Why I Read It: I was challenged to read non-Conan RE Howard works.
Where I Got It: Own it.
Who I Recommend This To: Howard’s Conan lovers.
Publisher: Bantam Books (1979)
Length: 147 pages
Earlier this year, I read a collection of R. E. Howard‘s Conan stories. My Main Man has been a Conan fan for decades and there was lots of hype with the forthcoming new Conan movie and I felt like I had ignored a living piece of Americana. To sum up, I had mixed feelings about Howard’s Conan works as some stories were elegantly written with a flow of words that had me sighing with appreciation. Other stories were so blatantly racist and sexist that I found myself having pangs of guilt over enjoying the stories that clicked with me. Anyway, I have a nice article about it over on Darkcargo if you want to delve into it.
The 6 stories captured in Wolfshead are not about Conan, are longer than most of his Conan works, and held to be some of his finest writings. I have to agree that they are some of the finest Howard stories I have read (note that my list of Howard works is simply this book and Conan). In short, the writing was beautifully haunting and drew me in time and again; however, this wordy skill is off-balanced by the few racist references and sexist overtone. While I can stand in awe of Howard’s wordsmith, I’m also adult enough to acknowledge the white male chauvinism embedded in the works without dismissing them as ‘due to the times and location’ (Howard wrote in 1920s Texas).
Briefly, let me nod my head to each of these 6 stories.
The Black Stone is about a mysterious black monolith in Old Europe, most likely in the one of the Slavic countries. A man falls asleep one night in the open near the monolith and has a very real dream about worshipers of the stone and whatever evil deity resides on it/in it (see the cover in the pic). When I think of the well written bits of the Horror genre, I think of stories like this. It was chilling.
The Valley of the Worm was an odd piece featuring Aesir descendants in Africa who have to battle a great evil. I think this was my least favorite of the collection as there were several racial slights.
Wolfshead was a twisted werewolf story complete with a large castle and plenty of victims trapped inside with the shape shifter. However, this was more than just a horror story about a mindless beastman. The ending surprised me and I was pleased with how it turned out.
The Fire of Asshurbanipal featured an Indiana Jones type adventurer from the UK and his Afghan sidekick. This story surprised me because of it’s lack of derogatory slights to the sidekick. There was also no sexism as there were no female characters. If I read this story all by itself as an example of Howard’s work, I would put him on a pedestal as it is well-conceived and executed.
The House of Arabu was an interesting piece featuring a demoness hunting a strong, sword-wielding man. He wishes to trap her or destroy her, but once having a discussion with her realizes he has a mortal foe on the earthly plane that sent her to assassinate him. Once again, a good example of what the Horror genre can provide.
The Horror from the Mound, oddly, was a cowboy story taking place in Texas. A curious cowpoke starts digging into an ancient mound hoping to find some treasure and he releases an evil upon the world. It was fun.
What I Liked: The dark overtones throughout the collection; the eloquence of phrase and description; well executed stories.
What I Disliked: Sexism; racism.