Friday, November 07, 2008

Conan the Crusader

Even though I've been reading and collecting the works of Robert E. Howard for many years, I occasionally come across Howard stories that I haven't read. Not Conan of course, nor Solomon Kane or any of REH's more famous characters. I exhausted the supply of those long ago. No, usually it's a historical adventure or weird tale.
Case in point. The other day I was reading an article about Howard's historical fiction and the author mentioned the two Cormac Fitzgeoffrey tales set during the third crusade as being particularly Conan-like. So I says to myself, I says, you know, I don't think I've read those. I went and dug through my several dozen volumes of REH and couldn't turn up any stories about Fitzgeoffrey.
A quick internet check showed that unlike much of Howard's output, these two stories hadn't been reprinted dozens of times. Both stories had originally appeared in 1931 in Oriental Stories, the short lived companion pulp to Weird Tales and up until 2004, neither story had been reprinted in the US since the 1979 Donald Grant volume Hawks of Outremer. No wonder I didn't own them. However both are now available in several different volumes. I haven't ordered one yet though because I seemed to recall that Project Gutenberg Australia had etexts of a bunch of REH's historical yarns online and a quick perusal of their SF section brought to light Hawks of Outremer and The Blood of Belshazzar, the two completed Cormac Fitzgeoffrey stories. There is a fragment and a synopsis for a third story, The Slave Princess, which has been completed by other hands a time or two. I don't usually like to read etexts, but I was in a hurry to read these two stories and couldn't get my hands on a book that contained them quickly, so I made do.
I read Hawks of Outremer last night. It's basically a tale of revenge, as Cormac Fitzgeoffrey returns to Outremer (the general name given to the crusader states established after the first crusade) after being thought killed at sea, only to learn that Sieur Gerard, a man to whom Cormac owes his life, has been foully murdered by person or persons unknown. Cormac sets out to kill pretty much anyone even remotely involved and much carnage follows.
He starts out by splitting the skull of another knight who refused to come to Gerard's aid and the body count rises from there.
Cormac is indeed very much cut in the Conan mold. Six foot something of iron muscle with "a square cut black mane" of hair and "cold blue eyes blazing under heavy brows." Cormac even thinks of himself as a barbarian. He's inhumanly powerful just as Conan is. At one point in the story, when faced with a barrier of heavy iron bars, Cormac grips the bars and tears them from their anchor just as everyone's favorite Cimmerian would. When faced with a greater number of foes than even he can defeat, he prepares to leap in and die among them, taking as many with him as he can. Not to hard to imagine this story as a latter day Conan tale. Very enjoyable.
It's always fun to discover something of Howard's that I haven't read and doubly so when it's something close to a Conan tale, because as we know, Conan remains my favorite REH character. I've printed out Blood of Belshazzar to read this weekend. Looking forward to a bloody good time with Cona...er Cormac on crusade.

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