Friday, August 13, 2010
ROBERT E. HOWARD: ANATOMY OF A CREATIVE CRISIS
“Beyond the Sunrise” is the unofficial title afforded an unfinished Kull story that did not see print until over forty years after the author’s death. Its significance is due largely to the fact that it was the first of four widely differing attempts to continue the Kull series following the publication of both “The Shadow Kingdom” and “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune” in Weird Tales in 1929.
Robert E. Howard starts the story off with a bored Kull sitting on his throne listening to a rather dull tale of the Valusian noblewoman, Lala-ah who has run off with her foreign lover leaving the nobleman she was promised to waiting at the altar. The barbarian king’s pride is piqued once he learns the foreigner insulted him behind his back. He then readily agrees to lead a posse to retrieve the noblewoman and restore his and his nation’s honor.
I was about as enthusiastic as Kull when I first started the story and thought the Atlantean was acting like a childish oaf for getting his nose out of joint just because a foreigner called him a sissy when he wasn’t around to defend himself.
Even with the weakest Robert E. Howard stories, the imagery he employs in crafting the tale redeems any failings. Howard waxes eloquent when Kull and his men visit neighboring kingdoms and the king stands upon a mountaintop overlooking the valley below and ponders the difference of the topography from his native Atlantis. Kull draws parallels on how the lay of the land is reflective of the endurance of its people.
Howard continues this introspective spell in having the king measure himself against the commander of his troops. Surprisingly, Howard has his hero find his own character lacking in a strict departure from the norms of the heroic genre. Kull subsequently reflects on the unfairness that his commander can rise no higher in the ranks because he is of foreign birth. Kull, himself a barbarian usurper to the throne, is also a foreigner and an illegitimate monarch to boot.
That Howard has drawn a deliberate parallel with the inequality of arranged marriages in the plight of the fugitive Lala-ah to the inequality of the rules limiting his commander’s station is beyond Kull’s understanding, but certainly not the reader.
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