Robert E Howard’s “Pigeons from Hell”

Not so long ago, I read “Pigeons from Hell”, by Robert E Howard (creator of Conan the Cimmerian) and loved it. I had held off from reading his stuff for years because I wasn’t interested in his usual swords & sorcery stuff, but this Southern Gothic tale of voodoo and vengeance is one of the scariest and atmospheric things I’ve read in a while. The pigeons of the title are more of a gimmick from what I can see, as they don’t figure prominently in the story. Supposedly, they represent the lost souls of some of the previous inhabitants of the haunted plantation where the protagonists (some New Englanders on a car trip through the Deep South) decide to camp, thus beginning their horrific misadventure into a world of voodoo, zombies, assassin snakes and hatchet wielding hags.

Just a note to readers unaccustomed to reading stories written before the enlightened Post-Civil Rights era: there are some very offensive racial slurs in here. There are many words used here to describe people of color and none of them are nice. I am not sure whether they were added for period authenticity or if Howard was actually a bigot, as many were in those days, but it might be shocking to someone in this current age of political correctness to see such a proliferation of racial epithets in one place, especially in an old fashioned horror tale. Unfortunately, this was not so unusual back then, as H.P. Lovecraft was guilty of almost xenophobic descriptions of foreigners and people of different races in his stories, although he did apologize for this later in life, and even Agatha Christie has had her works cleaned up posthumously because of some insensitive titles and such. That being said, this is an awesomely creepy yarn and well worth a look-see.

In fact, this story is so good it was made into an episode of Boris Karloff’s Thriller series back in the early 60’s. The episode is pretty faithful to the story and even shows some fairly bloody scenes for that time period. If you can get a copy of the Thriller box set, it is the penultimate episode of Season 1.

For a link to the story see here: http://classic-web.archive.org/web/20080513211605/http://arthursclassicnovels.com/arthurs/howard/pighell10.html

 

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