

A. Merritt's The Ship of Ishtar

(I've been working on a particularly difficult science post for a week now, and the end is still a ways off.  In the meantime, I thought I'd catch up a little on my weird fiction posts.)

Author A. Merritt (1884-1943) was, in a sense, the exception that proves the rule in fiction writing.  Though he was first and foremost a successful journalist and newspaper editor and only wrote weird fiction as a sideline, he was one of the most successful authors such stories of his day.  On this blog, I've discussed a number of his works, including his first serialized novel The Moon Pool (1919), the sublimely alien The Metal Monster (1920), Dwellers in the Mirage (1932) and The Face in the Abyss (1923).

Unfortunately, Merritt has been largely neglected in recent years, with the exception of his fantasy adventure novel The Ship of Ishtar (1924), which seems to be considered a classic of the genre.  I put off reading it until the release of the Planet Stories version this past October:

Curiously, though I enjoyed TSOI, I also felt like it had the least to offer of all of Merritt's books that I've read so far.  There were also some rather unenlightened aspects of the story that I found rather unappealing and dated.

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Robert E. Howard's El Borak

Apr 08 2010 Published by under Adventure fiction, Robert E. Howard

Finally, I've gotten to read some new Robert E. Howard!  Well, not new -- Robert E. Howard committed suicide in 1936 -- but new to me, anyway!

For those who are unfamiliar, Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) was a Texas author who wrote fantasy, adventure, and horror fiction for pulp magazines such as Weird Tales.  He is best known for his creation Conan the Cimmerian, though he wrote a large body of memorable work and introduced many fascinating heroes.  For instance, the title of this blog, "Skulls in the Stars", is a title of a story of Howard's about his character Solomon Kane, a puritan adventurer and justice-seeker.

Most of Howard's other works have fallen into obscurity, overshadowed by the popularity of Conan, but in recent years compilations of some of them have been released.  I recently picked up a compilation of Howard's modern desert adventures, titled El Borak:

"El Borak" is the Arabic name of American adventurer Francis Xavier Gordon, and the bulk of the tales, though not all, focus on his adventures.  The tales are stories of action and intrigue set in the deserts and mountains of the Middle East, stretching all the way to Afghanistan.

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"The Wicker Tree?" (Updated)

This one was an immediate WTF moment for me: Robin Hardy, the writer/director of the original version of the film The Wicker Man (1973), is "reimagining" his film as The Wicker Tree, slated for release sometime this year:

For those who aren't familiar with the original film, it is undeniably a classic of the horror genre and in my opinion one of the greatest horror films of all time: subtle, atmospheric, darkly humorous, and genuinely horrifying*.

Details are sketchy as it stands; the official movie site is little more than an image right now.  IMDB has the following summary, which may or may not be accurate:

Young Christians Beth and Steve, a gospel singer and her cowboy boyfriend, leave Texas to preach door-to-door in Scotland . When, after initial abuse, they are welcomed with joy and elation to Tressock, the border fiefdom of Sir Lachlan Morrison, they assume their hosts simply want to hear more about Jesus. How innocent and wrong they are.

I'm definitely of mixed emotions about this news.  On the one hand, I'm horrified (and not in a good way); an abysmal remake of The Wicker Man was just recently released in 2006 and illustrates that there is no lower limit on the quality of such projects.  On the other hand, The Wicker Tree is by the original writer/director, and he has seen fit to bring back Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle, one of the most inspiring castings of all time.

I suppose we'll just have to wait and see...


* Seriously -- this film has one of the most cringe-inducing moments of any horror movie I've ever seen, and shames a lot of the "extreme" modern horror films.


Update: As long as I'm talking about unusual movie projects, I see IMDB has a trailer up for the Solomon Kane movie, "based" on the character by Robert E. Howard.  I'm not sure what to think, as yet: it might end up being an enjoyable movie, but it doesn't look, or sound, much like Howard's Solomon.  The IMDB summary says a lot:

A mercenary who owes his soul to the devil redeems himself by fighting evil.
Howard's Solomon is a fanatical Puritan who fights the devil's works overly wherever he goes!  It is pretty much impossible to imagine that character having made a deal with the devil, as the summary and trailer implies.

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Henry Kuttner's Thunder Jim Wade

May 26 2009 Published by under Adventure fiction, Robert E. Howard

Any time I see a book with Henry Kuttner's name on it, I pay attention --  Kuttner was a masterful author who wrote some true classics of science fiction and fantasy, including one of my favorite stories of all time, the science fiction mystery story "Private Eye", written jointly with C.L. Moore.  Others are more familiar with his classic "Mimsy Were the Borogroves".

Kuttner was a true literary chameleon: he could and would write in any pulp market which was paying for stories.  I've written before about his excellent Elak of Atlantis stories, which were written to fill in a need for sword-and-sorcery after the untimely demise of Robert E. Howard.  By the early 1940s, the pulps were in trouble: comic books had become immensely popular.  Heroes with incredible powers and even more incredible outfits such as Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel were drawing readers and revenue from the pulps, and they wanted to introduce their own heroes to compete.

Henry Kuttner to the rescue!  Writing under the pseudonym Charles Stoddard, Kuttner described the adventures of a new hero for the pulps, Thunder Jim Wade:


Five TJW stories appeared in the pages of Thrilling Adventures in 1941.  Those stories were collected together in one nice volume last year by Altus Press.  Let's take a look...

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A. Merritt's Dwellers in the Mirage

Abraham Merritt (1888-1943) was one of the greats of pulp fiction, although up until recently his work was largely forgotten.  Recently, two of his novels were reprinted, The Moon Pool (1919) and The Metal Monster (1920), both of which I've blogged about in some detail.  I found The Moon Pool, on the whole, a rather ordinary pulp adventure novel punctuated by scenes of brilliant weirdness, while The Metal Monster was a truly unique masterpiece of weird fiction.

I wanted to see where other works of Merritt would fall on the mundane/genius scale, but the book that most caught my eye isn't currently in press.  Dwellers in the Mirage (1932) was too intriguing to pass up for me, though, as the cover will make clear:


That tentacled monster on the cover of the novel is the "terrible octopus-god Khalk'ru", who heralds from an area outside space and time.  If you read H.P. Lovecraft, Merritt's "Khalk'ru" will sound very much like Lovecraft's "Cthulhu".  Let's take a closer look at Merritt's interpretation of the Cthulhu mythos...

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Henry Kuttner's Elak of Atlantis

Nov 03 2008 Published by under Fantasy fiction, Robert E. Howard

I'm a complete sucker for sword-and-sorcery fantasy, and actually I've written a significant amount of it for my own amusement.  Of course, the true master, and really the originator of the genre, is Robert E. Howard, whose Conan stories are both incredibly fun to read and surprisingly eloquent.

After Howard's unfortunate suicide in 1936, readers still hungered for strong fantasy characters, and many incredible authors stepped up to fill the void.  One of those was the masterful Henry Kuttner, who danced easily between fantasy, horror and science fiction.  He wrote a quartet of stories about Elak of Atlantis, which were recently reprinted:

Below, I give a brief summary of the Elak stories, and some comparison to the Conan works of REH.

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Robert E. Howard's Almuric

May 23 2008 Published by under Fantasy fiction, Robert E. Howard

Hot on the heels of a discussion of various 'planetary romances' set on Mars, I turned to Robert E. Howard's own take on said romances: the tale of the savage world of Almuric:

I have to admit, Howard fan that I am, that I was completely unaware of this novel before the Planet Stories edition, especially embarrassing because it is one of Howard's very few novels!

The book is a mixture of the planetary romance of Burroughs and the barbarian saga which was pure Howard. It is perhaps one of Howard's least successful adventure stories, but seems in many ways to be the 'ultimate' Robert E. Howard story, as it combines many of his themes (and pet peeves) into one fantasy world...

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C.L. Moore's Black God's Kiss

Mar 30 2008 Published by under Fantasy fiction, Robert E. Howard

I mentioned in a previous post the "Planet Stories" publications, which are reprints of classic pulp fantasy, horror, and adventure stories. I finished recently one of those publications, Black God's Kiss, the collected stories of C.L. Moore's character Jirel of Joiry. The character of Jirel is especially notable as being the first strong female sword-and-sorcery character written by a woman!

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Solomon Kane and Robert E. Howard's religious beliefs

Mar 09 2008 Published by under Fantasy fiction, Robert E. Howard

Now that I'm thinking of Solomon Kane, I thought I'd do a brief post about the character, his adventures, and the clear influence Howard's religious beliefs had on both.

Solomon Kane is a 16th century English Puritan, warrior and wanderer.  Stereotypically dour and fanatical, he wanders the globe, primarily traveling through Europe and Africa, in search of evil to vanquish and, in later stories, answers to his own theological unease.  Like all of Robert E. Howard's fictional heroes, he is larger than life and almost elemental in his pursuits.

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Solomon Kane movie?

Mar 08 2008 Published by under Robert E. Howard

I put this in the category of things I found that I wasn't looking for: it looks like a movie based on Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane is slated for release sometime in 2008!  My blog title, of course, is taken from the title of one of my favorite Kane stories.  It will be interesting to see what is done with Kane in movie form, but if it's anything like Hollywood's various takes on Howard's other character, Conan, I'm a little scared...

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