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▶  More from Blog Book Reviews A Well of Heroes REH Cataclysm
‘From a Frozen Sleep’
A Dawn in Flanders by Robert E. Howard
Reading from page 101 of A Word from the Outer Dark
Cataclysm, erasing trails or bloodlines
Eight un-taut lines of slumbering yet aware lines constitutes one of Howard’s rare odes to the mass suicide of the European races at the behest of “those vain Things of breath,” he derided so articulately in the Bride of Cuchulain.
Clearly, just as writers of my generation labored in the shadow of hierarchal—top-down—betrayal that was the Vietnam Experience, writers of Howard’s generation, including those who served as men such as Tolkien, Junger, Peake and Eddison and also the white-feathered boys too young to have been sacrificed upon the Proud Altar of false [national] identity.
Howard’s brief, remote vision of The Great War lacks the passion—being a distant British experience remotely chambered in his Gaelic-identified consciousness—of much of his other reflections. However, his sense of cataclysm as a cyclic mechanism for the intercession of Fate into the field of Time is cast in bold relief and reminds one of the Atlantean and Hyborian ages which were the produce of his imagination as well as his fleeting depiction of historical and mythic ages in such stories as the Grey God Passes, Marchers of Valhalla, the Cormac Mac Art sagas, Worms of the Earth and Kings of the Night.
His invocation of the seemingly dreaming dead, the passage of many into the “heaps” of oblivion, is echoed as a ringing premise in many a Conan yarn such as The Scarlet Citadel, Xuthal of the Dusk, the Devil in Iron and Queen of the Black Coast and most empathetically in For the Love of Barbara Allen, again demonstrating the seemingly synopsis-like relationship between his poetry and prose.
It is not known if Howard was aware of this, but as his final Conan story, Red Nails, about rival factions of the same race, trapped in the ruins of their own civilization committed to mutual annihilation was awaiting publication and he was moving ever closer to suicide, so were the remnants of the doomed European races he so often characterized in ancient wise in fantasy. In this Howard saw clearly, as a young man bent on suicide, the great irony of such a young, merely a hundred year old, industrial civilization surging witlessly into oblivion even as their rulers—like the faction leaders in Red Nails and The Black Stranger, his two final Conan tales—drove their witless subjects and powerless slaves to their everlasting demise.
This reader is fully aware that Howard may not have been drawing parallels between the Industrial War of European suicide and it’s as yet unconcluded act and his numerous dead yet once great fantasy civilizations, but may have simply projected his genius yearning for extinction upon the notion of risen and fallen polities, historic, fantasy and contemporary.
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