Sunday, November 11, 2007

Short Review of Shadow Kingdom -- Robert E. Howard

Kull of Atlantis is one of four major characters which sprang pantherine from the pen of sword-and-sorcery author Robert E. Howard. In this first of the Kull series of stories, we find a barbarian king come to the throne of Valusia: a task not quite suited to the wild and unpredictable Kull of Atlantis. A once-rival comes to him as a friend to reveal a great web of evil lurking in the shadows of Valusia, and together they seek a way to root out the pervasive reek of inhuman treachery that has seeped from the depths of prehistory too ancient for contemplation:
Kull sat upon his throne and gazed broodily out upon the sea of faces turned toward him. A courtier was speaking in evenly modulated tones, but the king scarcely heard him....The surface of court life was as the unrippled surface of the sea between tide and tide....As he sat upon his throne in the Hall of Society and gazed upon the courtiers, the ladies, the lords, the statesmen, he seemed to see their faces as things of illusion, things unreal, existent only as shadows and mockeries of substance. Always he had seen their faces as masks, but before he had looked on them with contemptuous tolerance, thinking to see beneath the masks shallow, puny souls, avaricious, lustful, deceitful; now there was a grim undertone, a sinister meaning, a vague horror that lurked beneath the smooth masks. While he exchanged courtesies with some nobleman or councilor he seemed to see the smiling face fade like smoke and the frightful jaws of a serpent gaping there. How many of those he looked upon were horrid, inhuman monsters, plotting his death, beneath the smooth mesmeric illusion of a human face?

A compelling story from early in the career of Robert E. Howard. It is easy to see Conan as naturally developing out of the raw stuff in Howard's imagination, though Kull is hardly the proto-Conan, as he is very well developed and unique in his own right. In this story, the brilliantly rendered Brule makes his first appearance also, Kull's stalwart right-hand man of Pictish descent. Brule is the roguish counterpoint to the shadowy dreams of the brooding Kull. A truly classic sword and sorcery tale with much to offer the jaded fan.


Anonymous said...

I picked this one up some time ago and read the first three or four stories in it. I remember thinking at the time that you would like it. I'm pretty sure that the Conan story "By This Axe I Rule" was originally submitted as a Kull story, but I could be wrong.

As you said, it's easy to see the similarities between Conan and Kull, but they are extremely different characters.

In the Kull stories Howard has managed to convey a weird dreamlike portrait of Atlantis as a society not as much in its death throes as a nation slowly fading away to a ghost-like end. I have trouble picturing anything in these stories in any way other than as a movie filmed through a blue lens to replicate night.

I would also recommend the Solomon Kane stories. These along with the Kull collection and the three Conan collectoins represent some of the best values in fantasy fiction you can get at a bookstore. I hesitate saying the same for the Bran Mak Morn collection, only for the fact that there is only one full story in it. The rest is made up of story fragments and plot outlines. Though there is more of Howard's poetry in this than in any of the other collections, which, depending on your appetite for such things, could be a selling point. I personlly think that his poetry needs to be collected in its own binding.

It should be strongly noted that the Kull movie starring Kevin Sorbo should be avoided at all cost.


preacherman said...

Thanks for the review.
I appreciate it brother.
God bless.