The Ultimate Triumph, by Robert Ervin Howard, Wandering Star Press

{Ed Note:  This review is from Dani G, “astropi” from LibraryThing, published here with permission}.

“From the sullen cliffs and the grim fiords
Where the naked shorelines frown
We turned our prows toward the sun-spun south
Where a weak king held the crown;
Past the scarlet sand of Helgoland
The dragon-ships swept down.”  
      -from Viking’s Trail

How many people recognize the name of Robert Ervin Howard? Safe to say, the answer is few. On the other hand, Howard’s most famous creation, Conan, is known across the world. Just this year another Conan film was released, joining numerous comic books, television shows, video games and role-playing games all testifying to the popularity of Howard’s creation.

Despite all of Conan’s success, he is far from Howard’s only creation or reason for enduring fame. During his 10 years of writing pulp fiction, R.E.H., as he is known amongst his fans, wrote numerous stories, including some wonderful horror stories, westerns, and even detective stories.  Howard has significant stature in American literature, often being compared to Jack London, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. Yet, it is the barbarian that most defines Howard. In Howard’s classic Conan tale, Beyond the Black River, Howard writes:

Barbarism is the natural state of mankind… Civilization is unnatural. It is the whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.

From the above, the small press Wandering Star drew the name of their first R.E.H. anthology, “The Ultimate Triumph”; and a beautiful anthology it is!  The Ultimate Triumph collects some of Howard’s best tales and poetry, featuring magic and barbarism. Someone not familiar with Howard’s works might suspect that this will contain nothing more than a few muscled-men grunting and killing, but that is far from the case. Howard was a lover of history and cultures. This is exemplified in nearly all of his stories and poetry. In the tale The Valley of the Worm, Howard writes:

The rule of life was ruthlessness, but there is more wanton cruelty today [in the modern world] than ever we dreamed of. It was not wanton bloodthirstiness that made us [in the ancient world] butcher wounded and captive foes. It was because we knew our chances of survival increased with each enemy slain.

Most of Howard’s barbarians are not what we would consider evil. They are big, strong, and quick to anger, but they do not strike down the weak or defenseless. His protagonists always have some code of honor, although they do not abide by the same laws or customs that we do today. The fact that his characters are powerful, yet carry a sense of honor and compassion, is one reason why Howard’s works remain so popular today.

R.E.H. is the father of modern sword and sorcery.  Howard’s influence in the fantasy genre is rivaled only by J. R. R. Tolkien. His works are beautiful, haunting and exciting.  I contend that they are also just as beautiful, and just as exciting (if not more so at times) as Tolkien’s works. If you enjoy fantasy and adventure, you owe it to yourself to read some of Howard’s fantastic stories. This anthology by Wandering Star Press is a wonderful way to start.

About the Edition

It is far from the first anthology of Howard’s works to be published, but it is the first fine-press anthology of Howard’s works that I know of.

  • The book was published in 1999, printed in England, and is 320 pages.
  • It features the artwork of Frank Frazetta, as well as:
    • 7 of Howard’s wonderful stories as well as 5 poems
    • A forward by Frank Frazetta
    • An essay from the French scholar Patrice Louinet
    • Excerpts from Howard’s letters to H.P. Lovecraft in which he discusses “barbarism vs. civilization”
    • A complete set of textual notes.
  • This volume was released in 3 different formats.
    • A trade edition limited to 2500 copies.
    • A limited edition which includes all 120 black and white illustrations from the trade edition, plus 4 previously unpublished water-color plates, as well as gilt-edged paper, a golden foil stamped cover, durable stitch binding, an embossed slipcase cover, and a numbered book mark. The limited edition had a limitation of 1500 copies.  This is the edition reviewed here.
    • A deluxe limited leather-bound edition of 100 copies.

In his Forward, Frazetta notes:

I wanted to paint the raw, brutal, primitive world of Howard like it’s never been done before. His writing is very direct and savage; images would keep coming to me. I was inspired and challenged.

Get this book, enjoy it, and you can thank me later. My highest recommendation for this wonderful anthology!

Pictures

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The Ultimate Triumph, Wandering Star Press, Slipcase, Cover & Book
The Ultimate Triumph, Wandering Star Press, Sample Pages with Text and Illustrations
The Ultimate Triumph, Wandering Star Press, Second Sample Pages with Text and Illustrations
The Ultimate Triumph, Wandering Star Press, Third Sample Pages with Text and Illustrations

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