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Glut Mad Fangs
In the Forest of Villefere, A Song of the Werewolf Folk and Wolfshead by Robert E. Howard
© 2013 James LaFond
The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
2008, Del Ray, NY, pages 1-26
These pieces were written in 1925 and 1926, early in Howard’s career. Howard ultimately abandoned horror for what has come to be known as ‘sword & sorcery’, a sub-genre of dark fantasy that appealed to readers with a sense of gothic horror and the ‘oriental style’ adventure yarns popular at the time. The three pieces here are prototypical works.
In the Forest of Villefere is a five minute read and totally predictable. However, it has a haunting edge, and marks the beginning of the spine-tingling style that was a hallmark of Howard’s later ‘sword & sorcery’ efforts. This has a folksy feel, with a dash of the Brothers Grimm.
A Song of the Werewolf Folk is a six-verse piece of poetry, which I am completely unqualified to evaluate. The style is reminiscent of Poe. A hundred years ago prose authors were still expected to flex their literary muscle in verse. I like looking to Howard’s verse to find the source material for his prose atmospherics.
I tried 15 years ago to contact Glen lord at Conan Properties for permission to quote from Howard's work. I'll take his none response as an indication that he was not concerned with infringement. For the record I highly recommend you purchase The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, 2008, Del Ray.
The third, fourth and fifth verses are:
Why should we wish for fertile fields,
Valley and crystal fountain?
This is our doom—the hunger-trail,
The wolf and the storm-stalked mountains.
Over us stalk the bellowing gods
Where the dusk and the twilight sever;
Under their iron goatish hoofs
They crunch our skulls forever.
Mercy and hope and pity—all,
Bubbles the black crags sunder;
Hunger is all the gods have left
And the death that lurks thereunder
On a metaphoric level—in consideration of Howard's body of work—I see Howard employing the werewolf as the wild man trapped within the civilized life, just as the wolf is trapped within the domestic dog. Later on in his Conan stories he would hit this theme straight on, often comparing the hero as a wolf among the mere dogs that were other men. The gods, as we might imagine from an anti-materialist struggling through a banker and politician generated depression, would be those self-same pariahs that often haunt his work in the form of sorcerers.
Wolfshead is a fairly complex and highly atmospheric novelette. The tale is told in the first person to a group of Frenchmen by an evasive adventurer. This yarn concerned his visit to a Portuguese colonial outpost on the coast of West Africa. It appears to be set in the 1600s. The characters are appropriately ethnic, racist and abrasively polite. The natives are right out of central casting for a 1920s Tarzan flick. And there is something horrible afoot; something stalking the colony; something that is also stalking the natives; something they suspect was brought by the colonists.
Wolfshead is a good taut read.
As demonstrated in his later Kane tales, Howard was fascinated with the unique capacity for violence of the man of European descent. He may depict the colonists as abrasively racist—as they would be—but also as a scourge on the African locals. Taken together with his seeming obsession during this period with blood memory and werewolves, I'm inclined to suspect the werewolf among the colonists—that has been feasting on them and the natives alike—as a metaphor for the evils of colonialism and the danger of taken the ethnic human out of his intended habitat.
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