Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Book Review: Almuric

One of Mr. Howard's most debated works, Almuric opens by introducing us to Esau Cairn, an Earth man seeking to escape after being branded a criminal. He ends up agreeing to a scientist's plan to send him to the distant planet of Almuric. While there Esau works his way through the wilderness until he ends up in the kingdom of Koth. Here he wins over the beastly people, including their ruler Kossath the Skullsplitter with his incredible strength. Esau has to put both his strength and wits to the test to rescue the beautiful Altha when she is captured along with Esau by the Yagas, hawkmen who serve the vicious but seductive Yasmeena who plans to sacrifice Altha and other women to the gods...

Almuric's history has always been open for debate among fans of Robert E. Howard. Published first in 1939, a good 3 years after Howard's death, many have suspected that it was completed by Howard's agent Otis Adelbert Kline. Having just read Kline's Outlaws of Mars, I honestly can't say. The first section indeed lacks the fast pace of Howard's best Conan or Solomon Kane stories while the second section (where the plot kicks in) is 100 percent Howard.

That being said it is a predictable novel with a very heavy Edgar Rice Burroughs influence. Indeed Yasmeena and her followers could be replaced with Issus and the First Born from The Gods of Mars and the reader wouldn't notice. The first section also feels repetitive of Princess of Mars while the final chapters where Esau leads his fellow Koths and their enemies the Khor to rescue Altha resembles John Carter and the Tharks' raid on Zodanga from Princess. If Howard had continued with further adventures hopefully he would have made it more his own but as it stands, Almuric is an interesting piece from a talented writer but I would still recommend one of the Conan or the Solomon Kane collections first. Rating: *** out of 4.


Anonymous said...

That should be "Zodanga". :)

jcomreader said...

Sorry. That's what I get for not double checking.

Taranaich said...

A couple of things should be kept in mind regarding Almuric, the most important of which is that it is clearly unfinished, and wasn't intended for publication. Almuric existed only as two drafts, the second unfinished: in comparison, The Hour of the Dragon underwent eight drafts.

There isn't really much debate among Howard fans, since the evidence for another hand in the writing of Almuric is all but overwhelming. Morgan Holmes' investigation in the last issue of The Cimmerian has spades of evidence circumstantial and incriminating.

First of all, the strongest candidate for the hidden hand is not Kline, but Otto Binder. Holmes' comparisons with Binder and Howard show that the final chapter has many words and phrases Howard seldom use, but that Binder did. Binder worked for Kline at the time, meaning he was available.

The most damning is that the first advertisements in Weird Tales specifically refer to a first draft, and a second, unfinished draft. Not a complete novel.

As for what was Howard and what wasn't, the case seems to be that everything up to the final chapter was Howard. The second chapter is full of strange words like "fusillade", an emphasis on WW1-style battle - a technique Howard never used, but Binder did - and a final paragraph that is all but antithetical to REH.

As such, Almuric should not be judged on the same terms as the finished stories that Howard intended to see print. The Burroughsian influence is strong and barely concealed, but I don't doubt that if REH did decide to go with it, it would be far stronger and more interesting as a novel than the barely-finished scraps we have today.

As it is, it's a fascinating piece of Howardiana, and great to study. However, it should not be put on the same level or status as his best works.