Under the Oak Tree – A Novel Review

Under the Oak Tree is one of Robert E. Howard’s most beloved stories. One of Howard’s more whimsical pieces, this tale tells us of a man who lives in the deep woods with his wife. While she and her husband are away from home on vacation, their cat, Fritter, gets loose and enters the woods. There he begins to wreak havoc, and the only person who can get to him is the man who wrote Under the Oak Tree, Robert E. Howard.

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Once inside the woods the cat appears to be acting as if he wants to eat the woman. But before any harm can come to them he must first cross the moat. Once through he is stuck. The only thing for him to do is to wait, which he does for three days. Then finally he realises that he has to get back to the real world, if he cannot go back to his own garden, which is under the Oak Tree. And so he does.

This is a wonderful story written in pencil on a composition paper that looks like a hardbound edition of a medieval manuscript. It is very well written, with few spelling mistakes. The illustrations add depth and dimension to the text, bringing it to life. The pen colours are soft and pleasant, and there are no errors in the layout. The illustrations add to the story, and really assist in making this a delightful collection to enjoy.

Robert E. Howard was a very accomplished writer, whose work in this genre is well deserving of being placed in the category of best American hardback fantasy. Under the Oak Tree is certainly a satisfying ending to an interesting tale. The characters are well drawn, and add a pinch of realism to the tale. I especially like the way in which the author weaves a large number of themes and events throughout the story. Each scene is an individual piece of the bigger picture.

In keeping with the nature of the story, some of which takes place in the “real” world, but others take place almost entirely in the virtual world. For instance, in the last third of the book, the main characters, Will and Jo, are caught in a real-life bank robbery. As they struggle to get out, Will comes across an armed robber. This gives him an opportunity to have a gun pointed directly at the robber, which he does.

We then have the most haunting image I have ever encountered, as Will finally kills the mugger by shooting him in the under the tree. This acts as the inciting incident for the rest of the book. There is another important difference between this book and many of Howard’s others. In the other books, there is a killer who gets away with the crime. However, in Under the Oak Tree, Will shoots the criminal in the under the tree, thereby sparing his own life.

Will and Jo must find the burglar themselves, and do so while avoiding the police, and other authorities who want to hunt them down. This becomes more complicated than it needs to be. In fact, the whole under the oak tree scenario is almost like a maze for Jo, requiring her to use every bit of knowledge she has, while Will uses the least known information available. The result is a roller coaster ride for the couple that keeps them on their toes until the end.

Under the Oak Tree is the first of a series featuring Will Graham. I enjoyed the character, and the storyline, while being on the safe side, waiting for the second novel in the series. I look forward to seeing where the series will go from here. This is one of the better books written by Mr. Graham, who turns out to be very imaginative and knowledgeable. This is easily one of the best books under the star that he has written.

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