Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Two Bobs: Robert E. Howard and Robert H. Barlow by Bobby Derie

[...] & I will ask you to pass it along—after as long a reading as you care to give it—to Robert E. Howard, Lock Box 313, Cross Plains, Texas. When many people want to see the same story, it is most convenient to start it circulating in this way.
— H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 17 Sep 1931 (OFF 8)

The two tales safely arrived, & I am glad the “Mts. of Madness” duly reached you. When you are entirely through with the latter, I would appreciate your sending it on to Robert E. Howard, Lock Box 313, Cross Plains, Texas.
— H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 25 Sep 1931 (OFF 10)

R.H. Barlow
By the time Robert Hayward Barlow first wrote to H. P. Lovecraft in June 1931, Lovecraft had already been corresponding with Robert E. Howard for a year. Barlow was 13, the precocious younger son of a retired army lieutenant colonel who lived with his family at Fort Benning, Georgia. A devoted fan of Weird Tales, Barlow had written to Lovecraft looking for an autograph and more of his stories (OFF 3)—a correspondence which soon brought the young fan into contact with Robert E. Howard:

This morning I took out a big registered envelope with a “War Department” letter-head. I had visions of me shouldering a Springfield already, but it was from a gentleman named Barlow, at Fort Benning, Georgia, asking me for my autograph, for which purpose he enclosed a blank sheet of paper and a stamped self-addressed envelope. He also enclosed a 115 page ms. which he said Lovecraft had instructed him to forward me. It’s the Antarctic story which Farnsworth rejected, and which Lovecraft promised to let me read in the original.
— Robert E. Howard to Tevis Clyde Smith, Oct 1931 (CL2.273)

Which was followed shortly after by the first mention of Barlow in Howard’s letters:

When Mr. Barlow sent me the ms. he did not mention whether it should be returned to him, or to you, so I am sending it to you, as I suppose it was intended that I should.
— Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Oct 1931 (CL2.274, MF1.231)

No mention is made of the autograph, and this initial contact was not followed up immediately by either party, though, as was common in his letters, Lovecraft would make occasional comments on Howard’s fiction in Weird Tales to his young correspondent. (OFF 29) Around mid-December 1932, Barlow began to write to Lovecraft and Howard’s mutual correspondent and fellow pulpster E. Hoffmann Price (OFF 45, cf. BOD 52-53); where Barlow had initially asked Lovecraft and Howard for autographs, now he was becoming more ambitious in his collecting:

Dear Mr. Barlow:
Price tells me that you are interested in the collection of first drafts of Weird stories. I am sending by express, the first writings — or rather the first typings, since I do all my work on the typewriter — of “The Phoenix on the Sword”, “The Scarlet Citadel”, “Black Colossus”, and “Iron Shadows in the Moon”. Some of the pages seem to be missing from the first named story, but the others are complete. Hoping you will find them of interest, I remain,

[Robert E. Howard.]

P.S. “The Phoenix on the Sword” and “The Scarlet Citadel” have appeared in Weird Tales. “Black Colossus” is scheduled for the June issue, and “Iron Shadows in the Moon” has been accepted, but not scheduled.
— Robert E. Howard to R. H. Barlow, Dec 1932 (CL2.519)

Barlow was appreciative, and asked Howard to sign the title pages of the stories, which the Texan consented to do. (CL2.519) Lovecraft, meanwhile, continued to sing Howard’s occasional praises in his letters to Barlow:

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Lost Correspondence: Robert E. Howard and Stuart M. Boland by Bobby Derie

In the the Summer 1945 issue of a fanzine called The Acolyte was published a short memoir called “Interlude with Lovecraft” by Stuart Morton Boland, which began:

In the Spring of 1935 I was making a library survey tour of the European continent. At the quaint little hill town of Orvieto, in Italy, I came upon an amazing mural high on the walls of the local Duomo or Cathedral. The painting represented mighty figures of ebon-hued men (not angels or demons) with great wings, flying through etheric space carrying beauteous pinionless mortals--men and women who were rapturously accompanying them in their voyage through eternity.
I photographed the scene and sent a print to Robert E. Howard, telling him it reminded me of one of his Conan stories. With the print I included a colored reproduction of a rare illuminated manuscript of the 10th Century which I had seen in the Royal Archives at Budapest. Howard, for some reason, sent this facsimile to Lovecraft, asking if he thought his Necronomicon would look anything like the reproduction of the parchment.
Three months later, when I reached my home by the Presidio in San Francisco, I found awaiting me two letters from Howard and an extensive missive from Lovecraft. [...] In my reply to HPL, I stated that I thought his opinion was well-founded, and furthermore that the references of both men to odd ancient gods were ideas they must have borrowed from Mayan, Toltec, and Aztec mythology. (Boland 15)

This presents an interesting example of the consideration of historical evidence, because aside from statements from Boland, there is no direct evidence that Boland and Robert E. Howard ever corresponded. Boland wrote to Glenn Lord in the late 1950s:

I corresponded with Bob for quite some time before his demise—also with his father. I have not located the missives—but if recollections and reminiscences will help, I can give you some rather colorful data concerning the letters we exchanged on European topics, art culture, archeology and anthropology, ecology and the Dark Ages. [...] [Howard] replied via American express ‘poste haste’ and asked about Pompeii, Boscoreale, Herculaneum, Rhodes, Olympus, Palmyra, Orvieto, Palermo, etc. (Roehm 25 Feb 2014)

1931 Boland at Berkley
However, no letters from Robert E. Howard to Stuart M. Boland, or Boland to Howard, are known to still exist. In fact, there are no mentions of Boland in any of Howard’s surviving correspondence published in the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, nor any mention of Boland or his facsimile 10th-century manuscript in the collected correspondence of Howard and Lovecraft in A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, nor in any of the published letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard in the Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard. Skeptical and critical readers might thus well begin to question whether Boland had corresponded with the Howards at all, or for obscure reasons of his own had fabricated or misremembered his correspondence of 8-10 years earlier.

Absence of evidence, however, is not the same thing as evidence of absence. A close study of Robert E. Howard’s letters shows that he did not, by and large, discuss his correspondence with fans widely: there are no references to Emil Petaja, F. Lee Baldwin, or Charles D. Hornig in Howard’s surviving letters to Lovecraft, for example, though we know Howard corresponded with all three fans. So too, there are gaps in the correspondence during the period of 1935-1936 when Boland and Howard might have written to each other, and the Lovecraft letters are based not on complete manuscripts, but from the abridged Arkham House Transcripts. The case may be, then, that Howard could plausibly have failed to mention his correspondence with Boland to anyone else, and possible that any such mention of Boland or the facsimile that he claims Howard sent to Lovecraft was in a postcard, letter, or section of a letter that is no longer extant.

Without the actual letters or a direct mention by Robert E. Howard, Boland’s claims are unprovable. However, a detailed analysis of his claims can be made with certain circumstantial evidence, which might lend or remove credence from his recollections. To begin with, some background on Boland: according to census data Stuart Morton Boland was born in 1909 in New York City, and by 1920 he was in San Francisco, California. In 1931 he graduated with a BA in Public Speaking from the University of California - San Francisco, and sometime after that was employed at the San Francisco Public Library, as well as being a poet, playwright, and lecturer or guest speaker. According to Boland, his European tour occured Spring 1935, and this is supported by several statements in The Link, the journal of the San Francisco Public Library, where Boland was normally employed:

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Bootleggers & Gangsters: A Day in the Life of Robert E. Howard By Todd B. Vick

Prior to Robert E. Howard owning an automobile it was his custom when no ride was available, and he wanted to go somewhere, to simply start walking down the road until he could hitch a ride with a willing passerby. This practice is confirmed by his father, Dr. I.M. Howard, in a June 21, 1944 letter to E. Hoffman Price. Dr. Howard told Price, “[I] have known him to start hitchhiking to Ft. Worth or Brownwood to see a fight before he owned a car of his own. And when he was just [a] slender youth.”[1] Going to fights was not the only reason Robert would take off down the road attempting to hitch a ride to his destination. He also hitched when he wanted to go see friends, movies, and on occasions when he just wanted to explore.

East Pecan Street
Coleman, Texas; circa late 1920s
In a September 5, 1928 letter to Harold Preece, Robert describes how he and Tevis Clyde Smith “walked out on the highway, with no program in view, no idea or especial wish.”[2] On this occasion, Smith and Howard simply wanted to see where the road took them. They were out exploring, and agreed to accept a ride from the first car that stopped, no matter who it was. They were eventually picked up by a friend, “a most interesting man, who was in his younger days a rover and a wanderer, a detective, a tramp, and other things better left unmentioned.”[3] This friend was driving around with a young school teacher (neither of whom are named in the letter). The friend and teacher were basically doing the same thing as Smith and Howard: they wanted to see where the road took them. So, Smith and Howard jumped into the car and the four of them drove around the countryside for a spell until they arrived at Coleman, Texas. Coleman is a “town some thirty miles west of Cross Plains.” They “spent some time at a bootleg joint just outside the outskirts of town, both going there and returning thence.”[4]

While at this bootleg joint, Howard ran into an old-timer, who was around 80 years old, whom Howard had known for some time. Howard bought the old-timer a beer and listened to his stories while everyone else did their own thing. The place was probably hopping with a few locals who knew the joint existed. When I initially read Howard’s account it struck me as odd. First, in Central and West Texas in the middle of Prohibition, bootlegging operations were simple and small, located in areas in the sticks away from any town and difficult to reach. Second, these operations typically contained only a small distillery run by one or two people. And they were intentionally located in hard to reach places to keep others away, such as a small hole in the sides of hills, or the walls of creek and/or river beds. This was also to keep the outfit hidden from the Texas Rangers who were busy shutting these small operations down. Moreover, the alcohol that was made at these small operations were bottled on site and distributed away from the operation itself. So, for Howard and his friends to be at a bootleg joint that was large enough to serve people on site was extremely rare. It also probably meant the local police were aware of the place and were paid in cash and alcohol to look the other way. I found this interesting enough to include it in a research road trip I was doing in and around Coleman, Texas. What I managed to dig up is, to say the least, quite intriguing.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Queen by Fire and Steel and Slaughter: Bêlit’s Hymn By Karen Joan Kohoutek

Robert E. Howard’s short story “Queen of the Black Coast” introduced Conan’s first love, Bêlit, a passionate, ruthless pirate queen full of “the urge of creation and the urge of death” (128). Her name comes from the same storehouse of Canaanite/Assyrian legends that brought deities like Ishtar and Derketo into Howard’s Hyborian Age fiction. In real-life legend, Bêlit belonged to the same pantheon, often associated with Ishtar and Derketo, although it’s hard now to know whether the goddesses were popularly connected at the time of their active worship, or whether the association happened when the sources were later compiled out of varied lore.

            In either case, Howard’s Bêlit namechecks two goddesses with whom her namesake was syncretized (Ishtar and Derketo), and also mentions Bel, who was her counterpart’s father in some legends and her husband in others, saying, “Above all are the gods of the Shemites – Ishtar and Ashtoreth and Derketo and Adonis. Bel, too, is Shemitish…” (Howard 247).

            The following tidbits are taken from The Story of Assyria, by Zénaïde  Ragozin, known to have been one of Howard’s sources:

            “As to the female deity of the Canaanites, ASHTORETH (whom the Greeks have called ASTARTE), she is the ISHTAR and MYLITTA and BÊLIT (“BAALATH,” “Lady,”) of the Assyro-Babylonian cycle of gods, scarcely changed either in name or nature; the goddess both of love and war, of incessant production and laborious motherhood, and of voluptuous, idle enjoyment , the greatest difference being that Ashtoreth is identified with the moon and wears the sign of the crescent, while the Babylonian goddess rules he planet Venus, the Morning and Evening Star of the poets” (107 – 108).

            “The planet Venus appearing in the evening, soon after sunset, and then again in the early morning, just before dawn, it was called Ishtar at night and Bêlit at dawn, as a small tablet expressly informs us; a distinction which, apparently confusing, rather tends to confirm the fundamental identity between the two, -- Ishtar, ‘the goddess,’ and Bêlit, ‘the lady’” (19).

            “In ASCALON, where the goddess was worshipped under the name DERKETO, she was represented under the form of a woman ending, from the hips, in the body of a fish” (111). This is of particular interest to Howard readers, since we know that Bêlit’s “fathers were kings of Askalon!” (Howard 243).

            Ragozin also states, “To the Canaanites, the Sun and Moon – the masculine and feminine principles, as represented by the elements of fire and moisture, the great Father and Mother of beings – were husband and wife. … in Ascalon and the other cities of the Philistine confederation they both assumed the peculiarity noted above, together with other names, and became, she, the fish-goddess Derketo, and he, the fish-god Dagon (from dag, fish, in the Semitic languages)” (114).

            Of course, Derketo is mentioned as a goddess in Howard’s stories; Dagon is well-known, especially from the work of H.P. Lovecraft, but also appearing, connected with Derketo, in Howard’s story “The Servants of Bit-Yakin.”

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Weird Talers: Robert E. Howard and Seabury Quinn by Bobby Derie

Weird Tales Oct. 1925
Seabury Grandin Quinn got his start at Weird Tales with “The Phantom Farmhouse” and an article on Bluebeard, the first in a series of “Weird Crimes” in October 1923. The “Weird Crimes” ran through 1924, and in 1925 he began another article series “Servants of Satan,” regarding the Salem Witch Trials. In October 1925, Weird Tales would publish “The Horror on the Links”—the debut for what would become Quinn’s star character, Jules de Grandin. Over a run of 26 years, de Grandin would star in 93 episodes spread over 100 issues (including the six-part serial “The Devil’s Bride” and reprints), and have the cover 35 times; the character and the author were routinely voted favorites in “The Eyrie,” Weird Tales’ readers page.

Also in 1925, a new writer appeared in the Unique Magazine: Robert E.
Weird Tales July 1925
Howard’s “Spear and Fang” appeared in the July issue, which it shared with one of Quinn’s “Servants of Satan” articles; so did “In the Forest of Villefere” which appeared in the August Weird Tales. The two men never met, nor is there any record of their correspondence, yet it was impossible for them not to have noticed and formed an opinion of one another. Quinn, writing from Brooklyn, and Howard, writing from Cross Plains, were from that moment on in constant, if polite competition—for sales, for the cover spot, and for first place among the affections of Weird Tales readers. Yet Quinn would also, in many ways, be a formative influence on Howard. Lovecraft, who was one of the few to correspond with both men, compared them once:
It is, therefore, piquant & enjoyable to exchange ideas with Two-Gun or to read his stories. He is of about the same intelligence as Seabury Quinn—but Yuggoth, what a difference! (LRB 256-257)
Seabury Quinn was born in Washington, D.C. in 1889, attended Washington National University, and had graduated with a degree in law. He practiced law only for a short time, and joined the army for World War I. After his discharge he returned to practicing law and handled a libel case involving mortuary jurisprudence. He won the case, and they took him on as legal advisor—and so he got his start for The Casket, a trade journal for morticians. Quinn was given progressively more work with The Casket until he became its managing editor; and in 1921 Quinn married his first wife, Mary Helen Molster. In January 1925, The Casket merged with the mortuary journal Sunnyside, and Quinn became editor of the combined magazine The Casket & Sunnyside, which job necessitated moving to New York. (Schwartz & Weisinger 1-2, Ruber 336, Ruber & Wyrzos ix)

Seabury Quinn (1889-1969)
By this point Quinn was already writing the serial character Major Sturdevant, who first appeared in Weird Tales’ sister magazine Real Detective Tales in December 1924, and continued to appear in every issue of that pulp (under editor Edwin Baird) through 1926—and writing two series characters simultaneously (Sturdevant and de Grandin) would be a major challenge for any pulpster, much less one with a day job. Sturdevant’s “Washington Nights’ Entertainment” petered out after a “measly” 27 stories. De Grandin would have a much more substantial run, though a much more modest beginning, in Quinn’s own words:

One evening in the spring of 1925, I was in that state that every writer knows and dreads; a story was due my publisher, and there didn’t seem to be a plot in the world. Accordingly, with nothing particular in mind, I picked up my pen and literally making it up as I went along—wrote the first story [...] As with The Horror on the Links, so with all other adventures of de Grandin. (CA 1.xxi)

Quinn may have been fudging a little; the French occult detective with his more incredulous counterpart Dr. Samuel Trowbridge probably owes something to Agatha Christie and her Belgian investigator Hercule Poirot and companion Arthur Hastings, who first appeared in The Murder on the Links (1923), but both were patently working in the same mold as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Watson & Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin. Whatever the case, “The Horror on the Links” was quickly followed by “The Tenants of Broussac” (WT Dec 1925) and “The Isle of Missing Ships” (WT Feb 1926)...and a fan letter in “The Eyrie”:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Weird Tales Tourist, New Orleans: Robert E. Howard by Karen Joan Kohoutek

Visitors to New Orleans can find plenty of information on the sites associated with authors like William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Anne Rice, and (that dude who wrote Confederacy of Dunces). Fewer people are aware of the city’s connections to the writers from the Weird Tales circle, but there are many, and easy enough to visit.

In 1919, Robert E. Howard’s father, Dr. Isaac Howard, attended seven weeks of medical training in New Orleans, bringing his wife and 13-year-old son (Finn 58). Howard wrote of his time there that “it was my fortune to be acquainted with some elderly maiden ladies by the name of Durell—gentlewomen of the old school living in semi-seclusion and striving to maintain the standards of a faded aristocracy, and reconcile their natures with the necessity which forced them to run a rooming-house” (A Means to Freedom 122).

New Orleans’ census records and property records steer us to “Durel” as the likely spelling. Howard scholar Rusty Burke has narrowed down Camille Durel as a good candidate for one of those gentlewomen, and at the time of the 1920 census (accessible through, she was the “keeper” of a rooming-house at 1904 Canal Street, where she lived with her younger sisters Delphine and Marie. If this is the correct family, then at the time of Howard’s visit, Camille would have been 49, Delphine 39, and Marie 37: only “elderly” to young eyes.

This address would fall in what is now about a three-block span of a recently reconstructed medical complex.

Given Howard’s remembered familiarity with a family of sisters named Durel, and the fact that the medical schools associated with Tulane were in the same area, the rooming-house at 1904 Canal seems like a plausible contender for the site of their stay.

Just before the passage where he introduces the Durells (sic), though, Howard refers to “my French landlady” in New Orleans, who “hated the Italians.” It’s hard to know whether it’s a result of the letter’s conversational style, but it almost sounds like “my French landlady” and the “elderly maiden ladies” aren’t the same people. In that case, the Durels could also been neighbors, running a rooming-house similar to wherever the Howards lived.

In 1932, Howard facilitated a meeting between his correspondents H. P.Lovecraft, who was visiting the city, and fellow Weird Tales writer E. Hoffmann Price, currently living there. According to Lovecraft’s letters, Price lived in the French Quarter at the time, and an address list of Howard’s correspondents shows Price living at 305 Royal (Derie 47-48). The building's main floor is currently home to the Mann Gallery.

This section of Royal is full of art galleries, expensive antique shops, and upscale boutiques, but it’s likely that the rooms on the upper stories were once affordable enough for a pulp writer to rent.

Talking about the Durel sisters, Howard described “the old Durell (sic) mansion in the heart of the French Quarter – now the Latin Quarter – once a stately, century-old residence, built with characteristic French style – now a hovel housing half a dozen squalid Italian families” (MTF 122). Rusty Burke’s research, based on New Orleans city directories, suggests 301 Royal as the location.

I’d like to believe this is true, because 301 Royal is next door to Price’s lodgings. In this corner view, 301 Royal is on the left, with 305 just on the right.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

F. Thurston Torbett and F. Lee Baldwin on Robert E. Howard by Bobby Derie

Marlin, Texas in Falls County, lies about 160 miles from Cross Plains; the town hosted the Torbett Sanitorium, run by Dr. Frank M. Torbett, who lived there with his family. The small health resort catered to those who suffered tuberculosis, and over the years Robert E. Howard and his family would make the long journey by car several times so that his mother, Hester Jane Ervin Howard, could receive treatment, in stays that sometimes lasted for weeks. The earliest surviving letter from Robert in 1923 is addressed from Marlin (CL 1.3), and there were visits in 1931 (CL 2.195), 1935 (CL 3.388-391, 421) and early 1936 (CL 3.415, 425, 426).

Back cover ad: WT's story
by Torbett & Howard
Along the way, the Howards became friends with the Torbetts—a friendship evidenced by the personal letter that Dr. Howard sent to the Torbetts on the death of his wife and son in 1936 (IMH 51-52), and by the encouraging fan letter which Mrs. Torbett had written to Strange Tales asking for more of Howard’s stories, published in the January 1933 issue. The two young men, Robert E. Howard and Frank Thurston Torbett, were especially fast friends, and stayed in touch when Robert was out of town through letters—two of which from 1936 survive (CL 3.436-437, 464). Robert described Thurston in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft:

While in Marlin I had many enjoyable conversations with the son of the man who gave me the Coryell County history, a talented young man, with remarkable artistic ability. He is not only a portrait-painter of great ability but has considerable literary talent. He is a great admirer of your work, by the way. I think he could have been a success either as a painter or a writer, but, while attending an art school in California, he became interested in the occult, and now devotes practically all his time to this study. He is sincere in his devotion to it, but I regret his interest in it, since it has caused him to neglect his undoubted talents. I can not have any sympathy for this occult business. However, if that’s what he wants to do and enjoys doing, then I’m not one to criticize. (MF 2.907, CL 3.391)

Thurston would, like his mother, write letters to the editors of the pulp magazines to promote Bob’s work:

Dear Editor:
At last, in the June issue of STRANGE TALES, I found what I’ve been looking for in those pages for a long time—a story by Robert E. Howard. I enjoyed his People of the Dark very much.
            I have been following the work of this able writer for several years, and hope to see more of his work in the Clayton publications in the future. In my opinion he is one of the best writers of this type of fiction we have today.
            I might also add that I like all the stories in STRANGE TALES. They are all good. My only regret is that it is not a monthly publication.—F. T. Torbett, Box 265, Marlin, TX
(Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror Jan 1933)

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. I might also add that I like Seabury Quinn, Clark Ashton Smith, Paul Ernst, Frank Owen and most all authors who contribute to WT. (Weird Tales Apr 1936)

C.L. Moore
Thurston’s promotion of Catherine L. Moore alongside Robert is likely due to the fact that the two were in correspondence; as evidenced by the fact that it was Torbett who first informed Moore of the death of Robert E. Howard. (IMH 52) However, the Thurston Torbett’s strongest tie with Howard occurred after his friend’s death.

F. T. Torbett writes from Marlin, Texas: "I want to add my voice to those who are requesting reprints of Robert E. Howard's early stories. I am asking this solely because of the merit of Howard's stories and not because he was for some years one of the best friends I ever had. His was a powerful personality, of a type that can never be forgotten. I never knew a man more devoted to home and family, or more loyal to his friends, or more honest and upright. I miss his companionship more than I can say. I am sure that the future of WEIRD TALES will be a bright one, for the quality of the stories is steadily improving."
(Weird Tales May 1938)

“A Thunder of Trumpets” by Robert E. Howard and Thurston Torbett appeared in the September 1938 issue of Weird Tales—the advertisement in the preceding issue declared: