Novalyne Didn’t Pull the Trigger, Novalyne Didn’t Load the Gun…

Members of Terry Allen’s REH Comics Group have long since learned to dread the semiliterate, borderline solipsistic posts that come from one individual whose nom de harangue used to be something like blunderbusspastprime. He now styles himself simperingflophouse (close enough) and remains impervious to irony or being showered with rotten vegetables and roadkill, so certain is he that his is a unique insight into all things Hyborian and Howardian.

Today he had this to say to Tim Truman, the well-known artist and soon-to-be writer of the Dark Horse Conan comic:

Anyway, i just read his foreword in Weird Works of REH vol 3 and was surprised that he the western writer is such a Howard fan. And i also share his view about teh main cause of Howard’s suicide-over a woman. Ms Price aint as honest in what she write about their relationship now that Howard is so famous. [a whole world of sic]

“His” and “he the western writer” refer to Joe R. Lansdale. I haven’t seen Lansdale’s introduction to Weird Works Volume 3, but I doubt that someone so talented would trot out such an oversimplification. Simperingflophouse, on the other hand, expresses himself in oversimplifications and oxymorons in much the same way as Oscar Wilde was wont to express himself in epigrams. In any event the assertion that Novalyne Done It is all over Howard-dom lately; Jim Keegan did his best to club the embryonic meme to death in a recent issue of Dark Horse’s Conan, and an innercircle post earlier this year condemning Ms. Price as a two-timing gold-digger was immediately shouted down. It’s taken us decades to give the Suicide Due to Terminal Mama’s Boy-ism rush to judgment the heave-ho, and we don’t need it replaced by Suicide Due to Bad Breakup.

Wildside Press breaking into bookstores


For a while now editor/publisher John Betancourt has been quietly preparing his company Wildside Press to move from the online world of print-on-demand into a more traditional business model that will put his books in every major bookstore. As anyone who has published knows, the hurdles in building the proper distribution channels for this are immense.

Well, it looks as if — after some test runs and months of nudging forward — the time has come for the Big Push. Paul Herman, editor of the Wildside Press series of Howard books entitled The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard, delivered the scoop on Dennis McHaney’s REH Inner Circle Yahoo! group (hat tip: Don Herron):

I’ve been informed by the gang at Wildside, as they are going to more nationwide distribution of the Weird Works set, they are changing the covers to better fit a “more modern” look…Its my understanding that this is just for the mass distribution paperbacks, so [there will be] changes in size, font, page count, etc.

The new books for brick and mortar stores such as Barnes & Noble will be mass market paperbacks and sport covers by Ken Kelly, while the hardbacks sold off the Wildside website will continue to appear with Fabian covers.

I like the new look. One of the major faults with Wildside Press titles to my mind has always been the design. The worst have been plagued with garish or gaudy colors — shit brown, piss yellow — combined with sans serif fonts that scream out amateur outfit.

They have made strides in correcting this over the past year or two (I especially liked the layout for Gates of Empire), but even then the fonts on the side of the book have been bright yellow or white and sans serif, Arial or some similar font. With this new mass market design, we are finally seeing a look as professional as they come, one that can compete against any other book in the store.

I will say that I see nothing wrong with the Fabian covers. The Kelly one to my mind doesn’t look substantially more polished, especially at that smaller cropped size, and if the Fabian art had been surrounded by a similarly revamped design I think it would look almost as modern.


Incidentally, there are some nice Stephen Fabian Conan prints available here.

David Gemmell Has Done His Part. How About You?


The demographics are creakingly in evidence over at REH Inner Circle, where various knights of doleful countenance are bemoaning the absence of anything fast-paced or elephantiasis-free to read, pining for mass market Tros of Samothrace or Elak of Atlantis editions, and decreeing, in the case of one poster, that fantasy had better return to a supposed “original rush of adrenaline and action” PDQ.

The thing is, although midlife crises are part of the package they’re no reason to go into a fugue state or don homemade blinkers in Borders or Barnes & Noble. Twenty-six David Gemmell sword-and-sorcery outings can now be impulse-bought or if need be ordered online in the U.S., all of them starring lethal blademasters or axe-wielders who would carve Elak or Tros like Easter hams. Gemmell’s novels zoom (an alternate ‘szum” spelling is strictly verboten) by faster than the novellas of almost anyone save Howard himself, and although characters like Druss the Legend, Waylander the Slayer, Connavar the Demon Blade, Skilgannon the Damned, and the Jerusalem Man continue (despite the sincerest efforts of their many enemies) from book to book, potential readers can pick up any single novel without needing to worry about whether they’re getting in on the ground floor. Charles Gramlich is the latest in a long line of REHupans to undergo a Gemmellian conversion experience, and when I see the Englishman go unmentioned in they-don’t-write-’em-like-they-used-to keening sessions, or get frozen out at a site that is otherwise a resource-a-rama like Howard Jones’, it’s hard not to shake my head and think, none are so blind as they who will not read. Not every work of heroic fantasy trafficking in thrills, chills, and kills has to have originated in a prewar pulp or a 70s paperback with a Frazetta or Jeff Jones cover. Gemmell is more than just a phenomenon—he’s our favorite subgenre’s second wind.

Another REH Milestone


In a centennial year filled with milestones and anniversaries of all kinds, yet another is upon us. In 1972 teenager Tim Marion started REHupa, the Robert E. Howard United Press Association. This August the a.p.a. will release its two hundredth mailing. That’s a lot of talk about Robert E. Howard archived between covers.

Official Editor Bill “Indy” Cavalier has been cracking his bullwhip and urging all members to make stellar contributions to the August mailing. From the rumblings I’ve heard, it’s looking to be a whopper. I’ll be interested to see if every member will come through with a ‘zine of some kind, a feat that’s been hard to accomplish for past anniversaries.

REHupa has been in a strange period of flux for the last few years. Any three-decade history contains ups and downs, but when I joined in December of 1999 the Internet had boosted the a.p.a.’s ranks to a full roster of thirty members. In addition, advances in publishing software and printers allowed members to create bigger ‘zines than ever before. During the first few years of the new millennium, the a.p.a. regularly hit 300+ pages per mailing, a staggering figure, led by the Big Three ‘ziners of the era — Rick McCollum (who had been in the a.p.a. more or less since the ’70s, and who often hand-wrote and illustrated ‘zines topping one hundred pages) with his Oh! Acheron, Steve Tompkins with Expecting the Barbarians, and myself with Steel Springs & Whalebone!. Between the three of us, we would often make up half the mailing or more. With many other members frequently hitting the twenty-page mark during that time, the a.p.a. was as exciting as it has ever been, filled to the gills with Howard sercon (a.p.a.-talk for “serious content,” i.e., on-topic REH discussion).

But every golden era must eventually come to an end, something Howard well knew. Rick bowed out of the a.p.a., bedeviled by a series of “real life” problems. Both Steve and I saw our page counts plummet as our energies gradually drifted into other Howardian endeavors. In some ways, this metamorphosis was a good thing — The Cimmerian wouldn’t exist sans my decision to stop producing mega-‘zines, nor would this blog — but in another sense it was a drag to see REHupa flying ever lower over the treetops. In the last year or two, our thirty-member roster has sometimes struggled to squeak out a hundred pages between us.

All things considered, the decline of REHupa hasn’t meant a decline of interest in Howard, but rather a healthy redeployment of energies for the new information age we find ourselves in. There was a time not so long ago when REHupa was an essential way station for Howard fans, the only place where an obsessed aficionado could keep up with new revelations, essays, and products. Old mailings were often a bazaar of the bizarre, chock full of want lists, advertisements for small press items, and announcements of new books. Members came to the a.p.a. via little blurbs in The Last Celt, the Lancer/Ace reprints, The Dark Barbarian, and the Marvel comics. To many it was like finding an oasis in the desert — one far more hospitable than Hyboria’s Xuthal. Back in the day, REHupa wasn’t just appreciated but needed. It kept a core interest in Howard’s career intact through times when no one else gave a damn.

Nowadays, REHupa increasingly feels more like a bi-monthly family reunion, or perhaps a private club with wood-paneled walls and aromatic cigars and comfortable chairs. A place to relax and talk Howard, enjoying the company of friends, but in the end a luxury, not a necessity. The necessary part of REHupa has gone public via an assortment of books, magazines, art projects, and websites. Communication between fans now happens instantaneously via e-mail, and need not wait for a bi-monthly mailing or hastily scrawled letters. There’s an Information Superhighway out there now, and more of us are using it exclusively — to the detriment of the mom and pop a.p.a. located downtown.

This transition from paper to pixels wasn’t easy, it’s taken place over a period of at least five years, leaving many bodies and battles lying in its wake. The REH-e-APA website was an early attempt to create an online Howard a.p.a., spearheaded by REHupan and former Dark Man editor Frank Coffman. For several years, REHupans had been debating among ourselves whether to morph the a.p.a. into an online format, but always the majority (myself included) ended up coming down on the side of conservative preservation of the a.p.a.’s status quo. Why argue with thirty years of success? Why potentially destroy a good thing?

I was never a fan of REH-e-APA, because I saw it not as improving Howard studies but cannibalizing it. It created a Darwinian competition for a limited number of people and essays without growing the field at all. When you have an a.p.a. and a journal gobbling up content and starved for more, the last thing you want is yet another venue fighting over the exact same turf. A fair number of people joined REH-e-APA, eager to take advantage of the web, and for awhile it didn’t lack for contributions. But the cost was dear. REHupa began its page count slide as it lost material to REH-e-APA, and The Dark Man entered its Dark Age of years between issues, with the excuse being that no one was submitting content — the very kind of content that was being siphoned away by REH-e-APA. That Frank was the head of both REH-e-APA and The Dark Man, in effect using one of his endeavors to kill the other, was strange in the extreme — taking two semi-thriving concerns and turning them into three anemic ones is not my idea of progress.

Meanwhile, an example of a web idea that filled a need and maximized use of existing technology, that grew the field instead of cannibalizing it, was HowardWorks. It presented very useful data in a full-color, searchable format that no conventionally published document could match. Rather than suck the life out of other concerns, it made it easier for the writers at those places to complete their essays. It supplemented and aided the creation of other venues rather than sapping them of strength. And in doing all of this, it won the Cimmerian Award for Best Website two years running.

At first glance, it might seem that The Cimmerian is a cannibalizing endeavor akin to REH-e-APA, one that has sapped strength from other publications using the mercenary tactic of dangling money in front of writers. But such a viewpoint misses a large part of the realignment of the field that has resulted from The Cimmerian‘s debut in 2004. Increasingly, TC is powered not by old hands but by new guys who nobody had heard of a few years ago, producing essays and articles that never would have been attempted without TC sitting out there as an appealing paying market. These people don’t stay locked into TC, they drift off into other arenas and fill their pages, too. Unlike REH-e-APA, Howard Studies has palpably grown as a result of TC. All of the other stalwarts are still out there: REHupa, The Dark Man, REH:Two-Gun Raconteur, The Howard Review, etc. Each is chugging along at about the same pace they were before TC started printing large amounts of material.

So, if they are collectively printing about the same amount, and TC is now printing hundreds of additional pages, then where is all of this extra material coming from? From the theory, proven many times throughout history, that a rising tide lifts all boats. Just as on a much larger scale a company like Microsoft spawns thousands of smaller companies eager to provide products for Windows, so the steady, paying presence of a mag like TC serves to grow our field. You don’t think that Cimmerian Award winners are spurred to greater heights of effort for having won an award? Or that essayists have produced essays solely because of the knowledge that they’ll get paid for it? Or that other magazines have redoubled their production in an effort to keep up with the Joneses? Or that readers being hit with a new TC every other month are more likely to remain in the Howardian loop, buying other products when they appear and making decisions to attend events like Howard Days? If you don’t think the presence of a self-perpetuating growth engine in the field is a big deal, you’re not a good student of human nature or of history. Momentum is contagious, and success breeds success.

But that leaves the matter of REHupa, which has seen its pagecount drop over the past few years. Where does this Internet and publishing realignment leave that organization?

I read an article a few months back with parallels to this situation. It concerned the very last telegram sent by Western Union. At long last, after decades of winding down, telegrams finally were being phased out of existence — a bittersweet occasion, yet one that also betokened amazing achievement. After all, the lack of telegrams doesn’t mean that communication has lessened, but that it’s far more advanced and successful than before. The key phrase is at the end of the article:

Samuel Morse, inventor of the Morse Code, sent the first telegram from Washington to Baltimore on May 26, 1844, to his partner Alfred Vail to usher in the telegram era that displaced the Pony Express. It read “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT?”

“If he only knew,” Chayet said of the myriad of choices today, which includes text message on cell phones, the Internet and virtually free long-distance calling rates.

“It definitely was an anachronism,” Noel said. “It’s amazing it survived this long.”

It’s amazing it survived this long.

My guess is that REHupa will quietly hum along for awhile longer, growing more irrelevant in practical terms with each passing year, without quite losing its charm. Eventually, the last of the old-timers will die off or give up on it. When that happens, my generation will give it a quiet burial and move on, having long ago built the next giant step forward, an online/self-publishing arena. It’s an environment destined to accomplish all the goals REHupa was built for and more, a world full of blogs and databases and e-texts, all hyperlinked and podcasted and printed-on-demand. It’s a world that the a.p.a.’s inaugural members in 1972, slaving and cursing over their ditto/mimeo/hectograph machines could only have dreamed up as science fiction. REHupa will be gone. The vast majority of its decades of research, scholarship, camaraderie, and accomplishment will be looted for gems, leaving a mountain of detritus as a footnote to an era, and to a vanished generation of fans.

But the spirit of REHupa, and the shockwaves generated from its existence, will be alive and well. Projects unnumbered will continue to benefit from its pioneering efforts. And — who knows? — maybe some enterprising soul will take on the monumental task of archiving its tens of thousands of pages, allowing them to be pored over by men unborn in 1972 (or 2006 for that matter), men who will wonder what people like Bill Cavalier, Rusty Burke, Glenn Lord, and Don Herron were really like. (I, of course, will be old yet hale, hearty, and worshiped by legions of cultist fans. Kind of like Jubal Harshaw in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, but with better chicks.)

To those of us who appreciate history, that silly acronym (Cimmerian readers know we pronounce it “Ray-HOOP-ah”) will forever hold a special place in our hearts, reminding us of a time when we were young and fought the good fight for Howard the hard way. One mailing at a time.

Two hundred mailings. Wow.

How to use permalinks

With more and more people reading, referencing, and linking to pages on this blog, it’s a good time to go over the proper way to link and point people to various articles.

A blog is kind of like a running newspaper or journal, with new entries constantly usurping the old and pushing them farther down (and eventually off) the page. Doing various searches in the archives will allow you to find the item again, but the archives are constantly in flux too, as new posts are created for each category.

So how best to hyperlink to the article you want to reference or tell others about? The answer is what’s called a “permalink.” This is a place where the article is presented all by itself, using a link that will never change no matter how other entries disrupt the various archive searches.

To find the permalink for a particular entry, simply click on the entry’s title:


This will take you to the permalink page, and the hyperlink you see there will never change:


Note where it says “p=130.” The “p” stands for “post #,” an individual number that doesn’t change, regardless of where the post travels in the archives.

So remember, to link to a post, first click on the title of the post to go to the permalink page, then use the link in the address bar of your browser window. If your link doesn’t say “p=” at the end, it’s not a good link and will change the next time we post.

Historical Accuracy in Howard’s Fiction


While browsing around the net, looking over various Howard sites and researching some other posts I am planning for you, I came across a short Howard blurb at the Fantastic Fiction website. This is a bibliographic site seemingly created by a good-hearted fan of the genre, one without an axe to grind, save the one used to break down walls between various authors of the mystifying and the macabre. Notably, the website seems to be updated regularly, given the number of as-yet-unpublished Howard books advertised on the page.

The REH blurb located there is typical for such a site, giving an all-too-short overview of Howard’s career, mentioning stories “notable for their violent energy,” tossing in a reference to the pastiches, and of course highlighting the suicide. There are numerous little quibbles to be found — Schwarzenegger is spelled wrong, and anyone calling de Camp a “pious friend” of Howard’s might want to lease out space in whatever fortified bunker Gary Romeo has bastioned himself in down Texas way. But what most captivated my attention was the theory proposed for why Howard embraced invented epochs as settings:

Some of the pulp fiction of the short-lived Texan Robert E. Howard are straightforward Westerns or historical romance; his contribution to the history of fantasy was to realize that setting his stories of ruthless hard men in Atlantis or a mythical age shortly after its fall enabled him to write without the trammels of historical accuracy.

This is written as if it is a point of pride, a notable accomplishment on Howard’s part. But too often such praise grows faint when set under the shadow of an old argument in Howard studies, the idea that Howard’s Conan stories are a mishmash and a hodgepodge of various time-periods, with some critics opining that Howard did it that way out of laziness and the need to write fast. In other words, so he could deftly avoid worrying about the “trammels of historical accuracy.”

Others such as myself believe that this technique, as executed by REH, was ultimately far more mash than mish, an ingenious way for him to manipulate our expectations of historical accuracy in order to comment on history, Time, and the everlasting barbarism of man. To shock his readers with similarities not of the body — costumes, dialects, anachronisms — but of the soul. In other words, he meant to do it, planned it that way, often meticulously and by great mental and artistic exertion on his part. That in fact he took far longer to write stories containing such themes than if he had truly swore off historical accuracy.

Folks who disagree with this, who insist that Howard wrote fast and furious for the pulps with too-little regard for the substance of the tale’s milieu, are able to score a few cheap points off of various typos and word usages found in the Conan stories (swords jumping from the ground back into the scabbard, three mutually exclusive words to describe the same helmet, the key invention of stirrups appearing in Howard’s historical episodes long before they actually did in our own). But once that thin gruel is exhausted, such critics have much to answer for. Numerous articles have been written about the often uncanny historical accuracy to be found in Howard’s stories, from the usage of what was then accepted 1920’s history for the backstory of his Picts and Aryan barbarians, to the way he described guns and other implements of the Wild West, to the nuanced way Howard differentiated the trappings of armor, weapons, and battle tactics in historical tales set in the far east or in the Muslim lands of the Middle Ages. To dedicated readers of Howard, and E. Hoffmann Price’s well-known scoffing notwithstanding, it is clear that Howard invested far more time and effort into historical accuracy than he is usually given credit for. Howard even studied Gaelic and other languages as much as he could in the desolate isolation of turn-of-the-century Texas, presaging similar techniques being used at the same time by the then-Hobbitless J.R.R. Tolkien in his private thoughts and notebooks. Slipshod critics have written much about Howard’s invented names without copping to the fact that many of them — Conan, anyone? — were used with precision, expressly geared towards the evocation of historic continuity.

Many visitors to this blog have already read J. D. Charles’ exposition on “REH and Guns” for The Cimmerian (V3n1) or the two great El Borak essays written for TC by Dave Hardy (“The Great Game” in V1n2 and “Indomitable Wildness, Unquenchable Vitality” for V3n4), each of which lends credence to the idea that Howard cared much about historical accuracy. There are many more excellent essays on the subject out there — those of you wishing for a less raucous, more academically sanctioned argument can pick up a copy of the MLA indexed, peer-reviewed The Dark Man #5 for Winter 2001 and read Ed Waterman‘s “Dating ‘Wolfshead’,” which postulates (successfully to my mind) that Howard was such a stickler for historical accuracy that the unnamed time period in which the plot of the story occurs can be dated to within a few years, based on an analysis of words and archaisms that REH may well have employed with meticulous exactitude. These are only a few examples off the top of my head; there are many others.

And one only has to turn to the writings of REH fans such as Cimmerian Award-winner Dale Rippke to realize that the Hyborian Age and Kull’s Atlantis achieve their verisimilitude not only via REH’s mythic prose sparkling with “dusky, emerald witch-light,” but from Howard’s decision not to use historical allusions merely for expediency. Clearly he did his best to set his fantasy tales in a world linked to ours by race, war, thunderous migrations, and above all the hatreds and violence that have always dogged mankind, and always will. Howard was perfectly capable of writing within the trammels of historical accuracy, and to the degree that his fantasy stories — that all good fantasy stories — stray from real history, they do so in measured, thoughtful ways that serve not to free the author from history so much as bind the reader more fully to the inescapable truths of Life and Humanity.

When we finish reading “Beyond the Black River,” with its evocative conjuring of the battles for the heart and soul of the American West, who among us feels that REH used such a setting merely to be able to write westerns without worrying about accurately describing the warpaint of the Indians or the caliber of the settlers’ rifles? How silly. But get to the last lines of the tale, savor Howard’s thematic denouement, and a more audacious goal becomes clear:

“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,” the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. “Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”

I would argue that the impact of those lines has nothing to do with fantasy per se, or with Conan, or with mere poetry or wordplay on Howard’s part. What gives them such resonance is exactly what the unnamed writer at Fantastic Fiction is criticizing: it is the fact that they are from a fantasy story that feels for all intents and purposes like a Western which gives the tale an epic sweep and timeless view of humanity that lingers long in the minds of readers. The reason so much fantasy fails and feels little more than a pastiche of Howard or Tolkien is that the writers mistake invented worlds and fantastic trappings for escape, whereas the best writers use invented realms as dreamcatchers, binding us to the tie-ribs of reality in ways otherwise impossible. A western, written with meticulous accuracy to time and place, is too often just a Western. “Beyond the Black River” is a Western too, you bet it is; but in it we find reality writ large, looming over and transcending time and place to highlight the dark, fathomless, often horrifying inner soul of mankind, replaying its grim tragedy through Age after Age.

Most interesting is how Howard’s best modern-day, “historically accurate” tales do the same thing the other way around. “The Vultures of Wahpeton,” for example, is widely considered to be Howard’s most successfully executed Western. Based on an actual historical episode, the life and death of Hendry Brown, it is one of the Howard stories being groomed for movie production by Paradox Entertainment (see the forthcoming The Cimmerian V3n7 for details). And yet in this outwardly western tale of gunfights, outlaws, and American sensibilities, let us pause and dwell for a moment on the savage incursions of near-Hyborian mysticism that intrude on the proceedings:

He hated Glanton with the merciless hate of his race, which is more enduring and relentless than the hate of an Indian or Spaniard…his creed was pagan and nakedly elemental.

The merciless hate of his race? What race would that be? The “race” of Rugged Westerner? Irish/Gael?

Ancient Cimmerian?

Howard gives us more hints, as he describes the western boomtown wherein he sets his tale of gold and gloom:

Here there were no delicate shadings or subtle contrasts. Life painted here in broad, raw colors, in bold, vivid strokes. Men who came here left behind them the delicate nuances, the cultured tranquilities of life. An empire was being built on muscle and guts and audacity, and men dreamed gigantically and wrought terrifically. No dream was too mad, no enterprise too tremendous to be accomplished.

Sound like a Western? Or one of the many “escapes” to lands of fantastic deeds and superhuman heroes that Howard is usually credited with? Is this Wahpeton, or Aquilonia?

And how does one explain the mythic, iconic Conan-ness that Howard deftly injects into the gunplay:

Middleton stared wildly about him, through the floating blue fog of smoke that veiled the room. In that fleeting instant, as he glimpsed Corcoran’s image-like face, he felt that only in such a setting as this did the Texan appear fitted. Like a somber figure of Fate he moved implacably against a background of blood and slaughter.

And again:

Middleton’s hand was a streak to his gun butt. Even in that flash he knew he was beaten — heard Corcoran’s gun roar just as he pulled trigger. He swayed back, falling, and in a blind gust of passion Corcoran emptied both guns into him as he crumpled.

For a long moment that seemed ticking into Eternity the killer stood over his victim, a somber, brooding figure that might have been carved from the iron night of the Fates.

That iron night of the Fates stretches, in Howard’s hands, from the American West all the way back to the Hyborian Age and beyond, linked together in Howard’s writings by a witch’s brew of imagery, theme, and “historical accuracy” in the truest sense. Howard’s great achievement in fantasy wasn’t to escape reality, but to confront it in a grandiose, human struggle, the epic nature of which could not be summoned with quite as much thematic power any other way.

Blast from the Past


As Cimmerian readers well know, one of the last surviving men who actually knew the Howard family is Norris Chambers, now 88 years old I believe, who resides in White Settlement, Texas, which is in the suburbs of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Those of you who attended the centennial Robert E. Howard Days last June got a taste of the interview Don Herron and myself did with Norris last year, which appeared in June’s TC (V3n6). Later on this year, The Cimmerian will present the full interview, with lots of new information about Robert E. Howard and his parents, so keep an eye out for it.

But if after reading the tease in the June issue you can’t wait until autumn to get more Norris stories, head over to his website where many favorite tales from his bygone youth have been posted. The one that Howard fans will initially be most interested in is “Typing Conan Stories,” but for anyone wondering about the history of Cross Plains and the surrounding area during Howard’s time, all of the tales listed on the site are well worth reading. One of my personal favorites is the macabre, Charles Willefordian tale “Good Old Chicken,” the first tale in the list. Others describe numerous hijinks of the sort that Howard likely engaged in or witnessed.

Norris was thinking about attending Howard Days this year, but this spring his wife had a stroke and he felt it unwise to leave her side. So if you like his stories and website, drop Norris a quick email letting him know, and wish him and his wife good health and a quick recovery. Who knows, maybe next year Norris will be able to make the trip to Cross Plains and visit with fans at Howard Days. It would be fascinating to walk with him through the Howard House and listen to him describe how it was seventy years ago, when he walked its halls and rooms with Isaac, Hester, and Robert E. Howard.

The Duplicity of Davy Jones

Guest blogger Jim Keegan follows up on Steve Tompkins’ post on ghostly pirate stories with a look at whether Hollywood has been looting any booty from Howardian treasure chests:

Jim says: Two years ago I read numerous comments on the Internet that pointed out the uncanny similarity between the design of the title character in the 2004 film Van Helsing and illustrations that Gary Gianni had created for the 1998 book The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane.




Was it merely coincidence, or was Hollywood strip-mining Gianni’s REH illustrations for ideas?

Well, Steve Tompkins’ description of Davy Jones as portrayed in the new Walt Disney film rang some bells. On the left is Davy Jones as envisioned by Walt Disney filmmakers for the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Dead Man’s Chest. Next to it, on the right, is Gary Gianni’s design for Davy Jones from his 1997 Corpus Monstrum comic book, “Autopsy in B-Flat.”

Another coincidence? What are the odds?

Conan the Wikipedian


The website Wikipedia is one of the great success stories of the Internet. A free, online encyclopedia, it has gained its widespread prestige and usefulness from the fact that it can be edited by anybody, at any time, as often as needed. This allows an expert in any field to create and maintain entries describing the subject of their expertise, even ones far too esoteric to make it into any regular encyclopedia. As entries pile up (as they have at a ferocious pace ever since Wikipedia’s debut in 2001) other experts can flesh out and correct what has been posted. Entries grow longer, more detailed, more accurate…and before you know it, the world’s largest, most comprehensive encyclopedia has been typed into existence, open-source style. All free, forever. Pretty cool, especially if you have childhood nightmares of desperately rushing to the library before closing time to copy a page from an encyclopedia — usually because your kid brother had used the family copy as a skateboard ramp.

The result of this experiment, on the whole, has been enormously positive. Wikipedia has its share of entries which are heavily disputed and fought over, as various experts with differing political points of view strive to wrest hot-button topics from the grip of other partisans. But for the vast majority of entries, Wikipedia has become a reliable and incredibly deep resource for just about anything you would care to learn. Over one million articles have been posted, many of staggering complexity and detail. For many current Internet users, the first thing they do online when confronted with a new person, event, or subject — even before Googling it — is head over to Wikipedia and look it up.

But crucially, all Wikipedia entries are not created equal. Some are sparsely and poorly written, others give only one side of the story. Unfortunately, the entries for Robert E. Howard and his work currently fall into this category. Howard’s main entry is threadbare and heavily slanted toward the de Campian viewpoint that predominated twenty years ago. His biography takes up all of six paragraphs, the bulk of which concerns his suicide. The rest is on the whole pedestrian and shallow, failing to achieve the level of a genre encyclopedia entry, like the one in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy.

To add insult to injury, many other Wiki entries for famous authors, such as the one for H. P. Lovecraft, are far more comprehensive. Even the entry for L. Sprague de Camp dwarfs the Howard entry, containing a long list of de Camp’s books and much other information.

But remember, this is Wikipedia — poor entries do not have to remain that way. As the website proclaims, “On Wikipedia, and its sister projects, you are welcome to be bold and edit articles yourself, contributing knowledge as you see fit in a collaborative way. So go ahead!” Any Howard fan with the time and inclination can add to Howard’s entry, scrap whole sections and replace them with better ones, and build additional entries for all of Howard’s characters, stories, biographical compatriots (Tevis Clyde Smith, Truett Vinson, etc.), and so on.

With more readers taking advantage of Wikipedia and making it a major stop on the information superhighway, it behooves us Howard fans to make his entry a shining light in the cyber-gloom. If a dozen people each added one story entry a week, soon every one of REH’s stories would have its own page, easily expandable whenever more information rolls in.

In addition, there are Wikipedia “sister sites” that need more Howard contributions. Wikisource is similar to the website Project Gutenberg, which archives texts of original documents — stories, letters, poems. Some Howard items are already there, but it could use a lot more. And just like with Wikipedia, if you see errors in the text, you can edit them out of existence. Wikiquote houses famous quotations, but Howard is represented by a mere three. Why not spend a few moments to post your favorites? Entries on words such as “Cimmerian” could possibly be tweaked with a Howard slant at the Wiktionary. There is even a Conan Wiki, which is setup to act as an information repository for anything and everything about the famous Cimmerian, whether you’re discussing the one from Howard’s original stories or the ones from the various pastiches.

For years, I have often fantasized about designing a Howard database on the Internet, one holding everything we could think to include about the author. Story summaries, character lists, concordances, lesson plans for school, pictures, video, e-texts. With Wikipedia we have the next best thing, or perhaps even a better thing: a place for Howard information that can be accessed and improved by anybody. So if you have ever had the urge to write about Two-Gun Bob, head on over to Wikipedia, punch up “Robert E. Howard,” and get to work. Let’s see if, between the lot of us, we can make Howard’s entry into something special.

Above and Beyond the Call of Booty

No, not the “-licious” kind of booty. Pirate booty. Swag. The other wages of sin. Howard Pyle prefaced his Book of Pirates with a rhetorical question: “Why is it that a little spice of deviltry lends not an unpleasantly titillating tang to the great mass of respectable flour that goes to make up the pudding of our modern civilization?” Advance word has whispered that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest will add a little spice of not-particularly-Disneyfied devilry to the great mass of not-to-be-baked-with flour-substitute that constitutes the 2006 summer releases — indeed, some genre-oriented websites are going so far as to suggest that Dead Man’s Chest is to 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl as The Empire Strikes Back was to Star Wars.

The captain’s-share of the credit for the phenomenon that the first Pirates of the Caribbean became goes of course to Johnny Depp and his inspired tribute to the woozy body language and woozier speech patterns of Keith Richards, who in his protracted heyday treated everything life had to offer as one defenseless Spanish treasure fleet. But Captain Jack Sparrow’s scurvy groove and raffish glide stood out all the more against the backdrop of a supernatural pirate story, for Gore Verbinski’s film belonged, much to the delight of a few of us, to a subgenre of a subgenre. We learned early on that the Black Pearl had “black sails, [was] crewed by the damned, and [was] captained by a man so evil that Hell itself spat him back out”–Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa, whom vindictive Aztec gods (and why wouldn’t they be vindictive?) afflicted with a death-in-life condition in which he and his men were unable to eat, drink, or be merry. Not to be outdone, the crew of tentacle-bearded soul collector Davy Jones’ Flying Dutchman in Dead Man’s Chest, all of them recruited from sinking vessels, are transmuting into anthropomorphic sea creatures whose shore leave options will soon be limited to Innsmouth.

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