Sunday, December 9, 2018

Conan and E’ch-Pi-El: Robert E. Howard in the Biographies of H. P. Lovecraft by Bobby Derie

It is fair to say that the study of the life and art of Robert E. Howard owes a debt to the study of H. P. Lovecraft. The six-year friendship of the two pulpsters represents a substantial exchange of letters for both men, the moreso for Howard as his letters to Lovecraft constitute the bulk of his surviving correspondence; they influenced each other’s work, most notably in the shared setting of the Cthulhu Mythos; and they had many friends and associates in common, including Farnsworth Wright, E. Hoffmann Price, Clark Ashton Smith, Henry S. Whitehead, Wilfred Blanch Talman, C. L. Moore, and August Derleth.

Howardiana was published alongside Lovecraftiana in fanzines like The Acolyte and The Ghost, and Arkham House, founded to publish the works of Lovecraft, put out two collections of Howard’s fiction and poetry: Skull-Face and Others (1946), Always Comes Evening (1957) and The Dark Man and Others (1963). Arkham House would also publish parts of Lovecraft’s letters to Howard in the Selected Letters (1965-1976), which some years later would inspire the publication of the Selected Letters of Robert E. Howard (1989/1991, Necronomicon Press). The “Howard boom” in the 1960s also coincided with a surge in interest in Lovecraft’s fiction.

For all of their association, however, Robert E. Howard was almost nonexistent in the early biographies and memoirs about H. P. Lovecraft. Most of the Lovecraft’s autobiographies predate their correspondence; F. Lee Baldwin’s “H. P. Lovecraft: A Biographical Sketch” (Fantasy Magazine Apr 1935) lists Howard as one of Lovecraft’ many correspondents; W. Paul Cook makes no mention in “In Memoriam: H. P. Lovecraft” (1941), nor Winfield Townley Scott in “His Own Finest Creation: H. P. Lovecraft” (1944); Howard appears in August Derleth’s H. P. L.: A Memoir (1945) only as one of Lovecraft’s correspondents (Derleth 61), the creation of Unaussprechlichen Kulten and von Junzt (Derleth 72), and part of a lengthy quote from one of Lovecraft’s letters:

Our distinguished fellow weirdist Two-Gun Bob has succumbed to this fashion to the extent of hashing up his own middle name (Ervin—distinguished in Southern history for 200 years) and signing himself ‘Robert Eiarbihan Howard.’ (Derleth 54)

The lack of reference to Howard in memoirs of Lovecraft is understandable, most were written by friends who had never met or corresponded with Howard, and possibly never heard of him. Those who did not already know of the Lovecraft-Howard connection would learn little of it from the Lovecraft side of things, and that would focus strongly on Howard’s contributions to the shared Mythos—Lin Carter’s focus in Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos (1972).

1975 was a seminal year in Lovecraft studies, with the publication of L. Sprague de Camp’s H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography, Frank Belknap Long’s Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Night Side, and Willis Conover’s Lovecraft at Last. These three books published more biographical material on Lovecraft than had been readily available in any half-a-dozen Arkham House volumes—and at the same time opened a window on his relationship with, and comparisons to, Robert E. Howard. In the preface, de Camp wrote:

I learned about Lovecraft little by little. I also learned about other members of the Lovecraft-Weird Tales circle, especially Robert E. Howard. While I enjoyed Lovecraft’s fiction, Howard’s stories came closer to the kind of swashbuckling adventure-fantasy that I most enjoy reading and writing. Later, I became involved in completing, rewriting, and editing a number of Howard’s unpublished tales; but that is another story. (de Camp xi)

De Camp had been associated with the science fiction fan scene and a pulpster since the 1940s; in the 1950s he became associated with the Robert E. Howard properties, re-writing stories in the Gnome Press volumes The Coming of Conan (1953), King Conan (1953), Tales of Conan (1955), and co-authoring The Return of Conan (1957) with Björn Nyberg. In 1966, de Camp and Lin Carter began editing and writing the Conan series in paperback from Lancer, the beginning of the Howard Boom of the ‘60s. Robert E. Howard ‘zine Amra (1959) was already a focal point for Howard Studies, and de Camp’s articles from Amra were reprinted by Mirage Press in The Conan Reader (1968); de Camp and George Scrithers went on to edit two further collections of Howard-related articles by de Camp and others: The Conan Swordbook (1969) and The Conan Grimoire (1972). This familiarity with Robert E. Howard is a significant part of what de Camp brought to his approach to Lovecraft.

De Camp gave the standard note Howard was one of Lovecraft’s correspondents (de Camp 114, 301, 376), even paraphrasing notes from Howard’s letters to Lovecraft:



Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Last Line of the Last Letter by Todd B. Vick



For decades, fans have speculated about the writing/publishing direction Robert E. Howard would have taken had he not died on June 11, 1936. Questions such as what genres would he have ventured into? Would he have continued writing Conan stories? Would he have published more westerns? Some have decried these questions and their answers as vain attempts or pure speculation. But are they? I think there is enough evidence available to formulate a solid idea as to which publishing direction Howard was headed, and would have likely remained on for a spell, when he died, at least in terms of the first few years after his death: from 1936 to 1940. How is this possible, you might ask? My answer is based predominantly on three publishing trends Howard went through in the 12 years he was actively publishing his written material. And, a fourth, impending publishing period he was headed toward at the time of his death. Let me try explain what I mean.

Over the twelve years Howard published stories, various patterns can be detected during these years. Not patterns of style, though they may be there as well, but in terms of content and genres in which he wrote. In simplistic terms, Howard’s twelve-year publishing career (from 1924 to 1936) can be divided into three periods lasting about four years each. Based on several years of looking at Howard’s published work from a birds-eye view (or holistic perspective), in my estimation this is how I have charted his career. Initially, there is an amateur (juvenile) period lasting from 1919 to 1923 (also a four-year period). I have not included this period in the chart below, but it could easily be placed before the three periods represented and aptly called his “amateur or juvenile period.” This period is a smattering of both humorous and serious history, mystery, and the like. 


From 1924, when “Spear and Fang” is written and submitted to Weird Tales, to 1928, is a period I call Howard’s "discovery period" (or early fiction). Howard experiments with several genres like horror, history, and fantasy. Additionally, it is during this period that Howard begins to experiment with his adventure influences (e.g. Rafael Sabatini, H. Rider Haggard, et. al) using some of those elements in his stories. He also nails down his prose pace, which is arguably the strongest aspect of his fiction. In this first period Howard uses a smattering of historical (and mythological) elements to begin to create some interesting (albeit young-ish in style and prose) stories. Because of this, Howard is directed into the second period of publication, what I call his historical fiction period, from 1928 to 1932. This period clearly shows Howard using aspects of the history he has researched up to these years. Howard also begins to mix genres (e.g. adventure with horror) during this period.

Between the first period (early fiction) and the second period (historical fiction), Howard creates two characters (Solomon Kane and Kull) who overlap these two periods to generate what is to come in his third period of publication: what I call the adventure fantasy period. From 1932 (with the publication of Conan) to 1936, Howard’s primary attention is on adventure fantasy. During this period, Howard is developing the Hyborian Age and giving the reading public Conan the Cimmerian, his most popular character.

Throughout these three periods, beginning with the latter part of the first period up to the early part of the third period, Howard published his boxing stories as a separate entity (or genre, if you will) altogether. What I mean by this is that his boxing stories do not neatly fall into any of the three categories as primary works reflecting those categories. There are elements from each of those periods present in his boxing stories, but they stand alone as an individual genre overlapping the periods. A very simple chart/table of these periods would look something like this:

1924—1928
1928—1932
1932—1936
Early Fiction
Historical Fiction
Adventure Fantasy
Smattering of genres, some historical
Primarily historical, some fantasy
Primarily Fantasy, some western
(From the latter part of the first period to the early part of the third period — boxing fiction)

NB: This idea (and above chart) is a general, broad sweep of Howard’s writing career. A much more specific account could be created, examining specific stories and genres with explanations as to why they fit into each of these periods. Perhaps something to consider for a future article. Let us just say, these three periods stand out over Howard’s twelve-year publishing career, and as presented should be sufficient, along with other evidence presented a little later, to demonstrate Howard’s fictional direction at the time of his death. It should also be pointed out that once Howard moved away from a character (e.g. Solomon Kane, Kull, etc.) to begin a new character or genre trend, he did not returned to that character.

 Now, with regard to what has been typically dismissed as speculation about the writing/publishing direction Howard was headed at the time of his death, using Howard’s letters, his published fiction, and Novalyne Price Ellis’ book One Who Walked Alone, I think a fourth period, which was developing by June of 1936, can be determined.

As mentioned above, regarding the third period of Howard’s publishing career (the adventure fantasy period), Conan was the dominant character around which Howard build some of his most popular stories. But what was Howard saying about Conan in the last year or so of his life? By December of 1935, Howard confessed to Lovecraft, “The last yarn I sold to Weird Tales—and it well may be the last fantasy I’ll ever write—was a three-part Conan serial which was the bloodiest and most sexy weird story I ever wrote.” (CL 3.393) Aside from possibly Novalyne Price, Lovecraft is the first person to whom Howard admits he is moving away from adventure fantasy (and from Conan). Moreover, Howard has spent several years discussing the Texas and western frontier. These discussions have likely fueled his desire to write more about that topic.

By the Spring of 1936, Howard’s writing slowed due to the care he was giving his mother. However, by this time, he had stopped writing adventure fantasy altogether and was writing and publishing predominantly westerns. His focus was on Breckenridge Elkins, Buckner J. Grimes, and Pike Bearfield. Even so, months before this season, while he was still working on Conan stories, Howard admitted to Novalyne Price that he wanted to write a story (perhaps a novel) about the Texas frontier. (OWWA 223, 227) Because Conan was Howard’s bread and butter character, He and Price discuss Conan and the barbarian versus civilization issue fairly regularly (or at least Howard frequently brings it up in their conversations). On several occasion, Price mentions that Howard told her he was ready to stop writing Conan stories and focus his attention on westerns or his Texas frontier novel. And she had agreed with that idea and expressed hope that he would. (OWWA 223, 226-227)

 Howard’s western output had increased in the months prior to his death. He had also corresponded with Jack Byrne at Munsey Publication about a new humorous character in the same vein as Breckenridge Elkins. Howard explained to Byrne, “I have in mind a new character, Pike Bearfield, of Wolf Mountain, Texas, about as big, dumb, and ludicrous as B. Elkins.” (CL 3.435) All the while, Howard continued to write a few El Borak stories, and several new horror stories, but his main focus was on westerns. In fact, the last line (aside from the farewell line) in the last extant letter Howard wrote to H. P. Lovecraft states, “I have always felt that if I ever accomplished anything worthwhile in the literary field, it would be with stories dealing of the central and western frontier.” (CL 3.462)

It is likely that Howard would have set Conan aside, but it is uncertain whether he would have ever returned to the character. If he stayed on track with the previous characters he set aside and never returned to, then it is likely he would have not returned to Conan. Though I wouldn't rule it out. Even so, examining his final stories, and the direction in which he stated he wanted to go, and his desire to move away from Conan stories, it seems likely that his fourth writing period would have predominantly been western stories. And if that is the case, he may have actually completed the novel about the Texas frontier.
___________
Abbreviations
CL  The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard
OWWA  One Who Walked Alone



Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Weather is Good but the Beer is Lousy by Todd B. Vick

In the middle of June 1935, Robert E. Howard and his friend Truett Vinson took a trip to New Mexico, visiting the historic town of Lincoln, New Mexico. While on this trip, Howard sent two post cards two postcards to Novalyne Price.

At the time, Howard and Price had dated one another for a little over a year. However, by June of 1935, Howard and Price were on the verge of a falling out, and Price began dating other men: Pat Allen of Cross Plains, and Truett Vinson of Brownwood. It is most likely that Howard knew Price and Vinson were dating while Howard and Vinson traveled to New Mexico. If Howard knew, he was not letting on that he knew.

While on the trip, Howard purchased two postcards to send to Price. The first is postdated June 19, 1935.

Here is the front of that postcard:





The back (top left) of the card details the front's picture:



"The 'Horno,' or firing kiln used in connection with the production of the farmers Greta ware of Tonola, Mexico. This process results in a highly glazed surface retaining all brilliancy of the colors in the original decoration." (The above and below cards are not the actual postcards REH sent to Price, just a copy of the same postcard).

Howard wrote a brief message on the back of this postcard:
"Dear Novalyne; Roswell. 

The weather is good but the beer is lousy. Hoping you are the same.  

Bob."

Price details in her book, One Who Walked Alone (OWWA), that she got a kick out of this postcard, especially what Howard wrote. She stated, "I laughed like everything when I got it. It was so typical of Bob's trying to make a funny joke—his kind of humor. I liked it too." (228)

The second postcard Howard sent Price was postmarked June 20th:


The back (top left) of the card details the front's picture:


"This picture is an actual scene of one of the tragedies of the great Southwest. It is from an actual photograph by a Franciscan Priest who happened upon the snake making his breakfast."

The only thing Howard wrote on this card was:

Sante Fe, N.M.
19/6/35

Dear Novalyne;

Cordially,

Bob.


About the second postcard, Novalyne reports (in OWWA), "The next day, I got another card. The picture on that one was gruesome, and I would have liked to hit Bob hard when I saw it. It was an actual photograph of a rattlesnake swallowing a rabbit. He had done that to horrify me. And it did. There was no message on the card . . . Just "hello" and "goodbye." (229)

There is no definitive proof where Howard purchased these cards. However, it is possible he bought them from the La Paloma Bar (Saloon) from Roman Maes in Lincoln, NM, where Howard purchased several other postcards (See my article A Writer, A Saloon, and A Famous Town: Robert E. Howard in Lincoln, NM)

The La Paloma Bar/Saloon

There's likely no motive for sending these cards if Howard knew that Price and Vinson were dating (maybe). He and Price were still on good terms, and continued dating in a friendly fashion until she moved to Louisiana in May of 1936.




Thursday, August 23, 2018

Conan and Sappho: Robert E. Howard on Lesbians Part 2 by Bobby Derie


 Howard’s “Lesbians”

The first and one of the most brazen of Howard’s “lesbians” is Queen Nakari in “The Moon of Skulls” (WT Jun-Jul 1930):

Nakari halted by the couch, stood looking down upon her captive for a moment, then with an enigmatic smile, bent and shook her. Marylin opened her eyes, sat up, then slipped from her couch and knelt before her savage mistress—an act which caused Kane to curse beneath his breath. The queen laughed and, seating herself upon the couch, motioned the girl to rise, and then put an arm about her waist and drew her upon her lap. Kane watched, puzzled, while Nakari caressed the girl in a lazy, amused manner. This might be affection, but to Kane it seemed more like a sated leopard teasing its victim. There was an air of mockery and studied cruelty about the whole affair.
"You are very soft and pretty, Mara," Nakari murmured lazily, "much prettier than the other girls who serve me.[“] (SK 129)

Later on in the story, Nakari claims: “[...] she shall be punished as I have punished her before—hung up by her wrists, naked, and whipped until she swoons!” (SK 137) Marilyn later confirms: “And in spite of my pleas she took me across her knees and whipped me until I swooned.” (SK 165) In “The Slithering Shadow” (WT Sep 1933, also published as “Xuthal of the Dust”) the Stygian Thalis who has lived in the decadent city of Xuthal and is attracted to Conan, dishes out punishment to her prospective rival Natala:

Seizing her by the hair, Thalis dragged her down the corridor a short distance, to the edge of the circle of light. A metal ring showed in the wall, above the level of a man’s head. From it depended a silken cord. As in a nightmare Natala felt her tunic being stripped from her, and the next instant Thalis had jerked up her wrists and bound them to the ring, where she hung, naked as the day she was born, her feet barely touching the floor. Twisting her head, Natala saw Thalis unhook a jewel-handled whip from where it hung on the wall, near the ring. The lashes consisted of seven round silk ords, harder yet more pliant than leather things.
            With a hiss of vindictive gratification, Thalis drew back her arm, and Natala shrieked as the cords curled across her loins. The tortured girl writhed, twisted and tore agonizedly at the thongs which imprisoned her wrists. She had forgotten the lurking menace her cries might summon, and so apparently had Thalis. Every stroke evoked screams of anguish. The whippings Natala had received in the Shemite slave-markets paled to insignificance before this. She had never guessed the punishing power of hard-woven silk cords. Their caress was more exquisitely painful than any birch twigs or leather thongs. (COC 237)

This scene was depicted on the cover by Brundage, lovingly described by one critic:

[...] a bound woman leans back away from her captor, the retreating body language serving only to emphasize her pointed, bare breasts and her naked legs. Her captor, another woman, wears a kind of skirt, but her torso is almost entirely naked as well. And she holds a whip, which she clearly intends to use on the other woman. (Elliot 57)

Margaret Brundage recalled in a 1973 interview:

We had one issue that sold out! It was the story of a very vicious female, getting a-hold of the heroine and tying her up and beating her. Well, the public apparently thought it was flagellation, and the entire issue sold out. They could have used a couple thousand extra. [...] Having read the story, the thought of flagellation never entered my head. I don’t think it had theirs, either. But it turned out that way. (Korshack & Spurlock 29)

It is worth noting that “The Slithering Shadow” with Brundage’s cover appeared in the September 1933 Weird Tales. One month later would see the debut of Dime Mystery, the first of the “weird menace” or “shudder pulps” which would focus largely on torture, sadism, Grand Guignol-style grue and contes cruels, where stories of women, nude or near-nude, being threatened would be much more common. While there are many proto-weird menace stories in the pulps, “The Slithering Shadow” may have been a marker that there was an audience for this new pulp genre.

Also in 1933, Howard wrote “The Vale of Lost Women,” although it was never published during Howard’s lifetime. (COC 451) The beginning of the story includes an unnamed female character whose actions toward the slave Livia are at best ambiguous:


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Conan and Sappho: Robert E. Howard on Lesbians Part 1 by Bobby Derie

In another alteration of the basic captivity theme, Marylin is held not by a dark-skinned man, but by a dark-skinned woman. The sexual threat is not eliminated, however, as Howard implies a sadistic lesbian relationship, something of a recurring theme in his work. (Trout 75)

Cross Plains, Texas

In 1926 Cross Plains, Texas was in an oil boom, and Robert E. Howard was working odd jobs, seven nights a week, with little time to write. His letters to his friend Tevis Clyde Smith are filled with verse, and on occasion, sex. Growing up mainly in a small Texas town, their sexual education would not have been in any way formal. They picked things up through conversation, practical experience, and in many cases reading. These exchanges would have a formative influence on how Howard understood female homosexuality, and how that conception featured in his fiction. Over time, this would form the recurring theme noted by Trout.

Sapphism & Psychology

According to George Sylvester Viereck; “Love in its spiritual aspect he (Swinburne) knows not. His amorous fancy feeds upon the esoteric, things ‘monstrous and fruitless’. The ordinary relation between sexes engages him only when it is sadistic.” And again, quoting Viereck; “Modern science has divested perversion of its evil glamor. Freud has taught us that perversity is an essential phase in the evolution of childhood…occurring at all times in a fairly constant percentage of human beings. Swinburne adds a new complexity. He does not turn toward his own sex. His passion goes out to woman, but he loves woman, not with the passion of a man for a maid, but with the hectic craving of Lesbian woman for her own sex.”
—Robert E. Howard to Tevis Clyde Smith, 23 Jun 1926, CL1.106

Howard quotes from Viereck’s introduction to Algernon Charles Swineburne’s Poems and Ballads, published as Little Blue Book #791. It is the first mention in his letters of lesbians, and part of his earliest discussion of homosexuality and bisexuality in general. In the same letter, Howard relates to Smith:

Thus it would seem that a pervert is a man or woman who gets little or no pleasure out of intercourse, but must seek some other method to stimulate the senses or the imagination. Opium smokers revel in sexual debauches which are purely imaginary but from which they doubtless obtain more pleasure than from actual deeds. The smoking of opium does not produce the effect of seeming intercourse, but vague thoughts, fantasies, float through the being dimly arousing all the hidden lust. A pervert may be born that way, or may be a worn-out libertine who has lost his ordinary lust through indulgence. They are usually more or less bisexual, naturally.
That is my theory and much of it is probably erroneous. Perversion is a mark of decadence. It flourishes in all fading nations. Men’s virility dwindle and fade; they feel the need of sexual desire, which has always been taught as necessary, but they lack the basic lust. So they turn to more obscene ways. (CL1.104)

Homosexuality began to come to academic attention in the 19th century, with works like Kraft-Ebbing’s Psychopathia Sexualis (1896), Havelock Ellis’ Sexual Inversion (1897), Alfred Eulenberg’s Algolagnia: The Psychology, Neurology and Physiology of Sadistic Love and Masochism (trans. 1934) and psychosexual studies continued in the 20th century by psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. Howard’s views in his 1926 letter characterize “perversion” as a deviation from heterosexual practices. Although this leaves open what exactly counts as “perversion,” it explicitly includes homosexual acts. This would have been the common view of most laymen and professionals during the 1920s, as when Freud wrote:


Sunday, July 22, 2018

By the Phoenix on This Sword I Rule! By Karen Joan Kohoutek


“If I could but come to grips with something tangible, that I could cleave with my sword!”

           
When Robert E. Howard revised an unsold tale about King Kull, the gloomy ruler of Valusia, he replaced that character with Conan, a barbarian king in a similar position, who would later be fleshed out with a wide-ranging history, and a multiplicity of formative experiences. Along the way, the character turned from an Atlantean to a Cimmerian, and his eye color from gray to blue. His personality also changes in some significant ways, from the original “By This Axe I Rule!” to the available early draft of “The Phoenix on the Sword,” and again to the version of that story published in Weird Tales in December 1932.

            As Patrice Louinet says in his appendix to the collected Kull stories, “by writing the first Conan tale on the ashes of an unsold Kull story, Howard was telling us that he now envisioned the Kull series a prehistoric one, which paved the way for the Conan stories” (289).

            The Conan who becomes the canonical version deals with court intrigue and attempts to usurp his power, in ways that are similar to the situation in “Axe.” There is a critical difference, in that Conan never declares “I am king!,” because he doesn’t have to. A line about his suffering from the tedious “matters of statecraft” line is taken almost word for word from the Kull story (11, 161), but Conan starts the story with a confidence that Kull had lacked. In “Axe,” Kull, already the king in name, comes into his full authority, an intriguing pivotal moment in a ruler’s career. Unlike Kull, Conan developed his full personal authority before he was in a position of recognized leadership, and even when other characters in the story reject his rule, it’s because of their own personal desire for power.

           
Kull of Atlantis
(art by Justin Sweet)
 
This isn’t a criticism of Kull’s character, but a reflection on the different, if related, themes their stories explore. The situation in “By This Axe” is, despite the presence of an Atlantean, fairly realistic, and something not often explored: a turning point in which a ruler comes into true confidence as a leader. The themes of the Kull story are still embedded in the Conan story  when does someone with authority in name really take on authority as a true leader? — but are expanded upon, dealing more with the longer-term consequences of taking on the crown, and the process by which a ruler’s authority becomes fully accepted by his subjects.

            In each story, the hero takes from the wall “an ancient battle-axe” (“ax” in the Conan version) which had hung there “for possibly a hundred years” (Kull 173), or at least “half a century” (Conan 21). The connotations of the axe, especially given the emphasis on its age, link it to the barbarian nature of the main characters. When Kull takes up the titular axe, he claims a personal authority that comes out of his past: who he is and where he came from. Since it belongs to Valusia’s history, the axe is associated with Kull’s formal authority, embedded in the royal structure and government, but it also reflects his primal essence, which he uses to cut through hierarchical, bureaucratic tangles. This satisfying moment hearkens back to a time before the society had become so complex, with a confusing maze of laws and traditions built up over the generations, some of them useful, but some of them unjust and no longer worth following.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

A 2018 Howard Days Highlight: T-Shirts by Todd B. Vick



Every year I attend Howard Days, seeing the Howard House and Museum is a highlight, especially if the shop at the back of the house has new items for sale. This year was no exception. Among the items that were for sale in the museum shop this year were t-shirts with new designs. It's not easy finding REH themed t-shirts, so getting new designs at the REH House and Museum is a nice plus.

I'm a t-shirt and shorts wearing kind of person. In fact, if I were 'allowed' to wear nothing but, that's what I'd wear all the time. In years past, I've bought at least a dozen different t-shirts at the Howard House museum. About 5 or 6 years ago, the museum shop had a t-shirt with a cool design by Michael L. Peters, and I've bought several of those over the years. A couple of years ago there was a minimalist t-shirt that had a single emblem, the REH House & Museum, on the upper left area of the shirt. But this year, the museum shop had two new t-shirt designs for sale, and as soon as I saw them, I snatched them up.

The first design has REH's signature across the top and "Museum, Cross Plains, Texas" across the bottom. There is also a picture of REH in the middle going through his signature, and on either side of the middle pic, two other pictures of REH, with Bill Cavalier's grave-site-foot-stone penciling at the bottom. Pretty cool, at least I thought so.



The second design, which sold out (I think in all the sizes), was a drawing by James Carter. This t-shirt design was a sword going through the words Robert E. Howard Days, with a banner that read 2018 at the bottom, and had a bit of a Virgil Finlay look and feel to it. Cool looking design, and I can see why it sold out.

If you were unable to attend Howard Days but still have an interest in buying one of these t-shirts (they have various sizes), then I am fairly certain that the museum is likely still selling them. You can always call this number, (254) 725-6562, and order one.





Sunday, July 1, 2018

A 2018 Howard Days Highlight: Books, Books, Books! by Todd B. Vick

Every year at Howard Days, someone (or several someones) has a table set up for you to buy books, collectible magazines, fanzines, pulps, etc. This year was no exception. Even so, there were several books at several tables that set this year's wares apart from previous years.

First, Bobby Derie (who also presented on several panels) set up a table and gave away (yes, gave away . . . you know, for free!) three books that he put together (one that Howard boxing scholar, Chris Gruber, helped with). The first of these three is titled, Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others. Even if there were nothing between the covers of this book, the cover alone would be worth having. The cover (front and back) consists of a bunch of pictures of various pulp writers place together to form an over-all image of Robert E. Howard. Very cool! This book is a collection of essays that Derie had published between 2015 to 2017 at Damon Sasser's now defunct blog Two-Gun Raconteur, here at On An Underwood No. 5, Messages from Crom blog, and in print in the Lovecraft Annual. To have all these in one collected volume was a great idea. The second book is titled A Robert E. Howard Sampler. This is a collection of Howard's works edited by Chris Gruber & Bobby Derie. Gruber has an introductory essay and Derie wrote brief essays to introduce each section. The sections consist of sword & sorcery, weird fiction, boxing, western, poetry, detective, historical adventure, fantasy, science fiction, and H.P. Lovecraft's In Memoriam: Robert E. Howard essay. The third book is an index to One Who Walked Alone by Novalyne Price Ellis, and Day of the Stranger by Rusty Burke & Novalyne Price Ellis. This small book is a nice edition to any researcher's library, especially for quick reference to these two works.



Second, Skelos Press had a table and this year they were selling Patrice Louinet's (another presenter on this year's panels) anticipated book titled The Robert E. Howard Guide. It was originally published in France several years ago, and Louinet recently translated it into English and published it through Skelos Press. It is an excellent intro to Robert E. Howard, and a must read for Howard beginners. The book deals with a history of common misconceptions that have arisen and developed over the decades. These misconceptions have sometimes been somewhat damaging to Howard's reputation, sometimes they've distorted his works, and too often they've confused readers and fans about the writer, his works, and his life. Louinet does a first-rate job of clearing up those misconceptions. The misconception section is followed by a brief biographical section about Howard, his up-bringing, life in Texas in the early 20th century, etc. Then there are two chapters of recommended stories to read from Howard. The first of these two chapters cover "must-read" stories, each has a small bit of publishing history and summation of the tale itself. This is followed by another chapter that details twenty more stories you "should" read, with the same format of information, for a total of forty Howard stories.

Louinet then turns his attention to Howard's most famous character, Conan the Cimmerian. He discusses the barbarian's history, how he has been used (and abused) in pastiches, film, comic books, video games, board games, etc. This chapter is followed by various adaptations of Robert E. Howard's stories in motion pictures (e.g. Conan the Barbarian, Solomon Kane, etc.), as well as television adaptations such as Boris Karloff's early 1960s adaptation of "Pigeons from Hell."

Other nice features of this book include Howard's correspondence with Lovecraft, current places to read about Robert E. Howard, and things such as collecting Howard ephemera, and such.

As far as a basic book to introduce anyone interested in the works and life of Robert E. Howard, this is now the go-to book. It does have some editorial issues throughout (I'm not sure whether Skelos Press proof-read and/or edited the text, they should have if they did not), and there is one somewhat big blunder in the book that, once again should have been caught by the editors at Skelos Press. The blunder is that Louinet attributes the creation of Weird Tales magazine to William Sprenger (who was actually the business manager of the magazine) and not J. C. Henneberger (and J. M. Lansinger), who actually created and established the magazine. Otherwise, this is an excellent book and well worth investing your money ($14.95 price tag) and your time. Hopefully, Patrice Louinet will publish more works here in the U.S. since he is considered by many to be one of the foremost scholars on Robert E. Howard's life and works.

Third, The Robert E. Howard Foundation, as usual, had their table set up and were selling the much anticipated volume titled, Pictures in the Fire: Remaining Weird Tales and Esoterica, edited by Paul Herman. From the inside flap: This volume is mostly comprised of weird and horror stories, along with a bit of juvenilia, fragments, poetry, and assorted odds and ends. The front and back cover art is drawn by Bill "Indy" Cavalier (who was the guest of honor at this year's Howard Days, and a long-time fan of Robert E. Howard). If you do not already have a copy of this book, you better hurry and get one, it is likely to sell out fairly fast.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Swanson of Dakota By Karen Joan Kohoutek

Carl Swanson
with his wife, Evelyn
North Dakota, where I have lived for many years, is an under-represented state in the history of weird fiction. So one of my favorite footnotes is the elusive Carl Swanson (May 25, 1902 — November 16, 1974), who corresponded with Lovecraft, inspired The Fantasy Fan fanzine, and collaborated with Jerry Siegel, all while living in Washburn, ND. One of his best-known ventures is an attempt to start a magazine called Galaxy, although, judging by references in the letters of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, the idea swiftly rose and fell.

            Lovecraft commented on Swanson in several of his letters to Robert Barlow, starting in January 1932: “I am told that a new weird magazine is about to be started by one Carl Swanson of Washburn, North Dakota. I’ve sent in ‘The Nameless City’ & ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep,’ but am doubtful about their acceptance” (21). Later that month, he added that he had “just heard from Swanson—the new magazine man. He has accepted both ‘The Nameless City’ & ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep’” (22).

            In March 1932, Lovecraft provided more information. “Swanson’s plans are slowly taking form. The new periodical will be called Galaxy, & Derleth understands that the rate of pay will be about ¼ (cent) per word. The magazine will sell for 10 (cents), or $1.00 per year. Wright of W.T. is rather worried about the coming competition, & tends to resent the sale of reprinting rights to Swanson by his authors” (25).

            This would come up again in March 1935, when, speaking of Wright and reprint rights from Weird Tales, Lovecraft says, “The only smallness he ever displayed in a matter of reprinting was some years ago, when Swanson of Dakota intended to found a magazine of second appearances” (217). Also in March, Howard wrote to his friend Tevis Clyde Smith that “a man named Swanson is publishing a magazine in one of the Dakotas, on the weird order. I’ve neglected my chances, until I wonder if the thing’s about up ten years ahead. Lovecraft wrote me that he’d placed a couple of yarns, and evidently the old weird tale buccaneers have descended on it like a horde of vultures” (315).



Sunday, June 17, 2018

Howard Days 2018: A Trip Report by Todd B. Vick



This year was my seventh straight year to attend Howard Days in Cross Plains, Texas. Every year I meet new people and learn new things, and that alone keeps me wanting to come back the next year. But in addition to meeting new people and learning new things, there is so much else going on, trying to take it all in can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. This year’s theme was celebrating REH Fans and the keynote speaker was, Bill “Indy” Cavalier, long time Howard fan and OE (Official Editor) of The Robert E. Howard United Press Association (REHupa). Moreover, most of the panels this year were geared to the fandom of Robert E. Howard. Every year I can summarize the event itself usually in one word. This year that word is fellowship.

It may have simply been the group I spent the most time with this year, but there were a lot of people who knew one another via the internet but had never met before in person. So "meeting" for the "first time," so to speak was a prominent feeling and activity. That was the case for me with several online friends who also attended the event this year. David J. West, author and guest writer here at On An Underwood No. 5, whom I have known online for many years, attended this year’s event for the first time. We had previously discussed him possibly attending previous Howard Days, and I had explained that I could pick him up from the airport and we could always drive to the event together. This year he took me up on that offer, and I’m glad he did. Getting to meet David J. West and hang out with him this year was a highlight for me. Moreover, when we arrived in Cross Plains, West was looking for others whom he had met online but had not met in person, so we eventually crossed paths with author Keith West (a regular attender to Howard Days), Jason M. Waltz (Rogue Blades Entertainment), and eventually we connected with author Ty Johntson. I was also able to reconnect with other regular Howard Days attendees (e.g. Bobby Derie, Scott Cupp, Scott Valeri, Russell Andrew, and many others). I was also able to finally meet Rob King (and his wife) who has helped me a little in my current research.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Hot (and a little bothered) Off The Press by Gary Romeo

A Critique of Patrice Louinet’s The Robert E. Howard Guide

Robert E. Howard Days 2018 saw the release of Patrice Louinet’s The Robert E. Howard Guide (Skelos Press, 2018).  It is in the tradition of Robert Weinberg’s The Annotated Guide to Robert E. Howard’s Sword & Sorcery (Starmont House, 1976) and Marc Cerasini and Charles E. Hoffman’s Robert E. Howard Starmont Reader’s Guide (Starmont House, 1987).  Patrice’s book is less weighty than either of these books in that it gives only brief commentary on the stories mentioned.

Most entertaining for me were the summaries of fifty great REH stories.  Patrice revisits the twenty best in Chapter 3, followed by thirty more in Chapters Four and Five.  It is always fun to remember why you love REH in the first place and the comments on these stories really do reemphasize why REH is a writer worthy of respect and study.

There is little new here for older REH fans but there may be things for older and newer REH fans to digest and argue about.  Especially Chapter One where Patrice discusses common misconceptions about Howard. 

Chamber of Darkness #4
The first myth brought to task is that Howard was convinced Conan had really existed.  Patrice rightly destroys this notion mostly originating from John Milius.  It has always been my opinion that Milius may have read Chamber of Darkness #4 (Marvel Comics, 1970).  This issue contains a very good story by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith entitled “The Sword and the Sorcerers.”  The story features a sword & sorcery author named Len Carson.  Len is having nightmares about his Starr the Slayer character and decides to kill him off.  Starr materializes from the ether and kills off Len before Len can kill him in his story.  This is a great tale about a sword and sorcery author and is easily morphed into it being about Robert E. Howard if you are so inclined.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Blunders of One Weird Tales Artist: Curtis Charles Senf by Todd B. Vick


Curtis Charles Senf
The September 1931 Weird Tales had, perhaps, one of the most farcical blunders ever committed by a magazine illustrator, and it happened to one of Robert E. Howard’s most popular and prized characters, Solomon Kane. The artist was Curtis Charles Senf (C.C. Senf), who at the time, lived in Chicago and began drawing covers and interior illustrations for Weird Tales. His debut cover was the March 1927 issue. In fact, Senf did 8 of the 12 covers for Weird Tales in 1927, and 11 of the 12 covers for 1928. His numbers tapered off a little after these two years, but over-all, Senf was the artist for 45 covers at Weird Tales. In addition to this, he drew hundreds of interior illustrations for The Unique Magazine. To say he was a seasoned magazine artist and illustrator is a slight understatement. However, and this is a pretty big however, he eventually stopped reading the stories he illustrated, and the results were laughable, and even angered some of the writers for Weird Tales.

Curtis Charles Senf was born on July 30, 1873, in Rosslau, Prussia. In 1881, when he was a boy of eight, the Senf family emigrated to America on the S.S. Wieland. They landed in New York City on June 28 and then ultimately settled in Chicago, Illinois. His father's occupation was listed only as "workman."[1] C.C. Senf attended public school and upon graduating high school, he enrolled in the Chicago Institute of Art. Following his art studies at the Chicago Institute of Art, Senf became a commercial artist and lithographer. Eventually Senf opened an art agency called Senf & Company with Fred S. Gould. This venture failed and eventually was forced to file bankruptcy in 1903. There are no other details about employment for Senf until he becomes a regular artist for Weird Tales. By the time he landed the job of cover and interior artist for Weird Tales, Senf was almost 54 years of age. 

"The Bride of Dewer"
Given the fact that the cover art for Weird Tales prior to 1927 was average to downright terrible, Senf was a welcomed edition to the magazine. Even H. P. Lovecraft, who was often picky about weird art (and weird fiction), expressed hope that this new artist might create better cover art than previous artists had for the magazine. In a January 1927 letter to August Derleth, Lovecraft declared, “I shall welcome the new cover artist, & can feel sure at least that he can’t be any worse than those who have hitherto messed up the magazine.”[2] His hope would be short lived, by June of that same year, Lovecraft told Derleth, “. . .the present ‘artist’ Senf has no sense of the fantastic whatever.”[3] While Lovecraft is not necessarily incorrect in his over-all opinion about Senf’s work, Senf “could do a truly weird cover, one of his best being for ‘The Bride of Dewer,”[4] and there were a few others. In fact, a little later in this article, we will look at another truly weird cover Senf did (and perhaps one of his best works) toward the end of his career at Weird Tales.  Moreover, in 1927 Senf was reading the stories and illustrating them according to their content, so this last sentiment by Lovecraft was merely a stylistic complaint on his part. Senf’s artwork, for the most part, was “better” than the work of previous artists for the magazine, his style was that of late 19th century artists, with nice detail, color, and vivid scope, and he excelled when the story was a period piece. Even so, in many ways, Lovecraft was correct, Senf’s sense of the fantastic and/or weird was not the greatest. 



Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Coincidental Friendship of H. Warner Munn and H. P. Lovecraft by Todd B. Vick




In “The Eyrie” of the March 1924 issue of
Weird Tales, H. P. Lovecraft wrote, “Popular authors do not and apparently cannot appreciate the fact that true art is obtainable only by rejecting normally and conventionality in toto, and approaching a theme purged utterly of any usual or preconceived point of view.”[1] A bold statement, to say the least, especially in a magazine whose byline is The Unique Magazine. But Lovecraft demanded his fiction to be unconventionally ‘other than,’ and as original as possible. For him, crafting a story was an art form. In this same letter, Lovecraft goes on to declare:

Wild and ‘different’ as they may consider their quasi-weird products, it remains a fact that the bizarrerie is on the surface alone; and that basically they reiterate the same old conventional values and motives and perspectives. Good and evil, teleological illusion, sugary sentiment, anthropocentric psychology—the usual superficial stock trade, and all shot through with the eternal and inescapable commonplace.[2]
 
Had Lovecraft accepted the job as editor when J. C. Henneberger offered it to him back in 1924, he would have likely been a harsh editor, and the magazine would have taken a decidedly different path. Much of the fiction Edwin Baird and Farnsworth Wright accepted would have, no doubt, been rejected by Lovecraft. But alas, we were rewarded the benefit of Lovecraft the writer. There is no telling exactly which stories or authors Lovecraft was disparaging in this letter to Weird Tales’ editor at the time, Edwin Baird. They may have not been Weird Tales’ authors, though it is likely most were. Even so, Lovecraft is making a valid point regarding breaking away from conventional story writing, creating an original tale, thinking outside the box. At least his creative mind demanded as much. Something he also expected, or at least wanted other writers to do. Some of the readers of The Unique Magazine demanded the same, at least they demanded their stories weird, if not ‘original.’

H. P. L
So, in an effort to promulgate something weird and original, Lovecraft made this suggestion: “Take a werewolf story, for instance—who ever wrote one from the point of view of the wolf, and sympathizing strongly with the devil to whom he has sold himself?”[3]

Those of us who love the pulps and their writers (we all have our favorites, of course), probably know that H. Warner Munn attempted to answer Lovecraft’s request with, “The Werewolf of Ponkert,” Munn’s first published short story. About Munn’s story, Farnsworth Wright claimed, “It was the popularity of Mr. Quinn’s werewolf story[4] that led us to feature The Werewolf of Ponkert, by H. Warner Munn, in last months’ issue.”[5] (italics is Wright’s) “The Werewolf of Ponkert” was the cover story for the July 1925 issue of Weird Tales, the same issue in which Robert E. Howard made his debut with “Spear and Fang.”

Lovecraft, as far as I’ve been able to determine, never responded to Munn’s story in “The Eyrie” of any of the subsequent Weird Tales issues. It’s possible that when “The Werewolf of Ponkert” was first published, Lovecraft did not put two and two together and notice that his March 1924 letter in “The Eyrie” was Munn’s inspiration. In fact, it may be that Lovecraft never knew that fact until after he met Munn, and Munn confessed as much. However, there is some evidence from Munn himself that Lovecraft may have recognized Munn’s efforts on behalf of Lovecraft’s letter:


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Dear Mr. Jacobi; Cordially, Robert E. Howard by Bobby Derie

Carl R. Jacobi
While a freshman at the University of Minnesota in 1928, one of Carl Richard Jacobi turned in a story he had previously written and published in The Quest, and received an “A+”—and so the anecdote goes:

In a subsequent quarter, one of his fellow students also turned in a previously written composition—not his own work, however, but a pulp story by Robert E. Howard. It too received a top grade. On the last day of class, Jacobi approached the instructor. “I’d like you to know who I’ve been competing against,” he announced. “A professional writer.” “That often happens,” was the professor’s bemused reply. (LRH 9)

Carl Jacobi’s classmate, like Jacobi himself, encountered Howard’s prose in Weird Tales; Howard’s prose hadn’t been published in any other pulp by 1928. After selling “Spear and Fang” (WT Jul 1925), “Wolfshead” (Apr 1926), and “The Lost Race” (Jan 1927), Howard exploded in 1928 with “The Dream Snake” (Feb), “The Hyena” (Mar), “Sea Curse” (May), and the seminal Solomon Kane tale “Red Shadows” (Aug). Perhaps taking the hint, Jacobi’s one first professional sale to the pulps followed in 1928. (LRH 12)

In the fall of 1931, Jacobi’s “The Coach on the Ring” appeared in the Dec 1931/Jan 1932 issue of Ghost Stories, a weak but enduring competitor to Weird Tales. The confessional style of Ghost Stories gave it a poor reputation, but was still a paying market that occasionally attracted good writersRobert E. Howard had placed a story in there two years previously: “Apparition in the Prize Ring” (GS Apr 1929). Jacobi’s freshman effort was sufficient to attract the notice of August Derleth, who in turn brought him to the attention of H. P. Lovecraft. (ES2.440, 442) Jacobi attained real attention when he landed another story: “Mive,” which appeared in the Jan 1932 issue of Weird Tales. Although it wasn’t voted the most popular tale in the issue (Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Monster of the Prophecy”), the story was highly regarded by Lovecraft, who expressed his enthusiasm to Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright. (SL4.24) Robert E. Howard wrote a little later:

If I were to express a preference for any one of the tales, I believe I should name Derleth’s “Those Who Seek”—though the stories by Smith, Long, Hurst and Jacobi could scarcely be excelled. In the latter’s tale especially there are glimpses that show finely handled imagination almost in perfection—just enough revealed, just enough concealed.
— Robert E. Howard, Weird Tales Mar 1932 (CL2.302)

Before long, Lovecraft wrote a letter of encouragement to Jacobi…whether prompted by a letter from Jacobi or Derleth isn’t clear, but Lovecraft volunteered one important piece of information: