The Black Stone has long been considered one of REH's finest yarns by both Howardheads and Mythos fans alike. It was first published in Weird Tales, November 1931. It has been in print almost constantly ever since. The Black Stone was published 16 times in the '70s. It was published twenty times between 2000 and 2009. Check the ballistics here:
Hey y'all! I decided the conversation betwixt Elegos and myself was getting a little too much "inside baseball" and was unbalancing this thread, which is more about the story itself. So, I created a new thread for it. Check it out here, if you wish:
[T]he name Xuthltan also appears in “The Fire of Asshurbanipal”: "Thus came the stone to the city: there dwelt a magician at the court of Asshurbanipal, and the black wisdom of ages was not denied to him. To gain honor and power for himself, he dared the horrors of a nameless vast cavern in a dark, untraveled land, and from those fiend-haunted depths he brought that blazing gem, which is carved of the frozen flames of Hell! By reason of his fearful power in black magic, he put a spell on the demon which guarded the ancient gem, and so stole away the stone. And the demon slept in the cavern unknowing. "So this magician – Xuthltan by name – dwelt in the court of the sultan Asshurbanipal and did magic and forecast events by scanning the lurid deeps of the stone, into which no eyes but his could look unblinded. And men called the stone the Fire of Asshurbanipal, in honor of the king. "But evil came upon the kingdom and men cried out that it was the curse of the djinn, and the sultan in great fear bade Xuthltan take the gem and cast it into the cavern from which he had taken it, lest worse ill befall them.
The demon is described as follows. "It was gigantic and black and shadowy; it was a hulking monstrosity that walked upright like a man, but it was like a toad, too, and it was winged and tentacled. I saw only its back; if I'd seen the front of it – its face – I'd have undoubtedly lost my mind. The old Arab was right; God help us, it was the monster that Xuthltan called up out of the dark blind caverns of the earth to guard the Fire of Asshurbanipal!"
Probably the demon and the cavern is the same as the one in “The Black Stone”: “I opened my mouth to scream my horror and loathing, but only a dry rattle sounded; a huge monstrous toad-like thing squatted on the top of the monolith! I saw its bloated, repulsive and unstable outline against the moonlight and set in what would have been the face of a natural creature, its huge, blinking eyes which reflected all the lust, abysmal greed, obscene cruelty and monstrous evil that has stalked the sons of men since their ancestors moved blind and hairless in the treetops. And later: “I read, too, of the lost, grim black cavern high in the hills where the horrified Turks hemmed a monstrous, bloated, wallowing toad-like being and slew it with flame and ancient steel blessed in old times by Muhammad, and with incantations that were old when Arabia was young.”
Unfortunately, it is not certain in what order REH has written the two stories. Both were written in the second half of 1930, but the Del Rey editions do not mention any surviving typescripts/carbons from these stories, the available texts were taken from the Weird Tales appearances. Patrice Louinet dates “TBS” to November 1930. Hopefully additional draft pages will be unearthed in the Glenn Lords papers that could help in the dating of these stories. In my theory REH has written the adventure version of “The Fire of Asshurbanipal” around June 1930 (without the demon and Xuthltan) for the new Oriental Stories. It probably failed to sell, but this was the time when REH has started his correspondence with HPL. REH then (in a few weeks time according to Patrice) prepared the final version of “TFoA”, that was probably first rejected, then posthumously published in Weird Tales in 1936. No submission records survive, and even in the French edition Patrice reprinted the story from Weird Tales.
Concerning the Fire and Xuthltan, it is highly probable REH used them as prototypes of the “Heart of Ahriman” and Xaltotun from “The Hour of the Dragon”. A quote from HotD: "Those same thieves--or rather those of them who still lived after their frightful quest--stole the Heart of Ahriman from its haunted cavern below the temple of Mitra, and all the skill of men and the spells of sorcerers nearly failed. One man of them lived long enough to reach me and give the jewel into my hands, before he died slavering and gibbering of what he had seen in that accursed crypt. The thieves of Zamora are the most faithful of men to their trust. Even with my conjurements, none but them could have stolen the Heart from where it has lain in demon-guarded darkness since the fall of Acheron, three thousand years ago."
And “The Blood of Belshazzar” (dated by Patrice to October 1930) also features a similar precious stone, found in the hand of a dead king (although in this case underwater). As both versions of "The Fire of Asshurbanipal" seem to have been rejected, while “The Blood of Belshazzar” was published, it looks as if REH has salvaged this idea (precious stone, found in the hand of a dead king) from "The Fire of Asshurbanipal" (already present in the straight adventure version), which points to an earlier composition than “The Blood of Belshazzar”.
"Asshurbanipal" helps illuminate/confirm several of the shadowy statements and hints in TBS. IMO, the two demons are not one and the same -- their descriptions seem to differ. The Kara Shehr demon seems to resemble the ones in The Thing on the Roof and The Hoofed Thing. Thog in Xuthal of the Dusk seems halfway between the "Master of the Stone" and those others.
That raises the question: was the demon killed in the cavern the same Thing that appeared on the Stone? The Narrator implies it, but there are serious contrary facts against it. Might one be the father and the other the spawn? We'll have to look at those mysteries in depth.
Your bibliographical speculations appear solid to me. Definitely plausible.
REH scholar, Charles Hoffman, had this to say about Howard's classic tale:
In my 2009 essay "Elements of Sadomasochism in the Fiction and Poetry of Robert E. Howard" (which elements abound, whether you like it or not), one of the stories I take a look at is The Black Stone. The story's narrator travels to a remote section of Eastern Europe to view the Stone, and has a vision of ancient pagan rites that took place there involving hardcore flagellation. Recently I came across these remarks in a 2013 essay by Camille Paglia:
"My conclusion, after wide reading in anthropology and psychology, was that sadomasochism is an archaic ritual form that descends from prehistoric nature cults... "Sadomasochism's punitive hierarchical structure is ultimately a religious longing for order, marked by ceremonies of penance and absolution. Its rhythmic abuse of the body...is paradoxically a reinvigoration, a trancelike magical realignment with natural energies. Hence the symbolic use of leather --primitive animal hide-- for whips and fetish clothing..."
I would quote this in my essay for sure if I were writing it today.
Midsummer/the summer solstice has rolled around again. I'll be reading The Black Stone tonight. However, I've always wondered if REH intended for the Black Stone festivities to occur on the actual solstice or on the traditional date of Midsummer's Eve a few days later? Arguments could certainly be made either way.
Post by thedarkman on Jun 21, 2018 22:21:31 GMT -5
I’m currently reading The Keep by F Paul Wilson, a great horror book from the 80’s. On page 128 of my paperback copy, the main characters are looking through a pile of ancient books discovered in a hollow within the wall of the keep in question. One of the books discovered was titled “Unaussprechlichen Kulten by von Juntz”. I love these little nods to the masters like Howard; Wilson dedicates the book to Lovecraft, CAS and Howard.