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'To Whip a Woman!'
An Untitled Incomplete Fragment by Robert E. Howard
Reading from pages 255-57 of Kull: Exile of Atlantis
This brief and truncated first scene of a story features Am-ra, the barbarian prototype which would become Kull and later Conan. The telling is a little clunky for Howard and was certainly an early work. There is more communication directly between the narrator and the reader, more typical of Burroughs than of Howard's prime work.
The Am-ra character would go on to lead in the superb story, Gods of the North, which would be rewritten twice, lastly as the Conan story The Frost Giant's Daughter. An impatience with the teasing of female kind, which shows itself firstly in this Am-ra story and then becomes the focus of the awesome Gods of the North, featuring as it does the protagonist's furious attempt to rape a goddess, gleams through from the author's young mind, eventually enshrined as a story of man against god.
Three times, Am-ra faults himself for whipping the woman, justifying it as the punishment of a child according to his tribe's custom. The girl, Ah-lala, who he calls "Zukor Na" or "little wildcat" uses most of the notes on the emotional scale to get her way and avoid the whipping and he finally relents, relived that he didn't beat the girl and angry for not being able to fathom this vexing creature, who has followed him on a masculine quest.
In Ah-lala one sees the prototypical willful woman of Howard's later fiction, in her adolescence, still trying to decide what kind of woman she must be to engage the world as something more than a child. Am-ra is likewise a character seeking himself, as if Howard's exploration of character development were being played out in the minds of these early budding protagonists. Howard's contrasts of feminine and masculine extremes is fully developed from the start, perhaps the most consistent aspect of his characterization of fictional beings over his career. For Howard, men and women diverged more extremely in type, physiology and psychology than for most writers of his time and all writers of our age.
The one experimental aspect of his fiction which he thankfully discards in his development as an author was the practice—common in his time and done to the extreme by Tolkien [who was at least linguistically qualified to do so]—was the development of a primitive language for the setting, an unnecessary conventions which he unburdens himself of early in his career.
Writing Unchained
Prolific Writing by Design
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