This document is, as Howard put it himself, "a fictional background for a series of fiction-stories." Robert E. Howard is best known for writing the Conan stories, and he wrote this history of the Hyborian age "in order to lend him and his sagas a greater aspect of realness." Written in the 1930s, this may be one of the earliest documents that we can recognize as "worldbuilding" for its own sake. Concurrent to Howard's Hyborian age, Tolkien would have been writing his own fictional age for Arda and Middle-earth, having written early drafts of what would later become The Fall of Gondolin, Beren and Luthien, and Children of Hurin, as well as developing his Quenya language.
Howard develops his world with a vicious poet's mind; I always imagined his world as a sculpture left to rust. You see passages like:
In the western part of the Continent, changing conditions created strange forms of plant and animal life. Thick jungles covered the plains, great rivers cut their roads to the sea, wild mountains were heaved up, and lakes covered the ruins of old cities in fertile valleys. To the Continental kingdom of the Atlanteans, from sunken areas, swarmed myriads of beasts and savages--ape-men and apes. Forced to battle continually for their lives, they yet managed to retain vestiges of their former state of highly advanced barbarism. Robbed of metals and ores, they became workers in stone like their distant ancestors, and had attained a real artistic level, when their struggling culture came into contact with the powerful Pictish nation. The Picts had also reverted to flint, but had advanced more rapidly in the matter of population and war-science. They had none of the Atlanteans' artistic nature; they were a ruder, more practical, more prolific race. They left no pictures painted or carved on ivory, as did their enemies, but they left remarkably efficient flint weapons in plenty.
Another five centuries and the Hybori peoples are the possessors of a civilization so virile that contact with it virtually snatched out of the wallow of savagery such tribes as it touched. The most powerful kingdom is Aquilonia, but others vie with it in strength and mixed race; the nearest to the ancient root-stock are the Gundermen of Gunderland, a northern province of Aquilonia. But this mixing has not weakened the race. They are supreme in the western world, though the barbarians of the wastelands are growing in strength.
The document is worth reading in its full, if only just to follow the tumultuous history of the Picts and Aquilonans and Atlanteans and all the rest. Howard treats this as a fictional history of the past that describes our own world, as Tolkien attempted to do in his early drafts: a fake mythology, a truly mythopoeic work. In the Hyborian Age savagery and art are caught in the constant struggle for survival. It is a brilliant work and a great resources for aspiring worldbuilding.Imagination reconstructs the scene--the black-haired chief, in his tiger-skins and necklace of human teeth, squatting on the dirt floor of the wattle hut, listening intently to the eloquence of the priest, who probably sat on a carven, skin-covered block of mahogany provided in his honor--clad in the silken robes of a Nemedian priest, gesturing with his slender white hands as he expounded the eternal rights and justices which were the truths of Mitra. Doubtless he pointed with repugnance at the rows of skulls which adorned the walls of the hut and urged Gorm to forgive his enemies instead of putting their bleached remnants to such use. Arus was the highest product of an innately artistic race, refined by centuries of civilization; Gorm had behind him a heritage of a hundred thousand years of screaming savagery--the pad of the tiger was in his stealthy step, the grip of the gorilla in his black-nailed hands, the fire that burns in a leopard's eyes burned in his.
Any thoughts on this? Anybody read Howard's stories? He's most famous for Conan, but he wrote many other characters. Conan is probably his most well developed though.