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REH Feature Reviews
The Series Scheme for A Well of Heroes—Literary Impressions of the Prose and Verse of Robert E. Howard


The feature review for Volume One was Almuric, Howard’s first of two novels, unpublished in his life time. In Almuric Howard seemed to have been working toward his ultimate heroic character with Esau Cairn, who is by turns cartoonish and deeply insightful.

For the last volume, the feature will be Howard’s other novel, Hour of the Dragon, as it is Howard’s longest work and features his most enduring character, Conan. For the intervening features, I want to use his longer novelettes and novellas. The intervening features have been chosen for length, depth, breadth and thematic development, with depth and breadth heavily influenced by their length.

The longest Kane story, The Moon of Skulls, shares many elements with Almuric—with one possibly the progenitor of the other—and also seems to link Howard’s stark European visions with his interest in African settings. With, Kane, the horrific atmospherics that leant such peril to the Conan stories are fully worked out. So, while the shortest of the features, The Moon of Skulls seems to be a crossroads where Howard successfully wove numerous of his themes together. This reader sees The Moon of Skulls as a yarn that expressed a vision that eventually brought us Queen of the Black Coast and served to underpin fully half of the Conan series, and is also reflected in Black Canaan, one of Howard’s very best horror stories.

The intriguing—more so to this author than Conan—heroes Kull and Bran Mak Morn, do not feature in stories long enough for this feature scheme, although Worms of the Earth is possibly Howard’s best tale. Likewise, the historical adventures did not exceed novelette length, although I wanted to use Lord of Samarkand for this purpose.

The People of the Black Circle, is, in my opinion, the best, and ultimate Conan story, and is fully a novella. It is paced later in this series to reflect Howard’s fullest expression as a writer and because it shares the same location as the next feature.

Three-Bladed Doom was not published in Howard’s life time, though other “Oriental” yarns set in the Middle East and Central Asia were. Most of Howard’s medieval historical characters, as well as Kane [literally haunted by it] and Conan, were drawn to this setting which would ultimately draw the author’s direct address in the form of the El-Borak stories, in which a modern Texan takes on the familiar interloper gone native role.

The Hour of the Dragon, might arguably—well, I’ll hazard an argument as I have no credibility to lose among Elvish kind—have inspired or predicted Tolkien on certain points, but, more importantly, brings the reader full circle to a classic—almost Arthurian, though failing on all aristocratic counts—look at the European hero king.

The runner up is Swords of the Red Brotherhood, with the hero Black Vulmea—who seems to be one of numerous Conan prototypes—which became the Conan story The Black Stranger. At 75 pages it is a standout adventure but lacks the depth and breadth of those here and as a story is inferior to some of the better novelettes.

The scheme is as follows:

Volume One: Almuric, Esau Cairn, 157 pages

Volume Two: The Moon of Skulls, Solomon Kane, 73 pages

Volume Three: The People of the Black Circle, Conan, 80 pages

Volume Four: Three Bladed Doom, Francis Xavier Gordon “El Borak,” 95 pages

Volume Five: The Hour of the Dragon, Conan, 173 pages

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