JAMES ALLISON – American author Robert E. Howard is, of course, best known for his Big Three pulp heroes – Conan (debut year 1930), Kull (debut year 1929) and Solomon Kane (debut year 1928). Among his many overlooked creations was James Allison, whose trio of short stories serve as a perfect analogy for readers who long for adventures that the modern world denies them.
MARCHERS OF VALHALLA – Ironically, this tale which introduces James Allison was never published during Robert E. Howard’s lifetime, even though the two follow-up stories were. We meet James Allison, a man living in early 1930s Texas.
James feels profound disappointment over his mundane existence and the era in which he lives. Most of all, he feels inferior to his brothers, who were slain in the World War, and his father, who was wounded while charging up San Juan Hill with Theodore Roosevelt.
Even if the drab, stifling modern era DID serve up an adventure, Allison feels he is in no condition to pursue it because he has lost one of his legs in a riding accident. One day James limps his way up a hill to take in the scenery when a beautiful (of course) woman approaches him.
The woman addresses Allison as “Hialmar,” a name which seems hauntingly familiar to him. She discusses with him the geology of Texas, particularly the shelves of land by the Gulf of Mexico. Next, the mysterious woman asks James if he has ever dreamed about drowning.
All of this unleashes from Allison’s subconscious vivid memories of one of his past lives as a Nordic warrior during a lost period between Ice Ages. He was indeed named Hialmar and was a member of a lost race of warriors called the Aesir, whose tribal name lived on in Norse mythology.
Hialmar was one of a group of roughly 500 Aesir warriors exploring regions far from their frigid northern homeland, warring and adventuring all the while. Their number was 1,000 when they set out years earlier, but battlefield deaths have whittled down their ranks.
The Aesir come across a walled city near the ocean. A conflict breaks out between Hialmar & his comrades and the people in the city. Before the Aesir can launch a final attack to seize the walled city, a woman named Aluna is sent out with a proposition for the warriors.
Khemu, the name of the city, is a frequent victim of seaborne raiders. The city will pay the Aesir in gold, wine and women if they defend Khemu from their tormentors. Asgrimm, the leader of the wandering warriors, agrees.
The Aesir party hard in Khemu, enjoying all the booze, women and gold offered to them. While waiting for the next raid from “the painted savages of the islands,” Hialmar falls in love with Aluna, a priestess of the love goddess.
At last, the day arrives when the raiders from the sea attack once again. The Aesir engage in a savage battle with the painted warriors and Hialmar even slays the red-haired leader of the raiders. After a monumentally bloody battle, the Aesir emerge triumphant.
A wild party for the warriors is thrown that night, and amid the drunken debauchery Hialmar learns that Aluna is about to be sacrificed to the gods. Hialmar arrives at the altar just as Aluna is mortally wounded. In his rage, the Aesir soldier kills all the priests and attendants at the ritual.
Next, our hero bursts into the chamber in which the late priests indicated the love goddess herself sits enthroned. Hialmar meets the beautiful figure, who tells him that she has been held captive by the people of Khemu for a thousand years and is the real reason the sea raiders waged war on the walled city.
She is no goddess, just a mortal woman granted immortality when she became the bride of the sea god. The immortal woman thanks Hialmar for freeing her and warns him about treachery from the Khemu people toward his Aesir comrades.
Racing back to the courtyard where the party was being held, Hialmar sees all of his brothers in arms dead from poisoned wine. Our hero attacks every Khemu citizen in sight and is engaged in one-on-one combat with the city’s evil King Akkheba when he notices that the freed “love goddess” is calling out to her sea god husband.
The sea god welcomes her back and causes an earthquake which destroys Khemu and causes the shelf of land on which it stands to crumble into the sea. Hialmar slays King Akkheba shortly before he himself drowns amid the cataclysm.
Back in the modern era, James Allison snaps out of this episode from a previous life and at last understands why he has been plagued all his life by dreams about drowning. The beautiful woman who addressed him as Hialmar explains that she is the immortal bride of the sea god and that Khemu stood near the shore of what is now the Gulf of Mexico.
Before departing, she also comforts James by telling him he has lived many adventurous lives before this one and that after he dies, he will live many more in savage ages to come.
*** And that wraps up this first James Allison story. The appeal to armchair adventurers should be obvious.
THE VALLEY OF THE WORM – This tale saw print in the iconic pulp publication Weird Tales in February of 1934. Once again James Allison experiences temporary escape from his humdrum existence by reliving an episode from a past life.
This time around, James mentally reverts to his life as a different, earlier member of the Aesir race. In this life his name was Niord, and his deeds were so legendary that they lived on in myths about the sea god Njord, as well as Beowulf and Siegfried.
Niord leads his people to a jungle region where they are attacked by ancient equivalents of the Picts.
NOTE: Robert E. Howard often used the Picts in other stories set in different ages, even in his Conan and Kull stories. They bear virtually no resemblance to the historical Picts.
The Aesir emerge triumphant over the Picts and Niord spares the life of Grom, the greatest Pictish warrior. The two tribes live as one from this point onward, with the friendship between Niord and Grom being reminiscent of that between Kull and Brule in the Kull tales.
Niord and Grom go on many hunts together, always avoiding the Valley of Broken Stones, a place which has long frightened Grom’s people. On one hunt, Niord is injured battling a surviving saber-tooth tiger and is laid up for days.
At last fully recovered, our hero learns that a fellow Aesir led an expedition into the Valley of Broken Stones and has not returned. Niord bravely ventures into the valley in search of his fellows, only to find their camp destroyed and all of the Aesir dead from being crushed and dismembered.
Grom informs Niord that the expedition was likely killed by an enormous wormlike creature that lives deep in the ground and which killed many Picts over the years. That creature is periodically summoned forth by a tune played on pipes by a hair-covered humanoid.
Niord alone is brave enough to want to confront the monster and the being who summons it and thereby open the valley to future settlement. Our hero hunts down Satha, a huge, 80-foot-long serpent creature. After killing Satha in a savage battle, Niord “milks” the venom from the serpent and soaks his arrows in that venom.
Returning to the Valley of Broken Stones, Niord creates a disturbance that causes the hairy humanoid to surface and play its pipes to summon the enormous worm-beast. The Aesir warrior kills the humanoid piper with his poisoned arrows and prepares to meet the monster in battle.
Niord and the tentacled, wormlike creature engage in a long battle. When Niord pierces the monster’s flesh with all of his poisoned arrows, he resorts to his sword. The creature at last dies from all of the poison, but kills Niord with its final convulsions.
James Allison once again finds himself in his “present” life in 1930s Texas.
THE GARDEN OF FEAR – This third and final James Allison story was published in the July 1934 issue of a pulp magazine called Marvel Tales. Yet again James experiences an adventure from another past life as a member of the Aesir race.
This tale is set during a time period when woolly mammoths and other such beasts still roam and our hero is a warrior named Hunwulf. A beautiful woman named Gudrun is in love with Hunwulf and he with her.
When a powerful member of the Aesir takes Gudrun for his woman over her objections, Hunwulf kills the man and the two lovers must flee. Their fugitive life eventually leads them to a region inhabited by peaceful, dwarfish brown-skinned people.
During their first day of meeting this new tribe, Gudrun is snatched into the air by a flying black humanoid creature who preys upon the dwarves from time to time. Hunwulf prevails upon his new friends to guide him to where the winged beast would have taken Gudrun.
No one wants to go near the creature’s domain, but they draw a map that Hunwulf can follow to find it. He does so and sees the winged humanoid’s lair – a tall green tower surrounded by grotesque red flowers.
Hunwulf quickly learns that the red flowers are alive and act like leeches, fastening themselves to and draining the blood from any man or animal who dares to pass through them. Our hero strikes upon the idea of finding the nearest herd of the plentiful woolly mammoths and stampeding them over the flowers.
The mammoths are so swift and powerful that they trample all the flowers to death while suffering only a few token wounds from the deadly plants. Hunwulf now easily makes his way to the tower and climbs toward the upper room where he detects movement.
Gudrun, a capable warrior herself, is still alive and has been fighting the winged humanoid since it took her to this tower. With Hunwulf now joining the battle, the creature is killed. Gudrun and her mate leave the tower to continue their travels, making this the only James Allison story in which he does not relive the death of his earlier incarnation.
FOR FEMALE AUTHOR C.L. MOORE’S SWORD-WIELDING WOMAN WARRIOR JIREL OF JOIRY CLICK HERE.