October issue of TC now available


It’s all printed and ready to go, but it’s looking as if I won’t have the time to pack and ship them before my flight to the World Fantasy Convention on Tuesday. Lots of goodies to look forward to, however — head on over to the Issues for Sale page and click on the October link to read all about it and savor some excerpts.

Speaking of the Con, those of you unable to go will get complete coverage of the festivities in our November issue, which I’ll start working on as soon as I get back. Should be a lot of fun, with lots of Howard fans present, a trip to Cross Plains, tons of late-night conversation, and a chance for The Cimmerian to take home a World Fantasy Award. I wish I could live-blog direct from the Con, but I’m not quite setup to do that yet. Maybe next year.

Since I’ll be at the Con, don’t be surprised if e-mails and orders go unanswered for the next week or so. The Awards issue is still being put together, but it will be out soon and it’s looking like a real fun read. If you are one of the people still waiting for your article to get through the editing gauntlet (or for a cheque and contract to make its way into your mailbox) thank you for your patience, I’ll be getting caught up on all of that when I return.

Hopefully after this arduous year is over, I’ll be able to get firmly back on top of things again. Coming out once a month has been a thrilling experience, and I’m sure later I will look back on it fondly, but right now a part of me is praying for this year to finally be over. When I glance back through all of the 2006 issues and review how much great stuff has appeared, I find it rather astounding that all of that was edited and published in just a few short months. Wow.

A Robert E. Howard Scholar?

Guest blogger Morgan Holmes is back with a gripe about the gross misuse of the term “scholar” in weird fiction studies of late.

MORGAN HOLMES: I went to Bill Thom’s Coming Attractions site, a Friday-night ritual to see what was new. Scrolling down, this jumped out at me:

RIGHT HAND OF DOOM: A CRITICAL STUDY OF MICHAEL MIGNOLA’S “HELLBOY” is a book of essays & articles to help educate fans and scholars of Michael Mignola’s HELLBOY (TM). It focuses on the narrative & sequential art of the comic book series. It is a homage [sic] to the artist’s talents and a way to establish a bridge between comic books and academe. Collected and Edited by Benjamin Szumskyj (the well-known Robert E. Howard scholar).

Ben Szumskyj is a character known to various degrees by those who are members of the rehinnercircle group at Yahoo! or who buy small press publications such as REH: Two-Gun Raconteur. To call him a scholar is presumptuous. Let’s examine his body of work.

First, most of Ben Szumskyj’s work has appeared in amateur press associations such as his heroic fantasy apa, the Esoteric Order of Dagon, and REHupa. Amateur press associations have small memberships which receive the publications. Being distributed to 30 or maybe 40 people does not constitute being “well-known.” Ben Szumskyj or Ben Zoom as he is sometimes known, was an intermittent member of REHupa from October 2000 to August 2004. Going through these zines, a reader gets a building sense of morbid curiosity as to what Szumskyj would produce next. The contents can be broken down into two categories: surveys of Robert E. Howard fiction and the most incredibly strange essays possibly ever written about REH that can be described as pretentious and funny.

The first fanzine in October 2000 was an introductory effort with the statement that “All fantasy is born from reality.” His second fanzine has an apology for an outburst stating: “I am not ‘illiterate’ or a bad speller.” There is also some writing in cyrillic script. Is English his native language?

February 2001 has this quote: “Read the story that embraced you. Shed a tear if you will, but respect and feel for a man, a misunderstood man, who has. . .only after many years, will now begin and see his name and writings reflect the eternal justice it has long deserved.”

October 2001 brought his “Fear Dunn: Dispelling the Racist Myth.” December 2001 contained a survey of REH’s heroic fantasy characters. April 2002 had a comparison of H. P. Lovecraft’s “Beast in the Cave” and Robert E. Howard’s “Spear and Fang.” August 2002 was another survey of the “Faring Town” stories. October 2002 contained a comparison of Robert E. Howard and J. R. R. Tolkien with this observation:

Although there are similarities, whether for the sake of juxtaposition or coincidences worth noting, they are not to be classed as the same type of author, whether by way of method, style, genre of direction. . .Middle Earth in its scale and background, is a lot like Hyboria but perhaps not as detailed by the author and a task in which scholars have had to expand on. Whether such an addition would have captured the already recognized fan base, we will never know, but is something that grieves fans that wish to fall hopelessly in love with Tolkien’s creations and worlds, but are halted as a result of lost fulfillment and expectations.

In REHupa 183, October 2003 we get the first of the classic pretentious essays: “WHEN LIFE IMITATES ART: Bakhtin’s Concept of the Dialogic Formation of the Subject in Relation to Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Tell Tale Heart’.” Perhaps Szumskyj was taking some college course on literary criticism but this is the first of several examinations that leave you wondering, “What color is the sky where this guy lives?”

February 2004 brought “Brothers of the Night: A Cultural Materialistic Study of Shakespeare’s ‘Prince of Morocco’ and Robert E. Howard’s ‘Jacob’.” This was a comparison of The Merchant of Venice and “Pigeons From Hell.” I kid you not.

April 2004 contained “Cimmerian Gloves: A Study of Robert E. Howard’s Ace Jessel from the Ringside,” a survey of a minor boxing series. This quote is a keeper: “I believe that texts like these, in which Howard portrays coloured folk in a positive and strong role, shows that this so called ‘racist’ was a man trying to be free and express his deepest beliefs.”

Szumskyj’s “The Clean Shaven Barbarian: A Masculine Reading of ‘The Gold and the Grey'” may be his masterpiece of wrongfully attempted criticism resulting in high weirdness. The essay is an examination of phallic imagery in the Robert E. Howard poem. You can’t make this stuff up. “Brothers of the Night” was actually reprinted in REH: Two-Gun Raconteur.

Two-Gun Bob: A Centennial Study of Robert E. Howard is a book due out from Hippocampus Press and edited by Ben Szumskyj. The book will contain an introduction by him and also his “Cimmerian Gloves” essay.

Is Ben Szumskyj a Robert E. Howard scholar? A scholar is a learned person or one who has advanced training in literature, the arts, etc. These qualities are not present here. We have an almost equal amount of surveys and outlandish attempts at criticism and comparisons to other authors. Reading over these, one thought that came into my mind was Szumskyj actually hates Robert E. Howard’s fiction and his essays are a conspiracy to heap derision and contempt on REH. The word scholar is a word that should not be used to describe Ben Szumskyj.

The Cimmerian Library #3


When I announced the September issue of TC a few weeks ago, I plum forgot to alert you all to another item that appeared at the same time. The third volume of The Cimmerian Library is now available, one that begins a branching out for this series of books, drifting from Robert E. Howard into related subjects.

Arkham House expert John Haefele has given us the first of what will be many chapbooks dealing with the publishing achievement of August Derleth. The tome is titled A Bibliography of Books and Articles Written By August W. Derleth, Concerning Derleth and The Weird Tale and Arkham House, and it forms the most complete bibliographical record ever compiled about Derleth on these subjects. The book contains a wealth of information on Robert E. Howard and dozens of related authors, listing where you can find Derleth discussing each. Also included is an excellent introduction by Haefele detailing the efforts various people have made to compile this information in the past, a story which in itself is a real education for the weird fiction fan.

At $8 the book is a steal, and as the print run on Cimmerian Library editions is only 100 individually-numbered copies, best snap one up before they disappear forever. Haefele promises more booklets related to Derleth and Arkham House, so this will eventually be a part of a series that will form a welcome subset of The Cimmerian Library, filling the gap in weird fiction scholarship left by the decline of Necronomicon Press over the last few years.

So head on over to the Order Page to get this and the other volumes in this series. More are being planned as you read this — stay tuned to this blog for all the details.

Homecoming Queen Now and Forever


The latest Cross Plains Review contained an unexpected delight: a picture of 96-year-old Lois Garrett enjoying herself at the Cross Plains High School Homecoming. The paper says that she was the homecoming queen for 1928, which was the year before Robert E. Howard finally kicked his pulp writing career into high gear. A bit later that same year, in December of 1928, Howard’s story “Drums of the Sunset” ran in serial form in The Cross Plains Review. Perhaps Lois read it — she once sat down with me and showed me her scrapbook, and among the very first pasted entries was a 1920s Review article that talked of the naming of the school mascot as The Buffaloes, a name still used by them today. The person who chose the name back then? Lois Garrett.

Those of us lucky enough to have attended Howard Days in past years were privy to meet and talk to Lois and her “partner in crime,” the late great Zora Mae Bryant, mother of Jack Baum and heir to the Howard estate. Both were always full of stories and good humor. Lois has been ailing over the past few years, so it’s nice to see her out and about at such a function. She is one of the last living embodiments of the time and place in which Howard lived.


Cross Plains resident James Nichols, in his fascinating look at the history and personages of Cross Plains, On the Banks of Turkey Creek (a book available for purchase at the Cross Plains Library) describes Lois and Zora Mae as living legends in town. Mentioning their ages, he quips “there ain’t enough fingers and toes in the whole family to figure that one up!” The entire book is filled with such folksy humor tied to numerous stories about Cross Plains, including a bit on Howard and several details about some of REH’s closest friends. If it’s not a part of your collection, you need to grab a copy.

PS — In other news, Era Lee Hanke reports that visits to the Howard Museum are still going strong into the fall, with three separate groups in the last week alone. Everyone in Project Pride is looking forward to the visit by attendees of the World Fantasy Convention on November 1. If you are one of the people joining the bus trip and visiting Cross Plains for the first time, you are in for a heck of a treat. Brings lots of pazoors, as the gift shop is pretty packed and you may find yourself dropping a lot of dough on Howard items.

The Essential American Soul Is…

Manohla Dargis, formerly of the Los Angeles Times and now of the New York Times, can be an irritating film critic. But today, writing about Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers, she gets one as right as it is possible to get:

One view of Mr. Eastwood is that he has mellowed with age, or at least begun to take serious measure of the violence that has been an animating force in many of his films. In truth, the critical establishment caught up with the director, who for decades has been building a fascinating body of work that considers annihilating violence as a condition of the American character, not an aberration.

Annihilating violence as a condition of the American character; Dargis is of course paraphrasing D.H. Lawrence’s most famous epigram from Studies in Classic American Literature, the one that begins “The essential American soul…” Eastwood’s career has been an enactment of that Lawrentian insight ever since No Name rode into the bordertown of San Miguel on his mule, and Iwo Jima, the subject of Flags of Our Fathers and the inspiration, along with the even ghastlier charnelhouse Okinawa, for so much of postwar science fiction’s “bug hunt” iconography, is an appropriate coda, or near-coda, to that career.

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10th Anniversary of The Barbarian Keep


One of the first — and still ranked among the best — websites dedicated to Robert E. Howard just announced the achievement of reaching its tenth anniversary on the web: The Barbarian Keep. The Lord of the Keep, Ed Waterman, was instrumental in spreading Howard’s reputation on the Internet and bringing together like-minded Conan fans. He not only created The Barbarian Keep but also the REHupa website, and then he spent years adding content to both and popularizing them across the Internet. In the wake of Ed’s efforts the membership of REHupa skyrocketed, and thousands of fans were able to rediscover an author many hadn’t read since childhood.

I was one of those people. It was largely Ed’s two sterling sites that rekindled my interest in Robert E. Howard circa 1999, and put me on the long winding path to the editorship of The Cimmerian and to projects like this blog. And it was there that I learned all about the Glenn Lord Legal Defense Fund, the history of the editing and pastiching of Howard, and the existence of genre publications such as The New Howard Reader and The Dark Man. Who knows how many other fans Ed’s efforts have created over the last decade?

Lately Ed’s largely been out of fandom, but interested readers can enjoy his thoughts on Howard’s philosophical leanings in the essay, “The Shadow from a Soul on Fire: Robert E. Howard and Irrationalism,” which appeared in 2004’s The Barbaric Triumph. Lovecraft acolyte S. T. Joshi of “REH was a subliterary hack” fame haughtily singled out “Fire” for particular derision in The Dark Man #8, implying that Howard was de facto incapable of formulating anything resembling a profound philosophical position. Ed’s measured and superbly reasoned response in the following issue remains a classic ass-kicking in the field, one of the most lopsided intellectual battles I’ve ever seen.

All of this is ample reason to celebrate Ed’s decade of internet scholarship. So drop on over to the Keep and visit or revisit the treasure trove of riches to be found within. Here’s looking forward to the next ten years of webmastering excellence from one of the pioneers of Robert E. Howard studies on the Internet.

The Gold(finger) Standard

Longtime REHupan and TC contributor J.D. Charles and I could not be farther apart on various political, literary, and cultural issues if one of us resided in the Andromeda Galaxy. That having been said, apparently we’re both Ian Fleming fans as well as REH aficionados, and today Big Jim posted about how the two writers have fared cinematically at rehinnercircle:

Anybody who gripes about the Millius [sic] Conan flick really needs to sit down and read one of the classic Fleming Bond yarns then watch the movie “adaptation” featuring Connery or Moore. You will get down on your knees and thank CROM that Conan never had to undergo such drastic alteration.

In a word, no. Nein. Nyet. De gustibus non disputandem est — except in those emergencies where the “disputandem” part becomes unavoidable in the face of rampant absurdity. The Roger Moore Bond films are what they are (with the commendable exception of 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, into which screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael Wilson worked some relict Fleming-derived scenes), but Big Jim also mentions the Sean Connery era. From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball are, like diamonds, forever — launchpads for the modern action film, bravura exercises that imprinted themselves on Sixties popular culture almost as much as did the Beatles. More pertinently, the original creative team of Maibaum, Terence Young (or Guy Hamilton), Peter Hunt, Ken Adam, John Barry, and Connery himself succeeded brilliantly in adapting Fleming’s novels, whereas Milius couldn’t even be bothered to try with Howard’s Conan stories. Goldfinger and Thunderball are recognizable versions of the source material (note that Auric’s masterplan for the raid on Fort Knox is more ingenious and less logistically challenged in the movie than in the novel); Conan the Barbarian is an adaptation of nothing save a bit of “The Thing in the Crypt,” out-of-context signature moments from “A Witch Shall Be Born” and “Queen of the Black Coast,” and Milius’ Zen-surfing superiority complex. Kurosawa for retards. Karl Edward Wagner, an author Big Jim is on record as respecting, put it best: Li’l Abner versus the Moonies.

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“It Ain’t Like It Used to Be…”


With the Austin-tatious honoring of REH at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention now as much of a near future mega-event as all those pre-Halloween cable channel reruns of Pumpkinhead, it might be worth our while to revisit some past WFC glories (“Past Award Winners and Nominees” can be clicked on year by year at the bottom of this page), beginning with the very first one, which was held in that reification of H.P. Lovecraft’s soul, Providence, Rhode Island. Robert Bloch surmounted his youthful gibe about sending Conan to cut out paper dolls in Valhalla by copping a Life Achievement Award. Karl Edward Wagner was up for the Short Fiction Award for “Sticks,” as was T.E.D. Klein for “The Events at Poroth Farm,” but both lost to Robert Aickman — no disgrace there. Ian and Betty Ballantine won a Special Award (Professional), and all these years later we can amuse ourselves by imagining that the judges singled out the Ballantines sotto voce for having ensured that Lin Carter would never quite be able to raze his own reputation to the ground and sow said ground with salt. [You can view many pictures from the first WFC here].

In 1976 the WFC moved to New York City, where Fritz Leiber won a Life Achievement Award (The Robert E. Howard of a different space/time continuum would have been only 70 years old and might have been one of the judges, were he not being called up onstage to accept a Life Achievement himself). Leiber also nabbed the Short Fiction Award for one of his best stories, “Belsen Express,” beating out David Drake’s “the Barrow Troll” (How could anyone not warm to a title like “The Barrow Troll”?). Richard Matheson’s Bid Time Return defeated Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot for the Novel Award; don’t agree with that at all. Avram Davidson’s The Enquiries of Doctor Esterhazy edged Harlan Ellison’s Deathbird Stories for the Collection/Anthology Award, and with all due respect to Davidson, Ellison wuz robbed. More gratifyingly, Frank Frazetta won the Artist Award (spare some empathy for the other fantasy artists of that period; Frazetta’s presence would have been rather like letting Achilles compete in a Most Efficient Death-Dealer contest at Troy), and KEW, David Drake, and Jim Groce won a special award (Non-Professional) for Carcosa Press.

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September issue is out the door

And man, there’s a lot for Howard fans to savor. Head on over to the Issues for Sale page and click on V3n9 for all the details.

All of you who thrilled at the new discoveries to be found in our August issue will love some of the bombshells revealed this time. Subscriber copies are already on the way, so you won’t have to wait long. Until then, here’s something to whet your appetite: