Cold Cuts

“It’s like some sick joke!” — Dr. McKenna

In my admittedly somewhat jejune research into Howard’s psychology, I’ve long questioned the Freudian interpretation of the father-son clash as primarily sexual, the so-called Oedipus complex.

For this, and many other of Freud’s theories, to finally become accepted by the medical establishment, the modifying and corrective theories of Freud’s onetime disciple, Alfred Adler, have generally been adopted. Though considered another of the great Viennese psychologists, Adler is less well known to the general public; but to those interested in Howard and “Oedipalism” he is well worth looking into. Adler [1870-1937] suggested that the son strove not for mama’s sex but for “the laurels, the possibilities, the strength of his father.” He also suggested that this conflict was universal, based on the inferiority a baby inherits upon the realization that all other humans in his immediate environment are not helpless like him, but god-like beings of massive size and strength, with uncanny powers of food production, movement, etc. The development of character begins with how the child reacts to this weakness. On the one end, a child may remain convinced of his weakness, and demonstrate it to gain control through sympathy, and on the other side, the child may determine to become as powerful as the father (the dominant figure in the family) and thus begin the rivalry. It is not the mother that is at stake so much as the world; a blind striving forpower that Adler calls the “masculine rebellion.”

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Adler says the infant “learns to overvalue the size and stature which enables one to open a door, or the ability to move heavy objects, or the right of other to give commands and claim obedience to them. A desire to grow, to become as strong or even stronger than all others, arises in his soul.” This is much easier to swallow than Freud’s sex-based theory — Freud was obsessed with sex, anyway.

One might speculate that at the ultimate extreme, the infantile urge is wanting to kill God and rule the cosmos; that should sound at least vaguely familiar to any of you longtime fans of Karl Edward Wagner and Kane. I think if you read Adler you can get a handle on why Howard valued strength, power and freedom, saw the world, perhaps, as an adversary, and get away from the notion that that means he wanted to sleep with his mother. My own browsing included his selection in Psychologies of 1930, his Understanding Human Nature (Greenburg, 1946), The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology (Harcourt, Brace, 1924) and a couple of edited “revivals” of his work published recently, whose titles I have no notes of.

By all accounts, Dr. Howard was a man who projected power such as would seem daunting, and would make a great impression on a small boy growing up in his household. I believe infantile rage is somewhat (in my view) justified, and similar to the precepts of thought I was currently reading in Forrest McDonald’s Novus Ordo Seculorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution [University Press of Kansas, 1985]. I have also noted (thanks to Vern Clark) that Howard had used the idea of toppling God, or at least come close to it, in his portion of “The Challenge from Beyond.” Of course, gods (with a small “g”) like Atali’s brothers, various Lovecraftian monsters worshipped in isolated citadels, and Khosatrel Khel in “The Devil in Iron” (“he stalked through the world like a god…and the city of Dagon…worshipped him”) lie spread like litter across the paths of Conan, Esau Cairn, and Niord.

In a related note, I’ve spoken also of the Alpha Male concept and how the Adler discussion was very close to the idea that all males are born instinctively desiring to be Alpha. I’ve suggested that the source of Conan’s appeal was that we were seeing through the eyes of the ultimate Alpha Male, living vicariously the royal life we’ve felt our birthright since infancy — and make no mistake, even though Conan is only King in the later stories, in all stories he is the dominant character, powerful and aggressive.

Recently in the bookstore, I saw a new coffee-table book on The Art of Sin City. I poked through it, and read the R.C. Harvey introduction. Miller had told this guy how his book Ronin had been an artistic turning point, and for some reason, I decided to go home and re-read Ronin. I’m not going to go into the plot too much, but the lead character, Billy Challas, is a freak. Born without limbs, he also possesses a “mind over matter” telekinetic power. Until he brings this power out, he is an exaggerated infant — limbless, helpless,dependent. He is repressing the bulk of this power because of an incident where he turned a neighbor kid who was tormenting him into a nasty spot on the wall, at which point his mother went postal and institutionalized him. But now, this cybernetic computer at the industrial complex he somehow ended up in is trying to unlock Billy’s telekinesis — through some kind of mental link, the computer-hive mind known as Virgo has him locked into a fantasy world where he has arms, legs and power — a masterless samurai, or Ronin, facing a demonic enemy and his minions. This fantasy somehow extends to envelope the people around him. And it is a violent fantasy, with the Ronin bearing a very sharp sword that, well… here’s how Dr. McKenna and his shrink work it out:

Dr. M: The power still exists [despite being repressed]… and Billy — he’d be unhappy. Armless and legless — he’d have to be unhappy. So what would he do?
Psych: Who knows? He’s not my patient. There’s no way I can talk about somebody I’ve never met. Still… he’d probably have a rich fantasy life…
Dr. M: Yes. Yes. And these fantasies — where would they come from?
Psych: Wherever. Fairy tales. TV. Movies. Like that.
Dr. M: And they might be violent?
Psych: Could be. Especially if he was angry.
Dr. M: Angry? He’d be raging! What else? He’d hate everybody! Everybody with all their arms and legs… he’d want to take their arms and legs and …and… …he’d want to chop…It’s like some sick joke! (laughs, a bit hysterically)

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In the end, the multi-layered Ronin plot is, like Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream, a kind of satiric, psychological criticism of the sword and sorcery genre. But instead of the Freudian sexual overtones of the latter, Ronin is using the Adlerian themes of infantile helplessness transformed into rage. Remember this: helplessness means rage. Envy. Powerlessness can then easily turn to hate. Examples of Howard characters using a sword to dismember, behead, and otherwise carve up people are rampant in his works. It’s clear when you get Conan mad and give him a sword or axe, what happens to his enemies. Meat. And Howard gleefully paints each butchering stroke, to leave no doubt. Conan was, according to Fritz Leiber, the character into whom Howard “was best able to inject his furious dreams of danger and power and unending adventure…” Furious. Gleeful. And this takes us back to the bullies in his life.

Despite the over the top exagerations of biographer/critic deCamp, there is no reason to doubt the fundamental story we get from Doc Howard, Tevis Clyde Smith, and Novalyne. Howard was, for a time, made miserable by a few bullies who were larger than him, and more numerous. (“overgrown”, older boys”, “half-again his size”, “no one to take my part”) And this had a profound effect on him. (“Unforgettable hatred”, “today.. crush his damned head… the way I would a cantaloupe,” left its mark on Bob until the end, and was responsible for much of his bitterness.) Of course Howard didn’t speak of this period much, or write of it to correspondents. It was a time of shame for him. Most hateful of all, I would think, was the fact that he was helpless. Like a baby, in the grip of the stronger, bigger kids. He entered in to build his body up because of it. Perhaps the fact that he became ill at an age where he was just beginning to walk played a part.

There is another guy who built himself up, like Howard, devising his own low-budget body development plan using auto parts he found in a vacant lot:

“It came from deep-rooted insecurity. You kind of create a muscular shell to protect that soft inside. You try to build yourself into the image that you think people will respect, and it tends to get a little extreme. It’s like playing God, rebuilding your body in your own image.”
— Sylvester Stallone.

Playing God — the opposite of helplessness. Insecurity, protecting the softness inside, seeking respect (or at least to be left alone) — and getting a little extreme. These all seem to describe Howard very well.

Conan, the mighty swordsman and most successful projection of furious dreams of power, is someone we seldom think of as helpless — yet hung on a cross, dead vulture at his feet, this is how Olgerd Vladislav finds him in “A Witch Shall Be Born.” We are told that Conan looks with revulsion on Khauran, the city that had betrayed him, and left him here “like a hare nailed to a tree”. Once his hands are freed, Conan is quick to demonstrate he is no longer helpless — he pushes his helper Djebel away, grabs the pincers with his swollen hands and pulls the nails from his feet himself. A stunningly improbably feat of toughness, but imperative to Conan’s way of being — and he knows the desert men are judging him to see if he’s fit to live, so it is not just pride or self-image, but survival, that drives the act.

Once he has usurped the Zaporoskan’s leadership within the horde, Conan has to deal with Olgerd. Practicality would suggest he be killed — yet he did save the Cimmerian’s life(however rudely and unkindly), so Conan would violate his code, I think, by killing him. Yet Olgerd has done a sinful thing in that he witnessed Conan in his helpless state, so before banishing him, Conan renders Olgerd helpless by breaking his sword-arm. Like the Ronin character, who avenges his limbless helplessness by rendering his enemies limbless, Conan erases his former helplessness by inflicting it on Olgerd. And with Constantius, the true author of it — well, what else is there to do but nail him up on a cross of his own?

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Finally, one can surmise that hating helplessness, watching his mother struggle and fade in her lengthy, debilitating illness, Howard’s desire to go out “quickly and suddenly, in the full tide of my strength and health” (as he wrote to August W. Derleth) is his final trumping of the possibility of his ever being helpless again, and should be considered a factor in his plans to suicide.

“Know, oh prince…”: The “Nemedian” Chronicles?

“Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of…”

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That lead-in sentence from “The Phoenix on the Sword” is very easily one of the most memorable in the whole Conan canon. The entire paragraph that it initiates wouldn’t even exist without Farnsworth Wright’s editorial interference. Wright asked Robert E. Howard to take out much of the geo-political information contained in Chapter II of the “submitted draft” that was sent to Weird Tales. REH encapsulated that data (along with additional facts) in the “Nemedian Chronicles” epigraph for the first chapter of “The Phoenix on the Sword.” Robert E. Howard seems to have put more into that first sentence than might be apparent upon first glance…

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Wheel of Pain, Tree of Woe, Throne of Tinfoil, Or, The Daze of Highly Insulting Adventure

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Here at TC Central a schism wider than the Hyrkanian steppes has long separated me from site-founder Leo Grin and Silver-Keywielder Brian Murphy. Is John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian Li’ Abner versus the Moonies, as Karl Edward Wagner discerned so many years ago, or the most stirring sword-and-sorcery epic ever filmed? Well now [redacted], who posts as “Taranaich” at the Conan.com REH Forum, has graciously given us permission to run El Ingenioso B├árbaro Rey Konahn de Simaria, an attempt at reconciling the Howard and Milius Conans that far surpasses the L. Sprague and Catherine Crook de Camp CtB novelization. Mr. [redacted] is clearly the greatest Scotsman since Sean Connery, and Gordon Brown should knight him forthwith:

The film starts in the northern mountains of Brythunia. There, a tiny backwards village lies, far away from the rest of the world. The Simarians are a comfy folk living on the northern border, originally founded by a small community of luddites shunning the civilized wonders of Brythunia for a more “honest” rural life. Using distorted and piecemeal information gathered from drunk adventurers and senile folklorists, they model themselves after the Cimmerians, though their society leaves a lot to be desired in terms of accuracy. They worship Krumm, a mashup of Cimmerian and Nordic mythology whitewashed into a benevolent deity to suit their drippy ideals. Not actually knowing how to make proper swords, they use simple casting techniques to create attractive but impractical replicas: since they rarely meet other people, they never actually test their weapons in combat. This is the tribe of Konahn. Young Konahn has a happy childhood with his nice dad and hot mother, with no bandits or dangerous beasts to contend with, and no feudal lords to oppress them.

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Green Hell, Golden Civilization?

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Were someone to press a Kampfpistole against my head and demand to know which de Camp and Carter Conan novel I deemed the least feloniously FUBAR, I’d have to go with Conan of the Isles, mostly because of two paragraphs on the second-to-last page:

Even farther west, at the very rim of the world, the old thief had confided, lay a vast new continent, Mayapan, the Atlanteans and their Antillian descendants had called it. They raided its coasts for gold, emeralds, and virgin copper, for red-skinned slaves and curious birds with gorgeous plumage; for tiger-like cats whose pelts were marked with black rosettes on tawny gold. Here, too, were barbarian states founded by renegades from Atlantis and Antillia, where the cults of the Great Serpent and of the Saber-toothed Tiger carried on their ferocious rivalry in a welter of human sacrifice and abominable worship.

A new world, he thought; a world of trackless jungles and spacious plains, of towering mountains and hidden lakes, where immense rivers writhed like serpents of molten silver through depths of emerald jungle, where unknown peoples worshiped strange and fearsome gods…

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Derleth Be Not Proud, Part Three: Autochthonic Masses Howling and Wet-Mouthed

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Part One: Hypersensitive, Not Hyperborean

Part Two: Cry ‘Havoc!’ and Let Slip the Hounds of Tindalos

In certain surroundings our entire being is made of eyes, every atom dilates to witness the haunting of the universe.

Thomas Ligotti, “Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror”

A good critical overview or survey is courteously coercive in that we feel obligated to impose some sort of order and consistency on our own opinions. Having spent the better part of two weeks thinking about S. T. Joshi’s The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos — better because the alternative was redrafting various cover letters yet again to try and suppress their ghostly, single-song soundtrack of “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” — I’d like to follow up Part One, which mostly engaged with Joshi’s comments on Robert E. Howard’s Mythos work, and Part Two, a wide-ranging look at Rise and Fall‘s treatment of “everyone else,” with subjective and selective suggestions about Mythos-mining. Those who can, do, and those who can’t blog; I’m about as qualified to offer such suggestions as were the walking loyalty oaths and newly-hatched ideologues who found themselves brattily supervising entire Iraqi ministries or provinces during the heady summer of 2003. But if nothing else, this Part Three has been a pretext for some enjoyable re-reading and re-watching.

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Gunslinging Ghostbusters

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“He was always a devil,” snarled old Job. “[. . .] The black dog! The fiend from Purgatory’s pits!”
“Well, we’ll soon see if he’s safe in his tomb,” said Conrad. “Ready, O’Donnell?”
“Ready,” I answered, strapping on my holstered .45. Conrad laughed.
“Can’t forget your Texas raising, can you?” He bantered. “Think you might be called on to shoot a ghost?”
“Well, you can’t tell,” I answered. “I don’t like to go out at night without it.”
“Guns are useless against a vampire,” said Job, fidgeting. . .
— Robert E. Howard, The Dwellers Under the Tombs

Not if you’ve got the right load, apparently. In the long-running CW series Supernatural, brothers Dean and Sam Winchester — I’m sure the name intentionally invokes both the gun-maker and the nation’s most famous haunted mansion — are quick to pull out their street-sweeper shotguns and blast away at all kinds of things ghostly and inhuman, usually with a load of rock salt. This is a play on the old idea of salt as a purifying substance, an idea common to pagan and older Roman Catholic rituals, but adds highly to the dramatic action quotient of the show. In other scenes, the brothers use salt to form a protective barrier that evil spirits cannot cross. This actually has precedent as supernatural lore, which is not always the case in this show. Later on, another famous gun-maker, Samuel Colt, becomes the source of two important plotlines, one involving a special gun that will kill vampires — and anything else.

We recently picked up the DVDs for Season One and Season Two, and watched them over the space of two weekends and a few rare Tennessee snow days. It probably worked out to a malevolent spirit being dissolved by shotgun blasts every 16-18 hours or so — never got tired of the effect, though. Sometimes, the beings they face don’t care for the touch of iron, so they use iron loads as well. Another effect used very commonly in the show is for the ghosts to move in jerky stop-motion cuts, an effect used in quite a few horror movies these days — I believe it started with Japanese movies like Ringu and The Grudge. I think the reason this effect is unsettling is that our primate ancestors, being hunters and often hunted, had to devote a lot of the brain to instantaneous vector analysis — the same skills we use nowadays to catch a football or safely navigate a left turn. It is against the norm that we are hard-wired to expect for something to move from one point to another without crossing the space between — it freaks our vector-based defenses. Against such an enemy — one moving through HPL’s oft-invoked “non-Euclidean geometry” — “no can defense,” like the nonpareil crane kick from The Karate Kid.

Like The X-Files and The Night Stalker before it, the show has a smorgasbord of monsters, demons, ghoulies and ghastlies to entertain. The brothers are on the road constantly, covering uncanny USA coast to coast. Due to the age of Dean’s traveling cassette collection, the show has an 80’s soundtrack ranging from punk to pre-Silver-Bullet-Band Bob Seger to Southern mullet rock, with the latter predominating.

I’m surprised Steve Tompkin’s feet weren’t burning with eagerness — a little Blackwoods humor there — to tell you about the Supernatural episode “Wendigo” when he mentioned the show in his post about the Fear Itself episode “Skin and Bones,” which I’ve been hoping to catch ever since. Other good stand-alone episodes include “Scarecrow”, about a fertility god who requires annual sacrifices, “The Benders,” about the family of cannibal hillbillies, and “Something Wicked” which features an Eastern European witch called a “shtriga” — a word strikingly similar to “Stregoi-“, the first part of Howard’s Stregoicavar, the “Witch-town” of “The Black Stone.” The writers on this show are obvious fan-boys and girls, judging from all the movie paradigms they pilfer, from haunted asylums to invisible hook-handed killers, to creepy little girls to killer clowns, just to name a few.

But while all the episodes were good, what I enjoyed best were those which dealt with the overlying story arc that ran through both seasons, finally culminating in a two-part finale. It’s a very dark theme of long-sought vengeance against the demon that killed the mother when the younger brother, Sam, was still an infant — a quest that has consumed their father and made him a night-stalking “hunter” who insists on them following in his footsteps.

Since they seem to be making it up as they go along, sometimes the supernatural “lore” is shaky. When asked about the significance of the number 40 in “Phantom Traveller,” Dean replies curtly, “Biblical numerology. It means death.” Um, not exactly. The reason 40, as in “40 days and 40 nights”, appears so frequently in the Bible is that it is a Hebrew idiom, best translated as “an indeterminate, but pretty long time.” I think it really means something like “I counted all my fingers and toes, and you counted all your fingers and toes, and then we gave up counting.”

Sometimes, it’s almost brilliant, though, as in “What Is, and What Should Never Be.” Here the writers reconcile the Western idea of a genie as a powerful being that can grant any wish with the Near Eastern idea of a djinn as a deadly evil spirit. They do this by having the djinn induce a fantasy in its victim that makes him believe his wishes have come true, while it feeds on his life-force ultimately causing his demise. I’d be more impressed if I didn’t suspect the idea was taken from Alan Moore’s “For the Man Who Has Everything” in which Superman is stuck in a fantasy based on his heart’s desire by a sorcerous parasitic plant called the Black Mercy. In Superman’s case, he is normal and living on a Krypton which never exploded — in Dean’s case, he is normal and living in a world where his mother never died, and he never became a ghostbuster. At any rate, it’s a very poignant episode and shows the tensions within the characters very well.

Like Josh Whedon’s Angel and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the show deftly flits between humor, horror, action and angst, and it’s well worth the time spent. Since Robert E. Howard’s ghostbuster stories get about as much respect as O’Donnell’s decision to bring along his .45 — which does turn out to be a lifesaver when the “dwellers” emerge — it’s good to see stories in a similar vein making good on the small screen.

Derleth Be Not Proud, Part Two: Cry ‘Havoc!’ and Let Slip the Hounds of Tindalos

Part One: Hypersensitive, Not Hyperborean

Part Three: Autochthonic Masses Howling and Wet-Mouthed

If you decide to write a Conan pastiche, chances are you are going to wind up having the mighty Cimmerian swear “By Crom!” a few more times than Howard did per story. You will probably increase the quotient of “skull-cleaving” blows, etc. Since the smaller details of the warp and woof of Howard’s style work so well hypnotizing you as you read, you cannot quite identify or explain them, and thus you cannot quite take aim at them to imitate them in your pastiche. To compensate, you lean more heavily on the most obvious stylistic trademarks and hope the reader will think it sounds like the real thing. This is of course the reason, also, for the way many fan Mythos pastiches turn out. As immature writers, their authors cannot account for what it is in Lovecraft’s stories that grabs them so. So they go overboard, with the most blatantly obvious feature, the Mythos names and monsters. The pitiful result only makes it all the more obvious that this was never really the secret at all.
— Robert M. Price, “Xothic Romance” (introduction to The Xothic Legend: The Complete Mythos Fiction of Lin Carter)

Think back to the fall of 1944, weeks before the Third Reich’s last great offensive got rolling in the Ardennes. That’s when Fritz Leiber, writing in the pages of The Acolyte, called for “a detailed study of the growth of [Lovecraft’s] Mythology and the background, and also an appraisal of the extent to which it helped or hampered Lovecraft’s writing.” From that perspective The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos has been a long time coming, but earns the admiration of weird fiction enthusiasts by succeeding as an introduction to, and also an interrogation of, both the original Lovecraft Mythos (to adopt the Joshi-endorsed term) and what he memorably terms “that heroic task of literary misconstrual,” the Derleth Mythos.

Way back in The Weird Tale, Joshi complained that “the bulk of recent critical work (not merely in this field but in most others) seems so cheerless, mechanical, and obfuscatory that the reader is likely to be repelled rather than attracted to the subjects of study.” Not so the readers of this book, lucky recipients of a text that is elegantly written (although a reference to the “United States’ secession from England” is a brow-furrower), eloquently argued, and commendably inclusive. In a February 17, 2009 review of Kenneth Hite’s lively Tour De Lovecraft at his blog, John D. Rateliff identifies that book’s drawback as an assumption that readers are “thoroughly conversant with every tale Lovecraft ever wrote; if you can’t instantly recall, say, ‘The Tree’ or ‘He’ in great detail, then you’ll be a bit lost.” That’s not true of Rise and Fall (Rateliff, incidentally, provides a link to his own persuasive case for The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, but also steps in albino penguin droppings by deeming At the Mountains of Madness “a tedious bore that would have been better at a quarter of its bloated length.” The preference for Dream-Quest is to be expected from a fantasy-esteemer, but “tedious bore”? Is it possible that Farnsworth Wright has pulled a Joseph Curwen on Rateliff?

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The Call of Kathulos: Secret Oceans and Black Seas of Infinity

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In his first letter to H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard informed HPL that he considered the Man From Providence to be superior to Machen or Poe. In other words, the finest horror writer of them all. In another letter (ca. June 1931), Howard wrote to Lovecraft that “the three foremost weird masterpieces” were Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Machen’s “The Novel of the Black Seal” and last, but not least, “The Call of Cthulhu.” Thus, it is not surprising that some trace of REH’s enthusiasm for HPL’s landmark tale might be found in Howard’s own yarns.

“Skull-Face” would seem to echo with whispers out of R’lyeh. That is not to say “The Call of Cthulhu” was Howard’s only source of inspiration for his tale of Kathulos of Atlantis. Far from it. Over at the Official Robert E. Howard Forum, I went into some depth regarding the influence of Sax Rohmer’s writings upon “Skull-Face.” As I’ll demonstrate below, it appears that a Rohmer novel might have exerted some influence upon “The Call of Cthulhu” as well.

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R’lyeh’s Finest Hour?

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Great Cthulhu just keeps coming up around here; the stars must be right or something. As in a 2007 post, I’m uncomfortably aware that for a JRRT/REH/KEW adherent like myself to delve into Lovecraftian lore is rather like de-planing at JFK after an international flight, clearing Customs, and then making a scene in the main concourse by announcing my discovery of America. Such a claim would be more likely to irritate than impress bystanders, because of how well and truly discovered the New World already is. Similarly, all those decades of Esoteric Order of Dagon-zines and Necro Press journals weigh on the upstart like “something frightfully suggestive of old and unhallowed cycles of life in which our world and our conceptions have no part.” Here I go, though.

Let’s turn to the deathless first paragraph of “The Call of Cthulhu,” about which S. T. Joshi and Peter Cannon have this to say in their More Annotated H. P. Lovecraft (1999): “Arguably the most famous passage in Lovecraft’s fiction, setting forth his view of man’s precarious and insignificant place in the cosmos. The opening sentence has been enshrined in the fifteenth edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (1980).”

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They Found Howard’s Snake

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I hate snakes; they are possessed of a cold, utterly merciless cynicism and sophistication, and sense of super-ego that puts them outside the pale of warm-blooded creatures.

— Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, ca. February 1931

“The visionary explorer, Col. P. H. Fawcett, claimed to have seen a 48-foot anaconda, but I don’t believe it.”

— L.Sprague de Camp, REHupa #57

Novalyne: Well, I haven’t seen any giant snakes, or big-busted naked women frolicking through the West Texas hills lately.

Robert: Oh, but I have.

— The Whole Wide World

From recent science news:

It was the mother of all snakes, a nightmarish behemoth as long as a school bus and as heavy as a Volkswagen Beetle that ruled the ancient Amazonian rain forest for 2 million years before slithering into nonexistence. Now this monster, which weighed in at 2,500 pounds, has resurfaced in fossils taken from an open-pit coal mine in Colombia, a startling example of growth gone wild.

“This is amazing. It challenges everything we know about how big a snake can be.””This thing weighs more than a bison and is longer than a city bus,” enthused snake expert Jack Conrad of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, who was familiar with the find.

“It could easily eat something the size of a cow. A human would just be toast immediately.””If it tried to enter my office to eat me, it would have a hard time squeezing through the door,” reckoned paleontologist Jason Head of the University of Toronto Missisauga.

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To give de Camp due credit, he was aware of the Gigantophis, a prehistoric python that was the previous record holder at 30-33 feet. And while boas get very large, they do not have the optimal climate for growth that Titanoboa apparently did — really hot, steaming jungles such as Howard assured us was Satha’s natural habitat.