Tuesday, January 23, 2007

By Robert E. Howard

This is a nice little collection in the style of Cthulhu, an earlier REH anthology of horror stories. The premise is that REH wrote horror tales in the same vein as H.P. Lovecraft. Indeed the subtitle is “The Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of Robert E. Howard”.

Well, not exactly. Editor Robert M. Price does a fine job of tracing the background of these stories in letters to friends (especially HPL himself), literary allusions, and REH’s personal interests. He rides the thesis a bit hard in figuring out exactly where each of REH’s beasties, cults, lost cities, and foul sorcerers fits into the grander “Cthulhu Mythos”. Of course one can take that as a literary in-joke as much as anything else (Namelesss Cults is a Chaosium publication, so Call of Cthulhu gamers are the tome’s special audience).

Be that as it may, Nameless Cults is a solid collection of REH’s horror fiction. Some of REH’s best-loved series characters are represented: Bran Mak Morn, Turlogh Dubh, and Kull (sorry, no Conan). The collection boasts eighteen tales. The top entry is “Worms of the Earth”, undoubtedly one of the best American fantasy stories ever written. Action-oriented tales such as “The Shadow Kingdom” and “Gods of Bal-Sagoth” show that REH could use violent conflict as well as moody horror to create unforgettable tales. “Shadow Kingdom” pits Kull against a hidden race of demons, while “Bal-Sagoth” is a classic lost-city tale.

Another mix of action and horror is “The Fire of Asshurbanipal”. This tale is essentially an El Borak adventure (a Texan gunslinger and his Afghan buddy are the heroes) with a nicely executed Lovecraftian monster in a lost city. It’s an overlooked gem. The ever-popular “Skull Face” (an ancient sorcerer has a plan for the modern world) and “The Black Stone” (a very creepy tale of Balkan horror, where the Turks are the GOOD guys) are included.

There are a few “posthumous collaborations” included. While some misfire, they don’t detract form the overall value of the set. To be honest, most of what is in this book can be found elsewhere. But if you haven’t found it, then this is a good place to start.
-Dave Hardy

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