Charles R. Saunders Gives Props to Frazetta

Over on his Drums of Nyumbani blog, Charles R. Saunders has posted an entry entitled, “In Memoriam: Frank Frazetta.” Mr. Saunders reminisces about his discovery of Frazetta’s work, depictions of blacks in Frank’s art and also speculates about what a Frazetta cover for an Imaro novel might have looked like. CRS does an admirable job covering the latter two topics, but I have few more factoids and opinions to add. Feel free to click the link above, read the post and click back here.

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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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Beat the Drum Slowly…

Robert E. Howard onced asked his friend, Tevis Clyde Smith, “What shall a man say when a friend has vanished behind the doors of Death? A mere tangle of barren words, only words.”

All of those who posted today, including myself, never met Steve Tompkins personally, though I got damned close in 2006. None of us would presume to say that Steve was our “friend.” However, without a doubt, we all respect his work and regret his absence.  

Are all words spoken in regard to the dearly-departed or much-admired then “barren”? Robert E. Howard seemed to think so when he wrote those lines and sent them to Smith in 1928. Certainly, eulogies and whatnot can never bring back the deceased. All the same, I believe it can be argued that such words keep ones since-passed-on alive in the hearts and minds of those left behind.

In the case of Steve Tompkins, the words he wove with such skill live on here at The Cimmerian and elsewhere. As the tributes below attest, his wit, word-craft and insight are well-remembered. There can be no question that his thoughts on a myriad of subjects have found fertile, not “barren,” ground.

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Matthew Woodring Stover and Steve Tompkins

Matthew Woodring Stover started a blog a few months ago. Recently (it would seem), he stumbled upon a web log entry written by the late Steve Tompkins. Stover’s post can be found here.

I remember the situation that precipitated Tompk’s post vividly. On the Official REH Forum, a newly-minted member by the name of “Baphomet” had spewn forth the supposition that Robert E. Howard had only influenced, at best, two or three authors in the last eighty years. Steve Tompkins made note of Baphomet’s contrarian idiocy and took action.  For my part, I did the same, creating a “Quotes in Praise of Robert E. Howard” topic to demonstrate the far-reaching impact of REH’s work. Destruction of an enemy is all well and good, but construction of a shieldwall as a bulwark against future silly attacks has its place as well. The “chants of old heroes” that REH spun out of his singular imagination are still ringing in the ears of authors today; make no mistake.

It’s a damned shame that we’ll see no more installments from Tompk in his (occasional) series: “REH Alive & Well As a Ghost in the Pop Culture Machine.” We’re doing our best here at TC to carry forward the banner, fear not.

Mr. Stover is working on a new “Caine” novel entitled His Father’s Fist.

Jackson Kuhl and “The Obscurity of Clark Ashton Smith”

The 117th anniversary of Clark Ashton Smith’s birth last week was marked by The Cimmerian (here, here, and here), Grognardia, Black Gate, and others with accolades and remembrances. As well it should. Smith, along with Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, formed the weird fiction triptych of the 1920s and ’30s — and in my opinion, he was the most talented member of a talented group. Yet a recurring question in many of these memorials is why Smith remains uncelebrated in comparison to his partners. This is especially vexing when you consider he outlived the other two by almost a quarter-century.

Blogger Jackson Kuhl (a personage not unknown to long-time TC readers) wrote the above in an entry he posted on Robert E. Howard’s birthday, ironically enough. Kuhl’s article, entitled “The Obscurity of Clark Ashton Smith,” answers the “vexing question” of CAS’ lack of literary prominence by pointing the finger directly at those who control Smith’s estate. Kuhl relates his (ultimately futile) struggles to publish an omnibus gathering together all of the Averoigne stories (a collection yours truly has been waiting for these past two decades). It is a disheartening tale, but one that should be read by every fan of the Bard of Auburn.

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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.

Somebody Dies and REH

Craig Clarke, proprieter of the literary blog, Somebody Dies, has been a busy man the last two years. Since the final week of December, 2007, Clarke has posted over two hundred entertaining and insightful reviews of genre novels ranging from westerns to hard-boiled noir to horror.

That was all well and good, but then last May Clarke discovered REH by way of Del Rey’s The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard. Clarke became a born-again, hard-core Howard-head and posted two more REH book reviews in fairly short order. In a mere six months, REH is now lodged in the midst of Clarke’s “Favorite Authors” list, right there amongst Lawrence Block, Ed McBain and Westlake. Clarke has also given Howard due honor by placing REH in his “Favorite Reads of 2009” list.

Here’s what Craig Clarke had to say about Robert E. Howard in his review of Crimson Shadows:

As a final note, I would just like to mention that, before being introduced to the work of Robert E. Howard, I was under the impression that fantasy was a tired genre with nothing to offer me. Also, short stories held no appeal. These two perceptions were turned on their ears upon entering Howard’s world. After only one book, The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, I was an instant enthusiast, and Crimson Shadows has given me all the more reason to remain that way. It confirms my opinion (formed by the Horror Stories) that Robert E. Howard was a Great Writer and one who deserves to be reevaluated by those who feel that men who do their best communicating with swords, guns, and large fists are not to be taken seriously. This collection strongly suggests otherwise.  

I would welcome Clarke into the fold, but considering he’s now a Howard fan, I’ll just say, “Welcome to the pack.”

El Borak Reviewed at Publishers Weekly

ElB-finalOver at the Publishers Weekly website, they just posted their newest batch of “Fiction Book Reviews.” The capsule reviews are wide-ranging, covering books in both the ‘mainstream’ and ‘genre’ categories. A review of El Borak and Other Desert Adventures (coming in March from Del Rey) is amongst them.

Considering how small a percentage of eligible books actually get reviewed by Publishers Weekly, this is a nine-day wonder. When one takes into account that El Borak is a collection of previously published stories, the fact that it got reviewed at all is even more startling. PW is a book trade magazine read by booksellers and librarians all over the country. The review definitely ups the chances of REH’s fiction getting a wider distribution in heretofore seldom-seen venues. This is what the unnamed reviewer had to say…

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It’s Not That Far From Texas to Kansas


I have seen some complaints about the title of the Howard collection from Penguin Modern Classics, Heroes in the Wind.
It doesn’t seem out of place to me.  Evoking Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” as it may, still, that’s a very Howardian sentiment.
See, for instance “The Wheel of Destiny” on page 410 of The Collected Poetry:

Across the great world’s silent girth
The gras-grown cities rot and rust:
Still are the rulers of the earth —
Men and their worth sink back to dust.

I think Howard would agree with Kansas that all we are is dust in the wind. The book itself is an odd mix of classic Howard and little-known stories, but not a bad introduction to a new readership. It gets no points from me for the cover, though.

Conan the Immortal?


Much as I enjoy the work of Robert E. Howard, he does occasionally write in such a rush that he makes a mistake.  One such mistake occurs in “The Hour of the Dragon” when he learns the true nature and origin of Xaltotun.

 “Acheron,” he repeated. “Xaltotun of Acheron — man, are you mad? Acheron has been a myth for more centuries than I can remember.”

 Which raises the question, how many centuries does Conan remember? Obviously Howard meant that Acheron had been a myth for so long no one knew how many centuries ago it was known to be real; instead he gives the impression of a centuries-old Conan, who seems a pretty feisty guy for someone that aged.