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"The Hand Of Nergal" ("Yaralet Fragment"): a review


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#1 El Borak's Li'l Brother

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Posted 17 February 2009 - 12:28 AM

I am reading, as those who have read the what are you currently reading thread will know, Lin Carter's Beyond the Gates of Dream and, as those familiar with the afore mentioned thread know, it features the Conan yard, The Hand of Nergal by Robert E. Howard and Lin Carter, or as he states it in the book: (with Robert E. Howard). It originally appeared in Lancer's 1967 Conan and the fragment appears in Del Rey's The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian. I intend to get the latter book and reread that fragment. But first!

In introducing this story, Lin states it was the first Howardian thing he ever did. Glenn Lord had offered the fragment to L. Sprague De Camp who offered it to Lin to complete. The untitled fragmeent, according to Lin, was about 100 words, a beginning and Howard left no notes to help any future collaborator to finish it. Further, the fragment stopped at a crucial point, in the midst of a tantalizing hint as to what it was all about. Lin says he worked hard, anazyling the fragment not only to grasp Howard's style but in search of any clue as to where the story was meant to go...

So I thought, with permission, I would read and review this Conan story and if time permits, read the fragment and comment on that, too.








Note. With work and all taking my time you must give me a couple of days to continue.
Crom!

#2 El Borak's Li'l Brother

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Posted 17 February 2009 - 11:46 PM

All right. I read the first chapter of The Hand of Nergal and had to read Howard's fragment a.s.a.p. Curiosity! And within just a few sentences, leading to a scan of the text, I scratched my head, wondering if this was the right fragment... I went back to The Hand of Nergal and read a little more -- and I saw snippets of the fragment Lin used in his rewrite.

I went back to the fragment and read it through. To my eye, the fragment was more synopsis-like in many ways, due to its shortness, yet even in that form Howard couldn't stop himself from writing gripping, expressive -- incredible lines. Wow. And as Lin said, in my own words restated, the fragment ended at an incredible hook. Oh, to know where Howard was taking it...

Anyway, back to reading.
Crom!

#3 El Borak's Li'l Brother

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 11:11 PM

Okay. I just finished The Hand of Negal by Robert E. Howard and Lin Carter or Lin Carter with Robert E. Howard. An interesting story, but!

Yesterday, as I said above, I read Howard's fragment. I don't have it handy, so by memory: The story begins "1" in a corpse strewn battlefield where Conan, limping from a bad thigh wound, searches for loot amongst the corpses, only to realizes looters have already done the job well. Then he hears a moan, promising possible loot, but finds the source a wounded, naked woman. He starts to mercifully kill her. Another moan has him seath his sword, take her into his arms and carry her toward the river... In "2" we are in Yaralet where nights are haunted by shadow wraiths, forcing citizens to bolt their doors and bar their windows 'til dawn. Two people meet. Atalis, a horribly, mysteriously crippled philosopher, and a foppish nobleman by the name Prince Than meet to talk...

Lin takes the story back to the battle between King Yildiz of Turan and Munthassem Khan, a rebellious Satrap of northern Turan, where with the opening "Crom!" the tide turns against Yildiz's army, in which Conan is a mercenary. The turn comes when shadowy bat-like horrors sweep down on Yildiz's forces, slaying them horrible and causing survivors to run. Conan, who tries to rally the troops, is attacked by a horror which flees upon touching something in his belt pouch. The contact leaves Conan unconscious. When he awakens he finds the looted battlefield where he finds... A horse! He calms it, mounts -- and hears a moan. He dismounts and finds... Not a wounded, naked woman! Instead, a wounded, naked girl. She murmurs about "the Heart..." which stays his hand at mercifully killing her. He takes her to the river, bathes her, finding her only real wound on her forehead, and when she regains consciousness she tells him she was sent here by her master to bring him to the city, with promise of a gold reward. So he snatches up, mounts and rides for the Yaralet. He meets Atalis and Prince Than who wish him to save their city from The Hand of Nergal which has taken possession of Munthassem Khan. He is reluctant. But they proclaim him the chosen one due to his unknowingly possesses The Heart of Tammuz...

There is no denying this is a good story. Quite enjoyable. But other than the protagonist is named Conan and it's based in the Hyborian Age, with characters therefrom, it didn't read like a Howardian Conan, as Lin said he tried to create. For all his proclaimed hard work at trying to use Howard's writing style, he totally failed in my opinion, including taking some of Howard's original lines and ruining them. The story read like any other Lin Carter story writing style-wise, and I have read most of his novels and stories. In fact, with a few twists it could have been a Thongor story, which is the main part of this story's "failure" in my eye. It's as if Lin, and even L. Sprague De Camp, were never fully able to grasp Howard's creation not only of Conan but the genre of Sword and Sorcery.

I suppose at my age and recent rereading of Howard's Conan I have become what some dread, a purist, which has turned my opinion about Conan pastiches and collabortations. I can read and enjoy them for what they are, but they don't come off in the end as a true Conan story. The "Conan" of these stories isn't the same character Howard created. Here again, a lack of fully grasping what Howard created.

Edited by El Borak's Li'l Brother, 18 February 2009 - 11:14 PM.

Crom!

#4 docpod

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 01:24 AM

No surprise that "The Hand of Nergal" did not read like Conan. If you read enough Lin Carter, you will spot the Carterisms in the story. The classic Carter battle of the amulets. He loved Deus ex machina elements in his fiction. Conan like Thongor and other Carter protagonists are bystanders at the climax of the story. Carter did this in THE FLAME OF IRIDAR, TOWER AT THE EDGE OF TIME, some of his space operas etc. Despite this, Carter was able to make a story out of the fragment. L. Sprague de Camp couldn't. The story is at the competent level of sword and sorcery. Compare to CONAN AND THE SPIDER GOD.

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#5 amster

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 02:37 AM

Hey lil bro! Have you read the Dark Horse graphic novel? Its based on the same fragment, and shares the same title, but other than that, its a completely different story (and far superior IMO).
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--Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, ca. June 1928--

#6 Fernando

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 08:06 PM

Hey lil bro! Have you read the Dark Horse graphic novel? Its based on the same fragment, and shares the same title, but other than that, its a completely different story (and far superior IMO).


Far superior IMO, too, my friend! :) And more faithful to REH than LC's version - despite the princess is not naked when Conan finds her, neither dark-eyed at Conan #49-50, and the Pince Than is green-eyed (in istead of grey-eyed). I've seen far wrose mistakes at LSDC/LC's A Snout in the Dark, and at The Treasure of Tranicos.

#7 El Borak's Li'l Brother

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 09:05 PM

No surprise that "The Hand of Nergal" did not read like Conan. If you read enough Lin Carter, you will spot the Carterisms in the story. The classic Carter battle of the amulets. He loved Deus ex machina elements in his fiction. Conan like Thongor and other Carter protagonists are bystanders at the climax of the story. Carter did this in THE FLAME OF IRIDAR, TOWER AT THE EDGE OF TIME, some of his space operas etc. Despite this, Carter was able to make a story out of the fragment. L. Sprague de Camp couldn't. The story is at the competent level of sword and sorcery. Compare to CONAN AND THE SPIDER GOD.

Morgan


Man, I'm going to have to dig up my copy of Conan and the Spider God for another read. I missed it when it original came out in 1980, as I was in the hospital from July 1980 to Spring 1981 and never heard of or saw it 'til years later. I bought it in reprint and later the 1980 edition used just to fill that series. Anyway, my memory is weak on it and considering the hits it takes here...

Back on topic: Yes, it is a competent sword and sorcery. Yes, plot-wise it is Carter and writing style as well. Which is why I find it interesting in the introduction Lin talked about studying Howard's style to get it right -- and failed miserably. Also, the ending Lin came up with didn't ring true to Howard's style. Too jolly.
Crom!

#8 El Borak's Li'l Brother

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 09:07 PM

Hey lil bro! Have you read the Dark Horse graphic novel? Its based on the same fragment, and shares the same title, but other than that, its a completely different story (and far superior IMO).


:blink: No. I -- I missed it. I hope it's still available. I'd like to read it indeed.
Crom!

#9 amster

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 09:52 PM

Hey lil bro! Have you read the Dark Horse graphic novel? Its based on the same fragment, and shares the same title, but other than that, its a completely different story (and far superior IMO).


:blink: No. I -- I missed it. I hope it's still available. I'd like to read it indeed.


Hope this helps! :)


http://www.amazon.co...r...3062&sr=1-1
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--Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, ca. June 1928--

#10 Ironhand

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 05:45 AM

No surprise that "The Hand of Nergal" did not read like Conan. If you read enough Lin Carter, you will spot the Carterisms in the story. The classic Carter battle of the amulets. He loved Deus ex machina elements in his fiction. Conan like Thongor and other Carter protagonists are bystanders at the climax of the story.
Morgan

Exactly. DeCamp and Carter never seemed to realize that in an REH story, Conan is the deus ex machina.

(My thanks to The Gray Man for pointing this out to me.)
"Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man...!" - Conan, in "Shadows in Zamboula", by Robert E. Howard
"... you speak of Venarium familiarly. Perhaps you were there?"
"I was," grunted [Conan]. "I was one of the horde that swarmed over the hills. I hadn't yet seen fifteen snows, but already my name was repeated about the council fires." - "Beyond the Black River", by Robert E. Howard

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#11 amster

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 07:02 AM

No surprise that "The Hand of Nergal" did not read like Conan. If you read enough Lin Carter, you will spot the Carterisms in the story. The classic Carter battle of the amulets. He loved Deus ex machina elements in his fiction. Conan like Thongor and other Carter protagonists are bystanders at the climax of the story.
Morgan

Exactly. DeCamp and Carter never seemed to realize that in an REH story, Conan is the deus ex machina.

(My thanks to The Gray Man for pointing this out to me.)


That's funny. I just got finished reading "The Ivory Goddess" in Savage Sword of Conan Volume 5.
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--Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, ca. June 1928--

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Posted 09 December 2011 - 08:57 PM

I thought Hand of Negal was garbage...Carter was full of it and I generally like his work

#13 deuce

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Posted 10 December 2011 - 06:24 PM

In regards to being a Conan pastiche, it's crap on a crap cracker.

Ironhand is quite right (via theGrayMan) that Conan is his own deus ex machina.

Barely decent S&S, but NOT "Conan-grade" S&S.

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#14 amiableakuma

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Posted 10 February 2012 - 02:33 AM

Well, I read both the original Howard fragment and the Carter version just like the OP and...

...I can basically agree with some of the most negative posts here about it.

Carter's so-called "hard work" on this is a failure, IMO. It starts out well enough, the basic plot and events anyway - if you use your imagination, at least. Though there are some poorly-written lines (the corny/odd use of the word "innerstellar" like three times in a short number of pages springs to mind) and Conan seems off-character.

Still, things are okay, more or less, until the battlefield opening concludes - but then it starts to go into one of the worst endings I have ever read. The final sequence reads like something out of a bad cartoon or low-budget "Indiana Jones" clone. Conan's non-factor in it all is just the nasty icing on the cake. I actually didn't mind the final "punch-line" sequence on the last page or two but the climax itself...

I don't look at Howard's original as that great either, mainly since the description of the threat near the end of the fragment is kind of awkward - but again, this is a fragment that is basically just Howard's random scattered thoughts for a piece that he would have fine-tuned much more later. As such, it is hard to criticize.

In any case, those who skip either version of "Nergal" will definitely not be missing much.

Edited by amiableakuma, 10 February 2012 - 02:40 AM.


#15 deuce

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Posted 27 September 2012 - 09:20 AM

Yaralet and it's general location came up in another thread, so I'm bumping this one.

As has been pointed out "The Hand of Nergal" was a title from the typewriter of Linwood Vrooman Carter. No part of that title can be traced to Howard's fragment (OK, maybe "the" and "of"). For more on the naming of the fragment, look here:


http://www.thecimmer...titled-fiction/

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#16 Halfdane

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Posted 27 September 2012 - 11:24 PM

What I mentioned in another thread was that the Yaralet fragment seemed like a good opportunity for Conan to be east of Vilayet, as he relates in other tales.

Most of the time when Conan references his past career, it seems to fit in a framework that we're familiar with: thief, mercenary, corsair of the Black Coast, hetman among the Kozaks, pirate of the Barachans, etc. There are only a couple of mentions of parts of Conan's career that we haven't seen: with mercenaries of Corinthia, learning archery among the Hyrkanians, and being east of Vilayet (there may be more, but I can't recall any). Actually, the mercenaries of Khoraja had Corinthians that Conan might have been part of, so I'll leave that one aside.

The Yaralet fragment could have filled the above blanks pertaining to Conan in Hyrkania & east of Vilayet.

The point I'd like to make is that the two scenes in the fragment are completely unrelated. Wherever Yaralet is, Conan isn't there. There are several other Conan tales that start with distant villains plotting. Here are some, arranged by approximate distances from Conan & his villains:
RitH (same city)
TDiI (same country/region)
TPotBC (hundreds of miles apart)
BC (hundreds of miles apart)
THotD (hundreds of miles apart).

We also have the Amalric/Tombalku fragment, TBS and WBtB, where a majority (or all) of the action happens with Conan miles away. With the Yaralet fragment, that's just about 1/3 of all Conan tales that have chapters dealing with other characters in other places (far off villains plotting, etc).

Even if Yaralet is in a Hyborian nation like Koth, Conan could easily be as far away as Hyrkania, even east of the sea.

This allows him to:
-learn archery among the Hyrkanians before QotBC
-see an ape in a Hyrkanian city before QotBC
-learn about the Gray-Man Apes east of Vilayet before ISitM
-see the symbol of Jhebbal Sag in a cave east of Vilayet before BtBR (though this could also have happened after ISitM)

#17 deuce

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Posted 31 October 2012 - 07:01 AM

What I mentioned in another thread was that the Yaralet fragment seemed like a good opportunity for Conan to be east of Vilayet, as he relates in other tales.

Most of the time when Conan references his past career, it seems to fit in a framework that we're familiar with: thief, mercenary, corsair of the Black Coast, hetman among the Kozaks, pirate of the Barachans, etc. There are only a couple of mentions of parts of Conan's career that we haven't seen: with mercenaries of Corinthia, learning archery among the Hyrkanians, and being east of Vilayet (there may be more, but I can't recall any). Actually, the mercenaries of Khoraja had Corinthians that Conan might have been part of, so I'll leave that one aside.

The Yaralet fragment could have filled the above blanks pertaining to Conan in Hyrkania & east of Vilayet.

The point I'd like to make is that the two scenes in the fragment are completely unrelated. Wherever Yaralet is, Conan isn't there. There are several other Conan tales that start with distant villains plotting. Here are some, arranged by approximate distances from Conan & his villains:
RitH (same city)
TDiI (same country/region)
TPotBC (hundreds of miles apart)
BC (hundreds of miles apart)
THotD (hundreds of miles apart).

We also have the Amalric/Tombalku fragment, TBS and WBtB, where a majority (or all) of the action happens with Conan miles away. With the Yaralet fragment, that's just about 1/3 of all Conan tales that have chapters dealing with other characters in other places (far off villains plotting, etc).


You make a lot of good points, Halfdane. Good research on your part. B)
Many Conan fans don't seem to realize just how many "Conan" yarns depict the Cimmerian in a peripheral role, to one extent or another. The Hyborian Age is an incredibly rich and detailed storytelling milieu, full of tales besides those of Conan.

However, everything I see in the "Yaralet Fragment" points to all parts of the yarn being set west of the Vilayet.

Chapter 1.

Conan seems to have been part of a mercenary army. This argues against a Hyrkanian/East of the Vilayet setting.

"Chariot wheels" are mentioned. Definitely argues against any "Hyrkanian" setting.

Conan's attire of loincloth and sandals testifies against him having spent any time with horse-riding, nomadic Hyrkanians. Rather, he seems fresh from his time in Zamora.

Chapter 2.

Yaralet: This doesn't sound Hyrkanian. Instead, it seems to reference "Tokalet" (a ruined Saharan city) and "Yara" of Zamora the Accursed.

Chariot wheels: once again, this seems to suggest a Shemite or Hyborian milieu, not Hyrkanian.

Atalis: Definitely not a Hyrkanian name.

Than: A non-descript name (almost Barsoomian), but his description of "grey eyes", "tall lithe" build and "velvet cap" all point to the Hyborians.

Personally, I'd place Yaralet just north of Khauran.


Even if Yaralet is in a Hyborian nation like Koth, Conan could easily be as far away as Hyrkania, even east of the sea.

This allows him to:
-learn archery among the Hyrkanians before QotBC
-see an ape in a Hyrkanian city before QotBC
-learn about the Gray-Man Apes east of Vilayet before ISitM
-see the symbol of Jhebbal Sag in a cave east of Vilayet before BtBR (though this could also have happened after ISitM)



Quite possibly, Conan learned archery and horsemanship immediately after "Yaralet". Same with the caged ape.

Conan knowing about the Grey Apes before QotBC raises problems, but so does RitH.

I think it likely Conan saw the sign of Jhebbal Sag sometime around his PotBC period.

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