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‘The Child Asks’
Robert E. Howard - Bran Mak Morn - Men Of The Shadows
Pages 3-30, of Bran Mak Morn: The Last King, Del Rey 2005
“I was again a savage,”
“On every hand great mountains reared...”
In this mixture of verse and narrative a Norse barbarian fighting under Roman arms as a legionnaire of [the reader may assume] the storied Ninth legion as it was whittled and gnawed by the savage warriors of the Pictish nation, devolves into his root, primal, tribal identity, shedding furiously his patina of Roman efficiency.
Like a frontiersmen regressing into his barbarous European patrimony the longer he fought against primitive Indian foes, the unnamed Norseman in service to Rome, even as he loses his Roman equipment and takes up more traditional weapons along the course of the doomed battle trek in Caledonia, becomes inwardly and outwardly more human and less civilized as he goes down into inevitable defeat, finally vanquished by that which he had torturously become.
From this vantage he gained the ability and circumstance to appreciate the world from “the heights of self-conquest.”
Then he hears a voice of wisdom, “My tribe are fools...they hate the Norse when they should hate Rome.”
The narrator was then treated to an audience with Bran Mak Morn, King of Primal Hate and to a discussion of tribal fate, racial degeneration and the sinister, metaphysical politics of ultimate racial survival.
“Long have ye mocked my power, man of the old race,”came the challenge of the wizard to the chief, matching the sky powers of the chief with the earth powers of the wizard—a story in which Arthur and Merlin do battle for the burden of guiding the tiller of the race.
Men of the Shadows is an underrated tale of racial identity, higher values and deeper desires that rend men and minds of our many flickering races into the strands woven by Fate to make the world of men. The second half of the story is a simple recitation of Howard’s mythos and outline of his fictional ethnography, which might only be of interest to devoted readers. Knowing that this story was rejected on these grounds, I wonder why the editor did not simply lop off the narrative tale after the showdown between Bran and the Wizard and publish it. The casual reader should perhaps approach men of the Shadows after that suggestion.
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