Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Support The REH Foundation, Project Pride and Cross Plains, TX

 Fists of Iron, Round 2 just came today in the post. I'm a bit behind on ordering the boxing collection, but I'll eventually catch up. I noticed a particular sticker on the box when it was delivered. "Mailed from Cross Plains Texas, home of REH." There was another sticker that declared that the contents were packaged by Project Pride and the return address label indicated that the book was sold through The Robert E. Howard Foundation. 

All these people and organizations at work just to get me my book. It takes an army, and this army needs some support. Whenever anyone buys a book from the Robert E. Howard Foundation, several things happen. First, the person making the purchase gets a high quality work/volume (or volumes) to add to their library. They also get hours of reading enjoyment because we all know how awesome Howard's work is, right? Second, the Foundation gets much needed support which helps them to be able to publish more works in the future. And those of us REH fans always love to see additional material from or about Robert E. Howard.

Next, Project Pride and Cross Plains, TX is supported because they actually send out the material when it's ordered. I have heard that the Cross Plains post office has benefited greatly from all the orders that have been made through the Foundation. This certainly helps keep their small Post Office open with money coming in from all the book orders. So in the end, everyone benefits.

The Robert E. Howard Foundation has a solid selection of material at their website, from Howard's fiction, to non fiction works written by various scholars about Howard and his life. With new research being performed daily, new material being discovered, supporting the Foundation will actually enable them to publish more material in the future. And this support trickles down to Project Pride and the town of Cross Plains.

Besides ordering material, there is another way to help support the Foundation—become a supporting member. There are three levels of membership in the Foundation:


$20 – as a Supporting Member you will receive a 10% discount on REHF and REH Foundation Press (REHFP) books and merchandise.



$50 – as a Friend of REH you will receive the member discount above as well as the REHF newsletter, and your name posted (if wanted) on the website.



$100 – Legacy Circle members will receive all the above, along with invitations to special events, plus a yearly REHF pin. Legacy Circle members might also get other additional benefits during the year.

No matter the level, the support is always gladly needed. I've been a Legacy Circle Member for four years now and over those four years I've received the quarterly newsletter which has actually released REH material, fragments, and other items of interest that you can get nowhere else. I've also had early voting privileges for the Foundation Awards given each year at REH Days. Plus, I've received my REH pins (all really cool pics of REH) and taken advantage of the discount to buy material. Here are some of the books I've bought from the Foundation over the years:

Robert E. Howard's
Western Tales
Blood & Thunder
by Mark Finn
The Western Tales, Blood & Thunder, The Letters of Dr. Isaac Howard, School Days in the Post Oaks, The Three Volume REH Letters, Sentiment: An Olio of Rarer Works, So Far the Poet, The Collected Letters: Index and Addenda, and now I'm working on getting all the boxing volumes. All of these books are a very high quality bound book whether they are hardback or paperback. Morever, and I probably do not need to stress this point, every volume is well worth the money. So if you are able, please support the Foundation, Project Pride, and the town of Cross Plains, TX simply by purchasing the works of Robert E. Howard or REH Scholars. You'll be glad you did.


The Collected Letters of Doctor
Isaac M. Howard



Sunday, April 26, 2015

Heroes in the Wind: From Kull to Conan Part 3

This is the last portion of my response to John Clute's introduction. I continue discussing his stilted and confusing terminology. Once again, I'm not telling anyone to avoid buying this volume, I'm just wishing that an REH scholar had of written the introduction . . .

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Picture taken from the Del Rey edition
titled Kull: Exile of Atlantis
 With his use of “ontological insecurity”, Clute has certainly left his careful reader in utter confusion. “’The Shadow Kingdom’ (1929) features Kull, king of Valusia, a usurper from fabled Atlantis, a man whose gaze is like iron, a brooder. There is some fustian in the tale, as Howard only slowly mastered the pulp habit of petticoating dark thoughts in florid adjectives; but the cosmic terror of the climax, the ontological insecurity generated by the shapechanging Secret Master aliens, comes across with near absolute conviction.” (Clute, xv) I’m not even sure I have the smallest understanding of what Clute means here by ontological insecurity. Ontology is the branch of philosophy, metaphysics, that deals with the issue of being. “[M]ost generally, the philosophical investigation of the nature, constitution, and structure of reality.” (Audi, 489) Issues such as whether God exists, or what is evil, the existence of non-physical entities” fall under the study of ontology. And we all know what insecurity means. But what is ontological insecurity? Is Clute attempting to combine the two words to mean “being insecure?” If so, his use of ontology is so far off from being accurate I actually feel embarrassed for him.
The above are only two examples of stilted language (or terms) that Clute employs in this introduction. Other examples include, “skewed intensity” (Clute, xv), “existential crisis,” (Clute, xv), “claustrophobia of mundane history,” (Clute, xvi), and he confuses succubus and incubus (xviii). This kind of language is replete in this introduction and only manages to confuse the reader. Moreover, Clute’s tone throughout the introduction is fairly condescending in the sense that Clute enjoys Howard despite Clute’s self. He also writes in such a way that he slaps his own reader without them realizing it.
 So why should all this matter? This is the introduction to a European Penguin Modern Classics volume that is now no longer in print. The reason it matters is 1) because the work was at one point in print which means that anyone can track it down and obtain a copy, 2) Howard scholars have spent decades trying to not only clarify who Robert E. Howard was, but also take Howard’s work and introduce it to the world of literature as something that is worthy of consideration. And, 3) the book and its introduction has already gained some notoriety (and response) on a website called Strange Horizons in a review written by William Mingin (see bibliography for the weblink).
Because of all this, an introduction to an academic collection of Howard’s work ought to be succinct, welcoming, and easily informative. Clute has done a poor job at all this. Clute certainly comes across as a fan of Robert E. Howard’s work, but his fandom seems a bit distorted. Moreover, while Clute could be considered an expert in science fiction, he is not an expert on Robert E. Howard. I can think of several Howard scholars who are far more qualified to discuss Robert E. Howard and his works besides John Clute.
Aside from Clute’s introduction, the works he chose from Howard to include in the volume were divided into three main parts: Black Dawn, Dark Interlude, and High Noon. Black Dawn includes The Shadow Kingdom, The Mirrors of Tuzun Thane, Kings of the Night, Worms of the Earth, and The Dark Man. According to Clute and his assessment that Robert E. Howard was “never comfortable with the novel” (Clute, xv), these stories were chosen and grouped because of their size (all about 10,000 words) and the idea that in these stories Clute claims that “Howard had become perhaps the most word-perfect, consistent, unrelenting, irresistibly succinct narrator of violent action ever to write in English.” (xvi)
Weird Tales September 1931. This issue
contains Howard's The Footfalls Within
 Dark Interlude includes The Footfalls Within, Pigeons from Hell, Graveyard Rats, and Vultures of Wahpeton. Clute is not clear why these stories are in this section other than they “reduce the pressure for a moment.” (Clute, xvi) The last section, High Noon, brings in Howard’s most famous character, Conan. This section includes The Tower of the Elephant, Queen of the Black Coast, A Witch Shall Be Born, and Red Nails. His reason for leaving Conan for last is it allows the reader to now relax , “because we sense that Howard has come home.”
It is Clute’s selection of stories where I can appreciate this volume the most. It is clear he has put some thought into his choices. Clute has also given credit to several Robert E. Howard scholars for these choices. While I do not object to any of the stories Clute has chosen to include in this volume, obviously there are some I would add or subtract for various reasons, as would just about any other Howard fan or scholar. Most of these reasons would be how conducive they are to being taught in a classroom setting of say young freshmen literature students. However, for the general public this volume would be a delightful introduction to Howard’s work, aside from its introduction, of course.
All in all, I’m pleased to see that this volume exists but saddened that it was introduced the way it was. Despite the negative undertones, the confusing language and use of odd phraseology, I can only hope that Howard’s stories included in this volume will speak louder and clearer for themselves than Clute has done in introducing them.

Bibliography

Audi, Robert, ed. Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. Print.

Clute, John, ed. Heroes in the Wind: From Kull to Conan: The Best of Robert E. Howard. London: Penguin, 2009. Print

Mingin, William. "Heroes in the Wind by Robert E. Howard." Strange Horizons Reviews: , Reviewed by William Mingin. Http://www.strangehorizons.com/reviews/2010/02/heroes_in_the_w.shtml, 22 Feb. 2010. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Heroes in the Wind: From Kull to Conan Part 2

In this part, I examine some of the stilted language Clute uses in his intro and also examine his use of odd analogies and comparisons. 

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After Clute’s ploy to draw in his reader he then lumps Robert E. Howard into a list of writers who are 1) not in the same genre as Howard, 2) not from the pulp fiction arena as Howard was, and 3) are listed, it seems, in an attempt to elevate Robert E. Howard’s work to a high-brow literary status. I think Clute’s attempt at point 3 is done with the hope that by dropping names such as Marcel Proust, Henry James, Richard Dadd, James Joyce and Anthony Trollope, writers who on some level had to earn their place in literary history, the reader will also be convinced that Robert E. Howard has, as such, earned his place there as well. Underneath it all I do not disagree with Clute's point here (even though these other writers are a different breed from Howard), but the list makes Clute come across as a desperate braggart on behalf of Robert E. Howard. This is certainly unnecessary. Moreover, being the widely recognized expert of science fiction and fantasy that Clute is believed to be, why those particular writers over several well known fantasy writers? Why not use H.P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, George MacDonald, all well known writers who are recognized by scholars? At least then Clute would be in the same genre, and there’d be less confusion in the comparison. Even so, I’m not sure the reader really needs to be convinced that Robert E. Howard’s work is worthy to be read. Howard’s work firmly stands on its own two feet in this regard.

Robert E. Howard
After compiling an odd list of writers to compare Howard with, Clute moves on to a confusing metaphor.  He does this by using the literary criticism of Wayne C. Booth’s reference to the “’figure’ of the Implied Author, a kind of ghost artefact with legs who negotiates aspects between the written and the read.” (Clute, x). Clute explains that most readers will take the Implied Author into the dreamworld or the act of reading and make this the ‘real’ author who communicates with the reader. And that this Implied Author acts like a “ferryman” or “hypnopomps who guide us through the night inside the head, across the river of the mind, into the chamber where stories sound.” (Clute, x) So when a reader is reading, there is a sense in which the reader is “being carried, and that some form of creative collaboration with this ferryman is intrinsic to the suspension of disbelief.” (Clute, x)  
Clute goes on to tell his reader that Howard’s works and writing style is akin to the ferryman at the mythical river Styx. “As for the late work, no one could possibly read the novellas from 1935, from just before he stopped writing—the two finest, ‘Vultures of Wahpeton’ and Red Nails’, are reprinted here—without sensing that the ferryman had more on his mind than simply transporting us into dreamlands of tooth and claw, where a man had to be a man with a big stick, or die.” (Clute, xi-xii) Keep in mind this is the first time in this introduction that Clute has used the term “ferryman” to describe Howard. And, it’s not until the end of the introduction that the reader realizes the “ferryman” is from Greek mythology and the river we are being taken across is Styx. I’m not certain why Clute decided to use this metaphor for Howard and his tales. I get a semblance of understanding in that Clute is attempting to explain how Howard’s stories carry their reader into another realm, another world. But why use Charon (or Kharon) and Styx as the metaphor to detail the effectiveness of Howard’s work? Moreover, why use it in such a vague sense as to leave the reader wondering why the metaphor is even being used? At best this is self-stultifying.
The ferryman on the River Styx
If Clute’s attempt at using such a metaphor is to highlight the power that Howard’s work has on his reader, he certainly failed in his attempt here. I got no sense of that based on the confusing way in which Clute went about getting me from point A to point B in the metaphor. It is here that I begin to harp back to Einstein’s apt quote, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” But this is only where the confusion begins. From the onset of this metaphor Clute begins to use terms and phrases that make no sense at all and his introduction quickly becomes stilted.
When Clute becomes verbose the tone of the introduction shifts. Additionally, the undercurrent of what Clute is communicating drowns the content in a pejorative tone. This is probably due to insertions of his personal opinions about the various works of Howard he dislikes. For example, regarding Howard’s boxing stories Clute says, “I for one find his boxing stories, for all their bellowing exuberance, fatally undercut by the viciousness and pathos of the subject matter.” (Clute, xi) What Clute means here is that he finds Howard’s boxing stories pitifully violent and that overwhelms their loud energy. My concern here is why would Clute bring up the boxing stories in such a negative light in an introduction of collected works that does not include those stories? Why even mention these stories only to defeat them in the process? The fact that Clute does not like the violence and pathos of Howard’s boxing stories is actually a poor determination of whether the stories are well written. In fact, Clute’s opinion here does little to help his reader gain a trust of Howard that Clute claims is so necessary. I refer back to the first line of Clute’s introduction: “In the end it may boil down to a question of trust.” (Clute, i) 
Robert E. Howard Boxing Stories
In addition to the above negative undercurrent, Clute also uses confusing terminology such as “ontological insecurity” and “existential entirety.” To be fair to Clute let me take these phrases and put them in their full context. On pages ix to x of Clute’s introduction he discusses the “fuzzy contract between the writer and reader,” using Wayne C. Booth’s idea of the Implied Author. Here is how Clute frames this notion and uses the term existential entirety, “Normally and rightly, authors are assumed to create an embodied voice which readers identify (naively or sophisticatedly) as the speaker of the tale; but I think there is more to the Implied Author than this, as far as the actual reader in action is concerned. In our hearts, most of us incorporate the Implied Author more deeply into the dreamwork of the act of reading than simply understanding that it is not the ‘real’ author, in his or her existential entirety, who speaks to us.” (Clute, x, emphasis mine) Clute is essentially saying, readers, when they read, understand that the author of the story is not revealing his or her personality and existence entirely to his or her audience by virtue of their works. The problem with using the term existential to convey this point is that it really does not convey what I think Clute wants it to convey. He seems to be confusing the use of existential with existence in this paragraph, and these are two quite different things in their implication. Even though existential deals with existence, it deals with a particular kind of existence.  It would have certainly been better to eliminate the odd terminology and simply state the obvious point.

Martin Heidegger
Existential is a philosophical term that stems from the works of German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Heidegger spent his philosophical career attempting to answer the “question of being.” (Audi, 317) Simply put, Heidegger wanted to know what is the meaning of being? “Or, put differently, how do entities come to show up as intelligible to us in a determinate way? And this question calls for an analysis of the entity that has some prior understanding of things: human existence or Dasein (the German word for “existence” or “being-there,” used to refer to the structures of humans that make possible an understanding of being.)” (Audi, 317) This idea or thought about existence from Heidegger is where we get the term existential. As you can see it means much more than merely existence. If Clute meant to use the term in such as way to communicate only existence then he should have used the word existence and not existential. The implication between the two are quite different. And, even if the average reader does not pick up on this nuance the careful reader should. It would seem that if one is writing an introduction in an academic collection the use of confusing terms is certainly not beneficial in communicating a particular point.