REH Word of the Week: puncher



1. a hired hand who tends cattle and performs other duties on horseback [syn: cowpuncher, cowboy]

[Origin: 1875-80, so named for prodding the cattle when herding]


Laramie crawled along a few feet to put himself out of range of the rifleman on the rim, then shouted: “Slim! Swing wide of that trail and come up here with yore men!”

He was understood, for presently Slim and the three surviving punchers came crawling over the tangle of rocks, having necessarily abandoned their horses.

[from “The Last Ride”]

Machen on the Mind


With our country’s annual ghoulish bacchanal upon us, here’s something to imbibe in preparation for the festivities. Head over to The Wall Street Journal Online and read John J. Miller’s latest excursion into the weird fiction field, “Arthur Machen’s Stories: What Nightmares Are Made Of.”

Machen (1863-1947) was a writer of vast talent and scope (Don Herron has referred to him in my presence as “One of the all-time great prose stylists”) who today is most remembered for his horror stories. Machen’s connection with Robert E. Howard and the other great talents at Weird Tales is strong — Howard considered the three greatest weird stories of all time to be Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”…and Arthur Machen’s “The Novel of the Black Seal.” (Some of Howard’s letter and story excerpts referencing Machen are online here.)

Several of Howard’s most memorable memes were inspired by Machen, most notably the concept of monstrous Little People lurking in caverns under the bucolic English countryside, whether ultimately revealed as Picts or grimmer things. Check out stories such as “People of the Dark,” “The Black Stone,” “The Lost Race,” “Children of the Night,” and most powerfully, “Worms of the Earth.” (see Rusty Burke’s Introduction to Wandering Star/Del Rey’s Bran Mak Morn: The Last King for a bit more on the Machenian, and then Lovecraftian, influence on the Bran cycle.)

As such an influence, Machen has often featured prominently in Howard criticism. Steve Eng, who wrote the single best essay to date on Howard’s verse, “Barbarian Bard: The Poetry of Robert E. Howard,” comments in that piece that:

A perfect little poem is found in The Howard Collector anthology:

I too have strode those white-paved roads that run
Through dreamy woodlands to the Roman Wall,
Have seen the white towns gleaming in the sun,
And heard afar the elf-like trumpets call.

— summing up in four lines the whole spirit of the Welsh mystic and fantasy fictioneer Arthur Machen. It is the kind of lyric Machen’s friend John Gawsworth would have assuredly published in the 1930s, had he seen it.

(Eng also wrote one of the best essays on Machen, “Machen and Me,” which appeared in Nyctalops, and later edited a volume of Gawsworth’s poetry. Steve is out of the field now, suffering from some formĀ of adult senile dementia, but I hope to publish a selection of his best writing on Howard, Machen, and others in The Cimmerian Library at some point.)

It’s fun to read the Weird Tales guys wrestling with Machen’s visions. At one point Lovecraft confided to REH that:

Long and I often debate about the real folklore basis of Machen’s nightmare witch cults. I think they are Machen’s own inventions, for I never heard of them elsewhere; but Long cannot get over the idea that they have an actual source in European myth. Can you give us any light on this? We haven’t the temerity to ask Machen himself.

They should have wrote him — the resulting correspondence would have been great. And I doubt any temerity was necessary, as Machen certainly had a sense of humor — witness his book Precious Balms, a collection of bad reviews of his own work.

You can read The Novel of the Black Seal and Machen’s other works at Project Gutenberg Australia. If you want to learn even more, check out The Friends of Arthur Machen, a stellar organization comparable to REHupa that was nominated for a World Fantasy Award last year.

More REHupas Being Put Out To Pasture


Every few months I announce with trumpet blasts that I’m going to be getting rid of all my old REHupa mailings, putting them up on eBay at the rate of one per day. Each time this happens, I last but a few days before Real Life drags me off to other things. A few months later, the cycle repeats.

Well, it’s almost November 2007, time to give it the ol’ college try once more. REHupa #132 has been posted at eBay. It’s a fine example of a.p.a. material — here’s my description from the auction entry:

REHupa #132 clocked in at 195 pages, and included many items of interest. This was Morgan Holmes’ first mailing as Official Editor, a reign that would become noted for its kept-the-trains-running professionalism and for several unfortunate battles within the a.p.a., leading to the very first (and to date only) expulsions in the a.p.a.’s history. Morgan lays down the law in his Editorial: “If a member persists in making his ‘zine reading like it belongs in the basket weaving a.p.a….I will kidnap the offender, put him in a bare room, force him to read Lin Carter paperbacks and pump Ace of Base music constantly into the room. I mean business.” A new sheriff had just entered town.

Sword-and-Sorcery author David C. Smith (Oron, et al.) joined the a.p.a. with this mailing. At the time, Novalyne Price Ellis, L. Sprague de Camp, Glenn Lord, and Roy Thomas were Honorary Members, and this issue has a nice letter from Sprague in which he admits that “My biggest mistake in reviving Conan was taking on Carter as a collaborator without first trying to lure Leigh Brackett into the job.” But then he goes on to suggest: “My second biggest, I think, was in not taking a stronger line against the waist-length hair attributed by Frazetta to Conan in his cover painting for Conan the Adventurer.” Typical de Camp, getting so close to the real problem (bad pastiche) and then losing his way in criticism of the classic rendition of the Cimmerian, which most fans rightly see as perfection.

This mailing of REHupa is also notable for the announcement made by screenwriter Michael Scott Myers that The Whole Wide World had been greenlighted by Hollywood, complete with newspaper announcements. Other highlights of the Mailing include a reprint of Karl Edward Wagner’s essays “Celluloid S&S: Boon or Menace?” and “Hold the Bologna On Mine,” Steve Trout’s “final notes” on the editorial alterations in the Donald Grant Solomon Kane volumes (a revelation which has since become legendary in the field), Part III of Richard Toogood’s “Solomon Kane Chronology,” a review from the always interesting Rick McCollum titled “Baen’s Cormac Mac Art in Review,” Scott Sheaffer’s latest response to Richard Toogood in an a.p.a. shaking fight that along with one other would eventually get Sheaffer expelled from REHupa, and much else. At almost 200 pages of Howardian writ, it’s a good Mailing.

Let’s see if I can’t get a streak going with these things, and finally get them out of my archives and into the hands of fans who will give them a much better home.

Dial P for Pulp debuts


English fan David Drage has been planning a regular podcast for pulp aficionados over the last year. Recently, the first episodes of the podcast have appeared at his website, with more to follow on what looks like a monthly basis. Highlights for Howard fans include an audiobook rendition of the Solomon Kane tale “Red Shadows,” some commentary on new Howard books such as Almuric and Conan the Phenomenon, information on casting for the new Solomon Kane film, and a laconic and humorous Howard Days trip report by Larry “Deuce” Richardson.

My first impression is that the jury is still out on whether this experiment will become a must-listen for fans. Right now the delivery is a bit bland and stiff, the information somewhat of a rehash of things long known on the Internet, and the theme music far too goofy compared to the somewhat rarefied accent of Drage. On the plus side, the Richardson trip report does hint strongly at the possibilities of the medium, and how phone interviews and other never-before-heard audio content (on-site reports from Howard Days or Gen Con, perhaps) would be compelling. Drage’s podcast is still in its infancy, and as he gets more contributors and develops a less scripted delivery of his material, it might grow into something special. Give it a listen and see what you think.

REH Word of the Week: doublet



1. a close-fitting outer garment, with or without sleeves and sometimes having a short skirt, worn by men in the Renaissance.
2. an undergarment, quilted and reinforced with mail, worn beneath armor.

[Origin: 1300-50; Middle English, from Old French double]


His boots were of Kordovan leather, his hose and doublet of plain, dark silk, tarnished with the wear of the camps and the stains of armor rust.

[from “A Witch Shall Be Born”]

Harold Lamb continues his comeback


Howard Jones, Managing Editor at Black Gate and the major Harold Lamb scholar working today (see his website dedicated to Lamb), has announced on his blog that the four volumes of Lamb’s Cossack stories published by the University of Nebraska’s Bison Books imprint have sold well enough for Bison to agree to publish a further three volumes of Lamb’s best work.

For those of us who have enjoyed the Lamb books Bison has published to date, this is great news. Harold Lamb was one of Robert E. Howard’s all-time favorite authors, a regular in top-tier pulps like Adventure as well as many other popular magazines of the day. He was also a scholar of barbaric times and cultures, and his many biographies and histories remain valuable. Just a few months back I heard popular radio talk-show host Michael Savage off-handedly recommending Lamb’s biography of Genghis Khan to listeners, a tome I myself recently found at a used bookstore’s going-out-of-business sale.

Reading Harold Lamb’s work today, one can see why REH was so taken with his writing. While he lacks the primal fire and prose poetry that fuels Howard at his best, Lamb was the superior plotter, expertly utilizing the pulp template to lace his thrilling tales of warfare and derring-do with enough twists and turns to make a Stygian wizard’s head spin. His stories about the elderly but still feral Khlit the Cossack struck me as a shadowy glimpse into how Conan might have looked and acted at that age, had Howard ever gotten around to writing about his twilight years.

Jones promises that the three new volumes will contain much of Lamb’s very best work. Crusader yarns, Mongol stories, Viking tales. Robert E. Howard fans who value books like Lord of Samarcand will have a lot of fun with Lamb’s breakneck pacing and deft evocation of the Middle East during the Middle Ages. These days it’s all too rare to find and enjoy pulp pleasures of the kind offered by writers like REH and Lamb. meaning collected short stories that can be leisurely read, one per night, over a glass of wine — the perfect sedative to a hard day spent at the office.

So if you haven’t yet, pick up the four Cossack volumes, and keep an eye out for the next three. REH adored these tales, and you will too.

REH in USA Today


Cimmerian reader Jack Jones tipped me off to the latest Robert E. Howard write-up in America’s most read newspaper. Nice to see Conan and REH getting out to millions of readers. There’s also an accompanying article focused on the two forthcoming Conan video games here.

Ze, Mozadrim, Vachama Vongh Razan*


The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith has long since figured in a first-rate post by Leo, but acquisitions for my weird fiction library sometimes require me to pinch the first and best Republican president right off the face of every penny, and it wasn’t until last month that I lucked into an affordable copy at The book really is a garden of unearthly, flower demon-type delights, so many thanks to editors Scott Connors and David E. Schultz. CAS shows that the baleful late Thirties zeitgeist is not lost on him with this fine Howardian sentiment near the end of a September 9, 1937 letter to Robert Barlow: “Incidentally, the word ‘civilization’ would make a jackal vomit in view of the general situation.” And another aside to Barlow in the same letter is as amusing as Howard’s sly suggestion that Lovecraft should fictionalize one of his own “sex adventures” in order to crack the spicies:

HPL, however, should have written [a story about the Last Sabbat] himself. I can’t hope to compete with him when it comes to New England setting and atmosphere; though perhaps the actual orgies of the Sabbat would be a little more in my line.

But what really caught my eye were several letters that may well have been discussed to death in Esoteric and Dagonian precincts; S. T. Joshi certainly cites one on page 639 of his Lovecraft biography. Still, it seems to me that the cumulative impact of the letters in question and a possible extra resonance for Howardists just might justify a blog-post. I’m referring to nothing less than an early attempt by CAS to save Derleth from himself — and more importantly, save Lovecraft from distortion and dilution.

(Continue reading this post)

A new TC staggers into the fray


Just in time for Halloween (in hindsight, how apropos) The Cimmerian presents its annual Robert E. Howard Days review issue. The trip report this time was written by Brian Leno, who had an interesting perspective on the event — his first journey was made to Cross Plains in 1967, forty years ago. Comparing the town as it was then to as it is now was an interesting exercise for him. There’s also a nice recounting of the field trip to Fort McKavett and Enchanted Rock, with lots of details about those sites that haven’t been covered in a trip report before.

In this same ish there’s also overviews of the two summer pulp shows that prominently honored Robert E. Howard, the Windy City Pulp Show and PulpCon. Toss in a fun Sailor Steve poem by Amy Kerr and the usual Cryer art and Lion’s Den, and it’s a meaty issue. Subscriptions went out on Thursday afternoon, so expect your packages soon.

Coming soon: the October issue — in October, if we’re lucky! — with lots more Cimmerian goodness. Stay tuned.

On a shipping note, the recent increases in postage combined with new rules at the post office auto-serve kiosk have prompted me to make a change, to wit: I’m not going to use Delivery Confirmation anymore, except on very expensive items. The logic being that this will allow me to refrain from raising shipping rates, and that Delivery Confirmation is not nearly as necessary or useful now that everyone is using First Class or better shipping as opposed to Media Mail (which took weeks and had people wondering where their package was). It will also save a lot of time when packing and mailing, as I won’t have to make the labels and the postal workers won’t have to scan them. Rest assured that if your package ever gets lost in the mail, I’ll send you a replacement free of charge and make it right, as usual.

A Little Touch of Harry in the Akaana-Haunted Night

Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News weighs in on the casting of James Purefoy as Solomon Kane in the Michael Bassett project here. Although Purefoy’s Mark Antony was never able to dominate that hypothermia-inducingly cold, ceaselessly calculating cyborg-of-a-Caesarean-heir Octavian during the second season of HBO’s Rome, the actor’s performance bestrode the show like a colossus. Unfortunately, Purefoy’s thespian firepower may be wasted on a snipe hunt; given the signs and portents so far, it is not especially reassuring that Bassett has promised Knowles “a unique and darkly powerful heroic fantasy adaptation which also does full justice to REH.”