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‘Why, Grand-Dad,’
Race: a Mythic Dimension in Fiction
© 2016 James LaFond
“'You’re a post-oak gopher. You never saw anything but sand drifts and dry shinnery ridges. What do you know about mountainsides covered with…?'”
And so, in For the Love of Barbara Allen, an old man questions his young kin, who is stricken with a vision, despite the truth of the statement.
“'Nothing,' I answered, yet even as I spoke, there leaped crystal clear into my mind with startling clarity the very image of the things of which he spoke…”
In our own day of polarized evil and ignorance it is difficult to even speak of race and we are conditioned to think of its mention as blasphemy. Of all of the aspects of Howard’s writing the most misunderstood must be race. For as our contemporaries, above, below and beside us, see race as noting but a dividing line between rich and poor, good and evil, black and white, Howard utilized race as a narrative conduit, even suggesting that a landscape might make a collective psychological impact on a people that shall be transmitted via the bloodline, such as highlanders inheriting the ability to breathe thin air, or the descendents of forest dwellers inheriting an affinity for forested dreamscapes.
In Howard’s racially charged fiction the reader is treated to the reality of authentic storytelling in which protagonists tend to do as real people do—take sides along ethnic lines. But there is more, for in Howard’s deep-ranging universe of adventure, race served as a narrative thread, such as when Dark Agnes feels war drums from the distant ancestral past well up in the blood that pounds angrily in her temples.
The race thread serves more mundane narrative needs as well. For instance when the black slave serving as Conan’s jailor in The Scarlet Citadel comes to torment the white barbarian for killing his brother in a long ago feud.
There is also the flavorful passage below, taken from an untitled fragment in which Conan is not the major protagonist, but instead one Amalric, whose lover is terrified by Conan and must be soothed by her rescuer:
“You never saw a white-skinned barbarian before…”
Again, the question of ethnicity that looms so large in the daily life of real people, but is absent in our fiction just as flavor is absent from bleached flour, also serves the need for tension in between action scenes and to add realistic color for the reader who is not scandalized by the notion that people of one race might have habits distinctive of their kind.
The reader will be hard-pressed to locate a Howard tale in which race does not play prominently. This section of A Well of Heroes will therefore be designated as the place to examine those tales of his most deeply colored by this most taboo dimension.
a well of heroes
‘Whispered a Dark Wind’
honor among men
search for an american spartacus
solo boxing
book of nightmares
the lesser angels of our nature
winter of a fighting life
the fighting edge
the greatest lie ever sold
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