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‘Of the Dim World’
Golnar the Ape by Robert E. Howard
Unfinished and Unpublished in Howard’s Life time, first published in Crypt of Cthulhu, Roodmas, 1985, reading from The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, pages 483-6
During the course of what seems an introductory chapter to a three to five chapter novelette, Howard uses the terms lecas and gerbas to describe spirit beings or monsters of some sort. I have found both as sir names for Europeans and a leca brand of expandable artificial clay, but nothing further. Hopefully, before I am done this volume I shall find a folklore reference to these creatures, unless he invented them, which I doubt.
Golnar the ape is a first-person retrospective from the point of view of a man who has once been a deformed and monstrously apish orphan left at a tavern door step. The plot is a standard “Beauty and the Beast” tale, which perhaps, Howard grew bored with. This is a shame, as his beast was quite remarkable, and did not hide some civilized intellect like the standard character. He was stupid up until his transformation, but held a spiritual wisdom within his massive frame.
The reoccurring theme of domestic abuse we find in Dark Agnes and the Kirby Buckner stories is firmly planted in this bleak tale, which paints a stormy picture of a coastal fief under constant assault by the elements, where Golnar wades in the fens and harvests mussels.
“My first memory is of sprawling among wine-barrels, on the dirty flag floor and—but I started not to pen the tale of Golnar the Ape. Let my younger years fade back into the strange haze from which they came, with their strange dreams and visions, their monstrous, mystic shapes, and the rest: the scrubbing of floors and tankards, the beatings, the petty persecutions—let them fade as the name the tavern keeper gave me has faded.”
Golnar communed with the magic beings little better than he could communicate with the villagers who hated and feared him he was “a strange half-being pausing on the threshold of two world.”
In about 1600 words Howard sketched a piteously and redemptive alienated character that seems to prefigure Conn of When the Grey God Passes. Importantly, before the character sketch is done, we are treated to the story’s villain. I suspect that Golnar the Ape became the spiritual well for many of Howard’s barbarian characters and also provided the physical imagery for a number of their neutral rivals, such as Thak, but who were never the real enemy. In some of his earlier efforts at horror, Howard was already pitting the natural man against the affected man in a way that prefigured Conan’s uneven struggle against The People of the Black Circle in one of his standard later efforts.
It is of interest to this reader that Howard also shows a concern with faire creatures in his early writing, and aspect of his writing I am interested in tracing to the point where it flows into and fades within his major themes.
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