Robert E. Howard
Cormac Mac Art (C) (1995)
(with David Drake)
The Robert E. Howard Library Vol. I
Reviewed: 1995-08-19

With his tales of barbarian warriors battling both their like and supernatural horrors, Robert E. Howard spawned the genre of Heroic Fantasy, also known as Sword & Sorcery. Nearly 60 years after Howard committed suicide over the death of his mother in 1936, Baen Books re-issues in what is scheduled to become a seven book series of those of Howard's fantasy stories not tied to the character of Conan.

This first collection features, in order, a pastiche by David Drake ("The Land Toward Sunset"), a rough, unfinished story by Howard completed by Drake ("Tigers of the Sea"), two complete ones by Howard ("Swords of the Northern Sea" and "The Night of the Wolf"), and a fragment by Howard plus the eerie outline it was written from ("The Temple of Abomnination"). I found the stories Howard had finished superior to those completed or written by Drake.

The hero is Cormac Mac Art, an Irish outlaw, roaming the North Sea and raiding the countries of the British Isles with his companion Wulfhere Skull-splitter and his band of Danish Vikings. Decades after the fall of the Roman Empire, at the onset of the Dark Ages, they fight Picts and Celtic tribes, Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Norsemen, and some elder evil. This is the archetype of heroic fantasy. The protagonists are superior, nay, superhuman warriors, who hack and slash their way through numerous opponents for prizes of loot and women or a mere lust for slaughter.

The single tales are fairly short, don't expect much in the way of sophisticated characterization. Some set-up, and then it's quick-paced action. There is a remarkable (refreshing?) lack of moral issues and other kinds of cultural refinement. Even a silverfish wouldn't call this intellectually stimulating. This is pure escapist trash - of course, that's just what we occasionally like, don't we?

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