Wednesday, June 08, 2011


By Robert E. Howard

If there was anyplace that Robert E. Howard loved more than his native Texas, it was Celtic fringe of Europe, the sea-girt isles where the Gaels made the last stand of Celtic culture. Most of his heroes are of Celtic descent (Francis X. Gordon, Kirby O’Donnell), or from pre-proto-Celtic groups (Kull the Atlantean, Conan the Cimmerian), or actual, honest-to-Crom, Irish Gaels (Turlough Dubh, Black Vulmea, Cormac FitzGeoffrey). Among the latter is the Gaelic sea-rover, Cormac Mac Art.

Cormac Mac Art is a true Scot, the scotti were the Irsih pirates who descended on late Roman Britain along with the Picts and Saxons. Cormac sails with his blood-brother, Wulfhere the Viking, in the days when Arthur tries to hold together the fading remnants of Roman glory.

Only two of the tales, “Swords of the Northern Sea” and “Night of the Wolf” are entirely by REH. The other two, “Tigers of the Sea” and “The Temple of Abomination” include material written by Richard Tierney. While I am usually quite negative toward “posthumous collaborations” and re-writes, I am just about willing to give Richard Tierney a pass! He is perhaps the only writer I have encountered who really seems to understand the basic motivation of REH heroes and the appropriate structure of his tales.

REH tended to thrust his Celtic heroes into exotic, hot southern lands (like Scots-Irish settlers entering the Mexican province of Tejas?). In the Cormac Mac Art series REH brings the Celtic fringe to life as Gaels, Britons, Vikings, and Picts struggle for mastery over remote isles on the fringes of the known world. These are excellent tales of action and adventure (there is relatively little fantasy, except in “Temple of Abomination”). REH’s treatment of Dark Ages Britain is a sharp contrast to the sentimental depiction of the 5th century as the flowering of pre-proto-Hippie Pagandom. Although it is out of print, Tigers of the Sea is well worth hunting down.

-Dave Hardy

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