Sunday, February 17, 2019

Conan and Jirel: Robert E. Howard and C. L. Moore Part One by Bobby Derie

The peak was reached in 1933, when he handed me something by one C. L. Moore. 
“Read this!” he commanded, the moment I stepped into the new editorial rooms at 840 North Michigan Avenue, in Chicago. 
I obeyed. The story commanded my attention. There was no escape. I forgot that I needed food and drink—I’d driven a long way. [...] The stranger’s narrative prevailed until, finally, I drew a deep breath, exhaled, flipped the last sheet to the back of the pack, and looked again at the by-line. Never heard of it before. 
“For Christ’s sweet sake, who and what is this C. L. Moore?” 
He wagged his head, gave me an I-told-you-so-grimace. 
We declared C. L. Moore day. I’d met Northwest Smith, and Shambleau. (BOD 16, cf.261)
C.L. Moore
Catherine Lucille Moore (1911-1937) was an employee at the Fletcher Trust Company in her native Indianapolis, Indiana, and engaged to be married. Shortly after entering first grade, illness forced her to return home, and she did not re-enter school until the fifth grade. (Shroyer 162) Taught at home, Moore absorbed the Oz books of L. Frank Baum, Alice in Wonderland, and the Mars and Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. (Ross 326, Elliot 46, Roark 27) As she later put it:
I was reared on a diet of Greek mythology, Oz books and Edgar Rice Burroughs, so you can see I never had a chance. (EV2 36)
Along with reading, the young woman also began to write:
What happened was that I had a cousin with whom I was very close, and we used to make up romantic tales of mythical kingdoms. We would take long, long walks in the neighborhood under the trees—it was a lovely time in the world to be alive—and we each worked out our own fantasy kingdom with dashing young heroes and lots of swashbuckling adventure. Then we began separately to write it out. It was not anything that either of us considered offering for publication; it never occurred to us. (Ross 326) 
Ever since we were about nine a friend and I have been evolving a romantic island kingdom and populating it with a race which, inevitably, is a remnant of Atlanteans. We've a very detailed theology and mythology, maps all water-colored and scroll-bordered and everything, a ruling house whose geneology and family tree and so forth has been worked out in tables and charts from the year minus—oh, just about everything that two imaginative girls could think of over the space of fifteen years. [...] We have songs and long sagas of heroes, and a literature full of tradition and legends, and we even made and colored a series of paper dolls to illustrate the different types and their costumes, and then there were wars and plans of battle, and we have the maps of all our favorite cities, and we've written a good deal of history. And that history is what I take seriously. 
We centered on a favorite period, around 1200-1250, and the history gradually became the biography of the outstanding man of that generation, and for the past ten years at least I have been writing, off and on, about this rather picaresque hero and his adventures. [...] And of course a lot of it is romantically school-girlish, and a lot full of undergraduate tragic, because it's grown up with me and has a long way to grow up yet. [...] The hero's name was Dalmar j'Penyra, and he had red hair and black eyes and was a pirate and a duke and a mighty lover and quite invincibile in anything he chose to undertake. How we used to thrill over his escapades. he died in 1256, at the age of 35 (that seemed to us the absolute ultimate at which a man might remain even remotely interesting) and almost wept whenever we thought about it.
—C. L. Moore to R. H. Barlow, 10 Sep-9 Oct 1934 (cf. LCM 89-94)
After high school, Moore entered Indiana University, “with art school and business college filling in summer vacations,” but was forced by the Great Depression to quit school after three semesters and find work. (Roark 26, EV2 36) It was then in 1931 that she found her first pulp magazine, Amazing Stories “whose cover portrayed six-armed men battling to the death”—the September issue—at a newsstand across from where she worked. (Elliot 45, cf. EV2 37)
From that moment on, I was a convert. A whole new field of literature opened up before my eyes. (EV2 37)
C. L. Moore began reading pulps on the sly:


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Happy 113th, Robert E. Howard

Today, January 22nd, is Robert E. Howard's 113th birthday. 



On this day (January 22nd) back in 1906, Hester Ervin Howard gave birth to Robert. Just prior to Robert's birth, the Howard's were living in an area called Dark Valley. Toward the time Hester was to deliver, Dr. Howard took her to a little bit bigger community, Peaster, Texas to give birth to their boy. At the time of Robert's birth, the attending doctor documented the wrong day—January 24th, 1906—as seen in the Register of Births pictured below.


Interestingly, the date from the Register of Births—January 24th, 1906—also appears on the historical marker that sits next to the Howard Family headstone in the Greenleaf Cemetery, Brownwood, TX. Apparently, according to Damon Sasser, the person who wrote the application for the marker took the erroneous date from de Camp's biography, Dark Valley Destiny. The Historical Society of Texas declared that they could replace the marker for a sum of $1200.00. Perhaps a fundraiser for this cost can be performed and a new marker with more accurate verbiage can be created.


Little did the Howards know at the time of their son's birth, he'd grow to be a world renown writer, creating some of the most memorable characters and establishing a sub-genre for adventure and heroic fantasy. Because of Isaac M. Howard's occupation, a family doctor, the Howards moved around quite frequently until Robert was thirteen, in 1919 when the family settled in Cross Plains, Texas. At the time the Howard family settled in Cross Plains, it was in the midst of an oil boom. During these oil boom periods, the town would see a strong surge in population. Once the boom abated, the population would drop back down to the regular residency size. These oil booms had a strong impact on young Robert. He would encounter some unusual and wild characters, fodder for his future writing career. Later in adulthood, Howard discussed these oil booms in his correspondence with fellow writer H.P. Lovecraft.

In his later teen years, Howard had some success at writing which helped to prompt him to submit stories for some of the magazines he was reading at the time.  In July 1925, at the age of just nineteen, Howard's story "Spear and Fang" was published by a struggling pulp magazine called Weird Tales. This was all it took, Howard would spend the next eleven years creating stories around memorable characters such as Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Kull, El Borak, sailor Steve Costigan, Cormac Mac Art, Breckinridge Elkins, Buckner J. Grimes, Pike Bearfield, and of course, Conan the Cimmerian along with many others; one of my personal favorites is Corcoran. Howard also was a prolific poet, writing some 700 or so poems.

Howard's most popular character, Conan the Cimmerian, has crossed several pop culture boundaries. Conan can be seen in books, comic books, movies, television shows, board games, role-playing games, graphic novels, and video games. In the last 80 plus years, Conan's popularity has only increased. Another of Howard's characters, Solomon Kane, has also seen the silver screen in a relatively recent film titled after the character's name. Michael J. Bassett placed the character in a European film that garnered so much success the film was able to make a U. S. debut on August 24th, 2012. While the character and story line in Basset's film was different from Howard's Kane, at least, the film helped various viewers who had no idea who Robert E. Howard was, find out about the author. One such person was Anne Rice, who on her Facebook wall announced that she saw the film and wanted to read more works from Robert E. Howard.

The general tradition in Howard fandom is to read a story by Howard and while doing so, imbibe your favorite beverage!

So . . . Here's to the first of all dog brothers . . . Cheers!







Sunday, January 13, 2019

Conan and the Little People: Robert E. Howard and Lovecraft’s Theory by Bobby Derie

This theory is not generally agreed to, but I scarcely think that it has ever been disproved, and it was upon this that my story “The Lost Race” was based — that the Gaelic tribes preceded the Cymric peoples into Britain, by way of Ireland, and were later driven out by them. […] The blond Britons appear to me to be a closer branch of the ancient Aryan stock, the Gaels arriving later, and being mixed with some Turanian or Mediterranean blood. But every man is entitled to his own view and a writer has the right to use any and all theories, no matter how conflicting, in his stories. I may write a story one day upholding a certain theory of science, letters, anthropology or what-not, and the next day, a story upholding a theory directly opposite. A fiction writer, whose job is to amuse and entertain, should give all theories equal scope and justice. But I’m taking up too much of your time. —Robert E. Howard to Farnsworth Wright, Jun 1930, CL 2.43

In the prelude to his correspondence with Lovecraft, as discussed in Howard, Lovecraft, & “The Sin-Eater,” Robert E. Howard had written to Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, to praise and question H. P. Lovecraft’s story “The Rats in the Walls.” Wright forwarded the letter to Lovecraft, who in turn wrote to Howard. In the first extant letter from Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, the discussion of “The Rats in the Walls” has led to the question of the ancient population of the British Isles:

This departure from the original Celtic stock might have taken place in Ireland after the invasion, despite legends to the contrary—might have merely been a result of the conquerors mingling with their Mediterranean subjects.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, 1 Jul 1930 (MF 1.22) 

Arthur Machen
Though Howard did not know it, the segue led into a line of thought which Lovecraft had been developing on his own for some time. In early 1923, Lovecraft became aware of the work of Arthur Machen, when Frank Belknap Long lent him The House of Souls (1906). The book contained “The White People,” “The Three Impostors” (including “The Novel of the Black Seal”) and “The Red Hand,” and Lovecraft immediately became a Machen fan. (DS 49, SL 1.228) “The Novel of the Black Seal” and “The Red Right Hand” both concern the survival of a strange, prehistoric, subterranean race; essentially connecting the idea of the fairies or “Little People” of the British Isles with euhemerism, the idea that myth has some basis in fact:

They would be seen by a peasant in the fields walking towards some green and rounded hillock, and seen no more on earth; and there are stories of mothers who have left a child quietly sleeping, with the cottage door rudely barred with a piece of wood, and have returned, not to find the plump and rosy little Saxon, but a thin and wizened creature, with sallow skin and black, piercing eyes, the child of another race. Then, again, there were myths darker still; the dread of witch and wizard, the lurid evil of the Sabbath, and the hint of demons who mingled with the daughters of men. And just as we have turned the terrible 'fair folk' into a company of benignant, if freakish elves, so we have hidden from us the black foulness of the witch and her companions under a popular diablerie of old women and broomsticks, and a comic cat with tail on end. [...] Supposing these traditions to be true, who were the demons who are reported to have attended the Sabbaths? I need not say that I laid aside what I may call the supernatural hypothesis of the Middle Ages, and came to the conclusion that fairies and devils were of one and the same race and origin; invention, no doubt, and the Gothic fancy of old days, had done much in the way of exaggeration and distortion; yet I firmly believe that beneath all this imagery there was a black background of truth. —Arthur Machen, “The Novel of the Black Seal” (1895)

Machen also wrote another tale dealing with the idea, “The Shining Pyramid,” but Lovecraft would not read that until 1925. (LNY 135) The Welsh reporter would also write an essay “The Little People” which appeared in Dreads and Drolls (1926), but it is not known if or when Lovecraft ever read that. In either case, Machen was deliberately pursuing a line of contemporary anthropological thought, seeking a grain of historical truth in tales of the elves, fairies, or “Little People” by conflating them with a “Mongoloid” or “Turanian” dwarf race that existed in Europe before the coming of Caucasians. (Silver 141, 146). After discovering Machen, Lovecraft would read Margaret Murray’s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921):

The most revealing and stupefying book among those I have been reading is “The Witch Cult in Western Europe” by Margaret Alice Murray, which was published in 1921 and reviewed with great attention by Burton Rascoe in the Tribune. In this book the problem of witchcraft superstition is attacked from an entirely new angle—wherein the explanation of delusion and hysteria is discarded in favour of an hypothesis almost exactly like the one used by Arthur Machen in fiction [marginal note: The Three Impostors]—i.e., that there has existed since prehistoric times, side by side with the dominant religion, a dark, secret, and terrible system of worship nocturnally practiced by the peasants and including the most horrible rites and incantations. This worship, Miss Murray believes, is handed down from the squat Mongoloid peoples who inhabited Europe before the coming of the Aryans; and reflects the life and thought of a barbarous culture in which stock-breeding had not yet been supplanted by agriculture. THis latter feature is clear from the dates of the two great nocturnal feasts and orgies...Roodmas, or April 30, and Hallowe’en, or October 31—dates having a connexion with nothing whatever in agriculture (unlike such agricultural festivals as Easter, Harvest-home, etc.), but corresponding with uncanny fidelity to the breeding-seasons of the flocks and herds. Buttressed by an amazing array of sound documentary evidence taken from witchcraft trial reports, Miss Murray unhesitatingly asserts that the similarities and consistencies in the testimony of witch-suspects cannot be explained on any assumption save one which allow for a certain amount of actuality. In her mind, practically all the confessions treat not of dreams and delusions, but form highly coloured versions of real meetings and ceremonies conducted in deep woods and lonely places betwixt midnight and dawn, attended by secretly initiated peasants stolen thither one by one, and presided over by local cult-leaders clad in animal skins and called the “Devils” of their particular branches or “Covens”. The hideous nature of the cult-rites is amply attested—and the whole subject takes on a new fascination when one reflects that the system probably survived to comparatively recent times.—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 30 Mar 1924, LNY 53-54

Murray’s hypothesis opens fairly directly:

The connexion of the witches and fairies opens up a very wide field; at present it is little more than speculation that the two are identical, but there is promise that the theory may be proved at some later date when the subject is more fully worked out. It is now a commonplace of anthropology that the tales of fairies and elves preserve the tradition of a dwarf race which once inhabited Northern and Western Europe. Successive invasions drove them to the less fertile parts of each country which they inhabited, some betook themselves to the inhospitable north or the equally inhospitable mountains; some, however, remained in the open heaths and moors, living as mound-dwellers, venturing out chiefly at night and coming in contact with the ruling races only on rare occasions. As the conqueror always regards the religion of the conquered as superior to his own in the arts of evil magic, the dwarf race obtained the reputation of wizards and magicians, and their god wa identified by the conquerors with the Principle of Evil. The identification of the witches with the dwarf or fairy race would give us a clear insight into much of the civilization of the early European peoples, especially as regards their religious ideas. (Murray 14) 

This was expanded upon in “Appendix I: Fairies and Witches”:

The dwarf race which at one time inhabited Europe has left few concrete remains, but it has survived in innumerable stories of fairies and elves. Nothing, however, is known of the religious beliefs and cults of these early people, except the fact that every seven years they made a human sacrifice to their god—‘And aye at every seven years they pay the teind to hell’—and that like the Khonds they stole children from the neighbouring races and brought them up to be the victims. That there was a strong connexion between witches and fairies had been known to all students of fairy lore. I suggest that the cult of the fairy or primitive race survived until less than three hundred years ago, and that the people who practised it were known a witches. I have already pointed out that many of the witch-belief and practices coincide with those of an existing dwarf race, viz. the Lapps. (Murray 238)

Thomas Henry Huxley
That Machen and Murray dovetail is not surprising, given that they both were following a definite trend in anthropology. Murray’s emphasis on Lapps (the Sami people) jived with scientific racialism of the day that followed Thomas Henry Huxley’s delineation of the human species into three broad racial categories: Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid—the latter of which encompassed all Asian peoples, Native Americans, and some Europeans, as Lovecraft would later make a point of Robert E. Howard:

He asked me what the native races of Europe were, and I told him Caucasian and Mongolian. That last didn't suit him, and he began to tell me that Asia was the only home of the Mongol. Then I reminded him of the Lapps, and of the original stock, at least, of the Finns, Magyars, and Turks.—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 25 Mar 1933 (MF 2.582-583) 

Lovecraft was so taken by the combination of Machen and Murray that he began to work it into his stories:



Sunday, December 23, 2018

Chris Offutt's Book, My Father, The Pornographer: A Book Review by Todd B. Vick

My Father, The Pornographer: A Memoir
by Chris Offutt
Atria Books 2016

(Because this review discusses two Offutts, when necessary I use first names to distinguish between father and son, this is not intended to be disrespectful, just a means of distinction.)

If you grew up in the 70s or 80s and were a fan of fantasy fiction, there is a good chance you either heard about or read Andrew J. Offutt’s work. Offutt was a prolific science fiction and fantasy author. Fans of Robert E. Howard and his characters Conan and Cormac Mac Art, have likely run into Offutt’s popular pastiches for both these characters. In fact, Offutt was admittedly an ardent fan of the pulp magazine Weird Tales, and an unabashed fan of Robert E. Howard’s stories. When Offutt was not writing pastiches, he busied himself with writing his own fantasy novels, predominantly sword & sorcery, but also science fiction. His output was noteworthy, he published 30 works in the genre. However, Offutt’s sci-fi/fantasy work is grossly paled by his work in the erotica publishing industry.

Andrew J. Offutt died April 30, 2013, at the age of 78. His eldest son, Chris, inherited his father’s desk, rifle, and, according to Chris, eighteen hundred pounds of pornographic fiction. When his father died, Chris was left by himself to sort through the remaining vestiges of his father’s life. Chris’ siblings made it quite clear they wanted nothing to do with their father’s business, stories, or his legacy. That being the case, Chris spent the following year, with a little help from his mother, poring through his father’s belongings, sorting and organizing what remained. He details what unfolded during that time, nostalgically and emotionally, in a 2016 memoir titled My Father, The Pornographer, which quickly became a New York Times Bestseller. Despite the title, Chris spends more time in this memoir trying to come to terms with his father’s verbally abusive and unloving behavior than he does discussing his father’s pornographic/erotic work. As Chris sorts through what remains of his father’s life, he slowly discovers and discusses why he thought his father was incapable of having meaningful relationships, with anyone.

It was not an industry secret that Andrew J. Offutt wrote erotica and porn. Other writers in the science fiction and fantasy publishing industry were doing the same, all to make more money. Often the two genres would cross over. Andrew was known for mixing erotica with science fiction (e.g. Spaceways). In fact, his Conan pastiches are, in many ways, more sensual than the other writers in that arena. Be that as it may, regarding his father’s work, Chris maintained a steady focus within each specific genre as he discussed them, only mentioning the crossover works when he details various “personas” or nom de plumes his father used. And, according to Chris, those various personas revealed an aspect about his father he never fully understood until after his father’s death.

Andrew began writing porn when his son, Chris, was a child. He finished reading an erotica novel, tossed it on the coffee table, and loudly complained that the author did not know how to write. He boasted that he could do a much better job. Seeing his frustration, his wife challenged him to sit down and do just that. Andrew took the challenge personally, and, in the words of his son, “the rest is pornography.” Chris points out that he was constantly reminded that his father began writing porn to pay for his kid's needs, but this reminder was too often accompanied by a declaration of how Andrew wished his own kids had never been born. Something Chris spent years trying to come to terms with. Chris also details how he pored through boxes of his father’s manuscripts, categorizing them by genres and then specific topics. His method was meticulous and well thought out, based on genre, subgenre, and works that were something of an anomaly. He was careful to highlight that his father’s writing, and personal collection was utterly void of “kiddie porn,” something for which he felt great relief. The idea he might run across some while sorting through the collection had apparently been in the back of his mind.

While delving into his father’s pornographic/erotic works, Chris never declares that the porn was responsible for his father being an overbearing verbally abusive husband and father. He does, however, reveal how the porn might have been an extension of his father’s deeply troubled psyche, especially his jaded and disturbed attitude toward women. As the memoir unfolds the reader discovers Andrew’s hidden life and how, on several occasions, he confided with Chris that the porn kept him from becoming a serial killer. On the surface this sounds absurd, but Chris ponders whether the porn his father wrote did, in fact, kept those so-called demons at bay, or did his father merely say that to justify the works? It is not until the end of the memoir that Chris reveals the truth of his father’s claim and the psychological torment Andrew was apparently suffering. At that point, the question is answered when Chris reveals a hidden box he discovered among his father’s belongings, buried behind the desk. A box that Andrew declared was his “great secret.” It had always been hidden from his family. Even Mrs. Offutt, who knew more about her husband’s “secret life” than anyone, had no idea this box existed. What Chris reveals about this secret of secrets is both painful and insightful, bringing to light a few answers to aid him in his own struggle to understand his father. It also uncovered the degree of anguish and torment his own father might have endured.

The book is not solely about abuse, pain, and anguish. On a much lighter note, Chris spends several chapters discussing his father’s writing career in the sci-fi/fantasy publishing industry. It is here that Chris reveals some of his favorite memories. As a child, he recalled reading through his father’s collection of adventure stories from authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Alexandre Dumas, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Daniel Defoe. Chris also recalled the science fiction/fantasy conventions his family attended and the various personas his father would portray at each convention. There are interesting stories about his father’s relationship with other popular sci-fi/fantasy writers, such as Piers Anthony. And, Chris reveals an embarrassing moment at the Hugo Awards where Andrew usurped the introduction he was supposed to give for the guest of honor by rambling on about himself.

Throughout the book, stories are divulged about Andrew’s idiosyncratic behavior toward insignificant things that would set his temper aflame. Things such as the ratio of air to chip content in a certain potato chip company’s bags. To appease his anger regarding what he interpreted as the company slighting their consumers, Andrew wrote a letter to the company arguing his case and expressing his disgust. In response, they sent him a case of potato chips. Overall, the book is written with concise and emotionally moving prose. Chris has a way of peeling back his father’s veneer and dissecting his behavior in a delicate and poignant fashion. This certainly draws his reader into the narrative. Because of this, I found myself loosing track of time, often unable to put the book down.



Sunday, December 9, 2018

Conan and E’ch-Pi-El: Robert E. Howard in the Biographies of H. P. Lovecraft by Bobby Derie

It is fair to say that the study of the life and art of Robert E. Howard owes a debt to the study of H. P. Lovecraft. The six-year friendship of the two pulpsters represents a substantial exchange of letters for both men, the moreso for Howard as his letters to Lovecraft constitute the bulk of his surviving correspondence; they influenced each other’s work, most notably in the shared setting of the Cthulhu Mythos; and they had many friends and associates in common, including Farnsworth Wright, E. Hoffmann Price, Clark Ashton Smith, Henry S. Whitehead, Wilfred Blanch Talman, C. L. Moore, and August Derleth.

Howardiana was published alongside Lovecraftiana in fanzines like The Acolyte and The Ghost, and Arkham House, founded to publish the works of Lovecraft, put out two collections of Howard’s fiction and poetry: Skull-Face and Others (1946), Always Comes Evening (1957) and The Dark Man and Others (1963). Arkham House would also publish parts of Lovecraft’s letters to Howard in the Selected Letters (1965-1976), which some years later would inspire the publication of the Selected Letters of Robert E. Howard (1989/1991, Necronomicon Press). The “Howard boom” in the 1960s also coincided with a surge in interest in Lovecraft’s fiction.

For all of their association, however, Robert E. Howard was almost nonexistent in the early biographies and memoirs about H. P. Lovecraft. Most of the Lovecraft’s autobiographies predate their correspondence; F. Lee Baldwin’s “H. P. Lovecraft: A Biographical Sketch” (Fantasy Magazine Apr 1935) lists Howard as one of Lovecraft’ many correspondents; W. Paul Cook makes no mention in “In Memoriam: H. P. Lovecraft” (1941), nor Winfield Townley Scott in “His Own Finest Creation: H. P. Lovecraft” (1944); Howard appears in August Derleth’s H. P. L.: A Memoir (1945) only as one of Lovecraft’s correspondents (Derleth 61), the creation of Unaussprechlichen Kulten and von Junzt (Derleth 72), and part of a lengthy quote from one of Lovecraft’s letters:

Our distinguished fellow weirdist Two-Gun Bob has succumbed to this fashion to the extent of hashing up his own middle name (Ervin—distinguished in Southern history for 200 years) and signing himself ‘Robert Eiarbihan Howard.’ (Derleth 54)

The lack of reference to Howard in memoirs of Lovecraft is understandable, most were written by friends who had never met or corresponded with Howard, and possibly never heard of him. Those who did not already know of the Lovecraft-Howard connection would learn little of it from the Lovecraft side of things, and that would focus strongly on Howard’s contributions to the shared Mythos—Lin Carter’s focus in Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos (1972).

1975 was a seminal year in Lovecraft studies, with the publication of L. Sprague de Camp’s H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography, Frank Belknap Long’s Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Night Side, and Willis Conover’s Lovecraft at Last. These three books published more biographical material on Lovecraft than had been readily available in any half-a-dozen Arkham House volumes—and at the same time opened a window on his relationship with, and comparisons to, Robert E. Howard. In the preface, de Camp wrote:

I learned about Lovecraft little by little. I also learned about other members of the Lovecraft-Weird Tales circle, especially Robert E. Howard. While I enjoyed Lovecraft’s fiction, Howard’s stories came closer to the kind of swashbuckling adventure-fantasy that I most enjoy reading and writing. Later, I became involved in completing, rewriting, and editing a number of Howard’s unpublished tales; but that is another story. (de Camp xi)

De Camp had been associated with the science fiction fan scene and a pulpster since the 1940s; in the 1950s he became associated with the Robert E. Howard properties, re-writing stories in the Gnome Press volumes The Coming of Conan (1953), King Conan (1953), Tales of Conan (1955), and co-authoring The Return of Conan (1957) with Björn Nyberg. In 1966, de Camp and Lin Carter began editing and writing the Conan series in paperback from Lancer, the beginning of the Howard Boom of the ‘60s. Robert E. Howard ‘zine Amra (1959) was already a focal point for Howard Studies, and de Camp’s articles from Amra were reprinted by Mirage Press in The Conan Reader (1968); de Camp and George Scrithers went on to edit two further collections of Howard-related articles by de Camp and others: The Conan Swordbook (1969) and The Conan Grimoire (1972). This familiarity with Robert E. Howard is a significant part of what de Camp brought to his approach to Lovecraft.

De Camp gave the standard note Howard was one of Lovecraft’s correspondents (de Camp 114, 301, 376), even paraphrasing notes from Howard’s letters to Lovecraft:



Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Last Line of the Last Letter by Todd B. Vick



For decades, fans have speculated about the writing/publishing direction Robert E. Howard would have taken had he not died on June 11, 1936. Questions such as what genres would he have ventured into? Would he have continued writing Conan stories? Would he have published more westerns? Some have decried these questions and their answers as vain attempts or pure speculation. But are they? I think there is enough evidence available to formulate a solid idea as to which publishing direction Howard was headed, and would have likely remained on for a spell, when he died, at least in terms of the first few years after his death: from 1936 to 1940. How is this possible, you might ask? My answer is based predominantly on three publishing trends Howard went through in the 12 years he was actively publishing his written material. And, a fourth, impending publishing period he was headed toward at the time of his death. Let me try explain what I mean.

Over the twelve years Howard published stories, various patterns can be detected during these years. Not patterns of style, though they may be there as well, but in terms of content and genres in which he wrote. In simplistic terms, Howard’s twelve-year publishing career (from 1924 to 1936) can be divided into three periods lasting about four years each. Based on several years of looking at Howard’s published work from a birds-eye view (or holistic perspective), in my estimation this is how I have charted his career. Initially, there is an amateur (juvenile) period lasting from 1919 to 1923 (also a four-year period). I have not included this period in the chart below, but it could easily be placed before the three periods represented and aptly called his “amateur or juvenile period.” This period is a smattering of both humorous and serious history, mystery, and the like. 


From 1924, when “Spear and Fang” is written and submitted to Weird Tales, to 1928, is a period I call Howard’s "discovery period" (or early fiction). Howard experiments with several genres like horror, history, and fantasy. Additionally, it is during this period that Howard begins to experiment with his adventure influences (e.g. Rafael Sabatini, H. Rider Haggard, et. al) using some of those elements in his stories. He also nails down his prose pace, which is arguably the strongest aspect of his fiction. In this first period Howard uses a smattering of historical (and mythological) elements to begin to create some interesting (albeit young-ish in style and prose) stories. Because of this, Howard is directed into the second period of publication, what I call his historical fiction period, from 1928 to 1932. This period clearly shows Howard using aspects of the history he has researched up to these years. Howard also begins to mix genres (e.g. adventure with horror) during this period.

Between the first period (early fiction) and the second period (historical fiction), Howard creates two characters (Solomon Kane and Kull) who overlap these two periods to generate what is to come in his third period of publication: what I call the adventure fantasy period. From 1932 (with the publication of Conan) to 1936, Howard’s primary attention is on adventure fantasy. During this period, Howard is developing the Hyborian Age and giving the reading public Conan the Cimmerian, his most popular character.

Throughout these three periods, beginning with the latter part of the first period up to the early part of the third period, Howard published his boxing stories as a separate entity (or genre, if you will) altogether. What I mean by this is that his boxing stories do not neatly fall into any of the three categories as primary works reflecting those categories. There are elements from each of those periods present in his boxing stories, but they stand alone as an individual genre overlapping the periods. A very simple chart/table of these periods would look something like this:

1924—1928
1928—1932
1932—1936
Early Fiction
Historical Fiction
Adventure Fantasy
Smattering of genres, some historical
Primarily historical, some fantasy
Primarily Fantasy, some western
(From the latter part of the first period to the early part of the third period — boxing fiction)

NB: This idea (and above chart) is a general, broad sweep of Howard’s writing career. A much more specific account could be created, examining specific stories and genres with explanations as to why they fit into each of these periods. Perhaps something to consider for a future article. Let us just say, these three periods stand out over Howard’s twelve-year publishing career, and as presented should be sufficient, along with other evidence presented a little later, to demonstrate Howard’s fictional direction at the time of his death. It should also be pointed out that once Howard moved away from a character (e.g. Solomon Kane, Kull, etc.) to begin a new character or genre trend, he did not returned to that character.

 Now, with regard to what has been typically dismissed as speculation about the writing/publishing direction Howard was headed at the time of his death, using Howard’s letters, his published fiction, and Novalyne Price Ellis’ book One Who Walked Alone, I think a fourth period, which was developing by June of 1936, can be determined.

As mentioned above, regarding the third period of Howard’s publishing career (the adventure fantasy period), Conan was the dominant character around which Howard build some of his most popular stories. But what was Howard saying about Conan in the last year or so of his life? By December of 1935, Howard confessed to Lovecraft, “The last yarn I sold to Weird Tales—and it well may be the last fantasy I’ll ever write—was a three-part Conan serial which was the bloodiest and most sexy weird story I ever wrote.” (CL 3.393) Aside from possibly Novalyne Price, Lovecraft is the first person to whom Howard admits he is moving away from adventure fantasy (and from Conan). Moreover, Howard has spent several years discussing the Texas and western frontier. These discussions have likely fueled his desire to write more about that topic.

By the Spring of 1936, Howard’s writing slowed due to the care he was giving his mother. However, by this time, he had stopped writing adventure fantasy altogether and was writing and publishing predominantly westerns. His focus was on Breckenridge Elkins, Buckner J. Grimes, and Pike Bearfield. Even so, months before this season, while he was still working on Conan stories, Howard admitted to Novalyne Price that he wanted to write a story (perhaps a novel) about the Texas frontier. (OWWA 223, 227) Because Conan was Howard’s bread and butter character, He and Price discuss Conan and the barbarian versus civilization issue fairly regularly (or at least Howard frequently brings it up in their conversations). On several occasion, Price mentions that Howard told her he was ready to stop writing Conan stories and focus his attention on westerns or his Texas frontier novel. And she had agreed with that idea and expressed hope that he would. (OWWA 223, 226-227)

 Howard’s western output had increased in the months prior to his death. He had also corresponded with Jack Byrne at Munsey Publication about a new humorous character in the same vein as Breckenridge Elkins. Howard explained to Byrne, “I have in mind a new character, Pike Bearfield, of Wolf Mountain, Texas, about as big, dumb, and ludicrous as B. Elkins.” (CL 3.435) All the while, Howard continued to write a few El Borak stories, and several new horror stories, but his main focus was on westerns. In fact, the last line (aside from the farewell line) in the last extant letter Howard wrote to H. P. Lovecraft states, “I have always felt that if I ever accomplished anything worthwhile in the literary field, it would be with stories dealing of the central and western frontier.” (CL 3.462)

It is likely that Howard would have set Conan aside, but it is uncertain whether he would have ever returned to the character. If he stayed on track with the previous characters he set aside and never returned to, then it is likely he would have not returned to Conan. Though I wouldn't rule it out. Even so, examining his final stories, and the direction in which he stated he wanted to go, and his desire to move away from Conan stories, it seems likely that his fourth writing period would have predominantly been western stories. And if that is the case, he may have actually completed the novel about the Texas frontier.
___________
Abbreviations
CL  The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard
OWWA  One Who Walked Alone



Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Weather is Good but the Beer is Lousy by Todd B. Vick

In the middle of June 1935, Robert E. Howard and his friend Truett Vinson took a trip to New Mexico, visiting the historic town of Lincoln, New Mexico. While on this trip, Howard sent two post cards two postcards to Novalyne Price.

At the time, Howard and Price had dated one another for a little over a year. However, by June of 1935, Howard and Price were on the verge of a falling out, and Price began dating other men: Pat Allen of Cross Plains, and Truett Vinson of Brownwood. It is most likely that Howard knew Price and Vinson were dating while Howard and Vinson traveled to New Mexico. If Howard knew, he was not letting on that he knew.

While on the trip, Howard purchased two postcards to send to Price. The first is postdated June 19, 1935.

Here is the front of that postcard:





The back (top left) of the card details the front's picture:



"The 'Horno,' or firing kiln used in connection with the production of the farmers Greta ware of Tonola, Mexico. This process results in a highly glazed surface retaining all brilliancy of the colors in the original decoration." (The above and below cards are not the actual postcards REH sent to Price, just a copy of the same postcard).

Howard wrote a brief message on the back of this postcard:
"Dear Novalyne; Roswell. 

The weather is good but the beer is lousy. Hoping you are the same.  

Bob."

Price details in her book, One Who Walked Alone (OWWA), that she got a kick out of this postcard, especially what Howard wrote. She stated, "I laughed like everything when I got it. It was so typical of Bob's trying to make a funny joke—his kind of humor. I liked it too." (228)

The second postcard Howard sent Price was postmarked June 20th:


The back (top left) of the card details the front's picture:


"This picture is an actual scene of one of the tragedies of the great Southwest. It is from an actual photograph by a Franciscan Priest who happened upon the snake making his breakfast."

The only thing Howard wrote on this card was:

Sante Fe, N.M.
19/6/35

Dear Novalyne;

Cordially,

Bob.


About the second postcard, Novalyne reports (in OWWA), "The next day, I got another card. The picture on that one was gruesome, and I would have liked to hit Bob hard when I saw it. It was an actual photograph of a rattlesnake swallowing a rabbit. He had done that to horrify me. And it did. There was no message on the card . . . Just "hello" and "goodbye." (229)

There is no definitive proof where Howard purchased these cards. However, it is possible he bought them from the La Paloma Bar (Saloon) from Roman Maes in Lincoln, NM, where Howard purchased several other postcards (See my article A Writer, A Saloon, and A Famous Town: Robert E. Howard in Lincoln, NM)

The La Paloma Bar/Saloon

There's likely no motive for sending these cards if Howard knew that Price and Vinson were dating (maybe). He and Price were still on good terms, and continued dating in a friendly fashion until she moved to Louisiana in May of 1936.