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Twelve Tears for the Goddess
Homer, Howard, Melville, Junger and The 12 Most Masculine Stories in Western Literature
© 2016 James LaFond
In order to put Howards work in context I’ve placed him on this list of most masculine tales, a list he does belong on. The selections of his that I have included are not his best works, and do not belong with these other works in terms of quality or importance, only in terms of the level of masculinity in the tale.
The stories break into two clear types, the tribal tale, indicated below with a [T], and the tale of individual visionary transcendence indicated by a [V]. For the #1 selection I cannot decide whether the tale favors tribalism or transcendence, and do hope that a reader qualified in matters of the Old Testament might elaborate. Is #1 the perfect joining of these two divergent strands in human literature? Is that why I have felt so compelled to place it above the rest? Or, is there a reason to choose one interpretation over the other that I have failed to consider?
12. The Odyssey, Homer [V] In which the hero literally outwits the very goddess who preys upon the transparent souls of men and then transits Hell, returning to the world of kings and men to triumph through subterfuge, the heroic requirement in a civilized setting.
11. Moby Dick, Herman Melville [V] In which the civilized hero discovers his soul in the reflection of his barbaric opposite as they strive in the face of the monstrous nature of both worlds, represented by the whale and the whale-processing whaling industry.
10. Meditations, Marcus Aurelius [V] In which the civilized thinker ponders the meaning of life while on campaign against barbarian forces, on behalf of the domesticated citizens of a decaying society, whom he has become shepherd over.
9. The Moon of Skulls, Robert E. Howard [V] In which the hero battles ancient, primal evil to rescue an innocent girl, who has been trafficked into the clutches of a bestially barbarous tribe of blacks by the evil machinations of civilized white men.
8. The Hour of the Dragon, Robert E. Howard [T] The hero is a barbarian interloper king, betrayed by allies and duped by sorcery, who overcomes his enemies on behalf of his adopted people after the manner of Odysseus, Achilles and Beowulf, making this pulp epic something of a Song of Roland with a grimly defiant, victorious ending.
7. The Song of Roland, Turold [T] The tale of a man so fiercely loyal to his tribe and king that he defies them both in order to protect them and preserve—at the same time—his internal sense of honor, for he knows that the so-called allies of his king and people are in truth enemies.
6. Storm of Steel, Ernst Junger [V] The true tale of the surreal journey of sausage-Man through the meat-grinder of Modern War.
5. Beowulf, Anonymous [T] The hero embodies the socially obsolescent ideals of an earlier age and in their exercise, on behalf of the new wonderless age, extinguishes himself and represents perishment of the heroic Aryаn ideals under the mothering shroud of Judeo-Christian thralldom.
4. Almuric, Robert E. Howard [T] The hero represents raw masculinity drawn into action by the suction-like evil of civilization, which at once desires his intercession on a spiritual level and is compelled to eradicate the need for him.
3. The Iliad, Homer [T] The hero Achilles, represents the death of heroism, in the context of heroic warfare, at the soulless hands of the elite managerial class.
2. Gilgamesh, anonymous [V] The twin heroes defy the gods, are sundered by them into an extinct truth [Enkidu] and questioning survivor [Gilgamesh], who comes reluctantly to terms with the evils of both gods and civilization.
1. Samson and the Philistines, Judges 13-16 [V] Upon review [although I am retaining my original undecided notes above] of Gilgamesh and a rereading of the Gideons and New English versions of Judges, I interpret Samson as an Enkidu type, the primal warrior with direct contact with the divine, who did not require tribal sanction to act, with his defiantly, transcendent death marking the end of primal heroism, with heroes of the future doomed to the fate of Achilles and Roland, unless they machinate like Odysseus. This interpretation establishments Beowulf as a reactionary Nordic attempt to resurrect the primally conflicted hero represented by Enkidu-Gilgamesh or Achilles-Odysseus and also by Samson, with him dying spiritually whole like Samson, rather than being split off from his psychological root like Gilgamesh from Enkidu and Odysseus from Achilles.
Comparative Points
For this last point read Odysseus’ meeting with Achilles when he transits the Realm of the Dead. Enkidu, Achilles, Samson, Roland and Beowulf must die to justify the State hierarchy, where Gilgamesh and Odysseus compromise and find a way to survive or subvert the evil that is Civilization. In this light Howard’s characters are only represented in defiant vigor, never at the end of their career, it being implicit in the character’s own mythos that they will die heroically.
Howard’s Black Vulmea is Achilles before he dies—just as Achilles is not depicted dying, but his death being an understood end as he is engulfed by the nullifying tide. Vulmea will not outlast Great Britain, anymore than Achilles will live to see Troy and Agamemnon fall.
Howard’s Conan is Beowulf more than any other character from historic myth.
Howard’s Solomon Kane is a Samson that does not argue with men or womanize, his qualities offset against drab, puritan black rather than compromised by his passion—his only passion being vengeance against evil.
Hoard’s Esau Cairn is Samson raw, too passionate for earth and needing an alternative setting.
Howard’s Bran Mak Morn is a cross between Odysseus and Roland, defying the powers of heaven and earth on behalf of family and tribe.
Melville’s Ishmael and Quequeeg, in Moby Dick, definitely invoke Enkidu and Gilgamesh on the puny modern scales of Fate.
Marcus Aurelius is Gilgamesh’s befuddled successor, the man for whom the epic was written.
Closest to our own subverted reality, Ernst Junger, is the quintessential Odysseus, the trickster, the coyote of heroes.
While Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Roland and Beowulf were all composed to be recited to, and be positive reflections of, royal patrons, all of these epics subvert those patrons, though they were accepted according to the fiction that while the current elite were descendent from the evil elite of the epic and functioned in the same manner, they were metaphysically descended from the hero!
Howard preserved this tradition by writing characters that fought against those things his readership held dear, but were characters who also embodied extinct values for which the reader remained nostalgic for or secretly yearned to embody from within the confines his own, meaningless and unfulfilling life.
In a very real sense, the least masculine titles on this list exemplify, on the part of the authors, a yearning for the most masculine context. Is there any doubt that Ishmael would trade places with Samson, that Marcus did not envy Achilles his simplicity, that Odysseus was not second to Achilles in all things other than guile? For this reason I side with the suspicion that The Odyssey was not written by Homer, but by a sympathetic inheritor of the hero cycle.
Under the God of Things
He: Gilgamesh: Into the Face of Time
An Excuse to Drink
the man cave
‘How Were These Numbers Obtained?’
thriving in bad places
honor among men
america the brutal
dark, distant futures
beasts of aryаs
the year the world took the z-pill
under the god of things
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