Sunday, September 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

Here is the front of that postcard:





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



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

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

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

Bob."

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

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


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


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

The only thing Howard wrote on this card was:

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

Dear Novalyne;

Cordially,

Bob.


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

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

The La Paloma Bar/Saloon

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




Thursday, August 23, 2018

Conan and Sappho: Robert E. Howard on Lesbians Part 2 by Bobby Derie


 Howard’s “Lesbians”

The first and one of the most brazen of Howard’s “lesbians” is Queen Nakari in “The Moon of Skulls” (WT Jun-Jul 1930):

Nakari halted by the couch, stood looking down upon her captive for a moment, then with an enigmatic smile, bent and shook her. Marylin opened her eyes, sat up, then slipped from her couch and knelt before her savage mistress—an act which caused Kane to curse beneath his breath. The queen laughed and, seating herself upon the couch, motioned the girl to rise, and then put an arm about her waist and drew her upon her lap. Kane watched, puzzled, while Nakari caressed the girl in a lazy, amused manner. This might be affection, but to Kane it seemed more like a sated leopard teasing its victim. There was an air of mockery and studied cruelty about the whole affair.
"You are very soft and pretty, Mara," Nakari murmured lazily, "much prettier than the other girls who serve me.[“] (SK 129)

Later on in the story, Nakari claims: “[...] she shall be punished as I have punished her before—hung up by her wrists, naked, and whipped until she swoons!” (SK 137) Marilyn later confirms: “And in spite of my pleas she took me across her knees and whipped me until I swooned.” (SK 165) In “The Slithering Shadow” (WT Sep 1933, also published as “Xuthal of the Dust”) the Stygian Thalis who has lived in the decadent city of Xuthal and is attracted to Conan, dishes out punishment to her prospective rival Natala:

Seizing her by the hair, Thalis dragged her down the corridor a short distance, to the edge of the circle of light. A metal ring showed in the wall, above the level of a man’s head. From it depended a silken cord. As in a nightmare Natala felt her tunic being stripped from her, and the next instant Thalis had jerked up her wrists and bound them to the ring, where she hung, naked as the day she was born, her feet barely touching the floor. Twisting her head, Natala saw Thalis unhook a jewel-handled whip from where it hung on the wall, near the ring. The lashes consisted of seven round silk ords, harder yet more pliant than leather things.
            With a hiss of vindictive gratification, Thalis drew back her arm, and Natala shrieked as the cords curled across her loins. The tortured girl writhed, twisted and tore agonizedly at the thongs which imprisoned her wrists. She had forgotten the lurking menace her cries might summon, and so apparently had Thalis. Every stroke evoked screams of anguish. The whippings Natala had received in the Shemite slave-markets paled to insignificance before this. She had never guessed the punishing power of hard-woven silk cords. Their caress was more exquisitely painful than any birch twigs or leather thongs. (COC 237)

This scene was depicted on the cover by Brundage, lovingly described by one critic:

[...] a bound woman leans back away from her captor, the retreating body language serving only to emphasize her pointed, bare breasts and her naked legs. Her captor, another woman, wears a kind of skirt, but her torso is almost entirely naked as well. And she holds a whip, which she clearly intends to use on the other woman. (Elliot 57)

Margaret Brundage recalled in a 1973 interview:

We had one issue that sold out! It was the story of a very vicious female, getting a-hold of the heroine and tying her up and beating her. Well, the public apparently thought it was flagellation, and the entire issue sold out. They could have used a couple thousand extra. [...] Having read the story, the thought of flagellation never entered my head. I don’t think it had theirs, either. But it turned out that way. (Korshack & Spurlock 29)

It is worth noting that “The Slithering Shadow” with Brundage’s cover appeared in the September 1933 Weird Tales. One month later would see the debut of Dime Mystery, the first of the “weird menace” or “shudder pulps” which would focus largely on torture, sadism, Grand Guignol-style grue and contes cruels, where stories of women, nude or near-nude, being threatened would be much more common. While there are many proto-weird menace stories in the pulps, “The Slithering Shadow” may have been a marker that there was an audience for this new pulp genre.

Also in 1933, Howard wrote “The Vale of Lost Women,” although it was never published during Howard’s lifetime. (COC 451) The beginning of the story includes an unnamed female character whose actions toward the slave Livia are at best ambiguous:


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Conan and Sappho: Robert E. Howard on Lesbians Part 1 by Bobby Derie

In another alteration of the basic captivity theme, Marylin is held not by a dark-skinned man, but by a dark-skinned woman. The sexual threat is not eliminated, however, as Howard implies a sadistic lesbian relationship, something of a recurring theme in his work. (Trout 75)

Cross Plains, Texas

In 1926 Cross Plains, Texas was in an oil boom, and Robert E. Howard was working odd jobs, seven nights a week, with little time to write. His letters to his friend Tevis Clyde Smith are filled with verse, and on occasion, sex. Growing up mainly in a small Texas town, their sexual education would not have been in any way formal. They picked things up through conversation, practical experience, and in many cases reading. These exchanges would have a formative influence on how Howard understood female homosexuality, and how that conception featured in his fiction. Over time, this would form the recurring theme noted by Trout.

Sapphism & Psychology

According to George Sylvester Viereck; “Love in its spiritual aspect he (Swinburne) knows not. His amorous fancy feeds upon the esoteric, things ‘monstrous and fruitless’. The ordinary relation between sexes engages him only when it is sadistic.” And again, quoting Viereck; “Modern science has divested perversion of its evil glamor. Freud has taught us that perversity is an essential phase in the evolution of childhood…occurring at all times in a fairly constant percentage of human beings. Swinburne adds a new complexity. He does not turn toward his own sex. His passion goes out to woman, but he loves woman, not with the passion of a man for a maid, but with the hectic craving of Lesbian woman for her own sex.”
—Robert E. Howard to Tevis Clyde Smith, 23 Jun 1926, CL1.106

Howard quotes from Viereck’s introduction to Algernon Charles Swineburne’s Poems and Ballads, published as Little Blue Book #791. It is the first mention in his letters of lesbians, and part of his earliest discussion of homosexuality and bisexuality in general. In the same letter, Howard relates to Smith:

Thus it would seem that a pervert is a man or woman who gets little or no pleasure out of intercourse, but must seek some other method to stimulate the senses or the imagination. Opium smokers revel in sexual debauches which are purely imaginary but from which they doubtless obtain more pleasure than from actual deeds. The smoking of opium does not produce the effect of seeming intercourse, but vague thoughts, fantasies, float through the being dimly arousing all the hidden lust. A pervert may be born that way, or may be a worn-out libertine who has lost his ordinary lust through indulgence. They are usually more or less bisexual, naturally.
That is my theory and much of it is probably erroneous. Perversion is a mark of decadence. It flourishes in all fading nations. Men’s virility dwindle and fade; they feel the need of sexual desire, which has always been taught as necessary, but they lack the basic lust. So they turn to more obscene ways. (CL1.104)

Homosexuality began to come to academic attention in the 19th century, with works like Kraft-Ebbing’s Psychopathia Sexualis (1896), Havelock Ellis’ Sexual Inversion (1897), Alfred Eulenberg’s Algolagnia: The Psychology, Neurology and Physiology of Sadistic Love and Masochism (trans. 1934) and psychosexual studies continued in the 20th century by psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. Howard’s views in his 1926 letter characterize “perversion” as a deviation from heterosexual practices. Although this leaves open what exactly counts as “perversion,” it explicitly includes homosexual acts. This would have been the common view of most laymen and professionals during the 1920s, as when Freud wrote:


Sunday, July 22, 2018

By the Phoenix on This Sword I Rule! By Karen Joan Kohoutek


“If I could but come to grips with something tangible, that I could cleave with my sword!”

           
When Robert E. Howard revised an unsold tale about King Kull, the gloomy ruler of Valusia, he replaced that character with Conan, a barbarian king in a similar position, who would later be fleshed out with a wide-ranging history, and a multiplicity of formative experiences. Along the way, the character turned from an Atlantean to a Cimmerian, and his eye color from gray to blue. His personality also changes in some significant ways, from the original “By This Axe I Rule!” to the available early draft of “The Phoenix on the Sword,” and again to the version of that story published in Weird Tales in December 1932.

            As Patrice Louinet says in his appendix to the collected Kull stories, “by writing the first Conan tale on the ashes of an unsold Kull story, Howard was telling us that he now envisioned the Kull series a prehistoric one, which paved the way for the Conan stories” (289).

            The Conan who becomes the canonical version deals with court intrigue and attempts to usurp his power, in ways that are similar to the situation in “Axe.” There is a critical difference, in that Conan never declares “I am king!,” because he doesn’t have to. A line about his suffering from the tedious “matters of statecraft” line is taken almost word for word from the Kull story (11, 161), but Conan starts the story with a confidence that Kull had lacked. In “Axe,” Kull, already the king in name, comes into his full authority, an intriguing pivotal moment in a ruler’s career. Unlike Kull, Conan developed his full personal authority before he was in a position of recognized leadership, and even when other characters in the story reject his rule, it’s because of their own personal desire for power.

           
Kull of Atlantis
(art by Justin Sweet)
 
This isn’t a criticism of Kull’s character, but a reflection on the different, if related, themes their stories explore. The situation in “By This Axe” is, despite the presence of an Atlantean, fairly realistic, and something not often explored: a turning point in which a ruler comes into true confidence as a leader. The themes of the Kull story are still embedded in the Conan story  when does someone with authority in name really take on authority as a true leader? — but are expanded upon, dealing more with the longer-term consequences of taking on the crown, and the process by which a ruler’s authority becomes fully accepted by his subjects.

            In each story, the hero takes from the wall “an ancient battle-axe” (“ax” in the Conan version) which had hung there “for possibly a hundred years” (Kull 173), or at least “half a century” (Conan 21). The connotations of the axe, especially given the emphasis on its age, link it to the barbarian nature of the main characters. When Kull takes up the titular axe, he claims a personal authority that comes out of his past: who he is and where he came from. Since it belongs to Valusia’s history, the axe is associated with Kull’s formal authority, embedded in the royal structure and government, but it also reflects his primal essence, which he uses to cut through hierarchical, bureaucratic tangles. This satisfying moment hearkens back to a time before the society had become so complex, with a confusing maze of laws and traditions built up over the generations, some of them useful, but some of them unjust and no longer worth following.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

A 2018 Howard Days Highlight: T-Shirts by Todd B. Vick



Every year I attend Howard Days, seeing the Howard House and Museum is a highlight, especially if the shop at the back of the house has new items for sale. This year was no exception. Among the items that were for sale in the museum shop this year were t-shirts with new designs. It's not easy finding REH themed t-shirts, so getting new designs at the REH House and Museum is a nice plus.

I'm a t-shirt and shorts wearing kind of person. In fact, if I were 'allowed' to wear nothing but, that's what I'd wear all the time. In years past, I've bought at least a dozen different t-shirts at the Howard House museum. About 5 or 6 years ago, the museum shop had a t-shirt with a cool design by Michael L. Peters, and I've bought several of those over the years. A couple of years ago there was a minimalist t-shirt that had a single emblem, the REH House & Museum, on the upper left area of the shirt. But this year, the museum shop had two new t-shirt designs for sale, and as soon as I saw them, I snatched them up.

The first design has REH's signature across the top and "Museum, Cross Plains, Texas" across the bottom. There is also a picture of REH in the middle going through his signature, and on either side of the middle pic, two other pictures of REH, with Bill Cavalier's grave-site-foot-stone penciling at the bottom. Pretty cool, at least I thought so.



The second design, which sold out (I think in all the sizes), was a drawing by James Carter. This t-shirt design was a sword going through the words Robert E. Howard Days, with a banner that read 2018 at the bottom, and had a bit of a Virgil Finlay look and feel to it. Cool looking design, and I can see why it sold out.

If you were unable to attend Howard Days but still have an interest in buying one of these t-shirts (they have various sizes), then I am fairly certain that the museum is likely still selling them. You can always call this number, (254) 725-6562, and order one.





Sunday, July 1, 2018

A 2018 Howard Days Highlight: Books, Books, Books! by Todd B. Vick

Every year at Howard Days, someone (or several someones) has a table set up for you to buy books, collectible magazines, fanzines, pulps, etc. This year was no exception. Even so, there were several books at several tables that set this year's wares apart from previous years.

First, Bobby Derie (who also presented on several panels) set up a table and gave away (yes, gave away . . . you know, for free!) three books that he put together (one that Howard boxing scholar, Chris Gruber, helped with). The first of these three is titled, Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others. Even if there were nothing between the covers of this book, the cover alone would be worth having. The cover (front and back) consists of a bunch of pictures of various pulp writers place together to form an over-all image of Robert E. Howard. Very cool! This book is a collection of essays that Derie had published between 2015 to 2017 at Damon Sasser's now defunct blog Two-Gun Raconteur, here at On An Underwood No. 5, Messages from Crom blog, and in print in the Lovecraft Annual. To have all these in one collected volume was a great idea. The second book is titled A Robert E. Howard Sampler. This is a collection of Howard's works edited by Chris Gruber & Bobby Derie. Gruber has an introductory essay and Derie wrote brief essays to introduce each section. The sections consist of sword & sorcery, weird fiction, boxing, western, poetry, detective, historical adventure, fantasy, science fiction, and H.P. Lovecraft's In Memoriam: Robert E. Howard essay. The third book is an index to One Who Walked Alone by Novalyne Price Ellis, and Day of the Stranger by Rusty Burke & Novalyne Price Ellis. This small book is a nice edition to any researcher's library, especially for quick reference to these two works.



Second, Skelos Press had a table and this year they were selling Patrice Louinet's (another presenter on this year's panels) anticipated book titled The Robert E. Howard Guide. It was originally published in France several years ago, and Louinet recently translated it into English and published it through Skelos Press. It is an excellent intro to Robert E. Howard, and a must read for Howard beginners. The book deals with a history of common misconceptions that have arisen and developed over the decades. These misconceptions have sometimes been somewhat damaging to Howard's reputation, sometimes they've distorted his works, and too often they've confused readers and fans about the writer, his works, and his life. Louinet does a first-rate job of clearing up those misconceptions. The misconception section is followed by a brief biographical section about Howard, his up-bringing, life in Texas in the early 20th century, etc. Then there are two chapters of recommended stories to read from Howard. The first of these two chapters cover "must-read" stories, each has a small bit of publishing history and summation of the tale itself. This is followed by another chapter that details twenty more stories you "should" read, with the same format of information, for a total of forty Howard stories.

Louinet then turns his attention to Howard's most famous character, Conan the Cimmerian. He discusses the barbarian's history, how he has been used (and abused) in pastiches, film, comic books, video games, board games, etc. This chapter is followed by various adaptations of Robert E. Howard's stories in motion pictures (e.g. Conan the Barbarian, Solomon Kane, etc.), as well as television adaptations such as Boris Karloff's early 1960s adaptation of "Pigeons from Hell."

Other nice features of this book include Howard's correspondence with Lovecraft, current places to read about Robert E. Howard, and things such as collecting Howard ephemera, and such.

As far as a basic book to introduce anyone interested in the works and life of Robert E. Howard, this is now the go-to book. It does have some editorial issues throughout (I'm not sure whether Skelos Press proof-read and/or edited the text, they should have if they did not), and there is one somewhat big blunder in the book that, once again should have been caught by the editors at Skelos Press. The blunder is that Louinet attributes the creation of Weird Tales magazine to William Sprenger (who was actually the business manager of the magazine) and not J. C. Henneberger (and J. M. Lansinger), who actually created and established the magazine. Otherwise, this is an excellent book and well worth investing your money ($14.95 price tag) and your time. Hopefully, Patrice Louinet will publish more works here in the U.S. since he is considered by many to be one of the foremost scholars on Robert E. Howard's life and works.

Third, The Robert E. Howard Foundation, as usual, had their table set up and were selling the much anticipated volume titled, Pictures in the Fire: Remaining Weird Tales and Esoterica, edited by Paul Herman. From the inside flap: This volume is mostly comprised of weird and horror stories, along with a bit of juvenilia, fragments, poetry, and assorted odds and ends. The front and back cover art is drawn by Bill "Indy" Cavalier (who was the guest of honor at this year's Howard Days, and a long-time fan of Robert E. Howard). If you do not already have a copy of this book, you better hurry and get one, it is likely to sell out fairly fast.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Swanson of Dakota By Karen Joan Kohoutek

Carl Swanson
with his wife, Evelyn
North Dakota, where I have lived for many years, is an under-represented state in the history of weird fiction. So one of my favorite footnotes is the elusive Carl Swanson (May 25, 1902 — November 16, 1974), who corresponded with Lovecraft, inspired The Fantasy Fan fanzine, and collaborated with Jerry Siegel, all while living in Washburn, ND. One of his best-known ventures is an attempt to start a magazine called Galaxy, although, judging by references in the letters of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, the idea swiftly rose and fell.

            Lovecraft commented on Swanson in several of his letters to Robert Barlow, starting in January 1932: “I am told that a new weird magazine is about to be started by one Carl Swanson of Washburn, North Dakota. I’ve sent in ‘The Nameless City’ & ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep,’ but am doubtful about their acceptance” (21). Later that month, he added that he had “just heard from Swanson—the new magazine man. He has accepted both ‘The Nameless City’ & ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep’” (22).

            In March 1932, Lovecraft provided more information. “Swanson’s plans are slowly taking form. The new periodical will be called Galaxy, & Derleth understands that the rate of pay will be about ¼ (cent) per word. The magazine will sell for 10 (cents), or $1.00 per year. Wright of W.T. is rather worried about the coming competition, & tends to resent the sale of reprinting rights to Swanson by his authors” (25).

            This would come up again in March 1935, when, speaking of Wright and reprint rights from Weird Tales, Lovecraft says, “The only smallness he ever displayed in a matter of reprinting was some years ago, when Swanson of Dakota intended to found a magazine of second appearances” (217). Also in March, Howard wrote to his friend Tevis Clyde Smith that “a man named Swanson is publishing a magazine in one of the Dakotas, on the weird order. I’ve neglected my chances, until I wonder if the thing’s about up ten years ahead. Lovecraft wrote me that he’d placed a couple of yarns, and evidently the old weird tale buccaneers have descended on it like a horde of vultures” (315).