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‘A Hundred Souls’
The Dead Slaver’s Tale by Robert E. Howard
Formerly published as A White Supremacist Poet? Revised and expanded. Reading from the Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard from Del Rey
This four verse poem: one of four lines and three of six lines, is told from the perspective of a slaver, a member of a crew charged with sailing 100 souls out of the shadowed lee of a West African jungle coast across the Atlantic. The slave ship—perhaps one of those brigs or sloops that illegally imported slaves into New Orleans after the trans-Atlantic trade had been halted—was sent off to the sound of an accursed drum.
Before they were well into their voyage the slaver was intercepted by a man of war under full sail. The narrative voice then relates how he and his fellows dragged the doomed men up from the hold below, hacked them to pieces, and tossed them overboard, listening to the hungry sharks feast below.
The poem continues to relate how the slave ship out-sailed the warship, but could not out-sail the curse out of Africa that came with the sound of that drum, nor outpace the red trail of gore in the ship's wake. Eventually the ship and crew were dragged to the bottom by “dusky hands” come up from the deep for revenge.
Labeled a racist and a sexist, Howard was manifestly not, nor was he the opposite, some crusader obsessed with depicting the evil done to blacks by whites. Howard was obsessed with telling the timeless tales of the evil that men do to those who are weaker then they or who are in their power. The blacks in Howard’s tales are just as often engaged in heinous crimes against their fellow man, most often as an expression of blind fury manipulated by some sinister figure, whereas the whites tend to be shown acting out of a more individualistic sense of avarice or expediency, as depicted with the crew of the doomed slaver.
Unsurprisingly, The Dead Slaver's Tale was not published until 1973, a brief window for such literature, as today it could not be accepted for inclusion in an anthology of slave lore for the sole reason that its author was a white man. One may assign the following sub-textual element or not:
Perhaps Howard was using the horrific literary medium he trafficked in to make a simple prediction, that when evil men bring their victims into their own land, a dark and bloody price will be paid by their inheritors. Howard’s fiction has many constant themes, one of them being a place of damnation, a hell, from whence those so consigned may, on occasion, communicate and otherwise interact with the living. The voice of the slaver from beyond his watery grave falls firmly into this hellish theme.
Under the God of Things
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