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‘Far from the Cradle of Your Race’
The House of Arabu by Robert E. Howard
© 2019 James LaFond
An audiobook review
Also published under the title The Witch from Hell’s Kitchen
Or the Witch from Hell’s Kitchen
In this historical prototype of the Conan character, Robert E. Howard presents Phyrrus the Argive, an Аrуаn adventuring in Mesopotamia as a mercenary general for the city state of Napur. There are, of course, anachronistic elements, such as the large Argive riding a horse before they were large enough to carry men.
The keen attention to slavery as the economic engine and caste of many souls is brutally wrought, with Phyrrus no gentleman, but a man that Howard’s own slave-owning ancestors would have thought a cruel slave owner.
The illustration of the black arts of civilization reaching back to prehumen depths of depravity is incisively heavy-handedly done and will remain a theme in much of Howard’s later fiction.
Phyrrus, like all of Howard’s heroes, is incongruent as the subject of a tale of horror and black curses and his casting would have ruined the telling of many a lesser tale. But the curses of Civilization, the deep rot gnawing at the domesticated mind, have met a fitting if unwitting foil in their opposite—the cruelly imperfect Phyrrus, a man that the reader senses is not an Argive at all, but a wanderer come down from the northern mountains to adopt Argos as his home. Noting the hero’s blonde hair, Howard was certainly minded of Jason, captain of the Argo, and his radiant locks.
The best passage other than the last, which will remain for the reader to discover, is a debate between Phyrrus the Аrуаn warrior and his host, a Semitic Priest, in which the warrior claims that the many religious cults must be a sham, for Mesopotamia is not a land made by gods, but a land left blank like a canvas by the gods upon which Man has arrogantly and pathetically raised his artificial mountains in the form of their seven-tiered ziggurats. When the priest explains the sacral significance of the man-made cities as sacraments to the gods, the warrior scoffs savagely that he has been among the mountains made by gods and that man’s work pales in every way before the hand of the divine.
Howard, perhaps unwittingly, did a brutally insightful job of illustrating the friction that his fair-haired Аrуаn ancestors would have experienced when they took dark-haired wives in a man-made land.
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