More Star Roving

Guest Blogger Fred Blosser adds his two cents to Steve’s recent post on The Star Rover.

FRED: I appreciate Steve’s tip of the hat in his posting today. The other guy who should be mentioned in regard to connecting the dots between The Star Rover and Howard was de Camp. I believe he was the first observer — at least, the first in print, via Dark Valley Destiny in 1983 — to remark on the similarities between The Star Rover and concepts in the Conan and James Allison stories.

With a little more luck and persistence, I might have beat Sprague to the punch by fifteen years, but to paraphrase Robert De Niro, I blew it.

I noticed the proto-Howard details in the London book when I first read it in 1968, and at that time, I asked Glenn if evidence existed that Howard had read the novel. Glenn supplied me with Howard’s “book that goes to my head like wine” comment, and I built on that in writing a college freshman English paper that I titled “Jack London and the Hyborian Age.” Before the fall semester was over that year, I revised the paper a bit and submitted it to Amra. Over Christmas break, I received a card from George Scithers accepting it for publication — but it never appeared, as far as I’m aware.

When I signed with Ted Dikty and FAX in 1976 to write a book about Howard’s weird fiction, I covered the Little People stories and salvaged a bit of “Jack London and the Hyborian Age,” particularly noting the references to Il-Marinen by both authors. I started writing my book in October 1976 and delivered the final portion of the manuscript to Dikty in February 1977. Dikty said he liked it, and sent me a galley of the first chapter to proofread, along with a xerox of artwork by Alex Nino that he said he’d use for the cover.

I proofed the galley and sent it back to Ted. Around this time, unfortunately for me, Ted decided to put my book on the back burner and first publish a big, expensive map of the Hyborian Age, along with his wife’s accompanying Gazetteer. I never heard from him again, and I presume the single galley chapter was the only one set in type. My book, like several other promised titles, never saw the light of day. (Not from FAX at least. One of the books that Dikty advertised as in the works, Glenn’s The Howard Collector anthology, later found a home at Ace.)

Looking around for something to submit to The Dark Man in the ’90s, I performed another salvage job and turned the unpublished section about the Little People stories into the article that Steve graciously mentioned. At that point, my product wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, since de Camp, in the meantime, had published his observations about Howard’s debt to The Star Rover in the background to the Allison stories, in the genesis of the Æsir and the Vanir, etc. But I’m glad that Steve seems to have liked it, and I was interested in how he picked up many, many other parallels that I hadn’t noticed.

I’ve seen a couple of new trade paperback editions of the London book in the past few years, including a moderately priced Modern Library version. I hope Steve’s article will prompt new fans to seek it out.

Steve adds: Drat. Had a survey of Howard’s weird fiction possessing the customary Blosserian seriousness of purpose appeared in 1977 or 1978, coinciding with Karl Edward Wagner’s game-changing forewords and afterwords to the Berkley Conans, that would have done a lot to improve the locust years that preceded The Dark Barbarian. I’ll have to file this one next to the history of heroic fantasy Leiber once intended to write on my Should-Have-Been Bookshelf.

Correction: Don Herron, far more knowledgeable about Fritz Leiber than are certain antipodean resurrection men I might mention, has informed me that Leiber hoped to tackle not just our favorite subgenre of fantasy but the whole genre, which leaves me yearning even more to read what was mostly never written.

London Calling: The Ragnar Lodbrog Chapter of The Star-Rover

[redacted] and I seem to have at least a desultory Jack London thread going, so I’d like to crack open The Star Rover for this post. The novel has long had a reputation among Howardists as James Allison’s home away from home, and Fred Blosser planted a Howard studies banner in London’s text a decade ago with “The Star Rover and the People of Night” in TDM #4, May 1997, but as the title of that article hints, Fred’s focus was Rover-ian influence on “The Children of the Night.” I’m fascinated by the novel’s Chapter XVII, which finds London, who as much as anyone other than Robert W. Service made the New World’s North his own, turning his attention to the North of the Old World and affording us an example of a major American writer contributing to “the Northern thing” decades before REH, Fletcher Pratt, Poul Anderson, or Fritz Leiber.

The nativity of the chapter’s narrator, Ragnar Lodbrog (actually an Allison-style past incarnation of Darrell Standing, who is doing the hardest possible hard time in San Quentin solitary), could not be more northern, “tempest-born on a beaked ship,” and “delivered in storm, with the spume of the cresting seas salt upon [him].” “For nursery,” Ragnar tells us, “were reeling decks and the stamp and trample of men in battle or storm.” From birth he earns the enmity of Tostig Lodbrog, alias Muspell (“The Burning”, whose immediate inclination is to drown him in “a half-pot of mead.” To establish Tostig’s badassery, London alludes to the sea-king’s having eaten “the heart of Ngun after the fight at Hasfurth” and “the spiced wine he would have from no other cup than the skull of Guthlaf.” The greatest and grimmest of Northern tales comes in with an invocation of “Gudrun’s revenge on Atl, when she gave him the hearts of his children and hers to eat while battle swept the benches, tore down the hangings raped from southern coasts, and littered the feasting board with swift corpses.” Scope that not-for-the-faint-of-heart verb “raped”; London was as bruisingly powerful aboard a longship as he was alongside a dogsled, and it’s a shame he didn’t write more things like the flashback-chapters of The Star Rover.

After proto-Howardian observations about Tostig’s entourage like “Their thoughts were ferocious; so was their eating ferocious, and their drinking,” Ragnar escapes and is finally captured by the Romans, where, from the young Robert E. Howard’s point of view, the chapter goes to hell in an imperator‘s chariot. The Northron is made “a sweep-slave in the galleys” but works his way up to “freeman, a citizen, and a soldier.” We even learn that he will eventually rise to command a legion—imagine Howard’s disgust! All of the storms and stroppiness back home are just a preamble to a Gospel According to Jack, as Pontius Pilate, who is enduring a full-court press from the Sanhedrin, Ragnar, and his highborn love interest Miriam debate what should be done with a “vagrant fisherman, this wandering preacher, this piece of driftage from Galilee.” Ragnar digs himself in deeper by insisting to Miriam “The Romans are the elder brothers of us younglings of the north. Also, I wear the harness and eat the bread of Rome.” If London’s novel did indeed “generally [go to Howard’s] head like wine,” as he told Harold Preece, Ragnar’s civis Romanum sum sentiments must have been the undrinkable lees.

(Two pop culture asides: We can’t blame London for the lamentable Revenge of the Sith-associations of the term “younglings,” and thanks to Monty Python, can anyone read or see a scene featuring Pilate or other administrators of Occupied Judaea without instantaneously thinking of Biggus Dickus? I first met B. Dickus in a German movie theater in 1981, where his nom de dubbing was Schwanzus Langus–even funnier, perhaps)

For evidence of the Ragnar chapter’s impact on Howard, we need only consult the novel-fragment published for the first time in the Del Rey version of Bran Mak Morn: The Last King, which it might still be convenient to refer to by the title Glenn Lord assigned in The Last Celt, “The Wheel Turns.” (This is the abortive project referred to in an October 5, 1923 letter to Tevis Clyde Smith–“a book which doubtless would make you tired” Howard’s narrator is Hakon, who crews for Tostig the Mighty, “a terrible warrior and a man whose wish was his only law.” Tostig’s second ship is captained by one Ragnar, and another of the dramatis personae is named Lodbrog. Where a blow from London’s Tostig sends his narrator “dazed and breathless half the length of the great board”; Howard’s Tostig is no less enraged by the narrator’s disobedience, “I caught the blow on an up-flung arm but the force was enough to knock me from my feet and send me rolling along the deck.”

London’s Tostig feasts “under the smoky rafters of Brunanbuhr” and “Jutes” is spelled “Juts” in The Star Rover, a spelling retained by Howard, in the last sentence of whose Chapter 2, “The Viking,” two ships are “sold to the Juts at Brunanbuhr.” Howard’s fragment features an “Angle” ship helmed by Gathlaff–recall London’s reference to Guthlaf and his skull’s afterlife as a beverage holder. Interestingly, this section of “The Wheel Turns” also offers a preview of Conan’s underhanded undermining of Zaporavo in “The Pool of the Black One”:

Cunningly, without speaking against Tostig and giving him an excuse to slay me, craftily, without drawing suspicion of any sort to myself, I turned the Vikings against Tostig, against his arrogance, his over-bearing ways, his cruelty. Many of them hated Tostig anyway, so it was not such a difficult matter.

We know that when Howard was taken by a story, that story was sometimes taken by Howard, who would then make it his own. In his introduction to The Lord of Samarcand and Other Adventure Tales of the Old Orient, Patrice Louinet notes “Howard’s first attempt at writing an Oriental story was contemporary to his reading Lamb’s ‘The Wolf Chaser’ (Adventure Magazine, April 30, 1922). . .The Texan first wrote a short recap of Lamb’s story, then proceeded to write a short story, or rather outline of a story, which apparently didn’t go beyond the second page.” But I think the after-effects of London’s Ragnar chapter outlasted the rather blatant appropriation evident in “The Wheel Turns.” Might not Howard’s later “Men of the Shadows” be a sort of indignant answer-song? If barbarism is the natural state of manking, then it is damn sure the natural, the only permissible state of barbarians, and Ragnar should be ashamed of himself. Against the stark backdrop of the north of Britain, where a “high mountain wind” roars “with the voice of giants,” Howard’s unnamed Scandinavian legionary reverts to his true self as the “real” Romans are Pict-picked off one by one: “By Thor and Wotan, I would teach them how a Norseman passed! With each passing moment I became less of the cultured Roman.” We can sense Howard’s glee as his Viking remarks on “years of Roman culture [slipping] away like sea-fog before the sun” and he can’t divest himself of “all dross of education and civilization” fast enough (I feel the same way when I try to read Cicero). Picture Howard at his Underwood, glaring at his well-thumbed copy of The Star Rover as he types “I was no Roman, I was a Norseman, a hairy chested, yellow bearded barbarian. And I strode the heath as arrogantly as if I trod the deck of my own galley.”

Bran himself gets in on the de-Romanizing action: “But you are a Roman, to be sure. And yet, methinks they must grow taller Romans than I had thought. And your beard, what turned it yellow?” Is it fanciful to suggest that one reason why the first few pages of “Men of the Shadows” are a real story, rather than a rejection-earning summation of Pictish history, is because Howard was picking a fight with London/Ragnar? We need not drag in Harold Bloom’s theorizing about the anxiety of influence and the patricidal inclinations of authors just starting out to speculate along these lines.

And beyond “Men of the Shadows,” might one of Ragnar’s conversations with Miriam contain an echo-in-advance of Conan and Belît’s conversation as the Tigress glides up-river on the sinister Zarkheba? Here’s London:

Let these mad dreamers go the way of their dreaming. Deny them not what they desire, above all things, above meat and wine, above song and battle, even above love of women. Deny them not their hearts’ desires that draw them across the dark of the grave to their dreams of life beyond this world. Let them pass. But you and I abide here in all the sweet we have discovered of each other. quickly enough will come the dark, and you depart for your coasts of sun and flowers, and I for the roaring table of Valhalla.

As for other possible debts, in London we find “Once I was Ushu, the archer,” in Howard “I was Lakur the archer in the land of Kita.’ In Chapter XXI of The Star Rover, a pre-Ragnarian but equally Aryan reverie, the narrator would have us know “The sword, in battle, sings not so sweet a song as the woman sings to man merely by her laugh in the moonlight, or her love-sob in the dark, or her swaying on her way under the sun while he lies dizzy with longing in the grass.” I can’t prove it, but one of Asgrimm’s disgusted utterances in “Marchers of Valhalla” seems like a direct retort to what might have struck Howard as treacle: “The kisses and love-songs of women soon pall, but the sword sings a fresh song with each stroke.”

Returning for a moment to Before Adam, one last example of Howard redoing London to his own satisfaction possibly occurs in Chapter 1 of “The Wheel Turns,” “Back Through the Ages,” which borrows the senior writer’s term “the Younger World” and evokes “the Swift One” with a character named Swift-Foot. Red-Eye, the throwback more pongid than hominid of Before Adam, gets away with murder and worse. That surely didn’t sit well with Howard, and so we get:

For I saw red rage and there, in the swaying tree-tops, a hundred feet from the ground, we fought hand to hand, the Hairy Man and I, and bare-handed and unaided I slew him, there in tree-tops, when the world was young.

And was this cursorily described incident then one of the kernels of “Spear and Fang”? Food for thought–and in honor of London, a San Francisco treat.

After the End: Howard & London’s Postapocalyptic Imagery

At the grim climax of Before Adam, Jack London’s 1907 novel of “The Younger World,” narrator Big-Tooth describes how he and his proto-hominid kinfolk were hunted into the swamps by the more Cromagnonesque Fire People, who have mastered arson and archery:

We make plaintive querulous noises, look at one another and cluster close together. It is like the meeting of the handful of survivors after the day of the end of the world.

Was the just-quoted passage the ur-version of one of Howard’s favorite reality-heightening similes? Let’s compare:

Slowly through the corpses they came, as ghosts might come to a tryst through the shambles of a dead world. (“The Frost-Giant’s Daughter”)

The survivors stared bleakly and blankly at each other, like survivors after Judgment Day or the destruction of the world. (“Red Nails”)

…until dawn came slowly, sullenly and dimly, and we halted and stared haggardly at each other, like ghosts in the morn after the destruction of the world. (“The Thunder-Rider”)

Now my intent here is not to whittle away at Howard’s artistry. In all three instances he noticeably improves upon the London original. Survivors dematerialize into ghosts, or regard each other “bleakly or blankly,” and the images of “the shambles of a dead world” and a dim and sullen dawn are all Howard. This is just one of many examples of what we’ve known for decades, that London’s work contains whole Klondikes and Yukons wherein Howardist source-hunters can prospect for inspiration-nuggets.

Speaking of the postapocalyptic, congratulations to Cormac McCarthy, the terrible beauty of whose 2006 novel The Road just won him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, although I still wonder how readers who take their marching orders from Oprah Winfrey are coping with the roasted-baby-on-a-spit scene.

A Haven for Sword-and-Sorcery


Howard Andrew Jones has been a good friend of Robert E. Howard scholarship for years. Best known as the guy who’s been studying, publishing, and popularizing the work of Adventure writer Harold Lamb, he has often used Lamb’s work to cast insight into REH’s. Readers of the V3n11 issue of TC (November 2006) know that Jones was a staunch defender of Two-Gun on one of the REH-themed panels at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention, thoroughly rebutting some “REH was juvenile” evaluations of our favorite Texan’s style.

Jones has recently become the editor at Black Gate magazine. While the publication has always tipped its hat to Sword-and-Sorcery and the classic writers who made the genre what it is, under Jones’ editorship it is slated to become even more of a repository for the latest and greatest in rugged fantastic adventure writing. Cimmerian proofreader, blogger, and regular contributor Steve Tompkins has already published a tribute to David Gemmell at the Black Gate website, and Cimmerian contributor Darrell Schweitzer has landed items in the magazine — in fact, an evaluation of Darrell’s fantasy writing is available there.

I especially liked the recent entry at the Black Gate blog, which details Mr. Jones’ foray into the massive BG slush pile. He constructs a fine list of clichés and problems with most of the stories he receives, warnings that potential authors would be wise to heed when writing their own efforts.

Fans of Howard’s desert adventure writing will definitely want to check out all of the great Harold Lamb books Jones has been willing into print over the past few years. Amazon now has the complete Khlit the Cossack stories of Lamb available in four volumes: Wolf of the Steppes, Warriors of the Steppes, Riders of the Steppes, and Swords of the Steppes. Jones notes on his Curved Saber website dedicated to Lamb that L. Sprague de Camp said of these stories:

They are tales of wild adventure, full of swordplay, plots, treachery, startling surprises, mayhem, and massacre, laid in the most exotic setting that one can imagine and still stay in a known historical period on this planet.

Pretty cool endorsement, I think you’ll agree. And note that, further on down the homepage of the site, Jones reveals that he got his Lamb collection from none other than John D. Clark, who once wrote to Robert E. Howard way back in 1936, and who later was involved in editing the Conan stories for hardcover in the 1950s. Small world.

As if all of that isn’t enough, Jones was also instrumental in creating and growing the foremost website dedicated to Sword-and-Sorcery, the aptly-named Lots of interviews, stories, reviews, and other material for the fantasy and S&S enthusiast, including several Howard related items.

So scoop up those Lamb books to get a major Howardian style fix of adventure fiction, and if you are a lover of Sword-and-Sorcery, do yourself a favor and subscribe (and submit) to Black Gate. With the proper editing and the right fan base, it could slowly grow into a modern answer to the great venues and authors of old.

A Tolkien Curmudgeon’s Prayers Answered


As you may recall, I wrote a post awhile back complaining about (among other things) the omnipresence of Alan Lee art on various Tolkien volumes. At the time I wished aloud that a version of The Children of Húrin would appear sans the usual fey-and-grey assault of the ethereal Lee palette.

How gratifying it was to recently visit the webpage for the book and discover that a slipcased deluxe edition is now slated for release on May 16, 2007, a month after the regular edition debuts this morning. At only $47.25 the copy I consider it a bargain. The Lee plates are preserved within, but the cover and slipcase contain only the elegant symbols conceived and drawn by Tolkien himself.

What I would give to have all of Howard in uniform slipcased editions with heavy paper and a large font without art and other editorial apparatus, books that put the lover of words and text and reading first. Currently, out of all the Howard books in my collection, I’m liking the Bison Books hardcover REH set best. The font is a bit small and hence hard on the eyes, but no more so than the Wandering Star books, and the Bisons are uniform, jet black (my favorite color for binding Howard, as Cimmerian readers know) and contain a wealth of great reading. Very classy and elegant in their simplicity — Bison could have done far worse.

I’ve been thinking of purchasing some new editions of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion as well, and will have to see if more-or-less matching slipcased editions of those are available. I’ve seen some that come close, but will have to investigate their textual integrity. I also prefer The Lord of the Rings to be broken down into three physical volumes, or even better the seven physical volumes of the Millennium set that came out circa October 1999. That set, and most of the editions that have come after, feature textual restoration and an essay concerning same by occasional Cimmerian reader Douglas Anderson.

I was also pleased to see a short essay at Amazon by Tolkien’s grandson Adam Tolkien titled “On the Children of Húrin,” which delves into the genesis of the book and the efforts of his father, the inestimable Christopher Tolkien, to edit the full story into being. Adam seems a man of my own heart, with all of his talk of “this tragic tale of brutal conquest and flight, of forest hiding-places and pursuit, of resistance with lessening hope, and of a huge wingless dragon of fire” and “a larger world, an ancient land of heroes and vagabonds, honour and jeopardy, hope and tragedy.”

Looks like I’ll be waiting an extra month before delving into this volume, but to tell the truth I’ll have little trouble resisting its siren call with all of the latest Cimmerian work piling up. The Cimmerian Library Volume 4 is printed and ready to soon take the TC readership by storm, and V4n2 should be ready to go within a week or two. Then the V3 Index and the V3 slipcases should be hot on their heels. I’m looking forward to getting all caught up so that I can do some blogging and post some more stuff about the forthcoming Howard Days.

Seeding the Earth

Just got a batch of Cross Plains Reviews, and the March 1, 2007 issue carries a blurb on the REH Foundation‘s new Cross Plains High School Writing Competition. The text of the piece is identical to the press release found at the Foundation web site, so I won’t repost it all here. But now the town is aware of it, and it will be interesting to see how many Cross Plains kids give it the old college try, as the saying goes.

Howardian Cymbalism

Solomon Kane’s first words in “The Blue Flame of Vengeance” are a diverting quote-mashup. Jack Holinster is cursing up a storm in the “dim dream of waste lands and waste waters” that his local beach has become to him when he’s interrupted by a “deep vibrant voice”:

“Young man, your words are vain and wordly. They are as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Our steely-nerved Puritan duelist got the first half of that second sentence from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 1.13: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” (That letter-chapter is a hit factory that also offers “For now we see through a glass darkly,” “When I became a man I put away childish things,” and “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity” But Kane appends language from Act Five, Scene Five of Macbeth, wherein life is described (in William Faulkner-inspiring terms) as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Now it might be overthinking matters to attempt to assign date-brackets to “Blue Flame” by deducing from Kane’s borrowed words that he has to have read the King James Bible of 1611 and seen (un-Puritanically) a performance of Macbeth sometime between 1603 (the year the Stuarts took over from the Tudors and Shakespeare was looking to ingratiate himself with James I) and 1606 (allusions to the Gunpowder Plot have been read into the text). Howard might simply have enjoyed the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup-style “two great tastes that taste great together” effect of running the former Saul of Tarsus and the Scottish play together. After all, he pulled the same stunt, only more irreverently and working in even more from Corinthians, in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (page 112, during a seven-up game with the “boarding house gang”:

“Now abideth high, low, jack and game, and the greatest of these is high,” droned Steve Costigan, leading a king. “Yea, though I speak with the voice of trumps and of jacks, and have queens to move mountains, yet have not high, I am as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, full of kings and aces, signifyin’ game.”

That’s probably the funniest thing Steve says in the whole novel — let’s face it, he’s usually either a mope or a lout. Perhaps Howard began work on “Blue Flame” within a few months of finishing Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, or maybe his mashup just lodged in his memory. But there’s no better example of how he went to the King James Bible and Shakespeare early and often.

Hells of Iron and a Worm of Irony

Every so often, when Bastards HQ isn’t paying attention, life can be pretty good. Here’s Christopher Tolkien on The Children of Hurin, due to hit bookstores and pluck heartstrings on April 17:

There are tales of Middle-earth from times long before The Lord of the Rings, and the story told in this book is set in the great country that lay beyond the Grey Havens in the West: lands where Treebeard once walked, but which were drowned in the great cataclysm that ended the First Age of the World.

In that remote time Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in the vast fortress of Angband, the Hells of Iron, in the North; and the tragedy of Turin and his sister Nienor unfolded within the shadow of the fear of Angband and the war waged by Morgoth against the lands and secret cities of the Elves.

Their brief and passionate lives were dominated by the elemental hatred that Morgoth bore them as the children of Hurin, the man who had dared to defy and to scorn him to his face. Against them he sent his formidable servant, Glaurang, a powerful spirit in the form of a huge wingless dragon of fire. Into his story of brutal conquest and flight, of forest hiding-places and pursuit, of resistance with lessening hope, the mythological persons of the God and the Dragon enter in fearfully articulate form. Sardonic and mocking, Glaurang manipulated the fates of Turin and Nienor by lies of diabolic cunning and guile, and the curse of Morgoth was fulfilled

The earliest versions of this story by J.R.R. Tolkien go back to the end of the First World War and the years that followed; but long afterwards, when The Lord of the Rings was finished, he wrote it anew and greatly enlarged it in complexities of motive and character: it became the dominant story in his later work on Middle-earth. But he could not bring it to final and finished form. In this book I have endeavoured to construct, after long study of the manuscripts, a coherent narrative without any editorial invention.

Let’s hope Christopher “Eragon, Son of LucasFilm” Paolini is so traumatized he quits “writing” fantasy and competes on American Idol next season instead.

Blogging drought


Sorry there hasn’t been any new posts lately, but all of the Cimmerian bloggers have been busy with other things. Both Rob and Steve have been hard at work on Howardian book projects that are going to rock your world later this year, Mark’s been working on getting his movie theater running in between Howardian speeches in Cross Plains, and I’ve been wrestling with a whole slew of things including the April issue of TC, the V3 Index issue, the V3 slipcases, the Cimmerian Awards trophies, REH Days scheduling, mastering some REH recorded poetry (!?!), selling REHupas and other Howardian items on eBay, and a host of other stuff, including something called Real Life.

Nevertheless, slowly but surely all of us are crawling out from under the mounds of work we’re engaged in, and you should start seeing some new posts soon. Not to mention some new Cimmerian issues and such. It looks as if the REHupa blog has been suffering from a lack of posts for many of the same reasons. Indy’s in the middle of assembling the April mailing of REHupa, Morgan’s been hard at work on an essay for me, and Rusty has his usual list of stuff to do stretching from here to the moon (of skulls). All a part of doing this as a hobby, riding the crests and dips as they come.

Stay tuned….