Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Study This, Not That!: A Suggested Bibliography for REH Studies, Part Two

REH Primary Works Continued . . .

The Boxing Stories . . .

Study This . . .

Back in 2005 Bison Books released a collection of Howard's boxing stories in a volume titled Boxing Stories edited by Chris Gruber. This was part of a series—by the same publishing company, Bison Books—called The Works Robert E. Howard. This series included two western volumes (which we'll look at shortly), an adventure tales volume and a collection of weird/horror stories called The Black Stranger and Other American Tales. I bought this boxing volume a year after it was released. This volume was my introduction to Howard's boxing stories. Until recently this was the only volume I was aware existed that contained a collection of Howard's boxing stories. It was eye-opening for me. In fact, I never knew Howard wrote boxing stories until this volume. The book has a wonderful introduction by REH scholar Chris Gruber. It gives the reader a solid background about Howard's boxing stories and their characters. Unfortunately, this volume is currently out of print. You can still find a copy but they are not cheap. But all is not lost because the Robert E. Howard Foundation is in the process of publishing the definitive collection of Howard's boxing stories. Chris Gruber joined with REH scholars Mark Finn and Patrice Louinet to compile a massive 4 volume set, the first two volumes of which are already in print and for sale at the Foundations website. This new four volume set is aptly titled Fists of Iron and each volume is designated by a nice pun—"Round 1, Round 2," etc.  Just as a boastful aside, I recently won the first volume of Fists of Iron and the 2014 REH Days auction banquet. It contains a customized special drawing on the inside first blank page by the cover artist Thomas Gianni, and is signed on the numbered titled page by Chris Gruber, Mark Finn & Patrice Louinet. This first volume contains an introduction by Chris Gruber, a couple of hundred pages of boxing stories and four appendices. The four appendices contain early tales, variants and fragments, articles, several special "odds and ends," and part one of an essay by Patrice Louinet titled The Lord of The Ring. And keep in mind this is merely volume one. If you really want to research Howard and his works, and I mean be a well rounded reader and researcher of Howard and his works, then you must read his boxing stories. And now is the best time to begin doing that with the advent of this new four volume set.

The Western Stories . . .

Another necessary set of primary works to read for a well balanced REH diet is his western stories. In the same Bison Books series mentioned above (The Works of Robert E. Howard) there are two volumes devoted to Howard's western stories: The Riot of Bucksnort and Other Western Tales edited and with an introduction by David Gentzel and The End of the Trail: Western Stories edited and with an introduction by Rusty Burke. The former title contains REH's humorous westerns, the later his weird/serious westerns. I discovered The End of the Trail: Western Stories first. Although I had run into a smaller European collection of REH's western tales in the early to mid 90s at a second hand bookstore, it was really Rusty Burke's edited Bison Books volume that turned me on to REH's western stories. More importantly was Burke's introduction. That intro is a kind of "play-by-play" commentary about each story and why it was selected for the Bison volume. I was almost more impressed with this introduction than I was the stories themselves. I'm, of course, being a bit hyperbolic, but am also attempting to stress just how well done the intro to this volume actually is. Moreover, this was my first encounter with one of Robert E. Howard's greatest works of fiction—The Vultures of Wahpeton. I can count on both hands stories by REH that without a doubt deserve a home in high school and college textbooks, Vultures of Wahpeton is one of those. In fact, some of my favorite stories by REH are his westerns. But, this is not an article to point out favorites. Additionally, The Riot at Bucksnort and Other Western Tales contains one of Howard's most endearing characters—Breckenridge Elkins (and Cap 'n Kidd, of course). The above two Bison books are no longer in print. Although, the REH House & Museum in Cross Plains, TX still has copies of The Riot at Bucksnort and Other Western Tales at a reasonable price. Along with the two volumes above is a volume published by the REH Foundation titled Robert E. Howard's Western Tales. This volume has an introduction by western writer James Reasoner. His intro is excellent for anyone researching REH's westerns. Additionally, this volume contains regular westerns, weird westerns, essays, miscellanea, juvenilia, and notes about the texts. Reading Howard's westerns is as important as reading his heroic fantasy, his boxing tales, his adventure stories, horror stories, you get the idea. These stories are important and a well rounded researcher should read them.

Robert E. Howard's Letters/Correspondence . . .

One of the easiest ways to get to know someone is simply read their mail. Reading the correspondence of famous people is a great way to research their lives, their thoughts, their ideas, etc. Fortunately for us today, the correspondence of Robert E. Howard is easily accessible. That was not always the case. Just a mere two or three decades ago, you had to track down REH's letters, or contact Glenn Lord who had done a tremendous amount of footwork to collect them. Today there are several volumes you can buy that contain these letters. There is a three volume set (the first volume is no longer in print/sold out) that the Robert E. Howard Foundation sells titled The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (Volume One: 1923-1929; Volume Two: 1930-1932; Volume Three: 1933-1936). These volumes are edited by Rob Roehm and have introductions by Rusty Burke. If you are going to do any type of serious research on the life of Robert E. Howard then these letters are an absolute necessity. In fact, most professional literary research that is done outside the realm of textual analysis is often times focused on the available correspondence of the person being researched due to historical and personal insights. The second set of books contain letters between Robert E. Howard and H.P. Love Craft. These volumes are titled A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (Volume One 1930-1932; Volume two 1933-1936). These volumes are edited by S.T. Joshi, David Schultz and Rusty Burke. Now, while REH's letters to H.P. Lovecraft are in the three volume Collected Letters, H.P. Lovecraft's responses are not. This is what makes the two volume set doubly important—you get both sides of the correspondence. However, what makes the three volume Collected Letters so crucial is the fact that it contains letters to all of REH's friends, other writers, publishers, etc. And this is why I own both sets.

Robert E. Howard's Poetry . . .

The last of the primary material happens to be some of the hardest material to find, especially since the largest volume ever printed, an 800 plus page volume, titled The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, is no longer in print. And, you have a better chance of winning the lottery than finding a copy of it—believe me I've been looking for that single volume on every available internet avenue for about 6 years now. But, here's some good news! At this past REH Days in Cross Plains, Texas, the REH Foundation announced that a new and updated volume of that work will be released in the near future. In the mean time there are several poetry volumes currently available to any reader/researcher to peruse. The first can be obtained at the Robert E. House and Museum. It is titled A Word from the Outer Dark by Robert E. Howard (edited by Paul Herman). It contains a brief introduction about Howard being a poet and his poetry and 100 poems. Another volume that is currently available at the REH Foundation website is titled A Rhyme of Salem Town and Other Poems. This volume also has a brief introduction by Paul Herman and contains a little more than 100 poems. Robert E. Howard scholar Professor Frank Coffman also has an edited version of Howard's poetry titled Robert E. Howard: Selected Poems. This volume is a whopping 567 pages, has just over 700 poems, and three indexes to easily help you hunt down specific poems (by titled and first lines). But the unique thing about this volume over any other is the fact that Frank Coffman provides commentary, chapter introductions, and Coffman happens to be a first rate scholar of Howard's poetry. One of the main reasons I would certainly recommend Howard's poetry in any given research within REH studies is because they are so rich with history, humor, info about Texas, the historical West, love, self-reflective ideas/thoughts, heroism, and even horror and humor. Howard wrote sonnets, ballads, free verse, rhyme scheme, along with other various forms. So his poetry is a must for any serious researcher.

(More to Come . . .)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Study This, Not That!: A Suggested Bibliography for REH Studies, Part One

Have you ever seen those bestselling books titled Eat This, Not That! ? They contrast the kinds of food it is best to eat with the kinds of food it is best not to eat. They are quite informative. Interestingly enough, in the realm of Robert E. Howard studies there is certainly material on both sides of the line, so speak. In other words, there is available material that is actually good to study, and available material that is not so good to study. This article's intent is to inform the serious seeker in REH studies about the best research material to study and the reasons why. 

In any field of study/research there is always material that is better than others. What one may not understand though is what makes some material better than others and how you tell the difference? A good question to ask when embarking on research is do the data and methods used support the conclusions? In terms of historical research—which is what most REH scholars are essentially working with outside of REH's manuscripts—new data is often discovered which can render old data outdated or sometimes obsolete/wrong. The point of research is to investigate ideas, facts, events, etc. and uncover useful knowledge. Useful knowledge is obtained from eyewitness accounts, documents, manuscripts, recorded history, pictures, letters/correspondence, etc. You get the idea. This is why when new data arises it tends to out-date or sometimes make obsolete older research material. That does not necessarily mean that older material is always "bad" or rendered useless. But it certainly helps to know how new data overrides old data. 

Quality research also demands good judgment, honesty, and proper context. Poor research is usually easy to spot. It entails poor judgments, contradictory evidence, quick/poor assumptions, and/or a lack of solid evidence. While all of the above is certainly not exhaustive, it is a pretty solid foundation from which to start when considering research methodology. 

All the above considered, let me now suggest some research material that I have used to further my knowledge in REH studies. I'll attempt to explain why I think that one might want to study this and not that. It should be noted that I am simply suggesting what I have considered better research material. Also, it is always a good thing to research all material within the arena of your topic. The key factor in doing so is an ability to discern what material is best. That being the case, let's take a look at what's out there:

REH Biographies

Study This . . .

Blood & Thunder by Mark Finn

First Edition
Monkey Brain Books
ISBN: 9781932265217
Second Edition

REH Foundation Press

There are two editions of Mark's work. The second edition makes improvements on grammatical/textual errors from the first edition. Plus, the second edition adds new material based on current research findings, etc. However, even though the second edition is updated, the first edition still holds its own. I own a copy of both editions for purposes of actually being able to see improvements between the two texts and to be able to contrast the updated material between the two editions. The works themselves draw heavily on REH's letters, first person accounts, historical documents, and corrections of silly myths that have developed over the years about Robert E. Howard. There is also an emphasis on the fact that Robert E. Howard was a Texas writer, something that certainly influenced his works. To miss this point, Mark emphasizes, is to miss the man in his work. To this date, this is the definitive REH biography and an important addition to REH studies.

One Who Walked Alone: Robert E. Howard: The Final Years by Novalyne Price Ellis

Donald M. Grant Publishers
ISBN: 093798678X
First published in 1986
This is not your typical biography. In other words Novalyne did not do the standard footwork on the life of Howard like a biographer who had never met Robert E. Howard would be forced to do. This biography is more a kin to an autobiography because Novalyne actually knew Robert E. Howard. In fact the two of them dated toward the end of Howard's life. This work is an account of her experiences with Howard during that time frame. The information is taken directly out of a personal journal she wrote at the time they dated. So not only is this work a first hand account, but it's written in such a style that makes it very readable and personable. In fact, the book was so well received that popular independent film director Dan Ireland based his film The Whole Wide World on this work. So the movie and the book have had a significant cultural impact. The importance of the book lies in the fact that there is no other account of REH's life like it. It provides the reader/researcher intimate insight into the life of the writer and the man. Moreover, there are personal conversations about politics, Texas history, religion, teaching, writing, etc. Howard details his characters, how he creates them, his writing style, why he sells various stories over others, what was selling at that time, and interesting conversations about what both Novalyne and Robert were reading at the time. This book is well worth the time invested.

The Last Celt: A Bio-Bibliography of Robert E. Howard by Glenn Lord

Glenn Lord's work, though no longer in print, is well worth tracking down. There are still copies to be had at various online bookstores (in fact here's one such place).
Berkley Windhover Books
ISBN: 0425036308
November 1977
This work contains Robert E. Howard's autobiography, essays on/about his life, an account of his suicide, family photographs, original artwork by Howard, letters from publishers, a detailed bibliography, and so much more. Glenn Lord was single-handedly responsible for current research being as effective as it has been. Not only for his own published material but for his work and help with all of the most important current REH scholars and their work. In fact, this work is merely a drop in the bucket of all the material Glenn Lord has provided for current REH research. The Last Celt is one of the best starting places for doing REH research, even though it is somewhat dated. The material is reliable, the research is well performed, and the footwork that Lord performed to garner the material is astounding. I owe much of my early research about Howard to this single volume. It is well worth tracking down.

Not That . . .

Dark Valley Destiny: The Life of Robert E. Howard by L.Sprague de Camp

The main reason I place this work in the "not that" group is due to it's lack of objective research. For too long this biography was the only one available. Unfortunately the repercussions still linger from this work today. However, those repercussions are waning due to current scholarship. I can't stress enough the poor research quality of this work. L. Sprague de Camp (henceforth de Camp) apparently took it upon himself to speculate about various things for which he was unable to find supporting facts. de Camp is not bashful about his speculations either. In fact, he prefaces those speculations with phrases such as "I suspect", "I believe", "It probably . . .", etc. Additionally, because of de Camp's background in psychology, he takes it upon himself to psychoanalyze Robert E. Howard, who at the time was long dead. And de Camp did this despite the fact that at the time psychoanalysis was being seriously questioned about its genuine validity. Today the practice has all but been dismissed as faulty and outdated. If you do decide to tackle this work do it with a full salt shaker and an active discerning mind. The small redeeming qualities of this book are its photographs of Cross Plains (from the 70s) and the REH home from the late 70s early 80s, and its early bibliography.

Robert E. Howard: The Supreme Moment by Francis DiPietro

Unless you are glutton for punishment, I would avoid this biography altogether. Of all the biographical
material I've read (and I've read pretty much everything that's available) this is the worst. In fact, DiPietro prefaces his biography by explaining that he is not a biographical writer. Is that an apology or merely self loathing? However, he does detail his previous works/credentials, all are fictional parodies based on Robert E. Howard's works (e.g. The Hour of the Dragon). Additionally, he admits to researching all the current REH scholars and lists each of their names. All the names are from the standard lot. It should be noted here that by listing names all he in fact accomplished was admitting that his work is derivative of their work. Perhaps derivative is too complimentary a term, a type of plagiarism would be closer to the truth. Regardless, the material in this work is more speculative than de Camp's biography. Despite the poor narrative quality of DiPietro's work he doesn't add any meaningful material to Howard studies. When I say 'meaningful' I mean DiPietro has done nothing to further the research, he has merely taken what is already available and speculated upon it. The most frustrating thing about this work is when DiPietro writes various claims or statements and then leaves them with no further explanation or support. Why? This does nothing but frustrate careful readers. I certainly do not recommend this work at all.

REH Primary Works

Study This . . .

The Del Rey Robert E. Howard Works
Del Rey Books
ISBN: 0345461517
December 2003
Del Rey Books
ISBN: 0345461509
July 2004

In 2003 Del Rey published a volume titled The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian illustrated by Mark Schultz with an introduction by Patrice Louinet. This volume took what was previously done on Wandering Star a few years earlier and made the price accessible to everyone. Morever, buzz about the authenticity of the stories being based solely on the original submitted manuscripts by REH to Weird Tales made the volume all the more appealing. Plus, the appendices included Patrice Louinet's work titled Hyborian Genesis, part one of a three part essay on the historicity of the creation of Conan and the chronology of those manuscripts. The other parts of Hyborian Genesis would continue in the two subsequent Del Rey Conan volumes. Besides the Conan volumes from Del Rey, other volumes would soon follow. All said, 11 Del Rey volumes would be published, including volumes devoted to Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Kull, El Borak, REH's Horror Stories, historical adventures, etc. The only pitfall I can think of regarding these volumes is that there were no volumes of REH's western and boxing stories. But the REH Foundation would soon remedy that. All of the Del Rey volumes include first rate artwork, excellent introductions, and informative appendices. Each volume is a must for any serious REH reader or researcher.

Not That . . .

The Lancer/Ace Conan Series

Unless you're just into collecting Frazetta's artwork, I would not recommend the Lancer or Ace Conan series. Granted, there are a few volumes where Robert E. Howard's work is present, albeit edited. And, these are not the purist copies. Even though many fans discovered Robert E. Howard (me included) through these volumes, L.Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter included too much of their own work. That's right, the volumes are filled with pastiches from de Camp and Carter, and the Howard works are edited (sometimes quite heavily). Don't misunderstand me here, I'm not slamming de Camp or Carter for their own efforts, it's just if you want to read the real Robert E. Howard stories then stick with the Del Rey editions. Moreover, the introductions to the de Camp/Carter volumes are wrought with problems/issues. No different than the problems/issues in de Camp's biography about REH (DVD). Even so, when I was younger and first introduced to REH (back in 1981) through the Ace editions of these books, I certainly could tell the difference in writing styles/voice/quality between the de Camp/Carter stories and the REH stories. All this being the case, buy them for comparisons to the Del Rey stories and see how they stack up. If you are doing textual analysis then by all means collect these and see how the stories were re-worked/edited compared to the original Weird Tales publications (or original manuscripts). It is for that very reason I own all the Lancer and Ace editions. Otherwise, pass 'em up.

(More to come . . .)