Marchers of Valhalla contains eight tales by Robert E. Howard. Both the title and the cover suggest that these will be sword and sorcery stories but actually they’re a rather varied collection. This volume is in fact a good example of Howard’s ability to write an exciting story in just about any pulp genre.
The Grey God Passes and the title story are really the only pure sword and sorcery stories in this 1977 Sphere paperback. Out of the Deep and Sea Curse are horror fantasy tales linked with the lives of those who live by and for the sea. A Thunder of Trumpets takes us to British India during the Raj, whilst The Valley of the Lost and The Thunder-Rider are western stories, although very different western stories.
Both The Thunder-Rider and ‘For the Love of Barbara Allen’ involve the idea of reincarnation and past lives, an idea that seems to have interested Howard deeply.
Most of the stories here deal with the past. Not in the sense of being set in the past, but in the sense of the past being something that still exists in some way. A past that refuses to die. A past that can come back and haunt the living. And not just haunt individuals, but even whole societies.
While none of these stories can be considered to be part of the Cthulhu Mythos it’s still quite obvious why Howard and Lovecraft admired each other’s work and influenced each other considerably. While their styles were quite different they were clearly on the same wavelength. The conflict of civilisations, the struggle between civilised societies and barbarism, the fragility of civilisation, the sense of the past as a living entity, the common interest in the reactions of the civilised mind to sudden eruptions of horror or violence or to events that are disturbing and not rationally explicable - all these factors serve to illustrate how close these two writers were in the way they viewed the world.
Howard could never have written a dull story if he tried. Everything he wrote grabs the reader right from the start and he knows how to keep the reader’s interest. Highly recommended.