Fantasy of the 20th Century: An Illustrated History

Last week over at Rah Hoffman’s house, DSF showed me a copy of this book, which contained quite a bit of interesting material for Howard fans. The book is an oversized coffee table volume, full color on slick paper, a great value for $60. REH is featured prominently in an early chapter on the pulps, and his life and work is given a fairly detailed, fair treatment by Mr. Broecker. Later on, when the history reaches the 1960s, REH is given another chapter describing the Howard Boom and the shockwaves it created. De Camp is also featured prominently in relevant sections, and is given generally high praise by Broecker, although the problems many fans had with the pastiches is noted.

All in all, a great read for Howard fans. At Amazon.Com, you can order a brand new one for $60, or go for a used one for as low as $2.

1975 World Fantasy Con pics

Chet Williamson has posted a large set of pics from the 1975 World Fantasy Con, many of which will be of interest to Howard fans. Attendees included Glenn Lord, L. Sprague de Camp, Karl Edward Wagner, David Drake, Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, Donald Sidney-Fryer, Manly Wade Wellman, Frank Belknap Long, and many others. Check it out.

Howard in the Letters of Clark Ashton Smith

One of the most welcome books to appear for fans of weird fiction in 2003 was The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith, published by Arkham House and edited by David E. Schultz and Scott Connors. Finally, the third member of the great Weird Tales triumvirate is revealed in correspondence. Talking about his stories, his relationships, his life, Smith is as fascinating as Howard and Lovecraft have always been in their letters.

Although none of the letters Smith wrote to Howard are in the collection (presumably because they have not survived into the present day) Howard is nevertheless mentioned in several of the letters to HPL, Derleth, and others. Smith’s comments are perceptive and largely positive of Howard and his work, and they are surely of interest to Howard fans.

The first mention occurs in Letter #107 on page 122, which is a letter to H. P. Lovecraft dated circa late October 1930. Smith is discussing Wright’s frustrating editing choices:

Wright is certainly capricious in his rejections and acceptances; though I, for one, am the last to blame him for trying to please his public. But it seems to me that he makes mistakes even from this view-point. I thought the last issue of W.T. rather punk, apart from the verses, the frontispiece decoration by Senf, and one or two fine passages in Howard’s tale. I couldn’t stomach this last as a whole — that bloody battle stuff is so stale that it gives me what Sterling called “the Molossian pip.” Still, it was better than Hamilton’s current re-dishing of his immemorial moth-eaten plot, and the commonplace detective thriller by Quinn. Munn’s story was vivid and original in some of its detail, but I didn’t get much out of it as a whole. And even the reprint was pretty tame.

Keep this low opinion of Howard’s blood-and-thunder in mind, because Smith would revise it later after corresponding with Howard and discovering the weird ecstasies inherent in his Conan tales.

Later on in the same letter he makes an interesting comment regarding Literature in general:

As for the problem of phantasy, my own standpoint is that there is absolutely no justification for literature unless it serves to release the imagination from the bounds of every-day life.

On page 176 is a footnote stating that a book Smith had recently received, The Horrid Mysteries by Karl Grosse (1768-1847), had been mentioned by Howard in his story “The Children of the Night.”

Letter #156 is to August Derleth dated Oct. 8th, 1932, and the opening paragraph on page 193 is as follows:

Dear August:

I am glad that Wright took “The Carven Image,” and shall look forward to seeing it in print. His ideas of deadwood must be peculiar, considering the amount of it that he admits into the magazine. In the current issue, Howard’s “Worms of the Earth” seems to be the one real first-rater.

The footnotes to this letter say that “Worms” appeared in the November 1933 issue. This is incorrect; it was November 1932.

On page 199 is Letter #160, from CAS to August Derleth, dated February 1st, 1933. CAS begins by once again criticizing Wright:

W. finally sent back “The Third Episode of Vahtek,” saying that he saw opportunity of using it at present, but might possibly ask me to re-submit it at some future time. Oh well. . .

Then a bit later he once again breaks down his impression of the latest Weird Tales:

The current W.T. impresses me as being an excellent issue, apart from the banality of the cover. I like the tales by Howard, Eadie and Ernst, especially the former. Quinn’s tale was altogether too hackneyed. . .

The Howard tale had been “The Tower of the Elephant,” and the “banal” cover had been by Margaret Brundage. As we will see, CAS was a champion of Howard’s Conan character, seeing the tales as extraordinarily “weird” in the best sense.

Letter #174, again to August Derleth, was dated August 29th, 1933. By this time Smith has began his own correspondence with Howard, after having heard of him through Lovecraft for several years. He states:

Howard is a rather surprising person, and I think he is more complex, and is also possessed of more literary ability, than I had thought from many of his stories. The Conan tales, in my opinion, are quite in a class by themselves. H. seemed very appreciative of my book of poems, Ebony and Crystal, and evidently understood it as few people have done.

Mull that one over for a moment, folks. Here we have Smith reevaluating his previous opinion of Howard as a fine writer whose work was too often marred by cookie-cutter plots of violence and battle. Suddenly, after reading some of Howard’s letters, he is beginning to see the thematic core of the man, and therefore the depth of his stories that was previously hidden to him. For Howard’s part, he is “getting” Smith in the same manner, which Smith is not used to and which surprises him, coming as it is from the Two-Gun Texan who he thought was shallower than that. It is my contention that for all their faults, the three great Weird Tales writers all understood each other’s greatness, they realized in their own lifetimes that the three of them were special. Whereas hopeless types like S. T. Joshi will go their whole lives without discerning the true undercurrents of these relationships and the fusion of their life’s work, despite writing thousands of pages of ostensibly illuminating commentary.

Dateline mid-October 1933. Letter #179, to H. P. Lovecraft, titled “From the room embossed and paved with demon faces, in the subterranean palace of Haon-Dor.” Smith once again delves into the current Weird Tales and rates the stories:

I hope to peruse “The Thing on the Door-Step” when you get around to typing it. In spite of your disparagement, “The Festival” holds its place in my affections, and has an imaginative quality that puts it above the new stories in the current W.T. Howard has some fine romantic fantasy in “The Pool of the Black Ones”[sic]; and Long’s tale has the makings of more than a pot-boiler. With more concentration on development and detail, it would have been first-rate. I must re-read the story by Merle Prout. I liked the idea and some of the incidents; but certain crudities rather jarred upon me in the hasty perusal which I gave it. My own tale was chiefly conspicuous for certain scientific horror-touches, carefully accumulated; and if the idea of flesh-eating plants weren’t so hackneyed it would deserve a higher place.

I find this a valuable addendum to my thoughts of the last letter excerpt. Namely here we see HPL having disparaged one of his very best tales, “The Festival,” and Smith stepping in to correct what is either HPL’s self-modesty or inability to judge his own work (probably the latter, a problem Howard often shared). Then not a moment after bucking up Lovecraft, Smith does some disparaging of his own story, as usual deeming the plot too overused. I think Smith is wrong to do so; plots are ultimately mere window dressing for the story. They are a dime a dozen, overused in every venue, yet tales achieve their uniqueness not from plot but from the author’s sensibilities seeping into the execution of the telling of the story. All of the Conan tales have fairly derivative plots, yet Howard’s focus on barbarism and the decay of civilization elevate those plots into something new, they say things that haven’t ever been said in quite that way, even as the plot looks painfully familiar to narrow-minded readers.

A short Howard reference is to be had on page 236, during Letter #182 from CAS to HPL ca. early November 1933. Smith writes:

Yes, I noticed W’s plural mention of The Black Book & Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Shades of Von Junzt!

Of course, it was Robert E. Howard who invented this book and the book’s author, which have since become two of the most famous and popular invented aspects of the Cthulhu Mythos.

On page 239 we have another short mention of Howard, this time in Letter #183 to HPL dated c. 4 December 1933. CAS has just read Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep” several times, and has come away impressed. When Lovecraft sent stories to friends in manuscript form, the story would go from correspondent to correspondent in a loosely-knit circle, of which Howard was a part. CAS thus writes:

I trust that Conan and most of the others on the circulation list fully appreciate the treat in store for them. The ms. goes forward to the Cimmerian monarch today.

In late January 1934 Smith wrote another letter to HPL, in which he dissected the latest Weird Tales, singling out Howard for praise:

Howard Wandrei’s tale in the last W.T. was quite good and original, I thought. Conan, as usual, put on a very entertaining and imaginative show. Merritt’s “Woman of the Wood,” though excellent, impressed me as being somewhat overrated. The other tales in this issue were hardly noteworthy.

The Conan tale Smith had read was “Rogues in the House.”

Smith received a volume in the Not at Night anthology series in late February 1934, and wrote Lovecraft about it in Letter #187. On page 251 of the Selected Letters book he tells us:

I received also the new Not at Night anthology, Keep on the Light, and was struck by the immense superiority of the items taken from Weird Tales, over others which, I presume, are by British authors. Howard’s “Worms of the Earth” and Whitehead’s “The Chadbourne Episode” were the leaders.

On page 275 in Letter #202, this one to R. H. Barlow dated November 23rd 1936. It is the first mention of Howard by CAS in this volume since his suicide five months earlier. This was the beginning of the end for the Weird Tales Golden Age. Howard was dead; Lovecraft was a few months away from his own death, and Smith would leave the field, devastated by the loss of his peers and bedeviled by his own personal troubles.

At one point in the letter he talks to Barlow about various life troubles, and while Howard is not brought up his ghost hangs palpably over the proceedings:

I am damnably sorry to learn, both from your letter of last June and Ech-Pi-El’s more recent letters, the troubles and difficulties that you have been having. Such matters are beyond our control, and it would seem the misfortunes have a way of “ganging up” on the victim: at least, that has been my own experience. I have had enough grief, the past two years, to founder a dreadnought and am beginning to wonder if sea-bottom has yet been reached!

A bit later comes the Howard reference, where CAS writes:

Which reminds me, before I pass to other matters, that I greatly liked your sonnet-tribute to R.E.H. in the pages of our old standby.

This sonnet, titles simply “R.E.H.,” appeared in the October 1936 number of Weird Tales. Barlow was a more careful observer of Howard’s end than most others at the time; Barlow himself would take his own life years later.

A short time later, on November 27 1936, CAS wrote to HPL, in the course of which he commented that:

Howard’s death startled and shocked me as it must have shocked everyone else. It is understandable but infinitely tragic and regrettable. . .Sometimes, though, the anticipation of an event is more unbearable than the event itself; and I wonder if Howard might not have pulled through if the nurse had been less frank.

I admired Barlow’s memorial sonnet greatly. Your prose tribute, and that of Price, were fine.

But soon, HPL too would be lost. On March 23, 1937 CAS wrote to August Derleth about the death of Lovecraft a few weeks earlier on March 15 of intestinal cancer:

Dear August:

The news of Lovecraft’s death seems incredible and nightmarish, and I cannot adjust myself to it. . .it saddens me as nothing has done since my mother’s death; and, somehow, I can’t help feeling that it should have been unnecessary.
[. . .]
It is all too melancholy; and it would be no less futile than needless to expatiate on the loss to us who are left.

A week later, Derleth had decided on a plan to preserve all of Lovecraft between hardcovers, the genesis of what would soon become Arkham House. He asked Smith for information on the Cthulhu Mythos, and Smith’s reply contains the next Howard reference, in Letter #209 dated April 13 1937. Speaking of the mentions of various Cthulhuoid deities, Smith notes that:

Hastur is mentioned in “The Whisperer in Darkness,” in a listing of fabulous names that includes Bethmoora (from Dunsany) and L’mur-Kathulos and Bran (partially or wholly from R. E. Howard: though there is also a Bran in Celtic mythology).

One of the absolutely most fascinating quotes about Howard that I have ever read came on page 302, at the conclusion of a long letter to Robert Barlow dated May 16, 1937. It staggers the knowledgeable reader by virtue of it’s revelation of the forces that drove the last of the Weird Tales greats out of fiction writing, and for the truly perceptive readings the three greats gave each other’s work. Before we saw CAS marvel at Howard understanding his poetry as few others ever had; now witness Smith paying Howard the same compliment, albeit posthumously:

Writing is hard for me, since circumstances here are dolorous and terrible. Improvement in my father’s condition is more than unlikely, and I am more isolated than ever. Also, I seem to have what psychologists call a “disgust mechanism” to contend with: a disgust at the ineffable stupidity of editors and readers. I think that some of my best recent work is sculpture: and I find myself confronted with another blank wall of stupidity. Oh well and oh hell: some one will make a “discovery” when I am safely dead or incarcerated in the bughouse or living with a yellow gal in Cambodia.

Yours for the bombing of Philistia and Boetia with Chinese stinkpots,

Clark Ashton

P.S. On glancing over this letter, I note a few asperities of tone, and, in places, a lack of Arnoldian “sweetness and light.” In extenuation, I must plead that I have been pretty much at the boiling point lately.

I believe the late R. E. Howard and I would have had a grand time together lambasting civilization; that is, if I have not been misinformed as to his views. Barbarism, barbaric art, barbaric peoples, appeal more and more to me. I could never live in any modern city, and am more of an “outsider” than HPL. His “outsideness” was principally in regard to time-period; mine is one of space, too.

My God, think of what might have occurred had Howard somehow survived, and after the death of Lovecraft he and Smith struck up a far more intense correspondence, making up for the loss of HPL with a stronger link to each other. How perfect is it to see how Howard influenced and inspired the likes of CAS as much if not more than those people affected REH. REH is generally seen as dispensable in the greater schema of the Lovecraft Circle. His views contrary to the cosmicism practiced by the rest of the group, he often is dismissed as a hanger-on of sorts, the Gilligan of the group. Don Herron has acutely pointed out in the past Lovecraft’s stellar use of Howardian action in his masterpiece “The Shadow of Innsmouth,” opining that HPL could never have brought himself to that great a boil without his furious correspondence with Howard fueling his creativity at the same time, subtly influencing his writing the same way traces of Lovecraft crept into Howard’s writing. Now, we get to add to that the wonderful fancy of Clark Ashton Smith slaving away on his curious sculptures that would become one of the famous cornerstones of his artistic legend, the whole time grumbling about civilization and thinking of Howard and his Cimmerians, those images ultimately affecting the primitive grandeur of the carvings. Wonderful.

The last mention of Howard in the volume of letters is also of more than cursory interest, for it provides another nugget of Howard lore which to date I had never heard, or don’t remember hearing. Letter #217 is to Barlow on July 12th, 1937, and begins with mention of a new fan publisher on the block:

Glad to hear that the booklet impressed you so favorably. (Mr.) Claire P. Beck, aged nineteen, is the printer; address, Box 27, Lakeport Cal. . .He is desirous of bringing out a book of R. E. Howard’s stories, and also a selection of mine.

So now we have word of a Mr. Claire Beck (1919-1999) (who ran an amateur printing operation with his two brothers, Groo (?!?!) and Clyde) wanting to print a Howard volume during the same time Derleth and Wandrei were desperately trying to get Arkham House off of the ground. As it turned out, Derleth and Wandrei were the Johnnys-on-the-spot, succeeding where so many other fans failed. But between this little tidbit, along with the cryptic mention in an OAK to Dr. Howard letter of someone possibly being interested in collecting the Conan stories and/or the Costigan stories circa 1937, and with items such as Paul Spencer’s plea to reprint Howard (currently in print in The Barbaric Triumph) thrown in, it’s clear that Howard was as viable a commodity as Lovecraft during those years, with only luck and the vagaries of the marketplace nudging Lovecraft into print first via Arkham House.

The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith is a must-buy for any fan of Robert E. Howard, as it fills in large gaps in the knowledge of one of Howard’s best literary compatriots, gaps that serve to broaden one’s formulation of the entire weird fiction and pulp scene during those years. It’s obvious to me that someday a book combining the lives of all three Weird Tales geniuses — Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith — will have to be written. There is far too much spectacular material not to give it a try. All three authors deserve to ascend through the literary ranks together, for together they fed off of each other’s talents and momentum, and their combined corpus is far more potent and rich than any one of them alone. Whoever first called them the Three Musketeers was prescient in the extreme, for truly in a literary sense they remain “All for one, and one for all.”

Valusian Award

Interested parties can take a gander at Don Herron’s towering Valusian Award, the Cimmerian Award handed out for Best REH Anthology. A pic is posted on his website, along with the story of why he left it behind in Cross Plains.

Scroll down a bit on the same page for an interesting tidbit about Dr. Howard and Prohibition, and stay tuned to the pages of The Cimmerian for lots more stories in that vein, culled while Don and I spent a week in Texas doing interviews and seeing the Howardian sights last June.

REHupa #194 — August 2005


The latest REHupa arrived in early August, with the biggest news being that Steve Trout has logged his one hundredth ‘zine in the a.p.a. (his first ‘zine appeared in REHupa #21, a full thirty years ago). It is Trout’s own artwork that graces the cover of this small 142 page mailing. The a.p.a. continues to chug along on a full roster but a middling page count, the sustained anemia of which hasn’t been seen in REHupa for years.

In the Golden Caliph, Official Editor Bill “Indy” Cavalier announced a new member to REHupa’s ranks, Howard Days regular and Cimmerian reader Scott Hall, whose commentary on the event was enjoyed by readers of TC V2n4. Scott’s admission to REHupa’s roster brings it to a full contingent of thirty once again, with no less than three people on the waitlist waiting to get in.


The August issue of REHupa is usually the place to find Howard Days trip reports, and this year is no exception. Gary Romeo’s ‘zine The Howard Sprague Reader #4 gives his own impressions about Howard Days 2005. Much of what he wrote can also be found in edited form in The Cimmerian V2n4. Gary, ever the defender of L. Sprague de Camp and his place in Howard studies, gives a short summation of his goals to Dale Rippke in Mailing Comments:

Studies have shown that people in a group tend to start thinking alike. This causes the group to lose perspective and go into “group think” saying things like “So they take de Camp’s ideas without mentioning him, so what? Who cares?” I’m just trying to keep the breaks on that.

Judging from the ninth-place finish of Gary’s TC V1n1 essay “Napoleon’s Triumph” in last year’s Cimmerian Awards, I’d say he’s building a like-minded following.

Patrick Burger contributes The Fighting Tribes of Cimmeria #36, his somewhat stuffy and academic REHupa ‘zine, one most at home discussing Howard in arch-symbolic terms. It’s Patrick’s 6th anniversary in REHupa (lately the retention rate for REHupans has been quite good) and he reports that he’s leaving Africa for his usual haunts of Canada and Germany. As a result, his ‘zine this time is a two-page assortment of odds ‘n’ ends, what we in a.p.a. parlance call a MINAC (MINimum Activity) ‘zine.

Danny Street, fresh off of his monster fifty-page contribution to the last mailing, takes it easy this time in Isaacson’s Legacy Volume 1 Number 15 with several pages of another staple of a.p.a. hacking, Mailing Comments. This is the section of one’s ‘zine where you provide feedback, commentary, and discussion to other members about their own ‘zines and the opinions expressed in them. Scott Hall for his part fills his first REHupa ‘zine with a nice Cross Plains trip report that is largely different from his commentary in The Cimmerian, and also engages in the ritual bashing of de Camp and pastichers that usually is a mainstay of first ‘zines. It’s always interesting to get new members in REHupa and try to guess how long they are going to hang around (for sure, there are plenty of valid reasons to quit the a.p.a., not the least of which is Getting a Life). Time will tell how long Scott’s tenure will be.

[redacted]’s Outnumbered and Alone Volume IV Issue 4 is next. Mark has taken up the slack left by the drastic downsizing of the ‘zines of myself, Rick McCollum, and Steve Tompkins, and has become somewhat of the heart and soul of the a.p.a. His ‘zines are generally the most informative and positive these days, with lots of Howard-related projects on his plate. This time out he plugs the new Greenwood Press Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and mentions that no less than three REHupans ([redacted], Frank Coffman, and Charles Gramlich) contributed entries to the book. The only thing preventing me from pre-ordering it is the absurd price$350 bucks!

Finn also notes a positive REH recommendation in a recent book, The Big Book of Boy Stuff by Bart King. The new Dark Horse Conan hardback collection The God in the Bowl has a new Finn essay on Howard’s letters, and Finn’s Violet Crown Radio Players are looking into releasing a CD boxed set of The Adventures of Sailor Steve Costigan, hopefully in time for the World Fantasy Convention in Austin in 2006. Finn, as you can see, has been a busy boy. He continues the ‘zine with a longish Howard Days trip report, many excepts of which are also available in TC V2n4, along with lots of pics you can only see in REHupa. He ends by rallying the troops in REHupa, urging them to make sure that Howardian people and projects get nominated for World Fantasy Awards next year.

Charles Gramlich, currently embroiled in the disaster in New Orleans, contributes Razored Zen #77, preserving his unbroken streak of ‘zines in REHupa for over ten years. Motorcycle talk, a Cross Plains trip report, lots of Mailing Comments, and a humorous fictional Howard Days murder-mystery story are all presented. Jimmy Cheung’s Wolraven #14 reprints some fantasy fiction he wrote, while Scotty Henderson’s The Keltic Journal Volume 24 gives his historical research of Frontier Times, a magazine REH once contributed to and probably read frequently. Indy Cavalier’s Cold Steel #116 has his own Cross Plains trip report, and reprints the Brownwood Bulletin article also available on this blog.

Then we get to Mark Hall’s ‘zine Eidolons of El Cerrito Volume 5 Number 4, which if nothing else demonstrates the continued problems The Dark Man is having with maintaining any kind of relevance in the field. Mark has been Editor of The Dark Man for almost two years now, in which time they have released a mere two issues, both of them months late. In this new ‘zine, he has the temerity to rant not only at his critics but also his contributors, insinuating that a part of the failure of The Dark Man to come out regularly is theirs and not the editorial board’s:

The Dark Man is a biannual. Sure we missed it by 3 months for 2004, but did the world end because we missed it by three months? Did Howard fandom wilt away and die because of it? While it may have been irregular in the past, under my watch we are going to try and keep the bi-annual schedule. And yes, the next two issues are being compiled as I work on this!

And for one of you banding about the word “irregular” did it ever occur to you that maybe, if you would follow through on your review as agreed, we might be able to come out on time? It is not necessarily my fault that I am writing for your submission which is late and which you can’t formally tell me via email or a letter is going to be late or not submitted at all. It seems you clearly can’t even respond to an email asking about it. Is it standard practice to read the latest REHupa when someone is not following through on what they agreed to?

Next, as a bi-annual, in terms of the page count, this will mean about 90-120 pages a year. Which leads to my second point….

And for the folks who are complaining about the frequency of The Dark Man, did it ever occur to you that if submissions increase we might be able to publish more than bi-annually? Did it ever occur to you that you might submit somethingeven a letter of comment?[2]

[2] And for those of you wondering, sure, if we publish your letter you get a free issue.

In the spirit of this “Did it ever occur to you…” theme, I can’t resist adding to Mark: did it ever occur to you that to harangue your own contributorswho are giving you material FOR FREEfor not “officially” notifying the editor of a delay, while simultaneously claiming that a three-month delay in releasing the next issue is no big dealeven when subscribers have PAID for that issue in advanceis not conducive to good editor-contributor and editor-subscriber relations? This toxic level of passive-aggressive delusion is the crux of what caused me to leave The Dark Man circa December 2003 and start The Cimmerian. One of the pleasures of editing The Cimmerian is helping frustrated contributors and subscribers migrate to a new REH journal experience, one that puts some much-needed fun and respect back in Howard fandom.

Morgan Holmes’s Forgotten Ages #76 was another low point of the mailing, as he spends his time dismissing out of hand the man who in my opinion remains the greatest movie director of all time, John Ford. Agreeing with an unnamed critic who calls even Ford’s very best work “sentimental cornpone” and “hoary hokum,” he dismisses The Quiet Man with the comment “excuse me while I yawn” and says that casting John Wayne was “Ford’s way of flunking an intelligence test.” He calls Maureen O’Hara a “nervous frigid uber-bitch” and opines that the original pulp stories are far superior to Ford’s adaptations. A rare clunker of a ‘zine by Morgan.

Frank Coffman, the former editor of The Dark Man, includes the latest issue of his ‘zine The Cross Plainsman, which attempts to convert some old pictures of REH into 3-D using a technique called “stereography,” and Frank even provides a plastic set of stereographic glasses to view them with. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the glasses to focus in any meaningful way, and so 3-D Howard continues to elude me.

Jim Keegan’s Red Ruin #23 gives short full-color trip reports on both Howard Days and Comic Con in San Diego, while Steve Trout’s Beltric Writes #100 falls a bit short of the hundredth issues of previous milestoners Rusty Burke and Bill Cavalier, who presented huge retrospectives of their output over the years. Steve gives it a good try, but having read all his old ‘zines I think he gave himself short shrift.

Larry Richter joins Mark Hall and Morgan Holmes in the doghouse this time out, publishing in his latest The Highwayman a rather condescending overview of his Howard Days experience. Everyone rolled out the red carpet for Larry and his wife and made them feel at home during his first Howard Days, yet Larry reports that he found the whole event a “circus coming to town” filled with “drunk-in-the-dark, pavilion-infesting fandom,” then insinuates that of all the attendees only he knows or can know the Real Texas, the Texas of old with hardy pioneers and people who cared about more than money and petty modernities. You’re welcome, Larry.

The Mailing ends with ‘zines from Matt Herridge and Rusty Burke, both of which contain Cross Plains trip reports, a few Howardian-style poems from Steve Tompkins, an errata sheet from David Gentzel for his book The Riot at Bucksnort and other Western Tales, and a MINAC ‘zine of Mailing Comments from Tim Arney.

With the average page-count of mailings having fallen from the 300s to the mid-100s over the course of a few years, and with so many more options for reading Howard information available (The Cimmerian and this blog among them) it will be interesting to see if REHupa can survive in its present form. More than likely it will putter ahead as long as the old-timers of the a.p.a. maintain their memberships, but eventually the new generation is more likely to go online and create, say, a series of affiliated blogs that all talk about Howard.

The Cross Plains Thought Police

Every year at Howard Days, there is always one or two residents who resent the presence of Howard fans and attempt to make us feel unwelcome in somewhat hysterical fashion. This year, one church had a sign outside it:


Pretty innocuous and not immediately connectable to REH Days, until you remember what the theme of the 2005 Howard Days was advertised as: "’Let His Name Not Fade…’: Interpreting Robert E. Howard in Books, Films and other Media." This particular phrase was riffing off of Howard’s poem "Lines Written in the Realization that I Must Die," which is filled with verse drenched in Howard’s depressive nature. One stanza of the poem reads:

Drums of glory are lost in the ages,

Bare feet fail on a broken trail—

Let my name fade from the printed pages;

Dreams and visions are growing pale.

Twilight gathers and none can save me.

Well and well, for I would not stay;

Therefore, the meaning of titling the Howard Days theme "Let His Name Not Fade" is to challenge Howard’s bitter hopelessness with a celebration of his Life and Talent. To my mind, that’s a fairly wholesome and positive message. But as you can see, one of the local churches disagreed. That’s par for the course at Howard Days, although most people are kind and understanding, and they see Howard for what he ultimately is: a talented adventure writer. The library carries his books, Howard signs are painted around town, etc. Such silent protests are merely the sour grapes of a few ne’er-do-wells, and needn’t concern Howard fandom overmuch.

I deal with the Cross Plains Review fairly often when setting up publicity for Howard Days, and I know many people in Cross Plains and speak their lingo, so I wrote a letter that was part honest sentiment and part damage control. This letter was ultimately printed in the June 23 issue, and I received compliments and thanks from my contacts in town for sending it in:

Dear Vanda:

On behalf of all of the guests who came to town last weekend, I’d like to thank residents for their hospitality and many kindnesses. I have been coming to The Caring Community for six years straight, and I never tire of Cross Plains.

This year, one of the highlights of the weekend was having the opportunity to visit the Cross Plains Cemetery and pay my respects to the many friends I once knew who have left us, including Morris Cavanaugh, Joe Hanke, Jack Scott, Billie Ruth Loving and Joe Howser. I miss them all.

And a special thank you to the church that responded to the theme of the Howard weekend, "Let His Name Not Fade…" with a sign that read "Jesus Christ, Name Above All Names, Lord Over Cross Plains." While no doubt intended as a slap in the face to godless Howard fans, it may surprise you to know that many of us are devout Christians and agree heartily with those sentiments. We come to your lovely town to celebrate the words of a favored author, but never at the expense of The Word.

God bless Cross Plains and its people.

Leo Grin

Los Angeles, California

All of this leads into the contents of several issues of the Cross Plains Review which appeared this June. The Review has been spotty the last few years, even since it was hijacked by a fundamentalist Christian editor—the aforementioned Vanda—who has turned the paper from a solid news mouthpiece into a blend of hard news and a strange concoction of bland self-help spiritualism. In particular, the nice drawing of the Howard House that used to be displayed on the masthead:


was replaced with a childish picture by one Deborah Lowitzer, which depicts a crucifix slamming down into Cross Plains on a map of Texas, like so:


Combined with the endless articles offering crude faith-based inanities written by the editor and others, the effect is more than a bit suffocating, and the paper has suffered as a result. Whereas before I used to read the majority of the paper, these days I am forced to skim through the empty calories. I’m a Christian myself—Roman Catholic, to be specific—and have great sympathy for like-minded people, but the least they could do is reprint some good apologetics for a change. Perhaps C. S. Lewis or G. K. Chesterton pieces, something that doesn’t smack of Oprah on a narcissistic soul-saving bender.

In any case, on June 16, 2005, the Thursday after Howard Days, a nice article briefly describing the event was printed in the paper, along with a reprinting of [redacted]’s laudable short biographical essay about Howard that originally appeared in the debut issues of the Dark Horse Conan comic, and which was reprinted in the hardcover edition of those same issues.


This was followed by a large ad taken out by Project Pride which read:

Project Pride would like to thank each organization or individual who helped to make the Robert E. Howard Days 2005 such a huge success. Howard enthusiasts from at least seven states, Washington D. C. and London, England were here for the weekend and all had very positive comments about the hospitality extended them.

All in all, a nice battery of positive coverage. Everyone who has read Finn’s piece knows it is positively harmless in terms of how it portrays Howard, describing him in glowing adventure-writing terms that you would think no one could take true offense or exception to.

So it was a small surprise to get a message from Project Pride, saying that someone had written a letter into the Review that criticized Howard and Howard Days in strong terms, specifically using elements of Mark’s essay. I looked forward to reading it—my letter was appearing in the same issue—but once in front of me the argument against Howard was a letdown. When comparing the hilarious overreaction of the woman who wrote it against the sheer inoffensiveness of Finn’s original piece, one comes to the conclusion that a few people in Cross Plains have way too much time on their hands. Here is the letter:

Dear Editor:

I read with great interest the chilling expose of Robert E. Howard’s true sentiments and outlook regarding humanity and death in last week’s paper. The quote, “Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must ultimately triumph,” is particularly disturbing.

It saddens me that Howard was drawn to the dark side of the underworld, of demons, sorcery and horror, and that the ultimate end to embracing this dark philosophy catapulted him into the inevitable pit of suicide. It seems Howard’s life was a short story of hopelessness, depression and finally death. It appears he lived a frustrated tragic life and his legacy is washed with darkness and despair.

I find it strangely satirical and perplexingly paradoxical that this wonderful city, that was given the name Cross Plains, (the representation of ultimate life, joy, hope and triumph over all death and destruction), holds a festival each year to honor and uphold a man whose life and writings defiantly manifest every belief and action contrary to those values. The irony of that is staggering and deserves to be re-evaluated.

The community of Cross Plains is worthy, valuable and deserves a yearly celebration that promotes life, not death. What kind of legacy are we unknowingly passing on not only to our children, but to our children’s children about the sacredness of life, or lack thereof?

I know that this will not be a popular letter, and I apologize for any offense that it may trigger, but let’s at least be willing to take a deeper look at the underlying current here and decide if promoting barbarism is really what we want to be known for as citizens of Cross Plains.

Mrs. Deborah Lowitzer

Yes—that’s the same Mrs. Lowitzer whose primitive sketch replaced the Howard House on the masthead a few years ago. Like the church sign ploy, the weak arguments made above aren’t worth worrying about. In fact, in the succeeding weeks a few townspeople I had never met rose to the defense of the event, basically chiding Mrs. Lowitzer for taking her disturbance at the “chilling” aspects of REH a bit too seriously. What’s next? Implore Tarzana, CA to rename their city after someone more godly than Burroughs’s iconic character? And my Texas Handbook tells me that the name "Cross" Plains came to us because a series of Army trails crossed there and not because of any religious significance. In light of this, the attempt of Mrs. Lowitzer to use the word as a scion of her argument is just plain weird, not unlike psychotic minister Louis Farrakhan using kooky numerology to prove his various theological points. But this shows how year after year, there is always someone trying to make mountains out of molehills and derail the best tourist attraction the town has going for it.

This letter reminded me of an experience I had in Cross Plains several years ago. Michael Scott Myers (the screenwriter of the Hollywood movie about Howard’s relationship with Novalyne Price, The Whole Wide World) and I had walked into the local barbershop in Cross Plains to look at some old pictures posted there. If you are ever in town I recommend it: there are pictures of the oil derricks, old pictures of main street, even pictures of Howard friends like Lindsey Tyson. Anyway, while in there an old crazy-looking man asked us in a shrill preacher’s howl, "Are y’all some of them fans of that fella Bob Howard?" When we answered in the affirmative, the man proceeding to harangue us in a fire-and-brimstone yell: "Robert Howard kilt hisself and went  straight to hell, and you will to if y’all don’t stop reading that devil’s business!" The barber, Ray Purvis (who serves double duty as the town mayor) told the old man to shut up, and told us to pay him no mind. "He’s just the town kook," Ray said, probably in an attempt to make us feel better. We left without taking the guy seriously, but it made an impression in one sense: it gave us a taste—just a taste mind you—of the kind of forces Howard was up against when writing for the pulps in an old-school western town.

Cross Plains has come a long way over the last seventy years, but vestiges of Howard’s time—not all of them palatable—still remain.

Hurricane Katrina – Charles Gramlich Update


Those of you in REHupa and who attend Howard Days know Charles Gramlich well. He was Guest of Honor at Howard Days for 2001, is assistant editor of The Dark Man, and is a longtime REHupan. A resident of Metairie, Louisiana, Charles was at ground zero of the recent devastation, and many people have been wondering about his current status.

I emailed Indy Cavalier, who reports that Larry Richter has heard from Chuck, and that while Larry doesn’t go into details he states “there isn’t much more to report than that [Chuck and his family] are OK.” That’s good news indeed. Please keep Chuck and his family in your thoughts and prayers. If any financial aid is needed by Chuck, this website will set up a donation page.