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The North Wind
A Well of Heroes: The Seven Mythic Dimensions of Robert E. Howard Settings


My teetering body and slipping mind, yet housing a desire to add something to considering the writer that most affected my worldview as a youth, having just been coached via e-mail by an expert on Howard, the man that was my subject, I came to the conclusion that I was poorly qualified to consider “the man”—but had, as a result of my life-long search to find in my mind’s eye what Howard had such a vibrant view of—possessed a strong basis for turning my attention to that which he exposed for his readers, the underlying dreamscape of tribal humanity and a connection to the remorseless cosmos as a looming stage for Man’s savage dramas.

How should I precede?

It was 10:00 p.m. on Saturday night, April 2, when a very March wind roared into Baltimore with a clap of thunder, rolling down out of the hills, from the distant, wooded mountains to the north and west. Doors and windows slammed, books flew off the end table onto the unshared bed, yet no rain came, just a steady drop in temperature. So I drank myself into a stupor as the world cooled in the night.

After dawn, impatient with the writing tasks of the day, I spent the next morning fretting over the keyboard and then headed out for the six mile-walk to the gym. As I hit the street I discovered my apparel was too light, the temperature having dropped from summer to winter over night, but turning back would leave my new fighter waiting for five important minutes. I walked into the wind past fallen branches and bent street signs for a half hour until I hit the base of the next ridgeline where the wind plunged down over the hill and roared through the interloping houses of brick and wood, finding bird upon bird stretched dead on the sidewalks and lawns.

Once crossing the streambed that was—and will be again, after Perring Parkway crumbles to gravel and is washed to the sea—the wind now cut across my path rather than blow in my face. After an hour and twenty minutes of hiking that should have required but an hour, I arrived at the gym and saw that the 20-year-old sign had been destroyed by last night’s wind.

It occurred to me then that I was experiencing the residue of a force that was etched on the face and body of every Howard hero. Where most fantasy writers offer stock archetypes who are “of the land” and science-fiction writers offer up a reticent protagonist often totally lacking in physical characteristics—essentially an imaginary perspective bot for the reader to vest with their own curiosity—Howard presents characters akin to, but apart from, the land and carved by nature, super-nature, strife and ancestry to stand, as if living, in the reader’s eye.

Boxing, stick-fighting and watching the belly dancers on Sunday sent me to bed wondering and the intervening days have brought me to the realization that Howard’s story settings were mythical places for the intersections of two or more—and in the very best stories, all—of the following dimensions, which shall each be discussed in the context of exemplary scenes from Howard stories in the seven succeeding sections.

1. Trails

2. Barbarism

3. Civilization

4. Race

5. Dream

6. Gulfs

7. Cataclysm

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