New Howard blog debuts


Those of you who have been enjoying the Cimmerian Blog over the past year will be gratified to know that a brand new full-fledged blog has debuted over at Three longtime stalwarts of that fine organization — Official Editor Bill “Indy” Cavalier and former Official Editors Morgan Holmes and Rusty Burke — have taken over the reins of the day-to-day management and updating of that site. That trio is set to feed you regular doses of Howardiana — news, reviews, and esoteric arcana from their secret Howard vaults. Between the three of them they have well over fifty years of Howard experience under their belt, so you know you’ll be getting some good stuff.

Indy has already popped up the first post titled “The Blog of Black Indy,” which introduces the bloggers and gives us some details on all the Howard events you should be planning for this summer. Meanwhile Rusty told me that he has some miscellaneous stuff tucked away in The Burkives that he’ll be sharing with you soon, so keep a lookout for that.

In case it’s not obvious, this is a Really Cool Thing. Having a second blog out there dedicated exclusively to Robert E. Howard should create a lot of back-and-forth between our blog and theirs, with posts from one side generating interesting responses and additional information from the other. It’s the kind of friendly competition which spurs everyone on to greater productivity, and ultimately creates a much more dynamic online presence for Robert E. Howard. I know of very few authors of any stripe or level of success that has two blogs dedicated exclusively to their life and work.

When you stop to think about it, it’s yet another way that Two-Gun Bob is proving himself to be more than capable of handling any amount of thought and scholarship people care to undertake on his behalf. I always hear people from outside the Howard field say, “Don’t you ever run out of things to write about REH?” Well, let’s see — REHupa’s been in existence for thirty-five years straight, there are several regular Howard magazines cranking out new material, there’s a yearly Howard festival with panels and tours, there’s panels at conferences like the Popular Culture Association shindigs, and there are endless books, fanzines, and reprintings of his writing.

No, I don’t think we’ll be running out of things to talk about anytime soon.

In fact, I’m hoping that this is the beginning of a trend. So far we have a Cimmerian blog, a REHupa blog, and a REH: Two-Gun Raconteur blog, not to mention other Howard-related sites like Bill Thom’s Coming Attractions blog. I would think that it’s only a matter of time before The Dark Man gets their online act together and starts a blog for the REH academics, or that Paul Herman adds a blog to Howard Works and populates it with an assortment of Howard heavyweights. The more the merrier. As it is we are so much more alive than our sister fandom of Lovecraft studies that it’s scary, but if a few more fans get into the act, who knows what heights of scholarship and entertainment can be achieved online?

So bookmark and add it to the REH sites you stop by each day. I’m sure you’ll find a lot of pleasant surprises there as they ramp things up, along with contributions from other REHupans as well. Being a web-connected Howard fan just got a whole lot more fun.

STEVE ADDS: I can just about handle the concept of Lovecraft studies as “our sister fandom,” despite squamous-and-rugose issues, but draw the line at referring to the new REHupa venture as “our sister blog.” Those three guys are all hairy enough to have done time in the Forest of Villefere.

LEO RESPONDS: You ain’t lyin’, sister.

Cimmerian voting set to close


Wednesday is the final day to get those votes into Cimmerian central. There are some pretty close races, so a couple votes one way or the other can make all the difference, swinging things in a different direction. If you enjoyed the Centennial year as much as I did, and read things throughout 2006 that impressed you, then do the authors involved a favor — let them know what you think via your votes and your comments. I know from the reactions of past years that it means a lot to them. As Charles Hoffman stated in last year’s Awards issue:

I just want to make it clear how much I appreciate this honor. We live in a very materialistic society, and artistic or intellectual accomplishments that don’t bring a lot of money tend to be regarded with indifference. I have had, on occasion, to wrestle with feelings of futility. It’s therefore gratifying to know that others appreciate what one is doing, and that you’re making some sort of difference to someone. Therefore, I would like to formally thank The Cimmerian for presenting me with such impressive, solid, tangible evidence that my efforts have not been expended in a vain pursuit.

That’s what it’s all about, ladies. Right now some of the Howard scholars who worked their butts off last year to populate your bookshelves with good reading are struggling mightily to creep up in the voting, inching towards one of the coveted Skulls glowering at the top of the heap. Each of you who read or write for TC earned votes all throughout last year. You are potential kingmakers with the power to really make someone’s year special. Don’t waste the opportunity — use it! Take ten minutes to consider the nominees and get those ballots in before Thursday. Crom hath spoken.

Slipslidin’ Away


We’ll, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. Somebody snapped up the last pair of slipcases for Volume 1 and 2, so they are officially sold out, now and forever. I’ve already had a few people suddenly pop in since I posted the SOLD OUT sign and ask if I might possibly have an extra set tucked away somewhere for a rainy day that I’d care to sell. Terribly sorry, but nope. I imagine as time goes on we’ll see some pop up on eBay or at various conventions, as some folks die off or gafiate as per norm.

But here’s the thing for you latecomers: the slipcases for Volume 3 are coming soon. There will only be fifty made, and by my current count 37 of those are already pre-ordered and spoken for. If you have any thoughts about getting one, this is no time to dilly-dally — pop me an email and reserve one. You don’t need to send money yet, just let me know you will be buying one so I can guarantee there will be one available for you.

Even if you don’t have the ones for V1 and V2, you should get V3 now and then hunt down the others later. Heck, you might even consider buying two V3 slips now, and putting your V1 and V2 issues in one of them for safekeeping until such time as you get the original cases for those volumes.

A final option if you are a new guy just getting into TC and wondering how best to catch up: you can buy a Complete Deluxe Set of V1 or V2 while supplies last. There is a markup on these sets over the original list prices, but the price will only rise higher as more issues go out of print, so there’s no time like the present to make your move. When you stop to think about how expensive even some of the worst REH chapbooks from yesteryear are these days — solely due to passing time, growing scarcity, and increased interest in REH from collectors — you can imagine what it’s going to be like collecting Cimmerians in ten years when everything is out of print and there’s a universe of only fifty slipcased sets in existence. Don’t let yourself get into the all-too-common position of not buying something easily available now only to regret it later.

With dozens of TC‘s now in print for you to collect and store, the custom slipcases are by far the easiest and most elegant way to get the job done. Ask anyone who’s snagged a pair — they rock. I know one guy who also stores some of his old Necronomicon Press books in them, owing to the similar size.

Stage Stress-tested and Reinforced to Support All That Greatness…

Watching Clint Eastwood present a Lifetime Achievement Award to Ennio Morricone last night was as close as I’ll ever get to seeing Frank Frazetta give Robert E. Howard the Nobel Prize for Heroic Fantasy. Admittedly not an exact analogy, but close enough for rock-and-roll. Of course the sampler of il maestro‘s soundtracks should have concluded with the music from Harmonica and Frank’s ritualistic showdown in Once Upon a Time in the West, the ne plus ultra of a composer stepping in to co-write, co-direct, and co-act not just any crucial scene, but the crucial scene I would screen for xenoanthropologists from the Andromeda Galaxy who inquired about movies as an artform…

MARK ADDS: When they did their “Salute to Writers in Film” segment, I nurtured a hope that we’d get a shot of d’Onofrio shouting as he typed. Alas, it was not to be.

Awards Season Special: Presenting the Lemurians!

Everyone is voting early and often for the 2007 Cimmerian Awards, right? In honor of the ongoing event, I’m here to hand out the Lemurian Awards for the 12 all-time best essays about Howard’s work. Why “Lemurian”? Well, TC‘s annual Awards for the 3 best essays are called the Hyrkanians, and as we know from “The Hyborian Age,” the Lemurians were the ancestors of the Hyrkanians (“Now the Lemurians enter history again, as the Hyrkanians…”) In honor of that prominent Lemurian and patron of the black arts Rotath, the actual awards will be skulls, like those we’ve come to know and lust after these past 3 years, only golden this time. (Our thanks to Auric Enterprises for the generous donation of the gold that went into the sculptings, and if you can’t place Auric Enterprises it’s time to reread Goldfinger). Given their model, I can’t guarantee that these Rotath-derived golden skulls will be curse-free, but faint heart ne’er toted trophy homeward.

Is there something fishy about the Lemurians? Damn straight, and why not; after all, there was something fishy about the (pseudo)historical Lemurians. “Men of the Shadows” describes them as “the half-human Men of the Sea. Perhaps from some strange sea-monster had those sprang, for they were scaly like unto a shark, and they could swim for hours under the water.” (There’s another hint in “The Cat and the Skull’ when Howard assures us that Kull is as at home in the water as any Lemurian). Wherein lies the fishiness? These choices are litcrit-intensive. I may be in the minority in Howard fandom in that I had some decent experiences as well as some appalling ones in English classes, but to me all litcrit really means is, articles that engage with Howard’s work. Yes, I find Howard the man fascinating, but I find him fascinating because he wrote the stories and the poems. Articles dealing with his life come a distant second, and articles dealing with his impact on the lives of fans come an even more distant third. My 12 Lemurian picks are ludicrously subjective and self-indulgent, and I’m sure Leo would be willing to extend his hospitality to guest-bloggers bristling with counter-lists. Lastly, the numerical sequence implies no hierarchy or qualitative ranking whatsoever; #1 is not necessarily superior to #12. It was hard enough selecting what I deem the dozen best without also trying to arrange them in order of merit. Save for the lone whippersnapper, these essays have not only stood the test of time but been granted tenured teaching positions by time.

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Little Blue Books


Well, I can scarcely believe I’m saying it: Volume 3 is over.

In terms of sheer work, 2006 was the longest year of my life. A full-time job, lots of overtime, and TC acting as a second full-time gig. And scattered in between there were three trips to Texas, one of them lasting two weeks, plus separate trips to Frisco, Denver, and Phoenix. It’s not often in life that one brushes up against the actual physical and mental limits of one’s endurance. I worked through to the dawn more times than I can count, and there were several points last year where my body ceased to obey orders and basically shut down until I caught up on rest. That’s a frightening specter to look in the eye, but at the same time it’s somewhat exhilarating to learn your limits. It’s as if you catch a quick glimpse of your True Self.

Nevertheless, Volume 3 will forever haunt my memories, all twelve issues of it. I’m working on the Index and the Slipcase now during my spare time, but the majority of my energy is now focused on the next challenge: Volume 4.

The color this year is Midnight Blue, and I felt the website and blog could use an updated look to mark the occasion. The V4n1 issues (February 2007) are all finished, printed, and packed. I’ll be taking them to the post office this weekend, and they should start hitting subscribers’ mailboxes early next week. Pop on over to the V4n1 page to read some excerpts and see what’s in store for you. New writers, new artist, new discoveries — Volume 4 has picked up right where Volume 3 left off.

I’m looking forward to having time to get out some more Cimmerian Library volumes this year as well. A half-dozen interesting ideas for booklets are already on the back burner. And there are a host of other Howard projects I’d like to work on as well, stuff that’s percolated in my mind for a long while. One of the downsides of editing a journal is that you spend so many hours working on other people’s prose that you end up having little time left for your own. With luck, going back to a comfortable bi-monthly schedule will allow me to get back to writing.

Keep an eye on the blog for announcements on some of these things, and until then enjoy the first volume of the post-Centennial era.


The Fortress Unvanquishable, Even for Sacnoth


At the dawn of Sword-and-Sorcery, at the very moment of the genre’s Cataclysmic birth, towers a story begun by a solitary Texan barely twenty years old. In the eighty years since, dozens of authors have fed on its aged marrow like vampires. Hundreds of books have appeared mimicking its startling idioms and seductive, haunting prose melodies. Countless millions of dollars have changed hands between readers starving for more of the same and publishers scurrying around like harried Oompa Loompas in their rush to provide it. And yet upon first publication its depressed, suicidal author received a meager $100, and would never again see it reprinted during his lifetime.

The man who meticulously constructed this genre was Robert E. Howard, and the story that exploded onto the scene with a Big Bang that still echoes in our ears today was “The Shadow Kingdom.”

Arguments about the scope and confines of genre too often descend into useless pedantry. I am reminded of film noir scholar Eddie Muller‘s witheringly brilliant retort to hairsplitters who would deny the great Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) a place in the pantheon: “To those who think this isn’t noir: Man uses woman. Woman uses man. Queasy sex. Betrayal. Madness. Gunshots. He’s face down in the pool he always wanted. Case closed.” For the attentive critic, genre labels have a purpose not to be deflected by myopic minds.

Often the most difficult part of talking intelligently about Sword-and-Sorcery is dodging the flailing Nerf blades swung in its defense by those who ostensibly would protect it from harm. Valka bless the boys at for the work they do popularizing a much-maligned art form, but articles like “The Demarcation of Sword and Sorcery” obsess over surface elements while careening past deeper connections with the bone-crunching regularity of Charlie Brown missing Lucy’s football. Sometimes you can’t win for losing — in “Demarcation” Steve Tompkins gets his name misspelled even as his “The Shortest Distance Between Two Towers” is trotted out in support of the notion that “there can be little argument that a great deal of separation exists between sword and sorcery and the rest of heroic fantasy.” Cimmerian readers may recall that in fact Tompkins’ essay cogently argues the exact opposite point — that there is in fact a “short distance” and not a “great deal of separation” between these demarcated kingdoms.

In “Demarcation,” author Joe McCullough goes on to conclude that

Sword and sorcery tells the tales of men who are free from all constraint. Their stature and skill mean they are free from the tyranny of other men. Their birth and raising free them from the morals and mores of society, and the lack of higher powers unbinds them from any concept of fate. Thus the heroes of sword and sorcery become the true representatives of free-will, and through their stories, readers are able to imagine the capabilities and the triumphs of men who are completely free to chart their own destiny.

It would be a pity if such rash and improvident definitions ever gain real purchase in the minds of thoughtful readers. The best Sword-and-Sorcery characters resist attempts to reduce them to comfortable stereotypes. Howard’s Kull time and again barely manages to escape from an ever-present entourage of enemies, only to remain ever-ensorcelled by the “ghosts of wild wars and world-ancient feuds,” the “inhuman powers of antiquity,” and most of all the ever-looming “phantom of his hate, the restless hatred of the savage, before which all else must give way.” With each story the King of Valusia triumphs fleetingly if at all, only to be seen at the beginning of the next tale with his golddust turned to sawdust:

There comes, even to kings, the time of great weariness. Then the gold of the throne is brass, the silk of the palace becomes drab. The gems in the diadem and upon the fingers of the women sparkle drearily like the ice of the white seas; the speech of men is as the empty rattle of a jester’s bell and the feel comes of things unreal; even the sun is copper in the sky and the breath of the green ocean is no longer fresh.

Even to kings, Howard purrs, and we can’t help but add “and to Sword-and-Sorcery heroes allegedly free from constraint.” The idea that S&S heroes lack the “mores and morals of society” is rebutted by innumerable passages in Howard’s work, as in this one from “The Scarlet Citadel”:

[Conan] had been placed in these pits for a definite doom. He cursed himself for his refusal of their offer, even while his stubborn manhood revolted at the thought, and he knew that were he taken forth and given another chance, his reply would be the same. He would not sell his subjects to the butcher. And yet it had been with no thought of anyone’s gain but his own that he had seized the kingdom originally. Thus subtly does the instinct of sovereign responsibility enter even a red-handed plunderer sometimes.

Postulating that Sword-and-Sorcery heroes by definition are “free from the tyranny of other men” becomes not only indefensible but insulting when one considers Charles Saunders’ hero Imaro, who thematically resonates as much about tyranny both cosmic and real as any fantasy hero created since December 6, 1865. And maybe it’s the guilty Catholic in me, but I can’t help imagining the shade of Karl Edward Wagner wanting to thump McCullough over the head with a Douay-Rheims Bible over his dictum that Sword-and-Sorcery tales feature a “lack of higher powers” that “unbinds [S&S heroes] from any concept of fate.”

In Tolkien’s defense, “Demarcation” inflicts a few goose eggs onto his wizened skull as well, as when McCullough states that “the rest of heroic fantasy, with its duties and obligations, has historically appealed to an older audience who are aware of the realities of such notions.” Perhaps he’s too young to remember the great surge of longhaired, pot-smoking, Led Zeppelin-worshipping, “Frodo Lives” hippie-folk and collegiate counter-culturists who were the true force behind Tolkien’s meteoric rise to prominence in the 1960s and ’70s. My own generation of young Dungeons & Dragons playing, Commodore 64 programming, “Shining City on a Hill” latchkey kids of the late ’70s and early ’80s solidified the trend.

Too often, knocking down these sorts of arguments feels like hammering gophers back into plastic holes at some bizarre litcrit Chuck-e-Cheese funland. It’s silly to get too tied down to genre for its own sake — Muller’s pithy yet devastatingly effective defense of Sunset Boulevard shows how people who dither with rigid formulas fall short. And yet for a genre to mean anything at all it does need boundaries, however translucent or overlapping. The trick is in defining them in a way so that they have utility in the real world. Noir is a not a series of dance steps executed in a predetermined order, it’s an overall tone — a mood, an overriding sense of cruel irony and inescapable fate. Muller telling noir fans why they better check out Sunset Boulevard — that’s utility. Good genre categorization is like the old canard about identifying pornography: you know it when you see it. That’s assuming, of course, that the critic making such judgments has his eyes open in the first place.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with retroactively folding older works into a modern genre if the result is a greater appreciation and knowledge of the field. If noir guys want to call M noir and make it that much more of an essential film to view, cool beans. If Sword-and-Sorcery buffs insist that Dunsany’s “The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save For Sacnoth” be listed before “The Shadow Kingdom” on any master list of must-read works in the field, more power to them. It’s almost always a bad idea to attempt to forcibly divide great fantasy works from each other on the basis of genre, as often the result is akin to Siamese twins being separated with a chainsaw. A generous policy of inclusion pays large dividends, as when Steve Tompkins demonstrated the benefits of letting the oft-separated blood brothers Tolkien and REH stand shoulder to shoulder. But it’s important to not lose sight of why genres spring up and where the trendlines form. Just as securities in the stock market tend to have remarkable leaders and laggards that drag whole industry groups up or down along with them, so too do seminal works in a genre create identifiable shockwaves throughout an art form, like a stone cast into a pond creating distinct ripples across its surface.

Which to my mind is why Lord Dunsany’s “The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth” is not the progenitor of the Sword-and-Sorcery genre and “The Shadow Kingdom” is.

Make no mistake: “Sacnoth” is a fine tale that carefully evokes an ancient métier: the pure adult fairy tale. Frequently going out of its way to remind the audience that it is a fiction, at the same time it urges us to lower our sophisticated defenses and fully give ourselves over to the impossible events depicted. It’s a brilliant and heartfelt love letter to the kind of fantasy found in William Beckford’s Vathek or the much older Arabian Nights — in that sense, it deftly and deliberately presents us with nothing new. Like those Sword-and-Sorcery paperbacks of yore, “Sacnoth” is “In the Tradition of. . .” any number of things. And yet despite its formidable presentation of what are now seen as S&S clichés, admiring readers are hard-pressed to say what wouldn’t exist right now had “Sacnoth” never been written. No new genre label was deemed necessary because of “Sacnoth,” no clamor for similar fare was heard, no groundswell of imitation followed its publication. “Sacnoth” and Dunsany both deserve better than they’ve got in recent years, but as it stands the story is a minor curio for fantasy fans. It’s a groin-straining stretch to grant it pride of place as the instigator of the Sword-and-Sorcery genre, despite plodding through tiresome surface calculations of its use of — duh — both swords and sorcery.

“Sacnoth” is best valued as a part of that vast tapestry of the fantastic and mythic that preceded Sword-and-Sorcery, one of thousands of works peppered with elements that would one day become part of the trappings of the new genre. These elements were floating through stories for millennia, but the pressing need to define a neologic subsphere of fantasy occurred precisely due to an explosion of fiction in the middle of the last century, one whose tidal wave ripples can be traced unerringly backwards through a host of authors and fanzines to the adventures of Conan the Cimmerian in the pulp magazine Weird Tales, and from there back in time to Ground Zero: the first such story to appear in that magazine by the same prophetic author — “The Shadow Kingdom.”

Like a prism, “The Shadow Kingdom” focused a series of varying, disparate colors from the fantasy spectrum, blended them in the cauldron of Howard’s imagination, and shot out of the other side a white light unlike anything seen before. Legions of readers and writers have been wrestling with the repercussions of that eerie witch-glow ever since. It shines both forward and backward in space/time and illuminates countless works of merit, including Lord Dunsany’s “The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save For Sacnoth.” But the luminous filament casting that glare clearly emanates from a single place and time — a white clapboard house in Texas circa 1926. Remembering that not only honors Howard, but helps us clearly see what we mean when we say “Sword-and-Sorcery.” We know it when we see it because Kull lit the way, and we still worry and wonder about it because Conan built the Fortress that yet protects it from ruin, and from those who seek to peel off authors and stories and banish them to the hinterlands, whether said authors be past masters such as Lord Dunsany or J.R.R. Tolkien, or modern notables such as David Gemmell, Charles Saunders, or Karl Edward Wagner.

Kavalier (Not Cavalier), Clay, and REH


Late last year I was privy to a couple of Emails in which Fred Blosser and Morgan Holmes, Howardists of some repute, expressed skepticism about Michael Chabon, suspecting him of “slumming” in his faux-pulp or neo-pulp endeavors. So I was pleased when Leo relayed (by way of Don Herron) Scott Sheaffer’s report of an REH-mention by Chabon in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. He’s on the side of the angels, or at least the akaanas and Yagas, and instead of building a table-barricade in the dealers’ room at Pulpcon and glowering graybeardedly at him we should be grateful for his fond gravitation to the gaudy genres of yore. No Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has ever gone over so well with me as that notched by Chabon for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, as indispensable a fictional jamboree about the dawn of the superheroes and the Golden Age of Comic Books as Gerard Jones’ 2004 Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book is a factual one.

Kavalier and Klay rewards the attentive with allusions and in-jokes about pulps and weird fiction on every other page. Luna Moth, a somewhat nocturnal emission of the eponymous creators’ imaginations, battles in “dislocated non-Euclidean dream spaces” against “slavering Elder Creatures readying vast interdimensional armadas of demons.” And what of Luna’s origin?

Know that before my homeland, great Cimmeria, was plunged into eternal darkness, it was ruled by women. All were happy in the Queendom of Cimmeria, peaceful, contented — the men in particular. Then one shrivel-hearted malcontent, Nanok, schooled himself in the ways of bloodshed and black magic, and set himself upon an obsidian throne. He sent his armies of demons into battle against the peace-loving Cimmerians; the outcome was foreordained.

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Howard’s last Valentine’s Day


In the spring of 1936, with the specter of his own end closing in on him, Howard nevertheless found time to send his favorite gal-pal Novalyne Price some Valentine cheer, in the form of a touching, rather remarkable letter. It began with, and managed to sustain, a smile-inducing level of good humor, from the first sentence:

Dear Novalyne:

I heard yesterday you had the mumps; now you tell me it’s the itch. I wish you’d make up your mind. In either event, you have my sympathy.

The letter continues in that lighthearted vein (see One Who Walked Alone p. 262-63 for the whole thing) as Howard discusses his mustache:

I noticed your sinister insinuation regarding my whiskers. Shave, in this weather? Do you want to expose me in a practically nude condition to the icy blasts of the Arctic blizzards? They say the Lord tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, but they don’t say anything about Him tempering the wind to the shorn jackass. Perhaps when the gentle heifers — or maybe it’s zephyrs — of summer gambol and frolic lightly through the post oaks I may employ the shears on my rugged countenance, but not in this weather.

The bulk of the letter deals with his spicy story markets, and what style and rules needed to be followed in order to write for them. That is all of great interest, fascinating stuff — but what I found most intriguing was Howard’s comments about his agents, which were notable to me for the way they manage to contradict one of the sillier criticisms of Howard leveled by E. Hoffmann Price. In his at times moving, at times self-serving remembrance of Howard in The Book of the Dead, Price at one point proclaims:

Like many a “natural,” Bob had little market sense; and he dallied far too long in engaging an agent. Indeed, I am far from sure that he ever did have one — Dr. Howard did set Otis Adelbert Kline to work, selling REH’s literary remains. No agent would have let Bob do so much pay on publication work for any outfit which paid as slowly as did the Weird Tales group. A client as talented as REH would have been hustled into the better markets in jig time!

As we of course now know, REH had in fact hired Kline to be his agent years before. And not only that, but in this 1936 Valentine letter he reveals to Novalyne that:

Yes, Kline’s still my agent, and I’m doing a little business with a fellow named Kofoed, of Philadelphia, former editor of Fight Stories, and now editor of Day Book, who does a little agenting for me on the side, much to Kline’s disgust, I fear.

Ha! So far from being the agentless dope with no market sense of Price’s imagination, Howard had two agents playing off each other, competing for his business! And speaking of market sense, when Howard made the deal with Kline he specifically retained the right to submit to Weird Tales himself, as it was a market he had built up all on his own. The significance of this in light of Price’s statement is startling: yes, REH did quit Weird Tales once his western markets were going well, and after he found himself drifting towards western themes and subjects. But think through Price’s boneheaded scenario: REH is remembered not for his westerns but for his Weird Tales work, right? So if he had taken Price’s advice and let Kline talk him out of submitting to WT in “jig time,” say by early 1933, then poof!, there goes Howard’s legacy and main claim to fame, his Conan stories.

So we have Price following the markets with mercenary tunnel vision — and now largely forgotten. While Howard expanded his markets as Price did, but while simultaneously sticking with the lower-paying market that gave him artistic freedom and a forum for his very best work. In doing that, in not always putting money before his Muse, REH created a body of work that has grown magnificently in both popularity and critical esteem over the last century. Methinks Howard could have taught Price a few things about sense.

The sole grave passage in Howard’s Valentine letter concerned, of course, his precipitously failing Mother: “You ask how my mother is getting along. I hardly know what to say. Some days she seems to be improving a little, and other days she seems to be worse. I frankly don’t know.” Alas, he would know, all too soon.

So how did Robert E. Howard wrap up his letter to Novalyne? After all, he had rambled on about the mumps, his mustache, his writing career, spicy stories, his mother. Any talk of the holiday itself? As a matter of fact, there was. But in this, the only record we have of Howard discussing Valentine’s Day, what do we find? Talk of romance? Immortal love? Flowers and chocolates and cupid run amok?

C’mon — this is the creator of Conan we’re dealing with here:

This being Valentine’s Day, I suppose I should make the conventional request for you to go and join the army. That may sound a bit wobbly, but look: Valentine comes from the same word from which “gallant” is derived; a gallant may be a suitor, but is also a cavalier; a cavalier is a knight; a knight is a cavalryman; a cavalryman is a soldier. To ask one to be one’s Valentine is equivalent to asking him, or her, to be a soldier. And one can’t be a soldier without joining the army. So, a request to become a Valentine is approximately a demand to go and join the army.

Good old Two-Gun, still reaching for the humor and joy in life even as his own dwindled to its conclusion! With less than four months to live, and with his life slowly disintegrating around him, his letter remains all the more poignant given the circumstances we know were torturing him during that time. “I’ll be seeing you, I hope.” he says somewhat forlornly to Novalyne at the letter’s conclusion. And boy, did he ever.

Only two weeks later, on February 24 1936, Novalyne would submit Howard to a meeting of frankly inexcusable cruelty, taunting him about his mustache while making light of the suffering he was going through over his Mother’s impending death. The record of the conversation in Novalyne’s book is courageous in its refusal to whitewash what happened. “God knows how many nights I haven’t slept,” Howard mourns exhaustedly, while she airily wonders aloud why hiring a nurse couldn’t just fix all those little worries of his right up. “I want to live!” he later exclaims, the ultimate suicide’s cry for help, “I want a woman to love, a woman to share my life and believe in me, to want me and love me. Don’t you know that? My God, my God. Can’t you see that? I want to live and to love.” Faced with this declaration, Novalyne replies with an icy riposte that slams into Howard like a stake through the heart: “Well, shave your mustache and maybe you’ll find one,” prompting Howard to quite understandably stare at his friend in shock and gasp, “My God, you say a thing like that when everything has crashed around me?”

It’s hard to say when Howard snapped, when the last ray of hope shut off in his mind and he resigned himself to the abyss gaping hungrily ahead of him. But to my mind, the nascent Prague Spring created by that Valentine’s Day missive, followed by the crushing events of two weeks later, was as much a fulcrum event as any other, slamming the Gates of Life shut for good.

Sadly, on this — his final Valentine’s Day — Howard remained always and forever, to the bitter end, One Who Walked Alone.



The above photo is well-known to those of us who have read and reread Dark Valley Destiny. In that book, the caption states: “Robert E. Howard, Dr. Isaac M. Howard, Dr. and Mrs. Solomon R. Chambers, Galveston, Texas, probably 1918.” It’s a photo that has always intrigued me, mostly because of the amazing pose REH is caught in, gazing wistfully up at the sky as if daydreaming his first stories, so distracted by the tales floating around in his mind that he can’t bring himself back to reality long enough to pose properly for the photo being taken. Dr. Howard and the Chamberses do their part to make the photo interesting, too, with Isaac standing imperiously and confidently as the nexus of attention while the others almost recoil from the towering man dominating the center of the composition.

Over the years I have been in Howard fandom, I’ve often wondered what the provenance of this photo was. Dark Valley Destiny says:

Late in 1917, Dr. Howard delivered the Chamberses’ new baby, Norris, and thereafter Dr. Chambers became restless. As he had earlier discovered that the active practice of medicine kept him away from home more than he liked, so now he found his duties at the drugstore too confining. After the Armistice of November 11, 1918, he decided to move his family to Galveston, on the Gulf of Mexico, and take up truck farming.

Of course, Dark Valley Destiny also calls the newborn Norris “Robert’s schoolmate,” and then debunks one of REH’s childhood memories by saying that schoolmate Norris didn’t remember it, so Howard probably made it up. But as we just read in the DVD excerpt above: Norris was born in 1917, making him a full eleven years younger than Howard, and so couldn’t possibly have been his schoolmate. Call me wild and crazy, but it’s small wonder he didn’t remember anything about the incident Howard wrote of considering he might not have been born yet when it happened.

Until recent years Dark Valley Destiny was the first and only place this photo was published, albeit severely cropped compared to the raw version above. I suppose de Camp got this and most of his other photos from Glenn Lord, who had been patiently hunting down and securing copies of such photos for decades. The copy above is the one Glenn has in his files, with the names written across the top like that. Glenn in turn must have got a copy from Norris, or from one of the other Chamberses.

In June of 2005, Don Herron and I went to White Settlement, Texas and interviewed Norris Chambers at length (the results of which can now be read in TC V3n10, with a further tantalizing excerpt available in V3n6). During the course of that interview I learned that Norris’ sister’s name was Deoma, which immediately set off alarm bells in my mind, because the name written on the photo above also says “Deoma.” Norris’ Mother’s name was Martha. Hmmmm. (in case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of opportunities to say “hmmmm….” in REH scholarship).

When I got home from Texas, I looked up Deoma in the Social Security Death Index, and she is listed under Deoma E. Morgan (according to this genealogical listing on Norris’ website, Lilburn Morgan was her second husband, Lonnie Triplitt was her first). That record tells us that she was born in 1899 and died in 2000 (she was 101 years old!) That would make her around nineteen at the time of the above picture. Hmmmm — come to think of it, the lady (girl?) in that picture has always looked a little young to be the wife of the then fifty-year-old Solomon Chambers (1868-1950).

It appears, then, that de Camp assumed that Deoma Chambers was Mrs. Solomon (Martha) Chambers and wrote his caption accordingly. But now twenty-three years after the fact we finally know that the woman in the picture in not Solomon’s wife but his daughter, and hence Norris’ older sister. Those of you who already own TC V3n10 knew this already, of course — one of the perks of subscribing.

During my interview of Norris in 2005, I asked him whether he had the original of this photo, in the hope that it perhaps had some writing on the back that might pinpoint the date a bit better, or provide any additional information. He said that he didn’t have it and wasn’t sure who did, but he suspected that Deoma’s only daughter Marjorie Leeton — who is 84 years old and still living in Texas, might know where it went off to, along with several other photos Norris recalls were taken with the Howards on that Galveston trip.

Well, I contacted Marjorie, and sure enough she does have the original photo, although there are no others that she is aware of. According to her, the splotches you see on the print reproduced above are there on the original, too, perhaps caused by dripping photo developer or something at the time it was made. And most importantly, on the back of the photo itself is written the names of the subjects along with the following additional information: “Feb 1918 near Alta Loma, Texas.”


Alta Loma is a very small town in the Galveston area — you can read about its history here at the Handbook of Texas Online. Note that in recent years it’s been swallowed up and incorporated into the larger town of Santa Fe. Cimmerian readers have read all about how the Chamberses moved down there to farm and sell fruit door-to-door. Reading the Handbook of Texas entry brings home how difficult a life that must have been during those years.

So that confirms de Camp’s guess (probably a guess Norris gave him) of “probably 1918.” But it brings up another problem with the dating. If, as de Camp states, the Chamberses didn’t move down to Galveston until “after the Armistice of November 11, 1918,” then how could this photo have been taken the previous February, a full nine months before they moved? Doesn’t make sense. Perhaps they went down on a scouting trip of sorts with the Howards in February? Or perhaps de Camp’s information about them moving in November of 1918 was wrong, and they actually moved a year earlier? Norris sounded a bit vague on exactly when they moved down there, and he himself was far too young to have any memories of the years the family spent down south, so it’s possible he misremembered to de Camp. Someday I’d like to spend enough time at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin, where the de Camp papers are kept, to get to the bottom of this and many other mysteries.

I’m having Norris make me a scan of the photo, both sides, so I’ll know more information directly, and will report any updates here. It will be interesting to see how much more detail is in the original photo, if any. I dearly wish the other three or four rumored photos had survived — who knows what they would have shown us? A group photo of the entire Howard trio at that age would be wonderful to see. Maybe they are still out there somewhere, waiting to be found. Stranger things have happened — Rusty Burke and Patrice Louinet found the photo of REH outside his house with Patch a mere few years ago, at the house of another old lady who knew the Howards in her youth. I’ve got to get Rusty to write up that interview and experience in The Cimmerian, it’s a doozy of a yarn.

Thank God for people like Norris Chambers and Marjorie Leeton, keepers in their own small way of the Howard flame, both via their memories and by way of a most miraculous photograph.