Sunday, May 3, 2009

People of the Dark: The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard, Volume 2

While characters such as Conan pervade popular culture to a great extent, the reading of Robert E. Howard's actual work seems to be a far less common thing. Luckily, with Cosmos Books publishing the Weird Works of Robert E. Howard in a 5 volume set, Howard's work is as accessible and affordable as ever. After the enjoyment I had working through the first volume, I couldn't wait to get into the second.

People of the Dark: The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard, Volume Two contains 13 pieces of fiction, mostly stories with a couple of poems thrown in. This is the first collection from Cosmos to contain Conan stories. Stories from this collection of particular note are "People of the Dark," a story featuring Conan of the Reavers, the literary forefather to Conan the Cimmerian, "Queen of the Black Coast," which features Conan and his pirate queen, "The Haunter of the Ring," a thoroughly entertaining horror story, and the longest story of the collection, "The People of the Black Circle," one of the best Howard stories, following Conan as he fights an evil empire, other marauders, and dark wizards. Pulp fiction at its best.

The stories in this (as well as the other four volumes) are laid out in the order of publication, which is an interesting thing to notice, as it shows the development of Howard's writing not just as it progressed through his many ongoing series, but with his weird fiction as a whole. Howard's tales gradually become more complex, and his heroes become far more than sword swinging brutes, but are torn individuals who are not only strong, but also intellectual in their own way. Many think that characters such as Conan were a mirror for Howard's own literary psyche, and that Conan's thought process is a neat parallel to Howard's.

The only downside to this series is that it doesn't include a great number of tales. As samplings go, this five volume series is wonderful, but it is lacking a great number of famous stories. This volume also has a very solid focus on Conan, with a large portion of stories being devoted to him, unlike the very open spread of series and non-series tales from the first volume. This is only an issue to those who want variety; the Conan fanatics will eat it up.

Overall, this was a very fun book, going back to the days of the pulp era, and other authors, such as H. P. Lovecraft, Henry Kuttner, etc. It was a lot of fun.


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