THE DEEP ONES: "The Shadow Kingdom" by Robert E. Howard
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"The Shadow Kingdom" by Robert E. Howard
Discussion begins 3/21/12
First published in the August 1929 issue of Weird Tales.
The Shadow Kingdom
Kull Exile of Atlantis
Robert E. Howard's Weird Works Volume 1: Shadow Kingdoms
I'll be reading this one out of Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors. In addition, I have two different comics adaptations to review:
So, the Robert E. Howard Sunday School curriculum puts Kull in the role of Jephthah in the campaign of Judges 12, giving him ka nama kaa lajerama as a shibboleth, and serpent-men for Ephraimites.
And on that note, I couldn't help noticing a certain odd trace: "Men were not always ruled by men." Take that out of the supernaturally-inflected fantasy context, and what does it say? Perhaps men were once ruled by women? Sex is conspicuous by its absence from Kull's story: "the love of women -- which Kull had never known." This point is one which sharply distinguishes Kull from Conan, even if the former is taken by many as a mere rough draft for the latter. It's also a feature that makes him more REH-autobiographical, in the view of Arvid Nelson who wrote the Dark Horse comics adaptation.
This really is at the horror end of the sword-and-sorcery spectrum: the level of dread (verging on paranoia) is high even before the reader/Kull finds out that the kingdom is infested with inhuman, shape-changing assassins and political manipulators.
Ruled by women? Interesting way to look it it! There is a supernatural element, though. Could this tale be considered a prototype for Invasion of the Body Snatchers?
Brule makes a great sidekick! I always liked his characterization.
> 4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Yes! But, no.
On the one hand, the general paranoid vibe is definitely there (and long before the Cold War that is often credited with driving the original Body Snatchers). But on the other, it's not a story about an invasion, it's about revolution. Kull is throwing off a yoke that has lain on the rulers of Valusia and their people for centuries.
On the science fiction screen, this same distinction is articulated in the Steven Moffat Doctor Who epsiode "The Day of the Moon," which I now suspect of being influenced (unconsciously even) by "The Shadow Kingdom," so similar is the central conceit.
That's what I thought as well while reading the Shadow Kingdom, and it could be considered an invasion from the snake-people's point of view. I feel REH is giving social commentary here in regards to elected officials and our system of government. The enslaved spectre in the accursed room, could symbolize the memory of a beloved figure head who is used to push someone else's political agenda.
It's a sort of Phildickian Gnosticism, really -- what PKD called the vision of the Black Iron Prison. The Serpent People are like the Agents in The Matrix, archontic powers keeping humanity in our (subordinate) place.
Ok, so I see how it's a revolution, since the war against the various demons and monsters that plagued the Earth have been slain by man, before man ruled himself. Again, this sounds like a commentary about democracy, that though only a couple of those monstrous races still exist, their numbers are dwindling, and their influence waning to where they must resort to espionage and infiltration akin to older forms of government that are struggling to remain relevent today.
You know, it's been an awful long time since I read The Gods of Mars. But the Therns in the current John Carter movie actually behave a lot more like Valusian serpent men than the ones I recall from ERB.
In the “Atalantean Genesis” afterword to the Subterranean Kull Exile of Atlantis volume, Patrice Louinet notes:
Howard Phillips Lovecraft held these Kull stories in very high esteem and even suggested in a 1934 letter that R.E. Howard write more tales about the character. Howard replied, in his deceptively deprecatory tone: “ Thanks for the kind things you said about the Kull stories, but I doubt if I’ll ever be able to write another. The three stories I wrote about that character seemed almost to write themselves, without any planning on my part; there was no conscious effort on my part to work them up. They simply grew up, unsummoned, full grown in my mind and flowed out on paper from my finger tips. To sit down and consciously try to write another story on that order would be to produce something the artificiality of which would be apparent.”
I also liked this bit by Louinet:
Unlike his predecessors and unlike the immense majority of his successors, Howard set his stories in universes not so much imaginary as they are forgotten: he wrote about our world and his themes are universal ones. Kull’s serpent-men-infected Valusia is no more fantastic than Shakespeare’s ghost-haunted Elsinore, yet who would think of labeling Hamlet as “Sword & Sorcery”?
A metaphysical sword and sorcery tale. And not just any old sword and sorcery tale, but arguably the first sword and sorcery tale, as it's the first Kull tale, and Kull is the precursor of Conan, widely consider to be the archetypal s & s protagonist. Not bad for a 23-year-old lad from Texas.
After all, the priests of the Serpent merely went a step further in their magic, for all men wore masks, and many a different mask with each different man or woman; and Kull wondered if a serpent did not lurk under every mask.
Yet again the fiends came after the years of forgetfulness had gone by—for man is still an ape in that he forgets what is not ever before his eyes.
That explains why people still vote Republican! (Sorry - couldn't resist.)
the love of women -- which Kull had never known.
Yeah, that leapt out at me, too.
I feel REH is giving social commentary here in regards to elected officials and our system of government.
I took the story more as a general commentary about the duplicity of mankind (and, to expand on the Biblical references PA picked up on in #3, an extended meditation on Matthew 7:15 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A15-20&version=KJV)), but yeah, I take your point.
To return to my "ruled by women" comment in #3, I was alluding to the notion of a suppressed matrifocal culture.
There is an archetypal resonance that goes back to Marduk's defeat of Tiamat and before, and descends through St. George and the dragon, all the way to "The Shadow Kingdom." Some mytho-historians have suggested that this narrative kernel is an expression of the genesis of patriarchy, i.e. men becoming "ruled by men" by putting down the power of women. (Cf. also Genesis: "The woman made me eat it, Lord!" In cahoots with the snake, she was.)
And to move beyond the gender theories, we have the idea of the serpent as an atavistic component of human mentality: the "reptilian brain" as infrastructure for our awareness.
And there are those who very seriously believe that there is a Shadow Government (Kingdom) that is run by reptile aliens...
I wonder if REH may have helped to feed that conspiracy, just a bit.
> 15 those who very seriously believe
Oh, Lord! The David Icke claptrap! It draws on the whole archetype; let's not blame Bob.
Quite the array of talent on those Kull comics: John Severin! Bernie Wrightson! Wally Wood! John Jakes! (Yes, I'm pretty sure that that's the same John Jakes that wrote those NORTH AND SOUTH books that my mother-in-law enjoyed so much.) Also noticing that José Villarrubia (who did some fine illustrations for Alan Moore's excellent prose novel Voice of the Fire) worked on the Dark Horse book.
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