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.

Spoilers beginneth.

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.

Spoilers endeth. 

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.

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  1. Interesting piece. Do you know if Marvel ever adapted this into a Conan story as they did with many other Howard tales?

    1. Don't know the answer to that. Certainly many Conan stories are similar in structure and plot. I just read a Conan story adapted from the Bran Mak Morn story "The Dark Man". It was reasonably successful, but the changes hurt the mood.

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    2. Yes I agree, that particular story doesn't quite ring right as a Conan story, which I felt upon first reading it (in the tabloid Conan Treasury back in the mists of time) even though at the time I didn't realise it had originally been written for a completely different character. Beautiful Gil Kane artwork though.

      I'm sure there have been other non-Conan stories which were adapted by Marvel into the Conan canon much more successfully, but off the top of my head I can't think of which one's they are, it just seemed from reading your piece here that this particular story would translate particularly well. I suppose the fact that Marvel obviously did a straight up adaption of the story as originally written makes the chances of them also translating it into a Conan story less likely.... guess I shoulda thought of that first..doh!

    3. There are bunch. A lot of the "El Borak" stories were turned into Conan stories. I haven't read but a few of the originals (mean to rectify that soon) but they are stories set in relatively modern Afghanistan and the like which got the Hyborian treatment by Marvel and some fragments before that.

      Some stories by Norvell Page were turned into Conan stories by Roy and the tone on those is really different. They're good yarns but don't feel the same.

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