The Cross Plains Library gets a new website


It appears that the website for the Cross Plains Public Library is being updated, so pop over and take a look. Howard is prominently featured, of course. As reported on this site in 2007, the Library is featured in a nifty hardcover book called Heart of the Community: The Libraries We Love. Cross Plains is one of the smallest towns in America to have its own library, an impressive feat that was the result of a bunch of dedicated and civic-minded book lovers working for many years to make it happen.

Click on over to their Books for Sale page, and you will see several items of interest to Howardists, not the least of which are copies of the original Howard typescripts on file there. An interesting associational item is On the Banks of Turkey Creek by lifelong local James Nichols, which contains lots of stories from the time soon after Howard died, in the 1940s. Anyone interested in the place Howard called home would benefit from that book.

Yet another item for sale there is their Transcript of the Oral History of Jack Scott. The late Mr. Scott had forgotten more about the history of the town than most people ever know, and interviews with him always proved valuable to serious Howard scholars. Those of you attending Howard Days next month will be able to pick up any or all of these items right there at the library.

Part II of Saunders short story now online

Charles R. Saunders' Website

To recap, Charles Saunders wrote last week:

I’m going to try something new at My next four blogs are going to be a serialized story entitled “Luendi.”

“Luendi” is one of my vintage short stories, written at the same time I was working on the first Imaro stories. That would be the early 1970s. It was one of the few stories I’d written that was not set in Nyumbani, or some other, unnamed fantasy version of Africa. But it wasn’t exactly modern mainstream, either. Its setting is the Southern Africa of the late 1800s, around the time the Zimbabwe ruins were first discovered by Europeans. I did have something of an agenda when I wrote this, as I was a strong opponent of apartheid. So, I thought I would get one back — symbolically speaking — against the colonists and settlers of that time.

The story was published in the September 1977 issue of The Diversifier, a popular small-press magazine of the time. Times have changed a lot since then, bit I hope “Luendi” still has some resonance after all these years.

It will debut on Friday, May 1 and the next three installments will appear on May 8, May 15, & May 22.

Sounds like fun, I’ll be reading with interest. And remember that Charles’ revised edition of Imaro III: The Trail of Bohu is now available here.

Tennessee Springtime


It is springtime in East Tennessee. Sometimes the spring seems to turn to summer in a matter of weeks, but this time round it’s been pretty and spring-like through most of March, all of April (while we were hearing of major snowstorms in the Northwest), and so far into May. We have been getting a lot of rain, and everything green is growing as fast as it can. While the dogwoods are no longer blooming, a lot of other things are, and it’s constantly showing me why this is my favorite time of year here. This time of year I often think about this passage from “For the Love of Barbara Allen”:

“It was mornin’ in the mountains and they were both young. You never saw a mornin’ in the spring, in the Cumberlands?”
“I never was in Tennessee,” I answered.
“No, you don’t know anything about it,” he retorted, in the half humerous, half petulant mood of the old. “You’re a post-oak gopher. You never saw anything but sand drifts and dry shinnery ridges. What do you know about mountain sides covered with birch and laurel, and cold clear streams windin’ through the cool shadows and tinklin’ over the rocks? What do you know about upland forests with the blue haze of the Cumberlands hangin’ over them?”
“Nothing,” I answered, yet even as I spoke, there leaped crystal clear into my mind with startling clarity the very image of the things of which he spoke, so vivid that my external faculties seemed almost to sense it — I could almost smell the dogwood blossoms and the cool lush of the deep woods, and hear the tinkle of hidden streams over the stones.

The Cumberland Mountains are somewhat north and west of here, maybe two or three hours drive. The Cumberland River, of which Howard also speaks, winds through them from Kentucky into Nashville. The foothills area where I live has very similar topography, climate and flora to that region. I sometimes wonder how Howard was able to describe a Tennessee mountain spring so well. Surely the reference books of the day could have provided the basic facts, but this almost reads as though Howard had talked to someone who, like the fictional grandfather, actually remembered it. By 1930, the Civil War was only 65 years in the past, and Howard could have found an old-timer who had been part of the large Tennessee to Texas exodus that followed, perhaps part of the last wave. Maybe some of that vivid description could have come from family stories handed down from ancestors who had lived in the Southeast. I can only hope that when I finally make my way through the complete letters, I will perhaps find a clue.

Return of the Sword: A Sword-and-Sorcery Anthology

return_of_the_swordAnthologies of sword-and-sorcery stories have always been thin on the ground. Credit must be given to L. Sprague de Camp for getting things rolling with collections like The Spell of Seven. In the ’70s, Lin Carter moved the concept forward with his “The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories” (DAW) anthologies. One can argue that ol’ Linwood was not much of a writer, but I would categorically state that the man had taste as an editor. He gave authors like Charles R. Saunders and Adrian Cole some of their first breaks. I recommend picking up every volume in the series edited by Carter. Don’t bother with the Saha-edited books.

Coincident with the closing days of Lin’s run, Zebra Books fired up a rival series called “Swords Against Darkness”, edited by Andrew J. Offutt. Like Carter, Offutt could be viewed as no great shakes in the authorial department, but his editorial acumen was similarly keen. David Drake, [redacted] and other worthies made the jump to paperbacks (and greater things) in the several volumes of the “SAD” series. In addition, Manly Wade Wellman’s “Kardios” series finally saw print. Once again, highly recommended. The quality was satisfactorily high from book to book.

The rest of the 1980s and 1990s deserve little mention and slight regard when it comes to S&S anthologies that published rising talents. One notable exception was Asprin’s “Thieves’ World” series. Robert Adams’ “Barbarians” books contained a few new gems. Wagner’s “Echoes of Valor” series was dedicated exclusively to republishing lost treasures from the pulp era, most notably the first ever printing of “The Black Stranger.”

Once we found out (some more pleased than others) that the “Y2K” thing wasn’t going to send us all into the depths of a “new Dark Age” (as HPL might say), the odds for fresh S&S anthologies seemed as grim as ever. Then the Robert E. Howard Del Reys hit the stands and sword-and-sorcery looked to have a fighting chance in the book marketplace. Pitch Black Books jumped into the fray with Lords of Swords and Sages and Swords, both worthy collections. However, general (and shameful) indifference on the part of sword-and-sorcery fans seems to have sounded the death knell for that particular series.

Which brings us to Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure from Rogue Blades Entertainment. Featuring a stirring cover from Johnney Perkins and edited by Jason M. Waltz, this trade paperback is the newest claimant to enter the battle-circle once dominated in days of yore by DAW and Zebra.

(Continue reading this post)

Christmas in May

reh_poetry_book_3dFinally received my copy of The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, and boy, was it ever worth the wait. At 728 [redacted]-edited pages and well over seven-hundred poems, it’s a monster of a collection. Toss in the great design and layout courtesy of Jim Keegan, the fine workmanship of the Smythe-sewn signatures, and the inclusion of Steve Eng’s classic essay on Howard’s poetry as the book’s introduction, and we finally have the definitive one-volume, casebound edition of REH’s verse that we have been waiting decades for.

I was over at Donald Sidney-Fryer’s a few nights back and presented him with a copy of this book, and he was rapturous over it. He especially appreciated that the print was easy to read and didn’t engage in any of the stylistic oddities that plague so many poetry books, where they print the poems in italic or fill the pages with illustrations and faux-illuminated borders. With this book you get just the poems, presented simply but elegantly, making it easy to read and reference. Don also liked the cover, considering that photo of a young Howard in fighting trim his favorite surviving image of the Bard from Cross Plains.

I don’t envy the task that Rob had of categorizing everything. There are some very polished poems in the “Dialect & Doggerel” section that probably should be in their own category (I’m thinking here of boxing poems such as the moving “Kid Lavigne is Dead”), but the idea was to follow the same divisions that Eng used in his essay (a piece which is still the very best of its type twenty years after it was written), and that strategy works really well. To have a volume like this that us eminently suitable for handing to some newbie to Howard’s verse without any excuses, fronted by that great essay, is a godsend. I’ll be dipping into this for Howardian poetry fixes whenever I can. It’s a book that is so big and so entertaining, I don’t ever think I’ll reach the point where I’ve bled it dry of inspiration and wonders.

Everyone involved with this project deserves our highest praise. I only wish that right under the “Edited by [redacted]” and before the “Introduction by Steve Eng,” it would have included “Poems collected by Glenn Lord” to honor all of the early ground work he did digging up caches of long-lost REH verse around the country in various attics and boxes. If he hadn’t done that throughout the fifties and sixties, much of what we have would have been permanently lost. He of course gets the usual shout-out in the Acknowledgments, but his contribution is so gargantuan that it is deserving of being listed on the title-page, I think.

God, Steve Tompkins would have adored this book.

Krud Mandoon and the Flaming Pile of Poor Satire


I’ll say this: I have never liked Jerry Lewis movies. With back-handed apologies to the French, I have never found it appropriate to laugh at some poor shmuck who is indequate, inept, and pitiful, and knows it. (Of course, if he imagines himself brilliant and capable, like Inspector Closeau, then it’s funny.)

Kröd Mändoon is rather like one of those Jerry Lewis characters, it seems. So to me the very premises puts me off. Sean Maguire’s (Meet the Spartans) earnest, pleading hero is the sword and sorcery Charlie Brown, always having the football pulled away. I never thought he was a funny character either. Most of the poor reception Krod got from Howard fans seems to be because of the poor taste, the pure offensiveness of some of its humor. “Truly awful” was one succint response. And a lot of it is truly offensive. But I can accept offensive humor in such shows as Reno 911! and the long-running South Park, because these shows are funny. Unfortunately, for the most part, Krod is simply not funny.

You have Krod in a relationship with a woman whose sexual appetites he cannot begin to fill. That is funny how? You have this shaman who cannot cast spells, and a pig-man who cannot shoot straight — well, OK, that last might be a little funny. You have the flaming gay hispanic – please, if you can’t do it as well as Hank Azaria’s Agador/Spartacus in “The Birdcage“, why bother?

To castigate this show as sophomoric is to degrade sophomores everwhere. Still, there are a few bright spots. India de Beaufort is one steaming hottie, especially when stripped down to chainmail bra and the hottest of hot pants, as in episode four. And then there’s the villians.


British improv comedian Matt Lucas as Dungalor is a hoot. While he rates Dungalor as somewhere between Pol Pot and Blofeld on a scale of villianny, I see him as Baron Harkonnen on drugs. Alex MacQueen, playing his henchman Barnabas as a refugee from the staff of Slithering, is a perfect foil. When they are onscreen, the show is funny. They even succeed in making the plague funny.

I really wanted to like this show. I thought a sword and sorcery farce was something with potential. But aside from the villians, there’s really nothing much here to enjoy.