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‘Terror of Losing’
The Iron Man by Robert E. Howard

A seven-chapter novelette of 60 pages, published in 2013 by Read Books

In The Iron Man, Howard uses more mechanical description than is usual but maintains his adherence to the metaphor when describing aggression. Were his ancient heroes are compared to leopards, panthers, wolves, lions and tigers, his modern boxing heroes are made of steel and iron. The savage intensity though, remains, as enigmatic Mike Brennon, a fighter with little skill and no science, a completely uncoachable knucklehead, manages to forge himself into a crowd-pleasing attraction, enduring the hideous re-sculpting of his face in order to gain enough money for some unspoken goal, which remains the mystery of this seven part story until its closing pages.

Set before the backdrop of the carnival tent and the rural boxing circuit [which is carried on by small time pro wrestling troupes in our own lesser day] Mike’s story is told by one of the rarest boxing eggs of them all, an honest promoter who cares for his fighter. Although this fellow is such a stock figure—a mythic shepherd, really—he is at a loss to imprint his name on the reader’s mind.

The promoter, Mister Amber, retains the services of a very realistic boxing personality, in the form of Middleweight Spike Ganlon as Mike’s coach and corner man. Sailor Steve Costigan, Howard’s boxing hero in other tales—including a horror story—appears as an implacable opponent.

The story line is too direct to expose any further, only to say that it is secondary. The primary object of the author here was the sketching of an indomitable will, the heroic will that all of Howard’s heroes would carry into their savage lives. In terms of a personality sketch, most literature critics would laugh at Howard’s Mike Brennon, as he is too elemental—even his flaws are rugged and clean, without the toxic trace of sissy society. Mike Brennon is a working class hero striving to escape his class by way of the means left to that class in any civilization—working hard and suffering.

Spiritually, Brennon most resembles Howard’s medieval heroes, such as Donald MacDeesa in Lord of Samarcand, but without the murderous cruelty, just the intensity. Most importantly in this story, Howard flexes his craft in the form of scene-setting from the vantage of Mister Amber:

“As if it were yesterday I visualize the scene; the ring bathed in the white glow above it; while the great crowd that filled the huge outside bowl swept away into the darkness of each side. A circle of white faces looked up from ringside seats. Farther out only a twinkling army of glowing cigarettes evidenced the multitude, and a vast rippling undertone came from the soft darkness.”

I would like to thank my friend Ishmael, for acquiring this rare edition of The Iron Man and sending it down to Baltimore.

Reverent Chandler: The Saga of Fend

Add Comment
ShepApril 8, 2017 6:47 AM UTC

Glad you're getting into this one.