Black shadows wavered on the walls as the two followed their silent host down a long, dark hall. The stocky, broad body of their guide seemed to grow and expand in the light of the small candle which he carried, throwing a long, grim shadow behind him.
The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard (2008) features at least 20 poems and 35 stories (including a few unfinished ones) written for pulp magazines in the 1920s and 30s.
In these pages you’ll meet reptilian horrors, lycanthropes, demonic terrors and…humans, possibly the worst of the lot. Evils from out of time and alternate dimensions death and worse than death creep through the entire tome. They might be really exciting for a 12 year old but not so much in this time of overly horror books.
Yes there are a few negatives, a few stories that don’t measure up (or poems). They resemble Poe’s work and H.G. Wells. At first I was a little afraid we’d quickly O.D. on werewolves as the first 2 tales take us down that road, but not to worry…things quickly get weirder. Though Howard is most often noted for being the creator of Conan the Barbarian, and, in truth, the entire sword & sorcery genre, he was also a talented writer of horror tales. I was drawn in by Howard’s language. His characters live in a world of rediscovered long-lost races of people, of quests, of adventure, greed, doom, mystery and terror.
But, mostly the book is packed with the kind of frights you’re/we’re probably looking for. We see mentions of dark and evil books, ones we’re aware of (if we’ve read others, like Lovecraft) and a couple of Howard’s own imagining. We find stories of evil and even redemption…so, four stars.
WARNING: By the way. This is a collections from the 1930s so there are a couple of non-PC words used including a couple of times the “milder” of the older racial terms is used. Not a good thing, but a product of its time. Just wanted anyone who chooses to read it not to be surprised.
One thing this collection makes clear is that Howard’s particular style of purple prose is best suited for the genre he created, that peculiar mix of fantasy, adventure and horror that came to be called swords & sorcery. In other settings it a bit much. He’s at his best writing of an adventure in some fantasy realm half Arabian Nights, half Lovecraft. At that the man was simply brilliant.
Anywhere else his prose is trying to fit ten pounds of content into an eight pound story. It does not fit. (And sometimes is a four letter word that rhymes with fit.) The farther he got from the real world the better he got. Sadly, good horror is too often best when presented in a setting very close to the real world.
The smile of a child was on her lips–oh, smile of a last long rest.
My arm went up and my arm went down and the dagger pierced her breast.
Silent she lay–oh still, oh still!–with the breast of her gown turned red.
Then fear rose up in my soul like death and I fled from the face of the dead.
The hangings rustled upon the walls, velvet and black they shook,
And I thought to see strange shadows flash from the dark of each door and nook.
Tapestries swayed on the ghostly walls as if in a wind that blew;
Yet never a breeze stole through the rooms and my black fear grew and grew.