Bran Mak Morn
Bran Mak Morn is a hero of several pulp fiction short stories by
Robert E. Howard. In the stories, most of which were first published in " Weird Tales", Bran is the last king of Howard's romanticized version of the tribal race of Picts.
Howard's history of the Picts
At 13, Howard, being of Scottish descent, began his studies of Scottish history and became fascinated with what he calls "the small dark Mediterranean aborigines of Britain." ["Foreword" in Bran Mak Morn, Robert E. Howard, Dell Publishing Company, 1969, p. 8-9.] As these Picts were portrayed as inferior to later tribes, Howard imagined them as a link between modern and ancient times.
His Picts originated on a group of islands near what was once
Valusia, the kingdom of the Atlantean Kull. When Atlantis, Lemuria, and Valusia sank into the sea, the Picts survived and were flung into a period of cultural decline. They forgot the art of metal-working and returned to the technique of flintknapping.
They migrated to the North until they reached Caledon, the northern lands of the later British Isles. They drove the extant tribes northward until the Aryans,
Celts, and Germansinvaded. ["Kings of the Night" in Bran Mak Morn, p. 65-6.]
The Picts were pushed to the North, where they mingled with the tribes they had defeated earlier. Forgetting most of their technological skills, they became brutish and skilled in warcraft. ["Men of the Shadows" in Bran Mak Morn, p. 51.]
Although Bran Mak Morn has dark eyes, he does not resemble the Caledonian Picts as Howard depicts them. He refers to himself as a Mediterranean, possibly meaning that he associates himself with the more ancient Picts. [Ibid, p. 39.]
Picts in fantasy
Many writers have been drawn to the idea of the Picts and created fictional stories and mythology about them in the absence of much real data. This romanticised view tends to portray them as occasionally
noble savages, much as the view of Europeans on Native Americans in the 18th century.
They are an especial favorite race of
Robert E. Howardand are mentioned frequently in his tales, having a continuity from the tales of King Kull of Atlantis, where they are his allies to the Hyborian Ageof Conan the Barbarianwhere they are the mortal enemies of the Cimmerians, who are actually descended from the old Atlanteans though they do not remember their ancestry or old alliance. Howard also wrote tales about the last King of the Picts Bran Mak Mornset in real historical time and they figure commonly as enemies of Cormac mac Art.
Howard's Picts are said to have originated in the westernmost reaches of North America, and gradually migrated into the Mediterranean area. At one time they spread to large areas of the world, but gradually vanished except for several splinter groups. Although some of these groups lived in remote jungles and southern continents, the most prominent body of Picts settled in the British isles, where they displaced a supposedly mongoloid race that had been the initial residents of the isles (though their origins were elsewhere).
An interesting point is that, in the Hyborian age, when they populate the Western edge of Europe and share a border with
Aquilonia, which tries to push them further west to colonize new provinces, the Picts show clear native American influence, in their appearance, dress, armament, manner of conducting wars... and even the place names of the new Aquilonian provinces... It is hard to tell whether this is a case of inconsistency on the part of Howard, or a throwback to their earliest origins and savagery, as Hyborian Picts are definitely more primitive and Savage than those Kull knew.
This previous race sought refuge underground, and over long millennia they evolved into stunted and hideous creatures, who were the initial subjects of tales concerning
elvesand dwarves. The Picts were in turn displaced by the invading Celts, and they fled northward and interbred with a tribe of 'red haired barbarians,' resulting in a genetic shift toward diminished height. Following subsequent Roman, Breton, and Saxon invasions, the Picts too sought refuge underground, just like the natives they had displaced before.
Howard's descriptions of the later Picts portray them as very small in height, squat and muscular, adept at silent movement, and most of all brutish and uncivilised. They painted themselves with
woad, much like the historical Picts, and lived in very large caverns, some natural and some artificially expanded. They had a custom of burning enemy prisoners alive, a ceremony usually presided over by their 'wizards' or priests, whom Howard portrayed as having a twisted philosophy and mindset produced by many years of hatred, in direct opposition to the Pictish warrior-king Bran Mak Morn, who attempted to restore the Picts to their honourable place in the world and drive out the Roman invaders.
Bran Mak Morn's mindset was very unusual for his time and location, because he favored an alliance of the 'native' British populations, including the Picts, Bretons, and Celts, against the Romans, in a setting when each of these tribes fostered an intense hatred and mistrust for all the others. Robert E. Howard also mentions that some warriors among the Picts could assume the forms of
wolves, in the manner of werewolves, on their own free will. These Picts were a 'race' with whom Howard felt the most affinity, and for this reason they were one of his favourite subjects, despite being almost wholly fictitious and deviating from historical fact.
social Darwinismand pro-Aryan overtones of Howard's other works are also apparent in the Bran Mak Morn stories. He refers to the Picts as "primeval savages" and "untamable." [Ibid, p. 45.] Bran Mak Morn is depicted as the leader of a dying and degenerate people, and he is deeply aware of their inevitable path to extinction--though like all Howard characters, he chooses to fight against this rather than succumb. His main enemies are the Romans, and he makes an unholy alliance to defeat them in " Worms of the Earth".
The name is derived from the name of Brennus, the Gaul who sacked Rome, and comes from a Britonnic word meaning "raven". Howard says the Mak Morn was inspired by the Irish hero
Goll mac Morna. He added a k to give the name a non-Gaelic appearance. ["Foreword", p. 9.]
Twice in "Worms of the Earth" mention is made of the black gods of
R'lyeh, resting place of Cthulhu, creation of H. P. Lovecraft, a friend and correspondent of Howard. In the earliest extant copy of "Worms of the Earth" mention of Cthulhu himself is made by name although this was later changed to "Nameless Gods" in thefinal edition. Also mentioned in the same story is the water monster Dagon, a real-world Philistinegod mentioned in a fictional context in some stories by Lovecraft. Lovecraft himself references Bran Mak Morn in his short story " The Whisperer in Darkness".
Bran Mac Mufin, a character in
Dave Sim's graphic novel" Cerebus", is an homage and parody of Bran Mak Morn. His name is a play on words, referring to the grain branand the breakfast sandwich McMuffin.
The Robert E. Howard stories
Most of Howard's Bran Mak Morn stories were first published in "Weird Tales". A few stories didn't appear in print until after Howard's death.
Note: The order of publication does not correspond with the order in which the stories were written.
* "Kings of the Night" (first publication: Weird Tales, November 1930). The first story to feature Bran as a king and describes him as a direct descendant of another Howard character, Brule the Spear-Slayer, companion of the Atlantean King Kull.
* "The Dark Man" (Weird Tales, December 1931). Set centuries after Bran's death he appears as an idol worshipped by the surviving Picts in which his soul is said to be resident.
Worms of the Earth" (Weird Tales, November 1932). The last Bran story and the only story told through the Pict's point of view.
* "Men of the Shadows" (Bran Mak Morn, Dell, 1969). Originally a poem placed at the beginning of the Bran Mak Morn story (1926) of the same name. The poem was first published in 1957 in Always Comes Evening, a collection of Howard poems. The poem and the story, which features Bran as a chief and not a king, were first published together in the Dell novel. This was Howard's first Bran Mak Morn story.
* "Bran Mak Morn" (Bran Mak Morn: A Play & Others, Cryptic Publications, 1983). Also known as "Bran Mak Morn: A Play." Written in 1922/3.
The Children of the Night". In this tale Bran does not appear directly but rather the story elaborates on his cult, which first appears in "The Dark Man." Events in the narrative correspond with the timeline and events noted in "Worms of the Earth."
* A Song of the Race (Bran Mak Morn, Dell, 1969).
* Untitled, "A grey sky arched over the dreary waste. ..."
* Untitled, "Men have had visions ere now. ..." The fragment is believed to be the beginning of a Bran Mak Morn story.
Howard's stories, poems, and fragments featuring Bran Mak Morn have been published several times as a collection in book form. Not every publication has been a complete collection.
* "Bran Mak Morn", Dell, 1969.
* "Worms of the Earth", Donald M. Grant, 1974. Illustrated by David Ireland.
* "Worms of the Earth", Zebra Books, July 1975.
* "Worms of the Earth", Orbit, 1976.
* "Worms of the Earth", Ace, June 1979.
* "Bran Mak Morn", Baen, January 1996.
* "Bran Mak Morn: The Last King", Wandering Star, 2001.
* "Bran Mak Morn: The Last King", Del Rey, June 2005.
Other writers have published novels featuring Howard's Bran Mak Morn.
Legion from the Shadows", Karl Edward Wagner, Zebra Books, 1976.
For the Witch of the Mists", David C. Smith and Richard Tierney, Ace Books, March 1981.
Bran Mak Morn has appeared in several issues of
Marvel Comics' Savage Sword of Conan. In 1974 "Men of Shadows" was adapted by writer Roy Thomasand appeared in SSoC #102-104, and 106.
Peter Bergwill direct the movie Bran Mak Morn for Universal Pictures. Chris Romano is writing the script. The movie is slated for 2010 release.
Copyright and Trademark
The name Bran Mak Morn and the names of Robert E. Howard's other principal characters are trademarked by
Paradox Entertainmentof Stockholm, Sweden, through its US subsidiary Paradox Entertainment Inc. Paradox also holds copyrights on the stories written by other authors under license from Robert E Howard Properties Inc. Since Robert E. Howard published his Bran Mak Morn stories at a time when the date of publication was the marker, the owners had to use the copyright symbol, and they had to renew after a certain time to maintain copyright, the exact status of all of Howard's Bran Mak Morn works are in question. [ [http://www.copyright.cornell.edu/training/Hirtle_Public_Domain.htm Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States at Cornell University] ]
The Australian site of
Project Gutenberghas many Robert E. Howard stories, including several Bran Mak Morn stories [ [http://gutenberg.net.au/plusfifty-a-m.html#letterH A - M, Project Gutenberg Australia free ebooks ebook etext etexts ] ] . This indicates that, in their opinion, the stories are free from copyright and may be used by anyone, at least under Australian law.
Subsequent stories written by other authors are subject to the copyright laws of the relevant time.
Picts in Fantasy
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