(pb; 1968: fantasy/horror anthology. Edited by Glenn Lord. Introduction by Robert E. Howard.)
From the back cover:
"From Hell itself. . . from the Satanic depths where imprisoned lost souls wail forever, from the outer reaches of space where warped laws rule the lives of hideously alien beings, from beyond the elusive veil separating 'reality' from sorcery and the supernatural. . . come these. . . stories by a master of fantasy. . ."
Solid anthology of Howard's writing, whose publishing dates span from 1926 to 1951. (Howard, a successful pulp writer, blew his brains out on June 11, 1936, after his mother died.)
Most of these lurid, intense, thematically-overlapping stories are good (except for "The Valley of the Worm", "The Fire of Asshurbanipal" and "The Horror From the Mound", which are either too long, or too generic). That said, this should be read as a fictional leftovers anthology, not a main course read.
Worth checking out, this. Worth owning, if bought for a couple of bucks.
REVIEW, STORY BY STORY:
1.) "The Black Stone": An unnamed twentieth-century scholar, compelled by a rare nineteenth century tome (Nameless Cults, by the gone-bonkers scholar Von Junzt), travels to a distant European village (Stregiocavar, whose name "means something like Witch-Town"). The unnamed scholar's intent: to investigate, translate the strangely-lettered ancient Black Stone, where, if a man spends a Midsummer's Night near it, he will either go mad, or be haunted by wild nightmares for the rest of his life.
Solid, doom-suffused work that ought to be familiar to fans of H.P. Lovecraft.
2.) "The Valley of the Worm": An Æsir (Aryan warrior), Niord, hunts a man-slaughtering serpent (Satha) in the Valley of the Broken Stones, a vale so frightful, even the Picts, known for their fearlessness, shun it.
This is an okay tale that, with a few quick edits, could have been excellent. What mars it is the lengthy introductory prose, in which the oft-reincarnated awareness that gives breath to Niord brags about its multiple, previous embodiments.
Once Howard actually starts the story (almost halfway through it), "The Valley of the Worm" becomes enthralling, action-packed, with an atypical-for-Howard finish.
3.) "Wolfshead": The reveling guests in Dom Vincente de Lusto's castle are stalked by a flesh-rending beast. Fun, character-rich tale of lycanthropy, lust, treachery and strange redemption.
4.) "The Fire of Asshurbanipal": Two adventurers -- Yar Ali (an Afghan) and his friend, Steve Clarney -- seek an "ancient, ancient City of Evil" and its legendary foul treasure, in the wastelands of Persia.
As in "The Black Stone", there is a black monolithic structure and mention of "Xuthltan" (though in "Asshurbanipal" Xuthltan is a magician not a place, as he/it is in "The Black Stone").
This is an okay tale. It runs a few pages longer than it should, largely because Yar Ali and Clarney talk too much.
5.) "The House of Arabu": Pyrrhas the Argive, an accursed barbarian, visiting the treacherous city of Nippur, uses his wits and brawn to buck the curse of "Lilitu. . . the night spirit" and her equally transformative supernatural mate, Ardat Lili.
Intriguing, fun tale that (by Howard's standards) cuts to the black heart of the action-punctuated plot.
(This story, first published in 1951, was originally titled "The Witch From Hell's Kitchen".)
6.) "The Horror From the Mound": Solid, if uninspired, tale about an idiot cowboy (Steve Brill) whose curiosity awakens a bloodsucking monster.
7.) "The Cairn on the Headland": In Dublin, Ireland, an American (James O'Brien) and his shady companion (Ortali) view Grimmin's Cairn, a mysterious centuries-old mound. Shortly thereafter, O'Brien is sought out by a woman (Meve MacDonnal), who warns O'Brien about future horrors, should the cairn be dismantled.
Good, character-interesting horror/fantasy work.