Friday, November 20, 2009

Heroes in the Wind: From Kull to Conan by Robert E Howard, edited John Clute


Howard's swashbuckling fantasy stories feature the adventures of the enigmatic Conan: a free barbarian from distant Cimmeria who ventures into the splendid kingdoms of the south to find his fortune in the lost eons of the Hyborian Age between the sinking of Kull's Atlantis and the dawn of history. Cunning thief, captain of mercenaries and corsairs, lover of sultry temptresses, Conan follows his destiny into demon-haunted treasure towers and across the plains of death. And at last, like Kull before him, he slashes his name across the scrolls of royalty as King Conan, usurper-lord of imperial Aquilonia.

I came to Conan quite late in life - purely because of the movies made starring Arnie. My dad however had read the novels and was a big fan of Robert E Howard and had read his westerns. Yes, you read that correctly - the creator Kull and Conan wrote pulp westerns. And I subsequently read them because those were some of the only books my dad allowed himself to buy.

When I received my copy from Penguin to read and I flicked through it, I felt like I was sitting down with an eccentric uncle with an even wilder imagination than mine. I loved how John Clute portrays Howard, bashing out these stories through the night on his typewriter, shouting out the words, much to the shock and horror of his neighbours. I never knew much about Howard and the introduction revealed that he was an incredibly prolific writer, deeply committed and eccentric. I also didn't know he killed himself and this fact really made me feel sad and even more driven to get into these stories.

Heroes in the Wind is a collection of some of Robert E Howard's stories as chosen and edited by John Clute. These may not be to everyone's taste but I would say that they are definitely worth a read, as an introduction to Conan and Howard's writing. You may think you know Conan's stories through the movies but here we have four of his adventures and it is plain to everyone who is a fan of epic pulp fantasy that Howard's characterisation and prowess as storyteller rubbed off on many of the first generation writers of epic fantasy. The descriptions aren't just graphic violence, some of it is genuinely lyrical and there is a simplicity of language in some places which gives you chills.

My favourite line has to be: "Spears bent his armor and swished empty air, and his sword sang its death-song."

I can do worse than point you to this page on Wikipedia, which has the content for this book listed, as well as a breakdown of plot for each along with some art work.

These stories follow amongst others Kull the Atlantean and Bran Mak Morn, King of the Picts, viscerally depicting their struggles and wars, whilst "Queen of the Black Coast" is overrun with pirates and dark deeds.

We run the gamut of stories and emotions here and I loved it. I sort of regret receiving a copy as I think this will make an interesting present for Mark. He's a big enough fan already!

Howard's writing is unashamedly masculine and riddled with fantastic cliches but he writes with such obvious energy and enthusiasm, creating his own worlds and genuinely seeming to live in them, that he can be forgiven for forgetting that us girls are readers too. These short stories will be a perfect treat for any older teen son, husband or dad who secretly would like to wave an axe about themselves.

Heroes in the Wind is out now from Penguin in the UK.

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