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 . . .)