Sonntag, 4. März 2012

Wolfshead by Robert E. Howard

 Wolfshead” by Robert E.Howard is our book this week! I lucked out big time on Ebay this past week and snagged an unread copy of the 1979 Ballantine edition with the stunning “PaulLehr” cover. And I won it for a measly €1.00! That’s $1.30 for you civilians. I had this edition back in HS and this is to my knowledge the only horror cover that Paul Lehr ever did. Just as “Richard Powers” dominated SF paperback art during the late 50s to middle 60s, it was Paul Lehr who picked up the reins from the middle 60s to later 70s. And Mr. Lehr’s art just is a recognizable and in my opinion just as iconic as Richard Power’s work. Personally, I’m a much bigger fan of Lehr than I am of Powers. Where as I find Powers cover art to be interesting in a jarring way I find Lehr’s covers to be much more beautiful. I’m just can’t get enough his bubble buildings/cities with those mobs of tiny people everywhere.
So now back to “Wolfshead”.

“Wolfshead” by Robert E. Howard.
Bantam Books. September 1979.  Cover Price $1.95
(Damn, these F###er’s  are starting to get expensive!!)

        Introduction by Robert Bloch
  • · The Black Stone · ss Weird Tales Nov ’31
  • · The Valley of the Worm [James Allison (past lives of)] · nv Weird Tales Feb ’34
  • · Wolfshead [De Montour] · nv Weird Tales Apr ’26
  • · The Fire of Asshurbanipal · nv Weird Tales Dec ’36
  • · The House of Arabu [“The Witch from Hell’s Kitchen”] · nv Avon Fantasy Reader 18, ed. Donald A. Wollheim, Avon Novels Inc., 1952
  • · The Horror from the Mound · ss Weird Tales May ’32
The only difference between the Bantam edition and the Lancer edition of about 10 years earlier is that the Lancer edition had one more story in it.  Which wasThe Cairn on the Headland”. Ok and the Lancer edition also only cost 60 cents and also had a pretty cool Frank Frazetta cover of a guy fighting a big Snake.

I consider this to definitely be a “must have” REH collection. 4 of these stories are REH at his very best. This guy wrote with a passion that has rarely been topped. “Restraint” was not in Mr. Howard’s vocabulary. If you want to know more about REH Fandom, them go on over the the REH/Conan board and check things out!
“The Black Stone” is the best of REH’s  Lovecraft inspired stories. A guy is travelling Hungary off the beaten path following up on old legends. He spends the night near a “haunted monolith” to see if it is haunted. Well, it is. Where this differs from a typical HPL story is the in Howard’s world the Narrators/Heroes don’t go insane. They might freak out a little bit, but still manage to stay sane and not wet their pants. This one gets a wee bit kinky also. Which let’s you know that HPL didn’t pen it.
On one side of this brazier lay two figures--a young girl, stark naked
and bound hand and foot, and an infant, apparently only a few months
old. On the other side of the brazier squatted a hideous old hag with a
queer sort of black drum on her lap; this drum she beat with slow light
blows of her open palms, but I could not hear the sound.
The rhythm of the swaying bodies grew faster and into the space between
the people and the monolith sprang a naked young woman, her eyes
blazing, her long black hair flying loose. Spinning dizzily on her toes,
she whirled across the open space and fell prostrate before the Stone,
where she lay motionless. The next instant a fantastic figure followed
her--a man from whose waist hung a goatskin, and whose features were
entirely hidden by a sort of mask made from a huge wolf's head, so that
he looked like a monstrous, nightmare being, horribly compounded of
elements both human and bestial. In his hand he held a bunch of long fir
switches bound together at the larger ends, and the moonlight glinted on
a chain of heavy gold looped about his neck. A smaller chain depending
from it suggested a pendant of some sort, but this was missing.
The people tossed their arms violently and seemed to redouble their
shouts as this grotesque creature loped across the open space with many
a fantastic leap and caper. Coming to the woman who lay before the
monolith, he began to lash her with the switches he bore, and she leaped
up and spun into the wild mazes of the most incredible dance I have ever
seen. And her tormentor danced with her, keeping the wild rhythm,
matching her every whirl and bound, while incessantly raining cruel
blows on her naked body. And at every blow he shouted a single word,
over and over, and all the people shouted it back. I could see the
working of their lips, and now the faint far-off murmur of their voices
merged and blended into one distant shout, repeated over and over with
slobbering ecstasy. But what the one word was, I could not make out.
In dizzy whirls spun the wild dancers, while the lookers-on, standing
still in their tracks, followed the rhythm of their dance with swaying
bodies and weaving arms. Madness grew in the eyes of the capering
votaress and was reflected in the eyes of the watchers. Wilder and more
extravagant grew the whirling frenzy of that mad dance--it became a
bestial and obscene thing, while the old hag howled and battered the
drum like a crazy woman, and the switches cracked out a devil's tune.
Blood trickled down the dancer's limbs but she seemed not to feel the
lashing save as a stimulus for further enormities of outrageous motion;
bounding into the midst of the yellow smoke which now spread out tenuous
tentacles to embrace both flying figures, she seemed to merge with that
foul fog and veil herself with it. Then emerging into plain view,
closely followed by the beast-thing that flogged her, she shot into an
indescribable, explosive burst of dynamic mad motion, and on the very
crest of that mad wave, she dropped suddenly to the sward, quivering and
panting as if completely overcome by her frenzied exertions. The lashing
continued with unabated violence and intensity and she began to wriggle
toward the monolith on her belly. The priest--or such I will call
him--followed, lashing her unprotected body with all the power of his
arm as she writhed along, leaving a heavy track of blood on the trampled
earth. She reached the monolith, and gasping and panting, flung both
arms about it and covered the cold stone with fierce hot kisses, as in
frenzied and unholy adoration.
The fantastic priest bounded high in the air, flinging away the
red-dabbled switches, and the worshippers, howling and foaming at the
mouths, turned on each other with tooth and nail, rending one another's
garments and flesh in a blind passion of bestiality. The priest swept up
the infant with a long arm, and shouting again that Name, whirled the
wailing babe high in the air and dashed its brains out against the
monolith, leaving a ghastly stain on the black surface. Cold with horror
I saw him rip the tiny body open with his bare brutish fingers and fling
handfuls of blood on the shaft, then toss the red and torn shape into
the brazier, extinguishing flame and smoke in a crimson rain, while the
maddened brutes behind him howled over and over the Name. Then suddenly
they all fell prostrate, writhing like snakes, while the priest flung
wide his gory hands as in triumph. I opened my mouth to scream my horror
and loathing, but only a dry rattle sounded; a huge monstrous toad-like
thing squatted on the top of the monolith!

Now if you’ll please excuse me for a moment, I have to go smoke a cigarette.

“The Valley of the Worm” is one of Howard’s “James Allison” reincarnation stories. This time he remembers a past life from before the dawn of known history. This is an excellent “Sword&Sorcery” story featuring his beloved “AeSir” and “Picts”. Aesir are REH’s proto Aryans and the “Picts” are his swarthy bowlegged little ass-kickers. “Valley of the Worm” deals with the “true” story behind allo f the ancient hero legends. The Aesir after wandering halfway around the worls wan’t to settle down for a while in a valley they have entered. The local Pict tribe warns them off. They don’t listen and get gobble up by something that comes up out of a huge cistern in some millennia old/pre-human ruins. The young warrior Niord(Allison) decides to put an end to this tom-foolery and kill the “worm”. I won’t say more. You have to read it to belive it! AWSOME it is!

“There was no altar-only the mouth of a great well like shaft in the
stone floor, with strange obscene carvings all about the rim. I tore
great pieces of stone from the rotting floor and cast them down the
shaft which slanted down into utter darkness. I heard them bound along
the side, but I did not hear them strike bottom. I cast down stone
after atone, each with a searing curse, and at last I heard a sound
that was not the dwindling rumble of the falling stones. Up from the
well floated a weird demon-piping that was a symphony of madness. Far
down in the darkness I glimpsed the faint fearful glimmering of a vast
white bulk.
I retreated slowly as the piping grew louder, falling back through the
broad doorway. I heard a scratching, scrambling noise, and up from the
shaft and out of the doorway between the colossal columns came a
prancing incredible figure. It went erect like a man, but it was
covered with fur, that was shaggiest where its face should have been.
If it had ears, nose and a mouth I did not discover them. Only a pair
of staring red eyes leered from the furry mask. Its misshapen hands
held a strange set of pipes, on which it blew weirdly as it pranced
toward me with many a grotesque caper and leap.
Behind it I heard a repulsive obscene noise as of a quaking unstable
mass heaving up out of a well. Then I nocked an arrow, drew the cord
and sent the shaft singing through the furry breast of the dancing
monstrosity. It went down as though struck by a thunderbolt, but to my
horror the piping continued, though the pipes had fallen from the
malformed hands. Then I turned and ran fleetly to the column, up which
I swarmed before I looked back. When I reached the pinnacle I looked,
and because of the shock and surprise of what I saw, I almost fell
from my dizzy perch.”
Out of the temple the monstrous dweller in the darkness had come, and
I, who had expected a horror yet cast in some terrestrial mold, looked
on the spawn of-nightmare. From what subterranean hell it crawled in
the long ago I know not, nor what black age it represented. But it was
not a beast, as humanity knows beasts. I call it a worm for lack of a
better term. There is no earthly language which has a name for it. I
can only say that it looked somewhat more like a worm than it did an
octopus, a serpent or a dinosaur.
It was white and pulpy, and drew its quaking bulk along the ground,
worm-fashion. But it had wide flat tentacles, and fleshly feelers, and
other adjuncts the use of which I am unable to explain. And it had a
long proboscis which it curled and uncurled like an elephant's trunk.
Its forty eyes, set in a horrific circle, were composed of thousands
of facets of as many scintillant colors which changed and altered in
never-ending transmutation. But through all interplay of hue and
glint, they retained their evil intelligence-intelligence there was
behind those flickering facets, not human nor yet bestial, but a
nightborn demoniac intelligence such as men in dreams vaguely sense
throbbing titanically in the black gulfs outside our material
universe. In size the monster was mountainous; its bulk would have
dwarfed a mastodon.

“Wolfshead” is the second REH story dealing with Msr.De Montour who happens to suffer from extremely hairy palms. Yep, he’s a werewolf. Basically a Lycanthrope friend is vacationing (several hundred years ago.) g in a huge French Castle down Africa way. What starts out as a kind of Agatha Christie locked room mystery turns into a full blown native uprising where a werewolf hero goes all ape/wolf-shit and single handedly takes on a whole mass of pissed off African warriors. This is (IMHO) an incredibly stupid story. BUT, one that is so insanely over the top as only Robert E. Howard can write them that it is one of my favourites.

Now to go on a side note: Have you ever noticed that most of these old adventure stories basically have same set up? Some white guy is somewhere where basically white guys don’t have any business being? And that they are either
1. Trying to steal something (usually from dead people)
2: Trying to be the boss of the non-white people who were there first.

No wonder the locals always seem to have a serious case of the ass. Anyways I watched (much to my shame) “2012” a few weeks ago on DVD and really hated the film. What pissed me off the most was the ending. I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it, but the world ends and 99% everyone dies! Everyone that is, except for Africa. Africa makes it through in one piece. So you just know that all these African folks are probably wiping their brows, clapping each other on the back and “high-fiving” each other over their extreme good luck. You just imagine it that way. So who in the hell come sailing over the horizon then? Just 400,000 of the world’s wealthiest jerks with an army of Chinese labourers/slaves, that’s who. And you know damned well that these 0,1% of the 1%ers didn’t just have these Arks filled with caviar and art. They’re probably armed to the teeth! This completely ruins the story for me. I was kind of hoping that when they disembarked from the Arks they would be met by the “Welcome Wagon” and be given a shovel and hoe and be put to work. Nobody says the world is fair though.
Thanks to my running off course here I’ve managed to run out of time.
“Wolfshead” is a collection that delivers in every way. Grab a copy if you can find one. Even though I didn’t cover it “The House of Arabu” is the best story in the book. Set in the real world, “Arabu” deals with a northern Barbarian who is working in the Middle East as a mercenary back during the early dark ages (I think). He flees a curse and runs into Arabic Demon/gods. It’s hard to describe. Believe me though it’s a great story and the ending covers Howard’s recurring theme of Barbarism vs. civilization, which is a huge topic all by itself.
“The Argive wheeled away, toward the city, then hesitated, shaken by a fierce revulsion. The level land lay quiescent beneath the moon, and the brutish pyramid of Enlil stood up in in the stars. Behind him lay his enemy, glutting the fangs of the horrors he himself had called up from the Pits. The road was open to Nippur, for his return.
His return?-to a devil-ridden people crawling beneath the heels of priest and king; to a city rotten with intrigue and obscene mysteries; to an alien race that mistrusted him, and a mistress that hated him.
Wheeling his horse again, he rode westward toward the open lands, flinging his arms wide in a gesture of renunciation and the exultation of freedom. The weariness of life dropped from him like a cloak. His mane floated in the wind, arid over the plains of Shumir shouted a sound they had never heard before-the gusty, elemental, reasonless laughter of a free barbarian.”

So if you want to know about Robert E. Howard's amazing life and writings then go here!

And to close things off, here are a few of my favourite Paul Lehr covers!
Thanks for stopping by!

Paul Lehr Links:

 This edition of "War of the Worlds / The Time Machine is the very first book that I ever purchased with my own money! As a kid, I looked for ages for WotWs thanks to the "Classics Illustrated" version. I finally found it at the Drug Store's Paperback Rack at the "Plaza Shopping Center" back around 70 or 71. Like I've said earlier, I was a very strange child.

8 Kommentare:

  1. I love the imposing midnight blue sky of the Bantam WOLFSHEAD. Over the years I've read some of those Howard stories but it seems I really need to get a copy of this edition!

  2. Dieser Kommentar wurde vom Autor entfernt.

  3. Hi Will, I've always felt that a cover can make all the difference in the world. There was a time were it seemed that every 2nd SF paperback had a Paul Lehr cover. The "War of the Worlds" cover that I posted at the bottom is one that I still take down off the shelf from time to time just admire. I think that they shout Mystery and class.

    Take care.

    1. Darn -- I don't think I knew this pb existed, whatever the cover. *sigh* (THE DARK MAN I knew about, because I bought my copy of the early '70s pb from the horror anthologist Ray Ghidalia after he ran an ad flogging a bunch of stuff in, IIRC, ERB-dom. And I had the Neville-Spearman reprint of Arkham's SKULLFACE around the same time, though if memory serves in somehow vanished into thin air. Or maybe it was Bloch's OPENER OF THE WAY that vanished. Weird, either way.)

  4. Hi,
    "The Opener of the Way" has been reprinted in "Robert Bloch: The Early Fears" from Fedogan & Bremmer. It reprints his first 2 AH anthologies. The edition of "Wolfshead" with the Frazetta cover is very easy to find on Ebay and

    take care.
    I've also managed to "misplace" books over the years! LOL

    1. Ah -- good to know. I've got the Early Fears collection ... unless it's disappeared too, of course.

  5. For God's sake man! It's 10 O´Clock! do you know were you books are?

    Take care.

  6. Great review, Doug.

    Just reread Wolfshead. Every time I leave Howard for a bit I sort of forget him and he becomes just another fantasy writer. Then the moment I dip in again I am stunned by the vivid realism of his writing. You are just there, in some barbarian past, looking through the eyes of primitive man. I don't think anyone comes close to writing fantasy with such elemental conviction. This is a must-read collection.