Post by Deleted on Mar 2, 2022 4:06:22 GMT -5
Another great article at DMR Books blog by our Deuce:The Visage of Bran Mak Morn
FEBRUARY 19, 2022 BY DEUCE RICHARDSONBran Mak Morn, the doomed third-century King of the Picts, is one of Robert E. Howard’s most iconic creations. Bran has been depicted by numerous talented artists on the covers of books and in comics. Unfortunately, relatively few of those renditions are faithful to how REH actually described Bran Mak Morn and the Picts.
To begin with, let's take the idea clear off the table that Bran--or other Picts stretching back to Brule--were genetically linked to or closely resembled 'Native Americans'. Both Jeff Shanks and myself debunked this notion over the course of a decade. It's fake news. Just as one example--there are plenty of others--here's what Gonar called the indigenous inhabitants of North America circa 200 AD:"Red-skinned savages roam the western lands [North America], wandering o’er the valley of the Western River, befouling the entempled ramparts which the men of Lemuria reared in worship of the God of the Sea. And to the south, the empire of the Toltecs of Lemuria is crumbling."
Nowhere does Brule, Gonar, Bran or REH describe the Picts as "red-skinned". That is an appellation that Howard always reserved for Native Americans. No other ethnic group. Period. The simple fact is that nowhere in all of his letters and yarns did Howard ever imply a genetic link between the Picts and Native Americans. Did he 'appropriate' some 'cultural DNA' to flesh out his Picts? Perhaps.
Let's look at how REH described Bran and the other 'unmixed' Picts of that era in "Men of the Shadows":
It was as though from the heights of self-conquest [Bran] looked down upon men, brooding, inscrutable, fraught with the ages’ knowledge, somber with the ages’ wisdom. Chin in hand, he sat, dark, unfathomed eyes fixed upon me. (...)
“But you are no Pict!” [quoth the Norseman]
“I am a Mediterranean.”
“Of the world.”
“Who are you?”
“Bran Mak Morn.”
“What!” I had expected a monstrosity, a hideous, deformed giant, a ferocious dwarf built in keeping with the rest of his race. “You are not as these.”
“I am as the race was,” he replied. “The line of chiefs has kept its blood pure through the ages, scouring the world for women of the Old Race.”
Robert E. Howard puts it in plain terms. Bran Mak Morn was a 'Mediterranean'. This was a term in wide use during REH's lifetime. In fact, I heard a scion of the old royal house of Austro-Hungary use the term on NPR about fifteen years ago. 'Mediterranean' describes an extremely common phenotype found all around the--you guessed it--Mediterranean Sea. When Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi would visit Rome, clad in an Armani suit, he blended right in. He was amongst fellow 'Mediterraneans'. His genetic lineage was shared with other Mediterraneans, not with his ‘fellow Africans’ from south of the Sahara.
Geneticists refer to the peoples that brought agriculture west during the Neolithic period as "Near Eastern Farmers". Those hardy agriculturalists left their genetic imprint all across the Mediterranean. As it so happens, REH saw the Picts as roughly filling this role. He even has them--in "Brachen the Kelt"--living in what I call the 'Pre-Med Basin' during the period before the Mediterranean flooded...in his timeline, anyway.What does "Kings of the Night" have to say?[Bran] was of medium height, lithely built, scantily clad, whose black hair was confined by a narrow iron band in the center of which gleamed a single red jewel. (...) Bran Mak Morn was a tall man among them. Only the older men were bearded and they scantily... (...) Some few, sons of long lines of chiefs, were smooth-limbed and lithe like Bran, but in the eyes of all gleamed the unquenchable savagery of the primeval.One bonus of “Kings of the Night” is REH plainly states that the Thurian Age Picts and the pure-blooded Picts of Bran’s era look (basically) exactly the same, a point I discussed here.
"Worms of the Earth" is even more informative, on top of being REH's final word:
He was dark, but he did not resemble the Latins around him [i.e., the Picts were approximately as ‘dark’ as second-century Romans]. There was about him none of the warm, almost Oriental sensuality of the Mediterranean which colored their features. The blond [Germanic] barbarians behind Sulla’s chair were less unlike the man in facial outline than were the Romans. Not his were the full curving red lips, nor the rich waving locks suggestive of the Greek. Nor was his dark complexion the rich olive of the south; rather it was the bleak darkness of the north. The whole aspect of the man vaguely suggested the shadowed mists, the gloom, the cold and the icy winds of the naked northern lands. Even his black eyes were savagely cold, like black fires burning through fathoms of ice.
His height was only medium but there was something about him which transcended mere physical bulk—a certain fierce innate vitality, comparable only to that of a wolf or a panther. In every line of his supple, compact body, as well as in his coarse straight hair and thin lips, this was evident—in the hawk-like set of the head on the corded neck, in the broad square shoulders, in the deep chest, the lean loins, the narrow feet. Built with the savage economy of a panther, he was an image of dynamic potentialities, pent in with iron self-control.
What can we take away from all this? Bran Mak Morn and the unmixed Picts of his age--along with the Picts of the Thurian and Hyborian Ages--were "lithe". Let's look at that definition.
According to Merriam-Webster, "lithe" is defined as this:
1: easily bent or flexed
a lithe vine
2: characterized by easy flexibility and grace
a lithe dancer
treading with a lithe silent step
also : athletically slimObviously, the most pertinent definition is the final one. Bran and other unmixed Picts were on the athletically slim/lean side. Think Al Pacino.
Bran's features are mostly described in negatives, all in comparison to Sulla. Overall, he had none of the "Oriental sensuality" of the Roman, Sulla. Envisioning Sulla as John Travolta is no great leap of imagination. BMM’s lips were thin and his "facial outline" was more akin to Germanic barbarians than to Sulla's particular type of decadent Roman.
All of that tends to place Bran Mak Morn, roughly, in what the humanphenotypes.net website defines as the "Gracile Mediterranid" type. Here are the stats:
Mediterranid proper, smaller than other Mediterranids: the most gracile type of Europe. Appears first in Mesolithic groups of Palestine (Natufians). Common in Iberia, Southern Italy, Mediterranean islands, Western France, Southern Greece, Northern Tunisia. In low frequencies across Europe, e.g. Western Germany (esp. Rhineland-Palatinate), Ireland, Wales, Southern Bulgaria to the Black Sea and the Levant.
Light brown skin, straight to wavy, rarely curly, usually abundant brown to brown-black hair. Rather short, meso- sometimes macroskelic, ectomorph with gracile bodily proportions, rather wide hips in women. Mesocephalic, chamaecranic with a protruding occiput. Oval, narrow face with refined and gracile features. Straight, hyperleptorrhine, not very long nose. Mildly rounded forehead.
The site has composite photos for this type. I could easily see BMM's unnamed sister from "Men of the Shadows" in the female composite. The accompanying map shows a high frequency of this type along the northern Mediterranean littoral and in south-west Wales and north-west Ireland. Pretty Howardian.
All of this demonstrates just how far off the mark many of the renditions of Bran have been, to one extent or another. One of the best is, inadvertently, from Frank Frazetta. While his cover for the Dell edition of Bran Mak Morn has led generations of REH fans to believe that BMM was some sort of subhuman ape-man, somebody back in the 2000s Photoshopped that painting and placed Frank's "A Fighting Man of Mars" in the midst of the squalling ape-men of the Dell cover.
Frazetta was famous/notorious for slapping his own face into many of his paintings--which is cool, since Frank looked cool. Such was the case with AFMoM. It’s a pity that Frank didn't do the same thing with the Dell BMM cover. Frazetta had the Bran Mak Morn 'look'. He was of pure Sicilian descent, but he also had blue eyes. Methinks there was a Norman or two in the woodpile. Thus, Frank’s visage is ‘Mediterranean’ with a touch of the ‘Nordic’. John Travolta he is not.
A self-portrait from Frazetta. Throw in a shoulder-length mane and you have REH’s Bran Mak Morn.Meanwhile, various artists—the majority of whom I like to give the benefit of the doubt and assume they didn’t closely read REH nor that they knew about the ‘Mediterranean’ concept—have gone with the ‘Native American’ look for Bran Mak Morn and the pure-blooded Picts of the Thurian Age-onward. Perhaps the apogee of this deviation from Howardian accuracy—although it was presaged by Esteban Maroto’s drawings for The Treasure of Tranicos—was in the Kull comic from Dark Horse published about ten years ago. The late, lamented Steve Tompkins, with his usual wit, dubbed Will Conrad’s ‘Brule’ and other ‘Picts’ to be '“Pictafarians”.
Believe it or not, that is supposed to be Brule the Spear-Slayer in the background.This nonsense needs to stop. Robert E. Howard stated plainly how he saw his Picts. There is even some scientific/historical data to back him up. A few artists have gotten it right. Many have not. Let’s hope future artists hew closer to Howard’s original vision.
As a final note… Robert E. Howard unequivocally tied his British Picts to the Basques of southern France and northern Spain. Back in the 1980s, I knew an American of pure Basque extraction (Vasco-American?) named Paul Ulibarri. He was an excellent singer for various hard rock bands. He fit the Howardian image of Picts/Bran Mak Morn almost exactly. The only deviation was his dark brown (not black) hair.
Feel free to peruse the gallery below. It features the artistic interpretations of BMM by Frank Brunner, Tim Conrad, Jeffrey Jones and several others.
Virgil Finlay was one of the very first artists to portray Bran Mak Morn.
Here's link if you wanna check out some more art from the article:dmrbooks.com/test-blog/2022/2/19/the-visage-of-bran-mak-morn