“The Valley of the Lost” is a unique work in the oeuvre of Robert E. Howard, notable for its intriguing publication history and the confusion surrounding its title. The story was initially submitted to Strange Tales, a Clayton magazine, and accepted by the editor, Harry Bates. However, in a letter dated October 4, 1932, Bates informed Howard that the discontinuation of Strange Tales necessitated the return of Howard’s manuscript, “The Valley of the Lost,” even though it had already been edited. The typescript returned to Howard, complete with editorial markings, is the version used in the present editions.

Adding to the story’s complex history is the title confusion introduced by Glenn Lord, a noted Howard scholar. Lord mistakenly titled the story “King of the Forgotten People” as “The Valley of the Lost”, (see the “Valley of the Lost (1)“) believing it to be the story announced for the final, unpublished issue of Strange Tales. However, it was later discovered that this was a misidentification.

The story itself begins with a vivid scene: “As a wolf spies upon its hunters…”. This opening line sets the stage for a tale infused with Howard’s characteristic blend of adventure and mystery.

From the letters:

In a letter (#202) to Tevis Clyde Smith, ca. April 1932:

P.S. I sold another yarn to Strange Stories; don’t know how much I’ll get for it; the checks come in pretty slow these days; it wouldn’t surprize me if every damned magazine in the country went broke.

 This should be Strange Tales, the story is “The Valley of the Lost.”

He also mentions the story to H.P. Lovecraft in a letter (#203) written ca. April 1932:

I also placed another yarn with Strange Tales — “The Valley of the Lost” — a horror tale in an early Texan setting. I’m trying to invest my native regions with spectral atmosphere, etched against a realistic setting; “The Horror from the Mound” in the current Weird Tales was a feeble effort of the sort. And now I’m working on a mythical period of prehistory when what is now the state of Texas was a great plateau, stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the sea — before the country south of the Cap-rock broke down to form the sloping steppes which now constitute the region.

Circa October 1933, Howard wrote (letter #262) to Clark Ashton Smith:

Glad you made the Astounding Story market. I’ve sent them a yarn, but haven’t heard from it. Afraid they won’t take it, but I intend to keep trying.

Smith’s “The Demon in the Flower” was published in the magazine in December 1933. Howard received a letter from Associate Editor Desmond Hall of Astounding, dated November 16, 1933, returning “The Valley of the Lost” (originally accepted by Strange Tales but returned when the magazine folded), citing as the reason for the return:

Dear Mr. Howard:
Unfortunately for your story, enclosed, the policy of ASTOUNDING forbids us now to accept any stories of the weird type, although in the first few issues we did publish some. However, we find it difficult to obtain satisfactory pseudo-scientific shorts, and would very much like to see some from you. With us, originality of idea comes first, and a convincing scientific basis; otherwise, no restrictions on the stories – we don’t insist on the black and white pulp magazine plot.

I hope you will submit something in the near future. The market is wide open.

The story

The story takes place in Lost Valley, the site of a long-running feud between the Reynolds and McCrill families. John Reynolds is the last surviving member of his family. He flees into Lost Valley after the McCrills massacre the rest of the Reynolds clan.

John takes refuge in a cave where the body of a dead McCrill, Saul Fletcher, was placed. The body mysteriously vanishes and John discovers a hidden door leading to a tunnel. He follows the tunnel into a vast underground chamber inhabited by a race of snake-like humanoids.

Through visions, John learns the history of Lost Valley – it was once home to an advanced but evil race that was wiped out by ancient Indian tribes. The survivors took refuge in the caves beneath the valley and over time devolved into the snake creatures, who have occult powers and practice necromancy.

The McCrills return to the valley searching for John. Four of them enter the cave and confront the horror within. John manages to escape from the snake creatures with a sacred idol. Haunted by what he witnessed underground, John makes a decisive final choice.

The characters

  • John Reynolds: The main character, last of the fighting Reynoldses, seeking revenge.
  • Jonas McCrill: The leader of the McCrill clan, Reynolds’ enemy.
  • Saul Fletcher: A member of the McCrill clan, whose death is central to the story.
  • Bill Ord and Peter Ord: Brothers and members of the McCrill clan.
  • Jack Solomon: An outlaw allied with the McCrills.
  • Old Esau Reynolds: The patriarch of the Reynolds clan, mentioned in the backstory.
  • The Old People: Ancient, snake-like beings living beneath the valley, central to the supernatural elements of the story

Alternate title:

SECRET OF LOST VALLEY. The story begins with “As a wolf spies…”. 

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