Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pulp Fiction Friday: The Shadow Kingdom by Robert E. Howard

This is the first installment of a weekly feature here on Black Hole Diaries I call pulp fiction Fridays.  Every Friday I will highlight a story from the pulp age (1920's and 30's Weird Tales and the like) from authors such as Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and others of the time period.  In cases where possible, I will provide links to the stories themselves as many of them can be read online for free.  Let us begin.

Before Robert E. Howard brought down the wrath of the mighty Conan and the Hyborian Age onto the pages of Weird Tales, he was busy spinning similar tales centering around Kull the Conqueror.  "The Shadow Kingdom" was first published in the August 1929 issue of Weird Tales magazine.  Although it didn't seem important enough for even a cover blurb at the time, the tale would go on to have a significant impact on fantasy fiction. 

Many people credit "The Shadow Kingdom" with creating what would later become known as the sword and sorcery genre of heroic fantasy fiction.  In the story, Kull, a barbarian from Atlantis, has seized the throne of Valusia through the might of his sword.  One night he is visited by a man from a rival tribe who reveals to him a plot on his life.  As the story unfolds, Kull discovers there is a secret power behind the scenes that has been working in Valusia for years through evil and treachery.  I won't give away any more of the plot for those who may not have read it yet.

Howard's use of words in this story is brilliant as his setup for the action packed climax.  The story, while probably not revealing anything new in the way of storytelling for seasoned readers in the genre, still manages to keep the reader engaged and turning the page until the grand finale.  Of course, most seasoned readers of fantasy literature have likely read "The Shadow Kingdom," but I often find that younger readers of the genre have allowed these foundational stories to escape them somehow.  Classics like "The Shadow Kingdom" are becoming lost along the way in the wake of modern day ground breakers like George R.R. Martin and R.A. Salvatore.  And that is a true shame considering so many of these stories can be found for free online.  In fact, that is where I first read "The Shadow Kingdom" myself.  The full text of this story, as well as many others by Mr. Howard, can be found by visiting ManyBooks.

If you're a fan of fantasy fiction, especially heroic fantasy or sword and sorcery, "The Shadow Kingdom" is an absolute must read.  Head on over to ManyBooks and dig in.  You'll be glad you took the time to read this classic of the genre.

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