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'Down the Old Tote Road'
The Shadow of the Beast by Robert E. Howard

Unpublished in the author's lifetime, first published in The Shadow of the Beast in 1977, reading from The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, Del Rey, 2008, pages 95-103

Although not published in his lifetime, The Shadow of the Beast did bear fruit for Howard, as the dual theme of the hero facing supernatural dread and committing to defend the women of his race against harm, most specifically against the men of enemy races, would figure prominently in Howard's Kane, Mak Morn and Conan tales. The savage artifice of this tale also surfaces in Almuric, Iron Shadows I the Moon, The Pool of the Black One, Red Shadows and Rogues in the House.

Steve, a 250-pound Texan, visiting a lady he intends to marry according to the undertone of the story, finds himself in the ultimate masculine position, and, unlike in our current time, when it is thought that the effete white man is incapable of battling the superior races of color in any physical way, Howard puts forth an ancient kind of hell-honky. Below are enough quotes from the story to give the reader a feel for the narrative without revealing any crucial elements of the brief plot.

"The horror had its beginning in the crack of a pistol in a black hand. A white man dropped with a bullet in his chest and the negro who fired the shot turned and fled, after a single hideous threat hurled at the pale-faced girl who stood horror-struck close by.

"He said he'd come back and get me one night when the woods were dark...He will, too. When a negro like him sets his mind on a white girl, nothing but death can stop him."

Her protector answers, "...Do you think I'm going to sit here and let that black beast menace you? ...By morning Joe Cagle will be past harming any girl, white or black."

This passage is typical of Howard writing on racial tension, that although different kinds of men might harbor natural hostilities with a biological basis, they are still men and their women still women.

"From all accounts he [Joe Cagle] was an unusual man, a complete savage, so bestial, so low on the scale of intelligence that even the superstitions of his race left him untouched."

The Shadow of the Beast neatly predicts or condenses the horrific elements of Red Shadows, one of the very best Kane stories, a short, satisfying read that falls within the scope of Howard's Piney Woods horror thread. It occurs to this reader, at this point in the survey of Howard's work, that Solomon Kane was essentially a Piney Woods horror hero, a Kirby Buckner of a more brutal age.

A Well of Heroes: Two:

Literary Impressions of the Prose and Verse of Robert E. Howard

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