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Literature / Bran Mak Morn

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Bran Mak Morn is a series of pseudo-historical Heroic Fantasy short stories by Robert E. Howard. One of Howard's lesser known series, it is made up of a collection of both short stories and poems, few of which were ever published in Howard's lifetime. 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 ADnote 

The Bran Mak Morn stories are a peripheral part of the Cthulhu Mythos. Notably, Worms of the Earth mentions R'lyeh (and features monstrous beings who drive a human to gibbering madness); an early draft of that story also mentioned Cthulhu.

Some stories here.

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


  • 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?
  • Artistic License History: Howard describes the Picts as using stone age technology. In real life, the Picts were of the same technological level as other Celtic groups.
  • 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.
    • The abode of the titular "Worms of the Earth".
  • 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 to kill 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: "Worms of the Earth" most illustrates this.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: In "Worms of the Earth", the chthonic beings level the Roman garrison at Eboracum, smashing walls and slaughtering soldiers. And the one (briefly) surviving soldier that Bran Mak Morn meets seems almost relieved that he's dying.
  • Dating Catwoman: Bran is repelled by Atla's reptile side, and she is in no way fond of him — and she makes that very clear. Nevertheless, her price for helping him is "to have one night of love with a King" — something that the normal women she envies will never have. He is willing to pay that price, as Atla is his only way of contacting the Worms who can fulfill 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".
  • Enemy Mine: Two (rather subtle) times in "Worms of the Earth", from Bran Mak Morn. When he listens to the dying Roman soldier's story of how their fortress had been destroyed, it's said "in that moment the dying Roman seemed to him almost like a brother". Later, when he decapitates the maddened Sulla, he says "Vale Caesar!" Both instances are in spite of Bran's hatred of Romans and his conviction they must be removed from the British land, lest they drive the Picts to extinction.
  • Enraged by Idiocy: Bran Mak Morn is enraged by Wulfhere's refusal to fight the Romans without a king in "Kings of the Night". Even more enraged that the other vikings support Wulfhere's decision and are willing to fight for the Romans instead of the Pict that spared them.
  • 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. Though the Worms do not physically harm him, the things Titus witnessed during the ordeal leave him 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".
  • He Who Fights Monsters: When the titular Worms of the Earth bring Titus Sulla to Bran in exchange for their stolen artifact, Bran calls them monstrous because Sulla has been driven to utter madness by them. Atla quickly mocks Bran's self righteousness, as he was the one who sought their aid after being warned by both friend and foe alike.
  • 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. Also, in "Worms of the Earth", Gonar speaks plainly and tries to persuade Bran Mak Morn not to do something insane.
  • 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.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: In "Worms of the Earth", Bran Mak Morn is horrified by the carnage and madness wrought by the chthonic beings. He concludes (as he was earlier warned by Gonar) that some weapons are too evil to use, even against the Romans.
  • Noble Savage: The Picts are described as such, in contrast to the more technologically advanced Gauls, Norse, and Romans.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • In "Worms of the Earth", despite that Bran Mak Morn knows Atla is a Half-Human Hybrid and finds her abhorrent, he makes the Worms promise not to harm her for helping him steal the Black Stone.
    • Also, despite his utterly vengeful feelings towards Titus Sulla, Bran doesn't instruct the Worms to kill him, but to take him alive so that Bran can kill him in a fair duel. And even when that intention is ruined by Sulla going near-catatonic from his contact with the Worms, Bran nonetheless utters a respectful "Vale Caesar" before executing him.
  • 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. Defied in the end, when he sees the carnage the Worms have wrought, and concludes there are indeed weapons too terrible to use even against Rome. As a capper, Sulla ends up as such a pitiable wretch that Bran executes him as a Mercy Kill rather than out of vengeance.
  • 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: Titus (and the Romans in general) are described in this way.
  • Royal Blood: Bran Mak Morn is of a "pure" Pictish bloodline, one that has not been diluted with Celtic or Aryan blood. He is the descendant of Brule the spear-slayer.
  • 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!"
  • Was Once a Man: The Worms are stated to have once been a rival tribe of the Picts before the latter drove them underground, where they degenerated into the horrors they are today. Downplayed, however, in that the Worms' ancestors are also described as having been subhuman even before they were driven Beneath the Earth.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Bran Mak Morn struggles to unite Pictish, Gaelish, and Norse factions against the Roman invaders in "Kings of the Night".