Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard (2020, WordFire press), a review by Bobby Derie

The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard (2020, WordFire press). Edited by M. Scott Lee, foreword by Paul Di Filippo. ISBN 978-68057-098-4.

By 2020, nearly every word that Robert E. Howard wrote has been published in some form or another. Collections of his fiction began with Skull-Face and Others (1946, Arkham House), and since then there have been dozens of books published, focused on any number of themes. Any new collection of Robert E. Howard’s fiction must be evaluated against all the others that have come before. Readers want to know if there are any stories or poems they haven’t read, if there is any art or essays that add to the overall value.

This is all the more important now that many of Howard’s original pulp stories have entered the public domain in various parts of the world. Many of his stories are available for free online on Wikisource or Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive. It has never been easier for any random individual to grab the text of the stories off the internet, compile them in a word processor, and have it published in a professional-looking ebook, paperback, or hardback.

Which is essentially what we have with
The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard. This book collects Howard’s stories “The Shadow Kingdom,” “Skull-Face,” “The Children of the Night,” “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth,” “The Black Stone,” “People of the Dark,” “Worms of the Earth,” “The Thing on the Roof,” “The Haunter of the Ring,” “The Fire of Asshurbanipal,” “Dig Me No Grave,” and the round-robin story “The Challenge From Beyond” written by C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long. All of which works are claimed to be in the public domain.

Is this every Cthulhu Mythos story Robert E. Howard wrote? Strictly speaking, no. Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors (1987, Baen) edited by David Drake includes the 1932 poem “Arkham,” along with various other Howard stories that aren’t directly related to the Mythos. Nameless Cults: The Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of Robert E. Howard (2001, Chaosium) includes “The Little People,” “The Hoofed Thing,” and fragments completed and incomplete such as “The Abbey,” “The Black Bear Bites,” “The House in the Oaks” (completed by August Derleth), “The Door to the World” (completed by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.), and “Black Eons” (completed by Robert M. Price).

Diligent Howard scholars might add the original draft of “The Phoenix on the Sword” with its references to “Cthulhu, Tsathogua, Yog-Sothoth, and the Nameless Old Ones,” or the various drafts of “Isle of the Eons” (which Price based his story on). Yet these bits and pieces are not in the public domain, not even available online. A case could also be made for excerpts from some of Lovecraft and Howard’s letters discussing the Mythos; so too, any number of other Howard stories related to Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Kull, Turlogh Dubh O’Brien and Conan the Cimmerian could have been included, since the settings intersect in various ways. H. P. Lovecraft mentioned “Bran” in “The Whisperer in Darkness” and Howard “the Bran cult” in “The Children of the Night,” so it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to include “The Dark Man,” for example.

So, The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard does not have absolutely everything. It also has no art, aside from a lovely stark black-and-white cover, “Spawn of the stars” by Sofyan Syarief. What else should a Howard Mythos collection have to give value for the money spent on it? What else should a reader expect?

Ideally, some sort of explanatory notes or essays on the story. Something that puts the texts in the wider context of the Mythos at large. David Drake did a bit of this in his 1987 introduction; Robert M. Price went one better and had notes on each individual story. The moderately obscure collection Mythos: The Myths and Tales of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (2011, Numen Books) includes a literary essay by M. Alan Kazlev. I myself wrote “From Cimmeria to R’lyeh: Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft,” an essay on the relationship of Lovecraft and Howard, and how it influenced their Mythos fiction which was included in the German collection Der Mythos des Cthulhu (2020, Festa). The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard (2008, Del Rey), which contains many of these stories and others, includes an introduction by noted Howard Scholar Rusty Burke and notes on the original texts.

Wordfire Press turned to Paul Di Filippo, noted writer of science fiction and weird fiction. There’s no doubt that Di Filippo generally knows his stuff, and he’s not above pointing out that “Skull-Face” isn’t technically a Mythos story, and that “The Challenge From Beyond” only is because Lovecraft decided to actually inject some plot. However, despite his considerable talent, he’s not really a Mythos scholar. So he misses a lot of the fine details, content to summarize some stories and quote from others.

The result is fine for beginners to Howard or Lovecraft who don’t know any better, who are tired of staring at a screen and just want a nice hardback or paperback collection of Howard’s Mythos stories (most of them, anyway) curated for them. It is a well-made book, and the stories are pure Robert E. Howard...but it’s also nothing that anyone else could do, grabbing texts off the internet. 

Which is going to be an issue going forward; we have already seen this kind of thing happening with H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction, the market flooded with innumerable editions. The peril of the public domain is caveat emptor: the same stories are there to be re-packaged and sold by multiple different publishers, then it is up to the reading public to decide what they want—and what they will pay for. The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard may not represent the nadir of laziness in this regard, but it is definitely a tidemarker: how much work actually went into this book? What is the point of it, beyond making money? What does it give you that you can’t already get better or cheaper somewhere else?

The answer to those questions is not much, not much, and an introduction by Paul Di Filippo, respectively. If that is worth your hard-earned money, have at it.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

What’s in a Name?: Discovering the Origin of Solomon Kane’s Name by Todd B. Vick


In early 1935, Robert E. Howard sent a letter to his friend Alvin Earl Perry. In this letter, Howard briefly delineates the origins of his popular characters: El Borak (Francis Xavier Gordon), Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane, King Kull, and Conan. For some of these characters, this is the only place Robert explains their creative origin. With such scant information given, we are left to piece together other aspects of their origin from other various sources and historical data. In the case of Solomon Kane, here Howard explains that he created the character when he was in high school, at around age sixteen. Nothing further is provided except this explanation: “[Solomon Kane] was probably the result of an admiration for a certain type of cold, steely nerved duelist that existed in the sixteenth century.” (CL 3.287)  

Solomon Kane (Ken Kelly)

Howard’s admiration for a cold, steely nerved duelist stems from a number of likely sources, most of which come from his reading of Rafael Sabatini, coupled with Rudyard Kipling’s, Arthur O. Friel’s, and H. Rider Haggard’s swashbuckling sword duels and jungle settings. A more detailed look into Howard’s influences and the creation of Solomon Kane are in the upcoming biography Renegades and Rogues. For now, let's leave those details alone in this article, since those elements present Howard’s use of those writers, the development of the character, and their stories to create the settings, sword-play, and various plot devices used for his Solomon Kane stories. But what about the name, Solomon Kane? Where did Howard come up with his character’s name? What details do we know about that?

There has been some previous speculation about the dour Puritan’s name. Howard never explains in any letter or essay how he conjured Solomon Kane's name. At a previous Howard Days, it was suggested that the name was a combination of two Biblical people: King Solomon, the wise and wealthy, if flawed, Hebrew King, and Cain, an aggressive but pious murderer. Howard did enjoy several Old Testament stories, though he was partial to Saul, the first Hebrew King (CL 2.208), and the story of Samson. With regard to King Solomon, Howard told Lovecraft in a June 1931 letter that he lost interest in Biblical history after King David, calling Solomon “a typical Oriental ruler.” (CL 2.208) While there is likely more to unpack in the notion that Solomon Kane is a combination of King Solomon and Cain (changed to Kane), the idea is novel, but ultimately seems to be a bit of a stretch. It’s possible that Howard may have used Dr. Solomon Chambers’ first name. Dr. Chambers was a friend of the Howards who practiced medicine with Dr. Howard in and around the Cross Cut and Burkett, Texas area. But there is still too much uncertainty as to why or where Howard derived the ‘Kane’ portion.

Recently, Kurt B. Shoemaker’s zine, “The Happiest Blue Elephant,” was published in PEAPS (The Pulp Era Amateur Press Society). In Shoemaker's zine there is a section titled “‘Sir Piegan Passes’ by W.C. Tuttle.” (PEAPS #31, 15 June 2020) In this section Shoemaker discusses Tuttle’s story (“Sir Piegan Passes”) that was published in Adventure 10 August 1923. Shoemaker summarizes Tuttle’s story and explains how it was used for several silent films during Tuttle’s early writing career. Shoemaker also details each film based on “Sir Piegan Passes.” Whether Shoemaker realized it or not, he dropped a small bomb on the history and speculation about where Howard may have derived the name Solomon Kane. “Solomon Kane’s heart would, if properly broken up, have made a number of perfectly good arrowheads. His conscience, if properly cut to certain lengths, would have made any number of perfectly good corkscrews. Outside of that, Solomon Kane was normal.” (Adventure XLII.1.121)  

Adventure  (10 August 1923)

When Tuttle’s story was published in the August 10, 1923 edition of Adventure magazine, Howard had been reading the magazine for approximately two years. Tuttle’s story published when Howard was just seventeen, near the age he declared (about sixteen) when he claims he created Solomon Kane. Tuttle’s character, Solomon Kane, is used pretty much throughout the story. What are we to make of this? Is it a mere coincidence that Tuttle and Howard concocted the same name for a character? It seems possible, but unlikely. Howard certainly read W. C. Tuttle’s works; his personal library contained almost a dozen Adventure magazines with Tuttle’s stories in them. Is it possible that Howard created his character around age sixteen but had not yet established a name for him? Then along comes Tuttle's "Sir Piegan Passes" providing Howard with a name. It is quite conceivable that Howard did, in fact, read Tuttle’s story from this issue of Adventure.

Howard loved Adventure, he declared on several occasions it was one of his favorite magazines. Moreover, several authors who immensely influenced Howard’s own work were regulars in Adventure: Talbot Mundy, Harold Lamb, and Rafael Sabatini. Howard would have gone out of his way to read these author’s stories. And, two of them (Talbot Mundy and Harold Lamb) appeared in the August 10 1923 Adventure along with Tuttle’s story. Add this fact to the fact that reading material was so scarce in and around Cross Plains, Texas, that Howard was prone to read everything he could get his hands on, and read it thoroughly. The implication here is that if Howard owned this magazine, he would have read it from cover to cover.

There are vast differences between Tuttle’s and Howard’s Kanes. Tuttle’s story, “Sir Piegan Passes” is a western. Tuttle’s Solomon Kane is an assayer in Micaville, who is less than reputable and does his best to swindle people by misrepresenting their gold and mineral weight and values. This is a far cry from the dour Puritan we all know, who exacts his own retributive justice on those who take advantage of the helpless. Frankly, I think the name Solomon Kane is better suited to Howard’s character than Tuttle’s. But perhaps this is merely my own bias toward Howard’s Solomon Kane stories. Howard was certainly no stranger to lifting ideas from authors he enjoyed reading. He also re-used names of characters for stories (e.g. the various Steve Costigans, Conans: the Reaver and the Cimmerian, etc.). It was common for Howard to use foreign words in his own stories that he found in Adventure magazines. So, lifting the name of a character used in a story from Adventure should not surprise us. That being the case, the likeliest scenario is that Howard read Tuttle’s story, liked the name Solomon Kane, possibly wrote it down and earmarked it for his own character.  

Adventure cover (10 Aug. 1923)

It would not be a surprise if Howard refrained from using the name Solomon Kane to see if Tuttle would ever include his own Solomon Kane in another story. While this is speculation, it is interesting that Howard’s Kane would not see print until five years, to the month, after “Sir Piegan Passes” was published in Adventure. And as far as can be determined, Tuttle never used his Solomon Kane character in any of his subsequent stories. If this is the case, it raises a question. With the popularity of Weird Tales, how is it that Tuttle never said anything about Howard’s Solomon Kane? It is possible that Tuttle never read Weird Tales magazine? Perhaps he did not care for those kinds of stories. If this is the case, he may have never known that Howard used the name Solomon Kane. It is also possible that Tuttle knew that Howard used the name and he simply did not care. Whatever the case, Tuttle never kicked up any dirt over it.

Howard was a thoughtful writer, not prone to taking words, names, and other ideas from the sources he read and giving them no thought as to how he could use them. With Howard’s Solomon Kane, there is a certain amount of development that went into the character. It took half a decade before the character was created, named, developed and then placed on the printed (and published) page. His thoughts and ideas had time to percolate. He had time to add and change things when he needed, and he likely continued to develop these ideas even after Solomon Kane came alive for the reading public. But as for where Howard discovered the name Solomon Kane, Tuttle’s story certainly plays an integral if not the pivotal part.

While it is not definitive proof, it is certainly highly credible that Howard got the name for his character from W. C. Tuttle’s story, casting a shadow over the idea that Howard combined two biblical people into one name, or that he may have borrowed Dr. Solomon Chamber’s first name. With this new information, all the quintessential elements for the nomenclature of Howard’s Solomon Kane come together almost to a fault. Perhaps we can now put to rest further speculation about the origin of Solomon Kane’s name, until further information is discovered.
Works Cited
CL             Collected Letters
The Pulp Era Amateur Press Society
ADV         Adventure

[Special thanks to Bobby Derie for his input on this article]

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Barlow Letters Related To Robert E. Howard by Bobby Derie

In The Two Bobs: Robert E. Howard and Robert H. Barlow it was mentioned that after the death of their mutual friend H. P. Lovecraft, Barlow became the literary executor for Lovecraft’s estate—which included the disposition of the file of letters from Robert E. Howard. Several letters pertinent to Barlow’s possession of these letters and efforts to get them to Dr. Isaac M. Howard, the late Robert E. Howard’s father, have been made available online by Brown University as part of their digitization of the Lovecraft materials, and make interesting reading concerning the posthumous afterlives of Barlow and his two literary correspondents.

R. H. Barlow to Elizabeth Spicer, 2 Apr 1937

Dear Miss Spicer,

I pulled out rather abruptly & had no opportunity for farewells, but perhaps I’m forgiven.

In about two weeks I’ll send you some Sterling items &c from KC. Thanks for putting up with all the bother I made while in Providence.

Here is something for your files—revised, it will appear in in HAWK ON THE WIND—a book—in six or eight months.

I beseech & implore you to keep the various correspondences—except R. E. Howard—under your hat & out of the catalogue. Their authors would boil me over a slow fire!—The sacrifices one makes in the interests of Literature.

Regards to Prof. Damon. I’m going to write him when I settle.

Yrs ever,

R. H. Barlow

After Lovecraft’s death, Robert H. Barlow was made his literary executor; the young writer took steps to archive Lovecraft’s correspondence and other papers at the John Hay Library, where Elizabeth Spicer worked. The “Sterling” items were presumably related to Kenneth Sterling, one of Lovecraft’s later correspondents and his collaborator on “In the Walls of Eryx.” Barlow wrote this on his way back to Kansas City (“KC”) where he was attending the Art Institute. Hawk on the Wind” Poems (1938, Ritten House) was a collection of August Derleth’s poetry, containing “Elegy: In Providence the Spring…” regarding Lovecraft.

          Barlow’s desire to keep the correspondence from Lovecraft’s correspondents “out of the catalogue” was probably in an effort to protect their privacy; Howard was at this point already deceased, so this was less of an issue.

          By May of 1937, Dr. Isaac M. Howard had determined that Barlow was the executor of Lovecraft’s estate and was in possession of the letters from his son Robert E. Howard that Lovecraft had saved, mentioned above; Dr. Howard wrote to Barlow and to Lovecraft’s surviving aunt asking for their return, but did not receive a prompt reply, probably because Barlow’s situation was unsettled—the young writer would soon head out for California (IMH 164, 166).

As Howard letters were actually at the John Hay Library while Barlow was in Kansas City, this might explain some of the delay and confusion, but Barlow did eventually respond to Dr. Howard’s request.

R. H. Barlow to S. Foster Damon, 23 Apr 1937

Dear Professor Damon,


I am sending you a miscellany; too varied to itemise. Among the contents of the express package shipped today are a couple of pieces of sheet-music; a typescript of THE SPHINX, unpublished play by the author of THE HERMAPHRODITE & OTHER POEMS; nearly all the Ms. I have from the pen of Clark Ashton Smith, author of THE STAR-TREADER, EBONY & CRYSTAL, ODES & SONNETS, &c; a special issue of The Modern School on Whitman (1919) &c &c. Of these, I think I’d like to keep nominal ownership of the Whitman photograph, though in all probability it’s yours till Doomsday.

Did you receive the Sterling letter sent in my last? The envelope turned up, and is enclosed in the Tomato Surprise. I have a few other things which I’m not quite ready to send, but will hand over later.

I would appreciate it if you would send me the cardboard box containing letters from R. E. Howard, which I deposited. His father wants them to go to Howard Payne College. If you will send them Express collect, I shall be in your debt.

Later, Mrs. Gamwell may want someone to look over Howard’s books for possible library donations, I believe there is not much for the Harris Collection, but other departments might find material.

Yours ever,


Am still typing dementedly on the “copy” for the Lovecraft collection to be published!

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Unspeakable! The Secret History of Nameless Cults by Bobby Derie

As the John Hay Library at Brown University continues to digitize its collection, and place them online, interesting little tidbits are revealed for the more detail-minded among us.

Farnsworth Wright to H. P. Lovecraft, 2 Apr 1934

Dear Mr. Lovecraft:

I just received your letter of last Friday, and hasten to answer it.

I shall try to look up further authority regarding "unaussprechlich" and "unnennbar". If I can find good authority for "unaussprechlich" I am inclined to let that stand; for "unaussprechlich" has a sinsiter aspect that is lacking in "unnennbar".

Just got a letter from the Sultan of the Southern Kingdom, Lord Malik (accompanying a manuscript). He and Juggernaut are about to leave the land of the Osages and trek westward. He hopes to see Conan the Reaver as he passes through Texas; and the Lord of Xothique and Averoigne after he leaves San Francisco.

I envy him his trip.

I read in yesterday's paper about the death in Baltimore of Edward Lucas White last Friday. He was 68 years of age, and died from illuminating gas--the journal does not say whether it was suicide or accident. He was a strange genius. My wife, who used to be a librarian before I married her, considered his "El Supremo" one of the very best adventure stories she ever read. I have not read it.

We are keeping the windows of our office closed today, so as to retain what cool air there is; that is, cool compared with the air outside. The morning paper says that cooling off has begun in the far Northwest; so I suppose the coolness will reach here within a few days. But until then...

I am glad that Barlow likes the pictures. I myself admired Doolin's illustration for THE STRANGE HIGH HOUSE. The trouble with Doolin is that although he occasionally turned out something good like this, yet the most of his illustrations lacked imagination. The lack of imagination is why we have let Wilcox go.

I was surprized, when I read the page-proofs of THROUGH THE GATES OF THE SILVER KEY, to find no mention whatever of Unaussprechlichen Kulten. So there was nothing to change. In the typescript of Mrs. Heald's story, OUT OF THE EONS, Unaussprechlichen Kulten is mentioned twice; and I have changed this in the typescript (following Howard's example) to Nameless Cults.

Thanks again for your promptness. Regards to both you and Barlow.

Cordially yours,



Farnsworth Wright

[[ Link to letter, with images: ]]

The beginning and the end of the letter concern Robert E. Howard’s creation Unaussprechlichen Kulten, which first appeared in “The Black Stone” (Weird Tales Nov 1931) and “The Thing on the Roof” (WT Feb 1932) under the English title Nameless Cults. The book, inspired by works such as Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, was well-received by HPL:

And this reminds me to remark how much I enjoyed “The Thing on the Roof”. That carried the sort of kick I enjoy! Before long I mean to quote Justin Geoffrey and von Juntz’s “Black Book” in some story of my own.

—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 16 Jan 1932, MF 1.264

Neither Lovecraft nor Howard were fluent in German, but Lovecraft felt the book should have a German title and attempted to create one. Before he used it, however, Lovecraft tried out the title on August Derleth, whose family retained some German (his grandmother being Pennsylvania Dutch), which led to this exchange:

By the way—in case I ever try any more tales for my own amusement, can you tell me if Ungenennte Hedenthume is an even approximately decent German equivalent of the title “Nameless Cults”? I want to be able to make casual allusions to von Junzt’s Black Book in the original. I only took German a year, & that was in 1906—the present possibly ridiculous attempt at translations being a result of blind & unintelligent groping in a meagre grammar & wholly inadequate dictionary. I thought it best to give the word “Cult” its darkest signification—the phrase as above being really, I suppose, “Unnamed Heathenisms”. Any light you can shed on this matter will be of the utmost interest to an illiterate old man. I have a remote notion of some day hinting at the reason why von Junzt’s great-grandson lately cut his throat after discovering certain papers in his ancestor’s long-sealed Düsseldorf attic.

—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 28 Jan 1932, ES 2.446


Thanks for the original title of the Black Book. I feel sure that Unausprechlichen Kulten is the correct version!

—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 2 Feb 1932, ES 2.448

Neither phrase is grammatically correct German, but Lovecraft passed the title on to Robert E. Howard.

I feel honored that you should refer to Von Junzt’s accursed document, and thanks for the German of “Nameless Cults”, which I’ll use in referring to it. Though I’ve lived adjacent to Germans for many years, I know nothing of the language—and neither do a lot of them.

—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Apr 1932, MF 1.279

The new title did not make an “official” appearance immediately, although Lovecraft began to make reference to it in his letters (cf. DS 367, MF 1.308, etc.) Lovecraft would first make reference to the book under its German title in “The Horror in the Museum” (WT Jul 1933), ghostwritten for Hazel Heald. Farnsworth Wright, however, was not in on the joke, as was apparent when he wrote:

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Literary Influences of Robert E. Howard: Arthur O. Friel by Todd B. Vick

Adventure June 3, 1921
Adventure magazine played an integral part in Robert E. Howard’s life as a writer (and reader). According to Howard, he discovered the magazine on a summer evening when he had “exhausted all the reading material on the place.” (CL 3.87) He apparently walked to downtown Cross Plains and ventured into one of the shops (possibly Higginbotham or one of the local drug stores; he never reveals the locale), and discovers the magazine on the rack. The stories in Adventure dazzled him so much he continued to purchase the magazine for years.
As best as I can determine, the Adventure magazine Howard purchased that summer evening was most likely the June 3, 1921 issue. The issue featured two writers who would make a lasting impression on fifteen-year-old Howard: Arthur O. Friel and Rafael Sabatini. Both writers are similar in style and content (e.g. swashbuckling sword fights, etc.), though the settings of their adventure stories are worlds apart; many of Friel’s stories are typically set in South America (Amazon/Brazil) and Sabatini’s in various different locales. Howard would utilize (and mimic) both writer’s style. From Friel, Howard borrows vast jungle settings, from Sabatini Howard borrows rapier sword duels (and other things). Sabatini also fueled Howard’s passion for pirate stories. We will examine Rafael Sabatini’s influence on Howard in a future post. For now, let’s turn our attention to Arthur O. Friel.
That June 3 1921 issue of Adventure was most likely the first time Howard had encountered Arthur O. Friel’s work. Friel’s story “The Barrigudo” was in that issue. After this first encounter with the magazine, Howard indicated that he continued to purchase Adventure for years, when he could afford it. By fall of 1921, October the 10th to be precise, Howard began reading Friel’s four-part series “The Pathless Trail.” The subsequent parts appeared in these issues of Adventure: October 20 (part 2), October 30 (part 3), and November 10 (part 4). This series and other stories by Friel would be paramount for Howard’s stylistic prose for several of his Solomon Kane and his latter adventure fantasy stories (e.g. Conan) stories.

Arthur Olney Friel
For sheer adventure in faraway uncharted Amazonian jungles, Friel was the consummate writer for Adventure. In fact, he had quite a large readership. Friel’s descriptive prose and quick paced action narrative would apply a deep brand on Howard’s early published works.  Now, back to Friel’s four-part series “The Pathless Trail.” I chose this series by Friel because Howard indicated that he read it (REHB appendix 2), and to a large degree, Howard mimics Friel’s narrative style and structure in several of his Solomon Kane stories. Howard uses this style and structure throughout his career in various places until he perfects it and places his own stamp on it, coupling it with his own signature prose rhythm and pace. He then uses it later in his Conan stories. This style also influences Howard’s writing voice throughout his publishing career. There are a handful of writers who influenced Howard in this fashion, and Friel is one of them.
The columns below show the similarities between Friel’s and Howard’s use of language, description, style, and sentence structure.

“Day by day the downflowing jungle river pushed steadily, sullenly against its prow, as if striving to repel the invasion of its secret places.” From Friel’s “The Pathless Trail”
“He gazed at the huts, wondering why the thatch roofs of so many were torn and rent, as if by taloned things seeking entrance.” From Howard’s “Wings in the Night”
“The bushman turned at once and stole away. The others turned the canoes, transported the necessary duffle to the base of the hollow tree, made camp, and squatted against the trunk to smoke, watch, and wait. Several times they heard calls receding in the distance. Then came silence.” (Ibid)
“When all were buckling from exhaustion. The sun dipped, night rushed on, and a halt was called. Camp was pitched, guards thrown out, and the slaves were fed scantily and given enough water to keep life in them – but only just enough.” From Howard’s “The Footfalls Within”
“Worming around gigantic columns, crawling over rotting trunks, changing directions abruptly when blocked by some great butt too high to be scaled, sinking ankle-deep in clinging mud, the venturesome band wound along through the wilderness. The general trend of the march was southeast, but impassable obstacles encountered at frequent intervals necessitated not only detours, but sometimes actual backtracking.” (Ibid)
“The littoral of the great river altered. Plains turned into swamps that stank with reptilian life. Where fertile meadows had rolled, forests reared up, growing into dank jungles. The changing ages wrought on the inhabitants of the city as well. They did not migrate to fresher lands. Reasons inexplicable to humanity held them to the ancient cities and their doom.” From Howard’s “Queen of the Black Coast”

These examples demonstrate that Howard, as a reader of stories and writers he loved, paid attention to what he was reading. Friel’s influence on Howard’s early and later writing style is certainly present in these three examples. There are a host of other examples between the two writers, but these three examples work well to drive home my point.
            A use of hearty pronouns to vividly describe landscapes and action in each of their stories was frequently utilized. In fact, the language and style between the two writers was fairly common among pulp writers. The writers who stood out among the hundreds of pulp writers from this era are, however, the ones who not only utilized these techniques, but chose their words carefully to help control their story’s pace, creating a much better tone and rhythm. Even though other pulp writers like Friel influenced Howard. Howard stood out due to his signature prose, distinct writing voice, and his ability to astutely control the pace of his narrative, taking hold of his reader and pulling them through the scenery and action. In other words, Howard took what he liked in Friel’s work, made it his own, and then wrote better and far more enduring tales.

The Pathless Trail
Time-Lost Series
Centaur Press, 1969

            With all this in mind, it’s interesting that Arthur O. Friel is mentioned only once in all of Robert E. Howard’s letters. In a letter to Carl Jacobi from the Summer of 1934, Howard declares, “I was much interested to note that you are acquainted with Arthur O. Friel. He has been one of my favorite authors for years.” That’s it, one simple statement indicating that Howard had read Friel’s work for years and that Friel was one of Howard’s favorite authors. We have certainly seen why this is the case. Interestingly, Arthur O. Friel never broke free from Adventure magazine into the wider publishing community. Although, in 1950 he managed to publish a collection of his stories from Adventure. Some of these same stories were republished in 1969 by Centaur Press for their Time-Lost series. It’s worth noting that three of the volumes in this same Time-Lost series from Centaur Press are Robert E. Howard collections containing several Solomon Kane tales and fragments. The two writers certainly complement each other in this series and, Howard would be proud to know his work was published in a series of works that included one of his favorite writers, Arthur O. Friel.

Works Cited
CL           Collected Letters
REHB     The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf
The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane     Del Rey, 2004
The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian   Del Rey, 2003
The Pathless Trail   Centaur Press, 1969

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Literary Influences of Robert E. Howard: Robert W. Service by Todd B. Vick

From a very early age Robert E. Howard loved poetry. This was in large part due to his mother and her passion for verse. From the time Robert was born, Hester Howard recited poetry to her son. So naturally, Robert grew to love poetry. And there were a number of poets who influenced him as a reader and a writer. One such poet was Robert W. Service. His work loomed large in its influence of Robert E. Howard.

Robert W. Service
Service was born on January 14, 1874 in a small village named Preston, in Lancashire England just 20 or so miles northeast of the port town Liverpool. Service began writing poetry at an early age, heavily influenced by these Victorian poets: Tennyson, Browning and Keats. Several of these same poets, along with Robert W. Service played an integral part in influencing Howard’s verse. Service eventually moved to Canada, and settled in the Yukon territory. It took Service a bit of time to get his poetry published. Frankly, most poems and/or poets never make a living at their craft. With little success as a writer, to support himself Service took a job as a banker in the Pacific Northeast at the Canadian Bank of Commerce. All the while, he continued to write. Eventually Service managed to secure a publisher in London for his first collection of verse (Songs of Sourdough), published in 1907.

In the United States, Edward Stern and Company of Philadelphia published the same volume under a different title, The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses. This volume gained a large amount of readers in the early twentieth century. Robert E. Howard owned the United States edition of Service’s first collection, and he particularly enjoyed “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.” In fact, this poem eventually became one of the most memorized in the United States a few years after its publication. A few years later another collection by Service, Ballads of a Cheechako, garnered almost equal success as The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses, and Service was able to quit his job at the bank, write full-time and travel.

The Spell of the Yukon
and Other Verses
1907 edition
Robert W. Service’s influence can clearly be seen in many of Howard’s own poetry. Their rhyme and meter, heavily influenced by the Victorian poets, was similar. And among Howard's close friends, in particular Tevis Clyde Smith, Service's poetry was highly praised. According to Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, [Tevis Clyde Smith] Clive, considered Robert W. Service the greatest poet of all-time. Steve [Robert E. Howard] declared that Service was second only to Rudyard Kipling. [POSR, 74] Due to its content, Service’s poetry was ripe for the working class. This is likely one of the reasons Howard and Smith liked it. Without much sophistication, Service was able to delineate the common man and their struggles in his verse. Moreover, the content of many of Service’s verse was about frontier life in the Canadian Yukon, gold rushes, and man’s toil to survive. Of course, Howard loved those topics making Service’s verse resonate in his own imagination. Service’s poems were about the simple, ordinary life, and Howard especially liked this. In fact, on one occasion Howard told Lovecraft: “My tastes and habits are simple; I am neither erudite nor sophisticated. I prefer jazz to classical music, musical burlesque to Greek tragedy, A. Conan Doyle to Balzac, and [Robert] Bob Service’s verse to Santayana’s writing, a prize fight to a lecture on art.” [CL 3.66]

After his death, several of Service's books were present in Howard's personal book collection and donated to the Howard Payne College library; titles such as The Pretender, Ballads of a Bohemian, Rhymes of a Red-Cross Man, and The Spell of the Yukon and Others. Some of these books are now displayed in a bookcase at the Howard House and Museum in Cross Plains, Texas.

Works Cited
CL           Collected Letters
POSR      Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (Grant edition)

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Know your Henry Whiteheads by Karen Joan Kohoutek

Readers of classic pulp literature, particularly in the world of Weird Tales, may be familiar with the tales of Henry S. Whitehead, collected by Arkham House in Jumbee and Other Uncanny Tales (1944) and West India Lights (1946). Researchers should note that there were two Henry Whiteheads writing and publishing in the same time-frame, and it's easy to mix them up in casual searches. Both were clergymen in the Anglican (U.K.)/Episcopalian (U.S.) church, who traveled to far-off countries, then considered "exotic," as part of their religious duties, and are best known for their work on the local customs and perceived superstitions that they observed.
Henry S. Whitehead
The Weird Tales Whitehead, Henry S. (St. Clair), lived from 1882–1932. Born in New Jersey and educated at Harvard, he went to the Virgin Islands, where he became an archdeacon. He began publishing fiction in 1923, often based on his impressions of voodoo and supernatural beliefs in the West Indies. Like most Weird Tales writers, he eventually corresponded with H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, as described in Bobby Derie's valuable essay "Conan and Canevin: Robert E. Howard and Henry S. Whitehead."
His father was another Henry, Henry Hedden Whitehead (1846–1937), who mainly appears in the public record as a naval veteran of the American Civil War, and as a member of the New York Society of the Sons of the Revolution (Henry S.'s great-great-great-grandfather, Sergeant Joshua Marsh, served in the War of Independence).
Henry Whitehead
The elder contemporary, Henry Whitehead (1853–1947), was a British Anglican who emigrated to India, first to Calcutta, and then to Madras, where he served as Bishop for many years. His book The Village Gods of South India, originally published in 1916 and expanded in 1921, is still referenced in modern scholarship. This is a valuable early resource for his first-hand observations of South Indian religious practices, if you can squint around the framing prejudices and obvious misconceptions.
This Henry Whitehead came from a notable family: the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead was his brother, and his son, J.H.C. Whitehead, also known as Henry, became a well-known mathematician. J.H.C. Whitehead lived from 1904-1960, and moved to Princeton, New Jersey, to attend the university in 1929. While born in New Jersey, Henry S. had moved several times, and in this same year was settling for good in Dunedin, Florida, where he'd be visited by H.P. Lovecraft, so the two Henry Whiteheads wouldn't have crossed paths.
Henry Whitehead
A Google search will likely bring to the top another, even more acclaimed Henry Whitehead, who was, yes, yet another Anglican clergyman. He lived from 1825-1896, and was featured in Steven Johnson's 2006 bestseller The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic, and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World. Serving a parish in the London slumbs, this Whitehead became invovled in researching the cause of a cholera outbreak. Converted by evidence -- grudgingly -- to the contamination theory, his painstaking documentation of cases and deaths, used to track the course of the disease, is considered an important milestone in the development of epidemiology.
I have been unable to find evidence that any of these three Henry Whiteheads were related, although it's possible there's a connection I haven't come across. If you have information, please pass it along!
Derie, Bobby. "Conan and Canevin: Robert E. Howard and Henry S. Whitehead." Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others. Hippocampus Press, 2019.
"Reverend Henry Whitehead." UCLA Department of Epidemiology, Fielding School of Public Health.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Literary Influences of Robert E. Howard: James Branch Cabell by Todd B. Vick

Now that I have a bit more time to blog, I’ve decided to do a series about certain writers Robert E. Howard encountered in his life. Each post will cover one author whose work had some kind of influence on Howard’s life (as a reader) and/or his own work (as a writer). To inaugurate this series, I’ve chosen James Branch Cabell.

James Branch Cabell

Cabell was born April 14, 1879 in Richmond, Virginia, to an affluent family of medical doctors and politically connected Virginia ancestors. Because of this, Cabell was raised in what many believed to be an aureate environment. At fifteen, Cabell was enrolled in the prestigious College of William and Mary. He graduated four years later at age nineteen. Even then, Cabell was a master wordsmith and linguist, with a strong command of several languages. So much so, he taught French and Greek courses as a nineteen-year-old. He later became a journalist and began writing short stories and essays for Harper’s and the Saturday Evening Post. The latter being the most likely place Howard first encountered Cabell’s work. Cabell would eventually write novels, of which Jurgen: A Comedy Of Justice (1919) would be one of his most popular.
Cabell’s work has ebbed and flowed in popularity over the past century. When Cabell was alive and writing, H. L. Menken and Sinclair Lewis held the esteemed writer in high regard. Predominantly popular with the reading public of the 1920s and 1930s, Cabell wrote fantasy fiction, fictional satire, and was a master writer of essays written primarily for their aesthetic effect.; the latter likely being the main reason Menken enjoyed Cabell. Simply stated, Cabell was a wordsmith of the highest order. To be such and reach the masses required a near perfect balance between the common and highly sophisticated, a balance not easily reached by too many writers in literary history. This is also probably the reason Robert E. Howard enjoyed Cabell’s work, though the two writers are diametrically opposite in their styles and interests. Cabell’s sophisticated humorous sexual innuendos are what Howard most likely enjoyed.
             Cabell had little influence over Howard as a writer. Howard's humorous fiction was never as elaborate or as sophisticated as Cabell's, but much more low-brow and jocular; a slapstick style like the vaudevillian performances. The only time Howard ever emulated Cabell’s style was when he wrote his so-called book review of Cabell’s Something About Eve for The Junto. Besides the Junto, other places Howard’s review can be found is Amra volume 2, number 47 (August 1968), The Conan Grimoire (Baltimore: Mirage Press, 1972), and The Spell of Conan (New York: Ace Books, 1980).  In the Junto review, Howard assumes that the other Junto participants may have not heard of James Branch Cabell. He wrongly assumes this because he thinks that Cabell is not widely read. That might have been the case in the central Texas area of Cross Plains, but it was certainly not the case among  the broader population of readers in the United States and around the world. Cabell was, in fact, a quite popular author at the time Howard wrote his review of Something About Eve.

1927 edition, illustrated by
Frank C. Papé
In his review, Howard calls Cabell the ablest writer of the present age. Along with many other readers back then, Howard was seized by Cabell’s command of the English language. Something About Eve is Cabell at his finest. But Howard is especially attracted to Cabell’s cynicism, something to which Howard could relate. Cabell pokes fun at his own art, his readers, and the world in general. In Something About Eve, his sardonic humor is communicated through a nineteenth century romance gone awry that bores the protagonist so much he quickly acquiesces to the devil’s invitation of a wild promiscuous adventure elsewhere. In his Junto review, Howard’s focus is not on the plot or events of the Cabell’s novel so much as on the sexual innuendos, the way women are presented in the story, and Cabell’s linguistic prowess. In his review of Something About Eve, Howard attempts to emulate Cabell’s linguistic style. As far as I’ve been able to determine, this is the only place Howard does this. It’s uncertain which edition Howard reviewed. If it was the Robert M. McBride & Company 1929 edition, illustrated by Frank C. Papé, Howard would have delighted in the illustrations and likely mentioned those in his reviews. But he did not, so there’s no telling which edition he read.
In reading Howard’s collected letters, there are two letters where Cabell is mentioned. The first, is a humorous poem (“A Fable for Critics”) Howard sent to his Brownwood friend, Tevis Clyde Smith (CL 1:272). In it, several writers are mentioned in a comical way. Cabell is mentioned, knees knocking, embarrassed at the modern school (of writers) who drank and whored. On a second occasion, in a February 14, 1936 letter (Valentine’s Day) to Novalyne Price, Howard responds to Price’s struggle with a Cabell book she was reading. Howard indicates that he has not read that particular work by Cabell, but asks her to wait a few days until he can visit and go through the book with her. (CL 3:420). The title of Cabell’s book Price is struggling with is not mentioned. But it is interesting that Howard is confident that he can help her understand its contents. This would imply that he believed he had read enough of Cabell’s work to communicate confidently his ability to understand its contents.
 In late 1934 or early 1935, Howard was still buying Cabell’s work. In fact, on a date with Novalyne Price, they drove to Brownwood to visit Dublin’s Bookstore. Howard had his eye on a different edition of Omar Khayyam's The Rubáiyát. Being one of his favorite stories, he already had one copy, but this edition offered something the other, perhaps, did not. In addition, Price indicated that Howard also had his eye on a book by Cabell (OWWA, 92). She does not indicate the title of Cabell’s book, but this tells us that Howard was still actively buying and reading Cabell. Price was introduced to Cabell’s work through Howard and, on one occasion, she was apparently arguing with her cousin Mary Enid Gwathmey, likely about the sordid content of a Cabell book, which was interrupted by Gwathmey’s realization that Price was ill and had no business teaching that day. (OWWA, 123) Nothing else is said about Cabell, but this indicates that Price, probably because of Howard, was reading Cabell’s work.

1927 illustration by Frank C. Papé for "Something About Eve."

I have not been able to ascertain any indication that Howard was so influenced by Cabell that his own writing style and sentence structure changed in any of his own stories. Even so, Cabell did play an important role in Howard’s passion for literature, at least of a certain kind. The strongest indication of this is clearly seen in his review of Something About Eve. After Howard’s death, Cabell’s popularity slowly waned, especially once the second world war began. However, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, with the advent of The Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, spearheaded by Lin Carter, James Branch Cabell made a brief but relatively strong resurgence in popularity. The Cabell titles chosen by Carter for The Ballantine Adult Fantasy series included: The Silver Stallion (August 1969), Figures of Earth (November 1969), The High Place (February 1970), Something About Eve (March 1971), The Cream of the Jest (September 1971), Domnei: A Comedy of Woman-Worship (March 1972). Though there are likely other titles by Cabell that Howard read, the titles we know he read include: Something About Eve and The Cream of the Jest. The latter book was part of the Howard Payne University holdings, books from Robert’s personal collection given to the college by Dr. Howard after his son’s death.
I can’t help but wonder if Howard, despite his claims that he wrote for a paycheck, and the restrictive markets he was (in a sense) chained to, secretly desired to write on a level equivalent to Cabell. Among other authors, Howard pays Cabell some of his highest praise. And though Howard, likely to save face for some silly argument, disagreed with H.P. Lovecraft's opinion that writing could be considered a form of art, Cabell was probably the one writer who might have changed Howard’s mind on that opinion.

Works Cited
CL                The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard
OWWA         One Who Walked Alone