The Essential American Soul Is…

Manohla Dargis, formerly of the Los Angeles Times and now of the New York Times, can be an irritating film critic. But today, writing about Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers, she gets one as right as it is possible to get:

One view of Mr. Eastwood is that he has mellowed with age, or at least begun to take serious measure of the violence that has been an animating force in many of his films. In truth, the critical establishment caught up with the director, who for decades has been building a fascinating body of work that considers annihilating violence as a condition of the American character, not an aberration.

Annihilating violence as a condition of the American character; Dargis is of course paraphrasing D.H. Lawrence’s most famous epigram from Studies in Classic American Literature, the one that begins “The essential American soul…” Eastwood’s career has been an enactment of that Lawrentian insight ever since No Name rode into the bordertown of San Miguel on his mule, and Iwo Jima, the subject of Flags of Our Fathers and the inspiration, along with the even ghastlier charnelhouse Okinawa, for so much of postwar science fiction’s “bug hunt” iconography, is an appropriate coda, or near-coda, to that career.

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REH gets a Wikipedia facelift

If you recall, back in July I introduced Cimmerian readers to Wikipedia, the enormously popular free encyclopedia online, and encouraged fans to improve Howard’s rather weak entry. Well, exactly zero people took me up on the offer, so eventually I decided to improve it myself. The results are now up at Wikipedia for all to see.

I have included citations for the introductory paragraphs, and will try to add more as time permits. Howard’s biography has grown from a single small blurb that basically stated “He wrote a few stories and then killed himself” to a lengthy biography that attempts to touch on all of the major elements of his career. A Legacy section has been added, along with a Critical Appreciation section.

Most important to me, however, are the opening paragraphs which hit the reader as soon as they click on the page. The full scope of his achievement is presented in a few short paragraphs: “famous writer…creator of a literary icon…inventor of Sword-and-Sorcery…ranked with other great classic American authors.” This is the kind of thing that incoming interested parties should be reading, with citations for everything.

Of course, Wikipedia is a collaborative medium, and everyone who wants to can edit or change anything they want. My original entry has already undergone numerous emendations. A Lovecraft fan named Nareek changed “Conan the Cimmerian” to the less accurate “Conan the Barbarian”, giving the rationale that the character has been known by that appellation since 1954 (and even though Howard has been dead since 1936, and even though Wandering Star’s textual restorations make sure to use “Cimmerian”). A de Camp crone has also dove in and changed all of my fairly neutral yet accurate descriptions to pro-de Camp propaganda, using de Camp’s own technique of subtly altering the wordage to benefit Sprague, the same way Wagner’s Berkley introductions were cleansed. Nareek, who although primarily a Lovecraft fan seems to have taken it upon himself to monitor Howard’s page, deleted some of the de Camp-skewed changes, so the fight is on.

Someone else (I’m guessing [redacted]) added information about the World Fantasy Convention and Mark’s forthcoming biography. It won’t be long now before all of my carefully worded prose will be edited and mangled beyond recognition, some of it an improvement, much of it inaccurate. But that’s the Wikipedia way, and it’s fine by me. If I want my words to remain untouched, I’ll write a book or a personal website. But the important thing is now the REH Wikipedia page has a substantial amount of information on it for people to play with and savor. There’s also a crystal-clear version of the famous REH picture gracing the page, which you can click on for higher-resolution versions.

With luck, people visiting this page to learn about Howard will now leave there being much more informed. So go over, read through the whole works, and if you see something that you think you could improve, click on “edit” and have at it. Maybe read the Wikipedia guidelines first so you aren’t doing more harm than good (i.e. things like including details that are outside of the scope of an encyclopedia, or putting too much of a personal slant on your writing, or listing things that cannot be verified or cited by existing texts.) And if you’re feeling adventurous, create some of the other pages Howard needs there, like a page for your favorite story, or for Howard’s parents, or for his lesser-known friends, or for different editions of books.

I’ve also been seeding Howard into other areas of Wikipedia where I think he deserves to be mentioned. For example, he is now on the list of American autodidacts. He is also listed on the Jack London page as a guy who was influenced by London. The possibilities are almost limitless. I noticed that REH is not listed on the H. P. Lovecraft page in the “influences” section — I don’t want to know what kind of outrage such a move would unleash in Lovecraft-land. In any case, the REH page is now a going concern, nudging him that much higher in the grand scheme of things. Enjoy.

MARK ADDS: Outstanding work, Leo. No, it wasn’t me that added the WFC info, but you will notice my fingerprints on the Sailor Steve Costigan entry.

What Would She Say About Howard Fans?

Me, I’ve never had any strong opinion about the late Steve Irwin, although I agree with him that “Crocs rule!” (While watching the old Tarzan films on TV as a child, I used to pray for a riled-up river dragon to play catch-and-non-release with Johnny Weissmuller, holding him underwater and thereby sparing us Jungle Jim).

So if I mention that militant-enough-to-give-harridans-a-bad-name academic Germaine Greer crashed the wake all of Australia seems to be staging for Irwin to fault him for “massive insensitivity” and “jumping all over crocodiles” like the worst kind of whip-cracking, chair-prodding lion-tamer, it’s only because it affords me an excuse to trot out my favorite Greer-bite. The success of the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films and the tendency of the Tolkien source material to top readers’ poll after readers’ poll in the U.K. for Book of the (20th) Century caused her no end of distress, and in 2003 she finally let fly at the LOTR readership as consisting of “spaced-out hippies, environmentalists, free-market libertarians, social conservatives, pacifists, new-age theosophists, sexists and racists the world over.” It is to be hoped that such strange bedfellows have been taking advantage of the opportunity, and the bed, to make many more Tolkien (and even some Howard) fans…

LEO ADDS: My favorite Greer moment: vomiting over “a cesspool of garbage” on Celebrity Big Brother, in the processes metaphorically summing up her formidable cultural influence.

“The Everlasting Barbarian” online


Some of you may have heard that my article “The Everlasting Barbarian: Robert E. Howard at 100 Years” is now available in the August/September issue of Weird Tales (#341). What you may not know is that Weird Tales has finally revamped their website to reflect the new editorial vision of Wildside’s John Betancourt, and that as part of this they have posted my article online for all to read. So if you haven’t seen it yet, head over to their site and check it out.

The goal of the article was to get something about Howard’s centennial into the magazine he helped make famous seven decades ago. Lots has changed since the last time many WT readers had Howard on their radar (circa 1970), and some may be surprised at all they have missed. I agree with various people who have told me that a single article in one issue is a rather weak attempt at a Howardian celebration, and that Weird Tales should have had a tribute issue filled with articles, reviews, pictures, classic Howardian art, and rousing examples of Howard’s best fiction and poetry. But beggars can’t be choosers, and it’s nice to have Howard represented in a way that gives him a fair shake in such a venue, without the sneers and guffaws that too often accompany any mention of the Texan by genre critics.

When I was in San Francisco visiting with Don Herron, Scott Connors, Dennis Rickard, and Ron Hilger (among others) I flipped through Scott’s copy of #341 and was astounded to read the announcement that WT had not received a single letter of comment on their last issue. With The Cimmerian, the task too often is trying to find room for all of the letters that pour in regularly (in June I was reduced to using a font size that bordered on the microscopic). So if you read my article, drop WT a line telling them whether you liked it or hated it, and what else they might do to honor Howard in his centennial year. I’m sure Darrell Schweitzer (a regular Cimmerian contributor and a great friend of the journal) and the other editors of WT would appreciate the feedback.

And if you like the article online, consider buying the issue. At $5.95 it’s a good bargain considering all of the fiction you get, including a new story by another friend of The Cimmerian, Howard Days 2004 Guest of Honor Bob Weinberg. (you can read my Howardian-themed interview of Weinberg here).

The Centennial Push


The latest sign that Howard’s centennial year marks a critical watershed for the author is the news that a poor reading copy (!?!) of A Gent from Bear Creek (Jenkins, 1937) has just sold on eBay for a “Buy It Now!” price of $8500 (hat tip: Damon Sasser). Cimmerian readers will recall that a mere four years ago I purchased a much better copy of this book for $3700 ($4000 once the currency exchange was figured in), at a time when there were less known copies of the book than there are now.

Granted, $8500 isn’t first edition Dracula numbers yet, but it’s a huge jump in four years, even as more copies of the book have been discovered. And don’t forget, this copy of the book was in terrible condition. What does this say about the Howard Museum copy, which I thought was in pretty bad condition at the time, but which now looks to be under-insured at $10,000? And my God, what does this say about Glenn Lord’s pristine copy, the only one in the world with the dustjacket intact (although other dustjackets exist in English library archives), and one that is signed “August Derleth’s copy,” giving it that extra bit of cachet? Would Glenn’s book fetch Dracula numbers?

Interesting questions all, and their sum total indicates a sign of Howardian permanence the likes of which we have never seen. In the past, Howard’s reputation has risen and fell with the vagaries of the market and the waxing and waning interest in fantasy. Like so many other authors, he was a big fish in a small pond, a niche guy. Perhaps it’s a little too early to claim victory over this long-time state of affairs, but I don’t think so. The last few years have seen huge jumps in collector’s prices, tons of Howard roaring into print, new Howard magazines thriving, and perhaps most importantly more Big Media news coverage than ever before. Both the Cross Plains fire and Howard Days hit CNN and USA Today, and Pulitzer-Prize winning book columnist Michael Dirda gave Howard a birthday tribute in the Washington Post.

And now, with the centennial closing and fans preparing for the 2006 World Fantasy Convention — where Howard is the theme of this year’s festivities — we have a poor copy of a Howard book selling for eight g’s and change. It’s becoming more clear every day that Howard has burst through an invisible ceiling of some sort, and catapulted himself into a stratospheric orbit that isn’t likely to fail anytime soon. He’s becoming more mainstream, more acceptable to mix in polite society. A century on, he’s also benefiting from the strange effect that age has on things, making them seem more important and authoritative simply by virtue of their distance from our time. How lucky that Howard wrote in such a way that his work remains modern and accessible even as the passing of time grants him classic status.

It’s somewhat of a relief to realize that we can begin relaxing a bit and start solidifying other aspects of Howard’s legacy without ceaselessly worrying about keeping a sputtering engine churning over the next hill. He’s flying now, low to the ground perhaps, but flying steadily and serenely nonetheless. And I for one am enjoying the view.

ROB ADDS: Bill Thom, over at Howard Works, tells me that the book is headed for a private collection in Canada and has the following information about the book:

It has a Boots Book Slip at the first page of text, as well as a Boots
Lending slip on the verso of the rear cover.

Mysteries of Time and Spirit, One in Particular

What a relief it is to turn from the troll droppings and toxic testosterone of the Novalyne-Killed-My-Favorite-Writer mouth-breathers online to words written by those who were actually alive and alert in 1936. The first few references to Robert E. Howard in the 2002 Night Shade Books volume Mysteries of Time and Spirit: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei, edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, are merely incidental, then, in a letter dated October 19, 1932, Lovecraft tells Wandrei “Just got a fine set of rattlesnake rattles from Robert E. Howard. His letter accompanying them is a veritable prose-poem with the unconquerable serpent as its theme.” How much would those rattles, known to have been handled by 2 greats, fetch at a weird fiction-themed memorabilia auction today? Ah well, chances are they would have been “borrowed” in the late 70s and never returned to whoever was their rightful owner at that point…

On March 28, 1932 HPL is still coming to grips with “a 22-page (closely typed) argumentative epistle from Two-Gun Bob, the Terror of the Plains.” On December 6, 1935, he dismisses most of the new Weird Tales: “Nothing of any merit in it except Klarkash-ton’s “Chain of Aforgomon”—that is, nothing short. Two-Gun’s serial may be good, but I never read serials until I have all the parts.” (By the time of his June 20, 1936 letter to CAS, Lovecraft had the complete Hour of the Dragon, which he pronounced “really splendid” despite some reservations about chronic carnage and the nomenclature that always affected him like itching powder poured down the back of his collar). In that same letter he reacts with amusement to “how quickly [in “The Challenge from Beyond”] Two-Gun made a rip-roaring sanguinary Conan out of the mild & scholarly George Campbell.” And then, much sooner than would be preferable, Letter #234, from Lovecraft to Wandrei on June 24, 1936, is the next in the sequence. After expressing concern about an accident that befell Wandrei’s sister-in-law, Lovecraft writes “A more tragic and less remediable blow is one which has just hit weird fictiondom in a very vital spot—a disaster which I can scarcely bring myself to believe.” He himself has learned the news “in the form of card (without particulars) from Miss Moore.”

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Historical Accuracy in Howard’s Fiction


While browsing around the net, looking over various Howard sites and researching some other posts I am planning for you, I came across a short Howard blurb at the Fantastic Fiction website. This is a bibliographic site seemingly created by a good-hearted fan of the genre, one without an axe to grind, save the one used to break down walls between various authors of the mystifying and the macabre. Notably, the website seems to be updated regularly, given the number of as-yet-unpublished Howard books advertised on the page.

The REH blurb located there is typical for such a site, giving an all-too-short overview of Howard’s career, mentioning stories “notable for their violent energy,” tossing in a reference to the pastiches, and of course highlighting the suicide. There are numerous little quibbles to be found — Schwarzenegger is spelled wrong, and anyone calling de Camp a “pious friend” of Howard’s might want to lease out space in whatever fortified bunker Gary Romeo has bastioned himself in down Texas way. But what most captivated my attention was the theory proposed for why Howard embraced invented epochs as settings:

Some of the pulp fiction of the short-lived Texan Robert E. Howard are straightforward Westerns or historical romance; his contribution to the history of fantasy was to realize that setting his stories of ruthless hard men in Atlantis or a mythical age shortly after its fall enabled him to write without the trammels of historical accuracy.

This is written as if it is a point of pride, a notable accomplishment on Howard’s part. But too often such praise grows faint when set under the shadow of an old argument in Howard studies, the idea that Howard’s Conan stories are a mishmash and a hodgepodge of various time-periods, with some critics opining that Howard did it that way out of laziness and the need to write fast. In other words, so he could deftly avoid worrying about the “trammels of historical accuracy.”

Others such as myself believe that this technique, as executed by REH, was ultimately far more mash than mish, an ingenious way for him to manipulate our expectations of historical accuracy in order to comment on history, Time, and the everlasting barbarism of man. To shock his readers with similarities not of the body — costumes, dialects, anachronisms — but of the soul. In other words, he meant to do it, planned it that way, often meticulously and by great mental and artistic exertion on his part. That in fact he took far longer to write stories containing such themes than if he had truly swore off historical accuracy.

Folks who disagree with this, who insist that Howard wrote fast and furious for the pulps with too-little regard for the substance of the tale’s milieu, are able to score a few cheap points off of various typos and word usages found in the Conan stories (swords jumping from the ground back into the scabbard, three mutually exclusive words to describe the same helmet, the key invention of stirrups appearing in Howard’s historical episodes long before they actually did in our own). But once that thin gruel is exhausted, such critics have much to answer for. Numerous articles have been written about the often uncanny historical accuracy to be found in Howard’s stories, from the usage of what was then accepted 1920’s history for the backstory of his Picts and Aryan barbarians, to the way he described guns and other implements of the Wild West, to the nuanced way Howard differentiated the trappings of armor, weapons, and battle tactics in historical tales set in the far east or in the Muslim lands of the Middle Ages. To dedicated readers of Howard, and E. Hoffmann Price’s well-known scoffing notwithstanding, it is clear that Howard invested far more time and effort into historical accuracy than he is usually given credit for. Howard even studied Gaelic and other languages as much as he could in the desolate isolation of turn-of-the-century Texas, presaging similar techniques being used at the same time by the then-Hobbitless J.R.R. Tolkien in his private thoughts and notebooks. Slipshod critics have written much about Howard’s invented names without copping to the fact that many of them — Conan, anyone? — were used with precision, expressly geared towards the evocation of historic continuity.

Many visitors to this blog have already read J. D. Charles’ exposition on “REH and Guns” for The Cimmerian (V3n1) or the two great El Borak essays written for TC by Dave Hardy (“The Great Game” in V1n2 and “Indomitable Wildness, Unquenchable Vitality” for V3n4), each of which lends credence to the idea that Howard cared much about historical accuracy. There are many more excellent essays on the subject out there — those of you wishing for a less raucous, more academically sanctioned argument can pick up a copy of the MLA indexed, peer-reviewed The Dark Man #5 for Winter 2001 and read Ed Waterman‘s “Dating ‘Wolfshead’,” which postulates (successfully to my mind) that Howard was such a stickler for historical accuracy that the unnamed time period in which the plot of the story occurs can be dated to within a few years, based on an analysis of words and archaisms that REH may well have employed with meticulous exactitude. These are only a few examples off the top of my head; there are many others.

And one only has to turn to the writings of REH fans such as Cimmerian Award-winner Dale Rippke to realize that the Hyborian Age and Kull’s Atlantis achieve their verisimilitude not only via REH’s mythic prose sparkling with “dusky, emerald witch-light,” but from Howard’s decision not to use historical allusions merely for expediency. Clearly he did his best to set his fantasy tales in a world linked to ours by race, war, thunderous migrations, and above all the hatreds and violence that have always dogged mankind, and always will. Howard was perfectly capable of writing within the trammels of historical accuracy, and to the degree that his fantasy stories — that all good fantasy stories — stray from real history, they do so in measured, thoughtful ways that serve not to free the author from history so much as bind the reader more fully to the inescapable truths of Life and Humanity.

When we finish reading “Beyond the Black River,” with its evocative conjuring of the battles for the heart and soul of the American West, who among us feels that REH used such a setting merely to be able to write westerns without worrying about accurately describing the warpaint of the Indians or the caliber of the settlers’ rifles? How silly. But get to the last lines of the tale, savor Howard’s thematic denouement, and a more audacious goal becomes clear:

“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,” the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. “Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”

I would argue that the impact of those lines has nothing to do with fantasy per se, or with Conan, or with mere poetry or wordplay on Howard’s part. What gives them such resonance is exactly what the unnamed writer at Fantastic Fiction is criticizing: it is the fact that they are from a fantasy story that feels for all intents and purposes like a Western which gives the tale an epic sweep and timeless view of humanity that lingers long in the minds of readers. The reason so much fantasy fails and feels little more than a pastiche of Howard or Tolkien is that the writers mistake invented worlds and fantastic trappings for escape, whereas the best writers use invented realms as dreamcatchers, binding us to the tie-ribs of reality in ways otherwise impossible. A western, written with meticulous accuracy to time and place, is too often just a Western. “Beyond the Black River” is a Western too, you bet it is; but in it we find reality writ large, looming over and transcending time and place to highlight the dark, fathomless, often horrifying inner soul of mankind, replaying its grim tragedy through Age after Age.

Most interesting is how Howard’s best modern-day, “historically accurate” tales do the same thing the other way around. “The Vultures of Wahpeton,” for example, is widely considered to be Howard’s most successfully executed Western. Based on an actual historical episode, the life and death of Hendry Brown, it is one of the Howard stories being groomed for movie production by Paradox Entertainment (see the forthcoming The Cimmerian V3n7 for details). And yet in this outwardly western tale of gunfights, outlaws, and American sensibilities, let us pause and dwell for a moment on the savage incursions of near-Hyborian mysticism that intrude on the proceedings:

He hated Glanton with the merciless hate of his race, which is more enduring and relentless than the hate of an Indian or Spaniard…his creed was pagan and nakedly elemental.

The merciless hate of his race? What race would that be? The “race” of Rugged Westerner? Irish/Gael?

Ancient Cimmerian?

Howard gives us more hints, as he describes the western boomtown wherein he sets his tale of gold and gloom:

Here there were no delicate shadings or subtle contrasts. Life painted here in broad, raw colors, in bold, vivid strokes. Men who came here left behind them the delicate nuances, the cultured tranquilities of life. An empire was being built on muscle and guts and audacity, and men dreamed gigantically and wrought terrifically. No dream was too mad, no enterprise too tremendous to be accomplished.

Sound like a Western? Or one of the many “escapes” to lands of fantastic deeds and superhuman heroes that Howard is usually credited with? Is this Wahpeton, or Aquilonia?

And how does one explain the mythic, iconic Conan-ness that Howard deftly injects into the gunplay:

Middleton stared wildly about him, through the floating blue fog of smoke that veiled the room. In that fleeting instant, as he glimpsed Corcoran’s image-like face, he felt that only in such a setting as this did the Texan appear fitted. Like a somber figure of Fate he moved implacably against a background of blood and slaughter.

And again:

Middleton’s hand was a streak to his gun butt. Even in that flash he knew he was beaten — heard Corcoran’s gun roar just as he pulled trigger. He swayed back, falling, and in a blind gust of passion Corcoran emptied both guns into him as he crumpled.

For a long moment that seemed ticking into Eternity the killer stood over his victim, a somber, brooding figure that might have been carved from the iron night of the Fates.

That iron night of the Fates stretches, in Howard’s hands, from the American West all the way back to the Hyborian Age and beyond, linked together in Howard’s writings by a witch’s brew of imagery, theme, and “historical accuracy” in the truest sense. Howard’s great achievement in fantasy wasn’t to escape reality, but to confront it in a grandiose, human struggle, the epic nature of which could not be summoned with quite as much thematic power any other way.

Conan the Wikipedian


The website Wikipedia is one of the great success stories of the Internet. A free, online encyclopedia, it has gained its widespread prestige and usefulness from the fact that it can be edited by anybody, at any time, as often as needed. This allows an expert in any field to create and maintain entries describing the subject of their expertise, even ones far too esoteric to make it into any regular encyclopedia. As entries pile up (as they have at a ferocious pace ever since Wikipedia’s debut in 2001) other experts can flesh out and correct what has been posted. Entries grow longer, more detailed, more accurate…and before you know it, the world’s largest, most comprehensive encyclopedia has been typed into existence, open-source style. All free, forever. Pretty cool, especially if you have childhood nightmares of desperately rushing to the library before closing time to copy a page from an encyclopedia — usually because your kid brother had used the family copy as a skateboard ramp.

The result of this experiment, on the whole, has been enormously positive. Wikipedia has its share of entries which are heavily disputed and fought over, as various experts with differing political points of view strive to wrest hot-button topics from the grip of other partisans. But for the vast majority of entries, Wikipedia has become a reliable and incredibly deep resource for just about anything you would care to learn. Over one million articles have been posted, many of staggering complexity and detail. For many current Internet users, the first thing they do online when confronted with a new person, event, or subject — even before Googling it — is head over to Wikipedia and look it up.

But crucially, all Wikipedia entries are not created equal. Some are sparsely and poorly written, others give only one side of the story. Unfortunately, the entries for Robert E. Howard and his work currently fall into this category. Howard’s main entry is threadbare and heavily slanted toward the de Campian viewpoint that predominated twenty years ago. His biography takes up all of six paragraphs, the bulk of which concerns his suicide. The rest is on the whole pedestrian and shallow, failing to achieve the level of a genre encyclopedia entry, like the one in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy.

To add insult to injury, many other Wiki entries for famous authors, such as the one for H. P. Lovecraft, are far more comprehensive. Even the entry for L. Sprague de Camp dwarfs the Howard entry, containing a long list of de Camp’s books and much other information.

But remember, this is Wikipedia — poor entries do not have to remain that way. As the website proclaims, “On Wikipedia, and its sister projects, you are welcome to be bold and edit articles yourself, contributing knowledge as you see fit in a collaborative way. So go ahead!” Any Howard fan with the time and inclination can add to Howard’s entry, scrap whole sections and replace them with better ones, and build additional entries for all of Howard’s characters, stories, biographical compatriots (Tevis Clyde Smith, Truett Vinson, etc.), and so on.

With more readers taking advantage of Wikipedia and making it a major stop on the information superhighway, it behooves us Howard fans to make his entry a shining light in the cyber-gloom. If a dozen people each added one story entry a week, soon every one of REH’s stories would have its own page, easily expandable whenever more information rolls in.

In addition, there are Wikipedia “sister sites” that need more Howard contributions. Wikisource is similar to the website Project Gutenberg, which archives texts of original documents — stories, letters, poems. Some Howard items are already there, but it could use a lot more. And just like with Wikipedia, if you see errors in the text, you can edit them out of existence. Wikiquote houses famous quotations, but Howard is represented by a mere three. Why not spend a few moments to post your favorites? Entries on words such as “Cimmerian” could possibly be tweaked with a Howard slant at the Wiktionary. There is even a Conan Wiki, which is setup to act as an information repository for anything and everything about the famous Cimmerian, whether you’re discussing the one from Howard’s original stories or the ones from the various pastiches.

For years, I have often fantasized about designing a Howard database on the Internet, one holding everything we could think to include about the author. Story summaries, character lists, concordances, lesson plans for school, pictures, video, e-texts. With Wikipedia we have the next best thing, or perhaps even a better thing: a place for Howard information that can be accessed and improved by anybody. So if you have ever had the urge to write about Two-Gun Bob, head on over to Wikipedia, punch up “Robert E. Howard,” and get to work. Let’s see if, between the lot of us, we can make Howard’s entry into something special.

Howard at the Post Office

While spending the requisite hours at the post office mailing packages containing the June issue and Volume 2 of The Cimmerian Library (yes, they are finally on the way), I was surprised to bump into not one but two people who had heard of Robert E. Howard.

First, my teller asked me what was in the packages. “Books,” I said.

“What kind of books?”

“Sort of like a literary journal about an author.”

“Neat. Which author?”

“Robert E. Howard.”

“Oh, I think I’ve heard of him. That guy who wrote the Conan books, right? I read those when I was a kid.”

It’s not very often you get that kind of name recognition for REH. After a bit more small talk, the guy asked, “So what’s in the latest issue.”

“Oh some stuff about a festival that happens each year in his home town.”

That’s when a customer at the next teller pipes up with, “That happens in Cross Plains, right?” Now I start wondering if I’m on candid camera.

“Yeah, Cross Plains.”

“OK. I’m into pulps and stuff, that’s why I’ve heard about it. Bob Weinberg told me he went down there a few years ago.”

“Yeah, that’s right, he was Guest of Honor.”

“He owns the rights to Weird Tales.”

“Well, not anymore. He sold them to Wildside Press.”

“Oh, really?”

The final exchange was kind of fun. The guy asks, “So how many people do you get down there? Most pulp gatherings like that have only twenty people or so.” I was able to proudly reply, “A slow year is about a hundred, but this year is Howard’s centennial, so we had about three hundred.” The guy, probably used to PulpCon or Burroughs Dum-Dums, seemed suitably impressed.

Like Mark said a few posts back, Howard’s name is seeping into various nooks and crannies of the literary world. Growing his name and reputation, one reader at a time.

Maybe Not A Boom, But A Drumbeat

I thought about inaugurating this blog by pointing out just how mistaken Patrice Louinet, the prolific and otherwise perceptive Howard scholar, is in his belief that Monica Bellucci would make a better Dark Agnes de la Fere than would the French actress Virginie Ledoyenmais non! Bellucci would be hard pressed to get out of the way of her own mammaries while fencing. But instead I’m going to revisit TC V3n5, which is fondly remembered in Tompkinsian precincts as The Special Apoplexy Issue. Gary Romeo’s “Viagra for the Soul,” Richard A. Lupoff’s “Long Ago and Far Away,” and Leon Nielsen’s “Pseudo Boom” all contained assertions that had me glimpsing the world through an echt-Howardian crimson mist for hours after I encountered them.

Each and every paragraph of Nielsen’s “Pseudo Boom” could not be more sincere in its concern, from a bookseller-cum-collector’s perspective, about How Well Howard Is Doing. Such a perspective is of course valid and valuable, but hardly panoptic — monitoring eBay transactions can tell us a lot about copies sold, but next to nothing about worlds rocked and doors opened. Nielsen overlooks or under-esteems significant developments while bizarrely fawning upon the Baen Books Howard paperbacks of the mid-90s, which he applauds for their “higher degree of textually pure versions” and “Ken Kelly’s splendid cover paintings.” (Splendid? Seriously, splendid? Like I said, Special Apoplexy Issue) He contrasts the scads of reprintings of the Lancer/Ace/Sphere Conans — Gary Romeo used to hand them out at homeless shelters and Vegan restaurants once a month — with the lone printing of the Baens, but we need to keep in mind that the latter were packaged with covers representing Kelly at his worst rather than those that represented Frazetta at his best, and were unified as a series only by their author, not by a gigantomorphic protagonist.

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