Thursday 5 November 2009

I've been reading the Robert E Howard collection THE HAUNTER OF THE RING AND OTHER TALES, and it's an interesting experience. This is the first time I've read a bunch of his horror stories collected in one place. It is arranged chronologically and I find myself most drawn to the early stories, where REH is toying about with his reincarnation theme and trying on horror archetypes like the vampire tale (transplanted very nicely to America), the werewolf tale, and the purely psychological tale of terror. When he attempts to write a Lovecraftian tale, he is obviously out of his element; he does a game job of it, but REH's mode of plot advancement is very different from HPL's. Some of his best stuff is what people call the Haunted Midwest material, and there are some excellent later stories shorn of Mythos influences, but I feel the damage had been done and the raw energy and wonder (horror is just a darker version of wonder, after all) of the earliest tales is never regained. This collection includes a selection of REH's Steve Harrison tales, which feel out of place being action-mystery stories without supernatural elements. Some of these pile on the violence to an extent that should not be surprising to me, but still feel more like a shortcut to writing a story in a genre REH was not comfortable with than the glorious celebration of barbarianism in the Conan stories (not that I share REH's penchant for primal brutality; but when he wrote in that vein in a Conan or Kull tale it seems of a piece with the character and setting).

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