George H. Scithers and Amra

On April 19th, George H. Scithers (pictured above, circa 2001) passed away. On April 20th, Damon Sasser wrote a post for the REHupa blog summarizing Scithers’ accomplishments in the fantasy/sci-fi field. Damon did a fine job and I see no real need to write another eulogy as such. I do, however, want to acknowledge the debt I owe Mr. Scithers. He and Amra, the fanzine he edited, had a profound effect on my reading choices these past thirty years or so.

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Norris Chambers and the Howard House on Youtube

Here’s a communiqué from REH fan and photographer, Ben Friberg:

Howdy! Ben, warrior photog here. Just wanted to let you know I posted my tour of the Howard house with Norris Chambers on my youtube channel. Leo and I are talking with him about what he remembers of Bob. Mixed in some pictures of the Howards and cutaways of the room and other parts of the house. It’s not as zippy and quick moving as my Cimmeria post, but it’s informative and neat to listen to the last guy who knew Howard talk about the nice, gentle man he was. It will be a part of my overall movie/doc, but I decided I wanted to post it in this form, in order to share with my fellow Howard fans. It would be great to show the room and inside of the house to folks who live all over the world, and who may never get a chance to come out to Cross Plains.

Friberg shot the video in 2007 as part of a bigger REH documentary that he is working on. He and Leo Grin accompanied Norris Chambers in a tour of the Howard House and listened as Chambers reminisced about Robert E. Howard. To my mind, Friberg’s video is one of the best pieces of its type I’ve seen. To hear Mr. Chambers relate his memories of the Howards is just enthralling. Ben’s video can be found here.

A link to Friberg’s “Cimmeria post” can be found here.

First Word on a New Edition of Post Oaks and Sand Roughs

Over at The Official Robert E. Howard Forum, [redacted] from the Robert E. Howard Foundation gave frequenters of the forum a sneak peak at the contents of a projected new book from the REHF. This volume will contain Robert E. Howard’s fictionalized autobiographical short novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (the cover from the DMG edition is shown above), along with numerous other works from Howard containing information of a personal and biographical nature. Rob cautions that the whole project is still in development and no firm date whatsoever has been set. The contents, which [redacted] has described as “tentative,” are as follows:

Ambition by Moonlight
An Autobiography
The Galveston Affair
In His Own Image
Ivory Camel, The
Lives and Crimes of Notable Artists
Musings of a Moron
The Paradox
The People of the Winged Skulls
Post Oaks and Sand Roughs – Draft
Post Oaks and Sand Roughs
The Recalcitrant
Some People Who Have Had Influence over Me
Spanish Gold on Devil Horse
The Splendid Brute
Sunday in a Small Town
To a Man Whose Name I Never Knew
A Touch of Trivia
Untitled (“A typical small town drugstore . . .”)
Untitled (“As my dear public . . .”)
Untitled (“Mike Costigan, writer and self-avowed futilist”)
Untitled (“The Seeker thrust . . .”)
Voyages with Villains
The Wandering Years

Rob has also indicated that there might be annotations included as well.

[redacted] has been giving the annotaters a helping hand, it seems. Over at the Two-Gun Raconteur website, [redacted] has posted a guest blog which examines some of the clues provided by Post Oaks and Sand Roughs. He has made, in my opinion, a very strong case as to what real-life football game REH fictionalized at the very start of his short novel. Check it out here.

Robert E. Howard’s 104th Birthday

There’s all sorts of festivities going on around the web. Go to REHupa to read Indy Cavalier’s little shout-out, then head over to Black Gate for a battery of birthday posts from Howard Jones, Charles Saunders, Ryan Harvey, Bill Ward, and John R. Fultz. Other birthday wishes can be found at Life of a Philippine Gamer, Propheet at the Age of Conan vault, David Smay at HiLoBrow, Tarib at the Age of Conan forums, and The men and women of the official Conan forums.

Since its founding, The Cimmerian has been firmly dedicated to the critical notion that Robert E. Howard and J.R.R. Tolkien stand as equals atop the modern fantasy genre. They are the two impregnable towers of twentieth-century fantasy, the geniuses whose careers serve as wellsprings from which everything else has flowed. Both have seen virtually everything they ever wrote published — drafts, fragments, notes — as fans and scholars dig ever deeper, attempting to understand the spell these men have cast over their literary lives and over the fantasy genre. Over a century after their respective births, neither author looks ready to give up their hold on our imaginations.

On this anniversary of Howard’s birth, think about where he stands critically. His work survives in hundreds of editions — prose, poetry, correspondence, minutiae — running the gamut from the cheapest paperback to deluxe hardcovers costing hundreds of dollars, and from the most unassuming fanzine to Penguin Modern Classics. Movies have been made about his famous fictional characters and about his life. Paintings from the covers of his books have sold for upwards of a million dollars. The house where he lived and wrote is now a museum and an official landmark on the United States Register of Historic Places. Howard endures and thrives even when 99.9% of his era’s authors, including most of the bestsellers of the time, are forgotten. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that not one author in a million can expect the longevity of reputation that Howard enjoys, and that five hundred years from now, when virtually everything we now revere is lost, some kid on Mars will fire up his star-Kindle, read the words “Know, oh prince. . . ,” and soon go “Wow. . . .”

You of course are at liberty to think that a fanciful, overblown prediction, but Howard has a way of frustrating the low expectations of his critics, and I like his chances. One never knows exactly what will survive the years and for how long, but Howard’s brilliance, accessibility, and pop-culture imprint gives him as good an opportunity as anything else to make it.

20% Off at For the Holidays!

Paul Herman passed on this helpful tip:

“Hey, I got an email from lulu, they are offering 20% off, just enter HOHOHO at checkout. Good till December 31.”

This means that [redacted]’swb-cover [redacted], Frank Coffman’s The Selected Poetry of Robert E. Howard and the REHF’s The Collected Drawings of Robert E. Howard are all available at four-fifths the cover price until January 1, 2010.

dossouye-mshindoIn addition, two of Charles R. Saunders’ Sword-and-Sorcery novels, Imaro: The Trail of Bohu and Dossouye are available at Lulu. Dan Clore, Lovecraftian fictioneer and scholar, has his expanded second edition of The Unspeakable and Others for sale at, with brand-new illustrations from top-flight Mythos artist, Allen Koszowski. All for twenty percent off. Merry Christmas.


Missions Unknown Looks at REH and San Antone



Sanford Allen, over on the Missions Unknown website, wrote up a piece regarding Robert E. Howard and San Antonio. The article is the third in a series called “S.A.’s Place in the SF Universe.” Missions Unknown is a site devoted to the fantasy/sci-fi/horror scene in San Antonio, so any such series as Allen’s could not well afford to ignore the influence San Antone exerted upon REH. Rusty Burke was kind enough to stop by and post some pertinent citations from Howard’s letters in the blog entry’s “Comments” section. I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing those quotations (and Rusty’s introductory paragraph) below…

San Antonio was Robert E. Howard’s favorite city, rivaled only by El Paso (which he did not visit until about 1934). His mother had good friends there, and the Howards were frequent visitors through the years. REH spent a good bit of time in the public library, which apparently had a pretty good genealogical section. His letters contain a number of mentions of SA, including such things as the Fiesta and Battle of the Flowers, the opening of the Spanish Governor’s Palace, and so on. Here are just a few brief quotations from his letters:

“Most of the trade of West Texas – with the exception of that region dominated by Amarillo, high up in the Panhandle – goes to Fort Worth. Personally, though, I like San Antonio, and spend much more time there than at the former city.” (REH to August W. Derleth, 12/29/32)

“Of all these northern [Texas] cities, I like Fort Worth best, though for color and historical glamor none of them can compare to San Antonio and other towns of the south.” (REH to Derleth, 7/3/33)

“You ask about San Antonio. It is without question the most interesting and colorful city in Texas, possibly in the entire Southwest…” (REH to Carl Jacobi, summer 1934)

As for him finding inspiration in stories of old-time Texans, here’s a specifically SA reference:

“San Antonio is full of old timers – old law officers, trail drivers, cattlemen, buffalo hunters and pioneers. No better place for a man to go who wants to get first hand information about the frontier. The lady who owned the rooms I rented, for instance, was an old pioneer woman who had lived on a ranch in the very thick of the ‘wire-cutting war’ of Brown County; and on the street back of her house lived an old gentleman who went up the Chisholm in the ‘80’s, trapped in the Rockies, helped hunt down Sitting Bull, and was a sheriff in the wild days of western Kansas. I wish I had time and money to spend about a year looking up all these old timers in the state and getting their stories. (REH to Derleth, 5/33)

Conversations with the Weird Tales Circle Coming Our Way


Just posted on Bill Thom’s Coming Attractions

Centipede Press: Conversations with the Weird Tales Circle
Now available to order with the majority being released in late November
and early December.

Conversations with the Weird Tales Circle is a massive, oversized celebration of the lives of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Frank Belknap Long, Seabury Quinn, E. Hoffmann Price, Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore, Lee Brown Coye, Hannes Bok, August Derleth, Edmond Hamilton, Manly Wade Wellman, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Donald Wandrei, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, and many others. Each writer has their own section in the book, complete with a custom drawing of the author by noted artist Alex McVey.

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“Man in black”: Nick Owchar’s take on Solomon Kane

“Before Conan, there was Kane, a Puritan swordsman on a restless search for justice.”


That’s the lead-in from Nick Owchar’s, “Man in black: Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane,” published this May 24th in his monthly column for the Los Angeles Times. Owchar, deputy book editor for the LA Times, turns in a quite respectable piece on the Man From Devonshire (and his creator). His column, “The Siren’s Call” (a title I truly dig), was a joy and revelation once I (very recently) discovered it. Dear readers, brethren, kindred and fellow travellers, Ol’ Nick is one of us. Peruse his previous columns (future blog-fodder, for me) and tell me it ain’t so. (Continue reading this post)

“If nobody but a pure Celt wore the green…”

Saint Padraic’s Day usually leaves me with a distaste for the whole Celtic Irish race.” Robert E. Howard, from a letter to Harold Preece, ca. early April, 1930.

Howard’s Hibernophilia is hard to contest, but reading the above quote might cause one to wonder. In context, the meaning becomes much clearer. reh_frontier_poseREH (whose photo to the left could easily be that of a “Black Irish” workman of the early twentieth century) noted the “questioning glances” of fellow Texans “who wear purely Gaelic surnames.” His response to such affronts was that, “I’ll wear the green if I have to fight every damned Celt in the world.” A suitably pugnacious Howardian (and Celtic) attitude, in my opinion.

Howard was always ambivalent in his regard for the Irish. In another letter to Preece, REH wrote, “Damn the Irish and damn the black Milesian blood in my veins that makes me like drift-wood fighting the waves and gives me no peace or rest waking or sleeping or riding or dreaming or traveling or wooing, drunk or sober, with hunger or slumber on me”. Again and again REH railed against the waywardness and instability that he saw in the Celtic psyche. “What has my Celtic blood ever done to me but give me a restless and unstable mind that gives me no rest in anything I do”? Obviously, despite Robert E. Howard’s heart-felt pride in his Irishness (the true extent of that Irishness is something Patrice Louinet is researching even now), he didn’t view Erin nor her children through green-tinted glasses, at least not in every instance. (Continue reading this post)

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.”


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)


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?


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.