Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Cthulhu Mythos and Space Opera by Bobby Derie


H.P. Lovecraft
As a young man H. P. Lovecraft would have thrilled to the sword-and-planet adventures of John Carter in Under the Moons of Mars (1912), and the intimation of ancient alien presences on Earth in A. Merritt’s The Moon-Pool (1918); but by the time he was writing his own adult material he had largely turned to fantasy—but it was the fantasy of the pre-Atomic age. E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen policed the galaxy in the pages of Amazing Stories, Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age city of Xuthal was lit by radium lamps, Leigh Brackett imagined a solar system full of habitable planets, C. L. Moore’s Northwest Smith was an outlaw on many planets with ray-gun in hand, Clark Ashton Smith’s last survivors of Atlantis and Hyperborea journey to far Sfanomoë (Venus) and Cykranosh (Saturn), and Lovecraft’s monsters were not the typical witches and vampires, but stranger, alien entities.
            A keen amateur astronomer, Lovecraft largely eschewed the dynamics that made space opera feasible. In his 1935 essay “Some Notes on Interplanetary Fiction” he railed:

A good interplanetary story must have realistic human characters; not the stock scientists, villainous assistants, invincible heroes, and lovely scientist’s-daughter heroines of the usual trash of this sort. Indeed, there is no reason why there should be any “villain”, “hero”, or “heroine” at all. These artificial character-types belong wholly to artificial plot-forms, and have no place in serious fiction of any kind. The function of the story is to express a certain human mood of wonder and liberation, and any tawdry dragging-in of dime-novel theatricalism is both out of place and injurious. No stock romance is wanted. We must select only such characters (not necessarily stalwart or dashing or youthful or beautiful or picturesque characters) as would naturally be involved in the events to be depicted, and they must behave exactly as real persons would behave if confronted with the given marvels. The tone of the whole thing must be realism, not romance. [...] Hoary stock devices connected with the reception of the voyagers by the planet’s inhabitants ought to be ruled rigidly out. Thus we should have no overfacile language-learning; no telepathic communication; no worship of the travellers as deities; no participation in the affairs of pseudohuman kingdoms, or in conventional wars between factions of inhabitants; no weddings with beautiful anthropomorphic princesses; no stereotyped Armageddons with ray-guns and space-ships; no court intrigues and jealous magicians; no peril from hairy ape-men of the polar caps; and so on, and so on. [...] It is not necessary that the alien planet be inhabited—or inhabited at the period of the voyage—at all. If it is, the denizens must be definitely non-human in aspect, mentality, emotions, and nomenclature, unless they are assumed to be descendants of a prehistoric colonising expedition from our earth. The human-like aspect, psychology, and proper names commonly attributed to other-planetarians by the bulk of cheap authors is at once hilarious and pathetic. Another absurd habit of conventional hacks is having the major denizens of other planets always more advanced scientifically and mechanically than ourselves; always indulging in spectacular rites against a background of cubistic temples and palaces, and always menaced by some monstrous and dramatic peril. This kind of pap should be replaced by an adult realism, with the races of other-planetarians represented, according to the artistic demands of each separate case, as in every stage of development—sometimes high, sometimes low, and sometimes unpicturesquely middling. Royal and religious pageantry should not be conventionally overemphasised; indeed, it is not at all likely that more than a fraction of the exotic races would have lit upon the especial folk-customs of royalty and religion. It must be remembered that non-human beings would be wholly apart from human motives and perspectives.

In his own fiction, Lovecraft largely kept to these principles, the main exception being “In the Walls of Eryx” (1936), written in collaboration with Kenneth Sterling and published after Lovecraft’s death. In his own fiction, Lovecraft allowed horrors from the stars to come to Earth—most notably Cthulhu in “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926), “The Colour Out of Space” (1927), the Mi-Go in “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1930), the K’n-Yans of “The Mound” (1930), the Elder Things in At the Mountains of Madness (1931), and the Yithians in The Shadow Out of Time (1935), with passing references in other tales; he also touched on interplanetary fiction in “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (1932) with E. Hoffmann Price and in his part of the round-robin “The Challenge from Beyond” (1935).

           
Clark Ashton Smith
Lovecraft’s friends and compatriots had no such qualms, and followed their own muse. Clark Ashton Smith set stories on Mars, Venus, and Saturn, blending cosmic horror with space opera. Robert E. Howard occasionally dropped Lovecraftian monsters from “the Outer Dark” into his Hyborian Age setting for Conan to face, and wrote the sword-and-planet novel Almuric, published after his death. C. L. Moore, who was part of the Lovecraft circle and major contributor to Weird Tales from 1933-1937, was not a direct contributor to the Mythos, but her space opera outlaw Northwest Smith faced monsters no less Lovecraftian for their lack of direct ties to the Cthulhu mythology.
            In the decades since then, many writers have expanded on the creations of Lovecraft and his friends, taking them into every conceivable setting—including space—such as Richard A. Lupoff’s classic “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” (1977). In the late 80s a short-lived magazine focused on tales of scientifiction called Astro-Adventures (1987-1989), which included tales both old and new worth seeking out and reading. The best of the new tales might be Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette’s Boojumverse (“Boojum,” “Mongoose,” and “The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward”) full of space pirates and living ships which are fantastic.
            Lovecraft himself never gave a single, consistent approach to the Mythos he created—nor did he require his friends and co-creators to adapt themselves to his philosophies of writing. The Mythos of his stories takes place in a dark and strange cosmos, where beings from distant stars and planets had visited Earth in the distant past...and some of them still survived, or their relics at least. The different approaches that the creators of the Mythos took, the occasional contradictions and fans’ efforts to reconcile disparate representations of the Mythos and its relationship to space, are all part of the fun of the setting. Mythology need not be consistent, and it need not all be true...lies, distortions, omissions, and forgotten truths underlay the mythology of Cthulhu and Hastur, Shub-Niggurath and Tsathoggua. It is up to the readers to decide where exactly is the cold planetoid Yuggoth from whence the Mi-Go come, or whether Mars and Venus ever bore life and were habitable by human beings.
            In the decades before humanity split the atom, they looked up at the stars at night and dreamed of walking on other planets—not knowing what they would find there. There was a sense of limitless possibilities, with their feet upon the dusty earth, and their imaginations flying through Venusian skies, disturbing the dust in some million-year-old ruin on Mars. It was an age when solar empires were planned out with pencil and paper, and realized on typewriters. Much of it never happened, and what did happen not the way they thought it would—but it’s a fun dream to visit sometimes.

Suggested Reading


Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette: “Boojum,” “Mongoose,” “The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward

Ramsey Campbell: “The Insects from Shaggai,” “The Mine on Yuggoth”

Robert E. Howard: Almuric, “The Vale of Lost Women,” “Xuthal of the Dusk”

H. P. Lovecraft: At the Mountains of Madness, “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Colour Out of Space,” The Shadow Out of Time, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

H. P. Lovecraft & Hazel Heald: “The Horror in the Museum,” “Out of the Aeons”

H. P. Lovecraft & Zealia Brown Reed Bishop: “The Mound”

H. P. Lovecraft & E. Hoffmann Price: “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”

H. P. Lovecraft & Kenneth Sterling: “In the Walls of Eryx”

Richard Lupoff: “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone,” “Documents in the Case of Elizabeth Akeley”

C. L. Moore: All of the Northwest Smith stories, but especially “Shambleau,” “Julhi,” “Yvala,”
“The Cold Grey God,” and “Lost Paradise.”

C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, & Frank Belknap Long:
“The Challenge from Beyond”

Clark Ashton Smith: “A Voyage to Sfanomoë,” “The City of the Singing Flame,” “The Demon of the Flower,” “The Door to Saturn,” “The Dweller in the Gulf,” “The Immortals of Mercury,” “Master of the Asteroid,” “Mnemoka,” “The Plutonian Drug,” “Seedling of Mars,” “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis,” “Vulthoom”

E. E. Smith: The Lensman series, especially the core four novels (First Lensman, Galactic Patrol, Grey Lensman, Second Stage Lensman)


Bobby Derie’s latest work is Space Madness!, a roleplaying game of adventure & horror in an atompunk future inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, & other Mythos writers.


Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Carnival, The Girl, and The Smitten Teenager by Todd B. Vick

“There were many women in the brief life span of Robert Ervin Howard. And yet there were few.”—Harold Preece, Fantasy Crossroads, vol.1, no. 3, May 1975
Novalyne Price
1927 yearbook photo
Daniel Baker College
Often when fans think of Robert E. Howard and women, images come to mind of Bêlit, Valeria, Yasmina, or any other number of female characters Howard created. Some may think of his mother, who devoted her time and life supporting her son. Perhaps more ardent fans (and Howard scholars) wonder if the notion that he had relations with a prostitute in Mexico is, in fact, true. There does seem to be strong evidence for such. There is also the “Sunday school girl” Howard discussed with his colleagues in The Junto. Someone Preece admits they all were worried could possibly have tied Howard to a conventional “churchy woman.” (Preece 21) Maybe some fans think of Novalyne Price Ellis, who dated Howard for several years toward the end of his life. Whatever the case, perhaps only a handful of Howard aficionados and scholars recall the carnival girl whom a smitten Howard encountered at the tender age of 15.
There is next to nothing written about the events of Howard’s life at age 15, when he visited a carnival, perhaps local to Cross Plains but maybe elsewhere, and encountered a female carnival worker. Apparently, she was like a strong west Texas dust devil scurrying across the plains, who immediately swept Howard up, if only from a distance. Howard never mentioned this girl in his letters, to anyone. Moreover, one of his closest friends, Tevis Clyde Smith, who had written somewhat extensively on Howard’s life, never mentioned her in any of his writings. In fact, none of Howard’s closest friends or correspondences who have written anything we have copies of (e.g. essays, letters, interviews, articles, etc.) ever mention this girl, except one—Harold Preece. 

In the May 1975 issue of Fantasy Crossroads (book three volume 1), contains an article by Harold Preece titled, “Women and Robert Ervin Howard.” In this article, Preece discusses a private conversation he had with Howard in Cross Plains when Preece visited the Howards at their home, just six or so years after the carnival experience. Preece explains:

The full—yet awfully thin, story—came out during the one weekend that I spent with the Howard family. The year was either ’28 or ’29. I can remember the fondness with which Mrs. Howard gazed at her maverick son—but, also, the graciousness with which she treated me as a guest knowing her Dallas nieces, Maxine and Lesta Ervin. She would have undoubtedly known the nice Sunday school miss. But probably this conventional matron had never heard of the carnival girl. (Preece 21)

The idea that Mrs. Howard likely knew nothing about the carnival girl is probably correct. There were various things Howard kept from his mother, some out of embarrassment to himself, and others if for no other reason than she might get upset.[1] And like all of us do, he experienced things he simply wanted to keep to himself. Even so, Howard confided in his friend regarding the carnival girl.
           
Preece provides no description of the girl, which likely means Howard may have never given one. So, what she looked like is lost. In Preece’s article, he attempts to interpret why Robert may have been smitten with this girl. “Carnies—a wild breed—interested him because they lived free of the rules that govern solid home folk.” (21) At its core, this idea is very Howardian, but its not likely the whole reason Howard may have been taken in by her. “He stood there spellbound when he saw her moving around the midway.” (21) Other than a particular beauty that a 15-year-old Howard may have favored, how could this carnie girl have captured young Howard’s immediate attention? Preece surmises that, “she would have been easily identifiable as a ‘despised show woman’ in any of the little towns played by the rambling carnival. By her cosmetics and her hairdo —eyed jealously by inhibited local ladies—by her lascivious walk and her general air of not giving a damn about not being a nice girl.” (21) Preece certainly paints an interesting picture of Howard’s telling of the circumstances. One can easily see why Howard might like her since she smacks of everything he may have found appealing: different, mysterious, free, beautiful, and an uninvited kind of character that Howard was fond of incorporating into many of his stories.
            It is not known whether this carnival (or fair as the case may have been) was a local event or an itinerant show. It is not likely that the show was local, like the annual fair and rodeo held in Cross Plains nearly every summer and typically sponsored by someone such as the local Fire Department. If that were the case, this carnival girl may have been a local girl, unless they hired outside workers to come in and help. There was such an event in Cross Plains on July 21-22, 1921 and a write up about it in the July 29, 1921 Cross Plains Review. But Preece’s retelling of Howard’s experience does not seem indicative of a local event. No, it seems closer to an itinerant carnival or an out of town event. It is also possible that this carnival may have been in a larger town, like Abilene or Brownwood, and the Howards traveled to attend it. In fact, back in 1921, both Brownwood and Abilene hosted various carnivals and fairs in their respective towns. The American Legion held several rodeos/carnivals in Brownwood,[2] and Abilene hosted a traveling carnival that is still in existence today.[3] It would not have been unusual for the Howards to have traveled to either town, especially since Mrs. Howard had at one time lived in Abilene and the Howards also knew people in Brownwood.
            Whatever the case may be, a 15-year-old Howard spotted this girl, and being taken in by her, he watched her until she “disappeared behind a tent with a man—likely another carnie—for whom she had probably been waiting.” (22) According to Preece’s recollection, the girl’s occupation at the carnival was not known. She was likely spotted by Howard somewhere on the midway, perhaps close to the gaming or show booths.

She may have been a dancer—maybe the mistress of the character who “barked” the show. Or she could have been a shill for one of the “pitches” stepping up to make a fake purchase of some dubious ware to attract customers not getting their money back. She might have been a gypsy or just some Midwest girl gone wrong.
     Whoever or whatever this sensuous wench, she made a lifelong impression on an already impressionable 15-year old boy. (22)


After she disappeared behind the tent with one of her fellow carnies, Howard did not see her again. Taking this account into consideration and given the fact that Preece recalls that Howard was quite taken by this girl, one wonders whether he incorporated her into any one of his numerous female characters. Preece thought Howard might have done just that. “Subconsciously or otherwise this actual maverick woman may have been his model for all the fantasized ones due to be born of his ripened talent, years later.” (22)
            It is at least interesting to imagine that Howard may have used his memory of her for a female character for, perhaps, one or more of his Conan yarns. Could she have been the model for a blonde-haired mercenary named Valeria? Or could she have been the woman in “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter,” whose “body was like ivory to his [Conan’s] dazed gaze . . .” (Howard 32) Perhaps Howard used her as the model for Bêlit, who was “untamed as a desert wind, supple and dangerous as a she-panther.” (127) There are any number of possibilities where Howard may have used her. Or it may be that he simply kept her to himself, choosing to tell only his friend, Harold Preece, perhaps in an attempt to make her real again in the telling. Whatever the case may be, she certainly left an indelible impression, and I for one, am glad that Harold Preece chose to share Howard’s experience with his fans.

Works Cited
Howard, Robert E. The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian. New York: Del Rey, 2003.
Preece, Harold. "Women and Robert Ervin Howard." Edited by Jonathan Bacon. Fantasy Crossroads, May 1975, 20-22. (Volume 1, Number 3)



[1] In one of Howard’s letters to Clyde Smith, Howard attempts to avoid writing a biography about himself for The Junto, for fear certain things about himself might get back to his mother (CL3.487-488)
[2] See The Cross Plains Review, Vol XII, No. 11, May 20, 1921.
[3] In Abilene, Texas a city fair was established in 1881, which later became a county fair, and eventually became The West Texas Fair and Rodeo. By 1921, this fair in Abilene would have been a county fair with an itinerant carnival coming in to set up its show.

This article was originally posted at James R. Schmidt's blog: MightyThorJRS

Sunday, July 28, 2019

“Black Canaan” vs. “Black Cunjer” by Bobby Derie

Black Canaan, from WT June 1936
Illustrated by Harold S. Daley
Robert E. Howard’s “Black Canaan” has almost become the go-to reference to the writer’s racism. Paul Shovlin describes the story as “the most contentious example of racial stereotype in the Howard corpus” (Pridas 95). Timothy Jones wrote: “There is no describing the crude racism of the tale.” (Jones 92). Even Howard biographer Mark Finn describes the story as “blatantly offensive” and adds:
Robert's treatment of Southern black culture is discussed mostly from the point of view of "Pigeons From Hell" and "Black Canaan." Howard fans have a hard time defending the latter against post-modern critical interpretation. But viewed within the context of Robert's canon, it's hard to condemn the story outright, even as it's easy to judge or misjudge it. (Finn 100)
While some critics have sought to place “Black Canaan” within the context of Howard’s fiction, few have sought to place it within the context of when and where it first appeared: Weird Tales. Issues of race and prejudice were no stranger to “The Unique Magazine,” which had published stories such as Eli Colter’s “The Last Horror” (WT Jan 1927) and numerous voodoo yarns by writers like Henry S. Whitehead, Arthur J. Burks, and Seabury Quinn which feature racial discrimination prominently. Yet one of the best stories to compare and contrast with “Black Canaan” is a story in the same setting, and dealing with the same subjects: voodoo, a conjure-man, & racism in the piney woods—Isabel Walker’s “Black Cunjer” (WT Jul-Aug 1923).

No other story in Weird Tales is associated with Isabel Walker, though she has a handful of contributions to other pulps; “Black Cunjer” might have been her first and last sale, or perhaps it was a pen-name for another writer. Whatever the case, the story has some peculiar similarities to Howard’s tale, in terms of language and setting. Given the date, there is even the chance that Robert E. Howard may have read “Black Cunjer” on its first and only publication; though in his letters Howard makes no reference to the magazine, and beyond that the background of “Black Canaan” is better-attested than most Howard tales. It began with a letter to H. P. Lovecraft:
Probably the most picturesque figure in the Holly Springs country was Kelly the “conjer man”, who held sway among the black population in the ‘70s. Son of a Congo ju-ju man was Kelly, and he dwelt apart from his race in silent majesty on the river. He must have been a magnificent brute, tall and supple as a black tiger, and with a silent haughtiness of manner that included whites as well as blacks. He had little to say and was not given to idle conversation. He did no work, nor did he ever take a mater, living in mysterious solitude. He always wore a red shirt, and large brass ear-rings in his ears added to the color of his appearance. He lifted “conjers” and healed disease by incantation and nameless things made of herbs and ground snake-bones. The black people called him Doctor Kelly and his first business was healing Later he began to branch into darker practices. Niggers came to him to have spells removed, that enemies had places on them, and the manner of his removal must have been horrific, judging from the wild tales that circulated afterwards. Consumption was unknown there, almost, among whites, but negroes had it plentifully and Kelly professed to cure such victims by cutting open their arms and sifting in a powder made of ground snake-bones. At last negroes began to go insane from his practices; whether the cause was physical or mental is unknown to this day, but the black population came to fear him as they did not fear the Devil, and Kelly assumed more and more a brooding, satanic aspect of dark majesty and sinister power; when he began casting his brooding eyes on white folk as if their souls, too, were his to dandle in the hollow of his hand, he sealed his doom. There were desperate characters living in the riverlands, white folks little above the negro in civilization, and much more dangerous and aggressive. They began to fear the conjure man and one night he vanished. Nor is it difficult to picture what happened in that lonely cabin, shadowed by the pine forest—the crack of a shot in the night, the finishing stroke of a knife, then a sullen splash in the dusky waters of the Ouachita—and Kelly the conjure man vanished forever from the eyes of men. —Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Dec 1930, MF 1.109-110, CL 2.134
Lovecraft’s response does not survive, but in the next letter it becomes apparent that the Yankee pulpster was encouraging his Texan peer to turn the anecdote into a full-fledged story. Howard would write in reply:
Kelly the conjure-man was quite a character, but I fear I could not do justice to such a theme as you describe. I hope you will carry out your idea in writing the story you mention, of a pre-negroid African priest reincarnated in a plantation negro. As for me handling this theme better than yourself, it is beyond the realms of possibility, regardless of any first-hand knowledge of background which I might possess. [...] I hope you will write this story some time, and if any of my anecdotes of pine land and negro lore can be used in any way, or give you any ideas, you are more than welcome to them.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Jan 1931, MF 1.129-130, CL 2.157-158
Lovecraft wrote back to Howard:
I don’t agree that you couldn’t do justice to Kelly, the Conjer-Man, and his Atlantean antecedents, in a story—and you will try it some day. I have a whole book full of idea-jottings which I could never write up if I lived to be a thousand [...]—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 30 Jan 1931, MF 1.144
Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book includes two entries along these lines, although they date from 1923:
108: “Educated mulatto seeks to displace personality of white man & occupy his body”
109: “Ancient negro voodoo wizard in cabin in swamp—possesses white man.”(CE 5.225)
Although he would never attempt either of these stories, the idea of mental possession and personality displacement would be prominent in several of Lovecraft’s later stories, especially "The Shadow Out of Time" (Astounding Jun 1936) and “The Thing on the Doorstep” (WT Jan 1937).

Howard appears to have been inspired by Lovecraft to write up an article on the subject, titled “Kelly the Conjure-Man,” which he submitted to the Texaco Star (MF 1.114n7). The text is an expanded version of the anecdote in Howard’s original letter, adding more detail and atmosphere, and prefaced with a bit of verse:



Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Tale of Two Letters by Bobby Derie



Not every letter from every pulp writer that survives has been published; many remain on the open market and in private hands, coming up for sale from time to time...and they have stories to tell about Robert E. Howard.


The letter was posted on Facebook in Sep 2016 by Bob Meracle, who wrote of the acquisition: 
One of the "lots" August Derleth Offered to sell to me (and I gladly snapped it up) was a collection of manuscripts which included 3 signed typewritten Conan stories. I sold the 3 a couple decades ago, but held onto this cool note that was sandwiched between them.
While not explicitly stated, these typescripts were likely originally from the collection of R. H. Barlow. In 1932, Barlow solicited manuscripts and typescripts from Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, C. L. Moore, and other pulp writers, and Howard responded by sending several early typescripts for stories. Barlow’s receipt of these typescripts is mentioned in his 1933 diary, as well as in surviving letters from Howard. (CL 2.519; 3.47, 219) After Barlow’s death, his mother sold his collection.

The identity of the recipient is unknown; the name on the letter, although effaced, is too long to be "Barlow," and we know Howard sent Barlow a letter dated the very next day (14 June 1934, CL 3.215), so it is unlikely that Barlow was the recipient. So we are left with only the internal evidence of the letter. The reference to a request for a snap-shot recalls Barlow’s correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft in late 1933, although this might be coincidental. (OFF 78, 81) The reference to turpentine camps and voodoo is thus the primary clue.

“Turpentine camps” were work camps, largely employing black labor, including leased convict labor and sometimes workers held in debt bondage (i.e. charging them for food, clothing, etc. more than their wages could supply). These workers distilled turpentine from the resiny pine forests in the southern United States; during the 1930s their geographic range extended from North Carolina to Louisiana near the Texas border, with notable operations in Georgia and Florida. Zora Neale Hurston visited such camps to collect folk songs, magical recipes, and stories, some of which were published in academic articles and her collection Mules and Men (1935).

This was part of a general trend of anthropologists and collectors of ethnic music and folklore visiting prisons, work camps, and remote communities in the 1930s to record this material before it was lost—including a friend of R. H. Barlow.

Well, well—& so a friend of yours, like William B. Seabrook, has come into first-hand contact with the horrors of Damballa & his serpents. Who knows what waddling nigger washerwoman may not be a potent & dangerous mamaloi with power to evoke nameless horrors & send hideous zombis stalking through the land!—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 21 Oct 1933 (OFF 83)
Thanks tremendously for the voodoo report, which I've read with extreme interest. your friend seems to have been quite an amateur Wm. B. Seabrook—& the experience must have been powerfully moving in its way. Later on, if you ever make a copy, I certainly wouldn't mind a spare carbon. Those "geachi" blacks must be rather an interesting study.—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 13 Nov 1933 (OFF 85)
That voodoo encounter surely was picturesque—I'd hardly care to get into such close quarters with a crowd of excited blacks, but anthropological zeal will carry one far. So the "geechis" owe their superiority to insular isolation! I believe that, in general, all the Carolina island negroes are called "gullahs", & that their dialect differs from that of the mainland blacks. No doubt the geechis are a variety of these.—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 29 Nov 1933 (OFF 88)


Sunday, March 31, 2019

Robert E. Howard’s Cow by Bobby Derie

Yes, there was a cow. I saw the critter. Her name was Delhi, and hump shouldered to suggest Indian blood—Asian-Indian, I mean.—E. Hoffmann Price to L. Sprague de Camp, 11 Feb 1977 (IMH 297)
LT: A Guernsey milk cow, named Delhi (pron. dell-high). I think I told you about that one time.—Lindsey Tyson, interview with L. Sprague & Catherine Crook de Camp, 7 Mar 1978

Howard House date unknown
The Howard House in Cross Plains, Texas sits on a grassy lot, some ways away from Main Street (Highway 206) and the downtown district, with a field behind it. When the Howards lived there, the property included a barn, and though not rural in any real sense—the Howards could easily see their next door neighbors—the country was not far off, and they had space to grow vegetables and keep a few animals. H. P. Lovecraft, a native to cities, was under the impression that they lived on a small farm (ES2.523-524, LFB 32), but Robert E. Howard declared:
We are not farmers. We live in a small town and have only a very small piece of land, but we have enough to keep a little stock and raise a garden. Right now we have far more than we need of greens, radishes, turnips, and the like. We have been taking cattle, hogs and canned stuffs on debts, as well as grain and feed. We have a good supply of hay, oats, cotton-seed, maize, and corn, and we have meal and flour ground from corn and wheat we got the same way. We have milk from our own cow, and plenty of meat. We had a whole calf canned — it’s surprizing how much meat a good fat calf makes — cans of steak, roast-beef, soup, hash, chili, liver, heart, tongue — everything but the hoofs.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Jan 1932 (CL2.297, MF1.259)

This was the first reference to the Howards owning a cow, possibly taken in trade by Dr. Howard, as the Great Depression made itself known and cash was in short supply. Novalyne Price recalled: “A lot of people couldn’t pay a doctor bill, but they could give a dozen eggs.” (DS 10) and observed that Dr. Howard took payment in meat and vegetables. (OWWA 167, cf. CL2.450, MF1.396)
The Agricultural Outlook for 1932 produced by the U. S. Department of Agriculture noted that in the face of weakening demand the price of beef—and cattle—had declined; average price per head had dropped from $56.69 in 1929 to $26.64 in 1931, for a national loss in value of $730 million dollars. (31) The response from the government was the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, a New Deal program under which the government purchased millions of stock animals, not to butcher or process, but simply to kill them and reduce the supply. Milch cows (or milk cows, the terms were used interchangeably) were often advertised for sale and trade in the local newspapers—there are many advertisements thus in the Cross Plains Review, Brownwood Bulletin, and Abilene Morning Reporter—but cash prices are difficult to come by.
How long the Howards kept this cow, or even its name and breed, is unknown. Presumably it was this cow or a successor to which Howard refers when he wrote:
Nip suckles all impartially, with the possible exception of the stray kitten, who however, seems quite capable of taking care of itself, and which I’m trying to teach to stand on its hind-legs and drink milk squirted from the cow’s teat into its mouth. I haven’t had a cat that did that since Bebe.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, May 1935 (CL3.323-324, MF2.850)
Nip and Bebe were two of the many cats around the Howard house. Dr. Howard would later recall:
At the time of Robert's death, there were thirteen cats who had gathered up around the house. They were strays. I had spoken to him about carrying them away myself. He discouraged this, and continued milking his goats and feeding his cats. (IMH 269, WIW 151)
The ‘32 cow may or may not have been Delhi; Lindsey Tyson in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp dated 18 Feb 1977 claims the Howards owned the cow “4-5 years” before Robert E. Howard’s suicide in 1936, which would place ownership back to 1931 or ‘32. However, Delhi was not the Howard’s first cow,  which Robert E. Howard described as:

[...] a Jersey, and wild as a kite. Her teats were small, and she kicked and tossed her head and hooked, and raised hell generally and her calf was worse than she was. If she got through eating before I got through milking she’d turn her head, stare at me in feigned amazement as if she never saw me before and wondered what the hell I was doing there, and then kick out with both hind legs and go careering off around the lot, and sometimes I’d have to lasso her before I could catch her again. She was mean and vicious, and hooked me every chance she got, to say nothing of kicking the milk bucket out of my hand and stamping on my foot. Once I was leading her in at the lot gate, and she hooked me in the back, hooked me in the face when I turned, and an instant later hooked me beneath the heart and tore some skin off my ribs. This irritated me, and I gave her a bust on the jaw with my fist that knocked all the fight out of her and nearly broke her jaw. After that she never attempted to hook me again, but pulled all her other tricks, and her infernal calf nearly cost me an eye. Just a few days before it was traded off, along with her, I went into an adjoining lot to catch it and bring back to feed, and it refused to be caught, racing around wildly all over the lot, as big a fool as the old cow, and even meaner. I never could throw a rope worth a hang, and after a few attempts I lost patience, and ran at it and made a sort of flying tackle, aiming to grab it around the neck with my arms. Which I did, but it threw up its head just in time to spike me on its short, sharp horn. It caught me on the brow and instantly my eye was full of blood, but I hung on to the wretched beast, and got the rope on it and dragged it home — dragged is the word, because it always braced its legs and fought back every step of the way. All the time I was feeding the stock blood kept running into my eyes so I could hardly see, and when I got through and went into the house and looked into a glass, I found the horn had struck me just over my left eye, making a deep gash which penetrated to the bone. A fraction of an inch lower and it would have destroyed my eye, past doubt. I put some rub alcohol on it and it healed quickly, leaving only another scar of the many which decorate my features and body.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, May 1935 (CL3.323-324, MF2.851)

The Howards traded this animal for Delhi, although it isn’t clear when. In April 1934, E. Hoffmann Price and his wife left his job in a garage in Oklahoma for his native California, and stopped in Cross Plains on the way—and by then, the Howards definitely had Delhi, which he described to Lovecraft:
We have plenty of milk for them, because our cow came in fresh recently, but with a bull calf, to my disgust. I’d hoped for a heifer. The cow, Delhi, otherwise called the Begum, is a fine milch-cow, Guernsey with a touch of Brahma, or Holy Cow of India, which gives her more poise and a better temper than a Jersey cow generally possesses. She was bred with a registered Jersey bull, and I hoped much for the result, if it happened to be a heifer. But a mixed-breed milk bull is no good; all you can do is can him, so we gave him away. That is to say, you can’t make any money out of him, because everybody wants to breed their cows to a pure-bred registered animal. Price was much interested in Delhi’s Indian blood, and found her milk much to his liking. Indeed, her milk does taste better than any I ever drank, and tests out a very high percentage of butter fat; almost the maximum. On good grass she gives about four gallons a day, and in a dry lot, when well fed, she gives two to three gallons, enough for a medium sized family. I like her better than any cow I ever tried to milk. She has a splendid bag, and large teats, easy to juice, and she’s sensible, gentle and not nervous, as so many Jerseys are. [...] You have no idea what a relief it is to have a cow like Delhi.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, May 1935 (CL3.323-324, MF2.850-851)

The average pregnancy for a cow is 280 days; if Delhi gave birth around April or May, and the Howards had bred her, then it was impregnated around August 1933, so the Howards must have owned her since at least that time.
European colonizers brought their cattle (Bos taurus taurus) to the Americas in waves; including English breeds like the Jersey and Guernsey. Beginning in the late 19th century, however, some ranchers imported zebu, or Indian cattle (Bos indicus), to interbreed with their stock. The Indian breeds Nellore, Gir, Guzerat, and Krishna Valley were favored for their tolerance to heat, ability to withstand drought, and resistance to insects—traits that were passed down to offspring when crossbred with the European-derived cattle stock. (Parr 20) Cattle with significant zebu heritage are usually discernible by the characteristic hump on their back and dun color to their coat, as was the case with Delhi.
In America, these cattle were called Brahma or Brahman, after the Hindu deity Brahma (and, by extension, the Brahmin varna which specialized in priests and teachers), and Robert E. Howard’s characterization of her as the “Holy Cow of India” portrays the common misconception of Hinduism’s complex relationship with cattle. Cattle feature prominently in Vedic literature, and an overall trend in Hindu religion promoted by the Brahmins since that period was for the cow to be held in higher esteem for its production of ritual offerings particularly ghee (clarified butter), and symbolic of various goddess-figures, and subject of various religious festivals, celebrations, and ceremonies. In some sects, penalties became associated with killing a cow or eating beef, and the doctrine of ahmisa (non-injury of living creatures) became a communal point for Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. (Brown)
The name “Delhi” likely comes from the famous Indian city; Lindsey Tyson’s pronunciation suggests either he or Robert E. Howard had never heard the city’s name spoken aloud. The nickname “Begum” comes from Turkish, the wife of the beg (or bey, baig, beig, begh, etc.), usually translated as “lord” or “chieftain”; “Lady,” in the sense of a title, would probably be a fair approximation of how Howard ment it. The term was used thus for several characters in Harold Lamb’s stories of the Middle East and Asia, which Howard read and borrowed terminology from, and it may be so again here.
Lovecraft, as a cat-lover, was more enthusiastic about the Howard felines than bovines, but wrote to his Texas friend about his cattle:


Sunday, March 10, 2019

“Perhaps it is my wish to be devoured”: Altha of Almuric by Karen Joan Kohoutek

WT May 1936
The strong swordswoman characters created by Robert E. Howard (like Bêlit, Valeria, Dark Agnes, and Red Sonya of Rogatino) garner a lot of attention, and deservedly so. But his work also features a completely different, but equally distinctive, mode of strong female character, as found in his science fiction novel, Almuric.

The textural history of this novel is complex, as it was unfinished at the time of his death, and first published in 1939. The current available evidence suggests that it was finished by Weird Tales’ editor Farnsworth Wright, who “pieced together an ending from the first draft and used it to complete the second draft to make a complete story” (quoted by Douglas A. Anderson). In exploring the novel’s characters and their development, it should be kept in mind that certain elements may not have been Howard’s ultimate intent, although, as Anderson points out, “there is no actual evidence that Wright wrote or tampered much with the text.”

Almuric is the tale of Esau Cairn, a man "transported … from his native Earth to a planet in a solar system undreamed of by even the wildest astronomical theorists" (55). He was a man "born outside his epoch," with enormous physical strength, and "impatient of restraint and resentful of authority" (56). Struggling for survival on a bizarrely primitive alien world, full of giant beasts of prey, he finds himself for the first time "alive in every sense of the word," free from "the morbid and intricate complexes and inhibitions which torment the civilized individual" (74).

This story reflects statements Howard made in his letters to H.P. Lovecraft, about the invigorating effect of struggle and labor, and musing on what life would be like for a modern person thrust into a barbaric world. Notably, he says in such a primal, materially-oriented world, he’d prefer to be a true barbarian, "never troubling his head about abstractions, and really living his life to its fullest extent" (507).

Carin falls from this Eden of direct physical experience when he learns there are other people on the world, who seem to speak English. Unexpectedly, "a desire for human companionship" overtakes him (77), and he ventures to a walled city, where he is quickly captured and imprisoned although his strength and endurance will win him a place with the warriors of the tribe. Here he meets Altha, a young woman immediately associated with “some gentle and refined civilization” in the narrator’s mind (82). Previously, Cairn hadn’t seen refined civilization as a good thing, but it seems like a more positive thing when represented by a pretty girl with "lissome limbs" (ibid).

She re-enters the story when he’s held as a prisoner, and speaks in Cairn's defense with a strong sense of justice that is unusual in her society, otherwise so focused on physical might and the struggle for survival. At the idea that they are brutally treating a man who "came alone and with empty hands," she cries out, “It’s beastly!” (89-90)

Beastliness is a significant attribute: a few pages later, Cairn will explain that he came to this city because "I was tired of living among wild beasts" (91). By opposing what's "beastly," Altha is in a sense speaking up for the higher values, including the sense of right and wrong, that separate humanity from animals.

Eventually Cairn's exposition tells us more about the world where Altha has grown up. With their harsh existence, the men are "ape-like" (82), rough and physical, without any “superficial adjuncts of chivalry” (107). The women, however, are sheltered and protected, “carefully guarded and shielded both from danger and from the hard work that is the natural portion of the women of Earthly barbarians” (106). In their intimate relationships, the women are treated with "savage tenderness" by their men, who "assume all authority. The Gura woman has no say whatsoever in the government of the city and tribe … Her scope is narrow; few women ever set foot outside the city in which they are born" (ibid).

Despite their limited, even cloistered existence, Cairn (or the author) stresses that "time does not seem to drag for them. The average woman could not be persuaded to set foot outside the city walls … they are content" (107). Within this society, generally treated like an over-protected child, a woman like Altha can still be whipped until she’s bloody for disobedience, which is mentioned as a possibility (90, 112, 113), an adjunct to the fact that she’s considered more a possession than a human being with moral agency.

As Altha becomes more strongly contrasted to the "average woman" within her society, her story takes on more the nature of an allegory. The primitive peoples of Almuric are contrasted to the "civilized" people of Earth, but at the same time, their everyday unconsciousness evokes the similar complacency of many civilized men and women. Taking their existence and the kind of society they live in for granted, the "average" person isn’t expected to question his or her lot in life.

Before long, Cairn, hunting in the dangerous wilds miles outside the city walls, discovers how strong her difference is from the average woman her society expects her to be, when he finds her running from one of the planet's monstrous birds.

“You are not like the other women,” he tells her. "Folk say you are willful and rebellious without reason. I do not understand you" (111). She ignores this statement, but lets him know that if he brings her back, all she will do is "run away again--and again--and again!" (112). She is compelled to do something which is considered unthinkable among the women of her tribe, but which is a marker of just how discontent she is with her life.

When Cairn points out the danger that "some beast will devour you,” she responds with defiance: "So! … Perhaps it is my wish to be devoured” (ibid).

Since Altha has every privilege in her world, Cairn is puzzled by this, and she responds by posing a philosophical dilemma: “To eat, drink, and sleep is not all … The beasts do that.” And then she explains herself in a powerfully articulate speech: "Life is too hard for me. I do not fit, somehow, as the others do. I bruise myself on the rough edges. I look for something that is not and never was" (ibid).

This statement is again reminiscent of comments in Howard’s letters to Lovecraft, describing how the shaman of a barbaric time would suffer as "a distorted dweller in a half world, part savage and part budding consciousness" (507). This aptly describes Altha’s position as a thoughtful, reasoning person, who is not socialized to the environment of savagery where she has always lived.

When she continues to question. "What constitutes life? … Is the life we live all there is? Is there nothing outside and beyond our material aspirations?" (113), Cairn tells her that on his home world, "there is much grasping and groping for unseen things," adding that "I met many people who were always following some nebulous dream or ideal, but I never observed that they were happy" (ibid).

1964 Ace Books Almuric
cover illustration by
Jeff Jones
As is the situation for people back on planet Earth, Altha's "groping for unseen things" is not something she can truly control, which sets her apart, feeling isolated and alone, as the only one questioning anything within this stagnant society, which has been described as "stationary, neither advancing nor retrogressing" (105). Her interest in the story’s lug of a hero lies in the fact that, like her, he’s different from the average person in her society, and his isolation makes him seem like a kindred spirit.

At this point, Cairn, who is not himself much of a thinker, completely misunderstands her. He thinks she’s looking for “more superficial gentleness,” or conventional chivalry, from him (113). Looking at her through the distorted lens of his own expectations, he deeply misunderstands her perspective.  She has been talking seriously about  far-reaching, existential concerns – questioning the point of being alive --  and has not suggested anything about a romantic connection between them, much less expressed any desire for him to treat her with “gentleness.” But while Cairn as the narrator is clueless about this, the author who put the words in her mouth clearly isn’t.

In the end, after the two have become as a couple, they work to bring “culture” to the planet (193). It’s possible that this wasn’t the ending Howard envisioned, but as Anderson points out, it does seem fitting for a work influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Working together, Altha and Esau Cairn operate as a synthesis of opposite approaches to life, showing that a society needs places for both the body and the mind. Altha was miserable on Almuric, and Cairn was a freak on Earth, because her world treated the material as all, and his devalued the material too much, but the two complement each other, which could easily have a symbolic meaning.

With her desire for things that never were, the idea of bringing culture to Almuric seems likely to have been Altha’s. Women are often talked about as a civilizing influence on a society, a common trope when talking about, say, the American frontier. Here, that role is taken not by women as a general class, but by one individual woman whose philosophical bent makes her an outsider among her own people, but also makes her a potentially elevating force.

Cairn still attributes this quality to her having "the gentler instincts of an Earthwoman" (193), which doesn't quite describe a girl who'd rather be torn apart by wild animals than live a dull and sheltered life with a narrow scope.

Works Cited

Anderson, Douglas A. “New Evidence on the Posthumous Editing of Robert E. Howard’s ALMURIC.” A Shiver in the Archives. http://ashiverinthearchives.blogspot.com/2016/03/new-evidence-on-posthumous-editing-of.html

Howard, Robert E. Adventures in Science Fantasy. The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, 2012.

Howard, Robert E. and H.P. Lovecraft. A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Two Volumes. Edited by S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz, and Rusty Burke. New York, NY: Hippocampus Press, 2011.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

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

WT March 1936
Kuttner had just broken into Weird Tales in the March 1936 issue with “The Graveyard Rats,” but Lovecraft quickly adopted him as a new pen-pal, and set him to circulating some views of Marblehead, Mass. (the inspiration for Kingsport):
Keep these views—when they come—as long as you like; & when you’ve finished with them you may forward them to Miss C. L. Moore, 2547 Brookside Parkway, South Drive, Indianapolis, Indiana—the gifted creator of “Shambleau” having expressed a wish to see these glimpses of crumbling “Arkham” & “Kingsport”.—H. P. Lovecraft to Henry Kuttner, 18 May 1936, LCM 240 (cf. 243, 140)
It isn’t clear whether Kuttner had written to Moore before this, but when he did finally send her a letter in 1936, she recalled with amusement that he addressed it “Dear Mr. Moore.” (Ross 326, Roark 28) Another correspondent also praised Moore in the “Eyrie”:
T. Torbett, of Marlin, Texas, writes: "I've just read with appreciation the February issue of WT. As far as I am concerned, a story each month by C. L. Moore and Robert E. Howard would constitute a complete issue. Howard's Hour of the Dragon is superb and so was Moore's Yvala. Moore's The Dark Land in the January number I also found to be of excellent literary quality and I liked the author's accompanying illustration also. (WT Apr 1936)
Frank Thurston Torbett was a friend of Robert E. Howard, who several times took his mother to Marlin for treatment at the Torbett Sanitarium, including the end of February-March 1936. (CL 3.425, 426) Thurston Torbett had previously written in support of Howard’s fiction in Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror Jan 1933), and now was writing in support of both Howard and Moore. In her letters to Lovecraft, Moore mentions that she was in correspondence with Torbett (LCM 130, 199, 200), but not how this came about. Given that Howard was previously in contact with Moore, it would have been simple for the Texas pulpster to supply her address; alternately Torbett may have written to Moore via Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales. In any event, their letters seem to have revolved around Torbett’s love of weird fiction and the occult:
A correspondent of mine, Thurton Torbett of Texas, friend of REH’s, has been regaling me with passages from books on the occult which state that all the dreadful things we imagine must have had origin in fact or we would be unable to picture them.—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 11 Dec 1936, LCM 199
Back in Indianapolis after her brief Florida sojourn, Moore did something a little unusual:
Today I sent off a gory horror-tale to Kline for marketing, the first and only story I've had time to write since I got home.—C. L. Moore to R. H. Barlow, 19 May 1936
Otis Adelbert Kline was a pulp writer and editor turned literary agent; he was, in fact, the literary agent for Robert E. Howard, and also did some work for E. Hoffmann Price, Frank Belknap Long, and others. Previous to this, Moore had shown no signs of employing an agent: she submitted all the stories herself, handling acceptances and rejections along with writing and her day job. Maybe she wanted to try Kline out, or expand into the shudder-pulp market as Robert E. Howard was doing with stories like “Graveyard Rats” (Thrilling Mystery Feb 1936). According to Moore: