Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cromtober, Part III: Robert E. Howard's "The Cairn on the Headland"

Oh, hello there! Good evening. It's such a pleasant night here on the headland, isn't it? I do so much enjoy being here in the evenings. My doctor tells me the ocean air is good for my convalescence, so I try to make it out here before the sun sets. It's so peaceful, an almost timeless quality to the landscape, don't you agree? It's almost unbelievable to think of the barbarous battle that spilt so much blood here nearly a millennium ago...
Hugh Frazer's Battle of Clontarf (1826)
And so our Cromtober 2014 shenanigans draw to a conclusion! In our third episode we tackle Robert E. Howard's The Cairn on the Headland! It was first published in Strange Tales in 1933. If you don't have a copy of the story to read, check it out here for free! While you're at it, make sure you read up a little bit on the Battle of Clontarf! Or listen to Dan Carlin's Hardcore History episode on this era of history. That guy knows his stuff!!!

And we had a plethora of spooky 'One Things' as we head into the homestretch for Halloween....

Jon: the zany Bruce Campbell vehicle, Bubba Ho-Tep!

Josh: the Paul W.S. Anderson cult favorite, Event Horizon!

Luke: Another seasonal text, The Book of Hallowe'en!

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Our episode is freely available on and is licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0. The spooky organ intro comes from (we think) the public domain (via the YouTube at Our epic closer is the tail-end of Agalloch's Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires. Agalloch are AMAZING, and their song absolutely fits into our pagan Norse discussions, don't you think? We hope our discussion of this content makes you want to go out and purchase the work! All music was obtained legally. And seriously, go pick up some of Agalloch's discography. Check out Marrow of the Spirit or, their newest, The Serpent and the Sphere!

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  1. First, a question: If you knew the secret of the cairn, would you intentionally wake up Odin? I think I might, or at least, I'd strongly consider it, if I just knew it as Odin the Norse god and not Odin the monster deified.

    Second, it doesn't make sense that Odin kills Ortali. Howard writes "there was no tinge of gratitude toward the man who had released it—only a demoniac gloating and a demoniac hate for all the sons of men". Yet, he took on the form of a man to help with norsemen in battle, so at some point he obviously cared for at least some men or at least gained something from them. But what could an otherwordly cosmic monster need from men? Perhaps he's narcissitic and loves being worshipped by lesser beings. Either way, Odin presumably wouldn't have killed the viking priest who was trying to wake him before being killed.

    The one argument for the way the story plays out is that Odin either knew how long he'd been "dead" and was mad/crazy because of it, knew Otali's intentions of grave robbing rather than awakening him, or knew Ortali was a Christian. If he has such a supernatural awareness though you think he'd know about the cross O'Brian carried. And none of that is directly supported by the text.

  2. NIce show, Cromrades! I have to say when I read it, it felt more like S&S than horror. I was not too scared by it being Odin in that cairn. Of course, my favorite book as a kid was "Norse Myths" and I grew up with Marvel's Buscema's Thor (and Odin - like you said, the Odinsleep - which was never scary, just sort of sad that the ol' guy had to sleep so much - though I'm starting to understand...) so I wasn't sure I liked REH's use of Odin here. But your show made me like the story a bit more - thinking of the spirit in there as Odin's frost shadow or something makes it better!

    Jonathan mentioned my favorite part - Howard's writing of the scene in which Ortali turns to find O'Brian ready to bean him is pretty fine writing!

    And thanks for the One thing on The Book of Hallowe'en! Looks pretty cool.

    Enjoy the next week with monsters, candy and maybe try apple cider w/ a healthy splash of dark rum!

  3. So glad you guys covered this one -- a personal fave of mine, as are the tales that preceded it, "The Spears of Clontarf" and "The Grey God Passes". The story behind the stories is an interesting one (see notes here: REH basically took an obscure episode from ancient history and turned it into a cycle of kick-ass historical fiction, fantasy, and horror tales. Hope you guys cover more of his historical fiction and horror stories in the future.

  4. Great ep, guys!

    I've been enjoying Cromtober with some delay.

  5. I wonder if there wasn't maybe a little bit of homage to M.R. James' "A Warning to the Curious" from a few years earlier in 1925, in which a treasure hunter at the seaside locates and digs up a medieval artifact - a crown which supposedly protects England from invasion - and is thereafter pursued by a ghostly guardian?

    The closing track was dope, but this one would have fit too:

    also one of you should have been drinking Boru vodka

    1. Glad you liked the Agalloch, Chris! They tend to be a bit, uhhhh, 'harsher' with a lot of their work, but they carry a hell of a melody.

      And you're right on about "Emerald!" That would have been a perfect fit but slipped our minds! We love some Thin Lizzy, so we'll have to drop a song or two into upcoming episodes as the closers. Maybe also "Roisin Dubh?!?!?!"

    2. F yeah Roisin Dubh!
      Have you guys seen "Book of Conquests" by Jim Fitzpatrick? He's the guy who did Thin Lizzy's album art, and it's an illustrated loose adaptation of part of Lebor Gabala Erenn, some old Irish legends about various invasions and battles in ancient times...
      I tweeted some pics of this book a while back, i'll see if i can find them and shoot them your way on Twitter