**spoiler alert** What made the greatest impression on me was the story in which the goddess Frigg attempts to insure that no harm ever comes to her s**spoiler alert** What made the greatest impression on me was the story in which the goddess Frigg attempts to insure that no harm ever comes to her son Baldur. Within that story, it was a single sentence that intrigued me the most:
Yet the shape of the story means that he must be harmed.
The fact that Frigg set out to accomplish a specific task, is what dooms it to fail. The very nature of storytelling demands that the opposite of Frigg's desired outcome must occur. When she embarked on this mission, she set the parameters of the story and thus set in motion the events which kill her son.
During the final battle between the gods and Loki and his monstrous children, is this wonderful passage:
Thor turned to tell the gods all was not lost, the snake was down. He lived for nine paces in the stream of poison she had poured over him, and then fell, dead.
Reading this section about the end of the Norse gods reminded me of every finale of every episode of Superjail! in which chaos reigns and everyone is massacred in the most violent way possible....more
**spoiler alert** Book 10 in my re-read of the Conan series. Spoilers ahead.
This third novel length story in the series entitled The Return of Conan w**spoiler alert** Book 10 in my re-read of the Conan series. Spoilers ahead.
This third novel length story in the series entitled The Return of Conan was written by Swedish Conan enthusiast, Bjorn Nyberg, and edited by L. Sprague de Camp and takes place a year after Conan the Conqueror. Conan is 46 years old, married to Zenobia (after first dismantling his harem of "shapely concubines"), and is more or less happy ruling the kingdom of Aquilonia. Zenobia is kidnapped by Yah Chieng, an Asiatic practitioner of the Black Arts, as a means to lure Conan to his doom since the magnificent feats of his past and his continued existence have had an overall dampening effect on black magic in the Western regions of the world. This he learns after consulting with the Kothian sorcerer Pelias, whom he rescued in the story, The Scarlet Citadel, from Conan the Usurper (Book 9). Pelias explains that the West is entering an Age of Enlightenment, which Conan has helped usher in and as a result, the spells of evil sorcerers have become increasingly more flaccid and they're none too happy about it.
The appearance of Pelias is just one of many callbacks to elements from previous books. During his quest to find Zenobia, Conan is able to revisit many of the high points of his career, making this adventure a kind of mid-life crisis for the aging barbarian. He once again reunites the clans of desert thieves, the Zuagirs, who first appeared in A Witch Shall be Born from Conan the Freebooter (Book 3), and they infiltrate a Turanian fort to rescue a captured chieftain. Later, while being pursued by King Yezdigerd of Turan and two of his war galleys, Conan gains control of a ship from the Red Brotherhood, a band of pirates he commanded in Shadows in the Moonlight, also from Book 3. He takes control after killing their captain in a duel, something he's done at least two times before. During an exciting battle at sea, he beheads Yezdigerd, a foe that has dogged his steps throughout numerous stories. Afterwards, he travels to Vendhya and rescues their ruler, Yasmina, from assassination, a woman he first saved in People of the Black Circle from Conan the Adventurer (Book 5). Unmarried, Yasmina has been waiting to bed Conan for 13 years and does so, before and after the attempt on her life. Despite (or maybe because of) being monogamous for a year, and in the middle of a quest to find his wife, Conan has no qualms about indulging Yasmina- what happens in Vendhya, stays in Vendhya.
Finally, in Khitai (the Hyborian equivalent to China) shortly before rescuing Zenobia, Conan receives a "woman's reward, freely and willingly, in a burst of Oriental passion" from a village girl he saves from first, two soldiers in the employ of Ya Chieng, and then from the dragon they intended to feed her to. She thanks him with some afternoon delight in the jungle, which he's all too happy to receive even though he's mere days away from being reunited with his wife. Apparently, like Vendhya, what happens in Kitai, stays in Khitai....more
Although this is the 2nd book in the series, this was actually the first Hap and Leonard story I read. Back in the 90s, I don't think I even knew anotAlthough this is the 2nd book in the series, this was actually the first Hap and Leonard story I read. Back in the 90s, I don't think I even knew another book preceded it. So, this is the one that stands out in my memory more than any of the others. Aside from the main plot of the two trying to solve a decades old mystery of a child murderer after Leonard discovers a boy's skeleton beneath the floorboards of his recently deceased uncle's home, it's the small details that mostly stayed with me.
I've always liked the first sentence of the book, "It was July and hot and I was putting out sticks and not thinking one whit about murder", and Hap's subsequent description of the back breaking labor of putting sticks in the ground in a rose field. And for some reason, I've never forgotten the double feature of Gunga Din, and Jaws that they watch after Hap rents a VCR....more
Book 9 in my re-read of the Conan series. Spoilers ahead!
Conan the Conqueror picks up two years after the events in The Scarlet Citadel, and is essentBook 9 in my re-read of the Conan series. Spoilers ahead!
Conan the Conqueror picks up two years after the events in The Scarlet Citadel, and is essentially the same story expanded into novel length. Luckily, I enjoyed The Scarlet Citadel, so I didn't mind the extended do over. And really, if you've made it this far in the series, you should be no stranger to treading familiar ground. Much of the story is comprised of Conan in pursuit of an ancient jewel, the Heart of Ahriman, that will allow him to reclaim his stolen kingdom. The jewel is basically the MacGuffin that takes Conan all over the map so he can slaughter a variety of opponents, and get knocked unconscious every few chapters by black magic, a fall from a horse, and a club to the head. His most notable excursion is into the mysterious lands of Stygia, whose people are ruled by sorcerers and they worship the serpent god, Set. This is also the story in which Conan encounters a slave girl named Zenobia, his future bride and Queen of Aquilonia.
One of the highlights of the story for me was Conan's encounter with the vampire, Princess Akivasha, in a Stygian temple, especially when she shares her origin.
"I am the woman who never died, who never grew old! Who fools say was lifted from the earth by the gods, in the full bloom of her youth and beauty, to queen it forever in some celestial clime! Nay, it is in the shadows that mortals find immortality! Ten thousand years ago I died to live forever!"
I also liked the imagery that followed soon after, as Conan is led out of the temple by an undead Stygian priest that had been resurrected by the Heart of Ahriman. The jewel not only provides the only light as they make their way out of a maze of tunnels, but keeps Akivasha and all manner of inhuman things at bay.
And the climactic battle is every bit as good as the one depicted in The Scarlet Citadel.
"Up on the slopes the forest of lances dipped, leveled. The ranks of the Gundermen rolled back to right and left like a parting curtain. And with a thunder like the rising roar of a hurricane, the knights of Aquilonia crashed down the slopes.
They were coming downhill and they came like a thunderbolt. And like a thunderbolt they smote the struggling ranks of the Nemedians- smote them, split them apart, ripped them asunder, and dashed the remnants headlong down the slopes."...more
Book 8 in my re-read of the Conan series. Spoilers ahead!
The Treasure of Tranicos
The convoluted history of this story is detailed in L. Sprague de CamBook 8 in my re-read of the Conan series. Spoilers ahead!
The Treasure of Tranicos
The convoluted history of this story is detailed in L. Sprague de Camp's introduction to the book, but it's another of his revised versions of an unpublished Howard manuscript, and it's generally pretty good. It's a continuation of Conan's adventures on Aquilonian frontier fighting the Picts, which are basically Howard's version of Native American Indians. The pirate Zarano, and the Stygian wizard Thoth-Amon return, last seen in Book 6, Conan the Buccaneer, and there's a supernatural watchdog that materializes from a blue mist into a horned demon. After the climactic battle, the stage is set for the next chapter in Conan's life as he proposes to use the treasure of Tranicos to fund a revolution against the King of Aquilonia and take his place on the throne.
Wolves Beyond the Border
L. Sprague de Camp completed this half-finished manuscript concerning frontiersman having to contend with Picts taking advantage of the chaos generated by Conan's uprising. I enjoyed it even though Conan doesn't even appear in it except when referenced by characters discussing the events of the war, and it's how we learn that Conan has slain the king and become ruler of Aquilonia. I might be mistaken, but this seems like the first story where it's revealed how well known Conan's exploits have become.
The Phoenix on the Sword
As the story opens, Conan is already king and wondering if he's cut out to rule since he never actually envisioned anything beyond taking the throne and realizes what a bureaucratic nightmare it is. Numerous schemes are in motion to overthrow him, and Thoth-Amon resurfaces, but only now he's a slave to Ascalante, the chief architect plotting Conan's downfall. Events culminate with an assassination attempt that nearly exceeds if not for the demonic monkey wrench thrown into the works by Thoth-Amon who gets his mojo back.
The Scarlet Citadel
Although the previous plot failed, a trap set by two neighboring kingdoms secretly backed by a wizard named Tsotha-lanti proves more successful and five thousand of Conan's finest knights are massacred and Conan is taken away in chains. He's locked away in the Halls of Horror, subterranean passages beneath the city of Koth filled with monstrosities created by Tsotha-lanti through surgery and black magic. Out of all of the Conan stories I've read so far, this sequence is one of my favorites in regards to just how incredibly creepy it is. Obviously, Conan's story doesn't end there, so once liberated, he assembles what troops he can and rides to the rescue of his kingdom. What follows is the second standout sequence, six pages of carnage, strategy, and rivers of blood as Conan's outnumbered forces clash with his enemies. Conan crushes his opponents, but only five hundred of the nineteen hundred knights that rode with him survive. It's the most grueling battle since the one in Black Colossus from Book 3, Conan the Freebooter....more
Book 7 in my re-read of the Conan series. Spoilers ahead!
I had read an assortment of Conan stories as a kid, and this is one I remember vividBook 7 in my re-read of the Conan series. Spoilers ahead!
I had read an assortment of Conan stories as a kid, and this is one I remember vividly, especially this passage from the beginning where Conan and a busty, blond pirate named Valeria are in a dense forest and encounter a prehistoric reptile.
"Through the thicket was thrust a head of nightmare and lunacy. Grinning jaws bared rows of dripping yellow tusks; above the yawning mouth wrinkled a saurian-like snout. Huge eyes, like those of a python a thousand times magnified, stared unwinkingly at the petrified humans clinging to the rock above it. Blood smeared the scaly, flabby lips and dripped from the huge mouth."
After their run in with the "dragon", the two seek shelter in a seemingly abandoned and walled city. In Conan's travels, ancient deserted cities are commonplace, and for the reader are like the proverbial box of chocolates in which you never know what you're going to get. Here, the city in question is Xuchotl, and is sparsely populated as turns out by two warring factions that have been locked in a Helen of Troy like dispute for as long as anyone can remember. The entire city is constructed as if it were one giant house (or an indoor shopping mall) with no open air whatsoever- just floor after floor of empty chambers and endless hallways, and the Hatfields and McCoys that live there prowl around, each with a comedically deranged love of torture that's second only to their fear of being tortured. Out of all the mysterious, haunted, dead cities Conan has set foot in, this one just might be my favorite.
"It was a ghastly, unreal nightmare existence these people lived, shut off from the rest of the world, caught together like rabid rats in the same trap, butchering one another through the years, crouching and creeping through the sunless corridors to maim and torture and murder."
Later, after much slaughter, sorcery, and the appearance of a third aggrieved party that comes shambling out of a basement packed with dead bodies and black magic, Conan and Valeria are the last pirates standing, and they decide to keep the party going with plans of plundering together.
Jewels of Gwahlur
I have no idea how heavily edited this story is, but for me, it's style felt more modern and straight forward than anything else I've previously read in this series. I still enjoyed it, but it lacked the distinctive atmosphere I would normally expect from a Howard story. It's basically a one man heist story, and opens with one of it's most compelling sequences, in which Conan scales a sheer cliff with nothing more than his bare hands. The mid-section is largely comprised of an Abbott and Costello like routine inside an abandoned palace involving the enchanted corpse of a princess that has left it perfectly preserved continually getting replaced with a lookalike slave girl much to the confusion and consternation of Conan, a group of dimwitted priests, and a couple of schemers after the same loot as Conan. The story's saving grace is the emergence of a mob of malformed men that live beneath the palace that have been feeding on corpses. They're a terrifying lot as evidenced by this passage:
"He saw a man torn in two pieces, as one might tear a chicken, and the bloody fragments hurled clear across the cavern. The massacre was as short and devastating as the rush of a hurricane. In a burst of red abysmal ferocity it was over, except for one wretch who fled screaming back the way the priests had come, pursued by a swarm of blood-dabbled shapes of horror which reached out their red-smeared hands for him."
The story ends with another display of Conan's chivalrous nature, when he chooses to save the slave girl over the jewels he risked life and limb to steal.
Beyond the Black River
At the outset, Beyond the Black River, with all of it's talk of settlers, forts, savages, and scalps, felt more like Last of the Mohicans than Conan, and it was a little disorienting, but it quickly became one of my favorite stories. A frontier settlement is terrorized by a shaman named Zogar Sag that intends to unite the clans of Picts against the whites, and Conan is charged with assassinating him, and he assembles his own dirty dozen to do the deed. Balthus, a young man Conan recently saved, volunteers for the mission, and describes his comrades as such:
"They were of a new breed growing up in the world on the raw edge of the frontier- men whom grim necessity had taught woodcraft."
They're heavily scarred and muscled, and seem formidable enough, but then he compares them to Conan:
"They were wild men, of a sort, yet there was still a wide gulf between them and the Cimmerian. They were sons of civilization, reverted to a semi-barbarism. He was a barbarian of a thousand generations of barbarians. They had acquired stealth and craft, but he had been born to these things. He excelled them even in lithe economy of motion. They were wolves, but he was a tiger."
As a whole, they're like a Hyborian Age Navy Seals team- the best of the best, but their mission unfortunately goes fubar, and Conan and Balthus are the only survivors. While on the run through the woods, Zogar Sag sends a wild leopard after them and Conan explains why only certain animals obey the shaman's commands. Apparently, once upon a time, men and animals alike worshipped something called Jhebbal Sag, and those who actually still remember this deity share a bond and speak the same language. And as it turns out, Zogar is the son of this ancient being, and also has a demonic half brother that's gunning for Conan. Later, a feral dog named Slasher (!?) with a burning hatred for all Picts after they slew his master, comes to their aid.
The trio save the lives of numerous settlers, however the fort is overrun and the nearly 800 men inside are slaughtered. Sadly, Balthus and Slasher sacrifice themselves to allow a group of women and children escape, but not before creating a heap of dead Pict warriors. Most of the secondary characters in Conan's exploits are fairly unmemorable, but the deaths of the boy and the dog feels like a real loss, and Conan vows "The heads of ten Picts shall pay for his, and seven heads for the dog, who was a better warrior than many a man".
The tale ends somberly, and a woodsman reflecting on the recent events notes cynically, " Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph."...more
A morbidly fun collection of pre-code zombie stories culled from Adventures Into The Unknown, Web of Evil, The Beyond, Dark Mysteries, Web of Mystery,A morbidly fun collection of pre-code zombie stories culled from Adventures Into The Unknown, Web of Evil, The Beyond, Dark Mysteries, Web of Mystery, Chamber of Chills, Black Cat, etc. The stories were scanned from the original comics without any digital restoration or re-coloring, which is my preference. I love the Marvel Masterworks, and the hardcover EC reprints, but the new vibrant colors do change the look and feel of those works. I also like the paper used for this collection as it's a higher quality than the cheap stock used for the originals, but it's non glossy, so it still retains the look of an older comic book.
Here's some spoiler filled comments for my favorite stories.
I Am a Zombie - An unscrupulous oil prospector is forced to drink a zombie makin' potion after playing hardball with some swamp folk. The best part is how he's given a new zombie name once he becomes one of the undead: no longer Roger Hanks- he is now...Morto! If There Will be Blood took place in a swamp, had zombies, and was 30 minutes long, it might have played out like this. The artwork by Lin Streeter is especially nice- he uses thick, bold lines and the composition in every panel is strong.
The Corpse that Wouldn't Die - Jack Cole, undoubtedly the best artist in this collection, gives us a zombie that's a muscular Hulk-like monstrosity armed with a surgical saw. I've worked a lot of awful temp jobs in my life, but the fellow from the employment agency in this story has them beat, as he must translate a zombie killin' formula in ancient Sanskrit before the saw wielding corpse exacts it's revenge.
Horror of Mixed Torsos - Another artistic standout is Dick Beck; his rendition of the main character, a lovelorn sad sack that works in a funeral home and is so ugly that flowers wilt in his presence, makes him almost sympathetic. The mix up of body parts that allows two murder victims to rise is so off the wall, I can't help but love it.
The Zombie's Eyes - In addition to being a zombie story, you can also lump this one in the same genre where someone receives a transplant and begins to experience strange phenomena. A blinded plane crash survivor receives new eyes courtesy of a fellow passenger that happened to be a zombie. Unfortunately, he wants them back. What a long haired, robe wearing, walking corpse (Jesus cosplay? Polyphonic Spree member?) was doing on the plane is rather convoluted, but that's par the course with this loopy tale. I always get a kick out of seeing the undead engaged in fisticuffs, or screaming in pain in these older stories. The zombie in this story does both, and has the ability to fly. Will the beautiful crash survivor make a love connection with the handsome doctor that gave her zombie eyes, or will said zombie eyes first be plucked from her head by their original owner? Anything can happen in the crazy world of transplant surgery.
Corpse that Wouldn't Sleep - A hardboiled detective yarn penciled by EC legend, Reed Crandall. My favorite thing might be the character descriptions on the first page. The widow, Linda Tarrent, is described as a woman "who went for any kind of men...except dead ones", which is to say she may not have high standards, but she draws the line at necrophilia. Conversely, her brother-in-law, Fred Tarrent, "shared his brother's estate, but not his taste in women". It may be that he doesn't like floozies, or it's just sour grapes coming from a probable virgin that has spent his life confined to a wheelchair making puppets. At any rate, he definitely has some issues since he makes a meat puppet out of his dead brother's body in order to torment Linda and her new boyfriend. Private Eye, Ken Shannon, theorizes that Fred was secretly in love with his brother's wife, giving the story a twist ending since Fred actually did share his brother's taste in women.
Marching Zombies - This story is so confusing that I can barely make any sense out of it, but it does have a sacred pit of knives that a couple of guys get thrown into, so that balances things out. Actually, the pit is one of the more confusing points of the story. A bunch of zombies in an "obscure Asian desert" must shed the blood of a human in order to return to their burial mound as directed by their god, Kalu. So, they chuck an archeologist into the sacred pit of knives, who then crawls out of the pit as a newly minted zombie, much to the surprise of the other zombies. Kalu appears and is upset that his sacred pit of knives has been soiled by the archeologist and orders them to take him to their burial mound. They don't want their mound soiled anymore than Kalu wanted his pit soiled, and they refuse. As punishment for defying him, Kalu orders that a second archeologist be thrown into the sacred pit of knives!? The ways of Kalu are strange and mysterious....more
This had been on my reading list for some time since Chambers is cited as an influence on H.P. Lovecraft, but I bumped it up after hearing referencesThis had been on my reading list for some time since Chambers is cited as an influence on H.P. Lovecraft, but I bumped it up after hearing references to it on True Detective. I loved the first four stories that are related to the mysterious Yellow King, and also enjoyed the few others that were eerie in nature, but the last three were more romantic and didn't really hold my attention....more
These were my favorite stories from vol. 2 of PS Artbooks' collection of issues 7 - 11 of Tomb of Terror, a sordid and wonderfully ghastly pre-code hoThese were my favorite stories from vol. 2 of PS Artbooks' collection of issues 7 - 11 of Tomb of Terror, a sordid and wonderfully ghastly pre-code horror anthology from the Fifties, published by Harvey Comics. Spoilers galore for anyone that plans on reading these
The Eyeless Ones - An interplanetary expedition finds a planet of eyeless humanoid creatures, and after some violent encounters with them, they hightail it out of there. As their rocket ascends, they pass "The remains of a strange statue or monument!". Why, it's the Statue of Liberty!
Colony of Horror - Here's a life lesson- if your car breaks down near a summer colony, and some sinister looking old men in hooded robes invite you to spend the night....just run away. The most most twisted part of the story is the Amusement Hall, where victims are tortured on stage to the delight of cheering old men in hooded robes.
Hive - More frightening than the dream sequence involving giant bees, is the mob of grizzled working stiffs that decide to take a co-worker down a notch by bludgeoning him to death h for shacking up with the lady boss. This bit of real world violence is more disturbing than zombies, or giant bugs.
The Search - A prisoner undergoing surgery for a blood clot finds himself in a strange realm pursued by death. I really love the panels of him running through wet, fleshy tunnels as if he's become lost inside himself. I don't know if there's something Freudian about liking wet, fleshy tunnels, but damn it, I like looking at them!
Vision in Bronze - Here's another life lesson- if someone asks you to climb into a medieval torture device "You know...just for a joke to see what it's like!"....just run away.
Backwash - I immediately liked the curmudgeonly main character that buys a remote beach front home in order to put some distance between himself and the rest of the world he despises, especially after he exclaims out loud "Alone! Alone at last...free from the stupidity of mankind!". Later, he kills two vagrants that keep breaking into his cellar. He tosses the bodies into the ocean, yet the tide keeps bringing them back... as living corpses! The best thing is that their tattered clothes look like dresses, and their hair has grown really long, and they keep bursting into his house, chasing him around, looking like toga wearing hags. It's both creepy and hilarious.
A Rose is a Rose - Tommy is another character I liked right off the bat, a young boy at an orphanage of whom the bitchy director has this to say, "People want healthy, happy children...not a strange, sensitive boy like him!". I say, strange and sensitive boys of the world unite, unite and take over. Tommy is ostracized because he likes nature, and feels a kinship with birds and flowers. Tommy defends those who can't speak for themselves, and when told to shut up about it, he threatens to scream. When tricked into hurting his friends, he evens the score....with an axe! Yeah, I like Tommy a lot.
The Closet - Lucy's penny pinching aunt starves her and locks her up in a dark closet whenever she steals food. My favorite panel is when she steals a piece of cake, and fondles it lovingly. "It makes me feel so good and warm" she says. Unfortunately, she doesn't get to eat it, since her aunt walks in and throws her in the closet. My next favorite panel is Lucy in the dark, arms upraised in rapture, either embracing madness, or some devious part of her nature that allows her to hatch a scheme to turn the tables on her aunt. It's unclear if she's crazy, or just conniving, which I like. The third best panel is when the aunt has been locked in the closet and we see the exact moment her mind breaks. "But then suddenly a change came over her..." and all she can mutter is "D-D-D-D-D...". Ha Ha, take that Aunt Harriet....more