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‘Upon the Fen’
The Moor Ghost by Robert E. Howard
Previously published as ‘Beyond the World Of Men’
Reading from page 41, The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, 2008, Del Ray, NY, originally published in Weird Tales, September, 1929
Howard’s obsession with blood memory during this stage of his career seems to have morphed into a curiosity of genetic guilt that comes close to the ghost haunting story. In confining much of this impulse to verse he gave it more power, and I suspect leant much power to his upcoming Kane and Conan tales.
Howard projected a belief in the power of violence to echo down through the ages in the form of relics, hauntings, the blood curse, and through the very power of the act itself producing a kind of supernatural butterfly effect. The notion that little understood and vast powers encircled the puny world of man—and might reasonably be expected to intrude—was common to the fiction of Howard and of his friend H.P. Lovecraft.
Did tinkering with these notions in literary form represent a crude form of deistic musing on Howard’s part, that he attributed to some animistic impulse inherited from his savage Scotch-Irish ancestors?
There was a theme in literature at this time that saw the wilder inhabitants of Great Britain—the Scotts, Cornish, Welsh, and Irish –as having been fated somehow to carry the fight to other savages around the globe in the name of modernity. Howard certainly appreciated—writing as he did among invaders of the recently settled American frontier—the irony of the fact that so many low born, Celtic peoples, subjugated by the Christian Germans [the English: Angles and Saxons, and later Normans], had been cast like dice around the globe to fight non-Christian peoples on behalf of their English masters.
I think we sense a taste of the bitterness that accompanies such a notion below.
The Moor Ghost
They haled him to the crossroads
As day was at its close;
They hung him from the gallows
And left him for the crows.
His hands in life were bloody,
His ghost will not be still;
He haunts the naked moorlands
About the gibbet hill.
And oft a lonely traveler
Is found upon the fen
Whose dead eyes hold horror
Beyond the world of men.
The villagers then whisper,
With accents grim and dour;
“This man has met at midnight
The phantom of the moor.”
I suspect this poem is related in its genesis to the Solomon Kane story Skulls in the Stars, even though that story was published a year earlier in 1928. The fourth line of the third verse, "Beyond the world of men," encapsulates Howard's most often expressed notion of the horrific, that terror and madness reside in the incomprehensible "supernatural" order that engulfs mankind and renders the term "natural" somewhat quaint, an admittance of man's hopelessly subjective view of the cosmos.
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