Monday, June 23, 2008

All Things Dark and Dangerous

It was kind of a spooky weekend. Inspired, I think, by my reading of the Cambridge Companion to Gothic Literature, I was in the mood for some creepy stories. Luckily I had plenty around. I finished off the collection of the Gothic short fiction of Elizabeth Gaskell, then switched to some Cthulhu mythos stories by Henry Kuttner, Fritz Lieber, Ramsey Campbell, and Brian Lumley. Still not satiated I moved on to the second Carcosa collection of Manly Wade Wellman shorts, Lonely Vigils. First story I read in that one had a very interesting idea. A woman who is used to getting her own way "borrows" a book from an occultist though he has warned her the book is dangerous. Turns out it's a grimoire and by reading it she summons a demonic familiar. The creature turns out to be a lot harder to get rid of than it was to summon. The 'Lonely Vigil' that she and the occultist must keep as they wait for the creature in the dead of night is effectively creepy. Again I'm impressed with Wellman's writing.
Since sword and sorcery is never far from my thoughts I began thinking again about the origins of the genre and how Robert E. Howard basically created the whole thing by mixing the horror tale with the historical adventure. That set me to thinking about the argument about what qualifies as the first published sword & sorcery story. Most aficionados of the genre agree that it's either Red Shadows, starring Howard's puritan adventurer Solomon Kane, of the King Kull tale The Shadow Kingdom. Not sure why there's so much dissent on this. The Kane story was published first and it definitely contains swords and sorcery. The Kull story is perhaps more in line with what people think of when they think of sword & sorcery since it takes place in pre-history and features a 'barbarian' as the protagonist, but since Kane is generally considered a S&S hero, and his story came first, it seems pretty cut and dried to me. I did a re-read of Red Shadows and it is true that the sorcery content is pretty scant, mostly being the re-animation of a corpse, however it still qualifies. I need to re-read the longer Shadow Kingdom and see how it holds up. Been many years since I read that one.
Maybe I'll write a Gothic story soon. I used to write a horror story every Halloween, but have gotten out of the habit. Might be fun to try again.

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