Tarzan the Rebooted

History is littered with examples of brands trying to reinvent themselves to appeal to a new generation, but for one of literature’s most successful franchises, all that’s required is a return to its roots – literally. Since he first swung onto the world stage in 1912 the bare-chested, savage yet principled character of Tarzan has struck a chord with generation after generation as he fights to protect the jungle, its resources and its inhabitants. Now, almost a hundred years later, a partnership between the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate and one of Britain’s hottest writers is set to bring Tarzan the Eco Warrior to the PlayStation generation, with a new series of Tarzan novels.

Above is the first paragraph of an article posted on Bill Thom’s Coming Attractions website last weekend. I assume it all originated as a press release from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. The ERB estate would seem to have big plans in store for the iconic Lord of the Jungle.

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Another Frazetta Painting Up for Auction

Heritage Auction Galleries is handling the consignment of a Frazetta painting that is probably well-known to most Sword-and-Sorcery art devotees. Here’s the description from the website:

Warrior with Ball and Chain, Flashing Swords #1, paperback cover, 1973

Oil on board

23 x 19 in.

Signed lower right

This stirring, savage, and superb Frazetta masterwork, sometimes titled Warrior with Ball and Chain, first appeared on the cover of the sword and sorcery anthology edited by Lin Carter, Flashing Swords #1, Dell Books #2640, 1973.

One of the top Frazetta paintings in private hands, Warrior with Ball and Chain was purchased in the February 1993 Guernsey’s auction, and according to its listing there, is one of the largest Frazetta covers ever painted. Some aficionados feel his piece may have been originally created for the Lancer Conan series of the late sixties, but not used there, since the Conan figures of two of the Lancer covers are so similar to the Warrior.

A copy of the Flashing Swords #1 paperback is included with this lot.

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A Gray Misty Realm of Clouds and Icy Winds


Another snowstorm is on the way, and I’m starting to feel like I’m living in Cimmeria.  The last two weeks or so, East Tennessee has been alternating between cold rainy days, cold snowy days, and cold cloudy days, with the sun hardly every to be seen.  The cold rainy days predominate, and those are my least favorite. It reminds me of what Howard, and Lamb before him, wrote about the dark wooded hills of Cimmeria.  The gloomy weather breeds gloomy inhabitants, and I have to wonder if a sort of idea of Seasonal Affective Disorder existed in Howard’s mind long before such a term was ever coined. Texas winters can be harsh, despite its southern latitudes. Thus the dismal religion built around the god Crom, famously described in “Queen of the Black Coast”:

“Their chief is Crom. He dwells on a great mountain. What use to call on him? Little he cares if men live or die. Better to be silent than to call his attention to you; he will send you dooms, not fortune! He is grim and loveless, but at birth he breathes power to strive and slay into a man’s soul. What else shall men ask of the gods?” 
“But what of the worlds beyond the river of death?” she persisted.
“There is no hope here or hereafter in the cult of my people,” answered Conan. “In this world men struggle and suffer vainly, finding pleasure only in the bright madness of battle; dying, their souls enter a gray misty realm of clouds and icy winds, to wander cheerlessly throughout eternity.”

Thus also the comments in “Phoenix on the Sword” about Conan being unlike his fellow Cimmerians in that he can laugh. I also remember a comment in a letter to Lovecraft where Howard suggests the winter weather of New England might have been partly to blame for the dour fanaticism of the Pilgrim colonies. Oh well; at least East Tennessee winters are comparatively short.

The Sword-and-Sorcery Legacy of Clark Ashton Smith

Clark Ashton Smith gets credit for a lot of things, at least by those who are aware of his work. He was arguably the first poet to versify from a truly cosmic viewpoint when he wrote his legendary “The Hashish-Eater.” His poetry and prose, as well as his inimitable drawings, paintings and sculptures, captured the attention and respect of H.P. Lovecraft, who name-checked CAS in his own tales more than any writer, even Dunsany. Smith was a highly valued correspondent of Robert E. Howard. Clark Ashton Smith was admired by (and sometimes mentored) younger authors such as Bradbury, C.L. Moore and Leiber. His tales of Zothique were patent inspirations for later works by Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe.

One thing that Clark Ashton Smith decidedly does not receive much credit for is being one of the founding fathers of the heroic fantasy genre. On this, his one hundred and seventeenth birthday, I’d like to give him his due.

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Chant and Empire

This may be known to some of you, but apparently the Howard poem Black Chant Imperial”, which was accepted by Weird Tales in June of 1930, and published that September, was a kind of first draft to another poem, Empire: A Song for All Exiles. The Complete Poetry makes this glaringly apparent by placing the poems back to back on pages 123-5, while inexplicably leaving off the subtitle. And Steve Eng calls the latter a “variant” of the first in his intro (page xlv), while also naming it a “howling ballad in thudding trochees.” Trochees are metric feet in which a stressed syllable alternates with an unstressed one. Wikipedia notes that trochaic form is rarely perfect in English, aside from The Song of Hiawatha, but notes also The Raven as an example.  Howard no doubt was familiar with both.

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The Good Old Witch

Steve [Tompkins]once mentioned to me that it is worth considering why there is an almost complete lack of Mother-figures in Howard’s work. Is that big black hole where the hero’s mother should be indicative of some parental neurosis? Perhaps…but examples of stories lacking any mention of the hero’s mother are legion, and — thinking specifically of the pulp jungle — the last thing readers wanted was some old lady taking screen time away from the hero and damsel in distress. Those Brundage covers would start getting pretty scary.
–Leo Grin, In Defense of Hester Jane Ervin Howard

There is one mother figure that does stand out, as if to be the exception that proves the rule.  And that is the old witch Zelata, from The Hour of the Dragon.
True, her “children” are a wolf and an eagle, but her reception of the fugitive king, offering food and shelter (and death to his enemies) is quite motherly. She also shows him visions of things that have happened, and offers sound advice.  She is described as straight and tall, with clear-cut and aquiline features, not those of a common peasant woman. Howard clearly wanted this character to be impressive, and succeeded at making her so. In a fictional world full of sirens and sex toys, voluptuous babes and evil vixens, Zelata definitely stands out.

Weird Yuletide Tales, Past and Present

Yukon versus the Bumble

Those who hunger for Yultide fables with a different spin can find such here in the archives of The Cimmerian.

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Doc versus Bumble! The fate of Christmas hangs in the balance…



I discovered this cover for a Doc novel that “should have been” over at James Reasoner’s most excellent site, Rough Edges. From there, it was but one more click to Kez Wilson’s Doc Savage Fantasy Cover Gallery.

It’s been nearly three decades since I read a Doc Savage book, but I’ve still got a soft spot for the Man of Bronze. Lester Dent, a pulpster from the Midwestern hinterlands, was a man of incredible energy and that often came through in his novels, which he cranked out at a jaw-dropping pace.

Looking over some of Wilson’s other fantasy Doc covers, ones like Devil Doctor reminded me that Doc’s stories were basically “weird menace” tales, tales just like REH’s own “Black Wind Blowing” or “Skull-Face“.

Here’s hoping that Mr. Wilson doesn’t stop with these covers. Merry Christmas.

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.

Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar From Planet Stories (Paizo)

ishtar-paizo-finalI enjoyed the rare and original fantasy of [The Ship of Ishtar], and have kept it longer than I should otherwise, for the sake of re-reading certain passages that were highly poetic and imaginative. Merritt has an authentic magic, as well as an inexhaustible imagination.

Clark Ashton Smith

Klarkash-Ton, as usual, was right on the money. As one who recognized a kindred genius and spirit in Robert E. Howard long before the majority of his peers, CAS knew magic, poetry and imagination when he beheld it.

My copy of the Paizo edition of The Ship of Ishtar came in the other day. Despite the fact that I own three other imprints of this fantasy classic, I’d been anticipating the delivery of this edition for months. Erik Mona and his crack team of pulp-hounds at Planet Stories have outdone themselves on this project. Going back to the 1949 Borden “Memorial Edition,” they have issued the most complete text in sixty years, included all of the classic Virgil Finlay illustrations from two different editions (something never done before) and allowed Merritt (and CAS and REH and HPL) fan, Tim Powers, to write the introduction.

Powers, a noted author in his own right, was an inspired choice. The man gets Merritt. His introduction, entitled, “On These Strange Seas In This Strange World,” is one of the best analyses and tributes devoted to The Ship of Ishtar that I have read. Here’s one passage:

This novel, like the Ship of Ishtar itself, is timeless — the opposite of timely — and in fact it may not be possible to write a book like this in these present times. Somehow, in the early 1920s, Merritt managed to write a genuinely pagan book, one that simply didn’t deal with, but assumed, the pre-Christian fatalist dualism, with its particular loyalties and indifferent cruelties. A modern writer would not let Kenton deal with slaves and conquered crews the way he does, and would be constantly aware of Freud and political correctness. A modern writer, that is to say, would not be able to unselfconsciously let his story play out naturally, with no placatory gestures toward modern sensibilities.

Exactly. When The Ship of Ishtar hit the stands in 1924 between the covers of Argosy All-Story magazine, nothing like it had ever seen print in American popular culture. Despite being drenched in blood, sex and the supernatural, the American public took to the novel like Islam to the desert. Merrit’s ground-breaking work would eventually go through twenty-plus printings and sell millions before the end of the twentieth century. It would seem almost certain that Robert E. Howard, a long-time and faithful reader of Argosy, was one of those millions of readers.

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