The Iron Men Ride: Swords From the West


Adventure was considered the most prestigious pulp magazine in America. It was the very best that the pulps had to offer. And the very best author in Adventure was Harold Lamb.

Robert Weinberg, excerpted from his introduction to Swords From the West

I have been waiting for Swords From the West (or something very like it) for a long time. A massive book (over six hundred pages) bursting at the bindings with tales of conflict and courage, all sprung from the masterful pen of Harold Lamb.

The common thread which connects all the stories in this volume is that each one of the main protagonists are of European extraction. Sometimes their foes are fellow Europeans, other times the antagonists hail from points further East. As series editor, Howard Andrew Jones *, notes in his foreword:

What may be surprising is Lamb’s unprejudiced eye when portraying non-Western peoples. Lamb’s Mongolians and Arabs are painted with the same insight into motivation as his Western protagonists. He takes no shortcuts via stereotype: foreign does not necessarily equate with evil and villains can be found on either side of the cultural divide.

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Another Cimmerian Contributor Goes West


Don Herron reports that legendary fan/scholar Ben P. Indick has died:

The Mighty Inbendick has fallen.

In the REH context, long before you and other new guys came along to conspire with in boosting Howard’s name, Ben was a major wingman in whatever plans I made, the experienced fan writer — or longtime independent scholar — covering the flanks for me, the new guy. I am pretty sure I first encountered Ben when I joined REHupa with mailing eleven in 1974, and he immediately joined me when I bailed out of the dismal REHupa of that day to start The Hyperborian League. And from there we plotted the book that emerged in 1984 as The Dark Barbarian, with Ben handling the job of surveying Howard’s westerns. He did quite a few other nods to REH as well — unlike many of the so-called scholars today who seem to want applause for even acknowledging Howard’s existence, Ben was treating him with respect alongside Lovecraft, Tolkien, Bradbury and others all along. His prolific record is in print for anyone to check.

Indeed. Ben contributed a nice article about L. Sprague de Camp and Conan, “The Would-Be Cimmerian” to TC V4n1, wherein he revealed that de Camp had once traded him the carbon for REH’s “Wolves Beyond the Border” for some Arkham volume de Camp wanted. He was in REHupa when I was five years old, and of course had a long history in fandom before that. One of my favorite Mighty Inbendick appearances is the polite, I’m-too-busy-to-answer letter that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote regarding Ben’s “long and interesting letter and comments” in 1966 — that bit appears in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, page 366.

His presence in the field stretched back almost to the very beginning, and by the end he had made it all the way to age 86 in relative style, engaged in his passions until the end. A proud member of First-and-a-Half Fandom, he was active in the arena since the 1940s. His books included The Drama of Ray Bradbury, A Gentleman from Providence Pens a Letter and From Entropy to Budayeen, concerning the works of the late George Alec Effinger. Ben contributed essays to every critical anthology edited by Darrell Schweitzer through 2006 and, as mentioned above, notably provided his longtime friend Don Herron with “The Western Fiction of Robert E. Howard” for the landmark collection of Robert E. Howard criticism The Dark Barbarian in 1984. In later years he took great pleasure from his son Michael Korie’s career, the younger Indick having become a celebrated, Tony-nominated Broadway lyricist.

We thus add a red nail in his name to the grim Cimmerian totem of honor, alongside other fallen contributors Leon Nielsen, Bob Baker, Jay Corrinet and Steve Tompkins. I’ll leave you with a reminiscence Don Herron wrote for his good friend on the occasion of his eighty-sixth birthday last month:

I first encountered my longtime pal Inbendick in REHupa, the amateur press association devoted to Robert E. Howard, when I joined in 1974, if the thirty-five years we’ve spent as pals since then constitutes longtime. Ben and I have been involved in so many projects together — Fear Itself and other books on Stephen King, The Dark Barbarian, and on and on — that just listing the titles would fill a page, maybe two pages. Maybe three. Best of all, during those years I have gotten to hang out with the man himself, first when he and Janet visited San Francisco and went on the Dashiell Hammett Tour in the early days, and also several times when I blew through New York. I remember one time in the early ’90s when Ben and I were kicking around the Big Town and he mentioned how much he loved the Brooklyn Bridge, which I told him I had walked across the day before. Ben said he’d never walked across the bridge! New Yorkers always amaze me, but we cleared that one up fast by hiking across the Brooklyn Bridge right then, me for the second time and Ben for the first. And one day he showed me all over midtown, walking my famous walking feet almost off — as it happened, that exploration coincided with the first Cow Parade in New York, so as a bonus we got into hunting down all the crazy art cows we could find, at least 80 out of the 300 or so set up all over the city — dashing out to a median divider we found the cow painted up by Peter Max! Yeah, just standing there in the middle of the bustling street. Good times, all, with a guy I certainly consider one of my best friends ever.

Happy birthday, boss!

And now, rest in peace. Ben Indick — 1923-2009.



I’m glad Bates is abandoning the restrictions against atmosphere stories. In a letter to me, some months ago, he said they preferred stories with a good plot and about three climaxes, I believe it was. Of course, he knows what the readers want, and I don’t blame him for trying to supply the demand. But as far as I’m concerned, a plot is about the least important element in a weird story. — Robert E Howard, Complete Letters Volume 2, page 230

I was kind of startled to see that admission. Howard critics, including some of his editors, have remarked on weak plotting, often over-ridden with coincidence, as one of his faults as a writer. Maybe, I thought, he only put plot on the back seat in case of the weird tale, when atmosphere and character might be more important. Not so.

Several pages later, Howard adds, speaking of “Lord of Samarcand/The Lame Man”:

But it’s the sort of thing I like to write — no plot construction, no hero or heroine, no climax in the accepted sense of the word, all the characters complete scoundrels, and everybody double-crossing everybody else.

I must admit that I missed that the first time I read it — being more focused on what it said about the characters Howard liked to use — but it again emphasizes his dislike of plotting. No wonder he preferred as is noted here and elsewhere, rewriting history in the guise of fiction. Here is a splendid example, again taken from Complete Letters Volume 2:

Relatives of mine were in Galveston when it was washed away in 1900, but fortunately all were saved, though many of their friends were drowned. One of their friends, having been out of the city at the time, hastened back to find that his whole family had perished. He fell like a dead man and when he recovered consciousness, days later, his hair was white as snow. Aye, men’s hair turned white then, and the hair of young men and the soft locks of girls. And then was a woman who walked across an ironing board from one crumbling building to another, stronger one, with a child in her arms, and the black night howling over her and the screams of the dying in her ears — the black waves foaming and lashing under her feet and the corpses wallowing and bumping against her feet. And just as she stepped into the comparative safety of the other building, the walls she had left collapsed and thundered into the raving waters and [she heard the] screams of her friends [as they] were drowned — with hundreds of others, [and] their bodies were never found. [..]
God, what black horror must have gripped the hearts of the people, when the doom of winds and waves struck them in the night — when they rushed from their houses with the thunder of the crumbling sea-wall in their ears, and were caught in the black madness that thundered over the doomed city — that shattered their walls, broke their roofs, swept their houses away like straw and strewed dead bodies for a hundred miles along the marshes.
[. . .]
Trains, halted by the rising water on the mainland, were deserted by their frenzied passengers — and these passengers told tales of corpses floated up to the windows that seemed to fumbles at the panes with dead fingers.
— Robert E Howard, Complete Letters Volume 2, page 321-2

I’m not sure how much of that is fact, how much is urban legend, and how much is purely Howard’s imagination, but it sure is a hell of a piece of story-telling, set free from any need of plot construction. It’s kind of a shame not much of that found its way into the finale of “Marchers of Valhalla,” but that story seems to be one of those that becomes hardly more than an outline as it reaches its end.

“…with bright-gold helmet, breastplate and ring…” (Tollers would have loved this…)

One of the most significant archaeological discoveries ever made on British soil was announced this week. The news? An amateur treasure-hunter in western Staffordshire recently discovered an Anglo-Saxon hoard of unprecedented size and richness. The location of the “Staffordshire hoard” (dated to the half-century betwixt 675 and 725AD) places it within the north-western boundaries of the Dark Age Saxon kingdom of Mercia.

J.R.R. Tolkien was deeply interested in the history of Mercia. He traced his maternal (and much of his paternal) line back to that realm. Tolkien spent almost all of his childhood within the bounds of the now-vanished kingdom. He is known to have stated that he felt a sense of instant familiarity and kinship with the distinctive Mercian dialect of Old English when he first encountered it, early on in his philological studies. A good deal of The Book of Lost Tales was localized within what was Mercian territory. He even seems to have believed that Beowulf, possibly the one work of literature closest to his heart, was composed in Mercia at roughly the time that the “Staffordshire hoard” seems to have been inhumed.

Mercia itself ought to be known in some degree by anyone who is familiar with Tolkien’s legendarium. It can be seen, in a very fantasticated form (in much the same way that REH’s envisioning of medieval Ireland resembles Hyborian Age Cimmeria) in The Lord of the Rings. Namely, Rohan; or, as the Eorlingas themselves called it: the Riddermark. Riddermark. “The ‘Mark’ of the Horsemen.” The word “mark” in this instance is derived by JRRT from the Anglo-Saxon word “mearc” (the basis, ultimately, for the name, “Mercia”) which is itself sprung from an even older term for “line or boundary.” By linguistic extension, that noun in Anglo-Saxon came to mean “border” or “frontier” (though only its more common and primal sense survived into modern English). Words such as “marquis,” “Denmark” and “march” (as in the sense of a “Bossonian March”) fossilize this archaic meaning like ancient beasts in amber.


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REH-Related News From Coming Attractions


Courtesy of the indefatigable Bill Thom over on the Coming Attractions website…


GRYPHON BOOKS Collectable Paperback Show

New York City Collectible Paperback & Pulp Fiction Expo #21, the big 2009 show will be held on

Sunday, October 4, 2009, at the Holiday Inn on 57th Street in NYC.

A limited number of 6′ and 8′ tables available but book tables asap.

Call Gary at 718-646-6126 after 5pm EST

Confirmed guest authors and artists include:

ELAINE DUILLO, famous cover artist.

LINTON BALDWIN, Lion Books crime author.

ANNETTE & MARTIN MEYERS, mystery author couple who also write as Maan Meyers.

SANDY KOSSIN, classic vintage paperback cover artist.

JACK KETCHUM, horror and fantasy author.

C.J. HENDERSON, crime, fantasy and SF author.

MARVIN KAYE, fantasy author and Sherlockian anthologist.

PETER STRAUB, masterful horror and fantasy author.

MORRIS HERSHMAN, Manhunt author and soft-core author as Arnold English.

RON GOULART, master storyteller, SF writer, pulp and comic book scholar, more.

KEN WISHNIA, hard crime mystery author.

MARCUS BOAS, fabulous fantasy artist.

ANN BANNON, Famous Gold Medal author of lesbian pulp novels.

MARIJANE MEAKER, (aka Vin Packer, Ann Aldrich), tentative to appear

RHODA PLOTKIN, wife of famed cover artist Barney Plotkin,

STAN TRYBULSKI, crime author.

Several of the projected attendees slated for the Expo above have Howardian connections. Not least among them is Gary Lovisi, publisher of Gryphon Books and organizer of the event. Lovisi is a devotee of REH and has worked with former REHupan and Friend of The Cimmerian, James Reasoner. He has also published Richard A. Lupoff’s Barsoom, a thoughtful look at Edgar Rice Burroughs’ seminal science-fantasy creation.

Elaine Duillo, by all accounts, is a fascinating and talented woman. She broke into the field of paperback cover-art when it was absolutely dominated by male painters. She also happens to be the wife of John Duillo, who was the “Other Conan Artist” for the Lancer editions.

I don’t know of any direct linkage to the Man From Cross Plains when it comes to Jack Ketchum. He is a damned good horror author and seems to get mentioned in the general vicinity of REH (google-wise) on a fairly regular basis. Birds of a feather, perhaps. He might have revealed a liking for Howard in Book of Souls, but I know not one way or another. Someone oughtta ask the man straight out, since he was obliging enough to make himself a static target for one day in this year’s lonesome October.

Author C.J. Henderson is a long-time admirer of Two-Gun Bob. His “Teddy London” tales (the newest novel concerning which is imminent) owe a debt to Steve Harrison (as well as Conrad and Kirowan), in my opinion. Henderson also, allegedly, has a sword-and-sorcery novel in the works.

Marvin Kaye, as an editor, has chosen Robert E. Howard yarns for publication in the past. His own oeuvre is centered primarily in the realms of horror and fantasy (with a sideline in Doyle, one of Howard’s favorite authors). Another guy to button-hole at the Expo regarding his thoughts on REH.

I’ve covered Peter Straub’s contribution to forcing Robert E. Howard down the gullet of the literary establishment elsewhere. Somebody needs to walk up and shake his hand (or buy him a beer).

Writer Ron Goulart is fairly notorious for his put-downs of Robert E.Howard, and rightly so. Still, I’ve enjoyed his “Star Hawks” and “Gypsy” stories.

Marcus Boas is an unabashed fan of REH. He rendered paintings for several Donald M. Grant volumes dedicated to Howard’s fiction.

Honestly, considering how little I’ve heard about this exposition up ’til now, Gary Lovisi has put together a surprisingly strong line-up of guests, especially if one is a mystery/hard-boiled fiction fan. I would definitely consider attending if I lived twelve hundred miles closer.

Wait. There’s more…


Centipede Press – Coming soon!
In the works from Centipede Press is a retrospective about the writers from WEIRD TALES, called CONVERSATIONS WITH THE WEIRD TALES CIRCLE, which is a massive 600-page book about the writers from that era: H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, Bloch, Munn, Derleth, Seabury Quinn, Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore, tons of other people. There are all new portraits of the writers, interviews with them, essays by and about them, tons of photographs, letters, postcards, WEIRD TALES covers and histories about the artists, all sorts of goodies.

I have yet to purchase a book from Centipede Press, but this certainly sounds promising. Robert E. Howard did not write in a vacuum. Neither did Lovecraft nor Clark Ashton Smith. All influenced each other and all three were influenced to one extent or another by contemporaries like Quinn, Derleth and Moore. There was a free-wheeling give-and-take which characterized the best fiction produced during the first fifteen years of Weird Tales’ existence. It grew out of admiration and competition between the magazine’s contributors. They read each others’ work, took what they liked and then tried to top it. The influence of the “Dark Trinity” of Weird Tales upon subsequent generations of writers is, of course, legion.

It would appear that Centipede Press is attempting to chronicle and illuminate that peculiar time and place (and the fascinating talents that made it so special) in a very thorough fashion. That’s a tall order. If they pull it off, I definitely look forward to reading Conversations With the Weird Tales Circle.

Breaking News: new Solomon Kane movie…sucks


I know, you’re shocked. You didn’t believe me. After all, it looked so gosh darn accomplished and artistic and authentic, what with computer game demons and deathless lines like “Come on!” But yes, the first reviews are in from the exact demographic most likely to forgive its non-Howardian infelicities — schlock horror fans — and they have rendered as harsh a judgment as REH’s own Solomon Kane might have, had his shade confronted the film crew on some dark and dreary studio stage as they were going about making a hash of the brilliant Texan’s work. From the fine horror website Bloody Disgusting, here are some of the choicest comments:

Wow, just wow….

….How can you lose with Demons, swordfights, witches, knights and a whopping $60m budget? Ask Uwe Boll as this horror fantasy is one of the dullest, poorly acted and heartless films I’ve seen all year….

…Solomon Kane is robbing a castle. After murdering hundreds of soldiers/knights he makes his way in the front gates….

….Solomon goes off to save the woman — not because he wants to save her, but because HE might be redeemed for doing so. His entire plight is selfish and everything he does is for himself….

….NOTHING happens. There’s a little something here and there, but for the most part the entire film is jammed with heavy over explanatory exposition. It also doesn’t help when your main character delivers one of the worst performances of the year. Beyond that, James Purefoy was horribly miscast as he didn’t look or act the role.

….the evil demon with the skin mask is actually Solomon’s brother….

….Everything is explained in dialogue and not a single thing is gestured on….

….I began laughing uncontrollably as I just couldn’t believe it. There was no way this was the end. So, wait, there’s no epic battle? No fight? No climax? It just. . . ends…because of God?….

….Solomon Kane is one of the worst movies of the year. An unfocused mythology, with underdeveloped characters and bad acting make this an unbearable theater experience….

Score: 1 / 10

Michael Bassett as the American Uwe Boll? Great call. Click over to Bloody Disgusting and read the whole thing. The one saving grace of all this is that there’s still a chance that the film will fail to find a distributor in this tough market, and that it will be shuttled into the vast store of direct-to-video product to be found at your local Blockbuster.

According to the review, at one point in the film Solomon Kane finds his father hanging by chains in some demonic dungeon. I hope he sees Solomon and cries out: “You lukky, lukky bastard!”


French REH award news


Fabrice Tortey, editor of the recently released and well-received French REH critical volume Échos de Cimmérie reports:


Both Les nombreuses vies de Conan (edited by Simon Sanahujas) and Échos de Cimmérie are nominated for Le Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire, a prestigious French award dedicated to SciFi, Weird & Fantasy fiction (category “Essay”). The winners will be proclaimed on October 28 during Les Utopiales, a famous Sci-Fi festival. The third book in competition for the category is Dans les griffes de la Hammer by Nicolas Stanzick, about Hammer studios and France.

The fact that two of the three essay volumes in competition are dedicated to Howard is significant. Let’s hope that it will be a springboard for Howard Studies in France!


But Fabrice — how can this be? I was told that Howard is one of the least-studied pulp authors! Invigorating scholarship has yet to be attempted, right? My God, THE ACADEMICS HAVEN’T EVEN PRESENTED THEIR PCA PAPERS YET!

But seriously, let’s all extend our congratulations to Fabrice, and wish him and his buddy Simon good luck at the ceremony next month. He worked really hard on his book for several years, and deserves all the credit in the world that comes his way.



In addition to the twenty-one Conan stories that Howard actually wrote, there has been a plethora of Conan pastiches, written by various authors, in an effort to fill gaps in the Cimmerian’s career.
While Howard did leave a few very brief fragments and outlines for other Conan stories — which have been completed through “posthumous collaboration” — later writers have”revised” non-fantasy adventures to turn them into Conan stories, and have further diluted Howard’s Conan through a vast body of frank pastiches.
These are not Conan stories — not Robert E. Howard’s Conan — and have no more validity in relation to the stories than any Conan stories you might yourself decide to write. {…} It is a matter of spirit.

Karl Edward Wagner, forward to “Hour of the Dragon,” Berkley paperback, 1977.
It’s never been said better.

Sailing With the Sea Kings of Mars: Brackett’s The Sword of Rhiannon

Erik Mona and Planet Stories pulled off a sweet commemoration of a diamond jubilee this last June with their reprinting of The Sword of Rhiannon. It was in the June 1949 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories that Leigh Brackett’s, “The Sea Kings of Mars,” first appeared. With Brackett’s approval, that tale has been reprinted with the title of The Sword of Rhiannon ever since (or nearly so).

Beginning with the Ace Double that featured Conan the Conqueror on the flip-side, nearly all subsequent printings of Brackett’s novel sported The Sword of Rhiannon as the title. Simple (socio-) economics. As Leigh noted in her afterword to The Best of Leigh Brackett, post-war editors were getting more leery of publishing her type of ERB-influenced tales; tales where the Red Planet supported an ancient, humanoid population amidst which Earthmen found adventure. This was due to the (at the time) recent (and dream-shattering) advances in the sciences. Apparently, faster-than-light drives were more “real” than the possibility of life on Mars (though the opposite seems just as likely today). Renaming this story “The Sword of Rhiannon” allowed a better chance of an unwitting (and lucky) reader picking up the book and then getting pulled in by Brackett’s hard-boiled, Howardian prose. The fact that Leigh persisted in writing later tales like “The Secret of Sinharat” and “The People of the Talisman” is a testament to her authorial courage and passion for the Martian “sword-and-planet” sub-genre.


Paizo’s new reprinting of The Sword of Rhiannon is the best showcase for this novel thus far assayed, in my opinion. The cover by Daren Bader is well-wrought and action-packed. Nicola Griffith’s introduction, while quite thoughtful and appreciated by yours truly, could have been a bit better, perhaps. Then again, that leaves room for the tossing-in of my two coppers, doesn’t it? On with the tale…

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Conan’s helmet

When Karl Edward Wagner got “The Hour of the Dragon” into print sans editorial amendments, I was curious about the three terms for helmet that Howard had used, apparently not realizing, according to some, that they defined “three specific and different” styles.

When Conan dons the helmet, it’s a “plain morion”. Later, it’s a “basinet” and later still it is a “burganet.”
Researching this in my “Complete Encyclopedia of Arms and Weapons,” I quickly found that these are actually not very specific terms, but describe evolving trends, many of which are quite different from their predecessors. And rather than being distinct from each other, the burgonet and the morion merge in a hybrid known aptly as the burgonet-morion.

The basinet, which is commonly associated with jousting knights, actually started off as a simple cap with an attached coif, rather like Barry Smith’s depiction of Turanian helmets. It then evolved into the great bellows-visored helmet worn by knights in tourneys. A basinet offers good protection to the neck. The morion is associated with the Spanish conquistadors. Most were made of two plates joined along the middle with a mohawk-like “comb” running from front to back, but some were made with only one piece, which would make them similar to basinets.
The same is true of the burgonet, as it could also be made with one piece.

I think it is totally possible, even likely, that Howard knew exactly what these words meant when he used them. The Nemedian smith who created this helmet knew nothing of burganets, basinets, or morions when he made it — they wouldn’t be invented until our own age. Yet what he made had some basic characteristics of all, and in trying to describe what is basically an alien artifact from another age Howard used terms that would let a reader imagine something along the lines of what it was; a single-plate cap with an aventail or coif to protect the neck, a fall or eyeshade to keep the eyes sheltered, and an openable visor.