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Friday, November 27, 2009

Howard Scholarship: Ponderings on Thurian/Hyborian Geography

Dale Rippke, of the Robert E. Howard United Press Association, is recognized as perhaps one of the foremost scholars on the work of Robert E. Howard today. He is responsible for what is considered one of the more accurate probable timelines of Conan's career, and has contributed to scholarship of REH in many ways.

He's written a series of articles at the REHupa website entitled "The Mysteries of the Hyborian Age." As with most of his work, the articles are exceptionally interesting and enlightening to read, though I have developed serious issues with his interpretations of certain events, particularly those in which he writes of the layout of the Thurian Age (the age of Kull), and his writings regarding the Cataclysm that ended the Thurian and led into the Hyborian Age (the age of Conan).

The biggest issue I have regarding the geography of the Thurian Age is his location of the continent of Mu. He draws from Solomon Kane stories to locate this continent in the South Seas, southeast of Lemuria, which would place it somewhere near where Australia is located. Many more recent Hyborian Age maps use this interpretation. The real problem with this, is that the Solomon Kane stories may not (and probably do not, as they do not fit seamlessly with the Cthulhu Mythos as do Howard's stories) take place in the same universe/continuity with Kull and Conan. In Howard's own stories, he mentions that the islands of Lemuria are formed of the mountain peaks of sunken Mu. This brings to light another mistake made by Rippke, that Lemuria was a continent. In "The Hyborian Age," Howard's seminal essay on his world, he discusses the Thurian Age (though he doesn't call it such):

Known history begins with the waning of the Pre-Cataclysmic civilization, dominated by the kingdoms of Kamelia, Valusia, Verulia, Grondar, Thule and Commoria...The barbarians of that age were the Picts, who lived on islands far out on the western ocean; the Adanteans, who dwelt on a small continent between the Pictish Islands and the main, or Thurian Continent; and the Lemurians, who inhabited a chain of large islands in the eastern hemisphere.

Howard himself clearly mentions that Lemuria was a chain of islands, not a continent. Howard does talk of a "shadowy and nameless continent lying somewhere east of the Lemurian islands." It is my feeling that Rippke is associating this nameless continent with Mu. The problem with this is that Rippke's various articles do not take into account the North and South American continents in any way. Certainly, Howard doesn't name these continents directly; however, his Hyborian and Thurian Ages are supposed to be epochs of the planet Earth, and his descriptions and maps describe only the Eurasian/African/Japan areas of the world. By definition there must be a North/South American land mass to the east of Lemuria and to the west of the Thurian continent. There does not, however, have to be an Australian continent, as that particular continent could've been a part of Antarctica at that time (theoretically). Or, it could've been a piece of the Thurian continent that had yet to break away.

Regardless, the failure to acknowledge the existence of a North/South American landmass forms a major problem in Rippke's theories. Not accounting for this massive continental mass between Lemuria and Thuria (to the east of the former and the west of the latter) is a serious oversight.

It's been well established that Atlantis lay to the west of the Thurian continent, between it and what (in my estimation) are the Americas. Rippke lays out the following geography of the Thurian Age, using Atlantis as the centerpoint:

The Thurian continent lies to its immediate east.
The Isles of the Sunset (Pictish Isles) lies to its immediate west.
Lemuria lies southwest of the Pictish Isles off the eastern Thurian coast.
Mu lies south of the Pictish Isles and southwest of Atlantis.
Kaa-u lies southeast of Atlantis and south of western Thuria.
The Isles of the Sea possibly lie south and slightly west of Atlantis.

Rippke's geography places the Pictish Isles probably somewhere in the vicinity of the Bahamas, but again doesn't account for the Americas. Perhaps the most damning evidence of Rippke's failure to account for the Americas is the following quote, lifted from this site:

I believe that the "trigger" of the Great Cataclysm was an cometary impact in the sea between the small continent of Atlantis and the island chain of Lemuria.

If Lemuria is, as is generally accepted, roughly analagous to where Japan is now (in the Pacific Ocean), and Atlantis is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, how, then, can Atlantis and Lemuria collide without each tearing straight through the Americas? They can't.

A new examination of Rippke's geography must be undertaken. It'll probably take me forever to do it, given all the reading I have to do for school, but I'm going to try and be equal to the task. Hope you all find this interesting. Looking forward to comments.


  1. I enjoy reading REH and, while I don't consider myself to be a "scholar" of his work, feel like I've read enough to have some sense of what he was about.

    I like to think that all of REH's stories take place in the same world, an alternate earth if you will, where dark mysteries exist lurking in the shadows. I hadn't heard that the Solomon Kane stories don't "fit seemlessly" with Howard's other tales and would be interested to see what parts don't work.

  2. The Christianity, actually. Howard's Hyborian Age (and by extension, Thurian Age, which is expressly said to be the prior period to the Hyborian) were considered by Lovecraft and Howard to be a part of Lovecraft's own shared mythology. Many of Howard's horror stories also fit into this--his Mythos fiction, as we know it today. Solomon Kane, however, battles expressly demons from Hell and is a Christian enemy of Satan, who doesn't exist in the Hyborian Age stuff. Kane makes no mention of the Great Old Ones--Hyborian Age stories do. Kane operates on the assumption that the world began as Eden. The Hyborian Age assumes it began as the domain of pre-human creatures from the Outer Dark. The two mythoi aren't really compatible.

  3. Is it possible that SK's tales are distorted through the lens that SK is using to see his own adventures? In other words, his belief in eden and satan could disguise the fact that "the world" might have totally different origins than the way he understands them? (Just trying to find a way to blend the two.)

  4. Several factual errors in your dissection of my look at Thurian Age geography. First off, I didn't place the location of Mu from any of the Solomon Kane stories. It's location comes from a story called THE ISLE OF EONS. A lot of it's history comes from that story as well. Secondly, your ideas of where I've placed the various landmasses is entirely wrong. The Pictish isles are in the same spot as the Rocky Mountains of North America. Robert Howard stated as much. Since there is nothing lying between the Pictish Isles and Atlantis, this gives rise to your third wrong assumption, since North America does not exist as a continent during the Thuirian Age. I would never have implied that Mu was Australia, since this is a pet peeve of mine. Mu is a fairly large continent in the South Seas (Its island remnant being within a weeks sailing distance from Tahiti) I see it's northern regions lying close to the equator. The Lemurian Archepelago is not Japan, but rather lies about the same latitude as Hawaii, although a bit west as well. Both Mu and the Lemurian Isles were inhabited by the Lemurian race, so the names Lemuria/Mu are somewhat interchangeable in the Howard stories. South American isn't mentioned at all during the Thurian Age. My essay that you cite implies that the Isles of the Sea could be positioned where the Andes Mountains of South America are now. THE ISLE OF THE EONS makes mention of voyages from Mu to the Pictish Isles, Atlantis, Valusia and the Isles of the Sea. No mention of either North or South America. Finally. we don't know the exact size or shape of the Lemurian Isles during the Thurian Age. They could easily stretch from the northern Pacific south across the Equator, so the shadowy continent referred to could just as easily be Mu (which we know exists in the Thurian Age) than to a non-existant North America and an unmentioned and possibly submerged South America.

    Dale Rippke

  5. Great breakdown, Dale. Thanks for clarifying! I'm still unsure about Lemuria not being roughly where Japan is, but as you say, the isles could feasibly stretch a continental width north to south. I'm quite honored that you would stop by here to clarify where my mistaken impressions of your geography lie. You are, as I said, one of the foremost Howard scholars out there.

  6. I have been reading small papers and publications regarding Lemuria or Mu, and I haven't found in what year or epoch it went underwater. Do you know?


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I'm not a mad bible thumper--Sophia, however, is my inspiration and always in my heart