An Irish Bard at King Hrothgar’s Court


Nothing in Robert Zemeckis’ Marty McFly-and-Roger Rabbit-ridden career kindles much optimism on the part of the heroic fantasy enthusiast that the November 16 release Beowulf will be aught but a Polar Express to embarrassment. In as startling a makeover as has occurred since Stanley Kubrick chose to present Stephen King’s woman in Room 217 to Jack Torrance as an incarnate wet dream (at first), the TV promos have been playing up Grendel’s mother-the-MILF in the seal-sleek form of Angelina Jolie.

(Continue reading this post)

The Silver Key


The blogging universe is a large place, growing bigger every day. WordPress claims that .8% of the Internet is powered by its software. In that maelstrom of creativity, I occassionally come across someone blogging about REH in an impressive fashion.

Case in Point: a new blog titled The Silver Key. The blog’s author, Brian Murphy, has over the last few months offered readers a nice selection of thoughtful posts on fantasy. Horror movies, The Once and Future King, Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut, Pulp Fiction — Brian handles them all with grace and discernment. I especially enjoyed his succinct evaluation of what I consider one of the most underrated films of all time: Excalibur. Very nice to know there is at least one other person out there who appreciates the fierce, moving, Shakespearian grandeur and pathos of the film and all its trappings. (I myself have a long essay on Excalibur in mind, if I ever get the time to write it in a way that does the subject justice).

Recently Murphy turned his attention towards Robert E. Howard, and I found his commentary more learned than most blog evaluations from guys who aren’t known in Howardian fandom. One of the pleasures of The Cimmerian has been the discovery that the world is filled with REH fans who are utterly unknown to the group of scholars who form the core of the field. It’s often easy to assume that there’s only a few dozen guys out there who like REH and write for the various magazines, but the truth is that there are legions of intelligent fans absorbing this stuff and valuing Howard, who for whatever reason have never come out of the shadows. It’s a heartening notion.

Give Brian Murphy and The Silver Key a read. Perceptive and intelligent readers of fantasy need to stick together.

An Example for Howard Fandom


I recently ordered the magisterial collection The History of the Hobbit, a three-volume set available in slipcase. Those of us who treasure Christopher Tolkien’s The History of Middle Earth in twelve books have always lamented that, for various reasons, he failed to publish the same substantial analysis of The Hobbit that he undertook for The Silmarillion, The Lord of the Rings, and most of Tolkien’s other writings. Author John D. Rateliff has now rectified that oversight in spades.

Rateliff spent well over a decade analyzing the manuscripts for The Hobbit in a fashion that anyone familiar with Christopher Tolkien’s work will appreciate: sifting through drafts, dating manuscripts and typescripts, undoing many of the mistakes of earlier scholars, and offering a bewitching look into the creation of a modern classic. The set contains a great copy of the novel, complete with Tolkien’s original drawings, maps and color illustrations reproduced as plates on glossy paper stock, a pleasantly large font suitable for reading, and of course the latest corrected text. Two accompanying volumes, titled Mr. Baggins and Return to Bag-End, comprise Rateliff’s meticulous research, featuring not only a mountain of notes and other scholarship but Tolkien’s entire story in draft form, which gives us all sorts of strange and wonderful glimpses into a Hobbit that never was. When you get through the introduction and find out that Thorin began as a dwarf named Gandalf, it’s clear that you’ve dropped down a particularly beguiling rabbit (hobbit?) hole.

There is much here to inspire Howard fans. Might not our field someday get a History of the Hyborian Age, that charts the creation of REH’s body of fantasy work, reprints all the drafts, offers extensive commentary and notes, and contains an encyclopedia (or “glossography,” as Gary Gygax referred to the material underlying his Greyhawk campaign world) of all the people and places that make up the legendarium? Some of the work has been done, appearing in various journals and editions, but much remains for the enterprising scholar. I’ve always wished I had time to collate a Complete Guide to Hyboria the way Tolkien fans have Robert Foster’s Complete Guide to Middle-Earth. It’s volumes like these that go a long way towards captivating fans, and if one was written for REH I’m guessing it would vastly increase the respect for his world-building achievement.

Coming up in the October issue of TC (almost ready to ship) is a great letter from Steve Tompkins that speculates on various aspects of Aquilonian realpolitik, and reading that offers a small taste of the unexplored depths of Howard’s creation, namely how much realistic complexity those four years of brilliant story-writing generated. The usual know-nothings often assume that Howard gave little thought to realism and consistency — not true, as Tompkins amply shows in his letter. One of the most startling revelations Rateliff makes is that, far from Tolkien slowly composing his children’s story in languorous stretches of cautious composition, the manuscripts show that in all likelihood The Hobbit was written at white heat during vacation breaks from his teaching duties. This directly contradicts most of the favored images of Tolkien burning the midnight oil for leisurely years on end, and indeed sounds much more like the writing habits of a pulpster like REH than some would care to admit.

I have only begun exploring this spectacular effort on behalf of Tolkien scholarship, but already it has generated all sorts of thoughts about how REH scholarship could benefit from applying this Tolkienian example to our bailiwick.

Gil Kane’s “Valley of the Worm” adaptation


For those of you that are comic book fans (I am not) you might be interested in this retrospective article on an adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “Valley of the Worm,” a classic Sword-and-Sorcery comic illustrated by a legend in the business, Gil Kane (1926-2000). The piece was written by John R. Fultz, and here is his bottom line on REH:

He was a masterful writer, whose non-Conan work is too often ignored, but his prose sang with power and imagery unrivaled to this day for its evocative qualities. Howard has been much imitated over the decades, but there’s only one REH.


REH Word of the Week: gorse



1. any spiny shrub of the genus Ulex, of the legume family, native to the Old World, esp. Europe, having rudimentary leaves, yellow flowers, black pods, and growing in waste places and sandy soil.

Also called furze or (especially British) whin.

[Origin: before 900; Middle English gorst, gors, from Old English; akin to Gerste, hordeum (“barley”)]


Over the cliff we shoved those we had slain and we did up the Roman’s arm with leather strips, binding them tight, so that the arm ceased to bleed. Then once more we took up our way.

On, on; crags reeled above us; gorse slopes tilted crazily.

[from “Men of the Shadows”]