Thursday, February 11, 2021

‘A Hell Unfathomable’

The Return of the Corsair: Chapter 15 of Robert E. Howard’s Hour of the Dragon
Reading from pages 197-201 of the DelRey edition
Impressions by James LaFond

To begin this reader’s favorite chapter in any Conan story, the illustrator sketches six dark figures, enchained and rowing as slaves in what Howard would call in the text “a hell unfathomable.”

Conan awakens on the deck of an Agrossian ship and roars in his kingly manner, “What lousy tub is this?”

To this, one of Howard’s more short-lived incidental characters answers:
“The Venturer, out of Messentia [Howard’s Naples, Italy], with a cargo of mirrors, scarlet silk cloaks, shields, gilded helmets and swords to trade to the Shemites [Howard’s Hebrews] for copper and gold ore. I am Demetrio, captain of this vessel and your master henceforward.”

It doesn’t take a plot genius to realize how short and bloody this chapter is going to be as Conan, the White Lion of the Black pirates finds himself between caught between a galley full of black slaves that used to be his warriors and a crew of stocky Italians that don’t know they just brought their worst nightmare onboard…

The deserved carnage of slave masters butchered alive by rising slaves is so palpably enjoyable to the author that the reader must wonder if he admired Nat Turner, who surely would have blushed at Howard’s vision of what a slave revolt should be like.

Just to make certain that modern African-Americans would be as disgusted with the outcome of this chapter today, as “white” Americans must have been when this story was published, Gianni, the illustrator, with rare balls accurately portrays the freed black savages as hailing Conan “in an ecstasy of hero worship” as he stands above them like a naked, prehistoric Abe Lincoln. Never has something been written or illustrated to insult both racial fraternities of the retarded American Body impolitic.

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