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‘A Wisp of Gossamer’
The Frost Giant’s Daughter by Robert E. Howard
© 2013 James LaFond
Written in 1932, first published in 1976, in Rogues in the House
The most difficult thing about titling a review of a Robert E. Howard story is choosing a title from among the many evocative phrases. Below is my list of catch phrases from The Frost Giant’s Daughter, which I thought, at the time I marked them off, evoked the feel of the story:
‘you can not escape me’
‘ever beyond his reach.’
‘dawn running naked on the snows.’
‘the dream of a god.’
‘ivory to his dazed gaze,’
‘a silvery laugh’
‘the silent tenacity of his race.’
‘silence reigned on the red-stained snow’
This is the favorite Conan story of a number of people. I place it in my top five, because it is so barbaric, and, Conan, after all, is a barbarian. That said, this was not published in Howard’s lifetime, being shunned by editors. In this story Conan attempts to rape the daughter of a god, and actually comes pretty damned close to consummating the violent relationship.
For me, The Frost Giant’s Daughter is one man’s beautiful rant against the civilized world, where the most desirable women attach themselves to the richest men, as opposed to the most able. This probably had something to do with Howard’s obsession with boxing, as a way for an ‘able man’ to attempt an end-run on the ‘rich man’ in competition for female attention. Indeed, I could see Howard, at least this part of Howard, as a gangster rapper. The man wrote a long time ago. But we must remember that he was never other than young, and never satisfied with his achievements.
Howard has a reputation among those who have not read him of being an action writer, when in fact he is an atmospheric writer. The Frost Giant’s Daughter is the most atmospheric story of his that comes to mind, and it was set outside, under the thin arctic sky. At it's root The Frist Giant's Daughter is a tale of heresy and miscegenation, with Conan communing with a goddess of an enemy people and attempting to rape her; a theme of universal masculinity.
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