Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Appendix N Introspection - Robert E. Howard The Kull stories

“A wizard of the Elder Race. He lives here in Valusia, by the Lake of Visions in the House of a Thousand Mirrors. All things are known to him, lord king; he speaks with the dead and holds converse with the demons of the Lost Lands.”
The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune  (1929) 
by Robert Ervin HowardA Kull short story. First published in Weird Tales (vol. 14, no. 3, September 1929).

Robert E.Howard's Kull stories are as important if not more so then his Conan tales. The fact is that Kull goes from slave to king speaks volumes about the progression & dangers of the world of pre-cataclysmic Atlantis c. 100,000 BC
. Why do I love the series?! Because Kull's fate is completely uncertain. We never learn what happens to him. He's swallowed up by Robert E. Howard's literature output. To me this  
Atlantean kings fate is completely unknown &  this is the way it should be. 
One story in particular always strikes me & that's "The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune". Kull has hit his middle forties. The throne weighs even more heavy on his shoulders then it does on Conan easily. Kull is a thinking man & one that has always of the more cerebral of Howard's heroes.  The "The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune" was first  published in Weird Tales (vol. 14, no. 3, September 1929)

I've gotta say that for me 
 Brule the Spear-slayer, is one of the greatest 'eternal champion companion' figures in Sword & Sorcery or Weird Tales literature. This guy goes through Hell & back with Kull in  the fictional Prehistoric Thurian Age stories. What the tale points out is who wizards are, why they do what they do, & where even to certain extent dungeons come from. The wizard is merely a man or is it the fact that even he is a pawn in the conspiracy to off King Kull. Personally I always thought that Thane is just another pawn whose  House of a Thousand Mirrors is a trap waiting to be sprung;
Kull stared into the great mirror, and the image that was his reflection returned his gaze.
“I come before this mirror,” mused Kull, chin on fist, “and I bring this man to life. That is beyond my understanding, since first I saw him in the still waters of the lakes of Atlantis, till I saw him again in the gold-rimmed mirrors of Valusia. He is I, a shadow of myself, part of myself — I can bring him into being or slay him at my will; yet—” He halted, strange thoughts whispering through the vast dim recesses of his mind like shadowy bats flying through a great cavern — “yet where is he when I stand not in front of a mirror? May it be in man’s power thus lightly to form and destroy a shadow of life and existence? How do I know that when I step back from the mirror he vanishes into the void of Naught?”
“Nay, by Valka, am I the man or is he? Which of us is the ghost of the other? Mayhap these mirrors are but windows through which we look into another world. Does he think the same of me? Am I no more than a shadow, a reflection of himself — to him, as he to me? And if I am the ghost, what sort of a world lives upon the other side of this mirror? What armies ride there and what kings rule? This world is all I know. Knowing naught of any other, how can I judge? Surely there are green hills there and booming seas and wide plains where men ride to battle. Tell me, wizard who is wiser than most men, tell me are there worlds beyond our worlds?”
“A man has eyes, let him see,” answered the wizard. “Who would see must first believe.”
The hours drifted by, and Kull still sat before the mirrors of Tuzun Thune, gazing into that which depicted himself. Sometimes it seemed that he gazed upon hard shallowness; at other times gigantic depths seemed to loom before him. Like the surface of the sea was the mirror of Tuzun Thune; hard as the sea in the sun’s slanting beams, in the darkness of the stars, when no eye can pierce her deeps; vast and mystic as the sea when the sun smites her in such way that the watcher’s breath is caught at the glimpse of tremendous abysses. So was the mirror in which Kull gazed."
The "The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune" featured in the story have always been a bit of a puzzle or are they?! The wizard is merely a man but the the fictional Prehistoric Thurian Age stories don't hint at another fictional age preceding it they scream about it. The Age of the Serpentmen was a nasty reality. My theory is that the mirrors of the wizard are actually relics of an earlier age & they allow the user to gaze across sanity shattering vistas. This at first acts as a charm spell & then later on requires a save vs wands. The mirrors leech one point of wisdom for every 'insight' that they take.

Guy Rose 'The Green Mirror' 1911

The mirrors are actually portals to other times & places keyed to the planar signature of the user. They can once per day act as a gate spell and send the user's consciousness across vast distances of the planes to other times & places whist leaving the body as a husk. For the Godbound rpg the 
 House of a Thousand Mirrors is a night road location that's just waiting outside of our reality to trap PC's within their own hubris. 

Thuria itself is strongly connected to Conan's later Hyboria age & the Kull tales should in my mind be read right along with Conan;
"Kull was born into a tribe settled in the Tiger Valley of Atlantis. Both the valley and tribe were destroyed by a flood while Kull was still a toddler, leaving the young Kull to live as a feral child for many years. Kull was captured by the Sea-Mountain tribe and eventually adopted by them. In "Exile of Atlantis", an adolescent Kull grants a woman a quick death so that she wouldn't be burned to death by a mob. For this selfless act, Kull is exiled from Atlantis."

The best version that I've seen so far of the Kull stories has to be mass market paperback Kull Exile of Atlantis. Easy to get a hold of & very readable this is one of the best versions of the tales put together. Its relatively in expensive at fifteen bucks US & very digestible.

The Kull tales in my mind are required reading if your going to run an Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. From Kull's beginning as a slave to his rise to king of Atlantis this set of  blood soaked tales has it all for flavor, inspiration, palace uprisings, conspiracies, serpent men advisers & assassins lurking behind the scenes.

Here are the Robert E. Howard Kull stories & their copyright status in the US: 
  • The Shadow Kingdom (First Published in Weird Tales, August 1929)
  • The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune (First published in Weird Tales, September 1929)
  • The Altar and the Scorpion (1967) – Copyrighted in the United States until 2063
  • The Black City (1967) – Copyrighted in the United States until 2063
  • By This Axe, I Rule (1967) – Copyrighted in the United States until 2063
  • The Curse of the Golden Skull (1967) – Copyrighted in the United States until 2063
  • Delcardes' Cat (1967) – Copyrighted in the United States until 2063
  • Exile of Atlantis (1967) – Copyrighted in the United States until 2063
  • The Skull of Silence (1967) – Copyrighted in the United States until 2063
  • The Striking of the Gong (1967) – Copyrighted in the United States until 2063
  • Swords of the Purple Kingdom (1967) – Copyrighted in the United States until 2063

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