The Phoenix on the Sword "By This Axe, I Rule" by Robert E. Howard is the last of Howard's Kull stories, set in his fictional Thurian Age. It was first published in the Lancer Books paperback King Kull in 1967.
Kull the Destroyer: From the Creator of Conan: By This Axe I Rule!: Beginning a Pulse-pounding New Chapter in the Startling Saga of the Man Called Kull, and Wait 'Till You See the Shock Ending to This Story of Stories! (Vol. 1, No. 11, November 1973) [Color] [Comic]Edit
Stan Lee (Author), Roy Thomas (Author), Robert E. Howard (Author), Marvel Comics Group (Editor), Comics Code Authority (Editor), Michael Ploog (Illustrator), L. Lessman (Illustrator), Artie Simek (Illustrator) This story was rejected by the pulp magazines Argosy and Adventure in 1929, after which Howard rewrote it, substituting a new secondary plot, into the first Conan the Barbarian story, The Phoenix on the Sword which was published in December 1932.Phoenix is the story,that began the Conan Saga and ended King Kull,until the Marvel Comics.
"By This Axe I Rule!" is a more famous tale because it was eventually published, reworked, as "The Phoenix on the Sword", the first Conan story. But, whereas the Conan story features a demon/baboon, a magic sword, an ancient wizard and a magic ring, this tale has very little to offer except Robert E. Howard's usual stunning prose.
Here, two plots are interwoven. Firstly, we have a group of traitors plotting to assassinate King Kull. Secondly, we have Kull chafing under the restrictions imposed on his power by ancient law and tradition. This second is the more central plot, in which a nobleman comes to Kull wishing to wed a slavegirl -- something forbidden by Valusian law. Kull would allow the wedding but his hands are tied. In the end, the two plots merge when, still fired up after slaughtering the assassins (with his famous axe), Kull literally breaks with tradition, shattering the ancient law tablet (a scene used in the movie Kull the Conqueror) and declaring that he will henceforth make his own laws -- and anyone who wants to object can take it up with his axe.
As with so many of these stories, when the action occurs, things move along spritely, but, in between, Kull endlessly meditates on his own impotence (politically speaking), bogging the whole thing down and weakening what might otherwise have been a tighter story. It isn't that I object to the brooding, but far too many parts read like a philosophy 101 textbook.
The Conan version dispensed with the second plot, and concentrated on the assassination attempt. It is this added element in the Kull tale which, to David Drake, makes it "one of Howard's most powerful stories". For myself, though, I think this added element creates its own problem. If we are to take the story as just fun adventure, then it only mildly succeeds on that level because there is too much introspection. If, on the other hand, we are to take it more seriously, then what is the message being conveyed? That a people's laws should be decided by the whim of a despot? That might makes right? Obviously, this notion exists in all Howard's stories, but, so long as those stories are fast-paced, pulpy adventures, we can accept a little despotism. But don't ask me to take it seriously, because none of us wants to go there.
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