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‘Through the Door’
The Striking of the Gong by Robert E. Howard
First published in The Second Book of Robert E. Howard, 1976, reading from pages 129-32 of Kull, Del-Rey, 2006
"Somewhere in the hot red darkness there began a throbbing. A pulsating cadence, soundless but vibrant with reality…”
Thus begins a masterpiece of the heroic mind.
The Striking of the Gong is the most realistic treatment of a near death experience in fantasy, outside of the Thomas Covenant trilogy by Stephan R. Donaldson.
Kull awakes in an elemental cocoon, to seek light “instinctively, as a growing plant seeks it,” makes his way to a distant “faint, grey light,” and begins to experience a sensation of great height and discovers that a “a tall vague shape loomed before him,” its back to a myriad universe of stars.
The reader discovers, just before Kull, that he has been released from his mortal cage and is aloft in the cosmos. What follows is the discussion of the universe with a spectral being and his eventual discovery of what force brought him hence. Being truly heroic to the core, Kull addresses any misfortune as a challenge and grows in its overcoming. He never just survives.
Among the wisdoms bequeathed by the looming intelligence is the following line, which echoes almost precisely something said by Stevens, Chief Engineer of the Panama Canal [1] at about the time Howard wrote this unsold story:
“Your universe, Kull of Valusia, may be a pebble on the shore of a mighty kingdom.”
1. “…we are but children picking up pebbles on the shores of a boundless ocean…”
A Well of Heroes
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