Thursday, March 31, 2011

Red Nails, Robert E. Howard

Cover of the pulp magazine Weird Tales (Jul 19...Image via WikipediaAlongside Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard really captivated my reading habits as a youth. Rereading them twenty years later is almost like reading them again for the first time. I found the book, Red Nails, to be just as captivating today as it was when I was in my youth. It can be found by following the link to

Red Nails was originally published in Weird Tales as a serial from July to October, 1936. Robert E. Howard was a true master of fantastical stories. Never a dull moment, the story starts off with Valeria on the run from the brother of a man she slew in defence of her honour. Unbeknownst to her, however, Conan was also after her trail.

Along their way to the ultimate setting of this tale they slay a dragon. They then participate in destroying a small civilization, a sordid wizard and sorceress with occasional blood letting, female-on-female flagellation,  near-human sacrifice with Valeria on the sacrificial table rescued at the last moment by Conan himself. I don't know if there's much sword-and-sorcery styled tale that can compete with this tale. I highly recommend it.

According to Wikipedia's article, it is said to be one of, if not the best, tale of Howard's concerning the hero. I'm not certain I can confirm this at this time. However, it was an excellent read. Too many times I could see in my mind's eye an image stolen from the style of Boris Vallejo, the only artist to capture Conan in his true glory.

Gutenberg's coverage of Howard's work is somewhat anemic, and could seriously use some more.
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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Tree of Life, C. L. Moore

The Tree of Life, Revisited [Norawest Smith][A...Jekkara Press via Flickr"The Tree of Life" by C. L. Moore is a short science fiction/horror story that can be found freely at

I am somewhat sorely trying to find some redeeming feature of this story to justify the hour, give or take, that it takes to read. It is well written, there just seems to be nothing of substance to justify it.

Basically, some sort of fighter warrior has crash landed in what is thought to be an abandoned area of Mars. While there, he is led by some mysterious priestess to a "Tree of Life" which seeks to devour him, not to mention some local denizens of the planet. Though hypnotized to the point of destruction, as the living tree lifts him to devour him, he manages to find his free will. He grabs his blaster and blasts the plant to oblivion.

Is there some deeper meaning somewhere that ought to make the read entertaining and worthwhile? It is hard to say. If this is some kind of jab at religion, and how it devours people who are shells of what their ancestors were, then that would certainly make it more interesting. Whereas the warrior is on the verge of being devoured by this same religion, manages to escape. If one were to interpret it in this way, it might make it more interesting. I wanted to see if there was any reference to an interpretation like this online, and found nothing. Hence, I wouldn't necessarily believe in this possible interpretation.
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Son of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Son of TarzanImage via WikipediaSon of Tarzan is the fourth in the Tarzan series. I really enjoyed rereading Tarzan. The other two, on the other hand, were a little onerous to read. However, Son of Tarzan was a lot of fun to read. It can be found at

Tarzan's son, Jack, largely inherits his father's traits as a wildman. However, one might say that he did not have his father's upbringing. Tarzan was raised by apes. Jack, on the other hand, was raised by a very civilized woman who did her best to keep Tarzan's nature out of her son. However, all was in vain.

An enemy of Tarzan's manages to lure and kidnap his son into the African jungle. However, Jack manages to escape with his friend, an ape who loves Tarzan, Akut. Akut teaches Jack everything that Tarzan's ape mother, Kala, did. He grows up strong and very much like his father, Tarzan: a lord of the jungle in his own right.

Meanwhile, the story of Meriem is thrown into the mix: a girl who is kidnapped and brought to the African jungle. Eventually, Jack rescues her from her cruel caretakers, and she becomes much like him.

The Son of TarzanImage by Michael Heilemann via FlickrJack loses her, and, after wrecking the village who had captured her with a horde of gorillas, finds her missing and thinks her dead. It is quite a bit of exciting text surrounding everything.

Ultimately, everyone is united and the ending is a happy one. I would definitely say that this book was quite a bit of fun to read. I highly recommend it to people who enjoy a bit of an adventure. I guess that there is still a bit of the little monkey inside of me that really gets a kick out of Tarzan and his jungle. I suspect that there are millions more in the world who also harbour a similar little monkey that would really love to become reacquainted with Burroughs' Lord of the Apes.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Altar of the Dead, Henry James

Photograph of Henry James.Image via WikipediaWhen I picked up "The Altar of the Dead," by Henry James, from, I thought I was getting a horror story. However, it should be noted that it is not at all horror. It can be found freely at

It's a longish short-story about a man who ends up wasting his life burning candles at a church for the people he had known who had died before him. This sprang from the loss of his first love whom life had not granted sufficient time to them to marry.

From that point on, he counts the dead who pass before him, and lights a candle for each of them.This goes on uneventfully until a close friend of his, Acton Hague, who had wronged him dies.

From this time of the death of Hague, he finds a girl who goes as often to mourn the loss of her close friend (and lover?), who is Acton Hague. However, he does not know her purpose for going. But this same common friend had wronged them both in some way which is never defined. It is just noted as being significant, yet never quite voiced. She has forgiven Hague for his wrong against her, but the narrator never does unless it's at the moment of his death that he finds at the church at the altar of the dead.

I almost didn't finish this book. I don't know if I would recommend it. It is not exciting. However, it does remind me of all the people who have passed before me. I understand the sadness that accompanies that mental list: my old friend Chris - died from a mushroom. Grandmother, who died from a coma. Aunt Rose, dead from cancer. Uncle Michael, dead from suicide. My step-grandfather, died from old age. Some other people unknown to me have also died: both my genetic grandfathers. My maternal grandfather died when my mother was six. My grandmother's twin, dead at birth.

But, I do not light candles for them at mass or at any alter of the dead. It is simply not something which I believe in. But, they all occupy a place. May they all be resting in peace, or perhaps rekindled in a better rebirth.
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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Canterville Ghost, Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, three-quarter length portrait, fa...Image via Wikipedia Oscar Wilde has written some of the most charming short fiction I have ever read. I refer, of course, to the small collection of short fiction, The Prince, and Other Tales. I decided to go on a downloading rampage at in regards to Wilde's works. The first to be read was "The Canterville Ghost," which was an interesting interpretation at horror which contained humour, irony, with a touch of romantic notion towards the end. It is freely available at

An American family takes over an estate which is known to be haunted. Unlike previous inhabitants, however, when the ghost does make itself known, the family reacts contrary to those of previous tenants. Rather than run away screaming, or dying in some expression of terror, the family instead becomes amused by it.

The Canterville Ghost (1944 film)Image via WikipediaTwo young boys in fact make a sport out of torturing the spirit. They trip him up, play unkind tricks upon him, etc. Eventually, the ghost is out of his wits with depression and fear of the family. All except the very young girl, Virginia.

The spirit had committed a terrible act of killing his wife. To avenge the death, her two brothers chained him up too far from water and food to sustain him, so that he dies for want of either.

Virginia helps lead him to a path of forgiveness, discovers his bones, and helps bury him in the churchyard, thus ending the curse of the ghost.

The story is quite charming, and well worth the hour or so it takes to read.
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Monday, March 14, 2011

Beasts of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs

Cover of "The Beasts of Tarzan (Classic A...Cover via AmazonWhen I was a young child, I loved climbing trees. I also really loved animals. Eventually, I grew up adolescence, and these early predilections likely had an influence over me as I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan series. I'm not sure if I owned the entire series and read them all, but whatever I could get my hands on I got and read. It is likely that if I didn't read the entire series, I nearly did.

Last year, I felt the urge to revisit this hero. Having been in Canada for the first time in years, I took the opportunity of finding the first book, Tarzan of the Apes. It has been long enough since I first read it that it was very nearly like reading it for the first time. It was a pleasure. In short, I often get tired of purified heroes which lack any kind of depth. Too often, in modern film, developed antagonists are more interesting because they are more human than the heroes. Tarzan, on the other hand, is not at all like that. He is a killer, even if he does have his peculiar code of ethics which somehow he got from his instincts rather than from his tribe of apes.

Edgar Rice BurroughsImage via WikipediaBeasts of Tarzan is the third novel in the series. Having come off the heels of having read Le Mort d'Arthur, it is somewhat wanting. The truth is that the protagonists in the story are relatively two, if not one, dimensional and far from interesting. However, the hero is portrayed as something of a bungling idiot. Despite his superhuman senses, he cannot interpret people very well. Also, despite it being said that he has superhuman olfactory senses, he cannot seem to distinguish his own wife, Jane, from that of any other woman. This is not to mention the odour of his two, up to this point, great antagonists, Rokoff and Paulvitch.

Ultimately, in this novel, Tarzan learns that he can control many beasts of the jungle. These animals swiftly become very important to Tarzan. He cannot control the men, despite efforts to both bribe and intimidate. Thus, his only real trusted friends, aside from his wife Jane and Mugambi, are the animals themselves.

Tarzan, of course, manages to triumph over Rokoff. He kills him, but Paulvitch manages to escape. Though it is believed that he has died, it is more likely that he will survive to try his luck again with destroying Tarzan.
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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Le Morte D'Arthur, Volume II, Thomas Malory

Title page of The Boy's King ArthurImage via Wikipedia
This is the second volume of Le Morte D'Arthur, which is freely available at

For a goodly part of this volume, the tales focus on the hero, Tristram, who is very knightly and proper and all that sort of thing. However, he is somewhat unlucky in that he is torn between the code of knighthood, his love for La Beale Isoud. She is said to be fair above all other women. However, she is betrothed to his uncle, King Mark.

King Mark is a cowardly king who does all manner of ill to Tristram. Despite that treatment, including imprisonment, hiring assassins, and killing all his allies, whenever King Mark is in need of aid, Tristram is certain to give it.

Pyle, Howard, Image via WikipediaIt is also noteworthy, in my eyes, that one of the knights I had previously read about, Sir Gawaine from Sir Gawayne and the Green Knight, is so sorely written of in this book. He is constantly in want of destroying better knights than he is for an offence that was never committed by those whom he believes to be accounted for the murder of his father. However, all of that is false, and so much pain and suffering could have been avoided had Gawaine and his brothers listened concerning the truth.

These tales tend to be somewhat dry and repetitive. From time to time, I considered putting the book away for another spell. However, I persevered.

The second major part of the tales involve the Sangreal, also known as the Holy Grail. Most, if not all, of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table begin the quest of the Sangreal. This quest results in the loss of many knights, including the best of them, Sir Galahad, the son of Sir Launcelot.

This 1895 painting by Edwin Austin Abbey shows...Image via WikipediaThis part of the book is quite a bit more exciting to read. It's also quite remarkable how hard the judgment went against even the best of knights. Sir Launcelot is noted as being a grievous sinner and a servant of Satan. But nowhere throughout the text would one come to this conclusion. He is always humble. He is always happy to give glory over to other heroes. Whatever wrong occurs, one can count on him getting involved that it might be righted. It is only Galahad, who is often referred to as a maiden, and his two companions Sir Bors and Sir Percivale, who are pure enough to attain the company of the Sangreal. Launcelot himself, as good as he is, is slandered to be a servant of Satan's.

Finally, the last two books of the series (books 20 and 21) are about the destruction of King Arthur and the Round Table. It starts off with some of Launcelot's and Arthur's enemies using Launcelot's familiarity with Guenever and loyalty to her and Arthur's ownership of her as her husband as that which divides and will eventually destroy both.

A detail of the painting Image via WikipediaInitially, there is a great deal of resistance. Despite Gawaine being put in a bad light for much of the work, he puts quite a bit up against the plot. However, ultimately, misfortune would collaborate with Alglovale, the primary instigator of the strife.

As Launcelot fights for his life against many of the Round Table, two of Gawain's favourite knights and brothers, Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth, inadvertently get themselves killed by Launcelot who fought wildly and killed whomsoever got within reach. As a result, Sir Gawaine finally does seek to destroy Sir Launcelot.

The fight runs onto France until Arthur's son, Mordred, takes the kingdom in his absence. Ultimately, all the knights of the Round Table are destroyed by what becomes a war between Mordred and Arthur. Shortly thereafter, Guenever and Sir Launcelot become religious figures and then die.

Illustration from page 316 of The Boy's King A...Image via WikipediaThe death scene for Arthur, where a ship arrives to take him to Avalon, reminded me of the scene from Lord of the Rings when Bilbo Baggins left the world. I can therefore easily see where Tolkien got that scene from.

I have read some of the Arthurian tales. But now I have the feeling that I've done a very thorough reading thereof. It always saddens me when I see an Arthurian movie, as too often the stories are nowhere near as good as the books. Hopefully, if I ever have success with any of my works, I would love to start a comic book based on King Arthur.