Pulp Consumption: Almuric by Robert E. Howard (Guest Post by Anthony Perconti)

Editors’ Note: Anthony Perconti lives and works in the hinterlands of New Jersey with his wife and kids. He enjoys well-crafted and engaging stories across a variety of genres and mediums.  His articles have appeared in several online venues and can be found on Twitter at @AnthonyPerconti.

Robert E. Howard’s novella Almuric[1] was his first and only foray into the ‘sword and planet’ subgenre of science fiction. Published posthumously in the pages of Weird Tales in 1939, Almuric recounts the trials and tribulations of Texan Esau Cairn on the savage planet of the story’s title. Howard presents a character, born in the wrong era, who is an out and out bruiser; a man so strong and physically imposing that he must always keep his strength in check. While on the run from the law for the accidental killing of the crooked political boss Blaine, he encounters one Professor Hildebrand, the inventor of a teleportation device (with the wonderfully pulpy name, the ‘Great Secret’). In dire straits, Cairn agrees to be the test subject of this device and is transmitted (presumably) light years from Earth.

Upon his arrival on this savage planet, Cairn is freed from the fetters of the modern era. He is able to test his mettle against an inimical wilderness and the various cultures of this world. In this new environment, Cairn is able to cut loose from the societal restraints of the 20th Century and utilize his full strength for the first time in his life. As he fights for survival against the wild animals and the hominids that he encounters, Cairn goes through a crucible process, coming out the other side as a tougher, more resilient individual. “Yet, I gave a good account of myself. Ears split, noses crumpled and teeth splintered under the crushing impact of my iron hard fists and the yells of the wounded were music to my battered ears.” He eventually is adopted into the hominid culture of the Guras, where he is considered an equal member of the tribe and given the appellation ‘Ironhand’[2].

Howard crafted a tale very much in the Burroughs mold, in which those familiar John Carter story beats are front and center. Cairn even falls in love with his own version of Dejah Thoris, the beautiful tribal maiden Altha and wins her hand in the process. The antagonists of the piece are the Yagas, a decadent, bat winged species that prey on the Guras. Ironhand wages war against these winged reavers, runs afoul of their queen Yasmeena and the piece de resistance, battles a gigantic electric slug (no, really). Almuric is not exemplary when held against Howard’s greater body of work. It is quite formulaic, faithfully following Burroughs’ Barsoom recipe. So why read this you ask? The main strength of Almuric lies not in its originality, but rather in Howard’s lean and mean, muscular prose. “He was primitive in his passions, with a gusty temper and a courage inferior to none on this planet….Born in the Southwest, of old frontier stock, he came of a race whose characteristics were inclined toward violence, and whose traditions were of war and feud and battle against man and nature.” Unlike John Carter, there is no pompous, self aggrandizing, genteel posturing with Esau Cairn. The man knows exactly what he is and makes no qualms about it. He is a straight up head smasher, who thrills in the simple kill or be killed ethos of his adopted world. I’m of the opinion that Esau Cairn has more in common with that other Burroughs character, Tarzan, than he does with that gentleman form Virginia. Like Lord Greystoke, Cairn has an unhampered view of the natural cycle in which, an individual is either a predator or prey; he is perfectly at home surviving and thriving in the wilderness for an indefinite period. With Almuric, Robert E. Howard formed a thrilling piece of (sword and planet) pulp fiction in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs. What it lacks in originality, this story certainly makes up for it in cheap thrills.

[1] Dark Horse Comics collected and published the Marvel Comics, Epic Illustrated adaptation of Almuric in the early 1990’s. With REH alum, Roy Thomas on scripting duties and superstar illustrator Tim Conrad on art, this superbly rendered graphic novel goes for a pretty penny (if you can find a copy).

[2] In 1991, Dark Horse Comics published Ironhand of Almuric, a sequel to the adventures of Esau Cairn, written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Mark Winchell. I wrote a detailed review of this miniseries back in 2018. If interested, you can find it here: https://dmrbooks.com/test-blog/2018/10/9/ironhand-of-almuric-a-review

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1 Response to Pulp Consumption: Almuric by Robert E. Howard (Guest Post by Anthony Perconti)

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