Friday, July 20, 2012

L. Sprague de Camp: Looking Beyond the Hyperbole and Amateur Psychoanalysis to Find the Real Robert E. Howard , Part 1

In the break-room on a tired afternoon at work a co-worker and I were talking about Robert E. Howard. The co-worker had explained to me that he had been reading Howard's work for some time. In fact, he described REH as, "the best short story writer I have ever read." Then after a few minutes he declared, "It's too bad what L.Sprague de Camp did, huh?" A huge grin came over my face. I immediately knew what side of the fence he stood on. Besides the fans and scholars I encountered at this year's REH Days in Cross Plains, Texas, and the friend I grew up with who actually introduced me to Howard, this co-worker is the only person I have encountered who understood some of the negative ramifications de Camp had on REH's reputation and writings.

Drop the name L. Sprague de Camp around core REH fans and you're likely to hear swearing and gnashing of teeth. Yet, not all REH fans feel this way, but the ones who know what they're talking about when it comes to Howard and his work do. de Camp has been a whipping post for core REH fans and scholars for some time now, and rightly so. Over the last three or more decades de Camp has been the bane of genuine and honest scholarly research into the life and works of Howard. It's no secret that de Camp's non-fiction work about Howard is filled with hyperbole, psychoanalysis, conjecture, and dishonest rumors. These non-fiction works include Dark Valley Destiny: The Life of Robert E. Howard, de Camp's introduction to the Lancer and Ace paperback collections of Howard's Conan stories, his various reviews about REH's work, his writings in past fanzines, and various other works.

I was introduced to REH in the middle of the de Camp era of information about Howard. So, to a degree I was indoctrinated into thinking certain things about Howard. Granted, I could discern the ridiculous from the credible. Regardless, getting rid of some of that information occurred over time, as new information became available. And, I was fortunate that I did not read Dark Valley of Destiny back in the early 80s. Back then all of my info about Howard came from two sources. First, the introductions to the Conan series that L. Sprague de Camp wrote with Lin Carter, published by Ace paperbacks, and second, Glenn Lord's work titled The Last Celt. I bought a copy of Lord's book back in 1983 from a nice second hand bookstore in my hometown called Kingston Books.

So what exactly is so bad about de Camp's influence on REH studies? Why do certain core fan's get bent out of shape when de Camp's name is mentioned? I hope to answer these questions and demonstrate why this is the case in part 2 of this post.

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