I read this story for the first time recently in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy collection The Spawn of Cthulhu. (The subject of my next BAF post for Black Gate.) Just from the title, I could have sworn I’d read it before, but I think I would have remembered this one.
“The Children of the Night” was first published in Weird Tales in the April-May issue of 1931. It’s an interesting little story in that it ties two of Howard’s series characters in with H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.
The story is narrated by one John O’Donnel. He’s at a get together with several other men in the home of John Conrad, among them Professor John Kirowan. Both Conrad and Kirowan appear in other Howard tales, “Dig Me No Grave” being one. To his credit Howard doesn’t give the first name of all of these characters in every story and often only refers to them by their surnames.
In this one a discussion arises about cults, and several names from the Mythos are mentioned, icluding Cthulhu. Then one of the ones mentioned is the cult of Bran. The reference is to Bran Mak Morn, something that is explicitly stated in the story. The men begin discussing just how factual the legends about the Picts are, and Conrad shows them a flint mallet he thinks might be from that period. It’s balanced in an odd way.
A couple of the men try it out, swinging it. One of them hits O’Donnel on the head. While he’s unconscious, he relives a past life. In this incarnation, O’Donnel was Aryara, a member of the tribe known as the Sword People. This is a tribe distinct from the Picts.
Aryara and his companions have been attacked by members of a degenerate tribe known as the Children of the Night. They are regarded as little more than vermin by both the Sword People and the Picts. Aryara was on watch and had fallen asleep by the time they attack, and as a result he was merely unconscious while his companions were butchered.
Knowing he can never return to his tribe due to the disgrace of allowing his companions to be attacked and killed, he hunts the Children of the Night down and dies in battle.
O’Donnel comes to his senses back in the present as he dies in his memory. It is at this point that he recognizes the man who hit him as a throwback to the Children of the Night. He tries to kill him and is prevented from doing so by the other men in the room . The story ends with O’Donnel vowing to hunt him down and destroy him.
Not Howard’s strongest work, but it’s interesting. Howard was clearly experimenting. “The Children of the Night” was written about the time of the Bran Mak Morn stories. He was also beginning to mine Lovecraft’s universe for material as well, something Lovecraft actively encouraged his correspondents to do. While I don’t think the blending of the different characters from the different series works all that well, it’s not a total disaster, either.
The concepts of reincarnation and racial memory were favorites of Howard’s, and he would return to them again in later works, where he would use them to greater effect.