Sunday, January 17, 2021

Renegades and Rogues: The Life and Legacy of Robert E. Howard by Todd B. Vick

This Tuesday (January 19) , my book, Renegades and Rogues: The Life and Legacy of Robert E. Howard  hits the shelves in bookshops around the world. It is the first comprehensive biography of Robert E. Howard published by a major academic press (The University of Texas Press). It is a cumulation of three years of research and writing devoted solely to the book, 18 years of scholarly research and writing (articles and blog posts), and 40 years of being a reader and fan of Howard's work. 

There are several reasons I wanted to write this biography: 

This book is something I had been planning on doing since 2002, but back then I was ill-prepared to take on the task. There was so much more research I needed to do, so much more reading, uncovering of Howard's family and life. So, I dug my heels in and pushed forward and devoted my time to the task of researching and writing a biography. 

To date there has not been a biography about Robert E. Howard from an academic press. Moreover, there is a need for a biography that benefits both fans and scholars. And when I say scholars, I mean the use of available reliable sources, with notes that students and writers can use in their own research. I thought it was also important to take advantage of the advancements of the publication of Howard's collected letters, the letters of other pulp writers about Howard, and other materials. All this was paramount to me writing Renegades and Rogues. I also felt that an objective examination of Howard's life, from birth to death, with an emphasis on the external factors that not only affected his life but his work was needed. I knew from the start I was writing about real people, with real flaws, real struggles, and issues that everyone could relate to. My research and sources had to be present to give the work the academic foundation it needed. 

Renegades and Rogues establishes a solid foundation for current and future fans and scholars providing them with an objective, unexaggerated, unromanticized examination of Robert E. Howard's life and work. It includes the vast amount of new data that has been uncovered over the last ten years presented on blogs with limited readership. I also spent months poring over interviews of the people from Cross Plains and other local areas who knew the Howards. What were they saying? How consistent were their claims and memories? I then incorporated this information in the book. These are intriguing firsthand interviews that help illustrate the larger picture about the Howard family and in particular Robert E. Howard's life.

Some of the questions I asked myself while I was researching this biography include, what events did Howard experience that caused him to write what he wrote? How did his formative years play a role in his stories? What influences did his parents have on him? What made Howard tick? What got him out of bed in the mornings? How did the publishing markets move him to write? What directions? Why did he write what he wrote? And, if he had lived, what direction was Robert E. Howard headed with his writing? All these questions and others I attempted to answer.

The first three chapters of the monograph focus on the Howards' familial history, their travels from Robert's birth up to their move to Cross Plains. I apply this information to not only Howard's personality, but to his work as well. I then discuss Howard's education, his friends and their influences on him, and how his correspondence with friends and other writers moved him and his works in various directions. I examine Howard's 12-year publishing career (with an emphasis on his historical period), the market in which Howard published and how that market directed his stories. I take a look into his relationships, especially with Novalyne Price (Ellis), but I did this from her perspective and how she explained her encounters with Robert and his parents. I examine a select amount of Howard's stories and provide cursory exposition and commentary about those stories. I also examine Howard's most famous character, Conan the Cimmerian, and the publishing career of that character in great detail. I do all this and much more.

Because the book is published through an academic press, my initial manuscript draft was read by peer readers who basically took the manuscript, examined it, broke it down, and then sent it back to me for revision and improvement. This process vastly improved the direction and content of the book. Once the initial review was corrected, it went back out to several other peers who did the same. The first two peers who examined the manuscript were S.T. Joshi and Karen Kohoutek. Both provided me with wonderful feedback. The second group remained anonymous, and we discussed what was necessary to change during this final phase of editing. Due to this process the book's research, sources, and content were scrutinized and improved upon. I'll not lie here, this process was somewhat painful and arduous, but in the end it vastly improved the monograph. 

All the above should give you a good idea as to the whys and wherefores of Renegades and Rogues. I hope that those who know only a little about Howard (but perhaps know more about his characters, especially Conan) will find this book helpful in understanding the man behind all these wonderful stories. I also hope that the seasoned Howard fan or scholar will benefit from these pages as well. That was my goal in writing this book. I sincerely hope you enjoy it and that you learn more about Robert E. Howard and his work.

Here is a book trailer for the biography:

Early reviews of the book:

“Todd B. Vick surveys the entire panoply of Robert E. Howard's times and life. Early twentieth-century Texas, so important to a young writer who almost never crossed its borders except in the mighty treads of his imagination, becomes a player in the action fully as much as Conan or Solomon Kane—and Renegades and Rogues is a truly outstanding biography because of it. The book is a terrific read that will grab you like the brawny iron arms of Khosatral Khel and not let you go.”
—Roy Thomas, former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics and author of the Conan the Barbarian comic

“Renegades and Rogues is a compelling read. Vick does an outstanding job in portraying Howard’s family life, in describing the major incidents of his literary career, and especially in providing insightful details into the remarkable resurgence of Howard’s work in various media after his death.”
—S. T. Joshi, author of I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft

The book can be ordered at your local independent bookstore or online at:

The University of Texas Press

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard (2020, WordFire press), a review by Bobby Derie

The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard (2020, WordFire press). Edited by M. Scott Lee, foreword by Paul Di Filippo. ISBN 978-68057-098-4.

By 2020, nearly every word that Robert E. Howard wrote has been published in some form or another. Collections of his fiction began with Skull-Face and Others (1946, Arkham House), and since then there have been dozens of books published, focused on any number of themes. Any new collection of Robert E. Howard’s fiction must be evaluated against all the others that have come before. Readers want to know if there are any stories or poems they haven’t read, if there is any art or essays that add to the overall value.

This is all the more important now that many of Howard’s original pulp stories have entered the public domain in various parts of the world. Many of his stories are available for free online on Wikisource or Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive. It has never been easier for any random individual to grab the text of the stories off the internet, compile them in a word processor, and have it published in a professional-looking ebook, paperback, or hardback.

Which is essentially what we have with
The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard. This book collects Howard’s stories “The Shadow Kingdom,” “Skull-Face,” “The Children of the Night,” “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth,” “The Black Stone,” “People of the Dark,” “Worms of the Earth,” “The Thing on the Roof,” “The Haunter of the Ring,” “The Fire of Asshurbanipal,” “Dig Me No Grave,” and the round-robin story “The Challenge From Beyond” written by C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long. All of which works are claimed to be in the public domain.

Is this every Cthulhu Mythos story Robert E. Howard wrote? Strictly speaking, no. Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors (1987, Baen) edited by David Drake includes the 1932 poem “Arkham,” along with various other Howard stories that aren’t directly related to the Mythos. Nameless Cults: The Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of Robert E. Howard (2001, Chaosium) includes “The Little People,” “The Hoofed Thing,” and fragments completed and incomplete such as “The Abbey,” “The Black Bear Bites,” “The House in the Oaks” (completed by August Derleth), “The Door to the World” (completed by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.), and “Black Eons” (completed by Robert M. Price).

Diligent Howard scholars might add the original draft of “The Phoenix on the Sword” with its references to “Cthulhu, Tsathogua, Yog-Sothoth, and the Nameless Old Ones,” or the various drafts of “Isle of the Eons” (which Price based his story on). Yet these bits and pieces are not in the public domain, not even available online. A case could also be made for excerpts from some of Lovecraft and Howard’s letters discussing the Mythos; so too, any number of other Howard stories related to Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Kull, Turlogh Dubh O’Brien and Conan the Cimmerian could have been included, since the settings intersect in various ways. H. P. Lovecraft mentioned “Bran” in “The Whisperer in Darkness” and Howard “the Bran cult” in “The Children of the Night,” so it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to include “The Dark Man,” for example.

So, The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard does not have absolutely everything. It also has no art, aside from a lovely stark black-and-white cover, “Spawn of the stars” by Sofyan Syarief. What else should a Howard Mythos collection have to give value for the money spent on it? What else should a reader expect?

Ideally, some sort of explanatory notes or essays on the story. Something that puts the texts in the wider context of the Mythos at large. David Drake did a bit of this in his 1987 introduction; Robert M. Price went one better and had notes on each individual story. The moderately obscure collection Mythos: The Myths and Tales of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (2011, Numen Books) includes a literary essay by M. Alan Kazlev. I myself wrote “From Cimmeria to R’lyeh: Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft,” an essay on the relationship of Lovecraft and Howard, and how it influenced their Mythos fiction which was included in the German collection Der Mythos des Cthulhu (2020, Festa). The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard (2008, Del Rey), which contains many of these stories and others, includes an introduction by noted Howard Scholar Rusty Burke and notes on the original texts.

Wordfire Press turned to Paul Di Filippo, noted writer of science fiction and weird fiction. There’s no doubt that Di Filippo generally knows his stuff, and he’s not above pointing out that “Skull-Face” isn’t technically a Mythos story, and that “The Challenge From Beyond” only is because Lovecraft decided to actually inject some plot. However, despite his considerable talent, he’s not really a Mythos scholar. So he misses a lot of the fine details, content to summarize some stories and quote from others.

The result is fine for beginners to Howard or Lovecraft who don’t know any better, who are tired of staring at a screen and just want a nice hardback or paperback collection of Howard’s Mythos stories (most of them, anyway) curated for them. It is a well-made book, and the stories are pure Robert E. Howard...but it’s also nothing that anyone else could do, grabbing texts off the internet. 

Which is going to be an issue going forward; we have already seen this kind of thing happening with H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction, the market flooded with innumerable editions. The peril of the public domain is caveat emptor: the same stories are there to be re-packaged and sold by multiple different publishers, then it is up to the reading public to decide what they want—and what they will pay for. The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard may not represent the nadir of laziness in this regard, but it is definitely a tidemarker: how much work actually went into this book? What is the point of it, beyond making money? What does it give you that you can’t already get better or cheaper somewhere else?

The answer to those questions is not much, not much, and an introduction by Paul Di Filippo, respectively. If that is worth your hard-earned money, have at it.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

What’s in a Name?: Discovering the Origin of Solomon Kane’s Name by Todd B. Vick


In early 1935, Robert E. Howard sent a letter to his friend Alvin Earl Perry. In this letter, Howard briefly delineates the origins of his popular characters: El Borak (Francis Xavier Gordon), Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane, King Kull, and Conan. For some of these characters, this is the only place Robert explains their creative origin. With such scant information given, we are left to piece together other aspects of their origin from other various sources and historical data. In the case of Solomon Kane, here Howard explains that he created the character when he was in high school, at around age sixteen. Nothing further is provided except this explanation: “[Solomon Kane] was probably the result of an admiration for a certain type of cold, steely nerved duelist that existed in the sixteenth century.” (CL 3.287)  

Solomon Kane (Ken Kelly)

Howard’s admiration for a cold, steely nerved duelist stems from a number of likely sources, most of which come from his reading of Rafael Sabatini, coupled with Rudyard Kipling’s, Arthur O. Friel’s, and H. Rider Haggard’s swashbuckling sword duels and jungle settings. A more detailed look into Howard’s influences and the creation of Solomon Kane are in the upcoming biography Renegades and Rogues. For now, let's leave those details alone in this article, since those elements present Howard’s use of those writers, the development of the character, and their stories to create the settings, sword-play, and various plot devices used for his Solomon Kane stories. But what about the name, Solomon Kane? Where did Howard come up with his character’s name? What details do we know about that?

There has been some previous speculation about the dour Puritan’s name. Howard never explains in any letter or essay how he conjured Solomon Kane's name. At a previous Howard Days, it was suggested that the name was a combination of two Biblical people: King Solomon, the wise and wealthy, if flawed, Hebrew King, and Cain, an aggressive but pious murderer. Howard did enjoy several Old Testament stories, though he was partial to Saul, the first Hebrew King (CL 2.208), and the story of Samson. With regard to King Solomon, Howard told Lovecraft in a June 1931 letter that he lost interest in Biblical history after King David, calling Solomon “a typical Oriental ruler.” (CL 2.208) While there is likely more to unpack in the notion that Solomon Kane is a combination of King Solomon and Cain (changed to Kane), the idea is novel, but ultimately seems to be a bit of a stretch. It’s possible that Howard may have used Dr. Solomon Chambers’ first name. Dr. Chambers was a friend of the Howards who practiced medicine with Dr. Howard in and around the Cross Cut and Burkett, Texas area. But there is still too much uncertainty as to why or where Howard derived the ‘Kane’ portion.

Recently, Kurt B. Shoemaker’s zine, “The Happiest Blue Elephant,” was published in PEAPS (The Pulp Era Amateur Press Society). In Shoemaker's zine there is a section titled “‘Sir Piegan Passes’ by W.C. Tuttle.” (PEAPS #31, 15 June 2020) In this section Shoemaker discusses Tuttle’s story (“Sir Piegan Passes”) that was published in Adventure 10 August 1923. Shoemaker summarizes Tuttle’s story and explains how it was used for several silent films during Tuttle’s early writing career. Shoemaker also details each film based on “Sir Piegan Passes.” Whether Shoemaker realized it or not, he dropped a small bomb on the history and speculation about where Howard may have derived the name Solomon Kane. “Solomon Kane’s heart would, if properly broken up, have made a number of perfectly good arrowheads. His conscience, if properly cut to certain lengths, would have made any number of perfectly good corkscrews. Outside of that, Solomon Kane was normal.” (Adventure XLII.1.121)  

Adventure  (10 August 1923)

When Tuttle’s story was published in the August 10, 1923 edition of Adventure magazine, Howard had been reading the magazine for approximately two years. Tuttle’s story published when Howard was just seventeen, near the age he declared (about sixteen) when he claims he created Solomon Kane. Tuttle’s character, Solomon Kane, is used pretty much throughout the story. What are we to make of this? Is it a mere coincidence that Tuttle and Howard concocted the same name for a character? It seems possible, but unlikely. Howard certainly read W. C. Tuttle’s works; his personal library contained almost a dozen Adventure magazines with Tuttle’s stories in them. Is it possible that Howard created his character around age sixteen but had not yet established a name for him? Then along comes Tuttle's "Sir Piegan Passes" providing Howard with a name. It is quite conceivable that Howard did, in fact, read Tuttle’s story from this issue of Adventure.

Howard loved Adventure, he declared on several occasions it was one of his favorite magazines. Moreover, several authors who immensely influenced Howard’s own work were regulars in Adventure: Talbot Mundy, Harold Lamb, and Rafael Sabatini. Howard would have gone out of his way to read these author’s stories. And, two of them (Talbot Mundy and Harold Lamb) appeared in the August 10 1923 Adventure along with Tuttle’s story. Add this fact to the fact that reading material was so scarce in and around Cross Plains, Texas, that Howard was prone to read everything he could get his hands on, and read it thoroughly. The implication here is that if Howard owned this magazine, he would have read it from cover to cover.

There are vast differences between Tuttle’s and Howard’s Kanes. Tuttle’s story, “Sir Piegan Passes” is a western. Tuttle’s Solomon Kane is an assayer in Micaville, who is less than reputable and does his best to swindle people by misrepresenting their gold and mineral weight and values. This is a far cry from the dour Puritan we all know, who exacts his own retributive justice on those who take advantage of the helpless. Frankly, I think the name Solomon Kane is better suited to Howard’s character than Tuttle’s. But perhaps this is merely my own bias toward Howard’s Solomon Kane stories. Howard was certainly no stranger to lifting ideas from authors he enjoyed reading. He also re-used names of characters for stories (e.g. the various Steve Costigans, Conans: the Reaver and the Cimmerian, etc.). It was common for Howard to use foreign words in his own stories that he found in Adventure magazines. So, lifting the name of a character used in a story from Adventure should not surprise us. That being the case, the likeliest scenario is that Howard read Tuttle’s story, liked the name Solomon Kane, possibly wrote it down and earmarked it for his own character.  

Adventure cover (10 Aug. 1923)

It would not be a surprise if Howard refrained from using the name Solomon Kane to see if Tuttle would ever include his own Solomon Kane in another story. While this is speculation, it is interesting that Howard’s Kane would not see print until five years, to the month, after “Sir Piegan Passes” was published in Adventure. And as far as can be determined, Tuttle never used his Solomon Kane character in any of his subsequent stories. If this is the case, it raises a question. With the popularity of Weird Tales, how is it that Tuttle never said anything about Howard’s Solomon Kane? It is possible that Tuttle never read Weird Tales magazine? Perhaps he did not care for those kinds of stories. If this is the case, he may have never known that Howard used the name Solomon Kane. It is also possible that Tuttle knew that Howard used the name and he simply did not care. Whatever the case, Tuttle never kicked up any dirt over it.

Howard was a thoughtful writer, not prone to taking words, names, and other ideas from the sources he read and giving them no thought as to how he could use them. With Howard’s Solomon Kane, there is a certain amount of development that went into the character. It took half a decade before the character was created, named, developed and then placed on the printed (and published) page. His thoughts and ideas had time to percolate. He had time to add and change things when he needed, and he likely continued to develop these ideas even after Solomon Kane came alive for the reading public. But as for where Howard discovered the name Solomon Kane, Tuttle’s story certainly plays an integral if not the pivotal part.

While it is not definitive proof, it is certainly highly credible that Howard got the name for his character from W. C. Tuttle’s story, casting a shadow over the idea that Howard combined two biblical people into one name, or that he may have borrowed Dr. Solomon Chamber’s first name. With this new information, all the quintessential elements for the nomenclature of Howard’s Solomon Kane come together almost to a fault. Perhaps we can now put to rest further speculation about the origin of Solomon Kane’s name, until further information is discovered.
Works Cited
CL             Collected Letters
The Pulp Era Amateur Press Society
ADV         Adventure

[Special thanks to Bobby Derie for his input on this article]

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Barlow Letters Related To Robert E. Howard by Bobby Derie

In The Two Bobs: Robert E. Howard and Robert H. Barlow it was mentioned that after the death of their mutual friend H. P. Lovecraft, Barlow became the literary executor for Lovecraft’s estate—which included the disposition of the file of letters from Robert E. Howard. Several letters pertinent to Barlow’s possession of these letters and efforts to get them to Dr. Isaac M. Howard, the late Robert E. Howard’s father, have been made available online by Brown University as part of their digitization of the Lovecraft materials, and make interesting reading concerning the posthumous afterlives of Barlow and his two literary correspondents.

R. H. Barlow to Elizabeth Spicer, 2 Apr 1937

Dear Miss Spicer,

I pulled out rather abruptly & had no opportunity for farewells, but perhaps I’m forgiven.

In about two weeks I’ll send you some Sterling items &c from KC. Thanks for putting up with all the bother I made while in Providence.

Here is something for your files—revised, it will appear in in HAWK ON THE WIND—a book—in six or eight months.

I beseech & implore you to keep the various correspondences—except R. E. Howard—under your hat & out of the catalogue. Their authors would boil me over a slow fire!—The sacrifices one makes in the interests of Literature.

Regards to Prof. Damon. I’m going to write him when I settle.

Yrs ever,

R. H. Barlow

After Lovecraft’s death, Robert H. Barlow was made his literary executor; the young writer took steps to archive Lovecraft’s correspondence and other papers at the John Hay Library, where Elizabeth Spicer worked. The “Sterling” items were presumably related to Kenneth Sterling, one of Lovecraft’s later correspondents and his collaborator on “In the Walls of Eryx.” Barlow wrote this on his way back to Kansas City (“KC”) where he was attending the Art Institute. Hawk on the Wind” Poems (1938, Ritten House) was a collection of August Derleth’s poetry, containing “Elegy: In Providence the Spring…” regarding Lovecraft.

          Barlow’s desire to keep the correspondence from Lovecraft’s correspondents “out of the catalogue” was probably in an effort to protect their privacy; Howard was at this point already deceased, so this was less of an issue.

          By May of 1937, Dr. Isaac M. Howard had determined that Barlow was the executor of Lovecraft’s estate and was in possession of the letters from his son Robert E. Howard that Lovecraft had saved, mentioned above; Dr. Howard wrote to Barlow and to Lovecraft’s surviving aunt asking for their return, but did not receive a prompt reply, probably because Barlow’s situation was unsettled—the young writer would soon head out for California (IMH 164, 166).

As Howard letters were actually at the John Hay Library while Barlow was in Kansas City, this might explain some of the delay and confusion, but Barlow did eventually respond to Dr. Howard’s request.

R. H. Barlow to S. Foster Damon, 23 Apr 1937

Dear Professor Damon,


I am sending you a miscellany; too varied to itemise. Among the contents of the express package shipped today are a couple of pieces of sheet-music; a typescript of THE SPHINX, unpublished play by the author of THE HERMAPHRODITE & OTHER POEMS; nearly all the Ms. I have from the pen of Clark Ashton Smith, author of THE STAR-TREADER, EBONY & CRYSTAL, ODES & SONNETS, &c; a special issue of The Modern School on Whitman (1919) &c &c. Of these, I think I’d like to keep nominal ownership of the Whitman photograph, though in all probability it’s yours till Doomsday.

Did you receive the Sterling letter sent in my last? The envelope turned up, and is enclosed in the Tomato Surprise. I have a few other things which I’m not quite ready to send, but will hand over later.

I would appreciate it if you would send me the cardboard box containing letters from R. E. Howard, which I deposited. His father wants them to go to Howard Payne College. If you will send them Express collect, I shall be in your debt.

Later, Mrs. Gamwell may want someone to look over Howard’s books for possible library donations, I believe there is not much for the Harris Collection, but other departments might find material.

Yours ever,


Am still typing dementedly on the “copy” for the Lovecraft collection to be published!

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Unspeakable! The Secret History of Nameless Cults by Bobby Derie

As the John Hay Library at Brown University continues to digitize its collection, and place them online, interesting little tidbits are revealed for the more detail-minded among us.

Farnsworth Wright to H. P. Lovecraft, 2 Apr 1934

Dear Mr. Lovecraft:

I just received your letter of last Friday, and hasten to answer it.

I shall try to look up further authority regarding "unaussprechlich" and "unnennbar". If I can find good authority for "unaussprechlich" I am inclined to let that stand; for "unaussprechlich" has a sinsiter aspect that is lacking in "unnennbar".

Just got a letter from the Sultan of the Southern Kingdom, Lord Malik (accompanying a manuscript). He and Juggernaut are about to leave the land of the Osages and trek westward. He hopes to see Conan the Reaver as he passes through Texas; and the Lord of Xothique and Averoigne after he leaves San Francisco.

I envy him his trip.

I read in yesterday's paper about the death in Baltimore of Edward Lucas White last Friday. He was 68 years of age, and died from illuminating gas--the journal does not say whether it was suicide or accident. He was a strange genius. My wife, who used to be a librarian before I married her, considered his "El Supremo" one of the very best adventure stories she ever read. I have not read it.

We are keeping the windows of our office closed today, so as to retain what cool air there is; that is, cool compared with the air outside. The morning paper says that cooling off has begun in the far Northwest; so I suppose the coolness will reach here within a few days. But until then...

I am glad that Barlow likes the pictures. I myself admired Doolin's illustration for THE STRANGE HIGH HOUSE. The trouble with Doolin is that although he occasionally turned out something good like this, yet the most of his illustrations lacked imagination. The lack of imagination is why we have let Wilcox go.

I was surprized, when I read the page-proofs of THROUGH THE GATES OF THE SILVER KEY, to find no mention whatever of Unaussprechlichen Kulten. So there was nothing to change. In the typescript of Mrs. Heald's story, OUT OF THE EONS, Unaussprechlichen Kulten is mentioned twice; and I have changed this in the typescript (following Howard's example) to Nameless Cults.

Thanks again for your promptness. Regards to both you and Barlow.

Cordially yours,



Farnsworth Wright

[[ Link to letter, with images: ]]

The beginning and the end of the letter concern Robert E. Howard’s creation Unaussprechlichen Kulten, which first appeared in “The Black Stone” (Weird Tales Nov 1931) and “The Thing on the Roof” (WT Feb 1932) under the English title Nameless Cults. The book, inspired by works such as Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, was well-received by HPL:

And this reminds me to remark how much I enjoyed “The Thing on the Roof”. That carried the sort of kick I enjoy! Before long I mean to quote Justin Geoffrey and von Juntz’s “Black Book” in some story of my own.

—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 16 Jan 1932, MF 1.264

Neither Lovecraft nor Howard were fluent in German, but Lovecraft felt the book should have a German title and attempted to create one. Before he used it, however, Lovecraft tried out the title on August Derleth, whose family retained some German (his grandmother being Pennsylvania Dutch), which led to this exchange:

By the way—in case I ever try any more tales for my own amusement, can you tell me if Ungenennte Hedenthume is an even approximately decent German equivalent of the title “Nameless Cults”? I want to be able to make casual allusions to von Junzt’s Black Book in the original. I only took German a year, & that was in 1906—the present possibly ridiculous attempt at translations being a result of blind & unintelligent groping in a meagre grammar & wholly inadequate dictionary. I thought it best to give the word “Cult” its darkest signification—the phrase as above being really, I suppose, “Unnamed Heathenisms”. Any light you can shed on this matter will be of the utmost interest to an illiterate old man. I have a remote notion of some day hinting at the reason why von Junzt’s great-grandson lately cut his throat after discovering certain papers in his ancestor’s long-sealed Düsseldorf attic.

—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 28 Jan 1932, ES 2.446


Thanks for the original title of the Black Book. I feel sure that Unausprechlichen Kulten is the correct version!

—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 2 Feb 1932, ES 2.448

Neither phrase is grammatically correct German, but Lovecraft passed the title on to Robert E. Howard.

I feel honored that you should refer to Von Junzt’s accursed document, and thanks for the German of “Nameless Cults”, which I’ll use in referring to it. Though I’ve lived adjacent to Germans for many years, I know nothing of the language—and neither do a lot of them.

—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Apr 1932, MF 1.279

The new title did not make an “official” appearance immediately, although Lovecraft began to make reference to it in his letters (cf. DS 367, MF 1.308, etc.) Lovecraft would first make reference to the book under its German title in “The Horror in the Museum” (WT Jul 1933), ghostwritten for Hazel Heald. Farnsworth Wright, however, was not in on the joke, as was apparent when he wrote:

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Literary Influences of Robert E. Howard: Arthur O. Friel by Todd B. Vick

Adventure June 3, 1921
Adventure magazine played an integral part in Robert E. Howard’s life as a writer (and reader). According to Howard, he discovered the magazine on a summer evening when he had “exhausted all the reading material on the place.” (CL 3.87) He apparently walked to downtown Cross Plains and ventured into one of the shops (possibly Higginbotham or one of the local drug stores; he never reveals the locale), and discovers the magazine on the rack. The stories in Adventure dazzled him so much he continued to purchase the magazine for years.
As best as I can determine, the Adventure magazine Howard purchased that summer evening was most likely the June 3, 1921 issue. The issue featured two writers who would make a lasting impression on fifteen-year-old Howard: Arthur O. Friel and Rafael Sabatini. Both writers are similar in style and content (e.g. swashbuckling sword fights, etc.), though the settings of their adventure stories are worlds apart; many of Friel’s stories are typically set in South America (Amazon/Brazil) and Sabatini’s in various different locales. Howard would utilize (and mimic) both writer’s style. From Friel, Howard borrows vast jungle settings, from Sabatini Howard borrows rapier sword duels (and other things). Sabatini also fueled Howard’s passion for pirate stories. We will examine Rafael Sabatini’s influence on Howard in a future post. For now, let’s turn our attention to Arthur O. Friel.
That June 3 1921 issue of Adventure was most likely the first time Howard had encountered Arthur O. Friel’s work. Friel’s story “The Barrigudo” was in that issue. After this first encounter with the magazine, Howard indicated that he continued to purchase Adventure for years, when he could afford it. By fall of 1921, October the 10th to be precise, Howard began reading Friel’s four-part series “The Pathless Trail.” The subsequent parts appeared in these issues of Adventure: October 20 (part 2), October 30 (part 3), and November 10 (part 4). This series and other stories by Friel would be paramount for Howard’s stylistic prose for several of his Solomon Kane and his latter adventure fantasy stories (e.g. Conan) stories.

Arthur Olney Friel
For sheer adventure in faraway uncharted Amazonian jungles, Friel was the consummate writer for Adventure. In fact, he had quite a large readership. Friel’s descriptive prose and quick paced action narrative would apply a deep brand on Howard’s early published works.  Now, back to Friel’s four-part series “The Pathless Trail.” I chose this series by Friel because Howard indicated that he read it (REHB appendix 2), and to a large degree, Howard mimics Friel’s narrative style and structure in several of his Solomon Kane stories. Howard uses this style and structure throughout his career in various places until he perfects it and places his own stamp on it, coupling it with his own signature prose rhythm and pace. He then uses it later in his Conan stories. This style also influences Howard’s writing voice throughout his publishing career. There are a handful of writers who influenced Howard in this fashion, and Friel is one of them.
The columns below show the similarities between Friel’s and Howard’s use of language, description, style, and sentence structure.

“Day by day the downflowing jungle river pushed steadily, sullenly against its prow, as if striving to repel the invasion of its secret places.” From Friel’s “The Pathless Trail”
“He gazed at the huts, wondering why the thatch roofs of so many were torn and rent, as if by taloned things seeking entrance.” From Howard’s “Wings in the Night”
“The bushman turned at once and stole away. The others turned the canoes, transported the necessary duffle to the base of the hollow tree, made camp, and squatted against the trunk to smoke, watch, and wait. Several times they heard calls receding in the distance. Then came silence.” (Ibid)
“When all were buckling from exhaustion. The sun dipped, night rushed on, and a halt was called. Camp was pitched, guards thrown out, and the slaves were fed scantily and given enough water to keep life in them – but only just enough.” From Howard’s “The Footfalls Within”
“Worming around gigantic columns, crawling over rotting trunks, changing directions abruptly when blocked by some great butt too high to be scaled, sinking ankle-deep in clinging mud, the venturesome band wound along through the wilderness. The general trend of the march was southeast, but impassable obstacles encountered at frequent intervals necessitated not only detours, but sometimes actual backtracking.” (Ibid)
“The littoral of the great river altered. Plains turned into swamps that stank with reptilian life. Where fertile meadows had rolled, forests reared up, growing into dank jungles. The changing ages wrought on the inhabitants of the city as well. They did not migrate to fresher lands. Reasons inexplicable to humanity held them to the ancient cities and their doom.” From Howard’s “Queen of the Black Coast”

These examples demonstrate that Howard, as a reader of stories and writers he loved, paid attention to what he was reading. Friel’s influence on Howard’s early and later writing style is certainly present in these three examples. There are a host of other examples between the two writers, but these three examples work well to drive home my point.
            A use of hearty pronouns to vividly describe landscapes and action in each of their stories was frequently utilized. In fact, the language and style between the two writers was fairly common among pulp writers. The writers who stood out among the hundreds of pulp writers from this era are, however, the ones who not only utilized these techniques, but chose their words carefully to help control their story’s pace, creating a much better tone and rhythm. Even though other pulp writers like Friel influenced Howard. Howard stood out due to his signature prose, distinct writing voice, and his ability to astutely control the pace of his narrative, taking hold of his reader and pulling them through the scenery and action. In other words, Howard took what he liked in Friel’s work, made it his own, and then wrote better and far more enduring tales.

The Pathless Trail
Time-Lost Series
Centaur Press, 1969

            With all this in mind, it’s interesting that Arthur O. Friel is mentioned only once in all of Robert E. Howard’s letters. In a letter to Carl Jacobi from the Summer of 1934, Howard declares, “I was much interested to note that you are acquainted with Arthur O. Friel. He has been one of my favorite authors for years.” That’s it, one simple statement indicating that Howard had read Friel’s work for years and that Friel was one of Howard’s favorite authors. We have certainly seen why this is the case. Interestingly, Arthur O. Friel never broke free from Adventure magazine into the wider publishing community. Although, in 1950 he managed to publish a collection of his stories from Adventure. Some of these same stories were republished in 1969 by Centaur Press for their Time-Lost series. It’s worth noting that three of the volumes in this same Time-Lost series from Centaur Press are Robert E. Howard collections containing several Solomon Kane tales and fragments. The two writers certainly complement each other in this series and, Howard would be proud to know his work was published in a series of works that included one of his favorite writers, Arthur O. Friel.

Works Cited
CL           Collected Letters
REHB     The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf
The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane     Del Rey, 2004
The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian   Del Rey, 2003
The Pathless Trail   Centaur Press, 1969

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Literary Influences of Robert E. Howard: Robert W. Service by Todd B. Vick

From a very early age Robert E. Howard loved poetry. This was in large part due to his mother and her passion for verse. From the time Robert was born, Hester Howard recited poetry to her son. So naturally, Robert grew to love poetry. And there were a number of poets who influenced him as a reader and a writer. One such poet was Robert W. Service. His work loomed large in its influence of Robert E. Howard.

Robert W. Service
Service was born on January 14, 1874 in a small village named Preston, in Lancashire England just 20 or so miles northeast of the port town Liverpool. Service began writing poetry at an early age, heavily influenced by these Victorian poets: Tennyson, Browning and Keats. Several of these same poets, along with Robert W. Service played an integral part in influencing Howard’s verse. Service eventually moved to Canada, and settled in the Yukon territory. It took Service a bit of time to get his poetry published. Frankly, most poems and/or poets never make a living at their craft. With little success as a writer, to support himself Service took a job as a banker in the Pacific Northeast at the Canadian Bank of Commerce. All the while, he continued to write. Eventually Service managed to secure a publisher in London for his first collection of verse (Songs of Sourdough), published in 1907.

In the United States, Edward Stern and Company of Philadelphia published the same volume under a different title, The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses. This volume gained a large amount of readers in the early twentieth century. Robert E. Howard owned the United States edition of Service’s first collection, and he particularly enjoyed “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.” In fact, this poem eventually became one of the most memorized in the United States a few years after its publication. A few years later another collection by Service, Ballads of a Cheechako, garnered almost equal success as The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses, and Service was able to quit his job at the bank, write full-time and travel.

The Spell of the Yukon
and Other Verses
1907 edition
Robert W. Service’s influence can clearly be seen in many of Howard’s own poetry. Their rhyme and meter, heavily influenced by the Victorian poets, was similar. And among Howard's close friends, in particular Tevis Clyde Smith, Service's poetry was highly praised. According to Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, [Tevis Clyde Smith] Clive, considered Robert W. Service the greatest poet of all-time. Steve [Robert E. Howard] declared that Service was second only to Rudyard Kipling. [POSR, 74] Due to its content, Service’s poetry was ripe for the working class. This is likely one of the reasons Howard and Smith liked it. Without much sophistication, Service was able to delineate the common man and their struggles in his verse. Moreover, the content of many of Service’s verse was about frontier life in the Canadian Yukon, gold rushes, and man’s toil to survive. Of course, Howard loved those topics making Service’s verse resonate in his own imagination. Service’s poems were about the simple, ordinary life, and Howard especially liked this. In fact, on one occasion Howard told Lovecraft: “My tastes and habits are simple; I am neither erudite nor sophisticated. I prefer jazz to classical music, musical burlesque to Greek tragedy, A. Conan Doyle to Balzac, and [Robert] Bob Service’s verse to Santayana’s writing, a prize fight to a lecture on art.” [CL 3.66]

After his death, several of Service's books were present in Howard's personal book collection and donated to the Howard Payne College library; titles such as The Pretender, Ballads of a Bohemian, Rhymes of a Red-Cross Man, and The Spell of the Yukon and Others. Some of these books are now displayed in a bookcase at the Howard House and Museum in Cross Plains, Texas.

Works Cited
CL           Collected Letters
POSR      Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (Grant edition)