Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Book Review: The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales by Todd B. Vick

This review is a month or so late, but with looming deadlines for writing projects, more on the horizon, and working 70 hour weeks, it’s a wonder it got finished at all. Lauren Bucca at Rowan & Littlefield was kind enough to mail me a review copy of this book. I’m very glad she did. I’ve read about a dozen or more academic anthologies on the various writers of Weird Tales, with an emphasis on Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. While some have been hit and miss—meaning, some of the chapters in a volume have been very good, others not so much—this volume was faithfully strong throughout.

Edited by Justin Everett and Jeffrey H. Shanks (chair and co-chair of the pulp studies for the Popular Culture Association), this volume covers nearly every aspect of Weird Tales (the pulp fiction magazine) and some of its most popular writers from the early years. There are chapters devoted to the history of Weird Tales, literary reflections, and/or movements within its pages (e.g. weird modernism), collaborations of its writers, genres that stem from it (e.g. sword & sorcery), with special attention to H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, and other topics. While this review will not be a chapter by chapter review per se, I will attempt to cull and discuss what I thought were some of the more interesting chapters and briefly describe the others (which are also very interesting and well worth reading).

Jason Ray Carney begins the volume with a discussion about the tenuous history of Weird Tales magazine, its lower than imagined level of readership—peaking at around fifty-thousand readers at the height of its popularity. He also details just how frail the magazine’s financial state throughout its existence. This chapter brings to the forefront some surprising facts and nice information, laying the nice groundwork for the over-all volume. If you are new to Weird Tales, then by all means read this chapter.

Jonas Pridas’ chapter on modernism within the pages of Weird Tales is quite interesting. Declaring that modernist writers were published in pulp magazines, they have, none-the-less been largely ignored. He takes a birds-eye view of modernist literature (some weird and some not) inside and outside of the magazine Weird Tales. Pridas discusses trends in various Modernist frameworks of weird literature, including science, Darwinism, and devils.

Daniel Nyikos discusses Weird Tales writers within the Lovecraft Circle. This is a group that carries on regular correspondence with H.P. Lovecraft and each other, developing friendships with each other as they shared ideas, interests, and stories. Nyikos calls them a type of literary intelligentsia. This chapter was quite interesting since it details how these writers carried on with one another and their work.

Morgan T. Holmes’ chapter on the sword-and-sorcery in Weird Tales has, of course, a strong emphasis on Robert E. Howard and Conan the Cimmerian. However, Holmes also takes a look at Clark Ashton Smith and C.L. Moore’s contributions to the sword and sorcery sub-genre. Delving into the origins of sword and sorcery, Holmes demonstrates how the sub-genre develops and ultimate folds into current authors' works. He also has a section called ‘Sword-And-Sorcery Oddities’ that is intriguing, examining a few writers of note who perhaps made small but important contributions to Weird Tales and the sword and sorcery sub-genre.

Lately, scholars have been delving into issues of sex within the weird fiction genre. One such scholar is Bobby Derie, an H.P. Lovecraft aficionado. His chapter titled ‘Great Phallic Monoliths’ examines the use of sex, or the lack thereof, in Lovecraft’s stories. While some see this type of academia as fringe, even unnecessary, often times these kinds of studies uncover aspects about writers that help us understand why they used the source material they did and why they wrote some of the things they did. So, dismissing this type of critical research is not altogether wise. And, Derie is a leading scholar in this field. His chapter examines the sexual nature of Lovecraft and what various biographers and other HPL scholars have said about the topic, adding, of course, his own research to the issue.

Weird Tales, November 1932
The editors, Everett and Shanks each have excellent chapters well worth reading. Shanks delves into Robert E. Howard’s work titled 'Worms of the Earth'. Shanks takes a look at what Virginia Richter has called the “anthropological anxiety” of western culture in post-Darwin literature. Howard’s 'Worms of the Earth' makes use of anthropological themes and tropes in this story. Shanks points out that Howard’s use of “little people” function as a euhemeristic source for the legends of elves, dwarfs, and other fairylike creatures. And 'Worms' is not the first time Howard used such characters. Shanks provides a nice summation of Howard’s use of these kinds of characters, how they are used in 'Worms of the Earth' and the influences of these tropes from other authors Howard had read.

Everett’s chapter is titled ‘Eugenic Thought in the Works of Robert E. Howard.’ Eugenics is the school of thought ("science") that uncovers how races can be improved by careful breeding. Howard certainly read some of the more popular (and some relatively unknown) anthropologists of his day. Naturally, the ideas he learned from reading these scientists aided him in creating various characters in his stories; pigmy or ‘little people’ races in particular. Everett takes his readers through the history of eugenics, how Howard uses it in his stories and his correspondence with H.P. Lovecraft.

Briefly, other chapters cover how the Weird Tales writers collaborated via their correspondence, and the end results (Nicole Emmelhainz), Scott Connors, a Clark Ashton Smith scholar, has a wonderful chapter titled ‘Pegasus Unbridled.’ Connors discusses the harsh reality of the pulps being reduced to a kind of “ghettoization” and why, perhaps, that wrongfully occurred. Geoffrey Reiter discusses world building in the works of Clark Ashton Smith. Jonathan Helland delves into gender, women, Brundage, and C.L.  Moore, in the October 1934 Weird Tales issue. Lastly, Paul W. Shovlin has a chapter devoted psychological “madness” of Robert Bloch’s weird stories, and Sidney Sondergard discusses what he aptly sub-titles ‘Harold Lawlor’s Self-Effacing Pulp Fiction.’

Having already read about a dozen academic anthologies devoted to Lovecraft, Howard, and even Clark Ashton Smith, as well as other pulp writers and writers of weird tales, I can safely say this is one of the better collections. And even though it has a hefty price tag (even the eBook is a bit high), it is very much worth it if you are interested in delving into critical secondary works about some of the greatest popular (pulp) fiction writers of the early to mid-20th century. I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Holidays!

Every holiday season The Robert E. Howard Foundation sends out some kind of holiday greeting. They have ever since I've been a Legacy Circle Member—which has been for about 4 years now.

In previous years, it has been greeting cards . . .

Inside 2012 Card

Inside 2014 Card

In the past, Legacy Members have also received lapel pins with various pictures of Robert E. Howard on them. I have pins dating back to 2012, and I've seen others at REH Days with much older ones.

REH Yearly Lapel Pins

This year, however, The Robert E. Howard Foundation sent Legacy Circle Members this . . .

REH: The Complete Marchers of Valhalla Drafts

Membership certainly has its benefits and privileges. If you have not already become a member of The Robert E. Howard Foundation, I certainly would encourage you to do so. Not only does it help get more material published, but it demonstrates your passion for the greatest pulp writer in the Whole Wide World. Also, throughout the year, you get a very nice quarterly newsletter with a lot of goodies inside it. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Untrodden Fields: Robert E. Howard’s Sex Library; Part 3 by Bobby Derie

Intro From Part One:

[Some considerable work has been done by Howard scholars Dr. Charlotte Laughlin, Glenn Lord, L. Sprague de Camp, Steve Eng, and Rusty Burke to identify the books that comprised Robert E. Howard’s personal library, based primarily on the holograph list of books that Dr. I. M. Howard donated to form the Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection after his son’s death, as well as Robert E. Howard’s surviving letters and papers. Among these books are a number of works of erotica or curiosa which, while not pornographic to contemporary tastes, were nevertheless concerned with some aspect of sexuality (usually from a scholarly or pseudo-scholarly perspective) and were often treated as such. It is interesting to see, based on these books, what light if any they can shed on Howard’s life and work.]


The Merry Order of St. Bridget (1868) by Margaret Anson (James Glass Bertram) is a flagellation novel by the author of A History of the Rod, with most of the whipping occurring between women. The Misfortunes of Colette (1930), published for subscribers only, may have been a Gargoyle Press title; a translation of a 1914 French erotic novel about a couple that works to keep Colette in servitude via various tortures. Closely related is Presented in Leather: A Cheerful End to a Tearful Diary (1931) by Claire Willows, where a girl named Flora is imprisoned and tortured by her aunt, waiting for rescue. It is not impossible that one of these works helped inspire Howard’s idea of “lesbianism” being expressed in such a violent fashion.

Painful Pleasures (1931) is an anthology of flagellation anecdotes culled from French sources, translated by W. J. Meusal and published by Gargoyle Press, which specialized in flagellation literature, advertised in the pulp magazines, and sold by mail. (Gertzman 76) Another Gargoyle Press title on Howard’s list is The Strap Returns: New Notes on Flagellation (1933) by Anonymous (Samuel Julian Wegman and Sydney Frank), which consists of a number of accounts of corporal punishment ostensibly taken from American and European newspapers.

Nell in Bridewell: The System of Corporal Punishment in the Female Prisons of South Germany Up to the Year 1848, A Contribution to the History of Manners (Burke notes the 1900 first edition, but the 1934 reprint seems more likely) by Wilhelm Reinhard is another quasi-historical work of corporal punishment, translated from the German.

Tracts of Flagellation (1930) is a privately printed collection of flagellation works reputedly taken from the library of English antiquarian Henry Thomas Buckle (hence Howard’s note): 1. Sublime of Flagellation; 2. A Treatise of the Use of Flogging in Venereal Affairs; 3. Madame Birchini's Dance; 4. Fashionable Lectures; 5. Lady Bumtickler's Revels; 6. Exhibition of Female Flagellants in the Modest and Incontinent World; 7. Part the Second of the Exhibition of Female Flagellants. The assertion “by George Colman” may be due to some editions of Tracts including the epic erotic poem The Rodiad (1871), which was falsely attributed to George Colman the Younger in, among other places, Curiosa of Flagellants. Howard’s entry for The Rodiad directly below Tracts likely suggests he was either unaware of this, or else the catalogue or advertisement he was referring to did not make it plain.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Untrodden Fields: Robert E. Howard’s Sex Library; Part 2 by Bobby Derie

Intro From Part One:

[Some considerable work has been done by Howard scholars Dr. Charlotte Laughlin, Glenn Lord, L. Sprague de Camp, Steve Eng, and Rusty Burke to identify the books that comprised Robert E. Howard’s personal library, based primarily on the holograph list of books that Dr. I. M. Howard donated to form the Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection after his son’s death, as well as Robert E. Howard’s surviving letters and papers. Among these books are a number of works of erotica or curiosa which, while not pornographic to contemporary tastes, were nevertheless concerned with some aspect of sexuality (usually from a scholarly or pseudo-scholarly perspective) and were often treated as such. It is interesting to see, based on these books, what light if any they can shed on Howard’s life and work.]

Otto A. Wall
Sex and Sex Worship (Phallic Worship) (1919) by Otto A. Wall is demonstrative of the difficulty in assigning a specific source to certain of Howard’s beliefs; a substantial tome of over 600 pages and more than 300 black-and-white illustrations, nominally “A Scientific Treatise on Sex, its Nature and Function, and its Influence on Art, Science, Architecture, and Religion—with Special Reference to Sex Worship and Symbolism” it would perhaps more honestly be described as a pseudo-Victorian, quasi-academic hodgepodge of all matters related to sex and religion that the author could dig up, with as many pictures of nude woman in ancient art, medical textbook drawings, or anthropological photographs as Wall could squeeze in, covering everything from ancient mythology to Ernst Haeckel. Much of the material, if Howard ever read the whole thing, he never mentioned in his fiction or surviving letters (it would be interesting to see what he made of  the anecdote of “Conon and his daughter” on page 520), and nothing that he did mention is specific enough to trace back to this source. For example, in letter to H. P. Lovecraft from October 1930, Howard wrote:
For my part, I am too little versed in antiquities to even offer an opinion, but I am inclined to think that these figures represent a pre-Christian age and have some phallic significance. I am especially inclined to this view by the consistent use of triangles in the stone figure. Phallic worship was very common in Ireland, as you know—the legend of Saint Patrick and the snakes being symbolical of the driving out of the cult—and in almost every locality where phallic worship thrived, small images representing the cult have been found, in such widely scattered places as Africa, India and Mexico. Though of course the workmanship of the images differs with the locality and I have never seen or heard of, figures just like these of yours. At any rate, they are fascinating and open up enormous fields of dramatic conjecture. I am sure you could build some magnificent tales out of them. (CL2.95)
Sex and Sex Worship contains sections on both phallic worship and serpent worship, but it is hard to say if this is Howard’s source—or at least his sole source—for his particular datum, since by 1930 the concept of phallic worship had become relatively widespread since being introduced by Hodder Westropp in his 1870 paper “Phallic Worship”; the best that can be said is this is the most likely source, given that the work was available before Howard made this statement and it was in his library at his death. At the same time, however, it feels insufficient to try to account for some of Howard’s statements in his letters to the sex books known to be in his library. For example, Howard writes in a letter to Harold Preece dated 5 September 1928:
Today at town I saw the hang-over of some old and lascivious custom—a girl had a birthday and her girl and boy friends pounced upon her and indulged in a spanking debauch. I have never been able to find just how that custom originated, but have an idea its roots lie in the old superstition that spanking a woman or whipping her with a switch makes her bear children oftener and easier. (CL1.225)
The basic anecdote of a tradition of whipping or spanking a woman on some particular day to ensure fertility and ease childbirth is found in Sex and Sex Worship, A History of the Rod, and History of Flagellation, often but not exclusively when discussing the Roman festival of Lupercalia. The concept of a “hang-over of some old and lascivious custom,” however, speaks more of the influence of Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890). (Burke)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Untrodden Fields: Robert E. Howard’s Sex Library, Part 1 by Bobby Derie

Some considerable work has been done by Howard scholars Dr. Charlotte Laughlin, Glenn Lord, L. Sprague de Camp, Steve Eng, and Rusty Burke to identify the books that comprised Robert E. Howard’s personal library, based primarily on the holograph list of books that Dr. I. M. Howard donated to form the Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection after his son’s death, as well as Robert E. Howard’s surviving letters and papers. Among these books are a number of works of erotica or curiosa which, while not pornographic to contemporary tastes, were nevertheless concerned with some aspect of sexuality (usually from a scholarly or pseudo-scholarly perspective) and were often treated as such. It is interesting to see, based on these books, what light if any they can shed on Howard’s life and work.

William J. Robinson
Birth Control, or, The Limitation of Offspring by the Prevention of Conception by William J. Robinson was originally published as Fewer and Better Babies in 1915 by Robinson’s Critic and Guide company, later reprinted in many editions. Dr. Robinson was the author of numerous sexological tracts, serious and devoid of commercialized smut, aimed at educating the public about contraceptive devices. (Gertzman 186) The bulk of this book deals more with the moral and philosophical questions of birth control than the practical matters of condoms, diaphragms, and spermicides, which were actually eliminated by censors (and otherwise technically illegal under Comstock laws). For Howard, his interest in the subject may or may not have been due to speculative encounters with prostitutes; given the period it is not surprising that the subject does not come up in his published fiction. The only mention of abortion I have yet found in his writings is a reference in his play “Song of Bastards” in a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith (CL1.344). The subject seems to have formed at least an occasional subject of conversation with Howard’s intimate friends, as in the copy of The Leather Pushers that Truett Vinson gifted to Robert E. Howard, Vinson inscribed to his friend:
Also don’t
forget our opinions on
other subjects ranging
from prize-fighting to
birth control!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Barbarism and Civilization in the Letters of REH and HPL (Part 6) by David Piske

Letter 89: HPL to REH (November 2, 1933)

Before turning to meatier matters of the debate, HPL addresses REH's charge of resentment. Using the third person point of view, HPL indirectly admits that he is exasperated by "his opponent" for "contravening common reason and attack the foundations of everything which makes life valuable to persons above the simian grade," but he brushes these feelings off as a "side issue" (660). To HPL, the only thing that matters is the truth of the arguments, and resentment is irrelevant and only muddies the argument with the "waste products" of emotion which should be ignored. HPL is sincerely baffled at REH's offense. He regrets the unintentional offense and insists that he does not have an arrogant attitude.

Next HPL attempts to clarify REH's misunderstanding of his point about the superior human personality and lower forms of entertainment. He reiterates his distinction between classifying things and classifying people who like those things. Indeed, HPL had labored to make this point in his original argument, and it is unclear how REH came away with the opposite impression. HPL affirms that the wisest man can gain pleasure from the trashiest sources (but on nonintellectual or nonaesthetic grounds) (662). He is unapologetic about recognizing the relative value of different things (for example, Eddie Guest's poetry is "crap"), and he cares greatly about their relation to the larger questions of political, economic, and social order; but he does not even think of judging individuals by their taste in entertainment (662-3).

In the next several pages of the letter (four pages, as they are formatted in A Means to Freedom) HPL does not directly rebut any of REH's arguments, but develops and defends his argument for the universal and quasi-absolute value of human development (being careful to distinguish this from a cosmic or sacred value). His argument is subtle and abstract, and he restates his main point numerous times in different ways until he finally arrives (halfway through his argument) at a more succinct thesis: "Human valuation of high development is universal" (664). Acknowledging his repetition, he explains that it is necessary because REH challenges the basis for evaluating everything (665).

In brief, HPL's argument is that societies possess parallel sets of values. Some of these are relative to a given set of conditions; others are more absolute, because they have to do with the physical welfare of the race. Together these values aim at the survival, welfare, and functioning of society. Through these values a universal feeling can be observed, that becomes a separate value parallel to the others: the desirability of advancement. Because of the universality of this value for advancement, national policy should encourage aesthetic and intellectual development, which is the highest expression of this development.

HPL labors to demonstrate that this position entails no elitism or depreciation of sturdier qualities that REH holds to be paramount; these sturdier virtues support the survival, welfare, and integrity of society, parallel with the ultimate value of advancement, which gives society its purpose. He draws an analogy to a Gothic cathedral. The "sturdier" values are like the foundation stones and buttresses, while intellect and aesthetic sensitivity are like its towers, traceries, and rose windows, which represent the "emotional exaltation" which was its purpose for being built (666).

Gothic Cathedral
As a final point of clarification, HPL agrees in principle with REH, that "Art is merely one of several manifestations of the highest stage of development" (666-7). Development, itself, is general and includes many different types of activities and occupations. For instance, scientists are just as exalted as artists. Also executives and administrators are essentially scientists in their own fields. Even great military leaders occupy the edges of this class (666). With this point HPL hopes to make clear to REH that he never intended to exalt art (as a profession) as the sole instance of human development, and he supports the sincere pursuit of any "line of effort."

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Barbarism and Civilization in the Letters of REH and HPL (Part 5) by David Piske

At the present point of the epistolary debate between Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft (just over a year in), the direct arguments about barbarism and civilization have become dwarfed by their debates on a wide range of other issues, most of which are related to the original disagreement. This was inevitable since the concept of barbarism for Howard, and of civilization for Lovecraft represent a broader set of values and ideals. In the interest of thoroughness, our summary and analysis of the debate has broadened, taking a look at many (but by no means all) of these other topics. In addition to a debate of ideas, in these letters we also see both men's personality on display, for better and worse. Already in the last several letters, tempers have flared and seeming cooled. And in the two letters in view here, we see REH adopting the role of the iconoclast, smashing HPL's idols, while HPL labors to establish a common framework by which to determine meaning. Despite the civil and apparently genuinely friendly conversations about each other's writings and personal lives, on the topics of their controversy, resentment has crept it and seems colors many of the arguments.

Letter 87: REH to HPL (ca. September 1933)

After several pages of friendly chatting, REH returns to the debate with HPL, first addressing the value of art and intellect. Previously, the disagreement on this matter seemed resolvable. REH himself had pointed out the minimal degree of conflict between their positions. However, here REH again seems animated by HPL's haughtiness. REH begins his response regarding their multi-faceted debate by directly addressing their mutual resentment:
"In a previous discussion you quite obviously deeply resented what seemed like an attack on artistic values and other things you prized; rightly enough; yet now you denounce me as irrational, emotional and egotistical because I resent – or seem to resent – attacks on certain things I happen to prize rather highly. . . . I fail to see that it is any less my privilege to defend my tastes and ideals than it is another man's, even if I am not an artist" (634).
It is plain that REH feels just as much resentment now as HPL seems to have felt initially. He clearly objects to the way in which HPL has framed the debate. The last clause is especially revealing: "even if I am not an artist." Warranted or not, REH feels as if HPL considers him to be unqualified to hold and defend his views.

Next, REH objects to HPL's supposed attempt to "classify an entire personality according to the sources of its pleasure" (634). But HPL did not do this; actually, he explicitly denied this could be done. He maintained that certain pleasures are inferior to others, but he explained (at length) that because of uneven and compartmentalized development personality, otherwise superior men can find pleasure in inferior diversions. As a result, HPL says, it is an error to attempt "to classify men rigidly according to their pleasures" (621). REH appears occasionally not to grasp the subtlety of HPL's arguments, and now we see he completely misinterprets what is a fairly clear position.

Regarding HPL's claim that art is a sign of man's evolution (that is, his qualitative difference from amoeba), REH affirms the bare observation, but argues for its irrelevance. Art is no more characteristic of humans than other acts, like sacrifice. Or even negative qualities that humans tend to gloss over when defining themselves as a species: like treachery or sexual perversion. Man is unique among animals not merely on account of qualities he cherishes, but also by his unique faults. Humans are the only species capable of duplicity, he says, and most animals have more honesty and decency than humans. REH's point is clear, but its force is in doubt, for the very acts of duplicity and honesty, or categories of decency and indecency require consciousness, and cannot be attributed to (at least most) nonhuman species. Besides this, REH seems to miss the real gist of HPL's argument: that man's distinction from animals is not a matter of morality, but of complexity and development.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dead Man’s Hate by Robert E. Howard

They hanged John Farrel in the dawn amid the marketplace;
At dusk came Adam Brand to him and spat upon his face.
"Ho neighbors all," spake Adam Brand, "see ye John Farrel's fate! 
"Tis proven here a hempen noose is stronger than man's hate!

For heard ye not John Farrel's vow to be avenged upon me
Come life or death? See how he hangs high on the gallows tree!"
Yet never a word the people spoke, in fear and wild surprise-
For the grisly corpse raised up its head and stared with sightless eyes,
And with strange motions, slow and stiff, pointed at Adam Brand
And clambered down the gibbet tree, the noose within its hand.
With gaping mouth stood Adam Brand like a statue carved of stone,
Till the dead man laid a clammy hand hard on his shoulder bone.
Then Adam shrieked like a soul in hell; the red blood left his face
And he reeled away in a drunken run through the screaming market place;
And close behind, the dead man came with a face like a mummy's mask,
And the dead joints cracked and the stiff legs creaked with their unwonted task.
Men fled before the flying twain or shrank with bated breath,
And they saw on the face of Adam Brand the seal set there by death.
He reeled on buckling legs that failed, yet on and on he fled;
So through the shuddering market-place, the dying fled the dead.
At the riverside fell Adam Brand with a scream that rent the skies;
Across him fell John Farrel's corpse, nor ever the twain did rise.
There was no wound on Adam Brand but his brow was cold and damp,
For the fear of death had blown out his life as a witch blows out a lamp.
His lips were writhed in a horrid grin like a fiend's on Satan's coals,
And the men that looked on his face that day, his stare still haunts their souls.
Such was the fate of Adam Brand, a strange, unearthly fate;
For stronger than death or hempen noose are the fires of a dead man's hate.
[Happy Halloween All]

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Good Deed for Howard Fans, Howard Days, and Project Pride

Tom Reinhart; Writer, Nice Guy, Loyal Friend, Troublemaker, has announced, "From now until next June when I leave for Howard Days, 100% of the proceeds from HEGEMONIAN sales will go to Project Pride and the REH Foundation for the upkeep of Robert’s home. I will gladly turn over those financial statements to Project Pride for verification. It’s not Harry Potter money, but it’s what I have, and would be honored to give."

By buying Tom's book, you not only get a nice Conan (Sword & Sorcery) pastiche, but you also help support the Robert E. Howard House & Museum and Project Pride. If you'd like to help out and purchase Tom's book feel free to go here to get a copy . . .

Thanks, Tom. 


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Advocating the Need for Critical Research: Robert E. Howard in Academia by Todd B. Vick

When I first read Tower of the Elephant back in 1981[1], I never imagined that 34 years later I'd be reading that work again with a critical mind and, using it as resource material for an upcoming article about Conan the Cimmerian for the 2016 PCA/ACA (Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association) conference in Seattle, Washington. But over the last 34 years, that is exactly where Robert E. Howard’s stories have migrated—to critical academic studies. In too many ways, this trend has been slower than a snail traveling through peanut butter. Additionally, many Howard fans have resisted the transition of their favorite author being placed under the academic microscope; sometimes with ardent vituperation against such a thing.

But, studying Howard and his works is, perhaps, not the ruination many have claimed it might be. In fact, I’m fairly confident the opposite will occur. REH criticism and studies will only elevate Howard to 1) a larger and broader audience, and 2) to greater opportunities for more material being published about Howard and his works, thus making the man and his work more important. More important than what, you might ask? The hard and fast answer: more important than being merely delegated to a hack pulp fiction writer. Robert E. Howard is anything but a hack writer. Of course, not all of Howard’s material is actually worthy of academic consideration, but a lot of it is. Additionally, there is a long history of pulp (popular) writers who have transitioned from being called “hacks” to being studied: Alexandre Dumas, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Jack London, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and many others.

Marquette University
When I entered Marquette University back in August of 2001 to work on a Ph.D in philosophy, the graduate school had one professor who was in the process of getting a book published titled Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale.[2] At the time I thought that was rather strange. Here I had just wrapped up my Master’s degree, was entering into a prestigious university to complete my education on what I considered a serious field of study and one of my professors was working on the philosophical aspects of a comic book character/television show. At the time I honestly thought this was crazy, but when he later told me that there was a whole branch of popular culture studies doing that very thing (PCA/ACA), and it was gaining in popularity, I stopped to ponder the possibilities. Years later, in 2012, when I attended my first Robert E. Howard Days and Jeff Shanks discussed his recent trek to the latest PCA/ACA conference, my ears immediately perked up. I remembered what my former professor told me back at Marquette. I got excited. Here was a great way to dig my heals into something I had been interested in since back in 1981 when I first encountered The Tower of the Elephant. I must admit, it has been an uphill climb ever since.

Here’s what I mean by uphill climb. I went home from that 2012 REH Days and began to try and dig up academic material on/about Robert E. Howard. At the time, there was scant material available. What was previous published several decades ago was difficult to find. When I did manage to find it, the sellers asked for enormous amounts of money. Bottom line: it was very frustrating. So, I did what any hardcore fan would do, I kept searching. I hoped that eventually I would encounter a listing for one of the half dozen academic books that had actually been published since 1984. Sure enough, I ran into an inexpensive copy of The Dark Barbarian edited by Don Herron. When the book arrived, it was not what the seller had advertized, so I quickly complained and ended up getting the book for free. That was a nice break. The book that was sent to me was an ex-library copy. Let me stress this: An EX-LIBRARY copy. The library was getting rid of it probably because it had not been checked out in a decade or longer. While I was happy to get a copy of the book, the fact that the Tacoma Public Library was getting rid of it was a good sign that it was 1) outdated, and 2) no longer being checked out or used. I say all that to say this.

From 1984 to 2012 when I first began searching for academic material on Howard, only a handful of material had been “published.” I put published in quotation marks because much of that material was published independently and not widely available. In 2012 when I began looking, here’s what was available[3]:

  1. The Dark Barbarian edited by Don Herron. This book is the granddaddy of REH criticism. I’m using the term granddaddy in the sense that it is the first and oldest academic work out there (published in 1984). Many libraries are now selling their copies off. Since 2012, I’ve seen dozens of other ex-library copies at various online book seller’s sites. While this book is very important, it is also old for an academic book. Since 1984 there has been so much more information uncovered and written about Robert E. Howard (especially from 2012 to the time of this article in 2015). This means that this book is 1) becoming more and more outdated and thus in several ways obsolete, and is 2) in need of a revision or an updated version with newly written material.
  2. Cromlech: The Journal of Robert E. Howard Criticism edited by Marc A. Cersini & Charles Hoffman. This series (which only includes 3 volumes over a three year period) was first published in 1985. It was, however, published independently and is extremely difficult to find today. The first volume of this series actually contains what is considered to be the first academic essay[4] ever written[5] on/about one of Robert E. Howard’s characters—Conan the Cimmerian. This series ended after volume three was published in 1988.
  3. The Dark Man Journal: The Journal of Robert E. Howard Studies edited by Rusty Burke. This academic journal was the brainchild of Rusty Burke with the help of Marc Michaud. Unfortunately, the journal was not well received by fans when it was first released back in 1990. That’s correct, REH fandom lamented that this type of academic journal would be the ruin of Robert E. Howard. Fortunately (no surprise at all) that never happened and the Journal, under the editorial work of Mark Hall, is still alive and kicking today. Also, back issues are fairly easy to find, and you can usually get them for about $5.00 to $10.00.
All the above, along with a few intentionally unmentionable works prior to 1984, were what fans and would-be-scholars of REH had to work with from 1984 to 1990 (and pretty much into the early 2000s). Each of these works are important in their own way but are scarce (or very expensive) and a bit dated for academic works. Moreover, if you go to a university library or public library you’ll be out of luck.[6] As for biographies about Howard, only three existed from 1976 to 1986 that could actually be called biographies: The Last Celt edited by Glenn Lord, Dark Valley Destiny by L. Sprague de Camp, and One Who Walked Alone by Novalyne Price Ellis. From 1986 until 2006 no other biographies existed (except for a brief biography by Rusty Burke). Then, in 2006 (20 years after Novalyne Price Ellis’ One Who Walked Alone) Mark Finn published Blood & Thunder: The Life & Art of Robert E. Howard. The biographical arena for REH Studies is still very much wide open and in great need of additional attention.

Additionally, about a decade or so ago, as everyone should know, Del Rey published eleven volumes of Robert E. Howard’s work. All of these works were published in their original publication format and each edition included nice introductions and appendices with academic essays. Moreover, the Del Rey series in itself was an academic achievement and to that end are crucial in furthering REH studies[7].  So, getting Howard’s primary works is quite easy. But, secondary works, which is what many scholars also use when doing research, are hard to come by. Fortunately, this scarcity and difficulty is slowly changing. Since my first visit to REH Days in 2012, several academic collections that include works on/about Robert E. Howard have been published. All of these are readily available at any university or public library (esp. through interlibrary loan).

Since 2012, these are the academic collections that have included works on/about Robert E. Howard:
  1. Pulp Fiction of the 1920s and 1930s (Critical Insights) edited by Gary Hoppenstand. This work actually contains a wide variety of essays (chapters) on various pulp fiction writers and a wide variety of topics. Jeff Shanks has an article in this collection titled History, Horror, and Heroic Fantasy: Robert E. Howard and the Creation of the Sword-and-Sorcery Subgenre. I recently managed to find a copy for a meager $13.95 from an online seller. However, you don’t even have to buy this book since it is fairly easy to get a reading copy (bound or ebook) through interlibrary loan.
  2. Undead in the West I & Undead in the West II edited by Cynthia J. Miller & A. Bowden Van Riper. Both these volumes cover all kinds of weird western works from the pulps and otherwise. Jefferey Shanks and Mark Finn have a collaborated essay (chapter) in volume two titled Vaqueros and Vampires in the Pulps: Robert E. Howard and the Dawn of the Undead West. Once again, I managed to find both these volumes for just under $30.00 each. But both are available in university and public libraries.
  3. Conan Meets The Academy: Multidisciplinary Essays on the Enduring Barbarian edited by Jonan Pridas. This edition is one of the first academic works to solely focus on Howard’s character, Conan the Cimmerian. Jeff Shanks & Frank Coffman (mainstays in REH studies) have chapters in this volume. The book covers a wide variety of topics from Hyborian Age archaeology to Statistics in the Hyborian Age (Stylometry in REH’s stories) to issues of masculinity and video gaming.
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and the Birth of Modern Fantasy by Deke Parsons.  This work is a part of the “Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy” series (47) and takes a look at the birth of modern fantasy via Tolkien and Howard.
  5. Race and Popular Fantasy Literature by Helen Young. I have only read the first chapter of this work, but it is available at the University of Texas at Arlington library (and other university libraries as well), so I’ll be reading the full book soon. Young deals with the issue of race in the works of Howard and Tolkien.
  6. The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales: The Evolution of Modern Fantasy and Horror edited by Justin Everett and Jeffrey H. Shanks. This is a newly published collection of academic essays on the history of Weird Tales (the pulp magazine) and its authors (e.g. H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith). Topics range from the first decade of Weird Tales, the Lovecraft circle, to Lovecraft and postmodernism and world building and gender studies in Weird Tales. 

The above are six (actually #2 counts as two, so seven) good examples of newly published academic works in REH (and Weird Tales) studies that have been published since 2012.[8] I am sure I have missed a few. The good news is, this list will only continue to grow. Even so, the crucial element in academic works is their easy availability. Do university and public libraries have them on their shelves, or at least have the ability to get them? The broader a works availability, the more often it will be accessed and used (cited from).

Moreover, as all the above six (actually seven) volumes have been published, the Dark Man Journal also continues to be published. But, as with any good peer reviewed academic journal, The Dark Man Journal needs to be listed on JSTOR (short for Journal Storage). The last time I checked on their site, it was not present. Why is this important? For two reasons: first, all university libraries access this site, and second, the public also has access to the site now. Back when I was at Marquette, JSTOR could only be accessed by universities, that has changed since then. This is also one of the go to places for academic research using journals, and there are millions of academic journals out there. Once The Dark Man Journal is on JSTOR, that will help open a larger door for a solid academic reference for REH Studies.[9]

A few months back several other things happened in the arena of REH Studies that is a plus. First, The Dark Barbarian & The Barbaric Triumph were put in eBook format.[10] While this will make it much more affordable for interested parties to obtain a copy, it still does not help those two works presence in university or public libraries. Most university students doing research will track a book through their library first. Plus, Don Herron did not update or improve either of the two volumes. Second, Brian Leno, who used to post regularly on the Two-GunRaconteur (TGR) website,[11] also released an eBook of some of his best material[12] titled Lovecraft’s Southern Vacation: A Robert E. Howard LitCrit Triple Punch Pack. I recently ordered a copy and look forward to reading its contents.[13]

So, all in all, REH studies & criticism is on the rise. A lot of first rate material is being released, and I know there will be even more in the future. And, despite the naysayers, these kinds of work will only increase Howard’s popularity amongst readers who may have never heard of him nor read any of his works. But more importantly, REH Studies will also help insure that future readers and researchers will be established to help carry the works of the Texas tale-spinner into the future.


[1] I first read Tower of the Elephant from an Ace paperback edition titled Conan with Frank Frazetta's cover art for the story Rogues in the House. Howard, Robert E., De Camp L. Sprague, and Lin Carter. Conan. New York: Ace, 1967. Print.
[2] South, James B., ed. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale. Chicago: Open Court, 2003.
[3] I use “available” loosely here, since most of this material was next to impossible to find.
[4] Conan the Existential by Charles Hoffman. An interesting fact, Charles Hoffman was the guest speaker at my first REH Days back in 2012. He discussed this work in detail in one of his panels. This led me to track down the Cromlech 3 volume set. It took me 2 years to actually find a copy of the set.
[5] It could be debated that the first real academic essay ever to be written on/about Robert E. Howard (or one of his characters) belongs to P. Schuyler Miller and John D. Clark, Ph.D. titled A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career published in 1938. A copy of that essay can be obtained through Jeffrey Shanks’ Skelos Press (
[6] With the exception of The Dark Barbarian. However, several libraries told me they no longer had a copy (I’m sure they sold theirs) and they were not able to get it via interlibrary loan due to it becoming scarcer.
[7] Easily accessible primary materials are crucial in any academic endeavor. The Del Rey collection did a fine job of replacing the older Lancer/Ace works and pastiches (and the various textual interpolations).
[8] I should note here that back in 2008, S.T. Joshi published a work titled Barbarism vs. Civilization: Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft in Their Correspondence. This article first appeared in the journal Studies in the Fantastic No. 1, Summer 2008.
[9] From my understanding, or at least I’ve heard it through the grapevine, Mark Hall is in the process of getting The Dark Man Journal on JSTOR.
[10] These two works can be purchased together strictly on Kindle eReaders.
[11] From my understanding, Brian has recently requested his material be removed from TGR. This is quite unfortunate, especially since he seemed to have a fairly solid following on that site. I used to read his material faithfully at TGR.
[12] You can get this latest release only on Kindle eReaders.
[13] I cannot speak of its academic prowess, but all the previous essays I’ve read from Brian Leno have been first rate and well worth reading.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Underwood No. 5 has a New Facebook Page & Other News in REH Fandom . . .

On An Underwood No. 5 has a Facebook page! Yes, I broke down and decided to start a Facebook page for the social media connection. The post already have a Facebook "like" button at the end of each, so why not just get a full-blown Facebook page for this site?

The Robert E. Howard Foundation (REHF) is announcing upcoming big changes! They have not revealed what these changes are but apparently they have revamped their membership to account for some new things coming down the pike. REHF has also added a free membership level, and they also offer three types of premium levels.

Membership Levels for the REHF

Now on sale! THE HYBORIAN GAZETTE # 1. The first official fanzine from The International Robert E. Howard Fan Association!

94 pages of stories, articles, poetry and illustrations.

$18.00 (U.S./ Canada)

£10.00 (U.K.)

The Hyborian Gazette is now on sale. This is a fanzine that came out of the Facebook group, The International Robert E. Howard Fan Association. This is a Facebook group that currently has 5,819 members as of this post. 

Included in this first issue - works from Tim Marion, the founder of The Robert E. Howard United Press Association (REHupa), REH scholar Jeffrey Shanks, Lin Carter, Glen Usher, and more! Orders for the Hyborian Gazette can be ordered through Steve at the Carnelian Press Facebook Page.

I have already ordered mine and will provide more information about this fanzine when it arrives.

In the arena of Academia, Justin Everett and Jeffrey Shanks recently edited a very nice volume titled The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales.  Here is a peak at the Table of Contents:

Introduction: Weird Tales—Discourse Community and Genre Nexus (Justin Everett and Jeffrey Shanks)


Chapter 1: "Something that swayed as if in unison": The Artistic Authenticity of Weird Tales in the Interwar Periodical Culture of Modernism - Jason Ray Carney
Chapter 2: Weird Modernism: Literary Modernism in the First Decade of Weird Tales - Jonas Prida
Chapter 3: “Against the Complacency of an Orthodox Sun-Dweller”: The Lovecraft Circle and the “Weird Class” - Daniel Nyikos
Chapter 4: Strange Collaborations: Shared Authorship and Weird Tales - Nicole Emmelhainz
Chapter 5: Gothic to Cosmic: Sword and Sorcery Fiction in Weird Tales - Morgan Holmes


Chapter 6: A Nameless Horror: Madness and Metamorphosis in H.P. Lovecraft and Post-modernism - Clancy Smith
Chapter 7: Great Phallic Monoliths: Lovecraft and Sexuality - Bobby Derie
Chapter 8: Evolutionary Otherness: Anthropological Anxiety in Robert E. Howard’s “Worms of the Earth” - Jeffrey Shanks
Chapter 9: Eugenic Thought in the Works of Robert E. Howard - Justin Everett
Chapter 10: Pegasus Unbridled: Clark Ashton Smith and the Ghettoization of the Fantastic - Scott Connors
Chapter 11: “A Round Cipher”: Word-Building and World-Building in the Weird Works of Clark Ashton Smith - Geoffrey Reiter
Chapter 12: C. L. Moore and M. Brundage: Competing Femininities in the October, 1934 Issue of Weird Tales - Jonathan Helland
Chapter 13: Psycho-ology 101: Incipient Madness in the Weird Tales of Robert Bloch - Paul Shovlin
Chapter 14: “To Hell and Gone”: Harold Lawlor’s Self-Effacing Pulp Metafiction - Sidney Sondergard


About the Editors and Contributors

The book has a fairly steep price tag, but then again most academic books do. The publisher—Rowan & Littlefield—have sent me a review copy of the book, so  I will be reviewing the book here at Underwood as soon as I finish reading it.

That's everything for now. Cheers!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Barbarism and Civilization in the Letters of REH and HPL (Part 4), by David Piske

Three years into their written correspondence, and nearly one year into their debate on barbarism and civilization, the proportions of the "controversy" between Robert E. Howard (REH) and H.P. Lovecraft (HPL) expands with each exchange of letters. As the controversy advances, and at times intensifies, secondary topics that began without any intended connection to the debate become more and more directed toward this one issue, to the point that sometimes in discussing them, either the criticism or the defense of civilization is explicitly mentioned by one or the other. This is especially the case in their conversations about the relative value of the mind vs. the body, of art and intellect vs. other human endeavors (especially contrasting creativity and commerce), and the extent of human freedom and the degree to which different types of societies allow for it.

Letter 82: REH to HPL (June 15, 1933)

REH opens the current letter expressing happiness that they have come to terms with their apparently merely semantic argument about the value of the mental and the physic. Though with regard to the value of art, REH yet has much to argue, taking a decidedly commercial stand. He claims that the reason he writes as a profession is not out of a desire to create, but because of the money, and the freedom writing affords him. He respects that the joy of creativity can be "the breath of life" for artists, but denies a special status for creativity for its own sake, or to recognize special privileges for those engaged in it. Further, while he denies being an anti-intellectual, he refuses to "indiscriminately worship" intellectuals (592). And he admits to resenting the "sneers of the sophisticated" and hating anything that reflects a "supercilious viewpoint" (594). He denies special privilege and judges men on their merits alone:
"A man is only a man, regardless of how many books he has read, or written. Neither wealth nor erudition gives him any more fundamental rights than is due any man. That’s why I love the memory of the frontier; there a man was not judged by what he had or what he knew, but by what he was" (594).
Here, perhaps, REH demonstrates some vulnerability. The detestation and hatred which he admits to feeling seems to be born out of the sting of some slight, whether real or perceived. As he says, "I’ll be damned if I can see any reason why they should be loved and worshiped by the people they flay as boobs, morons and fools" (592). It seems only natural, then, that REH would long to return to a state in which his qualities would be recognized and valued, rather than criticized and depreciated.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Swift Prose, Stunning Narrative, and A Twist Ending: A Clever Weird Western from Robert E. Howard by Todd Vick

Illustration by Greg Staples from The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard

 All three of the most prominent Weird Tales authors appeared in the July 1933 Weird Tales, cover art by Margaret Brundage. That particular issue contained two H.P. Lovecraft stories: The Horror in the Museum (with Hazel Heald) and The Dreams in the Witch-House (cover story), along with Clark Ashton Smith’s Ubbo-Sathla. Needless to say, Lovecraft’s The Dreams in the Witch-House garnered all the attention from this issue. In The Eyrie (the reader's discussion forum at the back of each issue) of subsequent issues this particular Lovecraft story was the most discussed and complimented from that July issue. However, sitting indiscriminately and internally unillustrated was a short story by Robert E. Howard titled The Man on the Ground.

Even though Robert E. Howard is most widely known for his action packed heroic adventure stories, he wrote some extremely interesting weird westerns and horror stories. Some of these weird westerns and horror stories are, in my estimation, the best stories Howard ever wrote. The Man on the Ground (MotG) is one such story.

MotG is a brief short story set in Texas about two men (Cal Reynolds & Esau Brill) who have been feuding so long no one really knows how their feud began. At just under 2200 words the story is one of Howard’s shortest, but also one of his best narratives. It contains precise descriptive detail, wastes no words, and flows smoothly with a powerful prose. The reader, during the first paragraph, is immediately drawn into the action. This is how the story begins:
Cal Reynolds shifted his tobacco quid to the other side of his mouth as he squinted down the dull blue barrel of his Winchester. His jaws worked methodically, their movement ceasing as he found his bead. He froze into rigid immobility; then his finger hooked on the trigger. The crack of the shot sent the echoes rattling among the hills, and like a louder echo came an answering shot. Reynolds flinched down, flattening his rangy body against the earth, swearing softly. A gray flake jumped from one of the rocks near his head, the ricocheting bullet whining off into space. Reynolds involuntarily shivered. The sound was as deadly as the singing of an unseen rattler. (Howard, The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard  360)
July 1933
One of the key ingredients of the first paragraph is that even though it’s highly descriptive, it raises a number of questions in the mind of its reader. Who or what is Reynolds shooting at? Who is shooting back? Why is Reynolds shooting? Is this a battle? Did Reynolds hit his target and there are others surrounding him? All these questions and the descriptive way in which Howard paints the beginning scene clearly indicates that Howard has deeply hooked his reader. 

The story contains much of the things Howard loves from the old west. There are also actual elements from historical feuds, like the Lincoln County War. In fact, in this story Howard mentions that both his two main characters rustled cattle from the other’s boss, all part of the ongoing feud. This was one of the very things that started the Lincoln County Wars and Howard incorporates that into this story. In addition, Howard seems to mimic a style of writing he had been recently reading from Walter Noble Burns’ book titled The Saga of Billy the Kid (SBK). The narrative in MotG is similar to SBK in that the sentences are shorter and direct, much akin to Burns’ style. A style that Howard had not typically used in his other stories until reading Burns. The story also contains gunfighters who were always of strong interest to Howard. And, interestingly enough, Howard inserts a jab against civilization, something he was often prone to do in his Conan yarns. That jab can be seen here:
“They had fought to a bloody gasping deadlock, and neither had felt any desire to 'shake hands and make up.' That is a hypocrisy developed in civilization, where men have no stomach for fighting to the death.”
Robert E. Howard
It should also be pointed out that during the writing and publication of MotG, Howard was knee deep in a debate with Lovecraft regarding the issue of Barbarism versus Civilization. A discussion which frequently made its way into Howard’s stories. Add all these elements together and you get a fast paced, direct and stunningly narrated short story that pulls no punches. Additionally, due to this recently attempted swifter prose, Howard was able to tell a brief story in a strongly captivating way. 

Howard, in a letter to August Derleth, before the story was published, declares that he likes the story because of its strong elements of realism (The Collected Letters Vols. 1-3, 3.93). Apparently, Howard had sent the story to Derleth in order to get his opinion about it. Derleth loved the story and complimented it, perhaps compelling Howard to submit it to Weird Tales.

 At first, the narrative seems like a standard western story, but as the story develops, and the action strengthens, Howard uses a clever twist ending quickly turning this otherwise standard western into a weird western. This story would certainly work well in a high school literature class due to its style, historical setting/elements, sharp narrative, driving prose, and literary devices. If you have not read the story, then I highly recommend it as one of Howard’s best short stories.