Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Lost Weird Anthology, 1931-1933 by Bobby Derie

History is littered with unrealized literary projects—books that were never written, anthologies that were never published. While the primary market of writers like Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith was the pulp magazines, they continued efforts to see their fiction published in book form—efforts which, for Lovecraft and Howard, amounted to relatively little during their lifetimes, besides a handful of placements in the British “Not At Night” anthologies, as well as Dashiell Hammett’s Creeps by Night (1931) collection and a few small-press or self-publishing efforts on the part of Lovecraft.

One of the most interesting of these failed projects is also one of the most elusive, as little correspondence from the main players has survived. However, thanks to the pulp gossip mill that was Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft, we can trace something of the development of what would have been a classic weird anthology. The trail begins in the summer of 1931:

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Happy 112th, Robert E. Howard

Today, January 22nd, is Robert E. Howard's 112th birthday. 

The general tradition in Howard fandom is to read a story by Howard and while doing so, imbibe your favorite beverage!

So . . . Here's to the first of all dog brothers . . . Cheers!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Fan Mail: Bloch vs. Conan by Bobby Derie

Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian wandered into the pages of Weird Tales with “The Phoenix on the Sword” (Dec 1932), and was followed by “The Scarlet Citadel” (Jan 1933), “The Tower of the Elephant” (Mar), “Black Colossus” (Jun), “The Slithering Shadow” (Sep), “The Pool of the Black One” (Oct), "Rogues in the House" (Jan 1934), "Shadows in the Moonlight" (Apr), "Queen of the Black Coast" (May), "The Haunter of the Ring" (Jun), "The Devil in Iron" (Aug), and the serial "The People of the Black Circle" (Sep-Oct-Nov). Much of the response in “The Eyrie,” the letters-column of Weird Tales, was positive...but in the November 1934 issue there was a letter aimed at the popular series character:

A Crack At Conan
Conan is rapidly becoming a stereotyped hero, but I was greatly pleased with Francis Flagg, a real writer, with something to say. I am awfully tired of poor old Conan the Cluck, who for the past fifteen issues has every month slain a new wizard, tackled a new monster, come to a violent sudden end that was averted (incredibly enough!) in just the nick of time, and won a new girlfriend, each of whose penchant for nudism won her a place of honor, either on the cover or on the inner illustration. Such has been Conan’s history, and from the realms of the Kushites to the lands of Aquilonia, from the shores of the Shemites to the palaces of Dyme-Novell-Bolonia, I cry: “Enough of this brute and his iron-thewed sword-thrusts-may he be sent to Valhalla to cut out paper dolls.” I would like to see the above tirade in print—I feel sure that many of your other readers would support me—at least there is good material there for an arguement. [Sharpen your axes, you loyal supporters of the Conan tales, for soon we shall publish a short story by Mr. Bloch, the author of the above letter. It is entitled The Secret in the Tomb.—The Editor.]

Robert Bloch
The writer was Robert Bloch, a teenaged fan who was, by coincidence, just about to make his professional debut in Weird Tales. Bloch had begun corresponding with H. P. Lovecraft in 1933 (LRB 9), and as was quite natural for Lovecraft, he shared his thoughts on Robert E. Howard:

Robert E. Howard is a most unusual character—the son of a physician in the wild & woolly, rip-roaring West Texas country, which is actually much more like the sanguinary West of chap fiction than we commonly realise. Howard is 27, & is probably the greatest living authority on the history & traditions of the Southwest, & the lives of America’s noted outlaws. He is a burly, athletic chap fonder of fighting than of literature, & possessed of the curious belief that primitive barbarism is a more desirable sort of social organisation than civilisation. His letters have a greater literary value than his tales. (LRB 23)

You are also right in assuming that Robert E. Howard has never been to Britain. So far as I know, he has never been east of New Orleans—but his imagination is limitless, & he closely identified himself with his Celtic & Norse ancestors. As for his incessant swordplay—which Clark Ashton Smith calls “monotonous manslaughter”—that is undoubtedly an outgrowth of the same frontier psychology which makes him so fond of barbaric life. It is a part of his personality, & I don’t suppose it could be eradicated without upsetting the whole emotional arrangement which makes him a literary creator. He has a very vivid sense of incredible antiquity, & finely suggests the existence of unhallowed elder worlds & forgotten reaches of time. (LRB 28)

Although Lovecraft credited Smith with describing the Conan tales as “monotonous manslaughter,” the phrase is not apparent in Smith’s published letters and may have arisen from Lovecraft himself. Bloch was generally appreciative of Howard’s fiction, a letter to “The Eyrie” published in the April 1934 issue praised “The Valley of the Worm,” though he derided Conan, writing:

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Fan Mail: Prohibition in “The Souk” by Bobby Derie

Then in the early spring of 1403 there came to him, in an inner court of his pleasure-palace at Brusa, where he lolled guzzling the forbidden wine and watching the antics of naked dancing girls, certain of his emirs, bringing a tall Frank whose grim scarred visage was darkened by the suns of far deserts.
—Robert E. Howard, “Lord of Samarcand” in Oriental Stories (Spring 1932)

Farnsworth Wright
In 1930, Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright struck out with a new pulp: Oriental Stories, tales of historical adventure and Orientalist fancy, set in an “Exotic East” of the imagination—of the sort popularized by the likes of Harold Lamb and Sax Rohmer, shades of Yellow Peril and the Crusades. This was a risky venture in many respects, due to the state of the Popular Fiction Company’s finances and the Great Depression, and the decision was made for Weird Tales and Oriental Stories to shift to quarterly publication for a period—to the dismay of many Weird Tales regulars. (For more on which, see Scott Connor’s “Weird Tales and the Great Depression” in The Robert E. Howard Reader). Wright had considerable talent to draw on, including Weird Tales regulars and enthusiasts of the Orient like Otis Adelbert Kline and E. Hoffmann Price.

Robert E. Howard landed a novelette in the first issue, “The Voice of El-Lil” (Nov 1930), and followed it with others: “The Blood of Belshazzar” (Autumn 1931), “Red Blades of Black Cathay” (with Tevis Clyde Smith, Feb-Mar 1931), “Hawks of Outremer” (Apr-May-Jun 1931), and “The Sowers of the Thunder” (Winter 1932). The latter was a story of Baibars the Panther, written at Wright’s own request, inspired by the editor’s reading of Harold Lamb’s The Crusades: The Flame of Islam (1931). Wright followed up the purchase of “The Sowers of Thunder” by “hinting Tamerlane as a fit subject for an Oriental Story story.” (CL2.196, 222) Howard obliged by writing “Lord of Samarcand” which appeared in the Spring 1932 issue.