As always, I went to Cross Plains with my friend Todd Vick (editor and host of this blog). We arrived on Wednesday night. I didn't know what there would be to do in Cross Plains two days before the event, but I'm always willing for an extra day or two of vacation. To my surprise, I learned that it pays to show up before the official start of Howard Days. The Howard Home and Museum is a natural rallying point for pilgrims, and we weren't the first ones who decided to arrive early. Let the fellowship begin.
|Cross Plains Review|
Activities on Friday always start in the morning with registration at the Howard house. It's a good time to to meet up with other arriving attendees and peruse the tables at the "REH Swap Meet" under the pavilion. In a quiet moment I picked up a few new volumes for my small but growing REH library at the museum gift shop/obsession-enabler, and a bit later I got to spy two original issues of Weird Tales that Patrice Louinet was displaying (to everyone's envy).
|30 Years of Howard Days|
(L to R: Cavalier, McNeel Childers, & Burke)
|Mark Finn (L) & Michael Scott Myers (R)|
After a recess, we returned to the auditorium where Rusty Burke and Bill Cavalier presented the REH Foundation's annual awards. Bobby Derrie took two awards – The Atlantean for outstanding achievement, for his book, The Collected Letters of REH: Index and Addenda (REH Foundation Press), and The Venarium emerging scholar award, in recognition of his book and the many essays he has contributed to REH: Two Gun Raconteur and On an Underwood No. 5. The unstoppable Jeff Shanks took The Hyrkanian award for outstanding achievement for the fourth year running, for his essay "Evolutionary Otherness: Anthropological Anxiety in Robert E. Howard's 'Worms of the Earth'" (from The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales). And I was honored to tie with Barbara Barrett for The Cimmerian award for outstanding achievement for online essay. Her essay, "Hester Jane Ervin Howard and Tuberculosis" can be found at REH: Two Gun Raconteur, and mine can be found here at On an Underwood No. 5. Damon Sasser took two awards for outstanding achievement (the Stygian and The Aquilonian) for his blog REH: Two Gun Raconteur, and the print journal of the same name.
|Ben Friberg at work in the|
(Picture courtesy of Rusty Burke)
The highlight of Friday's scheduled events is always the banquet at the community center. To kick things off, Rusty presented the REH Foundation scholarship to this year's winner. And after recognizing all who helped organize this years festivities, Michael Scott Myers delivered the keynote address, giving an augmented account of the writing and production of The Whole Wide World. As usual the Staghorn Cafe delivered the goods, serving a dinner of chicken fried steak with sides. I don't always eat chicken fried steak, but when I do it's from Staghorn. And it's delicious. And this year's silent auction saw the same vicious bidding as always. I was outbid on all the items I wanted, but I hear Jeff Shanks won an original shooting script of The Whole Wide World. And Myers even signed it!
After the banquet Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, and Jeff Shanks discussed one of REH's favorite pastimes, boxing, and the importance it had for him. Attendees illuminated the concrete slab behind the taxidermy business, which is the famed site of the old, rail-side ice house, as we listened to readings from Howard's boxing stories. By way of background, Gruber discussed rough-and-tumble fighting, which featured grappling, biting, and eye-gouging, and which was prevalent in the South and on the frontier, and which Howard wrote about both in his letters and in many stories. He also noted that Howard's story, "Hard-Fisted Sentiment," might be the first fictional account of a mixed martial arts fight, in that it portrays Costigan fighting – one after the other – three "hard eggs," each of whom was a practitioner of a different martial art. Following the ice house panel, attendees settled in at the pavilion for an evening of conversation. The porch light poetry reading had been scheduled, but was postponed to the next evening. Staying at a motel down the road in Cisco, Todd and I were not able to stay late; there was an early morning planned the next day.
|Gary Romeo on the Lancer/Ace|
The panel also featured a first for Howard Days; panelists were joined briefly via Skype by Frank's grand-daughter, Sara Frazetta. She shared memories of her famous grandfather and talked about how she and her mother Holly acquired Frank's business after his death in 2010 and are continuing his legacy. She even answered questions from the audience and as she gave her farewell she enticed fans by announcing that the website (www.frazettagirls.com) will be stocked with new merchandise in the next couple of weeks.
|The Life of REH Panel|
Another example of how Howard's personal correspondence spilled over into his fiction also demonstrates Howard's emphasis on personal liberty. Mark Finn mentions a scene in "God in the Bowl," in which Conan is questioned by "police" at the scene of an official's murder, and after an indignant response by Conan an officer facetiously says, "One of these citizens with rights, eh?" Finn notes that this scene echoes a discussion Howard just recently had with HP Lovecraft about individual rights. Patrice Louinet mentioned an exchange with Tevis Smith about a recent police beating as another possible inspiration for that scene.
During the Q/A session, Louinet and Paul Herman both talked about the how much Howard loved to travel, and how important it was to him. Herman acknowledged that Howard's travel compensated for a feeling of being trapped and noted that this came out in his writing in the form of characters who were (almost universally?) itinerant. Louinet seemed to downplay the idea that Howard was trapped, noting that he had his own car since 1932, and was not tied to home to care for his mother until the last year of her life (1935-6).
(Picture courtesy of Rusty Burke)
Rounding out the symposium, Daniel Look (St Lawrence University) gave the most engaging presentation on statistical analysis that I am sure I have ever seen with his paper, "Some Stylometric Results Concerning the Authorship of Almuric." While offering a tentative conclusion, Look's methodology suggests exciting prospects for its use in literary analysis and textual criticism.
Naturally, the discussions that ignited at the symposium overflowed the allotted time and were carried over to the pavilion. Good food and engaging conversation provided a fitting end to the weekend, thanks to Cat & BarbBQ, who had been smoking brisket on-site in their smoker-trailer since that morning. And Ben Friberg's now famous home-made ice cream made a perfect end to the meal.
|Cimmeria in 6 languages|
There are many things that have drawn me to attend Howard Days these last four years: the many panels, the opportunity to acquire new books for my personal collection, and the distinctively Texan food. But the opportunity to meet new people with similar interests, make new friends, and catch up with friends made in past years is one of the best aspects of this event. All of this, combined with the new developments in the Howard Days program, and an unexpected glimpse into the history of Cross Plains made this year's pilgrimage an especially enjoyable experience.