Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Weird, The Strange, and The Missing Ingredient by Todd Vick

 Recently I was reading The Dark Man: The Journal of Robert E. Howard Studies (Vol. 7 No.2, 2014). The last article was a book review written by REH scholar and biographer Mark Finn titled Less an Archive, More an Agenda. The book under the microscope was The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. This book is a monster at 1126 pages. The forward is written by Sci-fi/Fantasy author Michael Moorcock. It is loaded with excellent stories from a wide variety of authors between 1908 to 2010. Even so, Finn declares the book to be "less a historical celebration of the genre of the weird tale and more an international corrective to the archive of such narratives." (Finn 172) 

The list of included authors to this massive anthology is, to say the least, staggering; names such as Lord Dunsany, A. Merritt, Franz Kafka, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Robert Bloch, Daphne du Maurier, George R.R. Martin, Ramsey Campbell, William Gibson, F. Paul Wilson, Clive Barker, Octavia E. Butler, Harlan Ellison, Joyce Carol Oates, Poppy Z. Brite, Haruki Murakami, Stephen King, Tanith Lee, Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, Jeff VanderMeer, and dozens more. As you can see the list is filled with high caliber, quite popular writers in the weird fiction, horror, strange, and dark story genres. The subtitle is correct in its claim to be a compendium. It is certainly that. But, as Finn points out "there is one name that is conspicuously absent in this otherwise grand collection: Robert E. Howard." (Finn 173) I would also add that neither is Edgar Allan Poe, Rudyard Kipling, Robert W. Chambers, Hugh B. Cave, or August Derleth. 

Even so, according to Finn the omission of Robert E. Howard was not an oversight. No, it was a deliberate omission. Finn reported that he actually spoke with Jeff VanderMeer stating "he [VanderMeer] did not want any of Howard's more racially-charged work in a collection that included work by people of color and by people of various nationalities." (173) When Finn asked VanderMeer why he did not select stories by Howard that were not "racially-charged, such as Worms of the Earth, or The Tower of the Elephant", VanderMeer's response was merely he did not consider those. Finn offers his response to all this in his review. Read his review in that particular issue of The Dark Man to find out exactly what Finn says (feel free to use the link I provided above). In fact, I would recommend anyone reading this article to certainly read Finn's response. What I intend to do here is provide my own response. My own commentary on two main concerns I have with Jeff VanderMeer's response to Mark Finn.

VanderMeer's response to Finn is a bit disheartening. I'm left wondering if he even gave much thought to his reply to Finn. VanderMeer's answer seems to evade the question leaving us to ponder if perhaps he simply does not like Robert E. Howard or his work, or he has not read enough of Howard's work to gain a complete appreciation for one of the pioneers of early 20th century weird fiction. Even so, to create a compendium as large as this and not include Robert E. Howard is a strong indication that the VanderMeers have a serious blind spot in their reading list—something Finn also pointed out.

What's more interesting is the reasons (there are two) that Jeff VanderMeer claims he omitted Howard. First, he told Finn that he did not include Howard because of his racially charged works. VanderMeer explained that this compendium contained people of varying color and nationality, so he wanted to avoid any works that were racially charged. Prima facie I respect VanderMeer's reason for not wanting to include racially charged works in this particular volume. I can truly see VanderMeer's concern here, especially since the volume does include a wide variety of writers from various ethnic backgrounds. But that leads me to this question; if VanderMeer is omitting racially charged works due to the compendium's vast ethnic diversity, then why include any writers who are racists at all (e.g. H.P. Lovecraft)? I'll briefly discuss this question a little later.

Second, after VanderMeer's first answer, Finn inquired why he did not consider Howard's other non-racially charged works. VanderMeer's response? He simply did not consider them. Howard clearly has alternative works that could easily have been included. Finn suggested two—Worms of the Earth and The Tower of the Elephant—but there are others: The Horror From the Mound and Old Garfield's Heart. While the latter two have some minor stereotypes in them, they are certainly not racially charged and definitely worthy of consideration.

Here are my thoughts about VanderMeer's two answers to Finn's questions. With regard to the issue of race featured in stories by writers who wrote during a time when racist attitudes were different than ours; back then these attitudes occurred in fiction. In fact, they were fairly common. Of course, we live in a day an age where ethnicity, nationality, and race are in the forefront of our minds. We are more careful about such issues than previous generations. But there was a time when this was not the case. Writers like Agatha Christie, Fyodor Dostoevsky, D.H. Lawrence, Thomas De Quincey, Mark Twain, H.P. Lovecraft, and many others made obvious and subtle racist remarks in their stories. So how should we respond to such racial features in these older stories? Should we eliminate them from current collections or compendiums? Here's something to consider.

In an April 13th, 2015 article from The New Yorker titled "Reading Racist Literature", Elif Batuman discusses her experiences with what she thought was racist literature toward her own people, Turkish Americans. She sites that she first ran into a racist remark in the novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover. As Batuman puts it, the one passage she remembers "most clearly is this conversation between Connie, Clifford, and the Irish writer Michaelis:
“I find I can’t marry an Englishwoman, not even an Irishwoman…”
“Try an American,” said Clifford.
“Oh, American!” He laughed a hollow laugh. “No, I’ve asked my man if he will find me a Turk or something…something nearer to the Oriental.”
Connie really wondered at this queer, melancholy specimen." (Batuman "Reading Racist Literature")
This seems innocuous enough, right? Sure it does, if you are not a Turk (or Irish, English, or American for that matter). But the Turk in this list of groups is singled out as "Oriental" and considered a "queer, melancholy specimen." At the time this novel was written, these types of remarks were not even considered racist, or out of the ordinary. But to a Turkish American reader 70 years later, there it is all over the page. Batuman goes on to detail other works that she considered racially charged, giving details behind the circumstances of her encounters with them. And what was her final response to all this?
"These encounters were always mildly jarring. There I’d be, reading along, imaginatively projecting myself into the character most suitable for imaginative projection, forgetting through suspension of disbelief the differences that separated me from that character—and then I’d come across a line like 'These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children' (“The Brothers Karamazov”)."
     "But I always moved on, quickly. To feel personally insulted when reading old books struck me as provincial, against the spirit of literature. For the purposes of reading an English novel from 1830, I thought, you had to be an upper-class white guy from 1830. You had to be a privileged person, because books always were written by and for privileged people. Today, I was a privileged person, as I was frequently told at the private school my parents scrimped to send me to; someday, I would write a book. In the meantime, Rabelais was dead, so why hold a grudge?" (Batuman "Reading Racist Literature")
This is true for most of the older 19th & 20th Century stories. There is particular kind of racial history there, a particular social structure, and a way in which people acted toward others of different races. Batuman points out that 100 years from today, society will look back at us and find something offensive about what we wrote, the way we behaved, etc. Cultures move and change, views move and change, it's a fact of life. So, Batuman's conclusion?
"How do you rehabilitate your love for art works based on expired and inhuman social values—and why bother? It’s easier to just discard the works that look as ungainly to us now as “The Octoroon.” But if you don’t throw out the past, or gloss it over, you can get something like “An Octoroon”: a work of joy and exasperation and anger that transmutes historical insult into artistic strength." (Batuman "Reading Racist Literature")
Racially charged works can be works of joy, exasperation, and elicit anger that "transmutes historical insult into artistic strength." Also, historical context and a realization that these authors are actually writing about their own time periods in which various things occurred that we today might find repugnant are important things to consider. For 21st century readers historical accuracy can be more highly valued than political correctness when reading previous generation's history and fiction. Political correctness can, at times, work for us in the 21st century as we are dealing with our own moral, political, and racial issues. But to take what we think now and force it on a previous generation that had no such ideas is not only anachronistic but quite wrong headed. So for Howard to write stories that are racially charged is simply an indicative feature of his history, his time.

As the editor of the compendium, VanderMeer is well within his right to not include Howard's racially charged works. I will not fault him for that decision even though I think Batuman provides a good explanation as to why these works should still be read and enjoyed. Even so, consider this. By including any racist author, such as H.P. Lovecraft, VanderMeer has, to a certain degree, contradicted himself in his response to Finn. How so? Anyone who might find the stories that were included by H.P. Lovecraft enjoyable, and thus turn around to read more of Lovecraft's works on that basis, will inevitably end up reading one of Lovecraft's more racially charged works. Did Jeff VanderMeer think this far ahead when he chose to include racist authors's works that were not racially charged? Once again, if race were truly the issue, then the omission of any racist author from the volume would be the consistent thing to do. But for the sake of argument, let's just set aside the issue of race and turn our attention to VanderMeer's second response to Finn: the dismissive consideration of Howard's non-racially charged works.

For VanderMeer to tell Finn he didn't even take the time to consider other non-racially charged works by Howard is really not an answer to Finn's question. At best it's dismissive. This is especially strange given the fact that Robert E. Howard was a pioneer in the realm of weird fiction. Moreover, the back of the VanderMeers compendium reads:
"From Lovecraft to Borges to Gaiman, a century of intrepid literary experimentation has created a corpus of dark and strange stories that transcend all known genre boundaries. Together these stories from The Weird, and among its practitioners number some of the greatest names in twentieth-and-twenty-first century literature. (VanderMeer, Back Book Cover)
How does Robert E. Howard not fit into that description, especially given the fact that he set new trends in weird fiction by not only mixing tropes when no one else was, but including specific elements in his various weird stories that no other author had ever done before? The Horror from the Mound is a prime example of a "dark and strange story that transcends all known genre boundaries." Howard's work is, by definition, what the VanderMeers claim they are including in this compendium. But I'm left wondering why Jeff VanderMeer did not even consider Howard's other non-racially charged works. His response is void of a genuine answer leaving me to conclude that perhaps VanderMeer may simply be biased against Robert E. Howard and his work.

Regardless of VanderMeer's response to Finn, I highly recommend the compendium. It is well worth the price for all the great material that is included. And, it is one of the better collected volumes of weird stories in print, despite the glaring omission of one of history's pioneering weird fiction writers.


Batuman, Elif. "Reading Racist Literature - The New Yorker." The New Yorker. N.p., 13 Apr. 2015. Web. 23 June 2015.

Finn, Mark. "Less an Archive, More an Agenda." The Dark Man: The Journal O Robert E. Howard Studies 7.2 (2014): 172-74. Print.

VanderMeer, Ann, and Jeff VanderMeer. The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. New York: Tor, 2012. Print.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

When & Where by Rob Roehm

While researching for his biography of Robert E. Howard, Dark Valley Destiny, science fiction grandmaster L. Sprague de Camp had to sort through quite a lot of information, some of it contradictory. While I am not a fan of the end product of these researches, I am thankful for the notes, letters, and interview transcripts that he left behind, now stored at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. These materials help us to see when, where, and sometimes why de Camp made some of his missteps—posthumous psychoanalysis notwithstanding. Case in point:

In the summer of 1977 de Camp interviewed Wallace Howard, a first cousin of Robert E’s. Sometime after that interview, de Camp received a typed transcription of information from the Howard family Bible, which included the following:

Of particular interest is line #6, “William B. Howard, age 29, died August 2, 1888.” De Camp had a problem: William B. Howard is the name of Robert E.’s grandfather, but he lived well beyond his 29th year. So who was this W. B.?

In her February 15, 1978 letter to Fannie Dell Adamson nee McClung, another of Howard’s first cousins, de Camp’s partner Jane W. Griffin wrote:
Mr. Wallace Howard sent us some excerpts from the Bible, but without any identifying comments.  For example, a William Benjamin Howard, “only 29 years old” death is recorded.  Would this have been the first child of William Benjamin Howard and Eliza Henry?  [. . .] When and where did your grandfather William Benjamin Howard die?  Was it before or after the family came to Texas?

That April, Adamson replied:
To my knowledge Wm. B. Howard and Eliza Henry had only 3 sons and 3 daughters.  I had always thought that David Terrel was the oldest.  David T. was 25 years old when he brought family possessions from Arkansas to Texas. Wm. B. Howard and Eliza Henry were married in 1856 and David Terrel was born in 1866 – ten years later.  So it very likely could be that Wm. Benjamin Howard, Jr. could have been the first son. 
[. . .]
Not sure of the date but I have always thought that he [William B. Howard] died in Camden, Arkansas, before Eliza Henry Howard came to Texas.  She did not to my knowledge ever mention why they came to Texas.
After a September 9, 1978 telephone interview with yet another of Robert E.’s first cousins, Ollie Lorene Davis nee Howard, de Camp wrote the following note: “William Benjamin Howard [. . .] died before the family moved to Texas.”

All of the above information appeared in Dark Valley Destiny as follows: “Three sons, born to Eliza and William, were growing up. William Benjamin, Jr., the eldest, was born in 1858 and died at twenty-nine on August 2, 1888” and this:
The stable organization of the Howard family was disrupted by the death of James Henry [William B.’s father-in-law] in 1884. Perhaps on the strength of their inheritance, the Howards decided to move to Texas; but before they could complete their plans, William Benjamin Howard himself was stricken and died. Eliza Howard, determined to carry out her husband's wishes, sold her property—fine timberland—for fifty cents an acre, and with her children headed west. In 1885 she located on a farm in Limestone County, between Dallas and Austin, near Waco.

This last piece of information is repeated in the most recent Howard biography, Blood and Thunder by Mark Finn: “In 1884, when James Henry died, William and Louisa decided to make their fortune in Texas. Before the move could be orchestrated, however, William Benjamin Howard fell ill and died in 1885.” Unfortunately, all of the above appears to be incorrect.

James H. & William B. Howard's death entry from the Howard family Bible

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Patrice Louinet, who tracked down the Howard relatives who actually own the family Bible mentioned above, we now have access to the source of de Camp’s information. As the close up from the Bible shown above indicates, it was not William B. Howard who died “aged 29,” though it was his oldest son, James “Jim” H. Howard. (Family legend has this Uncle Jim buried with other members of the Howard clan at Mount Antioch Cemetery in Limestone County, Texas, though he has no marker.) It appears that Wallace Howard is the source of this particular error. He seems to have accidentally copied “aged 29” for William instead of “aged 61.” So, no William Jr.

With the easy one out of the way, let’s have a look at where Robert E. Howard’s grandfather might have died. Keep in mind, all of de Camp’s sources, granddaughters and grandsons of W. B., were fairly far removed from that bit of information. Fannie Dell McClung Adamson’s mother, Willie Price Howard McClung, died in 1919; Wallace Howard and Ollie Lorene Davis nee Howard’s father, David Terrell Howard, died in 1924, more than 50 years before de Camp came calling in the 1970s.

The first piece of information regarding the location of William B.’s death comes from Robert E. Howard himself, in this passage from his circa October 1930 letter to H. P. Lovecraft:
My branch of the Howards came to America with Oglethorpe 1733 and lived in various parts of Georgia for over a hundred years. In ’49 three brothers started for California. On the Arkansas River they split up, one went on to California where he lived the rest of his life, one went back to Georgia and one, William Benjamin Howard, went to Mississippi where he became an overseer on the plantations of Squire James Harrison Henry, whose daughter he married. In 1858 he moved, with the Henry’s, to southwestern Arkansas where he lived until 1885, when he moved to Texas. He was my grandfather.

Seems pretty clear that Robert E. Howard got these details straight from his father, Dr. Isaac M. Howard, who at that time was the last surviving child of William B. And if that’s not good enough . . .

The item seen above is from a “Widow’s Application for Pension” that was filled out by W. B.’s widow in 1910. The application clearly states that W. B. died “near Mt. Calm, Texas, on 3rd day of August in year of 1889.” This date is pretty similar to the August 2, 1888 date found in the family Bible. If Robert E. Howard’s word isn’t good enough, W. B.’s widow’s certainly should be.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Robert E. Howard Days 2015: A Report by David Piske

One day five years ago my good friend, Todd Vick (the guy responsible for this venerable blog), said to me, "Hey, you wanna take a trip next month to Cross Plains to see the home of Robert E. Howard?" I am usually game for a trip out of town to see new sights (and sites). And I am a life-long geek for sci-fi and fantasy movies and TV shows (especially Star Trek). However, I read mostly nonfiction, so naturally I replied to Todd's question with a quizzical look. "The home of who?" Thus began my interest (and education), first in Conan, then in Robert E. Howard.

The REH Days banner in front
of the REH House & Museum
 This past weekend was the third time I traveled with Todd to Cross Plains, TX for Robert E. Howard Days, and already I think this informal fan (mini-)convention is something special, with potential to become a much bigger deal. This year the informal theme of the gathering, which was fleshed out in two panels, was the relationship between Robert E. Howard and fellow pulp writer, H.P. Lovecraft. The guest of honor was Mark Schultz, an artist with a number of credits related to REH, including comics work with King Kull in Savage Sword of Conan, and illustrations in Conan the Cimmerian (by Wandering Star Books, and later reprinted in the Del Rey books). In addition to participating in a Q&A, Schultz delivered the keynote presentation at the banquet on Friday night, summarizing the history of REH-related illustrations with slides featuring the works of numerous artists including himself, Roy Krenkel, Jeffrey Jones, and (of course) Frank Frazetta.

Panel: Conan Vs. Cathulhu
Mark Finn, Jeffrey Shanks, & Scott Cupp
Like any convention, one of the biggest draws to REH Days is the panels. Or at least it should be, because the panels have improved every year I have attended, mostly due, I think, to sharpening topical focus. For me, the highlight was a panel on Saturday: "A Means of Freedom: The Letters of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft", which was about the complicated, and sometimes heated written correspondence between these two pulp titans. The panelists, Rusty Burke, Jonas Pridas, and Dierk Guenther spoke about the contours of the conversation the two writers carried on by mail from 1930 to 1936. For months I have been reading these letters, analyzing the rhetoric both men employed in their "controversy" about the relative merits of barbarism and civilization. So, naturally, I hung on every word. The panelists observed that REH developed his ideas about barbarism as he debated with Lovecraft, and that this development can be seen in the Conan stories he wrote during the course of this debate. The panel also observed how the two writers' correspondence differed from what we might expect from a similar argument today.

Panel: A Means To Freedom: Letters of REH & HPL
Rusty Burke, Jonas Pridas & Dierk Guenther
Their disagreement grew more bitter over time, yet they both continued to include details about their lives in their letters. As Guenther quipped, if such a correspondence were held today, for example over social networking, it would likely end with someone being "unfriended"!

In the panel on "REH and Gaming," Patrice Louinet, Jeffrey Shanks, and Mark Finn discussed the ongoing development of two different games. Louinet brings his attention to detail and a purist's zeal to a Conan board game being produced by Monolith Board Games. With his role in the production, he gets the final word on what characters and story details are included in the game and how they will look. Anticipation for this game is tangible. At the start of the game's Kickstarter campaign the goal was $80,000, but supporters soon blew the top off, raising a total of $3.3 million. Role playing fans also have something to look forward to. Shanks (as well as Finn and Louinet) are involved in the development of an RPG by Modiphius Entertainment called, Robert E. Howard's Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of. The game and its expansions will offer players adventures that are truer to Howard's stories than many previous adaptations of Conan. Players who got to sit down for a game test (in the living room of the Howard home) attest to its flexible game play.

The Howard Family Bible
Brad Howard, Amanda Howard-Williford,
Patrice, & Jeff Howard
 In another panel, Louinet interviewed cousins of REH, Brad and Jeff Howard, and Brad's daughter, Amanda Howard-Williford. They seemed amused and bewildered by Louinet's (and Rob Roehm's) detailed knowledge of their family history, and expressed gratitude for the dedication of fans that have kept REH's legacy alive. Panel attendees were rapt as the Howards revealed a few family artifacts. Even Louinet had not seen the items beforehand. He inspected a first edition hardcover of the Breckinridge Elkins novel, A Gent from Bear Creek, and could not contain his glee as a family Bible, published in 1857, was revealed. Louinet personally inspected its hand-written genealogy pages, discovering the names and dates of birth/death of many members of the Howard family, including REH.

Mark Schultz & Rusty Burke
In one panel Rusty Burke interviewed guest of honor, Mark Schultz. And in another, the connections between the stories of REH and HPL were discussed (highlighting especially REH's horror stories, such as "The Black Stone"). On Friday the REH Foundation awarded several people for their achievements in Howard studies. Among the winners were Deke Parsons, Jeff Shanks, Rob Roehm, and Damon Sasser. (See here for a full list of awards and winners.) Also, the yearly post-banquet "panel", Fists at the Ice House, featured a somewhat avant-garde reading-in-the-round of various Howard writings by Shanks, Finn, and Chris Gruber. Each year, behind the taxidermy shop that now stands there, it is easy to picture the gritty scene after hours at the ice house, where rough men, including Howard, exchanged blows and settled scores.  

Fun at the Pavilion
While the panels are an obvious part of the attraction to Howard Days, it is impossible to downplay the satisfaction of interacting with fellow Howard Heads. It was my pleasure to make new acquaintances with folks like Scott (comic-book enthusiast), Russell (fellow connoisseur of Earl Grey tea), Chris (generous sharer of beer), James (fan of classic blues), and Aurelia (de facto poet laureate of this year's Howard Days). Though the absence of REH Days' Scottish contingent was felt, as well.

It was also a treat to talk with Howard experts. Patrice Louinet exuded passion for REH and gratitude to Glen Lord when he spoke of the origin of his own interest in Howard. He also opined on how L. Sprague de Camp did not really rescue Conan from obscurity; given an opportunity, Donald Wollheim would have done much more for Conan's fame. And Louinet called attention to something not all REH fans have come to terms with: that Conan is an asshole. While he is compelling, a thinker, and multi-faceted, Conan's acts included attempted rape and the slaughter of innocents. Frank Coffman offered perspective on contradictions that appear in REH's ideas about barbarism, noting that Conan is a complex of characters, rather than a single, coherent character. He also suggested a source of inspiration to Howard: G.K. Chesterton, especially his "The Ballad of the White Horse." And in talking with Mark Finn at the outdoor barbecue I found affinity in our overlapping taste in beer and appreciation for art.

Cat & Barb Bq
Photo courtesy of Rob Roehm
 Speaking of the barbecue, this year it was held on the museum grounds instead of at the usual spot at Caddo Peak Ranch. I believe the change in location was due to recent rainfall and the presence of poisonous snakes. I barely missed the sunset viewed from the peak, though. My attention was monopolized by the beef brisket smoked on-site by Cat & Barb Bq.

As I would at any convention, I hunted down new additions to my collection. Opportunities to part from my money abounded; between the museum's gift shop, the swap meet, and the silent auction, it's a wonder how I will still pay my bills this month. I was outbid at the auction, yet even on my modest budget I came away with some new volumes for my Howard library. I still await a reissue of The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, but Paul Hermon explained that the release of an expanded second edition is being held up by licensing issues. One of the collectibles I will prize most from this weekend is the one I spent the least on. I will display on my bookcase the postcards that were stamped at the Cross Plains post office with a postal cancellation mark (specially designed for this year's Howard Days by Mark Schultz).

REH Gravesite at Greenleaf
Aside from the activities of Howard Days, the trip to Cross Plains provided an opportunity for a geeky side adventure. On Sunday Todd and I followed in some of REH's steps, guided by Rob Roehm's well-researched Howard's Haunts. To begin, we visited the Howard family grave site at GreenleafCemetery in Brownwood, TX. Then, we drove to Menard County, TX and explored the various buildings and ruins of the old frontier outpost, Fort McKavett. We also visited the ruins of Presidio de San Sabá, an outpost established by the Spanish in 1757 to protect the nearby mission. Howard never documented a visit to this site, but because it is on the road to McKavett, it is hard to believe he did not stop at least briefly. Visiting these sites and absorbing the Texas countryside along the way feeds my historical imagination and gives me some insight into the way Howard's environment might have shaped him.

The Presidio de San Saba

Mark Finn, Jeff Shanks & Patrice Louinet
Cross Plains was part of REH, and it is also part of REH Days. And that's part of its appeal. Howard fans do not gather in a place like San Diego. Cross Plains, and thus Howard Days, is small and out of the way. It lends a sense that those who attend just "get it", that they are in on something that no one else is. I imagine many well-known conventions started out similarly. Yet sharing one's passion is part of being a fan, too, and I get the sense that even many long-time Howard Heads believe that REH has not gotten the attention befitting one of the three great pulp writers. Accordingly, the media projects of REH evangelists like Shanks, Finn, and Louinet aim at generating a fresh wave of interest. Cross Plains can never host enormous crowds, but as interest in Howard grows, I would like to see Howard Days serve as a rallying point for both veteran and beginning fans, even if it will involve some growing pains.

 I did not know of Robert E. Howard five years ago. As a Johnny-come-lately to this party, it is easy to feel like an outsider. Such is the experience of beginning anything worthwhile. But my adventure and education in the writings of Robert E. Howard are now linked to this annual pilgrimage to Cross Plains, TX. I know I will have conversations there that I do not have anywhere else. I also now have acquaintances there that I will miss the rest of the year, and want to see again. I expect the panels to continue to stimulate, perhaps as Howard's other characters are intentionally brought out of the shadows. No doubt the deals on books and swag is a plus, but they are outweighed by the sense of history that one feels while reading Howard's poetry on his porch, visiting the ruins that ignited his imagination, and standing on the boxing spot where he might have got the crap knocked out of him a time or two, and in turn knocked the crap out of others. And did I mention the barbecue?

". . . if you come to visit me, I will do my best to entertain you. I certainly hope you will come."
—Robert E. Howard to Tevis Clyde Smith

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Rarest of Robert E. Howard Collectibles

Jeffrey Shanks has done Howard Fandom a huge favor. This past weekend at the Robert E. Howard Days (REH Days) in Cross Plains, TX, Jeff sold facsimiles of an extremely rare book; The Hyborian Age by Robert E. Howard.

As Shanks details, "In 1938, [Donald] Wollheim, along with fellow New Yorker, John Michel, teamed up with west coast fans Forrest J. Ackerman, Russell Hodgkins, and Myrtle R. Douglas ("Morojo") to print the chapbook The Hyborian Age with the publisher listed as LANY Cooperative Publications."

Apparently less than 100 copies of this book were originally created and printed. The low amount, according to Shanks, makes the book one of the "rarest and most valuable" items of Howard collectibles. In the new introduction written by Shanks for this new edited edition, he explains the history behind the original book, why it was originally compiled, and provides photographs of several of the men involved in the original edition as well as a picture of one of the original editions. According to the introduction, Howard wrote The Hyborian Age essay without the intent of publication, but Howard ended up giving Donald Wollheim a copy of the essay. Wollheim then turned around and published it in a fanzine called The Phantagraph.

The Phantagraph
Feb. 1936
 Additionally, Shanks includes a list of books that Howard used to formulate his fictional prehistoric world. Other items of note included in this facsimile are a letter from H.P. Lovecraft to Donald Wollheim, a copy of The Hyborian Age Map created by Robert E. Howard, and the essay titled "A Probable Outline of Conan's Career" by P. Schuyler Miller & John D. Clark, Ph.D.

If you missed REH Days but are still interested in obtaining a copy of this book, you can message Jeff Shanks through the Skelos Press website. I know he intends to sell more copies through that website and eventually at Amazon. I highly recommend this volume to anyone who is a Robert E. Howard fan. Not only are you getting a nice piece of history, but you are getting a wonderful facsimile of an extremely rare collectible.

2015 REHF Awards!

Congratulations to all the winners this year for the 2015 REHF Awards! 
Everyone of these is well deserved! 

The AtlanteanOutstanding Achievement, Book By a Single Author:

Deke Parsons – J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and the Birth of Modern Fantasy (McFarland 2014)

The HyrkanianOutstanding Achievement, Essay (Print)

Jeffrey Shanks – “What the Thak?: Anthropological Oddities in Howard’s Works.” REH: Two-Gun Raconteur No. 17, June 2014.

The CimmerianOutstanding Achievement, Essay (Online)

Rob Roehm – “The Legend of the Trunk (8 parts)” REH: Two-Gun Raconteur blog

The AquilonianOutstanding Achievement, Periodical

Damon Sasser — REH: Two-Gun Raconteur No. 17

The Venarium  AwardEmerging Scholar

Karen Joan Kohoutek – Contributed an essay to the TGR blog on Howard’s use of Voodoo.

The StygianOutstanding Achievement, Website

Damon Sasser, et al. – REH: Two-Gun Raconteur (Website and Blog)

The Black River AwardSpecial Achievement

Ed Chaczyk  – Organizing and promoting the online drive to raise money for repairs to the Robert E. Howard house.

The Rankin AwardArtistic Achievement in the depiction of REH’s life and/or work

Tom Gianni – Cover art for Fists of Iron, Round 3 (REHF Press)

The Black Circle AwardLifetime Achievement (at least 20 years)

Karl Edward Wagner (posthumous)

Black Circle Award Nominee for next year’s ballot

Roy Thomas