Robert Howard's "The Thing on the Roof"

... is a terrible story. Now, I love Robert Howard's Conan the Barbarian stuff (ever think you'd hear an MFA say that?) so I can say this without any snottiness.

Here's a plot summary of "The Thing on the Roof."

  1. The main character (not the POV character), Scholar Tussmann, wants a very rare book. The POV character (PC, who may not even have a name) agrees to get it for him.
  2. After an exhausting letter-writing campaign, PC gets the book.
  3. PC hands the book to Tussmann. Reading it, Tussmann learns that, during his previous travels in Honduras, he'd found a temple that contains a great treasure but he didn't have time to plunder it. D'oh!
  4. Tussmann returns to Honduras (offstage, mind you).
  5. Tussmann returns to jolly olde England. At T's request, PC visits and brings the book. T reads the book again, sees information he didn't notice before -- a warning not to disturb the temple. Double d'oh!
  6. That night, the monster that followed T to England breaks in and stomps on him. PC finds his remains. The End.

So, what's wrong with this picture?

  1. The POV character has only the most tangential involvement in the story. It's like The Great Gatsby told from the point of view of the concierge of the hotel the party visits on that fatal day when Daisy runs over the blonde.
  2. The interesting things -- Tussman's trip to Honduras, raiding the temple, the fatal encounter with the monster -- all happen offstage. There's almost nothing to hang onto in the story.
  3. It's a very writerly, sophomore-creative-writing type of story. I had this friend who did something really weird/crazy/Honduran and it caught up with him.

I replotted the story to write a new, revised version of my very own. The new tale bears only passing resemblance to the original -- but this is good, so no heirs or estate can sue me.

Next installment: an outline of my new, improved plot!


Mr Snodgrass said...

My POV is itchy.
and often misguided
longing for Honduran treaures