Jack's Reviews > Bran Mak Morn: The Last King

Bran Mak Morn by Robert E. Howard
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Robert E. Howard’s tales about Bran Mak Morn and the Picts are typical of REH’s wonderful writing but with a strong emphasis on his themes of nationalism, tribalism, and “racialism.” This observation is not a criticism of REH. He wrote these stories in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and, the concept of racial traits and supposed advantages and superiorities of certain races were more acceptable in that era than now. Editor Rusty Burke summarizes these issues in the included “Notes on Miscellanea.” I recommend the reader skip to this short essay first, to understand the context of the Bran Mak Morn and Pict stories.

The stories also include numerous references to racial purity and how the “retrogression” of a race by intermarriage, eventually causes the people become soft and weak, then to fall to the next warrior-like (and more “pure”) set of conquerors. This concept feeds into another interesting concept that REH uses several times in the stories in this collection: racial or tribal “memory.” Characters summon, or, in one case are caused to summon by a blow to the head, the furious traits of their long-ago ancestors to overcome a battle against an enemy race or tribe. Somehow, the glory and vengeance of the protagonist’s ancient Pict/Saxon/Celt forebears are genetically carried down but become more and more hidden. This concept reminds me a bit of the storyline in the Assassin’s Creed video game series, in which a modern-day organization uses technology to draw out of the protagonist his the memories of his Assassin ancestors.

Again, this is not a criticism of REH or a comment that his work is “racist” and to be avoided. These themes are present in many of his works and the works of many of his contemporaries. However, they are more at the forefront in the Bran Mak Morn and Pict stories. In my opinion, it is because BMM is depicted as the last ruler of a dying race, and as a “pure-blood” he feels a innate duty to keep his race from further decline, both in power and in quality. We find these themes in other works of fantasy, yet they seem less startling and more acceptable in the concept of races that do not exist, such as elves, gnomes, dwarves, etc.

I recommend fans of REH’s Conan and Kull stories to read the BMM stories in this or any other collection of the stories.
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Reading Progress

May 16, 2016 – Started Reading
May 16, 2016 – Shelved
May 21, 2016 –
page 57
15.16%
May 23, 2016 –
page 140
37.23%
May 29, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Greg (new)

Greg What I like about some of Howard's Conan stories (I haven't read them all so can't make a generalisation) is that, despite the era in which they were written, they were not overtly racist. But, from what you say in your review, what's interesting about Bran Mak Morn is that Howard seems to have shared with Lovecraft a dislike of inter-racial marriage/breeding. This is disappointing but not surprising as they were contemporaries at a time when such views were commonplace and (I think) they also communicated with each other, which may have reinforced Howard's thinking on the matter.

While I intend to read more Conan stories, I think I'll give this book a pass.


Jack Greg wrote: "What I like about some of Howard's Conan stories (I haven't read them all so can't make a generalisation) is that, despite the era in which they were written, they were not overtly racist. But, fro..."

Good points. The racial pride were particularly at the forefront in BMM. The Conan books are more enjoyable to me because REH seems to have been using BMM to more overtly explore his pseudo-fictional world and theories on cultural and racial development.


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