I am proud to host Steven Shrewsbury’s final stop on his Born of Swords Blog Tour. I’ve known Shrews about a dozen or so years now and I’ve been honored to call him a friend. Our mutual love for the writings of Robert E. Howard is what brings him here today as he shares his Top Ten Tales hammered from Howard’s Underwood No. 5…
Take it away, Steven.
When asked to talk some Robert E. Howard, or submit a list of my top ten favorite tales of him, I jumped at the chance. Funny thing, though, is picking just ten. My adoration of Howard goes deep into my youth, before I discovered more wicked things like Ellison, King or Barker. It touches in a time of my life when all I had knew for storytelling ran from audio recordings of TARZAN and THE BIBLE. I hadn’t yet pondered Wagner’s Kane, the tales of Wellman or figured out that the real horror in life was living it, but I digress. The tales of Howard always returned to me and I have went back to them repeatedly, in various stages of my maturity, enjoying them anew and encouraging more to return to such tales.
Only ten? Well, I’ll do my best. Bottom first.
Twilight of the Grey Gods: Clontarf, war and an appearance or two my Odin himself in this great tale. Dark figures, grim gods and lots of action told in a way anyone can relate to.
The Vultures of Wahpelton: a lesson on how to write a rip roaring western tale. Gritty and going for the throat, the best of his short western yarns.
The Foothalls Within: my favorite Solomon Kane story. The brooding Puritan adventurer discovers the real origin of his cat-headed staff…one I applaud and envy that I didn’t think up. So many of his SK stories are moody ones, evocative of the times…like most of his work set in another place.
The Shadow Kingdom: a quick paced tale of Kull, his lord of Atlantis, battling the serpent men. Conan didn’t exist yet and one could see the inner workings of Howard’s mind as the essence of the S&S adventure was being created.
Hour of the Dragon: Howard’s only Conan novel…and a good tale it is…not great, but very good. If Peter Jackson could make a Conan story, do this one: Resurrected mummys, wizards, cults, great army action, pretty gals, evil folks, mighty heroes and lots of Conan as a deposed King. A danged good yarn indeed.
Pigeons From Hell: King called this one of the best horror tales of the 20th Century, and I agree. The creepy images are still enough to give a grown man chills. When one considers Howard heard of suck tales at the feet of former slaves…wow.
Skullface: the opium dream horror tale is a real trip, um, yeah. His usual action man, this time a slave to the poppy and under the cowl of the eerie leper…dang, how did he come up with this stuff on pure air? The paranoid, angst filled first person delivery is tense and beautiful, if raw and broad.
Red Nails: one of the better Conan yarns, a tad racy for the day and still current as S&S tales go. I could write so many things about each tale, and how so many of the elements in this tale were brought in from portions of his life, for example…like the outfits gleaned from the Weimer Germany filthy rag TENDER BOTTOMS…and the portions edits seen as crass lesbianism in the 30s…such a bunch of things that created this one awesome tale.
Worms of the Earth: the best Ban Mak Morn tale, a certainly again, the basis for a killer film. Bran strikes a torrid deal for his people, the Picts, against the dreaded Romans. Certainly told well and full of all of the things that would make a REH tale kick ass and take names.
Marchers of Valhalla: I think this story, a long one, is all a passing fan needs to read of a REh S&S tale. Told as part of the genetic memory of a crippled man of the 20th Century, this tale of barbarians in north America in a pre-Columbian time is a joy to read. Action, anger, twisted folks and gods & goddesses…betrayal and revenge unto the end of a life…stunning images and unforgettable words, delivered like sledgehammers falling, over and over.
RUNNERS UP: Black Canaan, The Iron Man, A Witch Shall Be Born, The Black Stone, By This Axe I Rule, The Hoofed Thing, Casonetto’s Last Song, Valley of the Lost, Tower of the Elephant, The Black Bear Bites, Sword Woman, The Bladed Doom (El Borak!)
I could go on and on. His boxing tales are another breed, not for all but great fun & incredibly violent. The tales of El Borak…good night I could just keep going…and there he was writing on an old manual typewriter. He produced such a volume of works that are still read and gone over, and by the age of 30. Robert E. Howard shames me at my output. I bow to his greatness. I feel like I’ve been typing with my manhood all these years…he was and always will be the man.
Get out there and read these tales and more.
Hard to argue with that. Thanks Shrews. It was a pleasure to have you swing by and share this Howard Top Ten with us. Howard has been my favorite author since I was twelve years old. No one writes with as much fire or invokes as much atmosphere as ol’ Two-Gun.
No, my friends, it is my turn to encourage you to get yourselves out there and pick up a copy of Mr. Shrewsbury’s latest — Born of Swords. If you’re a fan of Howard in particular, or sword and sorcery in general, then this is a book you won’t want to miss
Deliverance will come… But that is another story.
What makes a legend but the stories told about him?
Interviewing Gorias La Gaul, the biggest legend of them all, is a dream come true for young scribe Jessica. Where other girls her age would swoon beneath the steely gaze of the warrior, Jessica only has eyes for his mouth, and the tales that come from it…when he takes a break from cursing or drinking.
Unfortunately for Jessica, Gorias doesn’t really have time to babysit. She’s found him in the midst of an annual pilgrimage of sorts, and though he agrees to let her come along, it’s not without a warning: You may not like what you see and hear. Just don’t come crying afterward.
Whether viewing past visions with magical gemstones or jumping into the fray alongside the barbarian, Jessica’s about to get firsthand accounts she won’t soon forget…and discover legends are far from reality, and just as far from being pretty.
You wouldn’t expect a youth of love and friendship from the greatest killer to walk the Earth, would you? These are tales of some of Gorias’ earliest days, back before he’d found his swords, to a time when a dragon needed killing. Tales back before his heart had hardened.
For most men, the future is not certain and the past is prologue. For a legend?
About the author: Steven L. Shrewsbury lives, works and writes in rural Central Illinois. Over 365 of his short stories have been published in print or digital media since the late 80s. His novels include WITHIN, PHILISTINE, OVERKILL, HELL BILLY, BLOOD & STEEL, THRALL, STRONGER THAN DEATH, HAWG, TORMENTOR and GODFORSAKEN.
He has collaborated with other writers, like Brian Keene with KING OF THE BASTARDS, Peter Welmerink in BEDLAM UNLEASHED, Nate Southard in BAD MAGICK, Maurice Broaddus in the forthcoming BLACK SON RISING and Eric S. Brown in an untitled project.
He continues to search for brightness in this world, no matter where it chooses to hide.