Black-Walled Khemi: Chapter 16 of Robert E. Howard’s Hour of the Dragon
Reading from pages 202-206 of the DelRey edition
Impressions by James LaFond
Conan leads his savage corsairs to the evil coast of Stygia, which would have been like Tolkien having Aragorn recruiting Haradrim troops to infiltrate Mordor and was entirely at odds with Jim Crow convention, for those half-witted critics who type Howard as part of the slave master elite, when he repeatedly has his white hero allying with black henchmen to slaughter enemies, and, just to make certain that he insulted blacks as well as whites, Howard treats the reader to this:
“The blacks sensed his eagerness, and toiled as they never toiled under the lash, though ignorant of his goal. They anticipated a red career of pillage and plunder and were content. …and the Kushites of the crew joined whole-heartedly in the prospect of looting their own people, with the callousness of their race. Blood-ties meant little; a victorious chieftain and personal gain everything.”
It sounds like Howard had taken a trip forward in time to one Baltimore, Philly, Saint Louis, Chicago or New Orleans to glimpse the sad spectacle of blacks butchering one another in service to The Man.
Howard then continues with modern American commentary, indicating that the Stygians, his lifelong enemies and those of his tribal black allies, were a slave race whose common men were not permitted to wear swords, which is of course the fantasy replacement for the gun of Howard’s day. The reader certainly reads a hint of Howard’s Uncle’s tales of riding with Nathan Bedford Forest in Tennessee who employed black soldiers against Jefferson Davis’s orders.
Gianni closes out the chapter with an illustration of Conan returned to his lone element rowing a boat into the heart of his enemy’s city, with the Stygians essentially representing Howard’s version of the pre-Hellenistic Egyptian race.
Diction of Note
Zikkurats, for ziggurats