Right on the heels of losing Steve, I’ve received word from Cross Plains that Joan McCowen died peacefully in hospice this morning after a long battle with cancer. For my tribute to her and her impact on Howard studies, go here. For a tribute to her late husband, go here.
I intend to write about Steve at length here at some point, but giving his life and influence in our field its proper measure is going to take far more than a boilerplate expression of grief or even an HPL-style memoriam. His prolificacy, his erudition, his humor, the way his diction and class and elevated style rubbed off on not only his fellow scholars but on Howard and the field as a whole — all of this and much more makes Steve’s death the worst loss in Howard fandom in my memory. I think back on all of the things he had his hands in: all of the inspiration he gave me, the education, the raw hard work whenever called upon, the hard knocks when deserved. It’s a staggering amount of influence and beneficence for one guy to have contributed, and it’s going to take awhile for us to understand how large is the gulf left behind by his absence. This is probably far more understandable to those of us who heavily relied on him than to those who merely saw his moniker on the occasional mega-essay. Speaking personally, we often clashed both politically and in terms of living life (as sad as his death is, I can’t say that it is entirely unexpected), but always in a friendly way, very much like HPL vs. REH in the way our disagreements tended to strengthen our friendship and mutually broaden each other’s minds rather than break us apart. Our friendship was based like a rock on a shared, achingly poetic love of Howard, Tolkien and their most talented predecessors and followers, going all the way back to Homer and all the way forward to guys like Charles Saunders. Whenever asked privately I would state that, along with Don Herron, Steve Tompkins was my very best friend in fandom, the guy who I felt most simpatico with as far as our intellectual assessments of the genre and of literature in general went. So much that I felt about fantasy and myth, Tolkien and Howard, things that everyone else seemed to be blind or uncaring to, Steve got 100%. It was truly wonderful to have him in my life as a sounding board for ideas, as a mentor (he was ten years older and far better read than I, and did much over the last decade to expand my literary horizons), and as a partner-in-crime on everything from REHupa to The Cimmerian to the blog to our private goals, hopes, and dreams.
There’s so much more to say about him, but it’s going to take me some time to properly gather my thoughts and get them organized. Until then, I can only mourn the loss of one of the all-time great Howardians. For once the tired cliché feels exactly right: our field will never see his like again, and his absence has left us much poorer.