Listen Up: Gods of the North

Starship Sofa has branched out and become part of the District of Wonders. Which is to say, the sofa has developed some fellow furninshings in the genres of mystery, horror and pulp fantasy, and invites us to come make ourselves comfortable there.

Protecting Project Pulp is where I found an audio version of "Gods of the North," by Robert E Howard.

Howard is one of those writers so widely known that you feel like you've read his works even if you never actually have. I need only mention Conan the Barbarian and you get the idea. Maybe you've never read a Conan story, either, but the name immediately conjures sword and sorcery images to mind, and that may be enough already.

"Gods of the North" is a case in point. Conan spends most of the story chasing a woman over the ice. Sure, she taunted him and got him to chase her so that her brothers could ambush and kill him, but he means to rape her. He just wants her. Her terror is never a consideration for him.

What's interesting about this narration, and it is beautifully read by Scott Couchman who doesn't stumble over the archaic use of language at all, is ... well, the use of language. It gives the author away. The story is meant to be pulp, the author being in a hurry to make some money, and what falls out of him is the idea of sword swinging soldiers who say things like, "Swear not so often by Ymir." These days we say things quickly and that line would probably come out as,"Shutup." Or, "You yourselves are no more real to me than was the golden-locked witch who fled before me." What's revealed is a love of mythology and old words, which is understanable, and a love of a stilted kind of machismo.

Of course, being famous, Conan has drawn his share of parody. Pratchett, in his discworld series, gives us an aging version of the Barbarian. Long ago, Paul Hogan did a sketch about Conan at home with a wife to ask after his day, and a woman in the closet whose job was to cling to his thigh wherever he went - tiresome, but all part of his calling. One of my favourites, though, was from the film, Red Sonja, which wasn't meant to be funny, about a femal barbarian who is helped by Conan at one stage. She expects to have to reward him. He refuses this. "I'm a mercenary," he says proudly. "No one pays me." Which kind of defeats the purpose of being a mercenary.

So, if you're interested in finding out what a Conan story was actually like, you can check it out here at Protecting Project Pulp No. 5