John Jakes is a bestselling author of historical fiction, science fiction, children’s books, and nonfiction. Best known for his civil war saga, North and South Trilogy, Jakes also wrote the popular Sword & Sorcery saga Brak the Barbarian. A free Brak the Barbarian short story is available for download and a short video about Brak is available on YouTube and embedded below.
Back in the day – the mid to late 1960s – I was writing Brak the Barbarian serials and short stories while I still had a day job in advertising. This took me to New York every month or so, where I had commercials to produce or supervisors to see at DFS, a genuine Madison Avenue agency – at the time the seventh largest in the world.
On these trips I would usually manage a lunch with the late Lin Carter; he too was in advertising. He smoked as much or more than I did then. As I recall, he and his second wife had no children, hence he could spend a lot of time on a costume for this or that annual sf and fantasy convention. One year I remember seeing him flamboyantly garbed as Ming the Merciless, from the old Flash Gordon Saturday afternoon chapter plays at the movies.
It had occurred to me – when and how I don’t recall – that a final Brak story should be written about the end of the big barbarian’s journey. There was no imminent threat to my life but I nevertheless felt compelled to type a one-page summary of my idea for that last story. I sealed it in a plain white #10 envelope and handed it to Lin. He promised to keep it until such time as I might call for it.
After Lin died the envelope disappeared, so I wrote essentially the same summary a second time, sealed it up in anther white #10 envelope, and put it into our safe at home. I brought it with me when we moved to Florida and I presume it’s still there.
A few months ago a British agent or editor asked whether I had an idea for the last Brak story, and could an experienced client secure permission to write it? I thought about it a good while but ultimately said no; if such a story was to be written, the author should be yours truly.
So there it stands, as I grow longer and longer in the tooth, and feel the assorted ills aging flesh is heir to.
To digress a moment, I’m overjoyed that Open Road Media has opted to bring the Brak canon back to life. For years I imagined tooling around in my convertible with a bumper sticker that never got printed. BRING BAK BRAK it said. Now I have a newer one. BRAK IS BAK. Hurrah.
And why not? Despite the enormous and largely unexpected success I’ve enjoyed from my historical novels, commencing in 1974 with publication of the first volume of The Kent Family Chronicles, The Bastard, people still say they remember Brak and his adventures fondly, and wish there were more.
I am not completely surprised, since I long ago admitted in print that I created Brak because there were simply no more Conan stories from Robert E. Howard, whose work I admired. Among a few souvenirs of my pulp days is a treasured copy of Skull Face And Others, minus the Hannes Bok dust jacket, from Arkam House.
This was not a new reaction on my part. In my adolescent years I wrote – on notebook paper – further adventures of Batman and Superman because I enjoyed them but there weren’t enough of them in comic books to satisfy me.
Somehow the other sword & sorcery strong men – Lin Carter’s, Michael Moorcock’s et al. – while deserving of praise in their own right, didn’t do it for me. I needed more Howard.
I invented Brak.
That’s pretty much what happened except for one important detail. The last story was always meant to answer the question, “Does Brak ever reach Khurdisan?”
As I have said elsewhere in print, the complete, perfectly truthful answer is –
“Yes and no.”