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‘A Pre-Cataclysmic Race’
An Untitled Fragment by Robert E. Howard
Reading from the Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, 2006, Del Rey, pages 505-6
Allison and Brill are two treasure hunters despoiling an ancient land:
“Beneath the glare of the sun, etched in the hot blue sky, native laborers sweated and toiled. The scene was a cameo of desolation—blue sky, amber sand stretching to the skyline in all directions, barely relieved by a fringe of palm trees that marked an oasis in the near distance. The men were like brown ants in that empty sun-washed immensity, pecking away at a queer grey dome half hidden in the sands. Their employers aided with directions and ready hands.”
What becomes apparent mid way through a reading of this fragment is that it belongs in a Conan collection. This was the beginning of a “Mummy’s Tomb” type horror tale popular in the 120s and 30s that would expose the fictional-archeological basis for Robert E. Howard’s mythic Conan setting of the Hyborian Age, a wonder-strewn place that was a time, a time for which Howard seems to have been convinced must have existed. Like many readers and fiction writers of his age, Howard seemed to believe that there must have been an age that has evaded our penchant for record-keeping, and that maybe mankind has some deeper past than we understand.
My hunch is that the Conan tale, Black Colossus, begins with this same dome, before it became a sand-covered ruin, which begins from the view of a simple man, a lone plunderer of an earlier age, seeking the same entombed mystery:
“He stood, the one atom of life amidst the colossal monuments of desolation and decay.”
Perhaps Howard became more interested in meeting the mystery in its own age, rather than as so much fiction or the time depicted, an uncovering of something long and lost. In any case domes figure in Howard’s fiction as edifices that harbor powerfully ancient dooms.
A Well of Heroes
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