Post-Colonial Themes In "The Night of the Wolf"
Posted 15 September 2012 - 07:12 PM
What I find particularly interesting about this story is that the hero, Cormac Mac Art, is the enemy of both the local Vikings and the Picts. The Vikings are depicted as cruel; they viciously beat the Pict king, Brulla, when he complains against the brutality of the Vikings. Brulla says the Norse have "insulted our chiefs, beat our young men--of late your devils have been carrying off our women and murdering our children and our warriors." After a wild and reckless attempt to fight, Brulla receives a vicious beating, which Howard describes in terms he might have used for similar punishment to Conan; it would have "left the average man a crippled wreck", but he is gone and recovers from his wounds enough to return to do battle.
The story is rare in that the fight at the end is between two foes who both are enemies to the protagonist. In the language of the climactic confrontation between the Picts and the Norse, Howard emphasizes the brutality of the violence, as neither side expects nor gives quarter. When the Picts murder women and children, Howard reminds us the Vikings have done the same to them. In the end, Brulla and Thorwald, the Viking leader, appear to die by one another's hands, which must be symbolic of the mutual destruction their hate has wrought on one another's people. In the descriptions of the fighting, I feel like Howard's language does tend towards the Vikings, as he seems to almost always side with those who are outnumbered and fighting with their backs to the wall, no matter the situation.
It would be tempting to try to draw parallels with the situation in North America, in which the Picts would represent the Indians. As such, the story might form a fantasy in which the Indians successfully, though at great loss, recover their land from white invaders. That's probably a stretch, but I do feel this story is worth looking more closely at.
I apologize if something like this has already been suggested; I know several of Howard's other stories ("Beyond the Black River," etc.) have been read along similar lines, though I feel "The Night of the Wolf" is particularly balanced in condemnation for the bloodshed. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that more of Howard's sympathy is for the Picts, though they are depicted as repugnant and almost sub-human. They are the victims of cruelty and they rise up, though outclassed in terms of technology and physical prowess, against their oppressors. Cormac even makes a truce with Brulla because they have a common enemy, even though that falls apart with Brulla's death. On the other hand, the Danes Cormac fights besides are distantly related to the Norse, though they are enemies. When Cormac asks which side Wulfhere, his Danish friend, would take, Wulfhere replies, "There can be but little choice.... I heard the screams of women", referring to the Norse women. Of course, a moment later, after he learns the Norse women are all dead, Wulfhere seems just as eager to "cross swords with Thorwald." He, like the narrator, appears to be unable to pick one side or the other to support.
This would definitely be an interesting story to try to pick apart!
Posted 15 September 2012 - 08:37 PM
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Posted 21 September 2012 - 12:08 AM
Edited by ollonois, 21 September 2012 - 12:09 AM.
I am The Bearer Of The Black Sword
and my name will be known to all
Lord Elric of the Bright Empire of Melnibone