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‘From a Far Land’
Delenda Est by Robert E. Howard


First published in Worlds of Fantasy, 1968

As the inspirational task of reviewing Robert E. Howard’s work picks up pace this reader has come to something of a realization—that I generally prefer the works of Howard that he was unable or unwilling to sell in his lifetime, to his most popular works. In cases like The Vale of Lost Women, Gods of the North, and in this Delenda Est, I get the sense that the a reluctance to obscure the brutal subtext either moved the author not to submit the work or to pass on the opportunity to redraft it after rejection. This line of inquiry may be nothing but my errant supposition. However, I am of the opinon that some of Howard’s most compelling stories were not published I his life time. Below is a short example of such a searing tale.

The entire story occupies an evening on board a Vandal ship as it rows from North Africa for Rome. The king of the Vandals, whose very tribe had already come to mean destruction, who had moved Attila the Hun like a pawn on a chessboard, is Genseric, the most brilliant statesman and general in the crumbling Roman world, who listens to one of his disgruntled warriors bemoan the fact that they are a tiny alien minority surrounded by conquered enemies.

Genseric retires to his cabin where he experiences a visitation that shakes even his steely nerves. In what might be the appearance of a ghost or a waking dream in which another race’s memory wells up in him due to his passage through the scene of an ancient siege, Genseric is gifted with a vision of his true enemy.

The historical nuances, down to Genseric’s status as an Arian Christian heretic and the inability of conquerors to avoid the toxic emasculation of cultural assimilation by the conquered, take form as a drama that rises with a grim intensity throughout this brutal, and utterly non-physical, adventure.

The visitant has words for Genseric that might be given to the foe of any decadent empire:

“Sack the city? I have seen such a sack as not even you, barbarian, have dreamed of! They call you barbaric. I have seen what civilized Romans can do… Not alone in swords and ships does Rome deal, but with the souls of men. I have come from a far land to save your empire and your life…”

The imagery of wolves is used to describe the Vandals, who are fixed in an intensely contentious racial and ideological predicament at the cusp of Howard's barbarism versus civilization theme, but the tone of the story is dreamlike beyond all else.

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