The Dark Man and Others: 15 Journeys Into The Weird And The Fantastic by Robert E. Howard is packed with stories substantially derived from Celtic themes. One of the bloodiest stories is “Gods of Bal-Sagoth.”
The story begins with Turlogh engaging in free-wheeling combat with an ax. He is taken hostage and chained aboard a crippled dragonship. His captor, Athelstane the Saxon, decides to spare his life. The ship comes upon a beach where Turlogh and Athelstane get off.
While roaming about the island, they come upon a screeching monster bird chasing a woman. Athelstane kills the bird with a thrust to the eye. The woman named Brunhild is saved. After the incident, she explains how monsters on the island warred against the people of Bal-Sagoth.
Just after leaving the scene of battle, Turlogh, Athelstane and Brunhild come upon Ska, the King of Bal-Sagoth. After consultations, they decide to have Athelstane fight Ska to the death. Athelstane is outfitted in armor while Ska has a spear. The two fight until Ska is killed.
Turlogh and Athelstane escape from the island unscathed. Turgoth sports a jade which is widely regarded as an emblem of kingship by the people of Bal-Sagoth. This story, like others in this volume, contains lots of action and interesting ancient cultural themes throughout.
In “The Voice of El Lil,” the expedition comes upon an interesting archeological finding: “It was the Tower of Babel true to life! Not as tall or as big as I’d imagined it, but some ten tiers high and sullen and massive just like the pictures, with that same intangible impression of evil hovering over it.”
Howard’s writing is very similar to Edgar Rice Burroughs or even Henry Rider Haggard. The settings are in unfamiliar territories with suspenseful encounters involving surprise discoveries, exotic wildlife, hostile tribes or unusual local customs.
The Dark Man and Others is an important voyage into civilizations past. Readers are treated to exciting stories with many unexpected twists and turns until the stories reach a high point and conclude — often without notice. This seeming abruptness of the storytelling leaves readers contemplating a plethora of possibilities. Alternatively, Howard could have set forth a definitive ending for each story without any further challenge to the readers.
Readers should be interested to know that Robert E. Howard originated the sword and sorcery hero-Conan the Barbarian.
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