The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Tuesday, May 02, 2017


In 1934, a few months after Robert Howard unleashed Bêlit upon both the Black Coast and his own Conan-loving fanbase, a fellow author C L Moore submitted her own warrior-princess Jirel to Weird Tales. The editors liked "Black God's Kiss" enough that they pasted its titular scene on their front cover, billing the piece the weirdest story ever told. (Although their hack of an artist got the princess' hair too long.)

In Present Year, a menstrual-cycle or two ago, two of the womyn at Tor - Anne Pillsworth and Ruthana Emrys - set out to discuss Moore in the context of Howard P. Lovecraft's work. They'd intended to spread girl cooties over the latter's mythos; which I can understand, because that fatally-constipated fellow never learnt quite what to make of women, and he didn't note many in his prose (women do show up in his poetry, for all such poetry was worth). The two critics realise fairly early on that the Weird author that matters more here is that other Howard, Robert E. Compare "Black God's Kiss"'s plot with "Worms of the Earth". So the two critics end up talking about both Howards.

Some authors have proposed to promote C L Moore alongside the Howards. The Tor-ettes don't quite get there. Emrys in particular threw a veto; she had a visceral problem with Jirel's repressed lust for her ravisher. Er... Jirel's cognitive-dissonance was the story's point. So if you like the story but don't like the ending, either you didn't understand what Moore was trying to say or else you're in denial.

Howard himself was a fan, as a commenter points out - at least of this story. Howard went on to write three stories about a "Dark Agnes", which he didn't get around to publishing; and "Red Nails" co-starring Valeria, which ended up being his last finished Conan.

The missing black star in this constellation was Clark Ashton Smith. Moore had spun her tale off of a mediaeval French barony; Smith spun tales about Averoigne. The strange aberrations of Moore's world of horror are another Smith Thing, dating back to "Yondo". Moore offers frog and toad heebyjeeby; I call to witness, Tsathoggua's avatar from Hyperborea, and the Mother of Toads from Averoigne. Even the sneering demon in the mirror-globe sounds like Tsathoggua - the two critics liken it instead to Nyarlathotep.

As for my opinion: The story was marred by weak prose (e.g. the black god's gift is "alien" - no, dear; no, it's not) and by repetitive tropes (e.g. Jirel weeps too much). On the other hand, Jirel was a well-realised protagonist and the story perfectly balances the chaos of the netherworld with Jirel's own ambiguous and violent tumult of emotion. That makes it a success.

"Black God's Kiss" could have become Moore's Nightfall, for those who doubt "Shambleau" had got the job done. Unfortunately the author seems to have run out of ideas after posting it. Other critics warn me that she recycled this plot in later tales.

posted by Zimri on 20:39 | link | 0 comments

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