Sunday, July 28, 2019

“Black Canaan” vs. “Black Cunjer” by Bobby Derie

Black Canaan, from WT June 1936
Illustrated by Harold S. Daley
Robert E. Howard’s “Black Canaan” has almost become the go-to reference to the writer’s racism. Paul Shovlin describes the story as “the most contentious example of racial stereotype in the Howard corpus” (Pridas 95). Timothy Jones wrote: “There is no describing the crude racism of the tale.” (Jones 92). Even Howard biographer Mark Finn describes the story as “blatantly offensive” and adds:
Robert's treatment of Southern black culture is discussed mostly from the point of view of "Pigeons From Hell" and "Black Canaan." Howard fans have a hard time defending the latter against post-modern critical interpretation. But viewed within the context of Robert's canon, it's hard to condemn the story outright, even as it's easy to judge or misjudge it. (Finn 100)
While some critics have sought to place “Black Canaan” within the context of Howard’s fiction, few have sought to place it within the context of when and where it first appeared: Weird Tales. Issues of race and prejudice were no stranger to “The Unique Magazine,” which had published stories such as Eli Colter’s “The Last Horror” (WT Jan 1927) and numerous voodoo yarns by writers like Henry S. Whitehead, Arthur J. Burks, and Seabury Quinn which feature racial discrimination prominently. Yet one of the best stories to compare and contrast with “Black Canaan” is a story in the same setting, and dealing with the same subjects: voodoo, a conjure-man, & racism in the piney woods—Isabel Walker’s “Black Cunjer” (WT Jul-Aug 1923).

No other story in Weird Tales is associated with Isabel Walker, though she has a handful of contributions to other pulps; “Black Cunjer” might have been her first and last sale, or perhaps it was a pen-name for another writer. Whatever the case, the story has some peculiar similarities to Howard’s tale, in terms of language and setting. Given the date, there is even the chance that Robert E. Howard may have read “Black Cunjer” on its first and only publication; though in his letters Howard makes no reference to the magazine, and beyond that the background of “Black Canaan” is better-attested than most Howard tales. It began with a letter to H. P. Lovecraft:
Probably the most picturesque figure in the Holly Springs country was Kelly the “conjer man”, who held sway among the black population in the ‘70s. Son of a Congo ju-ju man was Kelly, and he dwelt apart from his race in silent majesty on the river. He must have been a magnificent brute, tall and supple as a black tiger, and with a silent haughtiness of manner that included whites as well as blacks. He had little to say and was not given to idle conversation. He did no work, nor did he ever take a mater, living in mysterious solitude. He always wore a red shirt, and large brass ear-rings in his ears added to the color of his appearance. He lifted “conjers” and healed disease by incantation and nameless things made of herbs and ground snake-bones. The black people called him Doctor Kelly and his first business was healing Later he began to branch into darker practices. Niggers came to him to have spells removed, that enemies had places on them, and the manner of his removal must have been horrific, judging from the wild tales that circulated afterwards. Consumption was unknown there, almost, among whites, but negroes had it plentifully and Kelly professed to cure such victims by cutting open their arms and sifting in a powder made of ground snake-bones. At last negroes began to go insane from his practices; whether the cause was physical or mental is unknown to this day, but the black population came to fear him as they did not fear the Devil, and Kelly assumed more and more a brooding, satanic aspect of dark majesty and sinister power; when he began casting his brooding eyes on white folk as if their souls, too, were his to dandle in the hollow of his hand, he sealed his doom. There were desperate characters living in the riverlands, white folks little above the negro in civilization, and much more dangerous and aggressive. They began to fear the conjure man and one night he vanished. Nor is it difficult to picture what happened in that lonely cabin, shadowed by the pine forest—the crack of a shot in the night, the finishing stroke of a knife, then a sullen splash in the dusky waters of the Ouachita—and Kelly the conjure man vanished forever from the eyes of men. —Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Dec 1930, MF 1.109-110, CL 2.134
Lovecraft’s response does not survive, but in the next letter it becomes apparent that the Yankee pulpster was encouraging his Texan peer to turn the anecdote into a full-fledged story. Howard would write in reply:
Kelly the conjure-man was quite a character, but I fear I could not do justice to such a theme as you describe. I hope you will carry out your idea in writing the story you mention, of a pre-negroid African priest reincarnated in a plantation negro. As for me handling this theme better than yourself, it is beyond the realms of possibility, regardless of any first-hand knowledge of background which I might possess. [...] I hope you will write this story some time, and if any of my anecdotes of pine land and negro lore can be used in any way, or give you any ideas, you are more than welcome to them.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Jan 1931, MF 1.129-130, CL 2.157-158
Lovecraft wrote back to Howard:
I don’t agree that you couldn’t do justice to Kelly, the Conjer-Man, and his Atlantean antecedents, in a story—and you will try it some day. I have a whole book full of idea-jottings which I could never write up if I lived to be a thousand [...]—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 30 Jan 1931, MF 1.144
Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book includes two entries along these lines, although they date from 1923:
108: “Educated mulatto seeks to displace personality of white man & occupy his body”
109: “Ancient negro voodoo wizard in cabin in swamp—possesses white man.”(CE 5.225)
Although he would never attempt either of these stories, the idea of mental possession and personality displacement would be prominent in several of Lovecraft’s later stories, especially "The Shadow Out of Time" (Astounding Jun 1936) and “The Thing on the Doorstep” (WT Jan 1937).

Howard appears to have been inspired by Lovecraft to write up an article on the subject, titled “Kelly the Conjure-Man,” which he submitted to the Texaco Star (MF 1.114n7). The text is an expanded version of the anecdote in Howard’s original letter, adding more detail and atmosphere, and prefaced with a bit of verse:



Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Tale of Two Letters by Bobby Derie



Not every letter from every pulp writer that survives has been published; many remain on the open market and in private hands, coming up for sale from time to time...and they have stories to tell about Robert E. Howard.


The letter was posted on Facebook in Sep 2016 by Bob Meracle, who wrote of the acquisition: 
One of the "lots" August Derleth Offered to sell to me (and I gladly snapped it up) was a collection of manuscripts which included 3 signed typewritten Conan stories. I sold the 3 a couple decades ago, but held onto this cool note that was sandwiched between them.
While not explicitly stated, these typescripts were likely originally from the collection of R. H. Barlow. In 1932, Barlow solicited manuscripts and typescripts from Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, C. L. Moore, and other pulp writers, and Howard responded by sending several early typescripts for stories. Barlow’s receipt of these typescripts is mentioned in his 1933 diary, as well as in surviving letters from Howard. (CL 2.519; 3.47, 219) After Barlow’s death, his mother sold his collection.

The identity of the recipient is unknown; the name on the letter, although effaced, is too long to be "Barlow," and we know Howard sent Barlow a letter dated the very next day (14 June 1934, CL 3.215), so it is unlikely that Barlow was the recipient. So we are left with only the internal evidence of the letter. The reference to a request for a snap-shot recalls Barlow’s correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft in late 1933, although this might be coincidental. (OFF 78, 81) The reference to turpentine camps and voodoo is thus the primary clue.

“Turpentine camps” were work camps, largely employing black labor, including leased convict labor and sometimes workers held in debt bondage (i.e. charging them for food, clothing, etc. more than their wages could supply). These workers distilled turpentine from the resiny pine forests in the southern United States; during the 1930s their geographic range extended from North Carolina to Louisiana near the Texas border, with notable operations in Georgia and Florida. Zora Neale Hurston visited such camps to collect folk songs, magical recipes, and stories, some of which were published in academic articles and her collection Mules and Men (1935).

This was part of a general trend of anthropologists and collectors of ethnic music and folklore visiting prisons, work camps, and remote communities in the 1930s to record this material before it was lost—including a friend of R. H. Barlow.

Well, well—& so a friend of yours, like William B. Seabrook, has come into first-hand contact with the horrors of Damballa & his serpents. Who knows what waddling nigger washerwoman may not be a potent & dangerous mamaloi with power to evoke nameless horrors & send hideous zombis stalking through the land!—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 21 Oct 1933 (OFF 83)
Thanks tremendously for the voodoo report, which I've read with extreme interest. your friend seems to have been quite an amateur Wm. B. Seabrook—& the experience must have been powerfully moving in its way. Later on, if you ever make a copy, I certainly wouldn't mind a spare carbon. Those "geachi" blacks must be rather an interesting study.—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 13 Nov 1933 (OFF 85)
That voodoo encounter surely was picturesque—I'd hardly care to get into such close quarters with a crowd of excited blacks, but anthropological zeal will carry one far. So the "geechis" owe their superiority to insular isolation! I believe that, in general, all the Carolina island negroes are called "gullahs", & that their dialect differs from that of the mainland blacks. No doubt the geechis are a variety of these.—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 29 Nov 1933 (OFF 88)


Sunday, March 31, 2019

Robert E. Howard’s Cow by Bobby Derie

Yes, there was a cow. I saw the critter. Her name was Delhi, and hump shouldered to suggest Indian blood—Asian-Indian, I mean.—E. Hoffmann Price to L. Sprague de Camp, 11 Feb 1977 (IMH 297)
LT: A Guernsey milk cow, named Delhi (pron. dell-high). I think I told you about that one time.—Lindsey Tyson, interview with L. Sprague & Catherine Crook de Camp, 7 Mar 1978

Howard House date unknown
The Howard House in Cross Plains, Texas sits on a grassy lot, some ways away from Main Street (Highway 206) and the downtown district, with a field behind it. When the Howards lived there, the property included a barn, and though not rural in any real sense—the Howards could easily see their next door neighbors—the country was not far off, and they had space to grow vegetables and keep a few animals. H. P. Lovecraft, a native to cities, was under the impression that they lived on a small farm (ES2.523-524, LFB 32), but Robert E. Howard declared:
We are not farmers. We live in a small town and have only a very small piece of land, but we have enough to keep a little stock and raise a garden. Right now we have far more than we need of greens, radishes, turnips, and the like. We have been taking cattle, hogs and canned stuffs on debts, as well as grain and feed. We have a good supply of hay, oats, cotton-seed, maize, and corn, and we have meal and flour ground from corn and wheat we got the same way. We have milk from our own cow, and plenty of meat. We had a whole calf canned — it’s surprizing how much meat a good fat calf makes — cans of steak, roast-beef, soup, hash, chili, liver, heart, tongue — everything but the hoofs.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Jan 1932 (CL2.297, MF1.259)

This was the first reference to the Howards owning a cow, possibly taken in trade by Dr. Howard, as the Great Depression made itself known and cash was in short supply. Novalyne Price recalled: “A lot of people couldn’t pay a doctor bill, but they could give a dozen eggs.” (DS 10) and observed that Dr. Howard took payment in meat and vegetables. (OWWA 167, cf. CL2.450, MF1.396)
The Agricultural Outlook for 1932 produced by the U. S. Department of Agriculture noted that in the face of weakening demand the price of beef—and cattle—had declined; average price per head had dropped from $56.69 in 1929 to $26.64 in 1931, for a national loss in value of $730 million dollars. (31) The response from the government was the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, a New Deal program under which the government purchased millions of stock animals, not to butcher or process, but simply to kill them and reduce the supply. Milch cows (or milk cows, the terms were used interchangeably) were often advertised for sale and trade in the local newspapers—there are many advertisements thus in the Cross Plains Review, Brownwood Bulletin, and Abilene Morning Reporter—but cash prices are difficult to come by.
How long the Howards kept this cow, or even its name and breed, is unknown. Presumably it was this cow or a successor to which Howard refers when he wrote:
Nip suckles all impartially, with the possible exception of the stray kitten, who however, seems quite capable of taking care of itself, and which I’m trying to teach to stand on its hind-legs and drink milk squirted from the cow’s teat into its mouth. I haven’t had a cat that did that since Bebe.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, May 1935 (CL3.323-324, MF2.850)
Nip and Bebe were two of the many cats around the Howard house. Dr. Howard would later recall:
At the time of Robert's death, there were thirteen cats who had gathered up around the house. They were strays. I had spoken to him about carrying them away myself. He discouraged this, and continued milking his goats and feeding his cats. (IMH 269, WIW 151)
The ‘32 cow may or may not have been Delhi; Lindsey Tyson in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp dated 18 Feb 1977 claims the Howards owned the cow “4-5 years” before Robert E. Howard’s suicide in 1936, which would place ownership back to 1931 or ‘32. However, Delhi was not the Howard’s first cow,  which Robert E. Howard described as:

[...] a Jersey, and wild as a kite. Her teats were small, and she kicked and tossed her head and hooked, and raised hell generally and her calf was worse than she was. If she got through eating before I got through milking she’d turn her head, stare at me in feigned amazement as if she never saw me before and wondered what the hell I was doing there, and then kick out with both hind legs and go careering off around the lot, and sometimes I’d have to lasso her before I could catch her again. She was mean and vicious, and hooked me every chance she got, to say nothing of kicking the milk bucket out of my hand and stamping on my foot. Once I was leading her in at the lot gate, and she hooked me in the back, hooked me in the face when I turned, and an instant later hooked me beneath the heart and tore some skin off my ribs. This irritated me, and I gave her a bust on the jaw with my fist that knocked all the fight out of her and nearly broke her jaw. After that she never attempted to hook me again, but pulled all her other tricks, and her infernal calf nearly cost me an eye. Just a few days before it was traded off, along with her, I went into an adjoining lot to catch it and bring back to feed, and it refused to be caught, racing around wildly all over the lot, as big a fool as the old cow, and even meaner. I never could throw a rope worth a hang, and after a few attempts I lost patience, and ran at it and made a sort of flying tackle, aiming to grab it around the neck with my arms. Which I did, but it threw up its head just in time to spike me on its short, sharp horn. It caught me on the brow and instantly my eye was full of blood, but I hung on to the wretched beast, and got the rope on it and dragged it home — dragged is the word, because it always braced its legs and fought back every step of the way. All the time I was feeding the stock blood kept running into my eyes so I could hardly see, and when I got through and went into the house and looked into a glass, I found the horn had struck me just over my left eye, making a deep gash which penetrated to the bone. A fraction of an inch lower and it would have destroyed my eye, past doubt. I put some rub alcohol on it and it healed quickly, leaving only another scar of the many which decorate my features and body.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, May 1935 (CL3.323-324, MF2.851)

The Howards traded this animal for Delhi, although it isn’t clear when. In April 1934, E. Hoffmann Price and his wife left his job in a garage in Oklahoma for his native California, and stopped in Cross Plains on the way—and by then, the Howards definitely had Delhi, which he described to Lovecraft:
We have plenty of milk for them, because our cow came in fresh recently, but with a bull calf, to my disgust. I’d hoped for a heifer. The cow, Delhi, otherwise called the Begum, is a fine milch-cow, Guernsey with a touch of Brahma, or Holy Cow of India, which gives her more poise and a better temper than a Jersey cow generally possesses. She was bred with a registered Jersey bull, and I hoped much for the result, if it happened to be a heifer. But a mixed-breed milk bull is no good; all you can do is can him, so we gave him away. That is to say, you can’t make any money out of him, because everybody wants to breed their cows to a pure-bred registered animal. Price was much interested in Delhi’s Indian blood, and found her milk much to his liking. Indeed, her milk does taste better than any I ever drank, and tests out a very high percentage of butter fat; almost the maximum. On good grass she gives about four gallons a day, and in a dry lot, when well fed, she gives two to three gallons, enough for a medium sized family. I like her better than any cow I ever tried to milk. She has a splendid bag, and large teats, easy to juice, and she’s sensible, gentle and not nervous, as so many Jerseys are. [...] You have no idea what a relief it is to have a cow like Delhi.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, May 1935 (CL3.323-324, MF2.850-851)

The average pregnancy for a cow is 280 days; if Delhi gave birth around April or May, and the Howards had bred her, then it was impregnated around August 1933, so the Howards must have owned her since at least that time.
European colonizers brought their cattle (Bos taurus taurus) to the Americas in waves; including English breeds like the Jersey and Guernsey. Beginning in the late 19th century, however, some ranchers imported zebu, or Indian cattle (Bos indicus), to interbreed with their stock. The Indian breeds Nellore, Gir, Guzerat, and Krishna Valley were favored for their tolerance to heat, ability to withstand drought, and resistance to insects—traits that were passed down to offspring when crossbred with the European-derived cattle stock. (Parr 20) Cattle with significant zebu heritage are usually discernible by the characteristic hump on their back and dun color to their coat, as was the case with Delhi.
In America, these cattle were called Brahma or Brahman, after the Hindu deity Brahma (and, by extension, the Brahmin varna which specialized in priests and teachers), and Robert E. Howard’s characterization of her as the “Holy Cow of India” portrays the common misconception of Hinduism’s complex relationship with cattle. Cattle feature prominently in Vedic literature, and an overall trend in Hindu religion promoted by the Brahmins since that period was for the cow to be held in higher esteem for its production of ritual offerings particularly ghee (clarified butter), and symbolic of various goddess-figures, and subject of various religious festivals, celebrations, and ceremonies. In some sects, penalties became associated with killing a cow or eating beef, and the doctrine of ahmisa (non-injury of living creatures) became a communal point for Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. (Brown)
The name “Delhi” likely comes from the famous Indian city; Lindsey Tyson’s pronunciation suggests either he or Robert E. Howard had never heard the city’s name spoken aloud. The nickname “Begum” comes from Turkish, the wife of the beg (or bey, baig, beig, begh, etc.), usually translated as “lord” or “chieftain”; “Lady,” in the sense of a title, would probably be a fair approximation of how Howard ment it. The term was used thus for several characters in Harold Lamb’s stories of the Middle East and Asia, which Howard read and borrowed terminology from, and it may be so again here.
Lovecraft, as a cat-lover, was more enthusiastic about the Howard felines than bovines, but wrote to his Texas friend about his cattle:


Sunday, March 10, 2019

“Perhaps it is my wish to be devoured”: Altha of Almuric by Karen Joan Kohoutek

WT May 1936
The strong swordswoman characters created by Robert E. Howard (like Bêlit, Valeria, Dark Agnes, and Red Sonya of Rogatino) garner a lot of attention, and deservedly so. But his work also features a completely different, but equally distinctive, mode of strong female character, as found in his science fiction novel, Almuric.

The textural history of this novel is complex, as it was unfinished at the time of his death, and first published in 1939. The current available evidence suggests that it was finished by Weird Tales’ editor Farnsworth Wright, who “pieced together an ending from the first draft and used it to complete the second draft to make a complete story” (quoted by Douglas A. Anderson). In exploring the novel’s characters and their development, it should be kept in mind that certain elements may not have been Howard’s ultimate intent, although, as Anderson points out, “there is no actual evidence that Wright wrote or tampered much with the text.”

Almuric is the tale of Esau Cairn, a man "transported … from his native Earth to a planet in a solar system undreamed of by even the wildest astronomical theorists" (55). He was a man "born outside his epoch," with enormous physical strength, and "impatient of restraint and resentful of authority" (56). Struggling for survival on a bizarrely primitive alien world, full of giant beasts of prey, he finds himself for the first time "alive in every sense of the word," free from "the morbid and intricate complexes and inhibitions which torment the civilized individual" (74).

This story reflects statements Howard made in his letters to H.P. Lovecraft, about the invigorating effect of struggle and labor, and musing on what life would be like for a modern person thrust into a barbaric world. Notably, he says in such a primal, materially-oriented world, he’d prefer to be a true barbarian, "never troubling his head about abstractions, and really living his life to its fullest extent" (507).

Carin falls from this Eden of direct physical experience when he learns there are other people on the world, who seem to speak English. Unexpectedly, "a desire for human companionship" overtakes him (77), and he ventures to a walled city, where he is quickly captured and imprisoned although his strength and endurance will win him a place with the warriors of the tribe. Here he meets Altha, a young woman immediately associated with “some gentle and refined civilization” in the narrator’s mind (82). Previously, Cairn hadn’t seen refined civilization as a good thing, but it seems like a more positive thing when represented by a pretty girl with "lissome limbs" (ibid).

She re-enters the story when he’s held as a prisoner, and speaks in Cairn's defense with a strong sense of justice that is unusual in her society, otherwise so focused on physical might and the struggle for survival. At the idea that they are brutally treating a man who "came alone and with empty hands," she cries out, “It’s beastly!” (89-90)

Beastliness is a significant attribute: a few pages later, Cairn will explain that he came to this city because "I was tired of living among wild beasts" (91). By opposing what's "beastly," Altha is in a sense speaking up for the higher values, including the sense of right and wrong, that separate humanity from animals.

Eventually Cairn's exposition tells us more about the world where Altha has grown up. With their harsh existence, the men are "ape-like" (82), rough and physical, without any “superficial adjuncts of chivalry” (107). The women, however, are sheltered and protected, “carefully guarded and shielded both from danger and from the hard work that is the natural portion of the women of Earthly barbarians” (106). In their intimate relationships, the women are treated with "savage tenderness" by their men, who "assume all authority. The Gura woman has no say whatsoever in the government of the city and tribe … Her scope is narrow; few women ever set foot outside the city in which they are born" (ibid).

Despite their limited, even cloistered existence, Cairn (or the author) stresses that "time does not seem to drag for them. The average woman could not be persuaded to set foot outside the city walls … they are content" (107). Within this society, generally treated like an over-protected child, a woman like Altha can still be whipped until she’s bloody for disobedience, which is mentioned as a possibility (90, 112, 113), an adjunct to the fact that she’s considered more a possession than a human being with moral agency.

As Altha becomes more strongly contrasted to the "average woman" within her society, her story takes on more the nature of an allegory. The primitive peoples of Almuric are contrasted to the "civilized" people of Earth, but at the same time, their everyday unconsciousness evokes the similar complacency of many civilized men and women. Taking their existence and the kind of society they live in for granted, the "average" person isn’t expected to question his or her lot in life.

Before long, Cairn, hunting in the dangerous wilds miles outside the city walls, discovers how strong her difference is from the average woman her society expects her to be, when he finds her running from one of the planet's monstrous birds.

“You are not like the other women,” he tells her. "Folk say you are willful and rebellious without reason. I do not understand you" (111). She ignores this statement, but lets him know that if he brings her back, all she will do is "run away again--and again--and again!" (112). She is compelled to do something which is considered unthinkable among the women of her tribe, but which is a marker of just how discontent she is with her life.

When Cairn points out the danger that "some beast will devour you,” she responds with defiance: "So! … Perhaps it is my wish to be devoured” (ibid).

Since Altha has every privilege in her world, Cairn is puzzled by this, and she responds by posing a philosophical dilemma: “To eat, drink, and sleep is not all … The beasts do that.” And then she explains herself in a powerfully articulate speech: "Life is too hard for me. I do not fit, somehow, as the others do. I bruise myself on the rough edges. I look for something that is not and never was" (ibid).

This statement is again reminiscent of comments in Howard’s letters to Lovecraft, describing how the shaman of a barbaric time would suffer as "a distorted dweller in a half world, part savage and part budding consciousness" (507). This aptly describes Altha’s position as a thoughtful, reasoning person, who is not socialized to the environment of savagery where she has always lived.

When she continues to question. "What constitutes life? … Is the life we live all there is? Is there nothing outside and beyond our material aspirations?" (113), Cairn tells her that on his home world, "there is much grasping and groping for unseen things," adding that "I met many people who were always following some nebulous dream or ideal, but I never observed that they were happy" (ibid).

1964 Ace Books Almuric
cover illustration by
Jeff Jones
As is the situation for people back on planet Earth, Altha's "groping for unseen things" is not something she can truly control, which sets her apart, feeling isolated and alone, as the only one questioning anything within this stagnant society, which has been described as "stationary, neither advancing nor retrogressing" (105). Her interest in the story’s lug of a hero lies in the fact that, like her, he’s different from the average person in her society, and his isolation makes him seem like a kindred spirit.

At this point, Cairn, who is not himself much of a thinker, completely misunderstands her. He thinks she’s looking for “more superficial gentleness,” or conventional chivalry, from him (113). Looking at her through the distorted lens of his own expectations, he deeply misunderstands her perspective.  She has been talking seriously about  far-reaching, existential concerns – questioning the point of being alive --  and has not suggested anything about a romantic connection between them, much less expressed any desire for him to treat her with “gentleness.” But while Cairn as the narrator is clueless about this, the author who put the words in her mouth clearly isn’t.

In the end, after the two have become as a couple, they work to bring “culture” to the planet (193). It’s possible that this wasn’t the ending Howard envisioned, but as Anderson points out, it does seem fitting for a work influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Working together, Altha and Esau Cairn operate as a synthesis of opposite approaches to life, showing that a society needs places for both the body and the mind. Altha was miserable on Almuric, and Cairn was a freak on Earth, because her world treated the material as all, and his devalued the material too much, but the two complement each other, which could easily have a symbolic meaning.

With her desire for things that never were, the idea of bringing culture to Almuric seems likely to have been Altha’s. Women are often talked about as a civilizing influence on a society, a common trope when talking about, say, the American frontier. Here, that role is taken not by women as a general class, but by one individual woman whose philosophical bent makes her an outsider among her own people, but also makes her a potentially elevating force.

Cairn still attributes this quality to her having "the gentler instincts of an Earthwoman" (193), which doesn't quite describe a girl who'd rather be torn apart by wild animals than live a dull and sheltered life with a narrow scope.

Works Cited

Anderson, Douglas A. “New Evidence on the Posthumous Editing of Robert E. Howard’s ALMURIC.” A Shiver in the Archives. http://ashiverinthearchives.blogspot.com/2016/03/new-evidence-on-posthumous-editing-of.html

Howard, Robert E. Adventures in Science Fantasy. The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, 2012.

Howard, Robert E. and H.P. Lovecraft. A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Two Volumes. Edited by S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz, and Rusty Burke. New York, NY: Hippocampus Press, 2011.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Conan and Jirel: Robert E. Howard and C. L. Moore Part Three by Bobby Derie

WT March 1936
Kuttner had just broken into Weird Tales in the March 1936 issue with “The Graveyard Rats,” but Lovecraft quickly adopted him as a new pen-pal, and set him to circulating some views of Marblehead, Mass. (the inspiration for Kingsport):
Keep these views—when they come—as long as you like; & when you’ve finished with them you may forward them to Miss C. L. Moore, 2547 Brookside Parkway, South Drive, Indianapolis, Indiana—the gifted creator of “Shambleau” having expressed a wish to see these glimpses of crumbling “Arkham” & “Kingsport”.—H. P. Lovecraft to Henry Kuttner, 18 May 1936, LCM 240 (cf. 243, 140)
It isn’t clear whether Kuttner had written to Moore before this, but when he did finally send her a letter in 1936, she recalled with amusement that he addressed it “Dear Mr. Moore.” (Ross 326, Roark 28) Another correspondent also praised Moore in the “Eyrie”:
T. Torbett, of Marlin, Texas, writes: "I've just read with appreciation the February issue of WT. As far as I am concerned, a story each month by C. L. Moore and Robert E. Howard would constitute a complete issue. Howard's Hour of the Dragon is superb and so was Moore's Yvala. Moore's The Dark Land in the January number I also found to be of excellent literary quality and I liked the author's accompanying illustration also. (WT Apr 1936)
Frank Thurston Torbett was a friend of Robert E. Howard, who several times took his mother to Marlin for treatment at the Torbett Sanitarium, including the end of February-March 1936. (CL 3.425, 426) Thurston Torbett had previously written in support of Howard’s fiction in Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror Jan 1933), and now was writing in support of both Howard and Moore. In her letters to Lovecraft, Moore mentions that she was in correspondence with Torbett (LCM 130, 199, 200), but not how this came about. Given that Howard was previously in contact with Moore, it would have been simple for the Texas pulpster to supply her address; alternately Torbett may have written to Moore via Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales. In any event, their letters seem to have revolved around Torbett’s love of weird fiction and the occult:
A correspondent of mine, Thurton Torbett of Texas, friend of REH’s, has been regaling me with passages from books on the occult which state that all the dreadful things we imagine must have had origin in fact or we would be unable to picture them.—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 11 Dec 1936, LCM 199
Back in Indianapolis after her brief Florida sojourn, Moore did something a little unusual:
Today I sent off a gory horror-tale to Kline for marketing, the first and only story I've had time to write since I got home.—C. L. Moore to R. H. Barlow, 19 May 1936
Otis Adelbert Kline was a pulp writer and editor turned literary agent; he was, in fact, the literary agent for Robert E. Howard, and also did some work for E. Hoffmann Price, Frank Belknap Long, and others. Previous to this, Moore had shown no signs of employing an agent: she submitted all the stories herself, handling acceptances and rejections along with writing and her day job. Maybe she wanted to try Kline out, or expand into the shudder-pulp market as Robert E. Howard was doing with stories like “Graveyard Rats” (Thrilling Mystery Feb 1936). According to Moore:



Sunday, February 24, 2019

Conan and Jirel: Robert E. Howard and C. L. Moore Part Two by Bobby Derie

Dec. '34 WT
Jirel’s first adventure was quickly followed up by a second; “Black God’s Shadow” appeared in the Dec 1934 Weird Tales. The cover, and vote for most popular story of the issue, however both went to Robert E. Howard for the Conan story “A Witch Shall Be Born.” Lovecraft considered it a “good second.” (LRS 41, ES 2.671, cf. LFB 248) Clark Ashton Smith, too, was tiring of her a little. (CAS 262) Praise for Moore, and comparisons with Howard and his creations, continued in the “Eyrie”:
Now about this latest bombshell to burst so suddenly and astoundingly in our horror-seeking midst: C. L. Moore. More power to you! You have introduced a refreshing, vitally alive, human character whose actions are presented to us in a very capable, wholly artistic way. With Smith, Williamson, Howard and Merritt, you now hold a much-deserved place of honor at the ladder's top rung.—Louis C. Smith, WT Dec 1934
Of all the different characters I have read in numerous magazines, there are none that appeal to me as do Northwest Smith and Conan.—Bert Felsburg, WT Dec 1934
Conan vile, C. L. Moore splendid.—Robert Bloch, WT Dec 1934
'Tis with unholy glee that I read your announcement about the new serial; to wit, The People of the Black Circle, by Robert E. Howard. I always thought that the Conan stories were all too short, so you can imagine what a treat in store that is. Perhaps, some day, my other bosom pal, Northwest Smith, will appear in a book-length novel too.
—D. de Woronin, WT Dec 1934
I (and I'm sure many others) want to hear a great deal more of Jirel. She's the kind of person I'd like to be myself. A sort of feminine version of Conan the Cimmerian. He, too, is one of my favorites.
—Mary A. Conklin, WT Dec 1934
The character of Jirel may become as famous to us as Conan. I vote her first place.—Claude H. Cameron, WT Jan 1935
The praise was not unanimous however; one reader in particular wrote in:
The Black God's Kiss was by far the poorest C. L. Moore story yet. The first three of C. L. Moore's tales were excellent, but the last two were rather pediculous.—Fred Anger, WT Dec 1934
William Frederick Anger was one of the correspondents of H. P. Lovecraft, who felt the need to reply in private:



Sunday, February 17, 2019

Conan and Jirel: Robert E. Howard and C. L. Moore Part One by Bobby Derie

The peak was reached in 1933, when he handed me something by one C. L. Moore. 
“Read this!” he commanded, the moment I stepped into the new editorial rooms at 840 North Michigan Avenue, in Chicago. 
I obeyed. The story commanded my attention. There was no escape. I forgot that I needed food and drink—I’d driven a long way. [...] The stranger’s narrative prevailed until, finally, I drew a deep breath, exhaled, flipped the last sheet to the back of the pack, and looked again at the by-line. Never heard of it before. 
“For Christ’s sweet sake, who and what is this C. L. Moore?” 
He wagged his head, gave me an I-told-you-so-grimace. 
We declared C. L. Moore day. I’d met Northwest Smith, and Shambleau. (BOD 16, cf.261)
C.L. Moore
Catherine Lucille Moore (1911-1987) was an employee at the Fletcher Trust Company in her native Indianapolis, Indiana, and engaged to be married. Shortly after entering first grade, illness forced her to return home, and she did not re-enter school until the fifth grade. (Shroyer 162) Taught at home, Moore absorbed the Oz books of L. Frank Baum, Alice in Wonderland, and the Mars and Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. (Ross 326, Elliot 46, Roark 27) As she later put it:
I was reared on a diet of Greek mythology, Oz books and Edgar Rice Burroughs, so you can see I never had a chance. (EV2 36)
Along with reading, the young woman also began to write:
What happened was that I had a cousin with whom I was very close, and we used to make up romantic tales of mythical kingdoms. We would take long, long walks in the neighborhood under the trees—it was a lovely time in the world to be alive—and we each worked out our own fantasy kingdom with dashing young heroes and lots of swashbuckling adventure. Then we began separately to write it out. It was not anything that either of us considered offering for publication; it never occurred to us. (Ross 326) 
Ever since we were about nine a friend and I have been evolving a romantic island kingdom and populating it with a race which, inevitably, is a remnant of Atlanteans. We've a very detailed theology and mythology, maps all water-colored and scroll-bordered and everything, a ruling house whose geneology and family tree and so forth has been worked out in tables and charts from the year minus—oh, just about everything that two imaginative girls could think of over the space of fifteen years. [...] We have songs and long sagas of heroes, and a literature full of tradition and legends, and we even made and colored a series of paper dolls to illustrate the different types and their costumes, and then there were wars and plans of battle, and we have the maps of all our favorite cities, and we've written a good deal of history. And that history is what I take seriously. 
We centered on a favorite period, around 1200-1250, and the history gradually became the biography of the outstanding man of that generation, and for the past ten years at least I have been writing, off and on, about this rather picaresque hero and his adventures. [...] And of course a lot of it is romantically school-girlish, and a lot full of undergraduate tragic, because it's grown up with me and has a long way to grow up yet. [...] The hero's name was Dalmar j'Penyra, and he had red hair and black eyes and was a pirate and a duke and a mighty lover and quite invincibile in anything he chose to undertake. How we used to thrill over his escapades. he died in 1256, at the age of 35 (that seemed to us the absolute ultimate at which a man might remain even remotely interesting) and almost wept whenever we thought about it.
—C. L. Moore to R. H. Barlow, 10 Sep-9 Oct 1934 (cf. LCM 89-94)
After high school, Moore entered Indiana University, “with art school and business college filling in summer vacations,” but was forced by the Great Depression to quit school after three semesters and find work. (Roark 26, EV2 36) It was then in 1931 that she found her first pulp magazine, Amazing Stories “whose cover portrayed six-armed men battling to the death”—the September issue—at a newsstand across from where she worked. (Elliot 45, cf. EV2 37)
From that moment on, I was a convert. A whole new field of literature opened up before my eyes. (EV2 37)
C. L. Moore began reading pulps on the sly:


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Happy 113th, Robert E. Howard

Today, January 22nd, is Robert E. Howard's 113th birthday. 



On this day (January 22nd) back in 1906, Hester Ervin Howard gave birth to Robert. Just prior to Robert's birth, the Howard's were living in an area called Dark Valley. Toward the time Hester was to deliver, Dr. Howard took her to a little bit bigger community, Peaster, Texas to give birth to their boy. At the time of Robert's birth, the attending doctor documented the wrong day—January 24th, 1906—as seen in the Register of Births pictured below.


Interestingly, the date from the Register of Births—January 24th, 1906—also appears on the historical marker that sits next to the Howard Family headstone in the Greenleaf Cemetery, Brownwood, TX. Apparently, according to Damon Sasser, the person who wrote the application for the marker took the erroneous date from de Camp's biography, Dark Valley Destiny. The Historical Society of Texas declared that they could replace the marker for a sum of $1200.00. Perhaps a fundraiser for this cost can be performed and a new marker with more accurate verbiage can be created.


Little did the Howards know at the time of their son's birth, he'd grow to be a world renown writer, creating some of the most memorable characters and establishing a sub-genre for adventure and heroic fantasy. Because of Isaac M. Howard's occupation, a family doctor, the Howards moved around quite frequently until Robert was thirteen, in 1919 when the family settled in Cross Plains, Texas. At the time the Howard family settled in Cross Plains, it was in the midst of an oil boom. During these oil boom periods, the town would see a strong surge in population. Once the boom abated, the population would drop back down to the regular residency size. These oil booms had a strong impact on young Robert. He would encounter some unusual and wild characters, fodder for his future writing career. Later in adulthood, Howard discussed these oil booms in his correspondence with fellow writer H.P. Lovecraft.

In his later teen years, Howard had some success at writing which helped to prompt him to submit stories for some of the magazines he was reading at the time.  In July 1925, at the age of just nineteen, Howard's story "Spear and Fang" was published by a struggling pulp magazine called Weird Tales. This was all it took, Howard would spend the next eleven years creating stories around memorable characters such as Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Kull, El Borak, sailor Steve Costigan, Cormac Mac Art, Breckinridge Elkins, Buckner J. Grimes, Pike Bearfield, and of course, Conan the Cimmerian along with many others; one of my personal favorites is Corcoran. Howard also was a prolific poet, writing some 700 or so poems.

Howard's most popular character, Conan the Cimmerian, has crossed several pop culture boundaries. Conan can be seen in books, comic books, movies, television shows, board games, role-playing games, graphic novels, and video games. In the last 80 plus years, Conan's popularity has only increased. Another of Howard's characters, Solomon Kane, has also seen the silver screen in a relatively recent film titled after the character's name. Michael J. Bassett placed the character in a European film that garnered so much success the film was able to make a U. S. debut on August 24th, 2012. While the character and story line in Basset's film was different from Howard's Kane, at least, the film helped various viewers who had no idea who Robert E. Howard was, find out about the author. One such person was Anne Rice, who on her Facebook wall announced that she saw the film and wanted to read more works from Robert E. Howard.

The general tradition in Howard fandom is to read a story by Howard and while doing so, imbibe your favorite beverage!

So . . . Here's to the first of all dog brothers . . . Cheers!







Sunday, January 13, 2019

Conan and the Little People: Robert E. Howard and Lovecraft’s Theory by Bobby Derie

This theory is not generally agreed to, but I scarcely think that it has ever been disproved, and it was upon this that my story “The Lost Race” was based — that the Gaelic tribes preceded the Cymric peoples into Britain, by way of Ireland, and were later driven out by them. […] The blond Britons appear to me to be a closer branch of the ancient Aryan stock, the Gaels arriving later, and being mixed with some Turanian or Mediterranean blood. But every man is entitled to his own view and a writer has the right to use any and all theories, no matter how conflicting, in his stories. I may write a story one day upholding a certain theory of science, letters, anthropology or what-not, and the next day, a story upholding a theory directly opposite. A fiction writer, whose job is to amuse and entertain, should give all theories equal scope and justice. But I’m taking up too much of your time. —Robert E. Howard to Farnsworth Wright, Jun 1930, CL 2.43

In the prelude to his correspondence with Lovecraft, as discussed in Howard, Lovecraft, & “The Sin-Eater,” Robert E. Howard had written to Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, to praise and question H. P. Lovecraft’s story “The Rats in the Walls.” Wright forwarded the letter to Lovecraft, who in turn wrote to Howard. In the first extant letter from Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, the discussion of “The Rats in the Walls” has led to the question of the ancient population of the British Isles:

This departure from the original Celtic stock might have taken place in Ireland after the invasion, despite legends to the contrary—might have merely been a result of the conquerors mingling with their Mediterranean subjects.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, 1 Jul 1930 (MF 1.22) 

Arthur Machen
Though Howard did not know it, the segue led into a line of thought which Lovecraft had been developing on his own for some time. In early 1923, Lovecraft became aware of the work of Arthur Machen, when Frank Belknap Long lent him The House of Souls (1906). The book contained “The White People,” “The Three Impostors” (including “The Novel of the Black Seal”) and “The Red Hand,” and Lovecraft immediately became a Machen fan. (DS 49, SL 1.228) “The Novel of the Black Seal” and “The Red Right Hand” both concern the survival of a strange, prehistoric, subterranean race; essentially connecting the idea of the fairies or “Little People” of the British Isles with euhemerism, the idea that myth has some basis in fact:

They would be seen by a peasant in the fields walking towards some green and rounded hillock, and seen no more on earth; and there are stories of mothers who have left a child quietly sleeping, with the cottage door rudely barred with a piece of wood, and have returned, not to find the plump and rosy little Saxon, but a thin and wizened creature, with sallow skin and black, piercing eyes, the child of another race. Then, again, there were myths darker still; the dread of witch and wizard, the lurid evil of the Sabbath, and the hint of demons who mingled with the daughters of men. And just as we have turned the terrible 'fair folk' into a company of benignant, if freakish elves, so we have hidden from us the black foulness of the witch and her companions under a popular diablerie of old women and broomsticks, and a comic cat with tail on end. [...] Supposing these traditions to be true, who were the demons who are reported to have attended the Sabbaths? I need not say that I laid aside what I may call the supernatural hypothesis of the Middle Ages, and came to the conclusion that fairies and devils were of one and the same race and origin; invention, no doubt, and the Gothic fancy of old days, had done much in the way of exaggeration and distortion; yet I firmly believe that beneath all this imagery there was a black background of truth. —Arthur Machen, “The Novel of the Black Seal” (1895)

Machen also wrote another tale dealing with the idea, “The Shining Pyramid,” but Lovecraft would not read that until 1925. (LNY 135) The Welsh reporter would also write an essay “The Little People” which appeared in Dreads and Drolls (1926), but it is not known if or when Lovecraft ever read that. In either case, Machen was deliberately pursuing a line of contemporary anthropological thought, seeking a grain of historical truth in tales of the elves, fairies, or “Little People” by conflating them with a “Mongoloid” or “Turanian” dwarf race that existed in Europe before the coming of Caucasians. (Silver 141, 146). After discovering Machen, Lovecraft would read Margaret Murray’s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921):

The most revealing and stupefying book among those I have been reading is “The Witch Cult in Western Europe” by Margaret Alice Murray, which was published in 1921 and reviewed with great attention by Burton Rascoe in the Tribune. In this book the problem of witchcraft superstition is attacked from an entirely new angle—wherein the explanation of delusion and hysteria is discarded in favour of an hypothesis almost exactly like the one used by Arthur Machen in fiction [marginal note: The Three Impostors]—i.e., that there has existed since prehistoric times, side by side with the dominant religion, a dark, secret, and terrible system of worship nocturnally practiced by the peasants and including the most horrible rites and incantations. This worship, Miss Murray believes, is handed down from the squat Mongoloid peoples who inhabited Europe before the coming of the Aryans; and reflects the life and thought of a barbarous culture in which stock-breeding had not yet been supplanted by agriculture. THis latter feature is clear from the dates of the two great nocturnal feasts and orgies...Roodmas, or April 30, and Hallowe’en, or October 31—dates having a connexion with nothing whatever in agriculture (unlike such agricultural festivals as Easter, Harvest-home, etc.), but corresponding with uncanny fidelity to the breeding-seasons of the flocks and herds. Buttressed by an amazing array of sound documentary evidence taken from witchcraft trial reports, Miss Murray unhesitatingly asserts that the similarities and consistencies in the testimony of witch-suspects cannot be explained on any assumption save one which allow for a certain amount of actuality. In her mind, practically all the confessions treat not of dreams and delusions, but form highly coloured versions of real meetings and ceremonies conducted in deep woods and lonely places betwixt midnight and dawn, attended by secretly initiated peasants stolen thither one by one, and presided over by local cult-leaders clad in animal skins and called the “Devils” of their particular branches or “Covens”. The hideous nature of the cult-rites is amply attested—and the whole subject takes on a new fascination when one reflects that the system probably survived to comparatively recent times.—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 30 Mar 1924, LNY 53-54

Murray’s hypothesis opens fairly directly:

The connexion of the witches and fairies opens up a very wide field; at present it is little more than speculation that the two are identical, but there is promise that the theory may be proved at some later date when the subject is more fully worked out. It is now a commonplace of anthropology that the tales of fairies and elves preserve the tradition of a dwarf race which once inhabited Northern and Western Europe. Successive invasions drove them to the less fertile parts of each country which they inhabited, some betook themselves to the inhospitable north or the equally inhospitable mountains; some, however, remained in the open heaths and moors, living as mound-dwellers, venturing out chiefly at night and coming in contact with the ruling races only on rare occasions. As the conqueror always regards the religion of the conquered as superior to his own in the arts of evil magic, the dwarf race obtained the reputation of wizards and magicians, and their god wa identified by the conquerors with the Principle of Evil. The identification of the witches with the dwarf or fairy race would give us a clear insight into much of the civilization of the early European peoples, especially as regards their religious ideas. (Murray 14) 

This was expanded upon in “Appendix I: Fairies and Witches”:

The dwarf race which at one time inhabited Europe has left few concrete remains, but it has survived in innumerable stories of fairies and elves. Nothing, however, is known of the religious beliefs and cults of these early people, except the fact that every seven years they made a human sacrifice to their god—‘And aye at every seven years they pay the teind to hell’—and that like the Khonds they stole children from the neighbouring races and brought them up to be the victims. That there was a strong connexion between witches and fairies had been known to all students of fairy lore. I suggest that the cult of the fairy or primitive race survived until less than three hundred years ago, and that the people who practised it were known a witches. I have already pointed out that many of the witch-belief and practices coincide with those of an existing dwarf race, viz. the Lapps. (Murray 238)

Thomas Henry Huxley
That Machen and Murray dovetail is not surprising, given that they both were following a definite trend in anthropology. Murray’s emphasis on Lapps (the Sami people) jived with scientific racialism of the day that followed Thomas Henry Huxley’s delineation of the human species into three broad racial categories: Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid—the latter of which encompassed all Asian peoples, Native Americans, and some Europeans, as Lovecraft would later make a point of Robert E. Howard:

He asked me what the native races of Europe were, and I told him Caucasian and Mongolian. That last didn't suit him, and he began to tell me that Asia was the only home of the Mongol. Then I reminded him of the Lapps, and of the original stock, at least, of the Finns, Magyars, and Turks.—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 25 Mar 1933 (MF 2.582-583) 

Lovecraft was so taken by the combination of Machen and Murray that he began to work it into his stories: