Wednesday, July 6, 2011
My Swift Howardian Hero
Like so many of my generation, this was my introduction to Conan the Barbarian. It was okay, and while I didn't fall in love with it, many did, so my shared imaginary landscape got worn out on poor CtB pastiches and imitations. By the time I got to my more-experienced college DM, I was the beneficiary of his critical attitude toward the laughably bad fruit that this bore over time, and so didn't have much interest in Robert E. Howard. (This combined with the press about Howard -- I mean, try reading anything mainstream about him without the first two sentences reflecting on his suicide after his mother's death and the appropriate psychoanalytic signals.) However, he owned some other REH books, and among them were tales of El Borak. The similarity to Lawrence of Arabia also attracted me, and so I read and enjoyed and never forgot them. I recently acquired two volumes of El Borak stories, whose covers I've posted below. Some of the tales therein I have never read before.
They follow Howard's tendency to focus on one stand-out, male hero, with the emphasis on the male, in pulpy, action-driven stories. While many today may have had enough of American involvement in the Middle East, the mythic Texan in a mythic Middle East still has plenty of escape appeal for me in the midst of the intractable politics of today. (Orientalist and fantasist? Bad, bad!) And before I close, let me reassure all Howard fans that thanks to their insistence that Howard's Conan stories are much better than any of their derivatives, I discovered the truth for myself later in life, although they had an assist when I read a complimentary comment from an unlikely source: my memory is inexact, but it was either J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis!* Yet it was El Borak, another tough Texan whom the fictional Arabs named after their Prophet's swift steed, who was my first true Howard hero.
* I really need to mark this passage for future citation. If anybody knows where it is, please inform me.