Kull: Exile of Atlantis
trade paper, 317 p., $17
Once again, a story so brief it’s almost a vignette. And like the last one we looked at, “The Altar and the Scorpion,” Kull doesn’t actually appear in it, although he is mentioned. Only this time not with respect, but hatred and venom.
The story opens with the sorcerer Rotath of Lemuria dying from a fatal wound. He had been struck down by Kull after having been betrayed by the unnamed king of Lemuria, a man he had thought he had controlled. At least until he turned to Kull for aid.
As he dies, Rotath, who Howard shows to be a vile, evil creature, curses all men, whether alive or dead. Here is one of those passages that is frustrating by what it doesn’t tell.
One of the most effective techniques an author can have is that of hinting. Here’s what I mean. Howard lists the deities Rotath curses mankind by. They include ” Vramma ad Jaggta-noga and Kamma and Kulthas …the fane of the Black Gods, the tracks of the Serpent Ones, the talons of the Ape Lords, and the iron bound books of Shuma Gorath.” That’s a pretty exhaustive list, and it doesn’t include the major deities of Valusia that were listed in the paragraph previous to the one in which these appear.
Now we’ve encountered the Serpent Ones in “The Shadow Kingdom“, but who is Jaggta-noga? And what’s in the books of Shuma Gorath that would require the books to be bound in iron? See what I mean? Hints and questions implying a deeper, richer background than what is actually shown, making the reader want to know more. It’s little touches like this that make Howard the writer he was.
As he’s dying Rotath places a curse on his own bones. Then he passes into eternal torment.
Howard does something at this point I don’t recall him doing anywhere else. He injects an interlude, entitled “Emerald Interlude”, in which millenia pass. It was atypical of Howard to do something like this in the middle of a narrative. The mountaintop on which Rotath dies eventually sinks into the sea to become a swamp infested island.
What this accomplishes is to tie Kull’s era with contemporary history. Howard had linked Kull’s time with ancient history through the character of Karon the ferryman in an untitled draft. But that was ancient mythology. In this case, the connection is with the modern world.
An archaeologist is exploring the ruins when he comes across Rotath’s remains in a decaying shrine. The skeleton hasn’t crumbled to dust because part of his dying curse was to turn his bones to gold. As he picks up the golden skull, an adder hidden within strikes him and he dies.
A grisly, and unfortunately predictable little horror story and by no means one of Howard’s best. It’s not even included in The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, although it probably should be. Still the writing is effective, the prose setting a mood of impending doom. It’s different and certainly not a cornerstone of the Kull canon, but an interesting addition nonetheless.