Robert E. Howard’s Cthulhu Mythos and Horror Fiction

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard

Del Ray – 2008

I have long wanted to read Robert E. Howard’s Cthulhu fiction. On April 15th, 2015, I added Nameless Cults: The  Complete Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of Robert E. Howard to my goodreads to-read list. I knew Howard had created Conan The Barbarian, and while I hadn’t read any of Howard’s stories, I had seen and loved the 1982 Conan movie. I assumed the rest of Howard’s fiction would be similar. Unfortunately, the Nameless Cults collection has been out of print for a long time, and copies are fairly expensive. Also, I have read a few books put out by Chaosium, and while the contents are usually pretty good, the presentation is quite bad. I didn’t want to spend lots of money on a book that would probably be crap. Fortunately, Del Ray books also published an extensive collection called The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard.

This book is 523 pages long, and it includes 40 stories and 20 poems. As far as I understand, it is not a best of collection. These are all (or at least most) of Howard’s horror stories. I haven’t read his other stuff, but I would be surprised if at least some of his other stories didn’t have elements of horror. The 40 stories in here were enough for me though. I don’t have any desire to read more Robert E. Howard. This collection does not include all of the stories in Nameless Cults, but the ones it leaves out are mostly “collaborations” that were published long after Howard’s death. The prospect of reading a story that Robert E. Howard left for somebody else to finish does not seem at all appealing to me.

Honestly, a lot of this book is absolute crap. Howard was a hack. He wrote whatever would sell, pumping out horror, fantasy, adventure, sword and sorcery and westerns. There’s some good stuff in here, but at least half of this book was a chore to read. Anyone writing as much as Howard did was bound to get lucky now and then. A 200 page Robert E. Howard’s Best Horror Fiction collection would have been far, far more enjoyable.

I read this book because it seemed to contain Howard’s Cthulhu mythos fiction. The stories in here that are considered part of the Cthulhu canon are of mixed quality. The Fire of Asshurbanipal and The Black Stone were pretty good. Howard’s main contribution to the mythos seems to have been De Junzt’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten (Unspeakable Cults), a book of heinous black magic. Howard references this book in several of his stories, and Lovecraft went on to borrow it for a few of his.

Aside from the Cthulhu stuff, I quite liked Pigeons from Hell, Casonetto’s Last Song and Old Garfield’s Heart. The Dwellers under the Tomb was probably my favourite story in the collection:

“Spawn of the black pits of madness and eternal night! Crawling obscenities seething in the slime of the earth’s unguessed deeps–the ultimate horror of retrogression–the nadir of human degeneration–good God, their ancestors were men!”

The Dwellers under the Tomb

Robert E. Howard’s writing seems fairly notorious for the unfortunate way with which it deals with race. I’ve come across similar approaches with Lovecraft, Wheatley and others, but the tale in this collection called Black Canaan may well have the highest n-word count of any story I’ve read. I don’t know if Howard was a truly hateful person, but some of these tales are very likely to offend the modern reader.

There was definitely some decent stuff in here, but a lot of it felt like uninspired, poorly written garbage that was only put on paper so the author could pay his rent. After reading 40 of his stories, I have absolutely no interest in reading anything else by Robert E. Howard. I skimmed through his poems, and I had even less interest in them. I’m not a poetry kind of guy.

As I read the stories in this collection, I kept a spreadsheet with my thoughts or a brief synopsis on each one. I am including that spreadsheet here for my own reference, but it may be of mild interest to some of my readers:

TitleSynopsis/Thoughts
In the Forest of Villefèretraveler meets werewolf in forest. cuts off head
A Song of the Werewolf Folkpoem
Wolfsheadsequel to forest of villefere, man who fought w.wolf ends up in africa at a party in a castle. Is now a werewolf.
Up, John Kane!poem
Remembrancepoem
The Dream Snakemad old man dreams of being trapped inside a house on a hill because there is a mean snake outside.
Sea Cursea pair of scoundrels rape and kill a young girl. Her witch aunt curses them, and they die at sea.
The Moor Ghostpoem
Moon Mockerypoem
The Little Peoplean unruly sister goes walking on the moors at night to be attacked by a group of elfish fairies. She is saved by a mystery disappearing druid.
Dead Man’s Hatepoem
The Tavernpoem
Rattle of Bonessolomon kane story. Goes to an inn, but his accomplice turns on him then innkeep turns on accomplice, then magician’s skeleton turns on innkeep.
The Fear That Followspoem
The Spirit of Tom Molyneauxboxing story. Coach shows boxer picture of his fave boxer and helps him come back and in fight. Bad story.
Casonetto’s Last Songa devil worshipping singer sends a cursed record to the man who gave evidence at the court case that got him executed.
The Touch of Deathman sleeps in room with corpse. When candle goes out, he touches a pair of rubber gloves hanging from shelf and dies of shock.
Out of the Deepan evil mermaid pretends to be a sailor’s corpse and starts killing a bunch of people. Same place as in Sea Curse
A Legend of Faring Townpoem
Restless Waterspirate sells his niece to an older gent, kills her fiancee so he can make the sale. The dead lad shows up in a window and gives him a heart attack
The Shadow of the Beastfairly racist. A black lad shoots a white man and promises to kill his sister. He hides in an abandonded house that is haunted by a gorilla. He dies. Wtf.
The Dead Slaver’s Talepoem
Dermod’s Baneawful ghost story set in ireland. A bad ghost pretends to be a good ghost to kill a guy, but the good ghost saves the guy.
The Hills of the Deadsolomon kane story. Solomon goes to the jungle and kills an entire tribe of vampires with a witchdoctor. Awful.
Dig Me No GraveCthulhu cultist sells his soul for 250 of life. Time is up. A weirdo appears in his death parlour. Ok.
The Song of a Mad Minstrelpoem
The Children of the Nightman hanging out with mates briefly discuss horror fiction. Then one takes an axe off the wall and accidentally hits another lad in head. This causes him to go back in time to a time where the picts, small little goblin people had attacked his warrior clan. He is pure blooded, so he kills them violently. He awakes and tries to kill his mate who has slanted eyes. violent, racist and bad. Not really cthulu mythos.
Musingspoem
The Black Stonething in hungary. Pretty Good
The Thing on the RoofLad wants copy of de junzt to find about mummy’s jewel. He takes jewel so monster kills him.
The Dweller in Dark Valleypoem
The Horror from the Mounda man digs into an indian burial ground despite his neighbours warnings. A black vampire comes out and tries to kill him.
A Dull Sound as of Knockingpoem
People of the Darkman follows his rival into a cave to kill him but gets hit on the head and remembers a past life in which he did the same thing but he was conan. A race of goblins inherit the cave and him and his rival fight them. Then he comes back to modern day and shoots the degenerate ancestor of the goblins before they kill his rival and his girlfriend.
Delenda EstHannibal the historic figure, comes back in ghost form to tell a pirate of a mutinous shipmate. Shit.
The Cairn on the HeadlandAwful story set in ireland. A FOOL uncovers the grave where odin was buried after fighting irish army
Worms of the Earthbran mak morn witnesses a pict die, so he summons the worms of the earth, gross mutants, to kidnap the Roman soldier who killed him. P. good.
The Symbolpoem
The Valley of the LostDeadly story. Cowboy gets stuck in pet cemetary cave with enemies corpse. Finds snake peoples’ lair underneath. sees their history. Comes out and dynamites entrance, then shoots himself in head.   Harsh story. Cool
The Hoofed ThingCREEPY OLD NEIGHBOUR BREEDS WEIRD BLOOD THIRSTY LIFEFORM IN HIS BEDROOM. Eats him and then man kills it with a sword.
The Noseless Horrortwo lads visit their friend who has found a mummy. He also has an indian servant with no nose. The mummy is actually a lad the master killed. It comes back to life and kills him. The indian is blamed until they figure out what happened.
The Dwellers Under the TombEnjoyable story about lads who go into a tomb that leads to series of caves inhabited by degenerate murderous dog people. Last few paragraphs are delish.
An Open Windowpoem
The House of Arabua warrior goes to land of dead to find out who cursed him. Lots of babylonian mythology – absu and tiamat. Kinda interesting.
The Man on the GroundBiercish western about a cowboy realising he’s a ghost
Old Garfield’s HeartListened to audiobook version while going to sleep. Old man doesn’t age. Has a heart from a native american witch doctor. They cut it out of his body and it still beats. Not bad story. Weird
Kelly the Conjure-Manreally just a character sketch
Black Canaanstory about a black guy who tries to start a rebellion of blacks against whites by voodoo. Turns men into frog creatures in a swamp. Half of the text is just the n-word. No audiobook version of this one on youtube, LOL
To a Womanpoem
One Who Comes at Eventidepoem
The Haunter of the Ringa vampire’s dodgy ring turns a wife into a murderer
Pigeons from Hell2 wanderers go to sleep in abandon house. One dies. Second looks guilty of murder. Sheriff comes and believes him. P. good.
The Dead RememberCowboy murders black couple. Woman curses him. Ghost shows up and hidden gun explodes killing him.
The Fire of AsshurbanipalLads break into a tomb in middle east in search of a jewel. they find it but its guarded by a demon, kin of cthulhu and yog sothoth. Pretty good.
Fragmentpoem
Which Will Scarcely Be Understoodpoem
Golnor the Apeincomplete fragment about an really stupid, ugly freak
Spectres in the Darkcouldn’t be bothered reading this properly. 2 crimes, ghosts?
The Housea genius poet lived in a weird house. Mystery unsolved by the end.
Untitled Fragmentvery briefly mentions von junzt’s book. Not interesting. 2 explorers about to dig up egyptian site. Nothing happens.

Well, there we go. I think I have got around to all of the main members of the “Lovecraft circle” now. I have written posts on the Cthulhu mythos fiction of Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Robert Bloch, Donald Wandrei, Frank Belknap Long, and Henry Kuttner. I know that Lovecraft corresponded with lots of other people (Fritz Leiber, James Blish…), but the guys listed above were the main ones, right? I was fairly thorough with most of them, but I think I may take another look at Clark Ashton Smith. I’m sure I’ll get around to the second generation of mythos writers at some stage in the future too.

4 thoughts on “Robert E. Howard’s Cthulhu Mythos and Horror Fiction

  1. I didn’t know that Blish corresponded with HPL. This must have been when Blish was a teenager I guess as HPL died when Blish was about 16. He wrote a play lampooning Chambers’s King in Yellow under the pseudonym H.Ashton Bloke. Pigeons from Hell was filmed as part of Boris Karloff’s Thriller series.
    Btw, I just wrote an intro for Blish’s Day After Judgment for Centipede Press’s reissue.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s possible they did correspond, as young JB was active in adult fanzine circles very young and seems to have got involved in taking sides in spats.

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