Berkley/Putnam Conans: Hardcovered, But Soft-Pedalled?

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What follows is excerpted from “A View From Corona #13,” a January 11, 2003 editorial by Jeremy Lassen. All of Lassen’s Views From Corona are worth reading, and he’s stockpiled good karma as the Night Shade Books editor who convinced Charles Saunders to write “Betrayal in Blood,” an all-new novella dealing with truculent sword-and-sorcery hero Imaro as a haramia (bandit) chieftain for whom nothing exceeds like excess until the armies of the feuding kingdoms he’s been raiding unite against him. “Betrayal in Blood” is now available as the concluding section of Imaro, the extensively revised version of Saunders’ 1981 novel published by Night Shade earlier this year.

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Busy summer for Howard Museum

The following article appeared on the front page of the Cross Plains Review dated Thursday, August 10, 2006. It was written by Cimmerian contributor Arlene Stephenson (“The Fire That Spread Around the World,” V3n2). And Danny Street, the Englishman mentioned in the article, has a nice piece coming up in the August Cimmerian, not about his Cross Plains trip but about some Howard research he’s been conducting in the UK.
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Visitors Continue to Tour Howard House Museum

July proved to be a great month for the Howard House Museum as it was shown 12 times to a total of 20 visitors. Two couples from England came to the USA specifically to visit Cross Plains and the Museum, as did a family from Germany and two couples from Canada. The fellows in these groups are dedicated Howard scholars and were thrilled to see where their hero had written the bulk of his stories. Project Pride members giving the tours continue to be amazed at what we learn from these folks — it seems they know as much about the house and a whole lot more about Howard than we do.

Other visitors were from Washington D.C., CA, Boston, Austin, Houston, Ft. Worth, Palestine, Abilene, Cisco and Moran. Visitors continue to be amazed at all our small community has to offer; never have they seen such a well cared for little museum and never have they found so many good places to eat in a town of this size. Danny Street, a chef in a 4 star restaurant in England, was particularly impressed with everything he and his wife ate during their three day stay in town.

submitted by Arlene Stephenson

“The Everlasting Barbarian” online

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Some of you may have heard that my article “The Everlasting Barbarian: Robert E. Howard at 100 Years” is now available in the August/September issue of Weird Tales (#341). What you may not know is that Weird Tales has finally revamped their website to reflect the new editorial vision of Wildside’s John Betancourt, and that as part of this they have posted my article online for all to read. So if you haven’t seen it yet, head over to their site and check it out.

The goal of the article was to get something about Howard’s centennial into the magazine he helped make famous seven decades ago. Lots has changed since the last time many WT readers had Howard on their radar (circa 1970), and some may be surprised at all they have missed. I agree with various people who have told me that a single article in one issue is a rather weak attempt at a Howardian celebration, and that Weird Tales should have had a tribute issue filled with articles, reviews, pictures, classic Howardian art, and rousing examples of Howard’s best fiction and poetry. But beggars can’t be choosers, and it’s nice to have Howard represented in a way that gives him a fair shake in such a venue, without the sneers and guffaws that too often accompany any mention of the Texan by genre critics.

When I was in San Francisco visiting with Don Herron, Scott Connors, Dennis Rickard, and Ron Hilger (among others) I flipped through Scott’s copy of #341 and was astounded to read the announcement that WT had not received a single letter of comment on their last issue. With The Cimmerian, the task too often is trying to find room for all of the letters that pour in regularly (in June I was reduced to using a font size that bordered on the microscopic). So if you read my article, drop WT a line telling them whether you liked it or hated it, and what else they might do to honor Howard in his centennial year. I’m sure Darrell Schweitzer (a regular Cimmerian contributor and a great friend of the journal) and the other editors of WT would appreciate the feedback.

And if you like the article online, consider buying the issue. At $5.95 it’s a good bargain considering all of the fiction you get, including a new story by another friend of The Cimmerian, Howard Days 2004 Guest of Honor Bob Weinberg. (you can read my Howardian-themed interview of Weinberg here).

Who would survive must learn a savage tongue….

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The poetry of Robert E. Howard has long been known for its martial splendor and potent battle imagery, but what is most striking to me is how successfully he managed to get into the heads of soldiers and warriors, and how completely he was able to immerse himself (and hence the reader) into the real-life thoughts and feelings of both killers and victims, the battle-hungry and the battle-weary. There’s a difference between merely sprinkling appropriate adjectives into your poetry and capturing the essence of the struggle of warfare in all its harrowing details and viewpoints. In his best work Howard achieves this again and again.

Consider this poem, written by Howard a full decade before the onset of World War II, and yet encapsulating perfectly the civilizational battle for supremacy that was about to explode upon the world:

“Little Brown Man Of Nippon”

Little brown man of Nippon
Who apes the ways of the west,
You have set the sword on your standard,
And the eagle on your crest.

Little brown man of Nippon,
You have dreamed a deadly dream;
You have waked the restless ravens
And the rousing vultures scream.

Oh, lines of an unborn empire,
Foam of a rising flood,
Your bones shall mark the borders,
The tide shall be your blood.

Little brown man of Nippon,
Though the star of the West be set,
And the last of the fair-haired strew the field
Where East and West be met —

Though you herd us down like cattle,
And hew us down like corn,
Our blood shall drown your vision
Of the empire yet unborn.

In utter desolation, and despair
At the end, on a blackened hill,
You shall sit and view your empire,
Broken and charred and still.

The beams of shattered houses,
Reared stark against the sky,
And fields wherein, for waving grain,
Long waves of dead men lie.

We will set the torch with our own hands
To wall and roof and spire;
We will cut the throats of our women,
And feed our babes to the fire;

We will fling our naked bosoms
Against your bloodied steel;
As you tread us under, dying,
Our teeth shall rend your heel.

But, little brown man of Nippon,
Should the dice fall otherwise,
And the gods of the fair-haired triumph
When the battle-dawns arise —

We will give your flesh to the sea-gulls
And your cities to the flame,
Till the world forgets your visions,
And the years forget your name.

Over your island empire
Shall our steel-clad squadrons fly
Till the land lies black and silent
Under a flame-ripped sky.

Till the hungry wolf goes slinking
Along your shattered streets,
And the kite in your ruined palace
Tears at the crimson meats.

And over the crimson gutters
Which infant bodies choke
The raven flaps and strangles
In the drifting shreds of smoke.

No plough shall break your valleys,
No song shall rouse your hill —
Still and silent the ploughmen,
The singers silent and still.

And your nation’s only emblem,
Oh, man of the crimson dream —
Save corpses in the broken streets
And the death-fires’ baleful gleam —

Shall hang at the prow of a cruiser,
That furrows the flying foam,
Bearing the spoils of conquest
To the fair-haired people’s home.

Shall hang at the prow of a cruiser,
Grinning and dripping red,
The price of a dream of empire —
Little brown man, your head.

The dwelling on the savagery and the tenacity of both sides, and the pain and bloodshed that would accompany any war between the powers of East and West, demonstrate striking parallels between Howard’s poetry and the verse written around the same time by actual soldiers in the field. On the web you can read Larry Richter’s first ‘zine for REHupa from many years ago, where he argues that George S. Patton shared many qualities with Howard when writing his own ghostly battle poems. It’s a compelling comparison; who can forget George C. Scott stopping at a line of Roman ruins in the film Patton and giving a speech seemingly written by Howard’s reincarnation hero James Allison?

“The Carthaginians defending the city were attacked by three Roman legions. The Carthaginians were proud and brave, but they couldn’t hold. They were massacred. Arab women stripped them of their tunics and their swords and lances. The soldiers lay naked in the sun. Two thousand years ago. I was here.”

Men who share Howard’s predilections are plentiful for those who keep a lookout for them. I recently came across another soldier-poet in the Howardian mold. In late 1941, Lt. Henry G. Lee was a twenty-seven-year-old recruit serving with the Philippine Division of the US forces. Raised in Pasadena, California, he was an amateur versifier who wrote regularly into a journal about life and battle. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, realizing that he was about to be plunged into the thick of bloodthirsty war, Lee penned the following poem:

“Prayer Before Battle (To Mars)”
(December 8, 1941)
Before thine ancient altar, God of War,
Forlorn, afraid, alone, I kneel to pray.
The gentle shepherd whom I would adore,
Faced by thy blazing plaything, slips away.
And I am drained of faith — alone — alone.
Who now needs faith to face thy outthrust sword,
Bereft of hope, turned to pagan to the bone.
I kneel to thee and hail thee as my Lord.
From such a God as thee, I ask not life,
My life is forfeited, the hour is late.
Thou need not swerve the bullet, dull the knife.
I ask but strength to ride the wave of fate.
And one thing more — to validate this strife,
And my own sacrifice — teach me to hate.

Teach me to hate. Those of you who have read my essay “The Reign of Blood,” in The Barbaric Triumph know that, in my opinion, it would be difficult to conjure a more Howardian sentiment than that.

Months later — with the islands under assault by the Japanese, and certain defeat, capture, and torture looming — Lee and the rest fought bravely alongside Philippine scouts, who he immortalized in another stirring poem:

“To the Philippine Scouts”
Philippine Scouts-N. Luzon, S. Luzon, Abucay, Moran, The Points, Toul Pocket, Mt. Samat, Corregidor (December 8, 1941-May 8, 1942)

The desperate fight is lost; the battle done.
The brown, lean ranks are scattered to the breeze
Their cherished weapons rusting in the sun
Their mouldering guidons hidden by the leaves.
No more the men who did not fear to die
Will plug the broken line while through the din
Their beaten comrades raise the welcome cry
“Make way, make way, the Scouts are moving in.”

The jungle takes the long-defended lines
The trench erodes; the wire rusts away
The lush lank grasses and the trailing vines
Soon hide the human remains of the fray.
The battle ended and the story told
The blood-smeared leaves of history begin
To open to the Scouts, as they unfold
The little tired soldiers enter in.

The men who were besieged on every side
Who knew the disillusion of retreat
And still retained their fierce exultant pride
And were soldiers — even in defeat,
Now meet the veterans of ten thousand years
Now find a welcome worthy of their trade
From men who fought with cross bows and with spears
With bullet and with arrow and with spade.

The grizzled veterans Rome was built upon
The Death-head horde of Attila the Hun
The “Yellow Horror” of the greatest Kahn
The guardsmen of the first Napoleon
And all the men in every nameless fight
Since man first strove with man to prove his worth
Shall greet the Scouts as is their right —
No finer soldiers ever walked the earth.

And then the Scouts will form to be reviewed
Each scattered unit now once more complete
Each weapon and each bright crisp flag renewed
And high above the cadence of their feet
Will come the loud clear virile welcoming shout
From many throats before the feasts begin
Their badge of honor mid their comrades rout —
“Make way, make way, the Scouts are moving in.”

Starving and without aid of any kind, Lt. Lee and his men finally surrendered on April 9, 1942 with the rest of the Americans, and became prisoners of the fearsome Japanese. He was allowed to send a single postcard to his family with his signature on it, and then spent the next three years in hellish conditions in an Imperial prison camp. The Japanese had never signed the Geneva Conventions, and they subjected their charges to a host of horrors.

During that time, Henry Lee continued to surreptitiously record poems in his now-hidden journal, forging a series of very poignant and emotional paeans to warfare and prison that Howard fans will find very familiar.

“Fighting On”

I see no gleam of victory alluring
No chance of splendid booty or of gain
If I endure — I must go on enduring
And my reward for bearing pain — is pain
Yet, though the thrill, the zest, the hope are gone
Something within me keeps me fighting on

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“Death March”

So you are dead. The easy words contain
No sense of loss, no sorrow, no despair.
Thus hunger, thirst, fatigue, combines to drain
All feeling from our hearts. The endless glare,
The brutal heat, anesthetize the mind.
I can not mourn you now. I lift my load,
The suffering column moves. I leave behind
Only another corpse, beside the road.

Howard’s own fascination with capture, torture, and escape, with the evil that men do to those under their bloody thumbs and bootheels, finds echo in Lt. Lee’s lines about an execution, perhaps one of many which he himself witnessed during those grim years:

Red in the eastern sun, before he died,
We saw his glinting hair; his arms were tied.
There by his lonely form, ugly and grim
We saw an open grave waiting for him.

We watched him from our fence, in silent throng,
Each with the fervent prayer, “God make him strong.”
They offered him a smoke, he’d not have that,
Then at his captor’s feet he coldly spat.

He faced the leaden hail, his eyes were bare;
We saw the tropic rays glint in his hair.
What mattered why he stood facing the gun?
We saw a nation’s pride there in the sun.

How desolate must his soul have become after three years of such misery, not knowing if he would ever be rescued, or whether the next crack of a pistol would signify his own death. By 1944 the war was going America’s way, but to the prisoners victory and freedom were but a stale dream. Three years to the day after his Pearl Harbor-inspired poem, Lt. Lee wrote another that gives us an idea of how much he had changed by that time:

“Three Years After”
(December 8, 1944)

“Teach me to hate,” I prayed — for I was young,
And fear was in my heart, and faith had fled.
“Teach me to hate! for hate is strength,” I said
“A staff to lean on.” Thus my challenge flung
Into the thunder of the clouds that hung
Cloaking with terror all the days ahead —
“Teach me to hate — the world I loved is dead;
Who would survive must learn a savage tongue.”

And I have learned — and paid in days that ran
To bitter schooling. Love was lost in pains,
Hunger replaced the beauty in life’s plan,
Honor and virtue vanished with the rains
And faith in God dissolved with faith in man.
I have my hate! But nothing else remains.

Had Howard lived, would he have reached a similar state of mind? Would he have perhaps fought in that very war, and experienced its horrors for himself? How would it have affected his fiction? We’ll never know, but in the writing of Lt. Lee we see what might have been, a man who sees the darkness and the unadorned ferocity of the human soul in ways seldom expressed in this comparatively tender age.

Howard didn’t have war to contend with, but he was engaged for all his life in a war of the mind and of the soul, a battle against the scourges of depression, the pulp marketplace, and the hatred directed at him by the very town in which he lived. Howard was in a prison camp of sorts, too, and with no way out. And it eventually killed him every bit as dead as if he had fallen under the bayonets of the Japanese.

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As it happened, there was no escape for Henry Lee, either. In late December 1944, he was put on a transport ship and sent to Japan as slave labor. Before leaving, he hastily dug a hole under a prison hut and buried his journal of poems, hoping that someday in the future — as a free soldier in a victorious American army — he might come back and retrieve it. En route to Japan, an American plane caught sight of the unmarked boat and unleashed a hail of bombs, sending the transport to the bottom of the ocean — and the young Poet of Bataan along with it. Lee was thirty years old — the exact age Howard was when he met his own violent end. Two young poets possessed of searing thoughts and a preternatural sensitivity for the power of words and rhyme, both lost to the worms and the ages.

If there is a happy ending to be found in either man’s story, it is that neither has been forgotten. In Howard’s case, we ultimately have people like Glenn Lord, L. Sprague de Camp, Novalyne Price Ellis, and Rusty Burke to thank for that. As for Lee, on January 30, 1945 the prison where he had spent three years, Camp Cabanatuan, was liberated by the Sixth Ranger Infantry Battalion led by Lt. Col. Henry A. Mucci, who had audaciously led his men far behind the Japanese front and taken the enemy unawares. This unbelievable action — depicted in the book Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission, and later in the 2005 film The Great Raid — resulted in the rediscovery of Lee’s buried journal, and subsequently (in 1948) the publishing of his poems for posterity in a volume called Nothing But Praise. The Great Raid had come a few precious weeks too late to save Henry Lee, but it managed to save his life’s work: a small dirt-encrusted journal containing faded poetry scribbled out with such emotion that it may as well have been penned in blood.

Something tells me that Robert E. Howard and Lt. Lee would have made fine friends. Both understood that speaking truth often requires a savage tongue, and that there is honor and succor to be found in struggle and warfare and death. The worlds of history and poetry are both the better for having known them.

Fighting through the dog days of summer

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“Nature demands compensation,” Robert E. Howard told H. P. Lovecraft in December of 1932, and his sentiment rings just as true now as then. This centennial year has been a blast for me so far, with two Howard-themed trips to Texas, a weird fiction one to San Francisco, and at least two more to make before I’m through. Howard Days seriously rocked, lots of new Howard publications are appearing, this blog has finally turned into a going concern, The Cimmerian website is being revamped, and most importantly the monthly schedule of The Cimmerian has been, against all odds, largely a success.

But even so, nature demands compensation, and my bill came due in July. Throughout June I was feeling the onset of centennial exhaustion, with the telling moment occurring in Cross Plains when I stepped into the gift shop and pulled out the June Cimmerians I had feverishly worked on getting ready in time for the weekend — only to discover that I had put green covers on all of the Limiteds instead of the usual gold! In careless moments I have made such mistakes before, but usually they are caught and corrected forthwith. Never have I slept-walked through the construction of a hundred issues with incorrect covers without ever gleaning my colossal blunder! I had to destroy all of the June Limiteds I brought down to Cross Plains and remake them again when I returned to LA. That should have been a hint that the summer was going to be a rough one, but there was no time for worrying — before I knew it, July was upon me.

In that month, I had the pleasure of hosting TC reader Al Lane while he visited Los Angeles, as well as finally finishing up and releasing a project for REHupa that I had been working on for five years: a complete digital archive of the a.p.a., all 30,000+ pages of its thirty-four-year output, scanned, cleaned, and assembled into hyperlinked PDFs for the membership. I was glad to finally get that done with, but combined with my day job and other assorted duties (not to mention the record-breaking heat that had Los Angeles in a stupor), that left precious little time for anything else. With August closing in, I realized that the July issue wasn’t going to get out by the end of the month.

So, rather than skip an issue and break the monthly cycle, I decided to finish the July ish as soon as I could, hold onto it while doing the August ish, then send them both out together. This would save on shipping for subscribers — and more importantly, it would save the extra few days it would have taken to pack and ship out two separate batches of parcels. With a monthly schedule I find myself increasingly forced to save minutes wherever I can; it’s a primal fight that offers no mercy.

Therefore, for all the readers wondering what the hell happened to their summer Cimmerian reading, know that the usual hermetically sealed packages are just about ready to rocket towards your respective abodes. Sometime next week I expect you to have two mighty issues of The Cimmerian in your grubby little hands, and we’ll be well positioned to make it through the rest of the year and complete the 2006 centennial series. I always thought it would be a miracle if I didn’t have to skip a few issues along the way, but although I’m still wary of burnout settling in, I do believe there is a light at the end of this particular tunnel.

Stay tuned to this blog for breakdowns and excerpts from the July and August issues, which are both jam-packed with things you are bound to find interesting. And thanks for being so patient and supportive throughout the summer.

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Walking Up and Down in the Earth

No getting around it; cinematic sword-and-sorcery is a world of suck. Definitional elasticity is desperately needed so that we can claim artistic successes like John Boorman’s Excalibur, John McTiernan’s The Thirteenth Warrior, and Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers for a subgenre to which they don’t incontrovertibly belong. Hell, George Miller’s The Road Warrior and Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans capture more of the feel and frisson of the best sword-and-sorcery (recall the Mann movie’s endgame of inevitable, almost Iliad-ic death-duels against an impossibly dramatic backdrop with a soundtrack that is all Celtic keening and skirling) than does anything ever dumbed down and screwed up by a member of the De Laurentiis family.

So heroic fantasy aficionados usually have to settle for table-scraps and objets trouv├ęs, an extended sequence here or the better part of a Chronicles of Riddick there. Case in point: the 2 tentacular spectaculars of kraken-on-ship action in this summer’s Dead Man’s Chest, prodigies of special effects, editing, and stuntwork, like Jackson’s Kong-versus-three-tyrannosaurs tour de force last Christmas. Davey Jones’ kraken dragging down its tall-masted prey is probably as close as we’ll ever get to the Oraycha setpieces of Karl Edward Wagner’s sorcery-and-superscience-permeated sea battle in Darkness Weaves.

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2005 Hyrkanians Tainted By Doping Scandal!

After days of rumors, the governing body of The Cimmerian announced Tuesday that backup samples confirmed preliminary results showing the presence of tarlcaboterone, a state-of-the-art synthetic testosterone manufactured from liquified John Norman “Gor” novels, in the urine of [redacted], Rusty Burke, and Steven Tompkins, who respectively won the 2005 1st place, 2nd place, and 3rd place Hyrkanian Awards for best Howard essays. The delay in completing the carbon-isotope test used to detect tarlcaboterone, essayist growth hormone, and other banned performance boosters was blamed on the pressures inherent in producing 12 issues of The Cimmerian during the Howard Centennial.

Editor/publisher Leo Grin pronounced himself “heartsick—the timing could not be worse, with The Cimmerian just having notched a World Fantasy Convention ‘Special Award: Non-Professional’ nomination,” but emphasized that the 3 positive-testing 2005 winners, all of whom have repeatedly denied ever taking article-enhancing drugs, would be stripped of their helmeted-skull trophies and barred from competing in essayistic events everywhere “except possibly at Hippocampus Press.” Grin declined to speculate as to why Finn, Burke, and Tompkins might have risked their reputations, and tens of dollars in endorsement deals, but other Howard Studies insiders agreed to speak off the record.

Allegations have long swirled around Tompkins, who is known to enjoy movies with subtitles and, in the words of one REHupan, was “tiresomely supportive” of John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign. “You can’t tell me someone like that had enough natural testosterone to write a Hyrkanian-winning essay,” a long-time Howardist insisted. Instead of fighting to clear his name, Tompkins has fled to France, where he will adapt the Bran Mak Morn/King Kull story “Kings of the Night” into a live action Asterix/Obelix project.

Burke has attracted much less suspicion in the past, although a source who was unwilling to be interviewed at length because he had “to go slay some zooms” charged that Burke’s demeanor during a debate years back with current Weird Tales editor Darrell Schweitzer about L. Sprague de Camp’s Dark Valley Destiny’s Child was “excessively mildmannered and pushover-y, so he had to be doping when he came up with ‘Travels With Robert E. Howard.'”

For many it is Finn’s positive test results that are the most difficult to accept, and at an emotional press conference this morning the Texan was adamant that, while his essay “Fists of Robert E. Howard” was “virile as hell,” the testosterone he poured into its writing was “110% natural. The night before I pounded out the final draft, I re-read ‘Daughters of Feud.’ That’s all it was.”

Grin made it clear that all 2006 Cimmerian Award winners had been “tested so constantly, they might as well have been cathetered.”

TC makes the cut

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The nominees for the 2006 World Fantasy Awards were announced recently, and The Cimmerian made the ballot, the only Howard-related item to do so. Thanks to all of you who tossed a vote TC‘s way. Very nice to see a magazine dedicated specifically and solely to Robert E. Howard in contention for one of the most prestigious awards in the fantasy field.

With Howard as theme of the Austin convention, it feels as if TC is acting as the hometown underdog of sorts — our fandom’s lone representative among all of the other nominees. It’s all part of the larger fight to get Howard some critical and professional respect in areas where he’s been ignored in the past. Especially in this, his centennial year. Wish us luck heading into November.

Big REH collection for sale

REH editor Paul Herman announces the following:

For those with some money to burn and a Jones, I have just heard that Wayne Stolte is selling off his entire REH collection. Wayne was a 20 year collector, always purchased the best copies he could find, always Broadart’ed the covers, everything in bags. I got to personally meet him back in the 1980s, good egg, and a serious dude when it came to taking care of his collections, as anal as me!

Wayne is also the guy that created the hardback volume Flight. It was limited to 20 copies, and is the rarest REH hardback, excepting the original Gent from Bear Creek. The few he made available were quickly snarfed up and NONE have ever shown up on the secondary market, period. Well, a copy is now for sale, as well as 15 boxes of other REH material.

Wayne consigned the stuff to Cobblestone Books, as they are old friends of his. Their contact information is below. I talked to the dealer this AM, he has just started digging through it all and pricing it. He is planning to send out mailers to whomever wants to be included, maybe 50 books at a time, as he weeds through the boxes. So, for those that are interested, you may want to get on the mailing list.

Just my two cents, this is one of the larger and best kept caches of REH stuff to ever pop out, so if you got something serious you’re looking for, you may want to chase this.

I think we’re at that point in history where a lot of the classic fans from the sixties and seventies are going to start coughing up collections as death or old age beckon. It will be interesting to see what sort of new generation entrenches itself.