Monday, June 4, 2012

“Beginning” of the Week #16

Any series on the “beginnings” of vintage fantasy fiction has to acknowledge the work of Robert E. Howard and his stories involving Conan the Barbarian. Howard published most of his stories in the 1930s as novelettes in magazines such as Weird Tales. Later, in the 1960s, many of these stories were compiled into novel-length books, often with additional Conan stories written by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, and others. For today’s beginning, however, I’m sticking with one of Howard’s originals, the opening passage of his 1934 novelette Queen of the Black Coast:

Hoofs drummed down the street that sloped to the wharfs. The folk that yelled and scattered had only a fleeting glimpse of a mailed figure on a black stallion, a wide scarlet cloak flowing out on the wind. Far up the street came the shout and clatter of pursuit, but the horseman did not look back. He swept out onto the wharfs and jerked the plunging stallion back on its haunches at the very lip of the pier. Seamen gaped up at him, as they stood to the sweep and striped sail of a high-prowed, broad-waisted galley. The master, sturdy and black-bearded, stood in the bows, easing her away from the piles with a boat hook. He yelled angrily as the horseman sprang from the saddle and with a long leap landed squarely on the mid-deck. 
“Who invited you aboard?” 
“Get under way!” roared the intruder with a fierce gesture that spattered red drops from his broadsword. 
“But we’re bound for the coasts of Kush!” expostulated the master. 
“Then I’m for Kush! Push off, I tell you!” The other cast a quick glance up the street, along which a squad of horsemen were galloping; far behind them toiled a group of archers, crossbows on their shoulders.

– Robert E. Howard, Queen of the Black Coast

My copy of Queen of the Black Coast came from the 1969 book Conan of Cimmeria.
No one can fault this beginning for a lack of conflict! Indeed, it’s almost hard to believe this was written nearly 80 years ago, but maybe this is one of the reasons Howard’s stories have become such classics. As always, however, I’m curious as to your thoughts – does this passage have the making of a great beginning?

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