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Robert E. Howard and The Picts


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#1 deuce

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 08:03 PM

"The Picts are the only fictional creations to appear throughout Howard's writing career. Only one other creation, Francis X. Gordon ('El Borak') appears at both the beginning and end of Howard's career, but he was notably absent from the early 1920s until 1934. Picts, on the other hand, appear in no fewer than thirty stories, poems and fragments, from The West Tower (probably written circa 1922-1923), a Steve Allison fragment, to The Black Stranger, one of the last Conan stories, probably written in 1935, and rarely a year passes that they do not appear in some story. It seems likely that, had he lived longer, the Picts would have surfaced again in his work."

Patrice Louinet, from Bran Mak Morn: The Last King, pg. 343

Over the last couple of years, there seems to have been a great deal of confusion regarding how Robert E. Howard viewed the Picts. Intertwined with this seems to be a serious misapprehension of how central the Picts were in Howard's "fictional universe". Apparently, some seem to feel that Picts can be ignored or played with, since they are really "only a sideline" to Robert E. Howard's "real" characters like Conan or Kull. The simple fact is that Howard's fascination with Picts began LONG before he ever wrote a word about Kull of Atlantis or Conan the Cimmerian, and it lasted just as long, if not longer than, his interest in either of the aforementioned characters.

This thread is for a discussion of how Robert E. Howard viewed (and wrote about) the poorly-understood ethnos known to history as "the Picts". Where history (and legend) intersects with REH's vision is also fair game, of course. :)

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#2 Kortoso

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 10:28 PM

I think that Patrice means that "The Picts are the only fictional creations that persist throughout Howard's writing career". :)

#3 deuce

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 10:36 PM

I think that Patrice means that "The Picts are the only fictional creations that persist throughout Howard's writing career". :)


Exactly. That's (basically) what he wrote and that is how I understood it. :unsure: In fact, REH's "Pictish thing" was pretty obvious to me fairly early on, thanks to excerpts from Howard's letters that Glenn Lord provided. Am I missing something? :blink:

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#4 MilkManX

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Posted 15 August 2009 - 12:47 AM

I think he was fascinated with a culture that managed to survive for so long.

Edited by MilkManX, 15 August 2009 - 12:55 AM.

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#5 Seamvs

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Posted 20 September 2009 - 04:42 AM

I have a questions the forum might be able to answer. If Bran Mak Morn is a descendant of Brule and he's supposed to look just like him, why then are the Pict's usually portrayed as looking like Native American? I'd imagine by the time Bran was around the Picts would have mingled with the Celts. I've always imagined the Real Picts having the same way of live and qualities as the American aboriginals but not the same physical characteristics. The Celts obsorbed the Pictish race which gave way to modern day Scots who IMO don't have aboriginal characteristics. However is this Howard's take on it?

Edited by Seamvs, 20 September 2009 - 04:42 AM.

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#6 deuce

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 11:57 PM

I have a questions the forum might be able to answer. If Bran Mak Morn is a descendant of Brule and he's supposed to look just like him, why then are the Pict's usually portrayed as looking like Native American? I'd imagine by the time Bran was around the Picts would have mingled with the Celts. I've always imagined the Real Picts having the same way of live and qualities as the American aboriginals but not the same physical characteristics. The Celts obsorbed the Pictish race which gave way to modern day Scots who IMO don't have aboriginal characteristics. However is this Howard's take on it?


Hey Seamus! I'll try to quickly address your question. Also, "Keny From Prague" asked a similar question:

interesting that howard thought of the picts as non-celtic yet gave bran mak morn a clearly celtic name (i think "Bran" also means "raven" in irish, but dont quote me on that)


Firstly, just about everything REH ever wrote about the Picts (outside of the actual yarns) is in the back of Bran Mak Morn: The Last King. Patrice Louinet put together the fascinating "Robert E. Howard and the Picts: A Chronology", which collects what REH had to say about the Picts from a very early period right up to his his death. I urge anyone with any real curiosity about Howard's conception of the Picts to read that.

According to every story that REH wrote which included the Picts, the Picts did not become "Celtic" in any real sense until after the death of BMM. Even then, we still see typical Picts in the CMA stories, set in the late 400s. In a letter to HPL, he calls the Picts a "small, dark, garlic eating" people and specifically identifies them with the Basques, Iberians and "Mediterraneans".

The majority of Picts during the time of Bran were not "pure-bred" or "old-school" Picts. When the Celts arrived in Britain, they drove most of the Picts into the Scottish mountains. Once there, the majority of the Picts interbred with a very primitive, red-haired "Nordic" people. Recent genetic studies now show a trace of an ancient (not Viking Age) "Scandianavian" element in the northern Scottish population. This admixture produced "stunted giants". Meanwhile, noble lines like that of BMM still retained the more refined look of the original Pictish phenotype.

In Howard's pseudo-history of the world, he set up an antipathy betwixt the Picts and the Atlanteans (ancestors of the Gaels) which went back more than 100,000 years. In Howard's mind, the Picts and Gaels have always fought each other. You see it again in the Conan yarns.

As for BMM's name, Howard said this to Lovecraft:

"So while Bran Mac Morn is Gaelic for "The Raven, Son of Morn", Bran Mak Morn has no Gaelic significance, but has a meaning of its own, purely Pictish and ancient, with roots in the dim mazes of antiquity; the similarity in sound to the Gaelic term is purely coincidence!"


Hope that helps. Posted Image

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#7 Seamvs

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 12:23 AM

Interesting, it explains why it's spelled Bran Mak Morn rather then MacMorn. Thanks Deuce.
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#8 keny from prague

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 12:34 AM


I have a questions the forum might be able to answer. If Bran Mak Morn is a descendant of Brule and he's supposed to look just like him, why then are the Pict's usually portrayed as looking like Native American? I'd imagine by the time Bran was around the Picts would have mingled with the Celts. I've always imagined the Real Picts having the same way of live and qualities as the American aboriginals but not the same physical characteristics. The Celts obsorbed the Pictish race which gave way to modern day Scots who IMO don't have aboriginal characteristics. However is this Howard's take on it?


Hey Seamus! I'll try to quickly address your question. Also, "Keny From Prague" asked a similar question:

interesting that howard thought of the picts as non-celtic yet gave bran mak morn a clearly celtic name (i think "Bran" also means "raven" in irish, but dont quote me on that)


Firstly, just about everything REH ever wrote about the Picts (outside of the actual yarns) is in the back of Bran Mak Morn: The Last King. Patrice Louinet put together the fascinating "Robert E. Howard and the Picts: A Chronology", which collects what REH had to say about the Picts from a very early period right up to his his death. I urge anyone with any real curiosity about Howard's conception of the Picts to read that.

According to every story that REH wrote which included the Picts, the Picts did not become "Celtic" in any real sense until after the death of BMM. Even then, we still see typical Picts in the CMA stories, set in the late 400s. In a letter to HPL, he calls the Picts a "small, dark, garlic eating" people and specifically identifies them with the Basques, Iberians and "Mediterraneans".

The majority of Picts during the time of Bran were not "pure-bred" or "old-school" Picts. When the Celts arrived in Britain, they drove most of the Picts into the Scottish mountains. Once there, the majority of the Picts interbred with a very primitive, red-haired "Nordic" people. Recent genetic studies now show a trace of an ancient (not Viking Age) "Scandianavian" element in the northern Scottish population. This admixture produced "stunted giants". Meanwhile, noble lines like that of BMM still retained the more refined look of the original Pictish phenotype.

In Howard's pseudo-history of the world, he set up an antipathy betwixt the Picts and the Atlanteans (ancestors of the Gaels) which went back more than 100,000 years. In Howard's mind, the Picts and Gaels have always fought each other. You see it again in the Conan yarns.

As for BMM's name, Howard said this to Lovecraft:

"So while Bran Mac Morn is Gaelic for "The Raven, Son of Morn", Bran Mak Morn has no Gaelic significance, but has a meaning of its own, purely Pictish and ancient, with roots in the dim mazes of antiquity; the similarity in sound to the Gaelic term is purely coincidence!"


Hope that helps. Posted Image


thanks deuce. interesting. id always assumed he changed the spelling to "Mak morn" just to avoid confusion with "cormac mac art"

do you remember where you read about the genetic studies? it sounds like Howard might have been more right than he realized.

#9 deuce

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 12:47 AM

[quote name='keny from prague' date='10 November 2009 - 12:34 AM' timestamp='1257809692' post='138892']
[quote name='deuce' date='09 November 2009 - 11:57 PM' timestamp='1257807453' post='138886']

As for BMM's name, Howard said this to Lovecraft:

"So while Bran Mac Morn is Gaelic for "The Raven, Son of Morn", Bran Mak Morn has no Gaelic significance, but has a meaning of its own, purely Pictish and ancient, with roots in the dim mazes of antiquity; the similarity in sound to the Gaelic term is purely coincidence!"


Hope that helps. Posted Image
[/quote]

[quote]thanks deuce. interesting. id always assumed he changed the spelling to "Mak morn" just to avoid confusion with "cormac mac art"

do you remember where you read about the genetic studies? it sounds like Howard might have been more right than he realized.
[/quote]

Hey Keny! From what Howard said, he derived BMM's name from Brennus the Gaul and Gol mac Morn (Ulster Cycle). He later reverse engineered BMM's name into Pictish by throwing "Mak" in there.

If he was worried about confusion when it came to CMA, I doubt he would've created two distinct Cormac Mac Arts both deriving their name from the Irish High King.

The genetic studies in the British Isles have been in the news the last few years. I've read both Sykes' and Oppenheimer's books on the subject. Here's a cool write-up by Steve Tompkins:

http://www.thecimmerian.com/?p=595

Also, here's my write-up on the Spanish "Pictish" connection:

http://www.thecimmerian.com/?p=4607

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#10 docpod

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 01:20 AM

The Picts were a confederation of Brythonic speaking Celts who managed to evade Roman conquest. There are some strange words etched in monuments that no one can decifer. No known if it is Pictish or some people we don't know about. Most Pictish works were destroyed during the Scottish Reformation.

Morgan


i was classifying the picts as celts linguisticly. didnt they speak an insular celtic language allegedly? im not really up on my pict knowledge, tho. im not sure of the blanket term for reference to Britonic peoples, but thats what i was going for. :)


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#11 keny from prague

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 01:44 AM

[quote name='deuce' date='10 November 2009 - 12:47 AM' timestamp='1257810442' post='138897']
[quote name='keny from prague' date='10 November 2009 - 12:34 AM' timestamp='1257809692' post='138892']
[quote name='deuce' date='09 November 2009 - 11:57 PM' timestamp='1257807453' post='138886']

As for BMM's name, Howard said this to Lovecraft:

"So while Bran Mac Morn is Gaelic for "The Raven, Son of Morn", Bran Mak Morn has no Gaelic significance, but has a meaning of its own, purely Pictish and ancient, with roots in the dim mazes of antiquity; the similarity in sound to the Gaelic term is purely coincidence!"


Hope that helps. Posted Image
[/quote]

[quote]thanks deuce. interesting. id always assumed he changed the spelling to "Mak morn" just to avoid confusion with "cormac mac art"

do you remember where you read about the genetic studies? it sounds like Howard might have been more right than he realized.
[/quote]

Hey Keny! From what Howard said, he derived BMM's name from Brennus the Gaul and Gol mac Morn (Ulster Cycle). He later reverse engineered BMM's name into Pictish by throwing "Mak" in there.

If he was worried about confusion when it came to CMA, I doubt he would've created two distinct Cormac Mac Arts both deriving their name from the Irish High King.

The genetic studies in the British Isles have been in the news the last few years. I've read both Sykes' and Oppenheimer's books on the subject. Here's a cool write-up by Steve Tompkins:

http://www.thecimmerian.com/?p=595

Also, here's my write-up on the Spanish "Pictish" connection:

http://www.thecimmerian.com/?p=4607
[/quote]

great articles, Deuce. thanks. I remember reading somewhere in a letter howard wrote that even he didnt know exactly why the picts facinated him.

and the pamplona pics bring back memories. Ive still got the scar from my bull run 10 years ago :D

#12 Mark_Hall

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 10:45 PM

[quote name='deuce' date='10 November 2009 - 12:47 AM' timestamp='1257810442' post='138897']
[quote name='keny from prague' date='10 November 2009 - 12:34 AM' timestamp='1257809692' post='138892']
[quote name='deuce' date='09 November 2009 - 11:57 PM' timestamp='1257807453' post='138886']

The genetic studies in the British Isles have been in the news the last few years. I've read both Sykes' and Oppenheimer's books on the subject. Here's a cool write-up by Steve Tompkins:

http://www.thecimmerian.com/?p=595

Also, here's my write-up on the Spanish "Pictish" connection:

http://www.thecimmerian.com/?p=4607
[/quote]

Oppenheimer's book is deeply flawed by his lack of understanding of lingusitics and the archaeological record. Sykes is on much firmer ground.

Best, MEH

PS--and always remember the Catch-22, genetic continuity does not imply linguistic or cultural continuity!

#13 deuce

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 10:56 PM

Oppenheimer's book is deeply flawed by his lack of understanding of lingusitics and the archaeological record. Sykes is on much firmer ground.

Best, MEH

PS--and always remember the Catch-22, genetic continuity does not imply linguistic or cultural continuity!



Hey Mark! Good to see you back around. :D Thanks for your professional opinion. I don't believe Tompk ever read either book. Before he died, he and I discussed me writing a TC post devoted to both books. Before I do that, I need to actually purchase both books, as opposed to reading them through interlibrary loan.

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#14 deuce

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 08:22 PM

Professor Roderick T. Long of Auburn talks about REH and the Picts:

http://www.thecimmerian.com/?p=1666

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#15 Jack LesCamela

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Posted 06 February 2010 - 09:01 PM

Does anyone know the title and author of the book Robert E. Howard initially read about the Picts in? If I recall correctly he read about them in a book from the New Orleans public library. The old Wandering Star website carried an essay by Rusty Burke about the Picts and Bran Mak Morn. There was also a picture of said book (or at least the book it was believed Howard read).

Any assistance would be appreciated. Thanks very much.

#16 deuce

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Posted 06 February 2010 - 09:16 PM

Does anyone know the title and author of the book Robert E. Howard initially read about the Picts in? If I recall correctly he read about them in a book from the New Orleans public library. The old Wandering Star website carried an essay by Rusty Burke about the Picts and Bran Mak Morn. There was also a picture of said book (or at least the book it was believed Howard read).

Any assistance would be appreciated. Thanks very much.



Good to see ya back, Jack. :) As I recall, the name of the book is mentioned somewhere in Bran Mak Morn: The Last King. Maybe Rusty will stop by to refresh our memory.

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#17 Jack LesCamela

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Posted 06 February 2010 - 09:25 PM

Hey, Deuce. Maybe I should go to the shelf and check my copy of BMM: TLK then. I didn't remember seeing it there.

Ah, I found it. Just didn't use the "Wayback Machine" site to its fullest. The book is titled The Romance of Early British Life: From the Earliest Times to the Coming of the Danes by G. F. Scott Elliot. I've been thinking about tracking down a copy to read you see...

Edited by Jack LesCamela, 06 February 2010 - 09:27 PM.


#18 Ho there Semiramis!

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Posted 03 March 2010 - 01:58 PM

On the language of the Picts, Bede tells us they spoke a language different from that of both the Britons and the Irish. But as he only gives us one example Peanfahel, which contains elements similar to both the languages spoken by these groups. What evidence we have, which is place names, tribal names and personal names has led some scholars to believe it to be a P-Celtic language akin to British. We know from a British heroic poem The Gododdin that the two peoples were at least occasionally allies. Lack of evidence means we can only speculate on the languages origin. In Howard's time there was a strong argument that it was a non-Indo-European language which reinforced the myth that they were some ancient, strange almost alien race. A throwback to an almost forgotten world.
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#19 Ho there Semiramis!

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Posted 04 March 2010 - 01:57 PM

I wonder if the use of son as a prefix in the name is a later Irish addition. The Picts were said to trace there lineage through the female line, something the king lists seem to bear out. Would they then have patronymic names?
If you take the P-Celtic/Q-Celtic scheme then mac (hard K) is Q and map is P. In Proto-Celtic it is *kw, the relexes of which become *p in the P-Celtic languages but *k in the Q-Celtic. If Pictish is a P-Celtic language then we should expect map to be used.
Howard?s use of K suggests a Q-Celtic, which would fit in with his own study of Goidelic languages. Perhaps the original Proto-Celtic would be more suitable?

Edited by Ho there Semiramis!, 04 March 2010 - 01:59 PM.

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#20 Ho there Semiramis!

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Posted 04 March 2010 - 02:14 PM

Well Welsh is P-Celtic, so that would make sense. We shouldn?t forget the brochs, which at one time were believed to be the work of the Picts.
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