Worms of the Earth
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|"Worms of the Earth"|
|Author||Robert E. Howard|
|Series||Bran Mak Morn|
|Genre(s)||Sword and sorcery|
|Published in||Weird Tales|
|Media type||Pulp magazine|
|Publication date||November 1932|
"Worms of the Earth" is a short story by American fantasy fiction writer Robert E. Howard. It was originally published in the magazine Weird Tales in November 1932, then again in 1975 in a collection of Howard's short stories, Worms of the Earth. The story features one of Howard's recurring protagonists, Bran Mak Morn, a fictional King of the Picts.
Bran Mak Morn, King of the Picts, vows revenge on the Roman governor Titus Sulla after witnessing the crucifixion of a fellow Pict. He seeks forbidden aid from the Worms of the Earth, a race of creatures who Bran Mak Morn's pictish ancestors had banished from the earth. They were once men but millennia of living underground caused them to become monstrous and semi-reptilian.
Searching for a contact with these people, Bran Mak Morn meets a witch who lives in a secluded hut, shunned by her neighbors, who was born of a sexual encounter between one of the "Worms" and a human women. The witch's price for helping him is "one night of love" which her human half craves - as men in general are repelled by her reptilian traits. Bran Mak Morn, though also himself repelled, agrees to pay this price. In exchange, she tells him of a barrow where "The Black Stone", a religious item of great importance to the "Worms" is hidden,
Stealing the Black Stone is a highly risky enterprise - if caught by the "Worms", Bran Mak Morn would die in torment "as no man had died for a thousand years". However, the barrow is unguarded and he manages to carry out the theft and hide the Stone at the bottom of a lake. To get it back, the "Worms" agree to deliver Sulla to him. This they proceed to do, undermining and destroying the strong Roman fortress known as "Trajan's Tower" and snatching the Roman governor into their underground tunnels. Mak Morn intended, once Sulla was delivered, to challenge him to a duel to the death. However, Sulla's mind is broken from his contact with the horrific Worms of the Earth and Bran Mak Morn slays him in mercy rather than vengeance, realizing that some weapons are too foul to use, even against Rome.
A two-part and thirty-seven page comic strip adaptation in black and white, adapted by Roy Thomas and penciled by Tim Conrad and Barry Windsor-Smith, was published by Marvel Comics' Curtis Magazines brand in December 1976 and February 1977, in issues #16 and #17 of The Savage Sword of Conan. A trade paperback version in full color was published by Cross Plains Comics/Wandering Star in October 2000.
Twice in Worms of the Earth Howard mentions the "black gods" of R'lyeh, a fictional city created by his friend and correspondent H. P. Lovecraft. Also mentioned is a water monster "Dagon", which is a historical Philistine god mentioned in a fictional context in several stories by Lovecraft. Howard had previously dealt with beings similar to the titular Worms of the Earth in an earlier short story, "The Children of the Night", set in Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos.
- Howard, Robert E. Worms of the Earth, Ace Books. 1987 edition, ISBN 0-441-91771-2
- Howard, Robert E. "Worms of the Earth", Bran Mak Morn: The Last King, Del Rey Books, June 2005
- Worms of the Earth title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Works of Robert E. Howard - Publication history for Worms of the Earth
- Robert E. Howard bibliography, Fantasticfiction.co.uk
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