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‘Into the Grayness We Went’
Sea Curse by Robert E. Howard
Formerly reviewed as ‘A Ship of Bygone Ages’
Reading from The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, 2008, Del Ray, NY, pages 35-40, originally published in Weird Tales, May 1928
With The Dream Snake Howard’s horror fiction had begun to take on the trappings of the ghost story. The ghost story is related to the racial memory or ancestral dream tale, but is generally tied to a place, often a place where a person or people came to grief. The ghost story is a tale of cross-generational guilt of a lingering nature, without the vibrancy of the racial memory story that is more akin to a werewolf or vampire tale, in that it is one of propagation rather than dissipation.
In Sea Curse a captain and his mate of little repute, Lie-Lip Canool, return to a small English seaside town often to drink and dice. These men are mere criminals by our definition. But in that small town of Faring they are what passes for heroes. Here Howard stays true to the Hellenic definition of the hero, as neither good nor bad, but an event shaper that might be either. As with the hip-hop heroes of our own time, the criminal waxed as the honest people waned:
“”And all feared them, so that when a man was beaten or a woman insulted, the villagers muttered—and did nothing.”
A local woman’s innocent daughter has washed up on shore, and the seafaring men are callous in their disregard, bringing down a curse from her witch-like mother. The story is told from the viewpoint of a boy, now grown and documents the changing will of the small local community as it sits between the variously haunted elemental planes of the vast grey sea and the barren, snow-crowned hills. In plot, a simple tale, Sea Curse is the examination of the frontier community’s collective soul mythological, for Faring Town is just that, that point in the human experience from whence and where heroes embark for good or ill to be so judged by posterity.
Howard mixes witchcraft and the ghost story in this tale. As he delved further into the subject of racial and place-specific human guilt, he began meshing the elements that informed his epic fantasy works later on. This and the next few pieces in the [Horror] collection are set in the English countryside that would produce the character of Solomon Kane, arguably his best and most conflicted major protagonist.
The audio reading below is superb.
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