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By Justin Sweet
“She lounged with supple ease upon her silk couch, herself like a great beautiful feline, and looked at Kull from under long drooping lashes, which lended unimaginable charm to her narrow, piquantly slanted eyes.”
- The Cat and the Skull
Kull, Del Rey, 2006, page 88
Justin Sweet, illustrator of Kull: Exile of Atlantis executed a number of shadowy scenes fraught with the sleepy menace of Valusia as portrayed by Howard, a realm of decaying grandeur and decadent races, a land much like our own postmodern fishbowl of unrealized souls. Into this shadow kingdom Kull, a barbaric figure, strides arrogantly in a truly patriarchal tone, taking no sexual interest whatsoever in the beautiful and beguiling women, whom he identifies one and all as children, little girls playing at life.
Kull’s view of women as sensuous images carved in treacherous shadow to lure men to their various dooms is well realized in Sweet’s illustration of Delcardes on her couch, lounging sensuous and beautiful, next to a very large house cat of the long-hired variety, likewise lounging magnet-eyed on its own couch. The figure of Delcardes does not arose, so much as place a yearning, shaped as she is naturally as a woman in her most fertile stage and shape, late teens or early twenties. Sweet correctly read the subtext of the story as Delcardes representing civilization as a feminine form, with the character herself placed in a sterile context against which she chaffs.
Shadows envelop.
Smoke rises from a brazier.
Massive stonework marches into shadow.
A hint of something darker, some recension, in the shows behind the girl is offset by her pastel pillows and delicate flowing shift as she receives with an heir of infinite seduction he who cannot be seduced.
Delcardes, the character, is, in Howard’s art—well reflected by Sweet’s visual translation—Civilization herself, caught soft and dainty between the barbarian and the evil manipulators who attend her.
In the form of a sensuous woman, reclining in sterile allure, Howard and thence Sweet, place Civilization on a luxurious coach, flawed, inviting and above all vulnerable.
A Well of Heroes: Two:
Literary Impressions of the Prose and Verse of Robert E. Howard
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