Thursday, April 19, 2018

Conan and the Acolyte: Robert E. Howard and F. T. Laney by Bobby Derie

I had previously read the January or February 193[7] WT with a Rimel story in it, and had been utterly unimpressed.— F. T. Laney, Ah, Sweet Idiocy! 2

Weird Tales, Jan. 1937
Duane W. Rimel’s story “The Disinterment” appeared in the January 1937 issue of Weird Tales; if Francis Towner Laney read the magazine through to ‘The Eyrie’, the letters pages of the magazine, he would have run across Clifford Ball’s “In Appreciation of Howard”—an homage to Robert E. Howard, the Texan pulpster who had died the year before. That would likely have been his first introduction to Howard.

F. T. Laney occupies an odd place in Howard scholarship. He missed the period when Howard was actively writing and didn’t come to pulp and fantasy fandom until about 1939. He rose to prominence in the early-to-mid 1940s as a member of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society, the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA), and as editor and publisher of The Acolyte fanzine (1942-1946), which was devoted primarily to H. P. Lovecraft. Yet being where he was when he was, and a vocal part of fandom, Laney ended up being at the confluence of a good deal of Howardian interest and ended up playing a silent but important role in Robert E. Howard’s legacy.

In the course of being an editor of a Lovecraft-oriented fanzine and searching out material, Laney came into contact with a number of Lovecraft’s correspondents, including Clark Ashton Smith, Duane W. Rimel, F. Lee Baldwin, Emil Petaja, Fritz Leiber, H. C. Koenig, Nils H. Frome, R. H. Barlow, August Derleth, Donald and Howard Wandrei, F. J. Ackerman, E. Hoffmann Price, and Stuart M. Boland; many of whom were also correspondents with Robert E. Howard, and it was largely through these contacts that Laney became in contact with things Howardian.

Laney got in touch with F. Lee Baldwin through their mutual friend Duane W. Rimel, and beginning in December 1942 Baldwin began working on material for The Acolyte, both in terms of a regular column (“Within the Circle,” a continuation of Baldwin’s column from The Fantasy Fan in the ‘30s), and writing to former pulpsters and their correspondents for material. (Laney 13) As part of this mailing campaign, in early 1943 Baldwin contacted Robert E. Howard’s friend F. Thurston Torbett, looking for information on Howard for a potential article, which can be read in F. Thurston Torbett and F. Lee Baldwin on Robert E. Howard. The correspondence stretched into 1944, and Baldwin’s article on Howard never appeared, nor did he mention the Texan in any of his other articles in The Acolyte.

CAS, Laney, & Bob Hoffman, circa 1940s
In November 1943, Laney moved to Los Angeles, California, where he met pulpsters like Emil Petaja and Fritz Leiber, and fans like Forrest J. Ackerman. Robert H. Barlow, the young literary executor of Lovecraft’s estate, had moved to San Francisco in 1938-1939, where he began attending university and indulging in fan projects, including one small press-effort to publish a collection of Robert E. Howard’s poems. Barlow began contributing to The Acolyte with the Summer 1943 issue, though his only direct contribution regarding Howard would be the Barlow-Lovecraft satire “The Battle That Ended the Century” (The Acolyte Fall 1944); more on Barlow and Howard’s can be read in The Two Bobs: Robert E. Howard and Robert H. Barlow.

E. Hoffmann Price had returned to his native California in 1934, stopping along the way to visit Robert E. Howard in Cross Plains, Texas, and settling near San Francisco. He became a friend and correspondent with Barlow; who even visited Price accompanied by an aged James F. Morton in 1939. (BOD 53, 355-357) It is not clear when exactly Laney got in touch with the native Californian but a letter from Price to Laney, dated 22 July 1944, on the subject of Robert E. Howard, was published in The Acolyte #9 (Winter 1945). This may have been inspired by Price’s essay “Robert E. Howard” in the fanzine Diablerie #4 (May 1944), as Laney was a friend of the publisher Bill Watson (Laney 31), or maybe it came from the same place as F. Lee Baldwin’s questions to F. Thurston Torbett.

Whatever the case, Price began contributing letters to The Acolyte, beginning with The Acolyte #7, then the letter concerning Howard in #9, and letter in #10 (Spring 1945) announcing the death of Dr. Isaac M. Howard:

This letter from E. Hoffman Price missed the last Acolyte by one day:
Dr. I M. Howard ((father of Robert E. Howard)) died in Ranger, Texas, Sunday night, November 12, 1944. Dr. P. M. Kuykendall, West Texas Hospital, Ranger, Texas wired me. While I could have wired a floral tribute for the funeral, November 15, I sent Dr. K. a box of Cuban made cigars, saying that as between flowers in a cemetary [sic] and weeds on his desk, I preferred the latter. In that Dr. Howard's surviving kinfolk had ignored him during the closing years of his life, I should not, even had I their addresses, care to offer condolences; that instead I preferred that my final expressions of respect and esteem for the late Dr. Howard be tendered to Dr. Kuykendall, colleague, and perhaps friend as well, of the departed.
So I wrote a paragraph: "He faced bereavement and loneliness and old age without complain; stoically, never voicing anything querulous or bitter or self pitying; so that it would have been bellittling to have felt sorry for him. Darkness and death; he knew both were near, and he faced them alone, adn with a steadfastness that we survivors could well accept as a pattern, in our own eventual time.
"I had been worrying lest his sight fail before the memorial edition of his son's collected stories went to press; included in the foreword was a personality sketch, condensed draft of which Dr. Howard read some months ago. And now I hear that darkness and death came together."

Shortly after Dr. Howard’s death, Price would receive a considerable amount of Robert E. Howard material—the Kuykendalls, heirs to the Howard estate, sent Price a considerable number of Howard’s unpublished manuscripts and letters; R. H. Barlow, who had gone to Mexico by this time, also sent Price a microfilm containing a number of Howard’s poems. The timeline of events becomes somewhat confused at this point, but several things happen:

       Price became associated with a fan named Stuart M. Boland, a resident of San Francisco, who has previously been a correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft
       Boland wrote “An Interlude with Lovecraft,” describing his correspondence with Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, which was published in The Acolyte #11 (Summer 1945)
       Price lent Boland some of the Howard materials
       Boland subsequently loaned these materials to Laney:

E.H.P. wrote to me about some letters which had been written by Bob Howard to him some time before the latter’s demise. I was under the impression that I had returned all the material E.H. had given me when he requested the return of H. P. Lovecraft’s epistles to him for Arkham House—Previously I had sent all duplicate material to a fellow named (Don?) Laney in Los Angeles at E. H.’s request. Laney was the publisher of a top-notch S.F. fan mgz. However, I shall check diligently for any stray material and send it on to you if located.
—Stuart M. Boland to Glenn Lord, 5 May 1958

All I can give you is a ‘Remembrance of Robert Howard’ based on what I recall of his correspondence. Laney had all the original papers and missives.
—Stuart M. Boland to Glenn Lord, 1 Feb 1959
(quoted from Roehm 25 Feb 2014)

Whether Boland wrote the article before or after Price lent him the Howard materials is unclear. The details of the transactions are traced by Rob Roehm in "The Legend of the Trunk" and in the article A Lost Correspondence: Robert E. Howard and Stuart M. Boland. In The Acolyte #12 (Fall 1945), Price responded to Boland’s article with an enthusiastic letter on Lovecraft and Howard, and Laney himself added that:

We have a series contemplated by Boland that promises to develop into our most interesting feature.

It is not clear what this feature was to be—however, at this point Laney had already published a memoir on Howard from E. Hoffmann Price, a Lovecraft/Barlow collaboration that featured Howard prominently, and an article on a correspondence with Lovecraft and Howard; further, he had access to the materials from “the trunk” that had been lent from Price (via Boland), and possibly other materials on Howard from Baldwin and others; Laney had noted in 1942 he “got a passel of desirable HPLiana from Cook and Edkins and Barlow.” (Laney 18) and in a letter to August Derleth dated 16 Mar 1943 Laney says: “So far I have unpublished pics of you, Howard, Price, Long, Smith, and three different views of Lovecraft.” At the time the Acolyte finished publication, Laney claimed there was “material for 2 1/2 to 3 more issues” (Laney 126)
If Laney had planned publication of something on or by Robert E. Howard, there would be almost no one else in 1945 with access to the depth and breadth of material to do so. Despite this, the final two issues of The Acolyte (Winter and Spring 1946) feature no such article series. We do know at least one item which Laney had planned but never got around to publishing:

Among the things we have in view are: the long-delayed montage of WT authors, accompanied by brief (200 word) biographies; a history of the magazine, written largely from the point of view of literary criticism; a catalog of issues (not an index) for the benefit of collectors; an article dealing with WT's various pulp rivals (Ghost Stories, Strange, and the ret); and perhaps a short article on the better WT Artists.
We would appreciate it tremendously if you could find time to jot down a list of the WT authors from 1923 to date whom you consider are worthy of being mentioned. Many of course are obvious: HPL, CAS, yourself, Howard, etc.
—Francis T. Laney to August Derleth, 27 Jun 1944

We get hints of Laney’s appreciation for Robert E. Howard, but there’s a real question about how much of his fiction that Laney actually read. He hit fandom at that weird moment in which he might have caught the last dregs of Howard’s original fiction, such as the novel Almuric which was serialized May-Jun-Aug 1939 in Weird Tales, or reprints like “Worms of the Earth” (WT Oct 1939); but after that the early 40s were a dry spell as far as Howard’s weird fiction seeing print or reprint, with book publication several years away, when “The Black Stone” was published in Sleep No More (1944). Yet Laney had the good fortune of having friends Duanw W. Rimel and F. Lee Baldwin. In late 1943, to augment his article “The Cthulhu Mythos: A Glossary” for Arkham House, Laney:

[...] induced Baldwin to loan his file of WEIRD TALES (I already was storing Rimel’s for him) and asked Derleth if he could help me out on certain of the stories whic[h] were still unavailable to me. His help was prompt and generous, not only did he send me detailed notes on several tales which I did not have at hand, but he also sent me the carbons of the totally unpublished “Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”. I set to work, and read exhaustively everything by HPL and Clark Ashton Smith, making copious notes from scratch. Not content with this, I skimmed every issue of WT in the house (1925 to date) and read carefully anything that seemed to have a bearing on the research. (Laney 17)

Laney’s article “The Cthulhu Mythology” in The Acolyte #2 (Winter 1942) is most notable for containing no mention of Robert E. Howard whatsoever, attributing the “Serpent-men” and “Valusia” to Clark Ashton Smith, and Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt to Lovecraft. The revised essay, “The Cthulhu Mythos: A Glossary” which appeared in Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1943) includes Howard among the creators of the Mythos, correctly attributes the Serpent Men, Valusia, and Unaussprechlichen Kulten to the Texan, and giving as a list of his Mythos stories:

Howard, Robert E.: Dig Me No Grave, The Black Stone, The Devil in Iron, The Footsteps Within, The Thing on the Roof, The Valley of the Worm (423)

Which misses quite a bit, but gives an indication of what of Howard’s fiction Laney had read. Other things were afoot in Howard publishing, however. Wartime paper shortages had impacted the publishing schedule of Arkham House, but founders Donald Wandrei and August Derleth were still looking for writers and material to publish. In 1944, Laney wrote to Derleth

You are correct in your evaluation of REH as a great ‘story-teller’ rather than a great writer. His stuff is still great entertainment material, though; and I believe that the great gobs of raw, almost crude, color which he splashed around so copiously will make his collection one of Arkham’s most popular volumes. —Francis T. Laney to August Derleth, 3 Aug 1944

Laney wasn’t the only voice asking for a Howard volume, and in The Acolyte #7 (Summer 1944), Derleth wrote:

Out Of Space And Time, by Smith, is now out of print, as I wrote that it soon would be. . .A Hodgson and a Howard collection will be coming along soon, probably in 1945; and my novel, The Trail of Cthulhu, in 1946.

Derleth placed an advertisement for Skull-Face and Others in The Acolyte #10 (Spring 1945), although it ultimately wouldn’t be released until 1946. Laney was very much a promoter of the Arkham House publications, both in The Acolyte and in the LASFS organ Shangri-L’Affaires which he occasionally edited, and even wrote to Derleth on 31 July 1945 about Crawford’s The Garden of Fear and Other Stories, worried that Crawford might be violating copyrights by reprinting stories from Howard and Lovecraft in that chapbook.

There was some tangential references to Howard in The Acolyte. Henry Hasse’s story “Horror at Vecra” is a Cthulhu Mythos tale that references the Nemedian Chronicles, perhaps the first writer to so reference Howard’s Conan tales in a Mythos milieu, in issue #5. In issue #6, RAH Hoffmann’s “Arcana of Arkham-Auburn,” recounting a visit to Clark Ashton Smith, says “We discussed many things and people” including “R. E. Howard"; in the same issue Robert Bloch offers some corrections to Laney’s article “The Cthulhu Mythology” including references to Howard (although Bloch was mostly incorrect):

Bran    Remote realm mentioned by Howard and used by HPL in Whisperer in Darkness.
The Black Stone         Figures importantly, of course, in Machen and Howard. HPL used references to its cryptic talismanic significance in Whisperer in Darkness.

Bloch’s errors probably came from unfamiliarity with Howard’s work, as given in Bloch vs. Conan; still, it’s curious neither he nor Laney ever mentioned “Worms of the Earth.” Howard Wakefield in his article on “Little Known Fantaisistes” in The Acolyte #10 added “‘Floki's Blade’ resembles somewhat the heroic tales of the late Robert E. Howard.” Wakefield’s comments may have spurred Laney’s thoughts when he was writing "Criteria for Criticism: The Preliminary to a Survey" which appeared in The Acolyte #11, where he wrote:

A mood of hero worship, often blended subtly with weird horror, may be found in many stories of Robert E. Howard's Conan series is probably the outstanding example of this type; others in the genre include E. Hoffman Price's Bayonne stories and the Grey Mouser series of Fritz Leiber, Jr.

Francis T. Laney’s interest in The Acolyte, and fandom in general, waned after the end of World War II. By 1947 Laney had largely retired from fandom over many internal disputes and personality clashes, “gafiating” from fandom with the publication of a book-length “tell all” memoir Ah, Sweet Idiocy! (1948) through FAPA. Laney died of bone cancer in 1958...and there the tale is almost ended.

Several people have written me wanting Lovecraft material, apparently for themselves, but F.T.L. must have returned or disposed of any he had at least three years before he died; probably earlier. Then too, [Charles] Burbee could have gotten it from him, as he did so much elese [sic].
—Edith Campbell Laney to August Derleth, 21 Aug 1960

F. T. Laney had a considerable amount of Lovecraftiana, and thanks to Stuart M. Boland, R. H. Barlow, and others probably not an inconsiderable amount of Howardiana as well; it is not clear what became of his photograph of Robert E. Howard, for example. Glenn Lord sent letters to Edith Laney asking after the material, but responded in the negative:

As soon as I can find a bit of time I’ll get into Francis’ files and see if the tear sheets of Howard’s material and the Lovecraft correspondence is there.
—Edith Campbell Laney to Glenn Lord, 6 Feb 1959

I have, at last, gone through all Mr. Laney’s effects. I did not find either the tear sheets or the Howard-Lovecraft correspondence. I am sorry. Neither did I find reference or correspondence which would have indicated where they might be. Will keep your letter and if anything should turn up will let you know.
—Edith Campbell Laney to Glenn Lord, 25 Apr 1959
(quoted from Roehm 25 Feb 2014)

In 1965, Lord was made the agent for the Howard Estate, and began looking for Laney’s material again. The trail led back to Boland, who claimed:

A typist who was copying them for Brother Laney mentioned their existence quite some time ago. She wishes to remain anonymous but she may be prevailed upon to reveal (or at least disclose) the info. Since she was not paid for the typing she is not too happy about science fiction people in general. She is not a fan & her interests lie outside this field.
—Stuart M. Boland to Glenn Lord, 16 Aug 1965
(quoted from Roehm 1 Apr 2014)

It isn’t clear who this “typist” was—or why Laney would even need a typist to copy the materials. Lord was suspicious, but sent a check—and received a substantial amount of the lost Howard materials. It is also not clear whether Boland had received the materials back from Laney some point before his death, or if his widow had returned them sometime afterwards. Whatever the case, the caretaking of these materials was one of the small services Laney had unknowingly accomplished for Lovecraft fans and scholars.

BOD    Book of the Dead Friends of Yesteryear: Fictioneers & Others

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