Saturday, September 13, 2014
The Valley Of The Worm!
"The Valley of the Worm" by Robert E. Howard is an odd one. It's a story of vigor and punch, but for some reason lacks the atmosphere I often associate with Howard's most effective stories. There's no doubt I read the story first in its Marvel Comics adapted form in Supernatural Thrillers #3 by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway with lush Gil Kane and Ernie Chan artwork. Flush with success in Conan, Thomas was quick to try and turn the pulps into a primary source. This story is rock solid throughout and offers a barbarian properly in the Conan mode.
John Jakes and Richard Corben a few years later did their own version of this story titled "Bloodstar" which was serialized in Heavy Metal after being published as a complete tale.
This story first appeared in Weird Tales.
The story begins in the "now" as a man named James Allison ponders past lives. These lives stretch back into dim and forgotten times and Allison once upon a time was a hero named Niord who was a mighty warrior among the Aesir, the white-skinned blond-haired dominant race of the era who were inveterate nomads and find themselves entering into an unknown land inhabited by some of Howard's ubiquitous Picts. One Pict named Grom finds alliance with Niord, who is famed for single-handedly having slain a sabre-tooth tiger.
Niord eventually learns of the the Valley of the Broken Bones, a place where antique ruins mark the passing of an even more ancient people. The Picts steer clear of this dangerous place because of the hideous monster, an enormous white worm which is called forth by sinister music played by a shaggy manlike creature. Some of Niord's people try to settle there and meet their grisly demise. Seeking vengeance Niord first slays a giant serpent in order to get venom to kill the even more dangerous monster of the valley. He kills the monster but dies himself, ending one of many lives he will have over the centuries.
The story is unfortunately marred by some of the more overt racism Howard was capable of. There are some demeaning comments made toward black races, suggestions of a degenerate nature which while sometimes hinted at in his better stories is a little bit too on the nose in this one.
Nonetheless it is a pretty good adventure yarn, though the hero is a bit of a lout.
To read Howard's original story go here.
To read Marvel's excellent adaptation go here.