The Leopard of Poitain (1985) by Raul Garcia-Capella

“Just—Irem. Ah, I see by your expression you too know of my namesake, that legendary place—”

You have heard of the city called ‘Irem’?”

“I’ve read esoterica about the City of Magicians. ‘Tis said to be but fancy, master. But a poet never forswears such dreams.”
—Raul Garcia-Capella, “Caravan to Kuthchemes” in The Leopard of Poitain 57

The fictional worlds of Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft are intertwined, one Mythos shading into another. In his long and varied career Conan faced Lovecraftian horrors such as the tentacled monster Thog in the lost city of Xuthal, and dealt with wizards birthed on Dagoth Hill which might have been cousins to Wilbur Whateley. Lovecraft himself put small references to Valusia, Bran Mak Morn, and the Serpent Men into his fiction…so it is not too much of a gloss to say that the Howardian heroes existed in the same world as nameless Lovecraftian protagonists.

Fans took note of this, and the Lovecraftian element has never quite left Howardian fiction even to this day.

I was born in Puerto RIco and brought up in San Juan in P.R., and in Miami. My paternal grandmother, a schoolteacher, taught me my first couple of grammar school years. Mom and Dad were readers; Dad was also a movie fna. As a kid, I’d read fairy tales to my younger cousins, while Dad introduced me to the serials, some of which were the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon and the Nyoka serials, not to mention a number of Tarzan movies, Westerns, etc. Here’d by books for Christmas, and by the time I was eight had read Tarzan of the Apes and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in Spanish.
—”An Interview with Raul Garcia-Capella” by James Van Hise
in Sword & Fantasy #6, 44

Raul Garcia-Capella is better known as an illustrator for science fiction and fantasy books and magazines, with dozens of covers and interior art to his credit, sometimes under the name Ray Capella or R. Garcia Capella. Born in 1933, his family arrived in Brooklyn in the 1940s, just in time for the last decade-and-a-half of the pulp magazine craze.

DID YOU READ WEIRD TALES AT THE TIME?

No. Weird Tales didn’t attract me, I knew it was horror and my interest was more for science fiction/adventure. Through collecting and coming across Lovecraft’s work in the Boys High Library I realized HPL and Howard had written for Weird Tales.

I’d buy writers that had appeared in WT but I didn’t get the magazine itself, as when I did, I never could get through an entire issue. Later, I discovered Clark Ashton Smith and began appreciating the quality of material published by it. but I never got into collecting it. (ibid., 47)

This was during the period Dorothy McIlwraith was editor at Weird Tales, where she dropped science fiction and adventure stories. It wasn’t until about 1960 that Garcia-Capella became involved with Howard fandom, in the pages of the prominent fanzine Amra, and it was there that he began to write:

I wrote the brief autobiogrpahy of an Argossean; a fanciful bunch of ideas featuring a character who lived in the Hyborean Age. I thought it’s be presumptious to mess with Conan, who could only be done by Howard. So my creation tried to add more color to Conan’s world without altering it. In a word, it was a tribute. But [George H.] Scrithers wouldn’t let me off the hook because I’d outlined stories and titles. He kept nudging me by mail whenever I contirbuted illos or articles. Although hesitant to do it, when I finally started, the tales wrote themselves. It was great fun. I was reading Howard and Brackett and all the people that influenced me. But it was just—boom; they came out. (ibid., 51)

“The Leopard of Poitain” was published in the April 1960 issue of Amra, the outline inspired by “A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career” (P. Schuyler Miller & John D. Clark, 1938). This was followed up over a period of years with other adventures of Arquel of Argos. They were fun; Raul Garcia-Capella was a competent fantasist, and he knew what he wanted to write—action-driven sword & sorcery inspired by Robert E. Howard, Leigh Brackett, A. Merritt, and Fritz Leiber. Arquel himself, the eponymous “Leopard of Poitain,” is no Conan-clone or pastiche. An adventurer, certainly, but like Leiber’s Gray Mouser more interested in the thaumaturgical and wizardly side of things than the Cimmerian.

Working in another man’s story-world is a tricky business. […] Capella wisely—very wisely—uses Howard’s world without using Howard’s principal characters in on-stage rôles. Arquel is neither Conan nor an iitation of him; Capella is no Howard—he’s fr saner, far easier to know and like. n doing so, Capella has illuminated corners of the Hyborean world that Howard overlooked: what was going on behind the scenes; why the enemies were foiled in their attempt to launch a sneak attack or to bring into being a evil, magical past best left buried; and how magic and magicians can work for good as well as for evil.
—George H. Scithers, “Introduction” to The Leopard of Poitain ii

The book-length collection The Leopard of Poitain (1985) is a bit of a hybrid. The first half (“Book I”) is a stitch-up novel that collects all of the Arquel adventures published in the pages of Amra and Fantasy Book up to that point, and pieces them together with brief episodes “Witch’s Pebbles” that forecast the new and longer novella (“The Winds of Acheron”) which makes up the second half (“Book II”), and takes place in and around the events of the final Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon (1936). As he put it:

Jim Kelly, a fantasy fan who wanted to get into publishing, wrote asking why no one had put all the Arquel stories into one volume. The edtiors forward the letter to me. While exchanging letters, I let Jim know the project would need the final novella; it hadn’t been written. He agreed to wait and sent an advance check when the book was ready. The rest you know. Morgan Holmes proposed using the novella—”The Winds of Acheron”—and I did some polishing on it for that edition.
—”An Interview with Raul Garcia-Capella” by James Van Hise, 53

Explicit Lovecraftian references in Garcia-Capella’s Arquel stories are few—a reference to Irem here, a Serpent Man there—and he made no attempt to create new entities and tomes as was common in Mythos pastiches of the period. One of the most Lovecraftian is “Turutal” (1965), which involves a lost dwarf race known as the Ituru awakened from a curse to reclaim their miniature citadel; shades of Robert E. Howard’s “Little People” stories and Conan tales such as “The Devil in Iron” and “Shadows in the Moonlight,” although it has no direct connections to either.

As a result, The Leopard of Poitain is often overlooked and forgotten compared to the Howardian pastiche novels published by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Björn Nyberg, Poul Anderson, Karl Edward Wagner, Andrew J. Offutt, and Robert Jordan of the period. Yet it is no more or less of a piece than any other work expanding the world that Howard created, and by extension is a serviceable a sword & sorcery offshoot of the Mythos as any other—and more conscientious of the source material and style than most pasticheurs. As he put it:

[Robert E. Howard’s] style balances mood and action almost seamlessly. Whether he’s doing horror or adventure, he has a flair for making scenes segue almost so well that you’re carried headlong. You can’t stop, go back, catch a gltch in the plot or—in the case of the “spicy” stories, for instance—an unevenness about the relationship between the characters. But you don’t care. In other words—his pacing is some of the best there is, in the pulp era or now.

In Moorcock’s aricles on fantasy, he traced the influences of gothic horror and the manner in which a description set story mood or was made to reflect the feelings of the characters involved. Lovcraft overdid it. C. L. Moore did this more lengthily than Brackett; Howard learned how to do it with a few words. In “The devil in Iron,” the fisherman loosens the knife in its scabbard at the beginning of the opening paragraph—which ends with a sentence that sets the mood. Conflict comes first; mood closely folows and is interspersed throught the fisherman’s exploration to his climactic demise. (ibid., 55)

Raul Garcia-Capella continued to write and illustrate, including other “Hyborian Age” tales such as “The Lair” (2006). He died in 2010.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

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