Sunday, 20 July 2008

"The Haunter Of The Ring & Other Tales" by Robert E Howard

"The Haunter Of The Ring &
Other Tales"
by Robert E Howard
Format : Paperback, 397 pages
Publisher : Wordsworth Editions

£2.99, that's just £2.99 or 3.77 euros or 5.96 dollars, what else could you buy for £2.99 that would thrill you, shock you, amuse you and generally entertain you for a good 5-10 hours (suggestions to the usual address!). Seriously £2.99, now you may have noticed that this blog is by Highlander and that's a slight clue that I may be Scottish and you could imply that I am tainted with that Scottish racial stereotype of being careful with money, after all we all know that
"Copper wire was invented by two Scots fighting over a penny" or that " A Scotsman never buys an address book, he scores out the people he doesn't know in a telephone directory." Well there is a certain element of truth in that but its not just me, even when I took this book to the till the assistant had to ask for help as there was clearly a problem with the price ("£2.99 that can't be right"). So I think we can safely say this book is cheap, as cheap as wee Jock MacCheap from 29 Cheap Street, Cheaptown, in fact. Three cheers then for Wordsworth editions, not only have they avoided the cynical trap of publishing out of copyright material and charging a tenner for it, they have also decided to publish out of print or lesser known material by key figures in the supernatural genre thereby keeping the genre's legacy alive, why if I had a hat it would be off right now!

Robert E Howard was a fascinating character. Of course, most people who have heard of him (and that's probably the vast minority) immediately think of Conan. Not only do they think of Conan but they think of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the 1982 film (trashy but fun) what they don't think of is the man who single handedly invented the sword and sorcery genre, a man who was mates with H P Lovecraft, a bookish boy who became a leading prizefighter or a man who achieved this in a short lifespan of 30years before committing suicide whilst watching his mother die.

Howard was a leading light in the pulp magazines of the 1930's (such as Weird Tales) along with many of his contemporaries (can you imagine visiting the newsagent to pick up the latest issue with new stories by Howard, Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith !!) and perfected the art of short story writing in the process. Wordsworth editions have picked up many of these short stories and crafted this collection, all with a supernatural twist. we therefore get early Conan tales, Cthulhu mythology tales, Ghost stories, Indiana Jones style adventure tales and sheer trashy adventure crammed into the 400 pages of this book.

To my mind the stories which succeed best are those which draw on Howards extensive knowledge of Celtic/Pictish mythology (The Cairn On The Headland) or those he wrote whilst corresponding with Lovecraft and which add to and enrich the Cthulhu mythos (The Children of The Night) but there are several which cross over such as The Black Stone which contain elements of both. There are weaknesses, clearly these stories were written with a pulp market in mind so whilst they read easily, several are pretty shallow, there are also some uncomfortable racist and sexist comments which in our "pc" world would be unacceptable but when the stories work they are brilliant, the sacrifice scene in "The Black Stone" for example even 76 years after publication can still shock.

The books true strength is in revealing the depth of Howards talent (and importance) and as a starting point for the reader wanting to enjoy the Howard that exists beyond Conan and reassess one of the founding fathers of the modern genre. Oh and did I mention its £2.99 !!!!!!

Rating 4 out of 5

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