Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Lost Correspondence: Robert E. Howard and Stuart M. Boland by Bobby Derie

In the the Summer 1945 issue of a fanzine called The Acolyte was published a short memoir called “Interlude with Lovecraft” by Stuart Morton Boland, which began:

In the Spring of 1935 I was making a library survey tour of the European continent. At the quaint little hill town of Orvieto, in Italy, I came upon an amazing mural high on the walls of the local Duomo or Cathedral. The painting represented mighty figures of ebon-hued men (not angels or demons) with great wings, flying through etheric space carrying beauteous pinionless mortals--men and women who were rapturously accompanying them in their voyage through eternity.
I photographed the scene and sent a print to Robert E. Howard, telling him it reminded me of one of his Conan stories. With the print I included a colored reproduction of a rare illuminated manuscript of the 10th Century which I had seen in the Royal Archives at Budapest. Howard, for some reason, sent this facsimile to Lovecraft, asking if he thought his Necronomicon would look anything like the reproduction of the parchment.
Three months later, when I reached my home by the Presidio in San Francisco, I found awaiting me two letters from Howard and an extensive missive from Lovecraft. [...] In my reply to HPL, I stated that I thought his opinion was well-founded, and furthermore that the references of both men to odd ancient gods were ideas they must have borrowed from Mayan, Toltec, and Aztec mythology. (Boland 15)

This presents an interesting example of the consideration of historical evidence, because aside from statements from Boland, there is no direct evidence that Boland and Robert E. Howard ever corresponded. Boland wrote to Glenn Lord in the late 1950s:

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Bootleggers & Gangsters: A Day in the Life of Robert E. Howard By Todd B. Vick

Prior to Robert E. Howard owning an automobile it was his custom when no ride was available, and he wanted to go somewhere, to simply start walking down the road until he could hitch a ride with a willing passerby. This practice is confirmed by his father, Dr. I.M. Howard, in a June 21, 1944 letter to E. Hoffman Price. Dr. Howard told Price, “[I] have known him to start hitchhiking to Ft. Worth or Brownwood to see a fight before he owned a car of his own. And when he was just [a] slender youth.”[1] Going to fights was not the only reason Robert would take off down the road attempting to hitch a ride to his destination. He also hitched when he wanted to go see friends, movies, and on occasions when he just wanted to explore.

East Pecan Street
Coleman, Texas; circa late 1920s
In a September 5, 1928 letter to Harold Preece, Robert describes how he and Tevis Clyde Smith “walked out on the highway, with no program in view, no idea or especial wish.”[2] On this occasion, Smith and Howard simply wanted to see where the road took them. They were out exploring, and agreed to accept a ride from the first car that stopped, no matter who it was. They were eventually picked up by a friend, “a most interesting man, who was in his younger days a rover and a wanderer, a detective, a tramp, and other things better left unmentioned.”[3] This friend was driving around with a young school teacher (neither of whom are named in the letter). The friend and teacher were basically doing the same thing as Smith and Howard: they wanted to see where the road took them. So, Smith and Howard jumped into the car and the four of them drove around the countryside for a spell until they arrived at Coleman, Texas. Coleman is a “town some thirty miles west of Cross Plains.” They “spent some time at a bootleg joint just outside the outskirts of town, both going there and returning thence.”[4]

While at this bootleg joint, Howard ran into an old-timer, who was around 80 years old, whom Howard had known for some time. Howard bought the old-timer a beer and listened to his stories while everyone else did their own thing. The place was probably hopping with a few locals who knew the joint existed. When I initially read Howard’s account it struck me as odd. First, in Central and West Texas in the middle of Prohibition, bootlegging operations were simple and small, located in areas in the sticks away from any town and difficult to reach. Second, these operations typically contained only a small distillery run by one or two people. And they were intentionally located in hard to reach places to keep others away, such as a small hole in the sides of hills, or the walls of creek and/or river beds. This was also to keep the outfit hidden from the Texas Rangers who were busy shutting these small operations down. Moreover, the alcohol that was made at these small operations were bottled on site and distributed away from the operation itself. So, for Howard and his friends to be at a bootleg joint that was large enough to serve people on site was extremely rare. It also probably meant the local police were aware of the place and were paid in cash and alcohol to look the other way. I found this interesting enough to include it in a research road trip I was doing in and around Coleman, Texas. What I managed to dig up is, to say the least, quite intriguing.