Many folks know Robert E. Howard for his sword & sorcery character Conan. However, before there was Conan, there was Kull from Atlantis, a mere man who won the crown of Valusia. This book comprises the previously published and unpublished Kull stories and poems. Additionally, there are two essays by Robert E. Howard enthusiasts. In this book are the following stories: “Exile of Atlantis,” “The Shadow Kingdom,” “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune,” “The Cat and the Skull,” “The Screaming Skull of Silence,” “The Striking of the Gong,” “The Altar and the Scorpion,” “The Curse of the Golden Skull,” “By This Axe I Rule!” “Swords of the Purple Kingdom,” “The King and the Oak,” and “Kings of the Night.”
I think this book would be great for REH enthusiasts but perhaps not for the REH beginner. The opening essay on the magnificence of REH lasts about half the first CD. This essay refers to things a newbie wouldn’t know about – like specific imagery in the Kull and Conan stories. I personally have only read one collection of Conan stories plusWolfshead. So much of the references to the Kull stories were completely lost on me. I was ready to jump into the Kull tales right away, so I skipped ahead and came back to the opening essay later.
The collection of stories is great. Since most of the tales follow chronologically one after the other, they almost read like one big novel when strung together. I was very surprised to see that there were no racial slurs as I have seen in the Conan stories. I honestly don’t know if this collection was sanitized for modern readers or if that is how Howard truly wrote them. I do know that nearly all of these tales went unpublished until long after Howard’s death. At any rate, I got swept up into the magic, the betrayals, the sheer might in wielding a heavy sword!
As with other Howard stories, the ladies are few and far between. They don’t always get names or spoken lines. If they aren’t sexual objects to be protected and bedded, then they are betrayers. This is a theme that has been in nearly all Howard works I have read (the exceptions being those works that contain zero females). I am sure there are some interesting psychological analysis of Howard and his works out there.
This audiobook also contains drafts of his Kull stories which are very close to the final versions and I found them a bit redundant. The book ends with another essay on the awesomeness that is Kull and REH. I think this second essay was more interesting simply because I had some knowledge of the Kull stories at that point.
Over all, I loved the imagery of the Kull stories, the adventure, the male bonding and camaraderie. REH has this way with words that turns scratches on a page into a full, lush landscape. He would be one of my favorite writers if he included some worthy female characters. Alas, that isn’t to be.
Narration: Todd McLaren was a good pick for this book. He had that noble, yet gruff, voice for Kull that made me want to strap on a leather loin cloth, arm myself to the teeth, and set off on an adventure with the warrior. He also had excellent voices for other recurring side characters like Brule. There is one cat character that talks and McLaren did a good job making it sound like a snobby cat. His female voices were done well, especially the old crone.