Pigeons From Hell (Robert E Howard)

thriller-3This is one of the great horror tales of all time. I find the title particularly irresistable. If you are going to read this short story, go off alone somewhere with just a fading flashlight. Find an abandoned house with a cold unlit fireplace and read the story while sitting on the stone hearth. It will have a bigger impact.  I’ve added images from the 1961 television classic version, one of the Boris Karloff Thriller series.

Written in the 1930’s and set in the American ‘deep south’, the story unfolds over two nights starting from the decision to stay overnight in an abandoned house. John Branner and Griswell are two New Englanders enjoying a rambling vacation through the American South. They stop at a deserted plantation manor in Texas where Branner has a terrible nightmare and awakes to find his friend dead (and yet still walking, with intent to murder him). Branner flees, and is found in the woods by a county sheriff, Buckner. Investigating the crime, and inclined to believe Branner’s story on account of the old mansion’s history, Buckner and Branner learn of an aristocratic family that was ruined by the Confederate loss in the Civil War and a voodoo curse. The story is wonderfully written. The language is rich and has a beautiful density to it – the literary equivalent of eating mud cake.

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In just a few short sentences, the opening of the story sets the scene: a blood-red sunset, stark black pines and an abandoned house. The story was gripping and engaging. A bit of gore without being gratuitously violent – for a horror story. The story is a product of its time – there are casual references to African Americans that make it clear they were considered to be ignorant and superstitious. Then again, hard to have a story about voodoo that doesn’t have superstitious people in it. As a balance, the story also criticizes the plantation owners of the past and how they treated the slaves, and later the free workers, while the ‘witch doctor’ is described as having been a man of great learning.

Everyone in this story is an archetype of a familiar character: the strong Sheriff who is afraid but proceeds in the face of danger, the wise old black man, the New Englander come down to the south only to find that it’s not what he thought it was, etc. But despite the cliches, the story is still super fun and there are a few parts that had me shivering in anticipation of when something would jump out of the dark corners and reveal itself in all its bloodthirsty glory.

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Comments

  1. This story sounds AMAZING. And with a title like that, I can’t resist tracking this one down to read. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks! This is one of those great ones every horror author would like to include in their CV. 🙂

    Like

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