“KING HOOTUS — A Tale of Bygone Years and Mighty Doings” is a satirical sketch involving a colorful group of characters, including historical and public figures, in a setting that seems to be an artists’ club.
Ambeer Bierce, the central character, is described walking precariously on a high ledge with a book of fairy tales and a rattlesnake. Another character, Jack Lunding, is at the building’s foot, providing wind with a bellows until Upandown Sinclarified interrupts him with a speech, rendering the bellows unnecessary. The eccentric behaviors and humorous exchanges continue with appearances by Teddy Roosevelt, the Prince of Wales, and John L. Sullivan, who are placed in absurd situations.
Roosevelt repetitively emphasizes his achievements and the need for large American families. Ambeer, meanwhile, detaches himself from this spectacle, kicking loose an oil painting of Nero and declaring himself intellectually superior to figures like George Stein Stathan and Aich Hell Stinckin.
The Prince of Wales’ horse-riding mishap incites laughter and a torrent of jokes, but Ambeer remains aloof. In a dream, he likens himself to a “roaming king,” and in an act of rebellion, refuses to pay his room rent.
The text then involves historical references and interactions with well-known figures like Ben Hecht, Mark Twain, and George Shaw. Twain’s struggle with a line in his unpublished masterpiece, and Hecht’s strange, minimalist story all play a part in the narrative.
In a surprising twist, Ambeer is shown as a war correspondent accused of inciting a war in South America. However, it turns out he didn’t start the war for his job but to be reassigned to social news reporting in America.
The story concludes with a foot race between Ambeer and Sullivan, which Ambeer wins. George Shaw declares everyone but himself a fool, and Joe Lannon proclaims, “Three cheers for the Great American public! Long live the king!” This phrase is said to explain the title of the piece.
Overall, the sketch is a surreal, satirical journey through a series of absurdist scenarios with a diverse cast of characters, reflecting on historical, social, and cultural tropes.
The satiric sketch is found in a letter (#059) written to Tevis Clyde Smith, probably in late 1927, or early 1928.
- THE COLLECTED LETTERS OF REH VOL. 1: 1923-1929, Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, June 2007
- SENTIMENT: AN OLIO OF RARER WORKS, REH Foundation Press, December 2009
- THE COLLECTED LETTERS OF ROBERT E. HOWARD, VOLUME 1: 1923-1929 (2nd Edition), (letter #59) REH Foundation Press, January 2022