Robert E. Howard's weird west

While Howard is the best known of his Conan stories, the little-used genre of the weird west, a fusion of western and horror, might actually be something he can be credited with creating. It isn't really at all surprising, that a writer like Howard, a Texan born and bred, who wrote stories in a wide range of genres would come to an idea of fusing western with themes of horror and fantasy. Maybe he thought it was interesting that stories like that didn't really exist or perhaps he was just interested in experimenting, but in the end, he wrote several of stories like Black Canaan, some being very good, perhaps even among his best work. While this sub-genre didn't turn out to be super popular, there still are things like Jonah Hex or Wild, Wild West that brings it to the public eye from time to time.

The Horror From the Mound Steve Brill, a Texan rancher, wasn't a superstitious man, that's why he automatically came to a conclusion his old ranch hand Juan Lopez must have been hiding something of value when he wouldn't outright tell his reasons of avoiding an ancient burial mound near his land.

After some reasoning, Juan promised to write the tale of the mound into a letter, as that way, he felt, he wouldn't betray his promise of keeping the history of the place within his family. But in his mistrust, Steve decides to dig the mound open and find out the truth himself.

As luck has it, the mound wasn't a resting place of riches, but along since buried vampire lord, who had come to the new lands from Europe along with the ancestors of Lopez. They had managed to bury the creature, but now thanks to Brill, he is once again free.

Thanks to more to luck than skill, Steve manages to kill the creature, but only after Lopez meets his end in his hands. None the less, the world of the rancher is forever changed because of his newfound knowledge of the evils of the world.

The Man on the Ground Cal Reynolds has been feuding with Esau Brill for decades. For years they have been trying to kill each other and now, on the rocky plain, the duo has finally caught each other in a final confrontation.

The whole story is really just that in a nutshell, two men taking shots, aiming to kill each other. The tension keeps growing at the unavoidable moment of the kill and that tension Howard builds up masterfully.

This story might not sound like a supernatural yarn, but it does turn into one in the final stretch. There are times, it seems when not even death is enough to prevent a retribution from taking place.

Old Garfield's Heart people have just assumed, that old Garfield was built of good stock, as everyone had recalled him looking the same, a man in his fifties, since forever.

When the old man gets ill, his mortality finally seems to become a possibility. But miraculously he recovers and tells his tale, revealing the mystery of his longevity and health.

Years ago a Lipan chief Ghost Man placed his own heart into Garfield's chest, thus saving his life. Ghost Man said, as long as the heartbeat in his chest, there was no way he could die, be it sickness or an injury. That is unless the injury smashes his brains out.

Garfield makes the doctor promise, that in the eventuality of his death, his heart must be cut out, as the witch doctor will come back to claim his own. Not so surprisingly, this eventuality finally catches the old man, when his old enemy blasts his head off and so, after decades of prolonged existence, Ghost Man returns to claim back the still-beating heart that kept the old man alive.

In many ways, these stories mixing up elements of horror and western myths feel like something Howard was in his own element writing of. Just like his boxing stories, they have an air of being written by someone who felt comfortable in writing them, which leads to a well-flowing structure.

Western as a genre seems like something Howard might have explored further had he lived longer and perhaps these stories as a whole shed some light on what he might have done besides fantasy.  Be that however, Howard's weird west stories are worth looking into.


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