By Jeffrey D. Elmquist
A Member Journal of the Robert E. Howard: Electronic Amateur Press Association
© 2002 Jeffrey D. Elmquist
Exedrae - Volume 2 - Number 1
Summer Solstice - 2002
After an extended hiatus Exedrae is back! Welcome to this, the third issue. The extra time in preparation has made it possible to return to the original vision for Exedrae. Like the first posting, this issue is a little more multifaceted with articles pertaining to various aspects of REH and Howard studies. By submitting an issue of Exedrae for every other posting of REHeapa it is my hope that each issue will be able to maintain a similar variety of topics and articles. That should make Exedrae a little more manageable for me – and hopefully more enjoyable for you. And as always – I would greatly appreciate comments and constructive criticism on all of the articles presented here. The purpose of every exedra was conversation, so I invite you share your thoughts, comments, and critique by posting at the REHeapa Readers' Forum.
The first issue of this e-zine featured a look at REH’s favorite movie star Lili Damita. Recently I ran across an old photo postcard of Miss Damita – a photo which, I believe, would have pleased Bob Howard very much. It’s well known that Howard loved Texas. One might even say that Howard himself embodied the pioneer spirit of the Old West. He was well read in the history of Texas and the West. He wrote and sold many Westerns, and toward the end of his life even talked about writing nothing but Westerns. Given Howard’s love of the history and spirit of the Old West - I’d like to begin this issue of Exedrae with a second glance at Howard’s “white hot flame”. This one’s for you Bob!
His Head Fastened in the Temple of
What Howard May Have Intended for the Death of Bran Mak Morn
© 2002 Jeffrey D. Elmquist
What did Robert E. Howard intend for the death of Bran Mak Morn? The answer may not be as simple and straightforward as we might think. In the tale “The Dark Man” Howard wrote a brief, sketchy and rather cryptic description of Bran’s death. Brogar, Chief of the Picts, muses:
“But there rose among us Bran Mak Morn, of the blood of Brule the spear-slayer, the friend of King Kull of Valusia who reigned thousands of years ago before Atlantis sank. Bran became king of all Caledon. He broke the iron ranks of Rome and sent the legions cowering south behind their Wall. Bran Mak Morn fell in battle; the nation fell apart. Civil wars rocked it. The Gaels came and reared the kingdom of Dalriadia above the ruins of Cruithni. When the Scot Kenneth MacAlpine broke the kingdom of Galloway, the last remnant of the Pictish empire faded like snow on the mountains. Like wolves we live now among the scattered islands, among the crags of the highlands and the dim hills of Galloway. We are a fading people. We pass. But the Dark Man remains – the Dark One, the great king, Bran Mak Morn, whose ghost dwells forever in the stone likeness of his living self.”
All that this passage tells us is that Bran Mak Morn fell in battle. Did Bran die in battle with the Romans? The passage from “The Dark Man” is rather ambiguous. One might infer from the passage that Bran did die while battling the Romans. Or, based on Brogar’s comments that Bran had broken the ranks of Rome and had sent them south beyond Hadrian’s Wall, one might infer that Bran was victorious over the Romans and therefore died in battle with some other foe. The passage would seem to exclude the possibility that Bran died in the midst of civil war, for the text places the civil war after Bran’s death, perhaps inferring that this civil war was a direct result of Bran’s death. While Howard made it clear in this passage that Bran died in battle, the exact nature of this death is elusive. What exactly did Howard intend for the death of Bran Mak Morn?
Another Howard story, “The Worms of the Earth” sheds a ray of light on this mystery of Bran’s death. Marc Cerasini and Charles Hoffman have written that:
Unlike Howard’s other heroes, the fate of Bran Mak Morn is almost certain. A doom such as the worms of the earth promise cannot be avoided. And, though hints about Bran’s ultimate fate are present in another story, “The Dark Man”, it was written prior to “Worms of the Earth” and Howard may have had second thoughts when he wrote the latter tale. Thus, the hero that Howard wanted to write about perhaps more than any other comes to an ignominious end.
What is this doom that the Worms of the Earth promise? It is pronounced by the witch-woman Atla near the end of the tale:
“King of Pictland!” she cried, “King of fools! Do you blench at so small a thing? Stay and let me show you real fruits of the pits! Ha! Ha! Ha! Run, fool, run! But you are stained with the taint – you have called them forth and they will remember! And in their own time they will come to you again!”
As Cerasini and Hoffman have suggested, it certainly seems that this passage infers that the downfall and death of Bran Mak Morn will be executed not by the Romans, not even by rebellious Picts, but by The Worms of the Earth! The question that must now be asked is this: Are there any other clues within REH’s tale “The Worms of the Earth” which further support this final fate for Bran Mak Morn? As you may have guessed – the answer is yes.
The clues within “Worms of the Earth” which support a central role for the Worms of the Earth in the death of Bran Mak Morn are these: first, a parallel between Bran Mak Morn and the biblical King Saul, and second, Howard’s use of the proper name Dagon throughout the tale.
The biblical parallel between Bran and King Saul was recently presented by Robert M. Price. He has written:
But the archetypal power of “Worms of the Earth” is not due solely to the influence of Machen. . . Howard also drew on the Old Testament. “As for the Biblical history, my real interest begins and ends with the age of Saul” (to HPL, ca. June 1931). In fact, Bran’s visit to the witch-woman in futile disguise with the purpose of contacting entities from the world below for aid against his enemies is modeled directly on the episode in 1 Samuel 28:3-25, in which King Saul, in disguise, seeks out the Witch of Endor and asks her to raise the shade of Samuel to auger the outcome of his battle with the Philistines on the morrow. Only whereas Saul has the witch conjure Samuel up from Sheol, Bran himself descends into the netherworld to entreat his infernal allies. 
Howard’s interest in (even admiration for) King Saul is made clear in his letters  as well as his poems. In his poem “Dreaming in Israel” Howard praised the warrior Saul over the priestling Samuel and ended the poem with the following stanza:
If I had dwelt in
Israel when Gath came up to Israel,
When Gaza came to Israel.
With Ashdod's Charioteers,
My last breath had been Samuel's, to curse the name of Samuel,
That it was Saul, not Samuel, who died among the Spears.
Given Howard’s regard for Saul, a parallel between the biblical king and Howard’s own king of the Picts is certainly plausible. And when one reads the biblical passage which Price cites and compares it to the scene in “Worms of the Earth” in which Bran first encounters the witch-woman Atla, it is clear that the similarities are far too numerous for the parallel to be coincidental. In addition, there is also a parallel between REH’s underground hell in which The Worms of the Earth dwell and the Hebrew hell Sheol, in which the shade of Samuel dwells. Both are dark underground hells, the residents of each being mere reflections of the men they used to be.  Based on these similarities and upon Howard’s affinity for King Saul, I believe it is certain that REH intended a parallel between his Bran Mak Morn, king of the Picts, and Saul, king of Israel. The question now becomes: what light does this parallel shed on the death of Bran Mak Morn?
The death that Howard may have intended for Bran becomes very clear when we consider the biblical parallel with Saul in light of Howard’s use of the name Dagon. While the name Dagon was used by H.P. Lovecraft, most prominently in his story of the same name, I do not think that Howard used the term simply to evoke a Lovecraftian atmosphere within “Worms of the Earth”. Howard used the name Dagon four times throughout this tale. Each time it is used in connection with people or places that are central to Bran’s encounter with the Worms of the Earth. This is no accident.
Dagon-moor: The residence of Atla, the witch-woman, who lead Bran to the Worms of the Earth.
Dagon's Barrow: The mound that Atla refers to as the "Door to the Black Stone" and which leads to the Worms' temple-like cavern containing the altar built of human skulls.
Dagon's Mere: The lake in which Bran hides the Black Stone.
Dagon's Ring/Ring of Dagon: The stone circle where Bran meets the Worms in order to return the Black Stone. Also the place where Atla pronounces the Worms' promise of doom.
Dagon was an ancient Middle-Eastern deity worshiped by the Philistines.  Who were the Philistines? They were the mortal enemies of the biblical King Saul; a mere coincidence? I don’t think so. This same Dagon shows up a number of times in the portion of biblical history that REH was interested in (see 1 Samuel 5), and figures prominently in the story of the death of King Saul. Specifically, in 1 Chronicles 10:1-10 we read the following:
Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa. And the Philistines followed hard after Saul, and after his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him, and he was wounded of the archers. Then said Saul to his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. So Saul took a sword, and fell upon it. And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise on the sword, and died. So Saul died, and his three sons, and all his house died together. And when all the men of Israel that were in the valley saw that they fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, then they forsook their cities, and fled: and the Philistines came and dwelt in them. And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his sons fallen in mount Gilboa. And when they had stripped him, they took his head, and his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to carry tidings unto their idols, and to the people. And they put his armour in the house of their gods, and fastened his head in the temple of Dagon. 
I propose that Howard’s use of the name Dagon is yet another intentional biblical parallel. We have seen how REH has linked Bran Mak Morn with King Saul. Now, through using the name of the god Dagon he has also created a link between the Worms of the Earth (Bran’s mortal enemies) and the Philistines (Saul’s mortal enemies). And it is this parallel that reveals what Howard may have intended for the death of Bran Mak Morn: a death hastened by the Worms of the Earth in battle – perhaps even death by Bran’s own hand. Given the promise made by Atla that the Worms would remember and come to him again, and in light of the biblical parallels within “Worms of the Earth”, it would appear that what Howard may have intended was for Bran to fall on his own sword, just as Saul did, in order to avoid an unthinkable death at the hands of the Worms of the Earth. And ultimately, like Saul, to have his head fastened in the temple of his enemies – a new addition to the Worms’ altar built of human skulls.
* * * * *
1. Robert E. Howard. “The Dark Man” in Bran Mak Morn: The Last King. (London: Wandering Star, 2001), 162.
2. Marc A. Cerasini and Charles E. Hoffman. Robert E. Howard: Starmont Reader’s Guide 35. (Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1987), 24-25.
3. Robert E. Howard, “The Worms of the Earth” in Bran Mak Morn: The Last King. (London: Wandering Star, 2001), 127.
4. Robert M. Price. 'About “Worms of the Earth”' in Robert E. Howard, Nameless Cults: The Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of Robert E. Howard. (Oakland, CA: Chaosium, 2001), 17.
5. See “The Bible” in Rusty Burke, The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf. (REHupa.com).
6. Robert E. Howard. “Dreaming in Israel” in Shadows of Dreams. (Hampton Falls, NH: Donald M. Grant, 1989), 54.
7. For descriptions of the biblical Sheol see Theodore J. Lewis. “Dead, Abode of the” in David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 101-105. For descriptions of the residents of Sheol see Mark S. Smith. “Rephaim” in Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 5. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 674-676.
8. Howard, “The Worms of the Earth” in Bran Mak Morn. (London: Wandering Star, 2001), 102.
9. Ibid., 106.
10. Ibid., 109.
11. Ibid., 115, 117, 118.
12. J. F. Healey. “Dagon” in Karel van der Toorn, ed., Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999), 216-219.
13. In his Solomon Kane tale “The Moon of Skulls” Howard quoted a lengthy passage of scripture word for word from the King James Version of the Bible. Therefore, I have assumed that the King James Version was Howard’s Bible of choice. Thus, I have used the King James Version of the Bible in quoting this passage.
Robert E. Howard. Nameless
Cults: The Cthulhu Mythos of Robert E. Howard. Edited and Introduced
by Robert M. Price. Oakland, CA: Chaosium, 2001
Buy This Book. Even My Wife Likes It!
© 2002 Jeffrey D. Elmquist
In his introduction to Nameless Cults Robert M. Price makes the following statement:
Robert E. Howard is best known as the creator of Conan the Cimmerian, though in these latter days it is to be feared that the various media mutations and pastiche reincarnations of the character have so overwhelmed the original Conan that Robert E. Howard has been obscured, even among Conan fans, as lost as the Hyborian Age. But perhaps this is to the good. Just as Robert Bloch, genius creator of Norman Bates, cannot adequately be understood until the focus is off Psycho, neither can Robert E. Howard till we extricate him from the long shadow of his burly alter-ego, King Conan. Only then can Howard be appreciated as the author of an enormous amount of exciting and well-wrought fiction. 
Let the people say – Amen! Finally, non-Conan tales of Robert E. Howard are in print in a modestly priced paperback format ($15.95 cover price); part of an ongoing series of Mythos fiction that is readily available in comic book shops, game stores, and bookstore chains. And by extricating the tales in this volume from the mountain of pathetic pastiche published in the name of Conan, Chaosium just may generate a new breed of Howard fan. Take my wife, for example. In the past, no matter how much I talked up Conan or REH she refused to read “a stupid Conan book” or anything by “that Conan guy”. But when she just happened to come across my copy of Nameless Cults and read the excerpt from “The Black Stone” on the back cover – suddenly my wife had laid down her Ellis Peters novel and was thoroughly engrossed in a Robert E. Howard book!
This is a great book! I highly recommend it, even if you already own the Baen edition of Howard’s Cthulhu Mythos tales. Unlike the Baen book, this collection contains tremendous introduction material by Mythos expert Robert M. Price. Price’s introductions to each story are invaluable, and often shed new light on many aspects of these tales. Price’s introductions avoid the psycho babble that David Drake’s intro to the Baen book peddled, and focus directly on the tales themselves. And Price, who is also a respected theologian, often exegetes the influence of the Bible and world religions on Howard's writing. For the serious Howard enthusiast, the book is worth the price for Price’s comments alone.
As for the stories themselves – they are tremendous. All of Howard’s Lovecraftian tales are included: “The Black Stone”, “The Thing on the Roof”, “The Fire of Asshurbanipal”, “Dig Me No Grave” and “The Hoofed Thing”. The rarely published “Little People” (a story not included in the Baen book) is also included; as well as tales which touch on Mythos or Lovecraftian themes: Tales such as “The Worms of the Earth” (considered to be one of Howard’s best), “The Children of the Night” (one of my personal favorites), “The Shadow Kingdom” (a Kull Tale), and others. A rather pleasing highlight is the inclusion of “The Challenge From Beyond”, a round-robin tale with portions written by C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Frank Belknap Long, and Howard.
Purists will probably scoff at the inclusion of a number of Howard fragments which have been completed by other writers. I too find this practice rather revolting, and originally would have preferred the publishers to have presented the fragments as just that – uncompleted fragments. Thankfully, the editor has been good enough to state in the introductions exactly where REH's writing ends and the second author begins. As I had anticipated, two of the tales created from Howard’s fragments are pretty dull and forgettable: “The Abbey” completed by C. J. Henderson and “The Door to the World” completed by Joseph S. Pulver. However, I must admit that I found two of the four quite enjoyable – even excellent. “The House in the Oaks” completed by August Derleth is an intriguing tale in a Lovecraftian vain. Faithful to the practice of Howard, Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith, Derleth brings into the tale such dark tomes as the Necronomicon and Nameless Cults. He even uses The Shadow Kingdom as the title of an occultist book. One of the greatest highlights of Derleth’s part of the story is his inclusion of snippets of Howard’s poetry throughout. “Black Eons” completed by Robert M. Price is an excellent tale. I would have to say that Price has done the best job of emulating Howard’s style. He has successfully used Howard's "past lives" theme in a tale that is fast paced and filled with scenes of gory combat. One of the highlights in Howard's portion is his attempt to bring the Hyborian age into the present via an archaeologist’s discovery. “Black Eons” is a thrilling page turner and I highly recommend it.
Over-all this book is a must. It is well worth the cover price to have all of these fantastic Howard tales in one place. And as I said before, even if you already have these stories in your library, Price’s introductory comments alone are well worth it. And if you have never read any of Howard’s Mythos tales – buy this book! You will not be disappointed. I promise. Even my wife has enjoyed it!
Note: For more information on this book, as well as others in Chaosium's series of Cthulhu fiction, visit Chaosium's web page.
1. Robert M. Price. “Introduction: Raven, Son of Morn” in Robert E. Howard, Nameless Cults: The Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of Robert E. Howard. (Oakland, CA: Chaosium, 2001), xiii.