Monday, March 23, 2015

Heroes in the Wind: From Kull to Conan Part 1

This is an article I wrote for REHupa #250. The article takes John Clute's introduction from the book Robert E. Howard: Heroes in the Wind, From Kull to Conan and dissects the problems I think arise and also takes Clute to task for his assessment of Howard and his work in an otherwise excellent primary anthology of Robert E. Howard's works. 

Over-all I do not disagree with much of what Clute says about Howard in this introduction, but I do take issue with the way in which he says it. My article examines why Clute uses such stilted verbiage in his introduction but also examines and assesses why Clute has so many confusing analogies/metaphors along with what I think is an underlying pejorative tone about Howard and his work. I'll admit my assessment is a little on the critical side but in my opinion quite warranted.

As an aside, this article was never intended to be a warning to anyone against buying Heroes in the Wind. The works of Howard that Clute included seem to be well thought out and I do think he made some great choices. My intent is to simply point out where I think Clute dropped the ball in introducing Robert E. Howard to the general public. With that in mind . . . 

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Albert Einstein once said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Those words have a strong ring of truth to them. My not-as-famous step-father , who was a teacher for 47 years, once told me, “It’s easy to take something simple and make it difficult.” Indeed, it is. Couple these quotes and you’ve got a nice simple summation of John Clute’s introduction to the European Penguin Modern Classic volume titled Robert E. Howard: Heroes in the Wind: From Kull to Conan.
In various literary respects the Europeans often times seem to be a few steps ahead of the U.S.. This volume is a prime example of this. There has yet to be an academic publisher like Penguin Classics or Library of America publish a compilation of Robert E. Howard’s primary works in the U.S.. So when I spotted this volume in my local independent bookstore I was beside myself. Naturally, I snatch the book off the shelf. As I thumbed through the contents I knew right away I already had every story between the book’s covers. However, the author of the introduction caught my eye—John Clute.
John Clute is a Canadian born author and New York University graduate who has made a strong name for himself in the critical arena of science fiction. He is widely known in science fiction and fantasy circles for co-editing the Hugo Awarding winning titles The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. He is also the author of the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Clute has garnered both praise and criticism within his chosen genre. Both with equal tenacity from fans and scholars.
There is no question that John Clute is an expert of science fiction and fantasy. His critical works and the breadth of his knowledge in these genres have been widely recognized. For these reasons I can understand why the editors at Penguin allowed him to put this volume together and write its introduction. However, John Clute is not a Robert E. Howard scholar. A fan perhaps, his introduction bears as much, but certainly not an REH scholar. Even though I had other copies of the stories from Howard in this volume, it was Clute’s introduction that compelled me to buy the book. And it is this same introduction that has compelled me to write this response.


The first few lines of Clute’s introduction are as follows: “In the end it may boil down to a question of trust. How could anyone in this seared and wary day and age ever trust Robert E. Howard enough to read him?” (Clute, i) This, of course, is a simple ploy to catch the reader’s attention. In this same vein Clute continues, “He [Howard] was ignorant: a Texas boy who hadn’t seen much more of the world than the handscrabble plains surrounding the early twentieth-century small towns he lived in all his life.” (Clute i). Anyone who has even the remotest inkling of knowledge about the history of REH publications and their introductions will slowly begin to see who this smacks of: L. Sprague de Camp. However, despite the similarities Clute moves forward in his literary ploy. I’ll not argue whether the literary ploy works or not. Personally I think it is effective, though wrong-headed. Regardless, after the ploy Clute launches into a whirlwind of confusing allegories and metaphors to detail the impact of Robert E. Howard’s works not only on Clute’s experience of Howard but what Clute seems to think will also impact other Howard readers. This is where the trouble begins.


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