Spear and Fang, the Voice of El-Lil and People of the Dark by Robert E. Howard

Spear and Fang is a pretty simple and short story about a tribe of Cro-Magnon humans. A-aea is a young girl, who's fallen in love with Ga-nor, a man of her tribe, who is more occupied by being an artist than trying to find himself a mate.

A-aea is spying and admiring the work of Ga-nor, when she finally heads out for a local drinking spot by the river, accompanied by Ka-nanu, a strong warrior and a son of a councillor. Ka-nanu has other ideas in his mind than water though and he ends up dragging the girl to the forest against her will. Just before the brute manages to do anything, savage neandertal attacks them, kills Ka-nanu and takes A-aea as a prisoner.

Ga-nor is also going to the drinking spot when he notices the footprints of the two that have come before him. He also notices, that the man has dragged the woman away and decides to follow them, as he knows what the man is going to do, only to find Ka-nanu dead. He then follows the Neandertal and ends up rescuing the girl in the nick of time.

And that's pretty much it. As a story, it tries to imagine how ancient pre-Homo Sapiens humans could have lived, but it isn't anything remarkable in that area. It is a nice little story fro what it is, but as a whole, it's also a forgettable one.

The Voice of El-Lil is very much a solid little adventure story. In it Bill Kirby, a seasoned traveller is guiding a young scientist Conrad in Somaliland in look for bugs. They end up taken prisoner by a group of ancient  Sumerians, who have been living their isolated lives deep in the jungles after they had escaped their ancient enemies back in the day the Sumerian culture reigned supreme over the other, younger cultures.

The duo manages to escape from the clutches of their captors with the help of a young girl, Naluna, who gets smitten on Conrad. Just before they are to be sacrificed to El-Lil, she brings Kirby his rifle and with the help from some modern firepower, they shoot themselves out.

This is, at heart, a travel story to a distant, foreign land and like it usually happens, things don't go as planned. With a typical Howard manner, there's no happy ending here, unless you don't count Kirby and Conrad managing to escape, as there's a cost to their escape.

The Voice of El-Lil is a well written little story, which shows nicely that Howard did know how to write other stuff as well besides the sword and sorcery titles he's more often connected to.

People of the Dark is a yet another story from Howard that is connected to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. The story begins by John O'Brien narrating on how he's going to Dagon's Cave to kill his rivalling suitor Richard Brent so he could get the love of beautiful Eleanor Bland. Not the greatest plan to get the girl, but with a pistol and an electric torch in hand, he goes to the caves to wait for Richard to arrive.

in the caves, overwhelmed by a feeling of familiarity, John descends to the cave and slips, hitting his head. When he comes to, he at first doesn't know his name nor his bearing, and then he remembers that he's Conan of the reavers, hunting for a woman, Tamera, he is madly in love with. He recalls, how he followed her and her lover Vertorix to the caves after a battle and now he's almost got them.

But in the caves lives creatures older than the human race. The Dark People, who worship their sinister deities in the bowels of the Earth. Conan and Vertorix end up striking an alliance, after they figure out, that there's no escape otherwise.

The three of them fight and run, only to end up separated. Conan is forced to witness, how the two lovers commit a suicide just before the dark people get their hands on them and then John finally recovers from the bump on his head.

Still hanging on his intent of getting rid of his rival, he continues deeper to the cave. From there he finds Richard and Eleanor, standing hand in hand on the same cliff he saw Tamera and Vertorix ages back as Conan. And just like then, he sees their love and realises that it has always been like that. It has always been Richard, not him.

As a final blessing to their union, John shoots dead the last surviving Child of the Night just before he manages to get his claws on the young lovers. With that, he has repaid the wrong he so long ago caused as Conan.

People of the Dark is a well-written story, that is surprisingly subtle in the ways it utilises the mythology created by Howard's penpal, Lovecraft. Had this been a Lovecraft story, the characters in it would have been more prone to hysteria, but with Howard that rarely happens. In these non-Hyborian stories of his, the characters often confess to feeling fear but never do they succumb to it.

In these three stories, the heroes and heroines do what they always do best in the world of Howard: they surmount the odds, no matter how high they're stacked. It doesn't matter if they're Cro-Magnon or modern brits, they always prevail.

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