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are essentially working with outside of REH's manuscripts—new data is often discovered which can render old data outdated or sometimes obsolete/wrong.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:
Study This . . .
Blood & Thunder by Mark Finn
Monkey Brain Books
REH Foundation Press
One Who Walked Alone: Robert E. Howard: The Final Years by Novalyne Price Ellis
|Donald M. Grant Publishers|
First published in 1986
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|
Not That . . .
Dark Valley Destiny: The Life of Robert E. Howard by L.Sprague de Camp
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
REH Primary Works
Study This . . .
The Del Rey Robert E. Howard Works
|Del Rey Books|
|Del Rey Books|
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 . . .)