A few years back I became more enamored of Robert E. Howard’s writing than I already was (which is saying something), and made it a personal quest to read as much of his work as I could find. El Borak, Solomon Kane, Bran Mac Morn… I tried to locate copies of everything I could. (This was before the Del Rey editions came along, and made the quest easier).
Among the many treasures I gathered was a copy of Almuric, Howard’s first and only foray into the Sword & Planet sub-genre, and one of only a handful of book-length works he completed — although Robert E. Howard scholars now seem fairly certain that someone else completed the novel. Some believe that this posthumous collaborator may have been Howard’s agent Otis Adelbert Kline, himself a successful author of Burroughs pastiches such as Planet of Peril, but Howard scholar Morgan Holmes has argued convincingly that it might well have been pulp author Otto Binder. The late, lamented The Cimmerian posted a fine article by Al Harron describing the history or Almuric’s composition and scholarship about its origins.
Be that as it may, Almuric is a classic adventure tale in the Burroughs tradition, but written in Howard’s muscular prose. The narrator, Esau Cairn, is cut from the same familiar cloth as many of Howard’s protagonists. Thick with muscle, a bit of a social outcast, Esau is a true Howardian hero, and provides a relatable figure for the reader to experience the alien world of Almuric.
The story and plot are fairly standard adventure fare. When Esau comes to Almuric, by a means a bit more logical than John Carter’s trip to Mars, he encounters beast men, winged demons and a remarkably human female protagonist and her kind. His natural strength and cunning allow him to triumph in a world seemingly made for one of his abilities.
However, although Almuric does present a very familiar theme that Howard loved to use, that of barbarism vs. civilization, it is presented in a wholly different manner, especially at the beginning.
When Esau arrives, he is a “barbarian” who is confronted with a world more savage and barbaric than he. And he is forced to adapt and conquer, through ingenuity and cunning, this mighty foe of a world. In this respect, Almuric bears some thematic resemblance to Burroughs’ other great creation, Tarzan of the Apes.
By the end of the story, the reader has been hurled headlong through a raucous adventure filled with danger and intrigue, action and excitement, with more than a little bit of soul-searching sprinkled throughout this heroic take on the classic “fish out of water” tale.
Originally serialized in Weird Tales beginning in May, 1939, Almuric was later published in paperback novel form in 1964, and again in 1975. A comic book adaptation by veteran Conan writer, Roy Thomas, was published by Dark Horse in 1991. Recently a trade paperback edition from Paizo’s Planet Stories imprint was released.
Of significant note to fans, a sequel titled Almuric: Lost Gods is being written for release later this year by Mark Ellis, a prolific adventure writer who has contributed numerous additions to the Outlanders and Deathlands series from Gold Eagle.