Tuesday, May 10, 2011

31. The Moon of Skulls by Robert E. Howard

I picked this up at a flea market in Oakland. I'm a big fan of Robert E. Howard, but most of his work is like maple syrup: you don't want a big bowl full. Most of his work are short stories, so I only tend to read a story at a time. The Moon of Skulls is a perfect set-up, with one long novella and two much shorter stories, featuring the 16th century Puritan warrior, Solomon Kane. Kane is english, but spends most of his life in dark, adventurous places like central africa, uncovering the occult remains of ancient civilizations while battling off evil and savagery.

What I notice about Kane is that he does a lot of walking. He's constantly moving forward, ignoring warnings about travelling through the swamps at night, climbing straight up mountains, charging through lines of slavers. He's very puritan about his forward momentum. The plots of the stories are quite minimal, the last one almost seeming like a vignette. It's the rich atmosphere and robust energy that makes Howards' writing so great. Kane seethes with fury at injustice and when captured, his hatred for his slaver captor is so potent that the sheikh physically recoils. Here is how tough he is:
Even when they had him stretched out and piled man-weight on him until he could no longer strike with fists or foot, his long lean fingers sank fiercely through a matted beard to lock about a corded throat in a grip that took the power of three strong men to break and left the victim gasping and green-faced.

When reading this, I really wonder how Howard's writing would have evolved had he not killed himself. He was a prodigious writer and had an imagination large even for the pulps. I suspect he would have kept on experimenting and done some really interesting work.


Sebastian said...

I find that most times I read Howard I have to finish a story, then come back and read another a week later. If read the second story straight away I'll just think it's exactly the same (or not different enough) as the one before. Don't get me wrong, I love the guy's writing, but I think a careful approach is necessary not to get bored with it. Are there any Howard collections you could recommend? I'm trying to read ffity books a year also and I'm compiling a list to get and idea of where I am going. If you are interested, look me up at The Bookworm's Lounge.

OlmanFeelyus said...

That's very good advice, actually. When I get in a reading mode, it's hard for me to not read the next story, but I think with Howard he probably is read best one story at a time, where you can really savour the pulpy atmosphere and intense action. Noted.

Thanks for commenting and I'll definitely be checking out your blog. Good luck with your fifty books!