For decades, Howard studies has been riddled with debates about the limits of biography — the ability of modern readers to separate truth from fiction. People say that Howard made up his own reality. He told tall tales, invented incidents to suit his arguments, and believed that he lived in a world of violence and enemies that didn’t exist. Or that maybe existed. Partially. Perhaps.

In tandem with those thoughts is a sense of frustration at the way biographical myths about Howard — things we conclusively know to be untrue — continue to be perpetrated by journalists, columnists, and other assorted commentators. When engaged in the seemingly neverending battle to bring REH a measure of respect and justice, it’s easy to believe that Howard’s is a special case, a particularly virulent strain of the journalistic world’s ability to fudge every fact and jump at every good story regardless of merit or accuracy.

The Cimmerian recently had a good example of this in Rusty Burke’s article “The Note” (V3n1) which postulated that one of the most well-known facts about Howard, his suicide note, may not have existed at all. Just think if we somehow were able to conclusively prove that this was the case. Think of all the misinformation sitting out there, printed and read over the years, and how impossible it would be to rein it all in. As it stands we have enough trouble fighting the common myth of Howard as an insane Oedipal bipolar whack-a-doo.

But you know something? The more I read into the lives of others, especially artists and celebrities, the more I become comfortable with the state of Howard’s reputation, falsities and all. Not that I don’t care for the truth to become the “common knowledge” about Howard, just that I’m willing to let the transformation happen at its own pace. Howard is not unique in the level of mystery surrounding his life, nor in the inability of his biographers to make final determinations about various events, anecdotes, and historical facts.

Take a popular example from modern times: Steven Spielberg. One of the most rich, powerful, lauded, and well-known personages in the world, you would think that someone of his stature and level of interest — someone still alive and with the world realizing the worth of his output — would be safely under the proverbial microscope. All the stories verified, all the people around him interviewed, and every last scrap of data checked for accuracy. You would think that journalists could and would get all the facts straight regarding his life and work, and that — unlike with Howard — doing so would be a breeze.

Think again.

Despite all of the interviews, biographies, fans, and interest, Spielberg’s life remains a frustrating battle against creeping biomyths. The man who can legitimately lay claim to having written the most accurate biography on Spielberg so far, Joseph McBride (who also wrote arguably the best volumes on John Ford and Frank Capra) states on the dustjacket flap of his book that “much about Steven Spielberg’s personality and the forces that shaped it remain enigmatic, in large part because of his tendency to obscure and mythologize his own past.”

Sound familiar?

For instance, set against minor debates about such things as the Howard birth certificate (which says January 24 rather than 22, and which spells his middle name wrong) we have Spielberg for years claiming that he was a year younger than he actually was, complete with conspiracy theories as to why. McBride writes

Spielberg’s incorrect age and birthdate have been given in innumerable articles and several books, although all that was necessary to resolve the question was a request to the Cincinnati Board of Health for his Ohio Department of Health birth certificate.

McBride goes on to meticulously document all of the twists and turns of Spielberg’s various age claims over the years, entering a dizzying labyrinth Howard scholars can only shiver at. And that’s just the first of many myths about the director, most perpetrated by himself. Did Spielberg, for example, ever sneak onto the Universal lot in the legendary way he described many times over the years? Did he actually/possibly/maybe direct Poltergeist under the nose of billed director Tobe Hooper? We’ll probably never know for sure. The web of myth is too dense, with lots of broken strands and false leads. In many ways Spielberg is as much of an enigma as Howard.

And yet the biographies of Spielberg keep coming, and the attempts to analyze his work continue. As does the battle against wrong information. Cruise over to the Spielberg Films fansite forums, and you will see the same frustration REH fans have experienced over the years, covering everything from whether Raiders of the Lost Ark technically came in under or over budget, to the color of Spielberg’s pubic hair!

At times, Howard fans think that if Howard was more popular and secure in his reputation, we wouldn’t feel the need to be so defensive about factual errors promulgated in magazines or on websites. But if Spielberg’s fans are just as defensive about their man — a man who has seemingly won every accolade someone in his profession could hope for — then it’s pretty clear that such feelings come with the territory regardless of how famous the subject is. Perhaps Howard fans aren’t any more tender-skinned than aficionados of any other stripe.

So the next time you find yourself banging your head against the wall trying to correct misconceptions about REH, asking yourself why Howard fans are cursed with such thorny issues and vast information gaps, remember that when it comes to sifting through biomythology, and just like Spielberg’s Close Encounters protagonists, “We Are Not Alone.”

Ben Zoom Strikes Yet Again


Just when you thought it was safe to dip back into fantasy and literary journals…dumdumdumdumdum…..

This time the joke is on Wormwood, an English journal published by Tartarus Press, one offering “writings about fantasy, supernatural, and decadent literature.” Laudable writers such as Brian Stableford and Doug Anderson regularly grace its pages, so you would think the journal possessed a minimal standard high enough to exclude the Abrasive Aussie. Apparently not.

Ben Szumskyj managed to squeak in with an essay that was previously foisted on REHupa several years back, one now titled “Sally Sells Seashells On The Seash–“…er, I mean “Savage Songs from a Sinful Sea: Robert E. Howard’s Faring Town Trilogy.” Looking back on the REHupa in question, this wasn’t the worst thing Ben ever wrote, but it still featured enough typical abuses of English and grammar to satisfy those who read him for perverse entertainment. So if you collect Ben for that reason snap it up.

I doubt I’ll ever get to see a copy in person, but anyone who scores one be sure to let me know whether the essay still has things like:

It is seen that when Howard was deeply affected by a particular tale, genre, author or theme for an individual month or so, he would convey it into his own words and through his typewriter, create an original piece of fiction (or in some cases, homage).

This tale is a perfect example of how in the face of possible evidence, a crime does not always have had to been committed by the most likely subject. In fact, this story proves that what is considered to be an atrocious crime, can in fact, be saintly compared to an alternative action.

As stated before, the sea is one not to be used unless is has a graver agenda in mind.

Sailors, mariners and pirates may ride her waves and successfully live a life in its domain, but has also consumed many souls, innocent and bloody, for it obeys no laws and resides both in the darkness of night and the light of day.

This poetical quote gives us the clear understanding that, all underwater life both natural and mythical disfavour the mainland’s creatures, as they are the sole dominant king of the world, for in a supernatural sense, he is correct as two third’s of the world is in fact, under the seas.

Perhaps, through studying the geographies and cultures of Howard’s worlds, can those characters we so adore, fit into the puzzle of Howard’s inspirations, sources and influences, so much easier.

This article, of course, will be on the ballot for next year’s Cimmerian Awards.


Ben Zoom Strikes Again

Mucho Howard News at Coming Attractions


If you don’t have Bill Thom’s website Coming Attractions bookmarked for weekly perusal, you’re missing out on the most up-to-date and comprehensive news site for forthcoming Howard publications, not to mention Howard news in general.

Click on over to Thom’s site, and scrolling down currently gives you full coverage of the following Howard items:

BLOOD AND THUNDER: THE LIFE AND ART OF ROBERT E. HOWARD By [redacted] – Now available for pre-order!
THE CIMMERIAN, VOLUME 3, NUMBER 6, JUNE 2006 – Now available!
The Cimmerian Library – Volume 2 is now available!
CONAN AND THE SONGS OF THE DEAD #1 – Available in comic shops July 6th!
Dennis McHaney: THE MAN FROM CROSS PLAINS – Now available in hardcover!
Flesk Publications – Now available! – Mark Schultz: Various Drawings Volume Two
Wildside Press – Schedule update!The 18th Annual NYC Collectable Paperback & Pulp Fiction Expo – October 1, 2006!
Chronicles of Conan – New collections are coming soon!
Cimmerian Awards for 2006
CONAN #32 – Coming in September!
CONAN AND THE DEMONS OF KHITAI TPB – Available in comic shops June 28th!
CONAN AND THE SONGS OF THE DEAD #3 (of 5) – Coming in September!
The 100 Best Writers of Fantasy & Horror – Coming in November!
CONAN #29 – Available in comic shops June 21st!
CONAN #32 – Coming in September!
CONAN: BOOK OF THOTH #4 (of 4) – Available in comic shops June 21st!
CONAN AND THE MIDNIGHT GOD – New miniseries coming later this year!
CONAN AND THE SONGS OF THE DEAD #3 (of 5) – Coming in September!
CONAN – Boaz Yakin to write and potentially direct “Conan the Barbarian”
THE DARK MAN – Now available!
THE CIMMERIAN, VOLUME 3, NUMBER 5, MAY 2006 – Now available!
Dennis McHaney publications – On June 5, the following publications by Dennis McHaney that are now available on will cease to be available and should be considered OUT OF PRINT.
Girasol Collectables – THE WEIRD WRITINGS OF ROBERT E. HOWARD – Now available!
Girasol Collectables – NEW Robert E. Howard Book coming this Fall!
Howard Days – June 8-10, 2006
REH Comics Group: This group is dedicated to the characters created by Robert E Howard

And that’s just the news for the last few weeks. Each entry is accompanied by paragraphs of details, photographs, and links. For the Howard fan looking to keep abreast of centennial year development, there is no substitute. Bookmark it now, and while you’re at it visit the other Howardian website Bill Thom manages, Paul Herman’s HowardWorks, winner of the Cimmerian Award for Best REH Website for two years running.

Review of Chris Gruber’s Them’s Fightin’ Words


James Reasoner continues to post about his pulp and Howard manias and his writing career at his blog Rough Edges, which just hit its two-year anniversary and its six-hundredth post. Today he weighs in with a review of the latest Cimmerian Library publication, Them’s Fightin’ Words: REH on Boxing by Chris Gruber. Give his review a read, and then pick up a copy of the booklet if you haven’t already.

Howard and the Fourth of July

July 4, 1935. Howard, drunk and depressed at his home in Cross Plains, sits at his typewriter and begins to compose two letters. One, to his on-again/off-again girlfriend Novalyne Price, seethes with barely disguised bitterness and scorn over his recent discovery that she has been dating one of his best and oldest friends, Truett Vinson, behind his back. The letter begins:

I take my typewriter in hand to write you a letter on this grand and suspicious — I mean auspicious occasion — when the zoom of the horse race and the rodeo is heard in the land, punctuated by the flap of waving flags, the rumble of patriotic speeches, and the howls of patriots getting their scalps burnt off by premature fire crackers.

Howard went on to drop numerous hints about his knowledge of her transgressions, which precipitated the beginning of the end of their falling out and which is recounted in Novalyne’s book One Who Walked Alone.

On the same day, he wrote a fairly lengthy letter to August Derleth, which among other things featured a wide-ranging discussion of the grand holiday, Texas-style. Howard wrote:

I seem to ramble, but ignore it. It is merely a result of being too full of beer. Burgundy wine and a peculiarly potent blackberry brandy liqueur I discovered in Socorro, New Mexico. This is the galorious fourth, dear to patriotic hearts from the sunny slopes of Maine to the muscle-bound coasts of San Diego, and I must do my patriotic duty…They’ll probably have a small rodeo here at the annual picnic, with the attendant casualties. Last year it was a cowboy from Oklahoma who called himself Jack o’ Diamonds.

He then goes on to describe a long and typically grisly series of folkloric deaths that have occurred at various Cross Plains events over the years. By the end one pictures an event like the modern-day Howard Days in a shambles, with Dennis McHaney gutted and crying out his death song over here, Rusty Burke marinating in a pool of his own entrails over there, and the rest of us already being tossed into new plots at the Cross Plains Cemetery dug expressly for the occasion. Howard wraps up by remarking:

Now that’s but a poor thought on the fourth of July. But the liquor has stirred up old memories and set the ghosts of the dead walking in my mind. Old names that are already meaningless as the wind that blows through the trees at midnight. But it’s a poor thought on a day of jubilee and firecrackers. I’m drunker than I thought I was.

If Howard was kidding about being tipsy when writing those letters, he kept up the charade months later, when on November 1, 1935 he wrote Derleth again and apologized for his behavior:

I seem to remember being full of booze the last time I wrote you — in fact your answering letter confirms it. I was probably verbose and repetitious; hope I didn’t bore you too much. I have an infernal habit of writing letters when I get to a certain point of intoxication. Which is rare; I seldom get even mildly soused more than two or three times a year.

Concerning Howard’s tale of the death of “Jack o’ Diamonds” and the other examples of Fourth of July picnic mayhem, it’s a mistake to believe that they are representative only of Howard’s frightful imagination, one that created enemies out of ether and feuds out of fantasy. Howard’s stories and Texan anecdotes are often hyper-real, brilliantly distilled to highlight his chosen themes: hate, vengeance, and the innate barbarity of Man. And yet there are copious amounts of Truth to be mined in even his most outrageous and hard-to-believe tales.

To Lovecraft’s varied denunciations of Howard’s view of the world as a hopelessly violent, dangerous admixture of outlaws and innocents, Howard once retorted with several newspaper clippings, each accompanied by a typed notation by REH. One was titled “Memorial Day Costs 41 Lives,” and among the listing of death and mayhem perpetrated around the country that day are the following two items:

Two were killed in Texas, a deputy stabbed and five others shot, and in Rhode Island, a farm hand, later killed by police, shot a state officer to death.

Rhode Island, of course, was the home of Lovecraft himself, a place the horror maven made it a point to assure Howard was well-policed and utterly free from the barbaric natures and criminal outrages of Howard’s own Lone Star State. Howard’s sardonic comment, typed in the margin of the article clipping sent to Lovecraft, states, “Looks like your state was right up alongside mine on that particular day.”

The other clipping has a large headline proclaiming “FIVE OTHERS STRUCK DOWN BY BULLETS,” with a subheading of “Deputy Sheriff Is Stabbed When Feud, Dormant 26 Years, Breaks Forth Anew. Shots Narrowly Miss Group of Children Gathered About Speaker’s Stand.” The article begins thusly:


Two men were killed, a deputy sheriff stabbed and five others struck by bullets in a gun and knife fight at a political meeting here today which reopened a feud dormant for 26 years.

It sounds to all intents and purposes like something out of a Breck Elkins story, “Pistol Politics” perhaps:

“Gentlemen!” squawked Gooseneck — and then ducked as they both went for their guns.

They cleared leather at the same time. When the smoke oozed away Gooseneck crawled out from under the roulette table and cussed fervently.

“Two more reliable voters gone to glory!” he raged. “Breckinridge, whyn’t you stop ’em?”

“‘Twarn’t none of my business,” says I, reching for another drink, because a stray bullet had knocked my glass outa my hand.

Howard’s view of the Fourth of July dovetailed nicely with his views on Texas, southerners, and life in general: rowdy, loud, passionate, many times silly and unpredictable, but in the end sacred in some unfathomable way. On July 3, 1933, Howard asked Derleth:

How are you going to celebrate the gul-orious Fourth, which is tomorrow? Of late years that occasion has been observed a right smart in the Southwest. When I first remember, the Fourth of July was just another day. Too hot to shoot fire-crackers; at least we considered it so then. We saved our fireworks for Christmas, and I recall with a slight shudder the homemade fireworks my pal and I used to experiment with: dynamite caps, blasting powder, and six shooters.

We can assume that the pal in question wasn’t Tevis Clyde Smith, who lived in Brownwood and who Howard failed to meet up with for the Fourth in 1925. On July 7 of that year Howard sent a letter to Smith that read in part:

How was the fourth! I tried my dangdest to get a way over there but the amount of work there is. Lots of times I’ve worked until nine o’clock at night, principally on oil reports, and am a way behind them, now.

As the years went on, it became clear that the Fourth was a microcosmic view of Howard’s life, in that each holiday showed him missing out on real-life at the expense of staying home, working, and feeding the inner life of his mind. Again and again we see Howard lamenting the passing of the holiday without him doing some activity he had planned. In June 1929 he wrote Tevis Clyde Smith that

I’m going to make a desperate effort to go to Matamoros the 4th of July. A whole flock of first-string heavyweights are going to perform there, with a bunch of Texas sluggers for preliminary heats. Gad, what I’d give to have a ringside seat in the old bullring when Stribling crosses mitts with Risko!

As he never mentions it again in his correspondence, it’s likely he never made it. And in that same letter to Derleth on July 4, 1935, the one that found Howard drunk and despondent at Novalyne’s betrayal and at another Fourth of July spent at home, away from friends and picnics and “real life,” Howard tells Augie

I wanted to go to the annual rodeo of Stamford, but not enough to drive a hundred and fifty miles in this heat and my present state of finances. Will Rogers was there, and I understand there was — or is — a distinguished bevy of bronc busters, calf-ropers and bull-throwers — particularly the latter. I’ll maybe get to go next year — and probably won’t.

As it happened, by July 4 of the following year Howard would be dead, felled by the last gasp of the same Texan obsession with violence and danger that he continually highlighted in his letters. As scholars and fans, we can sometimes be too quick to scoff at Howard’s flights of hyperbole and tale-spinning, dismissing the bulk of it as the imaginative rural legends spun by a master of the form. In the meantime, everywhere you go in Texas you see examples of the very things he wrote of. The ruins of Forts and scenes of ghastly slaughter, arrowheads in the grass, bulletholes through historic markers, and boneyards filled with men who died violently. Howard himself is buried in the same cemetery as one of outlaw John Wesley Hardin’s most famous victims, sheriff Charley Webb, an incident Howard himself wrote about to Lovecraft with great verve. When years later Hardin himself was gunned down in cold blood in El Paso, it was said that things in Texas had progressed to the point where nobody had to saddle up a horse to notify his friends and next of kin, they simply picked up the telephone.

But I suppose such a grisly tale is a damn poor thought on the Fourth of July.

The original contract for A Gent from Bear Creek


REHupan Danny Street has been doing some serious Howardian sleuthing around his home stomping grounds in England, and he has come up with a variety of interesting finds. One of them can now be seen at the REHupa website — the original contract for Robert E. Howard’s first hardcover, 1937’s A Gent from Bear Creek.

Information on this find, and on the other REH secrets from the United Kingdom which Danny has unearthed, will be published soon in an upcoming issue of The Cimmerian. Keep a look out for it.

Howard at the Post Office

While spending the requisite hours at the post office mailing packages containing the June issue and Volume 2 of The Cimmerian Library (yes, they are finally on the way), I was surprised to bump into not one but two people who had heard of Robert E. Howard.

First, my teller asked me what was in the packages. “Books,” I said.

“What kind of books?”

“Sort of like a literary journal about an author.”

“Neat. Which author?”

“Robert E. Howard.”

“Oh, I think I’ve heard of him. That guy who wrote the Conan books, right? I read those when I was a kid.”

It’s not very often you get that kind of name recognition for REH. After a bit more small talk, the guy asked, “So what’s in the latest issue.”

“Oh some stuff about a festival that happens each year in his home town.”

That’s when a customer at the next teller pipes up with, “That happens in Cross Plains, right?” Now I start wondering if I’m on candid camera.

“Yeah, Cross Plains.”

“OK. I’m into pulps and stuff, that’s why I’ve heard about it. Bob Weinberg told me he went down there a few years ago.”

“Yeah, that’s right, he was Guest of Honor.”

“He owns the rights to Weird Tales.”

“Well, not anymore. He sold them to Wildside Press.”

“Oh, really?”

The final exchange was kind of fun. The guy asks, “So how many people do you get down there? Most pulp gatherings like that have only twenty people or so.” I was able to proudly reply, “A slow year is about a hundred, but this year is Howard’s centennial, so we had about three hundred.” The guy, probably used to PulpCon or Burroughs Dum-Dums, seemed suitably impressed.

Like Mark said a few posts back, Howard’s name is seeping into various nooks and crannies of the literary world. Growing his name and reputation, one reader at a time.