Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard

The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book this old. And this book has been on my to-read list for a long time. A mentor in my MA program suggested I read some Robert E. Howard and so I got this book but I never quite got to it.

The Hour of the Dragon is Howard’s only novel-length story--the mass market paperback wasn’t even 300 pages. It was featured in installments in Weird Tales starting in 1935. Magic and betrayal, wizards, death and quests what’s not to love about this original sword and sorcery story?

While Howard had great stories to tell, I found myself cringing at the usage and style. Exclamation points everywhere, ill-placed Middle English, impossible names (yet not as impossible as his contemporary and friend H. P. Lovecraft). Every time I cringed, I had to remind myself how long ago this was written. Have tastes in prose changed so much? Or was that just the result of the cheaply produced pulps of the era?

Despite all that, delicious vocabulary crept among the purple prose on which 90’s Sword and Sorcery was built. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to look up a word while reading, and I think it’s a shame that I don’t have to do so more often. Maybe I’m just not reading the right stuff?

What about Conan himself? The character that people could not get enough of in his heyday? I can certainly see the draw to him. He was the strapping giant that no one could beat, he fought on the side of good and didn’t back down from confrontation. Despite being a little sexist by my own 21st century standards, he had respectable morals and philosophies. He also was intelligent. He had a mind for politics, even though he obviously hated them, and could strategize a battle--and Howard could write it well enough to draw out the suspense (this is probably the key to his success).

As I mentioned before, Howard created the original Conan character during the Great Depression. And now, the new movie for Conan the Barbarian is coming out, during this new depression we’re living through. Coincidence? What do you think?

Review cross posted at Wandering Around the Words