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Kull: Exile of Atlantis Audio CD – Bargain Price, January 2, 2010
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As some cover blurbs so rightly state, "Before Conan--there was Kull!" The warrior Kull was yet another popular creation of pulp writer Robert E. Howard (1906-1936), generally credited as the originator of the subgenre heroic fantasy. Yet Kull should not be dismissed as second-rate Conan. (Although Howard did transform a few unsold Kull adventures into those of Conan the Cimmerian when the later series took off with the public.) Set in ancient, lost Atlantis, the Kull stories take place mostly after the barbarian has already come to power as King Kull of Valusia. What makes these scant dozen stories most memorable is Howard's heightened style of mystical decadence, similar here to his Weird Tales contemporary, Clark Ashton Smith. Rest assured there's enough gruesome bloodletting and wanton savagery to satisfy the most ardent Howard reader. (Variant editions of this collection have been published over the years, with the uncompleted stories finished posthumously by Lin Carter. Other editions have simply presented the few story fragments as untouched--and unadulterated--Robert E. Howard.) --Stanley Wiater --This text refers to an alternate Audio CD edition.
[Audio Review] Before Howard created the hugely successful Conan series, he created Kull, the seminal character in the entire subgenre of sword-and-sorcery fantasy. In this collection of stories, the barbarian king of Valusia is revived. Todd McLaren has narrated a number of the Conan audiobooks. Here, his curt, controlled voice helps build and maintain tension throughout the narrative. And his voicings of the characters, particularly that of Kull, tune into the action-hero worldview that underlies the stories and make for a engaging listen. In both cases, McLaren maintains excitement and tension without drifting into an overly dramatic performance. L.E. Â© AudioFile 2010, Portland, Maine --AudioFile
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Top customer reviews
OK, you can stop staring openmouthed with horror any time now.
I couldn't really tell you why, but one advantage to coming to him so late is that I got to start out with the real Howard, the raw and unadulterated Howard, thanks to these marvelous and authoritative Del Rey editions. I didn't have to suffer through Bowdlerized editions or attempted completions by somebody else. Because it was the earliest by internal chronology, I decided to start with Kull.
Introduction by Steve Tompkins: Interesting and useful, especially to a newbie like me. Points out that while Kull was not the first sword and sorcery hero, Kull WAS the first sword and sorcery series and the first American sword and sorcery.
Untitled Story (previously published as "Exile of Atlantis"): Unfinished fragment? Discarded beginning of the next story? There's no way to know, but this one and only tale of the pre-king Kull is vital to understanding the character. Kull dreams The Noodle Dream and then commits the "crime" for which he was exiled from Atlantis.
"The Shadow Kingdom": Slam bang beginning! Kull acquires his Pictish allies and friends in time to defeat a Hellish plot to assassinate him. While telling a creepy, disturbing tale, Howard gives a marvelous word picture of a kingdom dripping with unimaginable age. Also reprinted here: The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 1: Crimson Shadows.
"The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune": Creepy little horror story. Kull encounters the eponymous peculiarly entrancing mirrors. Also reprinted here: The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 2: Grim Lands.
Untitled Draft: Intriguing fragment that has Kull and the Red Slayers chase a man who has insulted Kull (quite literally) to the ends of the Earth and beyond. Presumably left unfinished because Howard couldn't come up with the "topper" of a climax such a beginning required.
"The Cat and the Skull": Disliked by many Howard fans, I rather enjoyed it. A somewhat silly beginning is saved IMHO by a marvelous adventure in and beyond the Forbidden Lake. Interesting villain's only appearance unfortunately.
"The Screaming Skull of Silence": Fascinating little story. "In the grip of a wayward perverseness, a common fault of kings," Kull sets out to do something Really Stupid. Fortunately, bull-headed courage manages to save the day and, wonder of wonders, improve the situation.
"The Striking of the Gong": Kull's version of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" didn't really appeal to me because it is mostly a philosophical discussion (yawn).
"The Altar and the Scorpion": Interesting little story in which Kull is only an offstage influence.
"The Curse of the Golden Skull": Time annihilating horror tale in which Kull is again only an offstage influence. Also reprinted here: The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 1: Crimson Shadows.
"The Black City" (unfinished fragment): Intriguing concept that unfortunately gets no further than the creepy beginning.
Untitled Fragment: Unfinished tale by Brule, interesting because of its picture of Pictish government.
"By This Axe I Rule!": Later rewritten as the Conan story "The Phoenix on the Sword", rousing tale of Kull versus well planned assassination plot; the title is Kull's (and every executive's dream) response to entrenched, brain-dead bureaucracy. Also reprinted here: The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 2: Grim Lands.
"Swords of the Purple Kingdom": Another rousing Kull versus assassins story; a lot of fun despite obvious similarities to the previous.
"The King and the Oak": Short poem about Kull also reprinted here: The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 2: Grim Lands.
"Kings of the Night": Thrilling crossover with Bran Mak Morn that is really the latter's story guest starring Kull. Also reprinted here: Bran Mak Morn: The Last King and here: The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 1: Crimson Shadows.
Miscellanea: The "Am-ra of the Ta-an" Fragments -- two poems and three fragments about what is in effect Conan 1.0 as Kull is Conan 2.0, and three earlier drafts of Kull items, useful to the Howard scholar.
"Atlantean Genesis" by Patrice Louinet: An informative essay that among other things delineates the importance of the "Am-ra" fragments and postulates the literary sources Howard borrowed from or was inspired by.
Notes on the Original Howard Texts: Thorough (IMHO TOO thorough) notes on the decisions made to assemble these definitive texts. Do we really need a notation every time a spelling or punctuation mistake is corrected? Mostly of use to the Howard scholar.
Besides being mostly just plain fun to read, the "Kull" stories make for a useful comparison and contrast with the Conan who supplanted him. Now I am REALLY looking forward to reading the rest of this Del Rey series: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian: The Original Adventures of the Greatest Sword and Sorcery Hero of All Time!,The Bloody Crown of Conan (Conan of Cimmeria, Book 2),The Conquering Sword of Conan (Conan of Cimmeria, Book 3),Bran Mak Morn: The Last King,The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane,The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 1: Crimson Shadows,The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 2: Grim Lands,The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, and El Borak and Other Desert Adventures.
OK, now that _they're_ gone: this intriguing compilation probably merits 3-1/2 stars, but I'll give one of the genre's cornerstones the benefit of the doubt. Be warned, though, REH's writing can be quite different from that of modern writers: sometimes brooding, sometimes utterly pulp-ish in its almost garish vividness. Nonetheless, it's that very quality that makes it so fascinating and, at times, as strong and elegant as the axe of the protagonist.
Speaking of whom, he is like Rodin's "Thinker" with larger muscles and longer hair. An Atlantian usurper of the throne of Valusia, he finds himself perpetually assailed by conspirators (whether domestic, foreign or, for something completely different, possessed of human bodies and serpent heads). One could thus group the stories here into a couple of categories: (1) The Conspiracies (The Shadow Kingdom, By This Axe I Rule, and Swords of the Purple Kingdom--the latter two being quite similar); (2) The Oddities (e.g. Delcardes' Cat, The Striking of the Gong and The Skull of Silence); and (3) The Unfinished (which are obvious). (So yes, be forewarned, especially if you need closure in your tales.)
REH's genius shows through most clearly in the Conspiracies, where one marvels at the power of his imagination--he seems to have created this pre-Flood world out of whole cloth! As noted, the writing is often fine, and from the viewpoint of the fantasy fan, this is foundational reading. From here, it's logical to read _The Hour of the Dragon_, REH's only novel and a tale of that legendary king who evolves from Kull of Atlantis: Conan of Cimmeria.
Still, I think it's clear that the Kull stories represent an earlier, less developed phase in Howard's meteoric writing career. In these stories, we can see Howard's story telling mastery in an earlier stage of development than in the Conan stories. It's noteworthy that Howard's first Conan story was based on one of his last -- and unsold -- Kull stories, "By this Axe, I Rule!"
For anyone who loves Howard's work, the stories in this volume represent an essential stage in Howard's development as a writer and story-teller. Also, Conan's Hyperborian world was quite literally built upon the ruins of Kull's Atlantean/Valusian world. To really understand and appreciate Conan, you have to know Kull.
Even if Conan had never been created though, it would still be worth the readers trouble to meet Kull. These are superb stories and very important to the development of the American school of fantasy writing -- what would later become known as "Sword and Sorcery" writing.