Reading the Classics: Review of Robert E. Howard's "Spears of Clontarf"

Illustration by John Watkiss
I have never been one for Historical fiction, mostly due to my inability to read anything without much of a fantastic element involved. While history is filled with violence, romance, adventure, and intrigue, I tend to wander toward mythology as my claim to the past. Historical Fantasy, while babbling in legend and magic, is usually a genre that I don't enjoy, but after reading Spears of Clontarf, I am convinced that Robert E.Howard can reconcile me to anything.

Howard, or REH as he is lovingly known, had a great love of history, particularly of proto-Celtic nations. Conan the Cimmerian, Bran Mak Morn, and Tulogh Dubh are just a few of his Celtic heroes, but when Weird Tales stopped paying Howard for his Fantasy stories, he was forced to look elsewhere to make a living as a writer. He decided to submit his more historical works to Solders of Fortune, hoping to sell a few stories until Weird Tales could pay him the 1,300$ owed. He then wrote Spears of Clontarf, a retelling of the Battle of Clontarf, the Vikings' last attempt at trying to conquer Ireland against Brian Boru. An Irish thrall named Conn frees himself from his Viking captors and warns the gathered Irish kings and Brian Boru of the imminent assault. The battle is waged, the Irish triumph, the Vikings remove from Ireland's coast, and though there were some mythological elements in his story, such as a Sidhe conferring with the king, the general history of the event remains intact. Regardless of how compelling the language of the story is, the story was rejected. Howard decided to keep it and rewrite it as Twilight of the Grey Gods, adding many fantasy elements and making warrior Tulogh Dubh the star of the show and Odin himself the real enemy. He sent the story to Weird Tales and they, too, rejected it. Though Howard then abandoned the story, this story marked a turning point in Howard's fiction; he began writing of more hardened heroes, his fiction became darker, his heroes less invincible, and though he was writing mostly Westerns near the end of his life -and selling them- this story had made him realize his love for Historical Fantasy and tragic protagonists.

Illustration by John Watkiss
Spears of Clontarf was finally published after Howard's death, and though Twilight of the Grey Gods may have had more reprintings, the original text is what Howard readers look for. It is one of his best-written tales, and even if you don't usually enjoy Historical fiction, I urge you to at least read the first part. I assure you that you will want to read the story to the end.


  1. How can they reject such great stuff? I love those old early warrior tales from Celtic and Viking legend.


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