The (Not So) Annihilated Shadow

Guest blogger Gary Romeo writes in to respond to some of the criticisms TC blogger [redacted] leveled at both Gary and L. Sprague de Camp in Mark’s previous post. Here’s Gary:

“By the 1920s, Leon Trotsky had been labeled by Stalin as an enemy of the Soviet State. He had all memory of Leon eliminated after Trotsky’s exile, turning Leon into what has subsequently been called ‘the annihilated shadow’.”

The Secret Life of Leon Trotsky — Robert Elias

“Trotsky ended up being almost like Stalin’s imaginary friend. You know, that imaginary friend some of us had as kids, the one you could blame stuff on.”

The Sheila Variations — Sheila O’Malley

The editors at Wandering Star had sought to eliminate de Camp. In their various book introductions the editors would refer to “several critics,” “schools of thought,” and “some observers.” De Camp’s name was being systemically eliminated from any Robert E. Howard discussion. Even when appropriating de Camp’s idea that Howard’s youthful stay in that Texas area known as Dark Valley became the source for Cimmeria, they refused to mention his name. Patrice Louinet later confessed: “there is absolutely no denying de Camp made the Cimmeria/Dark Valley connection before me. Not acknowledging this fact — the anteriority of the link, not the so-called borrowing — was an editorial decision on my part. De Camp […] was not gonna be in this book, period.”

But de Camp did not disappear so easily. [redacted] has resurrected him to be the person of blame for every criticism of Robert E. Howard.

The latest critic to have been tainted by the Sprague Virus, according to Mark, is Arnold Fenner. I feel compelled to do another “Nuh Uh!” to Mark’s “Waaah. Waaah.”

First off, Mark tells us the book is a mere eight stories for $100. The cost for the two Wandering Star Conan volumes was over $400, and they don’t comprise a complete set either. Mark was apparently unaware that there is a mass market hardcover available from Amazon for a mere $16.50.

Like Mark, I am bewildered by the tack that Fenner chose to take. It is obvious that Howard fans today want all praise and glory, and have no stomach for insights that are not wholly complimentary. Why Fenner wrote what he did will have to explained by Fenner, but they are not the same observations made by de Camp. Mark implies that Fenner got his information from reading The Miscast Barbarian. Lets look at it.

One issue Fenner seems to have a beef with is Howard fans, like Sprague de Camp, who try to emphasize Howard’s toughness. De Camp says in The Miscast Barbarian that “by the time Robert entered the Cross Plains High School, Howard was a large, powerful youth. When fully grown, he was 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighed around 200 pounds, most of it muscle.” Fenner writes “photographs of Robert show him as an unscarred, well-fed, and not terribly muscular young man.” If Fenner read The Miscast Barbarian he certainly disagrees with de Camp.

Fenner brings up Howard’s mention of enemies. This most likely comes from Fenner remembering the scene where Novalyne Price spots Robert’s gun while they are driving in his car as much as anything de Camp wrote.

Mark is on firmer ground when quoting Fenner about the suicide and Howard’s attachment to his mother. But there are other sources than de Camp for all this. There is Novalyne’s book and movie, as mentioned before. And de Camp was not the only one writing of Howard’s attachment to his mother and focusing on the suicide in the early 60s and 70s. Glenn Lord wrote in an introduction to the Bear Creek stories that “An excessive devotion to his mother proved to be his Achilles’ heel.” And every issue of The Howard Collector ended with the Howard death verse, “All fled, all done…”

By the end of Mark’s critique even he realizes Fenner is disagreeing with de Camp on major issues. “Howard’s use of poetical style is well documented by nearly everyone who’s written critically of the man in the past two decades (even de Camp noted it…),” says Mark in response to another Fenner criticism.

The same is true for most critics of Robert Howard. They disagree with de Camp. Let’s look at three commonly quoted critics. Sam Lundwall, Franz Rottensteiner, and Stephen King.

Lundwall’s book Science Fiction: What it’s All About quotes de Camp’s defense of Sword-and-Sorcery and his stress on the genre’s entertainment value. Lundwall states:

After having delivered this unabashed praise to escapism, de Camp goes on to note the renewed interest in Heroic Fantasy and in this respect he is undoubtedly right. Old classics are reissued by the score together with new stories of blood, thunder and well-sharpened swords. The spectrum goes from the gentle novels of James Branch Cabell to the sadistic tales of Robert E. Howard… however, looking at the state of the world — the real world — today. I can well believe there are some deeper reasons too. There was a similar interest in heroes and mighty deeds in Hitler’s Germany.

Lundwall is clearly stating that his opinion is different, by a large degree, than de Camp’s. De Camp’s view is that it is all good escapism. Lundwall is making an argument that the violent nature is not just escapism. Lundwall is saying REH is dangerous fascist-inducing stuff. So saying that this critic is influenced by de Camp is clearly wrong.

Later, Lundwall again quotes de Camp to disagree. Lundwall quotes de Camp, “[S&S provides] the reader with a heroic model with whom he for a moment can identify himself…” Lundwall’s rebuttal, “As far as entertainment goes, I can’t see anything wrong with this. Though I still dislike the over-emphasis on violence.”

So even though Lundwall later mentions the suicide, he is not doing it as a mindless drone hypnotized by de Campian propaganda. He is disagreeing with de Camp on fundamental points.

Franz Rottensteiner is another case. His The Fantasy Book quotes another de Camp defense of Sword-and-Sorcery. Rottensteiner follows the de Camp quote with a dismissive, “Apologists of this kind of entertainment trace its development back through Eric Rucker Eddison and Lord Dunsany to William Morris…. But in fact it is not even the debilitated offspring of these sagas, but rather a misbegotten child of our own technological civilization, offering a quick escape from an oppressive world.” Rottensteiner, like Lundwall, is disagreeing with de Camp to a large degree. De Camp never talked about fascist underpinnings or escaping from an “oppressive world,” just a mundane one. These guys have their own axes to grind, that are clearly different from de Camp’s views.

Stephen King is no de Campian-influenced fan of the genre either. King in Danse Macabre says “This kind of fiction, commonly called ‘sword & sorcery’ by its fans, is not fantasy at its lowest, but it still has a tacky feel….” He then goes on, “The only writer who really got away with this sort of stuff was Robert E. Howard….” Then, “Howard overcame the limitations of his puerile material by the force and fury of his writing…” Then comes the truncated Del Rey quote: “Stories such as “The People of the Black Circle” glow with the fierce and eldritch light of his frenzied intensity. At his best, Howard was the Thomas Wolfe of fantasy, and most of his Conan tales seem to almost fall over themselves in their need to get out.” But King follows that with, “Yet his other work was either unremarkable or just abysmal….”

By pointing out that de Camp is not always to blame for a critic’s negative appraisal of Howard (among other things) I have been labeled by the de Camp bashers as a decampista. It is as fine a label as any, but please don’t forget that I (and Steve Allsup) are REH fans first and foremost. I am not a fanatical de Camp fan. I like him well enough and enjoy his work but, hell, remember I forgot his birthday!

Mark makes a final plea that publishers should only hire admiring critics like Rusty Burke, himself, or others cut from the same cloth to write introductions to Robert E. Howard material. In other words, a stifling of thought, sameness, is preferred over anything that might veer from the current orthodoxy. Mark ends by basically issuing a boycott of the product. Paradox holds the Conan/Robert E. Howard franchise these days and would most likely agree on a boycott of these public-domain publications. But they should be wary of a fandom that calls for sameness and rigidity in all things related to Robert E. Howard.

After Aquilonia and Having Left Lankhmar: Sword-and-Sorcery Since the 1980s

[When Howard Andrew Jones writes about sword-and-sorcery and the desirability of “putting a new edge on an old blade,” it behooves those of us as protective of the subgenre as he is to pay attention, and perhaps pay him the compliment of trying to put our own thoughts in order. To that end, and with a bemused glance at a June 22 post by Gary Romeo, who never loses an opportunity to generalize about Howard purists even if he did lose the chance to celebrate the centennial of his nearest and dearest, I’m rolling out the following article, originally written in 2006 for an anthology that apparently could not be more snake-bitten were it to traipse barefoot through Stygia]

The subgenre of modern fantasy with which Robert E. Howard is nearly synonymous died down in the mid-1980s but did not die out. Far from it; sword-and-sorcery proved to be as difficult to kill as many of its protagonists. But before we can celebrate Howard’s legacy by following the subgenre’s fortunes for the last several decades, we need to establish what we mean by sword-and-sorcery. For starters, what is meant at least for the purposes of this article is an approach to heroic fantasy that became aware of itself when Howard decisively expanded on the promise and premise of Lord Dunsany’s 1908 story “The Fortress Unvanquishable Save for Sacnoth” with “The Shadow Kingdom” in 1929.

The verb “expanded” is chosen with no disrespect whatsoever intended toward Dunsany’s story; it is possible that during his much-debated involvement with sword-and-sorcery, L. Sprague de Camp never did the subgenre more of a favor than when he selected “The Fortress” for his anthology The Fantastic Swordsmen (1967).

(Here, on the other hand, Leo argues that the only place for poor old “Sacnoth” in an S & S muscle car is: the ejector seat)

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Superman on a Psychotic Bender No More

It’s easy to be a morning person when one happens upon pleasant surprises like the following in the New York Times:

In May 1934, two years before he killed himself in the driveway of his home in Cross Plains, Tex., Robert E. Howard published one of the finest adventures of his most famous character: the warrior, thief, swashbuckler and king called Conan the Cimmerian.

In the story, “Queen of the Black Coast,” Conan lounges in moonlit reverie on the deck of a galley beside the pirate queen Bêlit and reveals his elemental, live-for-the-moment spirit.

“Let me live deep while I live,” he says. “Let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”

Conan is no hero. The best Conan stories end not in triumph but in an ambiguous, almost melancholy recognition that righteousness is scarce, perhaps even irrelevant. Conan’s world is not one of grand struggles between good and evil. Rather it is a world of avarice, of treachery, of raw power, slavery, embraced passions and ancient secrets best kept from man.

That’s from “At Play in a World of Savagery, but not This One,” by Seth Schiesel. Mr. Schiesel’s piece is ostensibly a review of Funcom’s Age of Conan, and yet he chooses to lead with four accurate and insightful paragraphs about Robert E. Howard and Howard’s Conan (“Conan the Barbarian,” may his fur diaper chafe him, is nowhere to be found). Manna from heaven (Mitra or perhaps Ishtar, certainly not Crom) made all the tastier because one of the most notorious of all hatchet jobs on the reason we blog here, “Superman on a Psychotic Bender” by H. R. Hays, appeared in the New York Times back in 1946. We’ll accept Schiesel’s review as a first step toward atonement.

Regrettably, he sees fit to include a facile comparison between Tolkien and Howard: “While Conan hacked and slashed his way through a decaying, darkening world, Bilbo, Aragorn, Frodo and Gandalf became paragons of virtue…” Seems to me the Middle-earth of the late Third Age, caught between Isengard and Barad-dûr, is decaying and darkening up a storm. Mr. Schiesel might also be gobsmacked by what the late First Age was like, and it’s now easier than ever before to learn, by reading The Children of Hà¹rin.

Still, at the moment I’m a delighted Howardist, not a touchy Tolkienist, and the review is further sweetened by several quotes from game designer Gaute Godager, who likens Conan to the archangel Gabriel marching into Sodom and Gomorrah (a Biblical precedent that just so happens to have also been very much on Sergio Leone’s mind in A Fistful of Dollars). Godager also says “Howard put Genghis Khan and the Mongolians in with the Romans and the Greeks, some Celts, and the sense of Africa pouring in a lot of this sense of darkness and put it on the stove, put the lid on and let it brew and simmer.” My only quibble with that would be that much of the darkness is Stygian, Acheronian, “Eastern” (the Master of Yimsha), or pre-human rather than “African.”

What really matters, though, is a signature passage from “Queen of the Black Coast” turning up in what still has a claim, albeit a somewhat shaky one, to being the newspaper of record. Very cool.

Echoes of Cimmeria available for pre-order


Cimmerian reader Fabrice Tortey hails from France, and for the last few years he’s been working steadily on a massive tribute volume to Robert E. Howard. That project is now reaching fruition. Bringing together a generous mix of Howardian luminaries from both sides of the pond, he has assembled a wide-ranging collection of material and added lots of pictures and illustrations. American stalwarts Glenn Lord, Don Herron, Rusty Burke, and others appear alongside French counterparts such as Jacques Bergier, along with other assorted folks such as the inimitable Donald Sidney-Fryer, a scholar facile in both languages. Of course Robert E. Howard himself is represented, and some of those items have never before appeared in that language. The book itself is all in French, but the result is nevertheless bound to entice many collectors from this side of the pond, too.

You can download the official order form here in PDF format (400k file). Note that you can become a “subscriber” by pre-ordering before March 31, 2008. This gets you a numbered copy of the book, along with your name listed on a special page inside the volume.

For those of us wanting to read some of this material in English, take heart: The Cimmerian is on the case.


1906 – 1936
A book edited by Fabrice Tortey

Solomon Kane, El Borak, Bran Mak Morn, Kull the Barbarian King, Conan the Cimmerian and many other characters, all unforgettable creations that sprang from the fertile mind of Robert Ervin Howard. A pioneer of heroic fantasy, the Texan writer has excelled in many genres: tales of adventure, fantasy and horror, sports and western stories, poetry… At the time when Two-Gun Bob finds a second life in France, the Éditions de l’Œil du Sphinx are pleased to pay homage to Robert E. Howard and display his many facets as the man, the boxer, the storyteller, the poet.

Renowned specialists and dedicated fans of Howard have all gathered to explore the epic universe of the Cross Plains Bard. This opus, under the direction of Fabrice Tortey, opens on an overview of Robert E. Howard’s life, completed by more specific biographical studies by acknowledged experts such as Rusty Burke with La dernière lettre / The Note, Glenn Lord with Herbert Klatt : le quatrième mousquetaire / Herbert Klatt : the Fourth Musketeer and The Junto, or Chris Gruber who shares with us his passion both for boxing and the creator of Steve Costigan in Howard et la fabrique de glace / Howard at the Ice House

Four texts of Robert E. Howard are published here for the first time in France: two fragments (Le Tueur / The Slayer; Sous l’éclat impitoyable du soleil… / Beneath the Glare… ) and two poems (Les Cellules du Colisée / The Cells of the Coliseum et Comme un bruit sourd à ma porte / A Dull Sound as of Knocking). Introduced by Don Herron, a series of essays analyzes different aspects of the Texan’s opus : Le Sens du récit chez Robert E. Howard / The Narrative Sense of Robert E. Howard by Simon Sanahujas, Bob Howard ou le pouvoir du regard intérieur / Bob Howard or the power of the inner look by Argentium Thri’ile, Robert E. Howard : pionnier des lettres/Robert E. Howard: Frontiersman of Letters by Donald Sidney-Fryer, Conan, Kull et Bran Mak Morn : les rois de la nuit / Conan, Kull et Bran Mak Morn: the Kings of the Night by Patrice Louinet, Kings of the Night : Une allégorie shakespearienne ? / Kings of the Night : a Shakespearean allegory? by Pierre Favier, Le Phénix sur l’épée et autres fulgurances. Une lecture spirituelle du cycle hyborien de Robert E. Howard / The Phoenix on the Sword and other blinding flashes. A spiritual reading of Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian cycle by Rodolphe Massé, Solomon Kane and Face à Cthulhu : le club des aventuriers de Robert E. Howard / Facing Chthulu : the Adventurer’s Club by Patrice Allart, Solomon Kane et le racisme : une étude en noir et blanc / Solomon Kane and racism : a study in black and white by Olivier Legrand, Des rites impies de sadisme et de sang. Le réveil de l’archaïque chez Howard, Lovecraft et Vere Shortt / An unhallowed ritual of cruelty and sadism and blood: The revival of the archaic in Howard, Lovecraft and Vere Shortt by Michel Meurger, Un nouveau monde, ou l’Almuric de Robert E. Howard / A New World, or the Almuric of Robert E. Howard by Rémy Lechevalier and Jacques Bergier, ou l’homme qui découvrit aussi Robert E. Howard / Jacques Bergier, or The Man Who Also Discovered Robert E. Howard by Joseph Altairac.This thick volume is concluded with a bibliography of Howard’s works published in France, compiled by Simon Sanahujas. Many photographs of Bob Howard, his family and friends, open for us a vista of a past cut short all too soon.

This anthology also contains the works of Howard’s main illustrators in France : foremost is Christian Broutin, with his drawings for “Phoenix on the Sword” in Planète magazine, then Philippe Druillet who illustrated Conan for Édition spéciale, and of course Jean-Michel Nicollet whose covers for Titres SF and the Nouvelles Éditions Oswald have been the French readers’ companions in their discovery of Two-Gun Bob. The cover is by the great american illustrator Frank Frazetta.

Softcover, 22.5 x 17 cm, text in French, about 400 pages


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REH expands at Wikipedia


Anyone following the Grand Experiment that is Wikipedia knows that it hovers between the twin extremes of addictive/useful and error-riddled/lame-brained. The Howard entry has been no different. For the most part, my enormous rewriting of REH’s entry has remained intact since I posted it in September of 2006, despite my not having the time to properly footnote everything I included. But every few weeks someone comes along and tries to editorialize on the entry, usually to Howard’s detriment. The most recent example:


He is well known for having created — in the pages of the legendary Depression-era pulp magazine Weird Tales — the character Conan the Cimmerian, a.k.a. Conan the Barbarian, a literary icon whose pop-culture imprint can be compared to such icons as Tarzan of the Apes, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond.


He is well known for having created — in the pages of the legendary Depression-era pulp magazine Weird Tales — the character Conan the Cimmerian, a.k.a. Conan the Barbarian, a literary pulp literature icon whose pop-culture imprint can be has been compared to such icons as Tarzan of the Apes, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond, albeit to a lesser degree of fame and literary success.

Note the ever-so-slight attempt to ghettoize Howard. Incorrectly, I might add — I would put Conan’s level of success against any of the above-mentioned luminaries. Sure, he doesn’t have as many films as James Bond, but he’s had lots more comics, video games, and pastiches. Conan is a byword among even moderately culturally literate people, and we need not be embarrassed at his popularity compared to any other character’s.

In any case, some anonymous reader out there quickly reverted this change to the original wording, but that’s the kind of thing you have to constantly deal with when using Wikipedia. Admins are always rushing through your entry and deleting things as well, mostly pictures that they deem are not adequately shown to be in the public domain. It can get frustrating, and makes me think that if I am going to write an entire entry anyway, I may as well host it on my own site where it is safe from such predators.

There are lots of REH-related Wikipedia entries that still have to be created, much less written in detail. But I’m happy to report that it seems that various fans are helping him along. I was gratified to see a new page called List of Works by REH, compiled and created by one Adam B. Morgan. This is a list that largely mirrors sites like Howard Works and Dave Gentzel’s old checklist on his website. But it’s on Wikipedia in table format, which allows anyone to add little tidbits and trivia to any story they wish. Over time, this might turn into a pretty useful repository of data on REH stories. It’s always nice to be able to click somewhere and get the date something was written or published, or some other bit of needed information. Good job, Adam — and if you are a fan with some time on your hands, spend a few minutes to learn the ins and outs of Wiki-editing and create a few REH entries on your own. All the items in red on Howard’s page are currently lacking a page of their own.

Progress Retort

The scene: A discussion group earlier this month, one that thanks to its membership and mission-creep often glances REH-ward. A writer with decades as a critic/contributor or player/coach in the fantasy and horror genres behind him, as well as exposure to Howard fandom at its most dynamic and forward-thinking but also at its most churlish and distempered, posts thusly:

My feeling is that real, serious criticism of REH is going to be seriously hampered for another generation. REH needs to get out of the control of his “fans.”

Well, that’s one not uninformed opinion, and there’s no gainsaying that it’s devoutly to be desired that “real, serious criticism of REH” will continue to evolve, with those fans perceptive and motivated enough to assay such criticism evolving right along with it. I might not even have blogged here in response, were it not for the fact that at about the time of the just-quoted post I’d been rummaging around in Peter Cannon’s 1990 Necronomicon Press collection “Sunset Terrace Imagery in Lovecraft” and Other Essays, only to be struck by how applicable his “H. P. Lovecraft: Problems in Critical Recognition” continues to be to our own field.

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Ze, Mozadrim, Vachama Vongh Razan*


The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith has long since figured in a first-rate post by Leo, but acquisitions for my weird fiction library sometimes require me to pinch the first and best Republican president right off the face of every penny, and it wasn’t until last month that I lucked into an affordable copy at The book really is a garden of unearthly, flower demon-type delights, so many thanks to editors Scott Connors and David E. Schultz. CAS shows that the baleful late Thirties zeitgeist is not lost on him with this fine Howardian sentiment near the end of a September 9, 1937 letter to Robert Barlow: “Incidentally, the word ‘civilization’ would make a jackal vomit in view of the general situation.” And another aside to Barlow in the same letter is as amusing as Howard’s sly suggestion that Lovecraft should fictionalize one of his own “sex adventures” in order to crack the spicies:

HPL, however, should have written [a story about the Last Sabbat] himself. I can’t hope to compete with him when it comes to New England setting and atmosphere; though perhaps the actual orgies of the Sabbat would be a little more in my line.

But what really caught my eye were several letters that may well have been discussed to death in Esoteric and Dagonian precincts; S. T. Joshi certainly cites one on page 639 of his Lovecraft biography. Still, it seems to me that the cumulative impact of the letters in question and a possible extra resonance for Howardists just might justify a blog-post. I’m referring to nothing less than an early attempt by CAS to save Derleth from himself — and more importantly, save Lovecraft from distortion and dilution.

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Conan stalks into the hallowed halls of National Review


Robert E. Howard aficionado John J. Miller, the National Political Reporter for National Review, has conducted an interview with Rusty Burke at National Review Online, focusing on the release of the two Best of REH volumes debuting this summer and fall. Lots of good red meat to savor here.

And for those who missed it, check out John’s article on Howard in The Wall Street Journal from late last year.

A Howardian Fourth


Happy Fourth of July to all of the loyal Cimmerian readers out there. Here’s hoping there’s a lot of parades and BBQs for you to indulge in, along with perhaps a visit to a military gravesite or cemetery. I’ll be checking in on and paying my respects to Admiral John Ford, my all-time favorite movie director (whose current residence, the magnificent Holy Cross Cemetery, is just down the street from where I live), before hoofing it over to the home of another veteran of World War II, Rah Hoffman, for some patriotic food and fun with him and Donald Sidney-Fryer.

To satisfy your Howard craving for the day, you can read my Fourth of July post from last year to learn about what Howard thought of this particular holiday. And in case that’s too much of a downer, I’m including a brighter note below, specifically a perceptive blast from the past in the form of a review of Howard’s first hardcover collection in the States, 1946’s Skull-Face and Others.

With John Haefele’s wonderful essay on this same book (from TC V3n9) snagging a Hyrkanian Award at this year’s Cimmerian Awards, it’s a good time to look back on a commentary about REH written way back before there was the large amount of criticism, correspondence, and other material available to sway readers. The reviewer in question, British fan Arthur Hillman, had to rely simply on what had appeared in Weird Tales and elsewhere during those years, and he proves himself more than up to the task, making more profound points about our favorite Texan in a few short paragraphs than most others do in a lifetime.


This review appeared in the premier issue of Fantasy Review, a British semi-pro fan magazine that began publication soon after World War II had ended, when after a lengthy drought British fans were finally able to reconnect with their American counterparts. Listen:

Book Reviews
A Howard Anthology
SKULL FACE AND OTHERS, by Robert E. Howard
Arkham House, Sauk City. $5.00
Reviewed by Arthur F. Hillman

Among the many stories contained in this long-awaited and much-heralded volume are some of the gems from the brilliant crown of the late Robert Ervin Howard, who needs no introduction to readers of weird fantasy. Such tales as “The Scarlet Citadel,” “Worms of the Earth,” and “The Shadow Kingdom” have the inspirational spark that breathed life and fire into the puppets and panoramas of the gifted Texan. In these, and others, his splendid vigour of expression are self-evident.

The addition to this collection of powerful stories of the “The Hyborian Age” (the imaginary historical framework around which many of his tales were set), and of “A Man-eating Jeopard,” that delightful character study of his own locale and upbringing, was also a happy choice. But what strikes a true Howard follower with something of a jarring note is the scarcity of “Conan” tales; those swashbuckling exploits of the Cimmerian adventurer whose savage resource and ruthless energy are a secret delight to our atavistic instincts.

Out of the 14 stories which appeared originally in Weird Tales, only five have been selected for this anthology by the productive Mr. Derleth. But he, probably conscious of the number of admirers of Conan the Barbarian, seems to have prepared his defence in advance of this criticism. His argument is that too many of Conan’s exploits, taken together, would sicken the reader with the total butchery and carnage involved.

To me this is sheer sophistry; the same excuse for a similar neglect might be applied equally to some of his other excellent volumes. One might as well say that too many of Lovecraft’s tales, taken together, would make his horrors small beer; that too much of Clark Ashton Smith’s exotic outpourings would bring on literary indigestion. But one does not drink a whole bottle of brandy without pause, and fantasy of a particular type should never be read in large quantities at one sitting. Such tales, delicate pieces of craftsmanship as they are, should be sampled sparingly, at a time and place specially suitable. This is only right and proper, as a reciprocal arrangement with the author who has lavished such care and attention on his work for your benefit.

Thus, with true discrimination, a reader could enjoy a whole bookful of Conan tales; and the present volume must be considered woefully inadequate in this respect. The two long stories, “Red Nails” and “The People of the Black Circle,” which are among the finest in the series, are both missing; instead we have “Skull Face,” which is very Sax Rhomerish and inferior to these two. For Howard’s imagination was soaring on stronger pinions as the years passed, and his earlier tales do not, in my opinion, compare with the promising epics he produced before his untimely death cut short his career.

Nonetheless, all true followers of Howard should get this book. But they should also insist that Mr. Derleth make expiation for his sins of omission and produce a second volume of stories of this natural-born writer, whose untamed genius puts to shame many of the stars in the literary firmament of today.

Don’t know about you, but I think that’s a stellar review, comparable with the short, somewhat contemporary piece written by Paul Spencer (and reprinted in our modern era in The Barbaric Triumph). And note that even in 1947 people were calling Howard’s most famous character Conan the Barbarian, not the “Conan the Cimmerian” championed by purists in our era. It seems that Hillman needed neither the comics of the 1970s nor the Gnome Press hardcover of the 1950s to prompt him to use that particular phrase.

I found the editorial of the first issue of Fantasy Review interesting for what it tells us about being a fan in those years, specifically how difficult it was to know what was even available. The editor was Walter Gillings, who was a central force in British fandom from the early ’30s until his death from heart attack in July, 1979. Gillings had a rough time in the war, as he was a conscientious objector and was fired from his job over his pacifist stance. But during those early years he founded Britain’s first fan group and edited a slew of important publications, and by the early ’50s more than a few people considered Fantasy Reviewthe most outstanding fanmag of all time.” Fantasy Review ran from 1947-1950, eighteen issues in total. But Gillings’ editorial in the first one is what struck me all these years later, filled as it is with talk of the War and the difficulties levied on fans of science fiction and the fantastic.


If your experience of science-fantasy goes back to the days when a magazine devoted to it was a rare discovery, you will probably remember Scientification — The British Fantasy Review. That there were in these islands at that time enough fantasy readers to justify a journal catering for their interests was a significant factor in the developments which followed. It was not long before the first British science fiction magazine, Tales of Wonder, appeared. Hard on its heels came Fantasy; and had it not been for the war, which separated most British readers from the American magazines as well, there is little doubt that the medium would by now have established itself firmly in the field of popular literature.

But the war did not stop the continued evolution of fantasy fiction in America, whence to a fortunate few have come evidences of a change for the better in the method of its presentation — not so much in magazines as in the more permanent form of books. This elevation of fantasy to a more distinguished sphere has brought an intense activity in the reading and collecting of volumes of both science and weird fiction, a trend which has had repercussions among well-informed readers on this side of the Atlantic.

With the return to peace and the effects of war-time influences on reading tastes, there is ample indication of a desire on the part of publishers on both sides to meet the increasing demand for fantasy. New magazines; new books; new publishing concerns specialising in the medium. The fantasy fan has no cause for complaint, now — except, perhaps, that there is nothing to keep him up to date with all the information he needs to pursue his fascinating hobby.

Hence FANTASY REVIEW. which has been revived under its new title to cover the entire field of fantasy fiction and its allied interests, to reflect its growing popularity here and abroad, and to serve the discriminating reader and collector. To fulfil this function, we have recruited experts in every branch of the medium to serve its readers, and we shall keep its columns open to all who wish to express their views on any aspect of the literature in which they delight. It is the journal of the fantasy reader — produced by fantasy readers. As such it should make a valuable contribution to the further development of the medium; and as a source of reliable information and guidance, it should be indispensable to all who are interested in any of its ramifications.


Too often we fail to comprehend the long and honorable legacy of the legions of fans who have come before us, and seldom to we stop to appreciate all of the hard work they put into popularizing the authors we revere, keeping their names and work in play through decades of neglect, until finally the stars aligned and a resurgence occurred. So on this day of remembrance and celebration, take a moment to offer silent thanks to the memories of men like Gillings and Hillman. If they hadn’t carried the torch through the greatest and most savage war the world had ever known, Howard and his fans would be much poorer for it.

AND ONE LAST LINK: Friend of The Cimmerian John J. Miller posted an amusing link over at The National Review that will elicit a chuckle from Cimmerian readers for sure. (for an encore, John should screen the hysterical Late Bloomer during the next NR cruise). And for those of you who are fans of Robert Heinlein, John’s got a great piece on the author’s centenary in the latest print edition of TNR, along with some thoughts on conservative sci-fi in general.

Steve adds: For this somewhat impure purist, Hillman’s use of “Conan the Barbarian” was rendered more palatable by his preceding reference to “the Cimmerian adventurer.” I like the notion of Howard’s later imagination “soaring on stronger pinions,” and it certainly behooves someone named Hillman to complain about the Derlethian snubbing of “The People of the Black Circle.” He might be unduly confident that no one drinks “a whole bottle of brandy without pause,” though.

A shame that Fantasy Review shut down in 1950; had they been able to stick it out until 1954 and 1955, they would have been well situated to comment on the single most gobsmacking postwar instance of the “elevation of fantasy to a more distinguished sphere.”

Howardian Cymbalism

Solomon Kane’s first words in “The Blue Flame of Vengeance” are a diverting quote-mashup. Jack Holinster is cursing up a storm in the “dim dream of waste lands and waste waters” that his local beach has become to him when he’s interrupted by a “deep vibrant voice”:

“Young man, your words are vain and wordly. They are as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Our steely-nerved Puritan duelist got the first half of that second sentence from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 1.13: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” (That letter-chapter is a hit factory that also offers “For now we see through a glass darkly,” “When I became a man I put away childish things,” and “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity” But Kane appends language from Act Five, Scene Five of Macbeth, wherein life is described (in William Faulkner-inspiring terms) as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Now it might be overthinking matters to attempt to assign date-brackets to “Blue Flame” by deducing from Kane’s borrowed words that he has to have read the King James Bible of 1611 and seen (un-Puritanically) a performance of Macbeth sometime between 1603 (the year the Stuarts took over from the Tudors and Shakespeare was looking to ingratiate himself with James I) and 1606 (allusions to the Gunpowder Plot have been read into the text). Howard might simply have enjoyed the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup-style “two great tastes that taste great together” effect of running the former Saul of Tarsus and the Scottish play together. After all, he pulled the same stunt, only more irreverently and working in even more from Corinthians, in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (page 112, during a seven-up game with the “boarding house gang”:

“Now abideth high, low, jack and game, and the greatest of these is high,” droned Steve Costigan, leading a king. “Yea, though I speak with the voice of trumps and of jacks, and have queens to move mountains, yet have not high, I am as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, full of kings and aces, signifyin’ game.”

That’s probably the funniest thing Steve says in the whole novel — let’s face it, he’s usually either a mope or a lout. Perhaps Howard began work on “Blue Flame” within a few months of finishing Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, or maybe his mashup just lodged in his memory. But there’s no better example of how he went to the King James Bible and Shakespeare early and often.