Kull: Exile of Atlantis
trade paper, 317 p., $17
This is one of the shorter Kull stories, only three and a half pages in the Del Rey edition. In fact it’s more of vignette or a philosophical meditation than an actual story. In it Howard reflects on some of the philosophy he’d been reading and meditating on.
The story, to the extent that it is a story, consists mostly of a dialogue between Kull and an old man. Kull finds himself in darkness, a great throbbing in his head. He’s not sure where he is or how he came to be there. He rises to his feet, sees a light, and begins to walk towards it.
Encountering an old man, Kull inquires as to where he is. The man tells him he’s come through the Door. Kull is able to recall that he heard a gong striking and then he woke up in the darkness. What ensues is a discussion about life and death and what constitutes either. Universes within universes are considered, as well as the rise and fall of races and kingdoms. “Time and space are relative and do not really exist,” the old man declares. He continues by saying, “The ‘everlasting’ stars change in their own time, as swiftly as the races of men rise and fade. Even as we watch, upon those which are planets, beings are rising from the slime of the primeval, are climbing up the long slow roads to culture and wisdom, and are being destroyed with their dying worlds. All life and a part of life.”
Some of the discussion echoes one of Howard’s letters to Harold Preece in early 1928. “The fact is that life is simply a passing phase of this planet, not the real reason for the planet’s existence, but simply a result of its growth. Life, and especially man’s life, is simply result then, and not a cause. There may be, may be, I say, a real reason for the existence of matter and energy, but whatever that reason, that purpose is, man is no more essential to its culmination than any weed or tree.” [Collected Letters, v. 1, p. 198]
Kull then comes to his senses to learn that he was attacked by an assassin and suffered a head wound. The whole conversation, and the moving of the stars that Kull and the old man watched, took place within a matter of minutes.
This is by far one of the most philosophical Kull tales, if for no other reason than the philosophy takes up most of the story. For some reason, Howard didn’t submit this one to Weird Tales, perhaps because Farnsworth Wright had already rejected some of the Kull stories. I don’t know if Wright’s rejections of those stories still exist. I’m not aware that they do, but I have to wonder if he rejected them on the basis of too much philosophy and not enough action. For whatever reason, Howard chose to send this one to Argosy. They didn’t accept it, either, and “The Striking of the Gong” remained unpublished (in its original version) until 1976, when it was published in The Second Book of Robert E. Howard.