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'This is the Age of Youth'
Spanish Gold on Devil Horse by Robert E. Howard
© 2021 James LaFond
Reading from pages 39-91 of The Howard Collector, ACE, NY, 1979, 267 pages
Mike Costigan emerges as Robert E. Howard in his late 20s in a tale that is just entertaining enough to keep the reader's attention and formulaic enough to make it appear as if it is practice story in which the author employs himself as a pedestrian tool for the implementation of a series of tired trope. Although, Spanish Gold on a Devil Horse, is Howard's worst short novel, he still gleams darkly in spots, particularly in his use of leading chapter title such as The Man with the Serpent Eyes. Although Howard fails to fully engage the reader in this yarn, he shows promise. He gives away every segment of the narrative in the title. This does not work with a slightly above average Joe as a straight man. However, Howard would pull this off in the sue of such savage characters as Conan, later in his career.
Howard, a young writer and enthusiastic and untested boxer in his late 20s, living in Cross Plains Texas, writes from the vantage of Mike Costigan, young boxer and writer of Lost Plains, Texas.
The worst aspect of the story as adventure literature is the insertion of a sappy love interest. One of the more endearing aspects is the waif named Skinny, a character that serves and is forgotten in a realistic fashion. Howard does provide a nice snapshot of the shutter of his mind's eye, placing himself in the story in full possession of the folly-ridden idealism of any masculine man of his age. In this way the story was realistic as a headstrong young man full of romantic notions of right and wrong and without the guidance of a cynical veteran in life, plunged to his witless doom only to be saved by the writer. In this Howard drew his own caricature and accurately portrayed many young fools hence and since:
“This is the age of youth,” grinned Mike [to himself]. “I am not many years away from thirty.”
The remarkable thing about this, is that in his third-person mind from his first-person perspective, Howard, through his altar ego Mike, demonstrates more than normal self-reflections, rising as an old soul in his writing exercise in the light of the world he despises.
The fight scene between Mike Costigan and a big burly Moonshiner in in Chapter V, Moonshiner's Lair is a very well-done rough and tumble fight done in functional mechanics rather than in the tantric atmospherics of much of his fantastical violence.
Of course, Mike Costigan gets the girl and in standard American fashion he is save by her, not being an enough to fell his foes. This is the type of trope necessary in American fiction from Westerns to modern psycho-hero movies such as the Bourne series. Maybe, it was in part for this reason, the aversion to lone heroics unsupported and unjustified by the American Mother Goddess in Distress required of the 20th century and now 21st century fiction writer, that Howard literally invented the genre known as Swords & Sorcery?
Thanks to Mister Grey for the loan of this rare book.
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