Literature / Bran Mak Morn

Bran Mak Morn a series of pseudo-historical Heroic Fantasy short stories by Robert E. Howard. Named for the main character, who is a king of Howard's idealized Picts, a race which lived on the British isles at the time of the Roman invasion.

Some of Howard's notes date Bran to around 100 AD. Others say around 300 AD.

The Bran Mak Morn stories are a peripheral part of the Cthulhu Mythos. Notably, Worms of the Earth mentions R'lyeh, and a draft of that story mentions Cthulhu.

Some stories here.

See also: Robert E. Howard, Conan the Barbarian, Kull.

Tropes:

  • All of the Other Reindeer: Atla is hated and feared by humans because of her half-monster heritage.
    Atla: What of my blasted and bitter life, I, whom mortal men loathe and fear? I have not known the love of men, the clasp of a strong arm, the sting of human kisses, I, Atla, the were-woman of the moors! What have I known but the lone winds of the fens, the dreary fire of cold sunsets, the whispering of the marsh grasses? ... I am half-human, at least! Have I not known sorrow and yearning and crying wistfulness, and the drear ache of loneliness?
  • An Axe to Grind
  • Badass Boast: Bran Mak Morn utters one in "Worms of the Earth"
    Bran Mak Morn: I am a barbarian king with a wolfskin mantle and an iron crown, fighting with my handful of bows and broken pikes against the queen of the world. What have I? The heather hills, the wattle huts, the spears of my shock-headed tribesmen! And I fight Rome — with her armored legions, her broad fertile plains and rich seas — her mountains and her rivers and her gleaming cities — her wealth, her steel, her gold, her mastery and her wrath.
  • Beneath the Earth: In "The Lost Race", the Picts set up a new society underground after being driven from their land by waves of invaders.
  • Black Speech: The "worms" speak a sibilant language than Bran finds deeply unsettling. Atla acts as his translator, and when he hears her speak in the creatures' language, he feels immediate disgust.
  • Broken Bird: Atla, who is ostracized from human society because of her half-monster heritage. When Bran threatens her, she laughs in his face and explains that her life really isn't worth living.
    Atla: Strike and be damned, my northern wolf! Do you think that such life as mine is so sweet that I would cling to it as a babe to the breast?
  • Cosmic Horror Story
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: In "Worms of the Earth", the chthonic beings level the Roman garrison at Eboracum, smashing walls and slaughtering soldiers.
  • Dating Catwoman: Bran is rather repelled by Atla's reptile side, and she is in no way fond of him - and makes it very clear. Nevertheless, her price for helping him is "to have one night of love with a King". He is willing to pay that price, along with many other things he is willing to do in order to get his revenge on the Roman commander.
  • Deal with the Devil: Bran asks for help from the eponymous Worms of the Earth. Atla and Gonar both warn him that doing so will have dire results.
  • Dissonant Laughter: Atla laughs constantly, usually to unnerve Bran or mock his plight.
  • Divided We Fall: An overarching theme in "Kings of the Night".
  • Enraged by Idiocy: Bran Mak Morn is enraged by Wulfhere's refusal to fight the Romans without a king in "Kings of the Night".
  • Everyone Has Standards: In "Worms of the Earth", Bran Mak Morn is horrified by the carnage and madness wrought by the chthonic beings. He concludes that some weapons are too evil to use, even against the Romans.
  • Evil Is Not Well Lit: The subterranean abode of the chthonic beings in "Worms of the Earth" is dark.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: while historical Picts were a Celtic people related to other early settlers in the British Isles, Howard's Picts were envisioned as a sort of misplaced Native Americans.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Titus Sulla in Worms of the Earth. The chthonic beings kidnap Titus Sulla and drag him through their subterranean tunnels as part of their deal with Bran Mak Morn. The ordeal leaves Titus Sulla a drooling, maddened wretch.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Atla, the daughter of a human woman and a chthonic creature in "Worms of the Earth". Atla resembles a human, but has serpentine features and the ability to speak the native tongue of the "worms".
  • Human Sacrifice: A Druid shaman sacrifices a captured Roman soldier and pretends to use his remains for augury in "Kings of the Night".
  • Mad Oracle: Gonar appears to be this in "Kings of the Night". Subverted, in that it's only a facade he cultivates in order to instill awe in the common people.
  • Mercy Kill: In "Worms of the Earth", Bran is horrified when the chthonic beings drive Titus Sulla insane. Bran's lust for revenge evaporates, and he kills Sulla out of pity.
  • Mineral MacGuffin: The black stone cherished by the chthonic creatures in "Worms of the Earth". Bran steals the stone, then promises to return it if the creatures bring him Titus Sulla.
  • Noble Savage: The Picts are described as such, in contrast to the more technologically advanced Gauls, Norse, and Romans.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: In "Kings of the Night", a druid shaman admits that he only uses his rites to inspire awe in his people, and that he doesn't actually believe that his rites are efficacious.
    Gonar: ...I have learned that in order to keep the faith and trust of the people, a wise man must appear to be a fool. I know secrets that would blast even your brain, Bran, should I speak them. But in order that the people may believe in me, I must descend to such things as they think proper magic—and prance and yell and rattle snakeskins, and dabble about in human blood and chicken livers.
  • The Pig Pen: Atla. She's described as wearing ragged clothing, having unkempt hair, and living in a squalid wattle hut.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: After the Roman invaders usurp his authority and crucify a Pictish man, Bran swears revenge. He orders his most trusted vassal to amass an army against the Romans, then sets off to recruit evil beings to capture Titus Sulla, the Roman governor at Eboracum.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: The eponymous beings from Worms of the Earth are humans that have degenerated into reptile-like things. Atla, the child of a human woman and a reptilian "worm", is also unsettling in appearance and behavior.
  • Requisite Royal Regalia
  • Royal Blood: Bran Mak Morn is of a "pure" Pictish bloodline, one that has not been diluted with Celtic or Aryan blood.
  • Talking in Your Dreams: Gonar appears to Bran Mak Morn in a dream, warning him not to unleash the chthonic beings on the Romans. When Bran refuses to abandon his quest, Gonar can only cry out, "Woe! Woe! Woe!"
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Bran Mak Morn struggles to unite Pictish, Gaelish, and Norse factions against the Roman invaders in "Kings of the Night".


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