Monday, September 29, 2008

The Temple of Abomination

Since Halloween approaches, I started the weekend off reading ghost and horror stories. I read several by M.R. James, then finished up the last of the Carcosa Hugh B. Cave volume. Once I was done with those I decided to re-read one of Robert E. Howard's non-Conan stories that I hadn't read in several years.
The Temple of Abomination is a not quite complete story about Cormac Mac Art, a Gaelic adventurer who traveled with a group of Norsemen in the early fifth century. The Cormac series consists of two completed stories and two fragments. Obviously this isn't one of REH's major series. Of the four stories, only The Temple of Abomination contains any outright fantasy or horror elements. The other stories are pure historical adventures. I suspect, since Howard's primary market early on was Weird Tales that REH was injecting some supernatural goings on into Cormac's adventures with the hopes of selling a story to Farnsworth Wright at WT. It wouldn't be the first time that Howard had grafted a weird menace onto one of his historical adventures.
The story opens with Cormac, his Viking pal Wulfhere, and Wulfhere's crew working their way through a heavily wooded area in Briton on their way to battle Cerdic the Saxon. In the deep forest they discover an old stone temple. Initially they mistake the place for a Druidic temple or possibly a leftover from Roman occupation, but they quickly learn that the temple is dedicated to a far older and darker religion. Soon the adventurers are up to their breastplates in Lovecraftian horror. Of course the answer to that is bloody sword work and Cormac rises to the occasion as readily as Conan, Kull, or Solomon Kane.
I referred to Temple of the Abomination as a not quite complete story. Unlike many of Howard's fragments, which are just a few pages long, Temple seems to only be missing a couple of pages at the end. In fact an existing outline of the story shows that a few paragraphs probably would have wrapped things up nicely. Makes me wonder why Howard abandoned this one. Then again, I once wrote 31 pages of what would have been a 32 page story so, as a writer I shouldn't really be that surprised. As a reader I'm disappointed that the story isn't quite finished.
Still to return to our Halloween theme, Temple has a lot of creepy atmosphere to it. That's what I remembered about it and why I looked it up. Howard had a way with horror, something that's often overlooked because of the popularity of his more action oriented work. But horror is at the root of many of his sword & sorcery stories, particularly those about Solomon Kane. This October, Del Rey books is releasing a trade paperback of Howard's horror fiction. This will include such chillers as Worms of the Earth and The Cairn of the Headland, as well as REH's classic horror tale, Pigeons From Hell. Unfortunately they aren't releasing the book until Oct. 28th, so if you want some Halloween reading, you'll have to act quickly.
I doubt they'll include The Temple of Abomination, since it is a fragment. If you want to track that one down you'll have to find some old paperback collections of Robert E. Howard. The Baen Cormac Mac Art volume contains the story and the outline, plus the other existing Cormac stories. Worth looking for.

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