As Im planning to assign Robert E. Howards 1928 Kull story By This Axe I Rule! for my philosophy of law class in the fall (yes, really), I was comparing the version in my Kull anthology with one I found online. The former is obviously Howards original version or close to it, while the latter (scanning errors apart) has clearly undergone well-meaning editing, slight but pervasive, to tame some of Howards eccentricities of punctuation and usage.
While many of the revisions are improvements (including a catch of Howards losing track of how many assassins were supposed to be at the door, and of the direction in which Ka-nus Pictish escort was heading), on the whole it seems to me that the unknown editor had a tin ear for Howards language, and the comparison has given me new respect for Howards craft as a writer.
Two constructions in particular seem to have attracted the editors disfavour what Ill call the fast transition (X happened and then Y happened) and the slow transition (X happened. And then Y happened). In nearly all cases, both kinds of transition get changed to the more grammatically conventional X happened, and then Y happened which Ill call the medium-speed transition.
But although some of Howards punctuational choices admittedly seem a bit random, I dont think there was anything random in his deployment of fast and slow transitions. (In this story, at least. I havent looked through Howards other stories with an eye to fast and slow transitions; sufficit diei.) His general preference for fast transitions fits the fast pace of the story; its like a cinematic tracking shot. But when he switches to a slow transition theres a good reason for it. A good example is when Kull tells Seno val Dor: I am sorry. But I cannot help you. The editor changes this to I am sorry, but I cannot help you, but rushing through the apology like this makes Kull seem dismissive; Howards version, pausing on the I am sorry, gives it the weight of sincerity. (I would go back and find more of the examples I noticed, but I am too lazy.)
One reason I think Howards preference for fast and slow transitions over medium-speed ones was intentional is that he symbolically incorporates it into his description of Kull:
There was nothing deliberate or measured about his motions either he was perfectly at rest still as a bronze statue, or else he was in motion, with that catlike quickness which blurred the sight that tried to follow his movements.
Ascalante leaped as a wolf leaps halted almost in mid-air with the unbelievable speed which characterized him ….
(In that last one its almost as though Howard is foreseeing bullet time.)
How are you planning on using the comic in the class?
I’m not using the comic, just the original story.
The story sets up a dichotomy between, on the one hand, hidebound irrational laws that never change and that bind even the ruler, and on the other, a virtuous ruler who sets aside the laws and rules by irresistible decree. Part of my point is that this is a false dichotomy, but more broadly it’s a painless entry into thinking about the value and disvalue of law.
But Roderick, if nobles are allowed to marry slaves, what will prevent them from marrying dogs?
Kull will prevent it. With his mighty axe. His character is a constitution.