Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Literary Influences of Robert E. Howard: Pirates and Buccaneers by Todd B. Vick

Pirates and Buccaneers, their exploits, adventures, and duels, make a strong mark on many of Robert E. Howard’s stories. The sources for these inspirations are somewhat broad. There are nonfiction books about pirates, their history, their adventures and deaths that Howard read early in his life. Then there is the fiction Howard read that impacted his own stories with swashbuckling duels, high adventure, treasure hunts, and the like. All these pirate histories and fictional works played a pivotal role in Howard’s creation of various characters, especially his more famous Puritan duelist, Solomon Kane, and several Kane stories. 

At an early age Howard discovered and became fascinated with pirates and buccaneers. This is evident in T. A. Burns’ essay for the 10 July 1936 issue of The Cross Plains Review where she explained that a young Howard (likely age 12 or 13 at the time) proudly introduced himself and his dog to her (during one of her frequent outings to read and enjoy the outdoors) and declared that someday he was going to write pirate stories. There are any number of resources for Howard’s interest in pirates. The most difficult to determine are the books he read prior to the age of 15. But by age 15 and beyond, Howard mentions several works that fueled his passion for pirate tales. Howard wrote a brief essay for his English Class No. 3 at Cross Plains High school dated February 7, 1922. A few weeks prior he had turned 16. In this essay, Howard mentions that when he was younger, he read a Captain Kidd biography and various fictions about the pirate. These works enamored him. Here are Howard’s exact words: “Reading his [Captain Kidd’s] biography and fiction based on his eventful life, caused me to determine at an early age, to lead a life of piracy on the high seas. Tales of Blackbeard and Morgan clinched my resolve.” [Howard, Back to School, 271] 

Sometime later, Howard set aside his puerile notion of leading a pirate’s life after reading a different book. According to this same high school essay, the author’s name and the title of this other book escaped Howard’s memory. But he explained that this author “wrote an authentic book about piracy and by some means I secured it [. . .] and devoured it with avidity but was shocked to find that it contained a harrowing account of the deaths of Kidd, Blackbeard, and other noted gentlemen.” [Ibid.] Howard described, in his typical hyperbolic fashion and vivid detail, that the book contained a gruesome image of a known pirate, shortly after his execution, with a spike driven through his head. The contents and that illustration from the book caused Howard to reconsider his vocational desire of piracy on the high seas. It did not, however, deter his passion for pirate tales. In fact, it probably fueled it. 

Howard began reading pirate tales from around the age of eight or earlier. One of the earliest works Howard experienced in the literary crafting of high adventure is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Apropos to Howard’s interest or maybe even the cause, Stevenson’s tale is about buccaneers and buried treasure. What more could an impressionable boy desire than to be a buccaneer who uses a map to find buried treasure? Stevenson’s story ignited young imaginations around the globe. And that motif lasted for more than a century, first in fiction and later in films. Howard jumped on this creative bandwagon in multiple ways. In fact, his poem, “Flint’s Passing” is an homage to Stevenson’s story and characters, Captain Flint and Long John Silver. But what about that authentic account mentioned in Howard’s essay, that spurned his notion of living the pirate’s life? 

Pyle's Buccaneer illustration from Captain William Kidd and Others of the Buccaneers
Illustration by Pyle
It is anyone’s guess what book Howard is referring to. I recently spent several weeks online searching for pirate books that might have matched Howard’s description, but also discovered books he may have encountered that further ignited his passion. I found several. The first is written by Howard Pyle, the popular late nineteenth century pirates and buccaneers aficionado (and illustrator), titled The Book of Pirates (1895). While perusing the contents of Pyle’s book, I realized it was not a strong contender for the book Howard mentioned in his essay. None of the images matched the one Howard mentioned (a pike through the head of a pirate). However, Pyle’s book has a chapter titled, Jack Ballister's Fortunes. The name Jack Ballinster is strikingly close to Howard's character Jack Hollinster from “The Blue Flame of Vengeance.” All things considered; Pyle’s book could be one of the biographical accounts Howard indicated he read that influenced his notion of being a pirate on the high seas. And it is possible that Pyle’s book influenced Howard’s Solomon Kane fiction, especially based on Pyle’s illustrations. 

I came across another book that I thought might be a contender: Captain William Kidd And Others of the Pirates Or Buccaneers who Ravaged the Seas, the Islands, and the Continents of America Two Hundred Years Ago by John Stevens Cabot Abbott (1876). The contents of Abbott’s book is close to what Howard described in his essay, “it contained a harrowing account of the deaths of Kidd, Blackbeard, and other noted gentlemen.” [Ibid.] Some of the illustrations where gruesome for their day, and this image was toward the back of the book but did not depict exactly what Howard described.

Illustration from Abbott's Captain William Kidd

While I was poring over pirate books, I began corresponding with Howard scholar Rusty Burke. I told Burke about my research for this article and he immediately turned a light switch on. He said he had done something similar some time ago and the best book he could find that fit Howard’s description was The Pirates Own Book: Authentic Narratives of the Most Celebrated Sea Robbers by Charles Ellms (1837). The contents matched and in the middle of the book is an image of the head of Benavides stuck on a pole (below).



Friday, January 22, 2021

Happy 115th Birthday, Robert E. Howard!

Happy birthday, Robert E. Howard!

Born January 22nd, 1906 in Peaster, Texas.


Happy 115th Birthday, 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 17, 2021

Renegades and Rogues: The Life and Legacy of Robert E. Howard by Todd B. Vick


This Tuesday (January 19) , my book, Renegades and Rogues: The Life and Legacy of Robert E. Howard  hits the shelves in bookshops around the world. It is the first comprehensive biography of Robert E. Howard published by a major academic press (The University of Texas Press). It is a cumulation of three years of research and writing devoted solely to the book, 18 years of scholarly research and writing (articles and blog posts), and 40 years of being a reader and fan of Howard's work. 

There are several reasons I wanted to write this biography: 

This book is something I had been planning on doing since 2002, but back then I was ill-prepared to take on the task. There was so much more research I needed to do, so much more reading, uncovering of Howard's family and life. So, I dug my heels in and pushed forward and devoted my time to the task of researching and writing a biography. 


To date there has not been a biography about Robert E. Howard from an academic press. Moreover, there is a need for a biography that benefits both fans and scholars. And when I say scholars, I mean the use of available reliable sources, with notes that students and writers can use in their own research. I thought it was also important to take advantage of the advancements of the publication of Howard's collected letters, the letters of other pulp writers about Howard, and other materials. All this was paramount to me writing Renegades and Rogues. I also felt that an objective examination of Howard's life, from birth to death, with an emphasis on the external factors that not only affected his life but his work was needed. I knew from the start I was writing about real people, with real flaws, real struggles, and issues that everyone could relate to. My research and sources had to be present to give the work the academic foundation it needed. 

Renegades and Rogues establishes a solid foundation for current and future fans and scholars providing them with an objective, unexaggerated, unromanticized examination of Robert E. Howard's life and work. It includes the vast amount of new data that has been uncovered over the last ten years presented on blogs with limited readership. I also spent months poring over interviews of the people from Cross Plains and other local areas who knew the Howards. What were they saying? How consistent were their claims and memories? I then incorporated this information in the book. These are intriguing firsthand interviews that help illustrate the larger picture about the Howard family and in particular Robert E. Howard's life.

Some of the questions I asked myself while I was researching this biography include, what events did Howard experience that caused him to write what he wrote? How did his formative years play a role in his stories? What influences did his parents have on him? What made Howard tick? What got him out of bed in the mornings? How did the publishing markets move him to write? What directions? Why did he write what he wrote? And, if he had lived, what direction was Robert E. Howard headed with his writing? All these questions and others I attempted to answer.

The first three chapters of the monograph focus on the Howards' familial history, their travels from Robert's birth up to their move to Cross Plains. I apply this information to not only Howard's personality, but to his work as well. I then discuss Howard's education, his friends and their influences on him, and how his correspondence with friends and other writers moved him and his works in various directions. I examine Howard's 12-year publishing career (with an emphasis on his historical period), the market in which Howard published and how that market directed his stories. I take a look into his relationships, especially with Novalyne Price (Ellis), but I did this from her perspective and how she explained her encounters with Robert and his parents. I examine a select amount of Howard's stories and provide cursory exposition and commentary about those stories. I also examine Howard's most famous character, Conan the Cimmerian, and the publishing career of that character in great detail. I do all this and much more.


Because the book is published through an academic press, my initial manuscript draft was read by peer readers who basically took the manuscript, examined it, broke it down, and then sent it back to me for revision and improvement. This process vastly improved the direction and content of the book. Once the initial review was corrected, it went back out to several other peers who did the same. The first two peers who examined the manuscript were S.T. Joshi and Karen Kohoutek. Both provided me with wonderful feedback. The second group remained anonymous, and we discussed what was necessary to change during this final phase of editing. Due to this process the book's research, sources, and content were scrutinized and improved upon. I'll not lie here, this process was somewhat painful and arduous, but in the end it vastly improved the monograph. 

All the above should give you a good idea as to the whys and wherefores of Renegades and Rogues. I hope that those who know only a little about Howard (but perhaps know more about his characters, especially Conan) will find this book helpful in understanding the man behind all these wonderful stories. I also hope that the seasoned Howard fan or scholar will benefit from these pages as well. That was my goal in writing this book. I sincerely hope you enjoy it and that you learn more about Robert E. Howard and his work.

Here is a book trailer for the biography:



Early reviews of the book:

“Todd B. Vick surveys the entire panoply of Robert E. Howard's times and life. Early twentieth-century Texas, so important to a young writer who almost never crossed its borders except in the mighty treads of his imagination, becomes a player in the action fully as much as Conan or Solomon Kane—and Renegades and Rogues is a truly outstanding biography because of it. The book is a terrific read that will grab you like the brawny iron arms of Khosatral Khel and not let you go.”
—Roy Thomas, former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics and author of the Conan the Barbarian comic


“Renegades and Rogues is a compelling read. Vick does an outstanding job in portraying Howard’s family life, in describing the major incidents of his literary career, and especially in providing insightful details into the remarkable resurgence of Howard’s work in various media after his death.”
—S. T. Joshi, author of I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft



The book can be ordered at your local independent bookstore or online at:

The University of Texas Press





Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard (2020, WordFire press), a review by Bobby Derie

The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard (2020, WordFire press). Edited by M. Scott Lee, foreword by Paul Di Filippo. ISBN 978-68057-098-4.


By 2020, nearly every word that Robert E. Howard wrote has been published in some form or another. Collections of his fiction began with Skull-Face and Others (1946, Arkham House), and since then there have been dozens of books published, focused on any number of themes. Any new collection of Robert E. Howard’s fiction must be evaluated against all the others that have come before. Readers want to know if there are any stories or poems they haven’t read, if there is any art or essays that add to the overall value.


This is all the more important now that many of Howard’s original pulp stories have entered the public domain in various parts of the world. Many of his stories are available for free online on Wikisource or Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive. It has never been easier for any random individual to grab the text of the stories off the internet, compile them in a word processor, and have it published in a professional-looking ebook, paperback, or hardback.



Which is essentially what we have with
The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard. This book collects Howard’s stories “The Shadow Kingdom,” “Skull-Face,” “The Children of the Night,” “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth,” “The Black Stone,” “People of the Dark,” “Worms of the Earth,” “The Thing on the Roof,” “The Haunter of the Ring,” “The Fire of Asshurbanipal,” “Dig Me No Grave,” and the round-robin story “The Challenge From Beyond” written by C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long. All of which works are claimed to be in the public domain.


Is this every Cthulhu Mythos story Robert E. Howard wrote? Strictly speaking, no. Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors (1987, Baen) edited by David Drake includes the 1932 poem “Arkham,” along with various other Howard stories that aren’t directly related to the Mythos. Nameless Cults: The Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of Robert E. Howard (2001, Chaosium) includes “The Little People,” “The Hoofed Thing,” and fragments completed and incomplete such as “The Abbey,” “The Black Bear Bites,” “The House in the Oaks” (completed by August Derleth), “The Door to the World” (completed by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.), and “Black Eons” (completed by Robert M. Price).


Diligent Howard scholars might add the original draft of “The Phoenix on the Sword” with its references to “Cthulhu, Tsathogua, Yog-Sothoth, and the Nameless Old Ones,” or the various drafts of “Isle of the Eons” (which Price based his story on). Yet these bits and pieces are not in the public domain, not even available online. A case could also be made for excerpts from some of Lovecraft and Howard’s letters discussing the Mythos; so too, any number of other Howard stories related to Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Kull, Turlogh Dubh O’Brien and Conan the Cimmerian could have been included, since the settings intersect in various ways. H. P. Lovecraft mentioned “Bran” in “The Whisperer in Darkness” and Howard “the Bran cult” in “The Children of the Night,” so it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to include “The Dark Man,” for example.


So, The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard does not have absolutely everything. It also has no art, aside from a lovely stark black-and-white cover, “Spawn of the stars” by Sofyan Syarief. What else should a Howard Mythos collection have to give value for the money spent on it? What else should a reader expect?


Ideally, some sort of explanatory notes or essays on the story. Something that puts the texts in the wider context of the Mythos at large. David Drake did a bit of this in his 1987 introduction; Robert M. Price went one better and had notes on each individual story. The moderately obscure collection Mythos: The Myths and Tales of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (2011, Numen Books) includes a literary essay by M. Alan Kazlev. I myself wrote “From Cimmeria to R’lyeh: Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft,” an essay on the relationship of Lovecraft and Howard, and how it influenced their Mythos fiction which was included in the German collection Der Mythos des Cthulhu (2020, Festa). The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard (2008, Del Rey), which contains many of these stories and others, includes an introduction by noted Howard Scholar Rusty Burke and notes on the original texts.


Wordfire Press turned to Paul Di Filippo, noted writer of science fiction and weird fiction. There’s no doubt that Di Filippo generally knows his stuff, and he’s not above pointing out that “Skull-Face” isn’t technically a Mythos story, and that “The Challenge From Beyond” only is because Lovecraft decided to actually inject some plot. However, despite his considerable talent, he’s not really a Mythos scholar. So he misses a lot of the fine details, content to summarize some stories and quote from others.


The result is fine for beginners to Howard or Lovecraft who don’t know any better, who are tired of staring at a screen and just want a nice hardback or paperback collection of Howard’s Mythos stories (most of them, anyway) curated for them. It is a well-made book, and the stories are pure Robert E. Howard...but it’s also nothing that anyone else could do, grabbing texts off the internet. 


Which is going to be an issue going forward; we have already seen this kind of thing happening with H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction, the market flooded with innumerable editions. The peril of the public domain is caveat emptor: the same stories are there to be re-packaged and sold by multiple different publishers, then it is up to the reading public to decide what they want—and what they will pay for. The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard may not represent the nadir of laziness in this regard, but it is definitely a tidemarker: how much work actually went into this book? What is the point of it, beyond making money? What does it give you that you can’t already get better or cheaper somewhere else?


The answer to those questions is not much, not much, and an introduction by Paul Di Filippo, respectively. If that is worth your hard-earned money, have at it.




Sunday, August 16, 2020

What’s in a Name?: Discovering the Origin of Solomon Kane’s Name by Todd B. Vick

 

In early 1935, Robert E. Howard sent a letter to his friend Alvin Earl Perry. In this letter, Howard briefly delineates the origins of his popular characters: El Borak (Francis Xavier Gordon), Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane, King Kull, and Conan. For some of these characters, this is the only place Robert explains their creative origin. With such scant information given, we are left to piece together other aspects of their origin from other various sources and historical data. In the case of Solomon Kane, here Howard explains that he created the character when he was in high school, at around age sixteen. Nothing further is provided except this explanation: “[Solomon Kane] was probably the result of an admiration for a certain type of cold, steely nerved duelist that existed in the sixteenth century.” (CL 3.287)  

Solomon Kane (Ken Kelly)

Howard’s admiration for a cold, steely nerved duelist stems from a number of likely sources, most of which come from his reading of Rafael Sabatini, coupled with Rudyard Kipling’s, Arthur O. Friel’s, and H. Rider Haggard’s swashbuckling sword duels and jungle settings. A more detailed look into Howard’s influences and the creation of Solomon Kane are in the upcoming biography Renegades and Rogues. For now, let's leave those details alone in this article, since those elements present Howard’s use of those writers, the development of the character, and their stories to create the settings, sword-play, and various plot devices used for his Solomon Kane stories. But what about the name, Solomon Kane? Where did Howard come up with his character’s name? What details do we know about that?

There has been some previous speculation about the dour Puritan’s name. Howard never explains in any letter or essay how he conjured Solomon Kane's name. At a previous Howard Days, it was suggested that the name was a combination of two Biblical people: King Solomon, the wise and wealthy, if flawed, Hebrew King, and Cain, an aggressive but pious murderer. Howard did enjoy several Old Testament stories, though he was partial to Saul, the first Hebrew King (CL 2.208), and the story of Samson. With regard to King Solomon, Howard told Lovecraft in a June 1931 letter that he lost interest in Biblical history after King David, calling Solomon “a typical Oriental ruler.” (CL 2.208) While there is likely more to unpack in the notion that Solomon Kane is a combination of King Solomon and Cain (changed to Kane), the idea is novel, but ultimately seems to be a bit of a stretch. It’s possible that Howard may have used Dr. Solomon Chambers’ first name. Dr. Chambers was a friend of the Howards who practiced medicine with Dr. Howard in and around the Cross Cut and Burkett, Texas area. But there is still too much uncertainty as to why or where Howard derived the ‘Kane’ portion.

Recently, Kurt B. Shoemaker’s zine, “The Happiest Blue Elephant,” was published in PEAPS (The Pulp Era Amateur Press Society). In Shoemaker's zine there is a section titled “‘Sir Piegan Passes’ by W.C. Tuttle.” (PEAPS #31, 15 June 2020) In this section Shoemaker discusses Tuttle’s story (“Sir Piegan Passes”) that was published in Adventure 10 August 1923. Shoemaker summarizes Tuttle’s story and explains how it was used for several silent films during Tuttle’s early writing career. Shoemaker also details each film based on “Sir Piegan Passes.” Whether Shoemaker realized it or not, he dropped a small bomb on the history and speculation about where Howard may have derived the name Solomon Kane. “Solomon Kane’s heart would, if properly broken up, have made a number of perfectly good arrowheads. His conscience, if properly cut to certain lengths, would have made any number of perfectly good corkscrews. Outside of that, Solomon Kane was normal.” (Adventure XLII.1.121)  

Adventure  (10 August 1923)

When Tuttle’s story was published in the August 10, 1923 edition of Adventure magazine, Howard had been reading the magazine for approximately two years. Tuttle’s story published when Howard was just seventeen, near the age he declared (about sixteen) when he claims he created Solomon Kane. Tuttle’s character, Solomon Kane, is used pretty much throughout the story. What are we to make of this? Is it a mere coincidence that Tuttle and Howard concocted the same name for a character? It seems possible, but unlikely. Howard certainly read W. C. Tuttle’s works; his personal library contained almost a dozen Adventure magazines with Tuttle’s stories in them. Is it possible that Howard created his character around age sixteen but had not yet established a name for him? Then along comes Tuttle's "Sir Piegan Passes" providing Howard with a name. It is quite conceivable that Howard did, in fact, read Tuttle’s story from this issue of Adventure.

Howard loved Adventure, he declared on several occasions it was one of his favorite magazines. Moreover, several authors who immensely influenced Howard’s own work were regulars in Adventure: Talbot Mundy, Harold Lamb, and Rafael Sabatini. Howard would have gone out of his way to read these author’s stories. And, two of them (Talbot Mundy and Harold Lamb) appeared in the August 10 1923 Adventure along with Tuttle’s story. Add this fact to the fact that reading material was so scarce in and around Cross Plains, Texas, that Howard was prone to read everything he could get his hands on, and read it thoroughly. The implication here is that if Howard owned this magazine, he would have read it from cover to cover.

There are vast differences between Tuttle’s and Howard’s Kanes. Tuttle’s story, “Sir Piegan Passes” is a western. Tuttle’s Solomon Kane is an assayer in Micaville, who is less than reputable and does his best to swindle people by misrepresenting their gold and mineral weight and values. This is a far cry from the dour Puritan we all know, who exacts his own retributive justice on those who take advantage of the helpless. Frankly, I think the name Solomon Kane is better suited to Howard’s character than Tuttle’s. But perhaps this is merely my own bias toward Howard’s Solomon Kane stories. Howard was certainly no stranger to lifting ideas from authors he enjoyed reading. He also re-used names of characters for stories (e.g. the various Steve Costigans, Conans: the Reaver and the Cimmerian, etc.). It was common for Howard to use foreign words in his own stories that he found in Adventure magazines. So, lifting the name of a character used in a story from Adventure should not surprise us. That being the case, the likeliest scenario is that Howard read Tuttle’s story, liked the name Solomon Kane, possibly wrote it down and earmarked it for his own character.  

Adventure cover (10 Aug. 1923)

It would not be a surprise if Howard refrained from using the name Solomon Kane to see if Tuttle would ever include his own Solomon Kane in another story. While this is speculation, it is interesting that Howard’s Kane would not see print until five years, to the month, after “Sir Piegan Passes” was published in Adventure. And as far as can be determined, Tuttle never used his Solomon Kane character in any of his subsequent stories. If this is the case, it raises a question. With the popularity of Weird Tales, how is it that Tuttle never said anything about Howard’s Solomon Kane? It is possible that Tuttle never read Weird Tales magazine? Perhaps he did not care for those kinds of stories. If this is the case, he may have never known that Howard used the name Solomon Kane. It is also possible that Tuttle knew that Howard used the name and he simply did not care. Whatever the case, Tuttle never kicked up any dirt over it.

Howard was a thoughtful writer, not prone to taking words, names, and other ideas from the sources he read and giving them no thought as to how he could use them. With Howard’s Solomon Kane, there is a certain amount of development that went into the character. It took half a decade before the character was created, named, developed and then placed on the printed (and published) page. His thoughts and ideas had time to percolate. He had time to add and change things when he needed, and he likely continued to develop these ideas even after Solomon Kane came alive for the reading public. But as for where Howard discovered the name Solomon Kane, Tuttle’s story certainly plays an integral if not the pivotal part.

While it is not definitive proof, it is certainly highly credible that Howard got the name for his character from W. C. Tuttle’s story, casting a shadow over the idea that Howard combined two biblical people into one name, or that he may have borrowed Dr. Solomon Chamber’s first name. With this new information, all the quintessential elements for the nomenclature of Howard’s Solomon Kane come together almost to a fault. Perhaps we can now put to rest further speculation about the origin of Solomon Kane’s name, until further information is discovered.
______________________
Works Cited
CL             Collected Letters
PEAPS      
The Pulp Era Amateur Press Society
ADV         Adventure

[Special thanks to Bobby Derie for his input on this article]



Saturday, July 4, 2020

Barlow Letters Related To Robert E. Howard by Bobby Derie

In The Two Bobs: Robert E. Howard and Robert H. Barlow it was mentioned that after the death of their mutual friend H. P. Lovecraft, Barlow became the literary executor for Lovecraft’s estate—which included the disposition of the file of letters from Robert E. Howard. Several letters pertinent to Barlow’s possession of these letters and efforts to get them to Dr. Isaac M. Howard, the late Robert E. Howard’s father, have been made available online by Brown University as part of their digitization of the Lovecraft materials, and make interesting reading concerning the posthumous afterlives of Barlow and his two literary correspondents.

R. H. Barlow to Elizabeth Spicer, 2 Apr 1937

Dear Miss Spicer,

I pulled out rather abruptly & had no opportunity for farewells, but perhaps I’m forgiven.

In about two weeks I’ll send you some Sterling items &c from KC. Thanks for putting up with all the bother I made while in Providence.

Here is something for your files—revised, it will appear in in HAWK ON THE WIND—a book—in six or eight months.

I beseech & implore you to keep the various correspondences—except R. E. Howard—under your hat & out of the catalogue. Their authors would boil me over a slow fire!—The sacrifices one makes in the interests of Literature.

Regards to Prof. Damon. I’m going to write him when I settle.

Yrs ever,

R. H. Barlow


After Lovecraft’s death, Robert H. Barlow was made his literary executor; the young writer took steps to archive Lovecraft’s correspondence and other papers at the John Hay Library, where Elizabeth Spicer worked. The “Sterling” items were presumably related to Kenneth Sterling, one of Lovecraft’s later correspondents and his collaborator on “In the Walls of Eryx.” Barlow wrote this on his way back to Kansas City (“KC”) where he was attending the Art Institute. Hawk on the Wind” Poems (1938, Ritten House) was a collection of August Derleth’s poetry, containing “Elegy: In Providence the Spring…” regarding Lovecraft.

          Barlow’s desire to keep the correspondence from Lovecraft’s correspondents “out of the catalogue” was probably in an effort to protect their privacy; Howard was at this point already deceased, so this was less of an issue.

          By May of 1937, Dr. Isaac M. Howard had determined that Barlow was the executor of Lovecraft’s estate and was in possession of the letters from his son Robert E. Howard that Lovecraft had saved, mentioned above; Dr. Howard wrote to Barlow and to Lovecraft’s surviving aunt asking for their return, but did not receive a prompt reply, probably because Barlow’s situation was unsettled—the young writer would soon head out for California (IMH 164, 166).

As Howard letters were actually at the John Hay Library while Barlow was in Kansas City, this might explain some of the delay and confusion, but Barlow did eventually respond to Dr. Howard’s request.

R. H. Barlow to S. Foster Damon, 23 Apr 1937

Dear Professor Damon,

 

I am sending you a miscellany; too varied to itemise. Among the contents of the express package shipped today are a couple of pieces of sheet-music; a typescript of THE SPHINX, unpublished play by the author of THE HERMAPHRODITE & OTHER POEMS; nearly all the Ms. I have from the pen of Clark Ashton Smith, author of THE STAR-TREADER, EBONY & CRYSTAL, ODES & SONNETS, &c; a special issue of The Modern School on Whitman (1919) &c &c. Of these, I think I’d like to keep nominal ownership of the Whitman photograph, though in all probability it’s yours till Doomsday.

Did you receive the Sterling letter sent in my last? The envelope turned up, and is enclosed in the Tomato Surprise. I have a few other things which I’m not quite ready to send, but will hand over later.

I would appreciate it if you would send me the cardboard box containing letters from R. E. Howard, which I deposited. His father wants them to go to Howard Payne College. If you will send them Express collect, I shall be in your debt.

Later, Mrs. Gamwell may want someone to look over Howard’s books for possible library donations, I believe there is not much for the Harris Collection, but other departments might find material.

Yours ever,

Barlow

Am still typing dementedly on the “copy” for the Lovecraft collection to be published!




Sunday, May 31, 2020

Unspeakable! The Secret History of Nameless Cults by Bobby Derie

As the John Hay Library at Brown University continues to digitize its collection, and place them online, interesting little tidbits are revealed for the more detail-minded among us.

Farnsworth Wright to H. P. Lovecraft, 2 Apr 1934

Dear Mr. Lovecraft:

I just received your letter of last Friday, and hasten to answer it.

I shall try to look up further authority regarding "unaussprechlich" and "unnennbar". If I can find good authority for "unaussprechlich" I am inclined to let that stand; for "unaussprechlich" has a sinsiter aspect that is lacking in "unnennbar".

Just got a letter from the Sultan of the Southern Kingdom, Lord Malik (accompanying a manuscript). He and Juggernaut are about to leave the land of the Osages and trek westward. He hopes to see Conan the Reaver as he passes through Texas; and the Lord of Xothique and Averoigne after he leaves San Francisco.

I envy him his trip.

I read in yesterday's paper about the death in Baltimore of Edward Lucas White last Friday. He was 68 years of age, and died from illuminating gas--the journal does not say whether it was suicide or accident. He was a strange genius. My wife, who used to be a librarian before I married her, considered his "El Supremo" one of the very best adventure stories she ever read. I have not read it.

We are keeping the windows of our office closed today, so as to retain what cool air there is; that is, cool compared with the air outside. The morning paper says that cooling off has begun in the far Northwest; so I suppose the coolness will reach here within a few days. But until then...

I am glad that Barlow likes the pictures. I myself admired Doolin's illustration for THE STRANGE HIGH HOUSE. The trouble with Doolin is that although he occasionally turned out something good like this, yet the most of his illustrations lacked imagination. The lack of imagination is why we have let Wilcox go.

I was surprized, when I read the page-proofs of THROUGH THE GATES OF THE SILVER KEY, to find no mention whatever of Unaussprechlichen Kulten. So there was nothing to change. In the typescript of Mrs. Heald's story, OUT OF THE EONS, Unaussprechlichen Kulten is mentioned twice; and I have changed this in the typescript (following Howard's example) to Nameless Cults.

Thanks again for your promptness. Regards to both you and Barlow.

Cordially yours,

Wright.

 

Farnsworth Wright

[[ Link to letter, with images: https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:423149/ ]]

The beginning and the end of the letter concern Robert E. Howard’s creation Unaussprechlichen Kulten, which first appeared in “The Black Stone” (Weird Tales Nov 1931) and “The Thing on the Roof” (WT Feb 1932) under the English title Nameless Cults. The book, inspired by works such as Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, was well-received by HPL:

And this reminds me to remark how much I enjoyed “The Thing on the Roof”. That carried the sort of kick I enjoy! Before long I mean to quote Justin Geoffrey and von Juntz’s “Black Book” in some story of my own.

—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 16 Jan 1932, MF 1.264

Neither Lovecraft nor Howard were fluent in German, but Lovecraft felt the book should have a German title and attempted to create one. Before he used it, however, Lovecraft tried out the title on August Derleth, whose family retained some German (his grandmother being Pennsylvania Dutch), which led to this exchange:

By the way—in case I ever try any more tales for my own amusement, can you tell me if Ungenennte Hedenthume is an even approximately decent German equivalent of the title “Nameless Cults”? I want to be able to make casual allusions to von Junzt’s Black Book in the original. I only took German a year, & that was in 1906—the present possibly ridiculous attempt at translations being a result of blind & unintelligent groping in a meagre grammar & wholly inadequate dictionary. I thought it best to give the word “Cult” its darkest signification—the phrase as above being really, I suppose, “Unnamed Heathenisms”. Any light you can shed on this matter will be of the utmost interest to an illiterate old man. I have a remote notion of some day hinting at the reason why von Junzt’s great-grandson lately cut his throat after discovering certain papers in his ancestor’s long-sealed Düsseldorf attic.

—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 28 Jan 1932, ES 2.446

 

Thanks for the original title of the Black Book. I feel sure that Unausprechlichen Kulten is the correct version!

—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 2 Feb 1932, ES 2.448

Neither phrase is grammatically correct German, but Lovecraft passed the title on to Robert E. Howard.

I feel honored that you should refer to Von Junzt’s accursed document, and thanks for the German of “Nameless Cults”, which I’ll use in referring to it. Though I’ve lived adjacent to Germans for many years, I know nothing of the language—and neither do a lot of them.

—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Apr 1932, MF 1.279

The new title did not make an “official” appearance immediately, although Lovecraft began to make reference to it in his letters (cf. DS 367, MF 1.308, etc.) Lovecraft would first make reference to the book under its German title in “The Horror in the Museum” (WT Jul 1933), ghostwritten for Hazel Heald. Farnsworth Wright, however, was not in on the joke, as was apparent when he wrote: