From the Muck?


I’ve long believed that Edgar Rice Burroughs tenth novel, The Mucker, had a stronger impact on Robert E. Howard than those of Burrough’s works featuring his better-known characters. This occurred to me when I worked up a small article on the evolution of Conan’s character; how the wandering barbarian is at first a careless thief, than a mercenary soldier and pirate, and at last evolves into a responsible frontier scout, and finally a benevolent king. Burough’s Billy Byrne undergoes an even more drastic change of character though the two lengthy serials that ran in “All-Story Cavalier Weekly” in 1914 and 1916, and gathered together in book form in 1921. We do not know for sure if Howard read the magazine appearances, but the book was among those in his library, along with several other works by Burroughs.
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The Duke of Americana, Thirty Years Gone

“I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people and I require the same from them.”

John Wayne in The Shootist (1976).

My general awareness of Marion Morrison, aka, “John Wayne,” started early on. My father (along with my paternal grandfather) was and is a John Wayne shootistfan. I was probably viewing John Wayne flicks in the cradle. My specific knowing of whom John Wayne was, without a doubt, began when I watched a broadcast of True Grit right before I entered the double-digit stage of my lifespan.

John Wayne, portraying Rooster Cogburn, was a dangerous man. I definitely figured that out, way back in 1976. One film critic described the Duke as embodying a spirit of “muscular Americanism.” Whether one agrees with all that implies, John Wayne most emphatically did so. Just as Conan of Cimmeria, without a doubt, personified Robert E. Howard’s vision of “muscular barbarism.”

John Wayne died thirty years ago today.

Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learnt something from yesterday.

— Inscription on John Wayne’s headstone.

Hurin the Steadfast: Part One of “The Wanderings of Hurin”


Part Two: ‘Tôl acharn!’

Part Three: The Long Road to Menegroth

My esteemed colleague, Brian Murphy, recently reviewed The Children of Húrin, so it seemed apposite to follow that with an account of what transpired after the death of Nienor and Túrin. Both died that fateful day above Cabed Naeramarth, but their parents, Morwen and Húrin, lived on. The curse of Morgoth upon the House of Húrin had yet to come to full fruition.

The tale of Húrin’s wanderings has come down to us, primarily, in one volume, The War of the Jewels: The Later Silmarillion, edited by Christopher Tolkien. Christopher Tolkien traces the evolution of the saga from the “lost continuation” of “The Grey Annals” (an account of the First Age written by JRRT in the early 1950s) to a “substantial complex of writing” which seems to have been composed in the latter half of that decade. The title that the elder Tolkien settled upon was “The Wanderings of Húrin.” All of this “substantial complex of writing” was in service of fleshing out the stories (he did the same, or began to, for his tales of Túrin and Tuor) that Tolkien had first envisioned in the ’20s and ’30s, fresh from the horrors of the Great War.

Tolkien, after the completion of his novel, The Lord of the Rings, went back to The Silmarillion with the intention of expanding it and bringing it into closer accord with his tale of the Fall of Sauron, which was, in many ways, an addendum and afterthought to the previous work. Tolkien had always intended to see The Silmarillion published, and in fact, he had submitted it to a befuddled Unwin-Ryan immediately after the unexpected world-wide success of The Hobbit. “The Wanderings of Húrin” was to play a pivotal part in Tolkien’s projected revision and expansion of The Silmarillion.

“The Wanderings of Húrin” is not The Hobbit. One tale was written (spoken, actually) in the early ’30s by JRRT to entertain his children, Christopher Tolkien chief amongst them. The other was begun by Tolkien in the late 1950s, when he saw “double-speak” (a term Orwell didn’t invent, but should have) and an Iron Curtain, with its attendant gulags (how different were Morgoth’s “Hells of Iron,” really?), spreading their influence across his world.

I will not go into the complexities regarding the composition of “Wanderings” here, other than to say Christopher Tolkien noted that his father, fairly early in the narrative, “came to a clearer understanding” of how things stood in Brethil when Húrin the Steadfast appeared at its borders with vindication and vengeance in his mind. As events would show, the shadow of Angband hung close about him.

Knowing what sorrows and horrors befell the eldest son of Galdor in the preceding six decades might allow the unitiated to better appreciate Húrin’s mind-set. (Continue reading this post)

A Challenging Collaboration

horrors_unknown_moskowitzI see my fellow blogger Deuce Richardson has mentioned “The Challenge From Beyond” in his recent post. Unlike “Ghor, Kin-slayer,” however, this round robin actually works as a story, though it certainly has its quirks.

Originally published in the fanzine “Fantasy Magazine” in 1935, and combining the efforts of C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long, this is more commonly available in Sam Moskowitz’s Horrors Unknown or as a Necronomicon Press chapbook — it’s also free online, having fallen into public domain. Another story of the same title was also created for “Fantasy Magazine” at the same time, with the same title, but this was a science fiction story by five science fiction writers.

One supposes Robert E. Howard was attracted by the idea of collaborating with H. P. Lovecraft — whose contribution is actually the largest. The gist of the story is that a man discovers a crystal cube of extraterrestrial origin, one that has the effect of capturing his soul and transporting it to another world, where he awakes in the form of a giant worm. Perhaps the most infamous part is where the shock of this transformation causes Lovecraft’s protagonist to drop dead in a faint, at which point Robert E. Howard has him awake to shrug it off in a “shit happens” manner and go on a barbaric killing spree. Here Howard’s hero, on a quest for ultimate power, takes the globe that is the god of Yekub in his centipedal grasp.

But perhaps the best writing is Frank Belknap Long’s conclusion. Striving to knit together the disparate strands of what has gone before, he tells of the doom of the man’s body now occupied by an alien mind, and of the benevolent rule of the worm body now controlled by a human mind.

From Venarium to Ymir’s Mountains

“Why or how, I am not certain, but he spent some months among a tribe of the Æsir…”

Robert E. Howard in a letter to P. Schuyler Miller.


“The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” is well-beloved by Conan fans, with good reason. While containing moments of true poetry, it still packs wain-loads of bloody action into a few short pages. Some have theorized that this yarn is the very first adventure in the Cimmerian’s career, chronologically. Such would seem to be indicated by Robert E. Howard’s 1936 letter to P. Schuyler Miller.

While I have a few niggling doubts as to that placement (such doubts to be addressed at a later time), that doesn’t stop me extrapolating therefrom. If “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” is a chronicle from that period of “some months” when Conan first ventured out of Cimmeria into Nordheim (as Howard wrote to Miller), then clues within that tale possibly cast light on the Cimmerian murkiness of Conan’s years immediately prior to his bidding farewell to his homeland.

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Steve Tompkins and the book that never was….


Here’s something I commissioned for the print edition of The Cimmerian but never used.

A few years ago, Charles Hoffman and Marc Cerasini undertook a revision of their old Starmont Reader’s Guide: Robert E. Howard, which was first published in the late 1980s. Wildside Press was supposed to bring out the updated version circa 2006, but — like so much else at that press — the book fell through the cracks and never appeared. At the time, I charged Steve Tompkins with interviewing Cerasini and Hoffman, and planned to have the result run in TC concurrent with the release of the book. With their revised tome MIA, however, I tucked the (lengthy and interesting, as it turned out) interview into my files, against the day when Wildside would finally get its act together.

Well, since then whole years passed, the print Cimmerian ended its run, and now Steve himself is gone. So I figure it is as good a time as any to finally unleash this interview into the world. It’s actually a very enlightening discussion — Steve asked many deep, intelligent questions, and really brought out the best in the authors. For those of you who never bought the print Cimmerian, this post is also a peek at what my TC print subscribers were regularly exposed to: Howard articles of a depth and breadth not to be found anywhere else.

So here we go: the late, lamented Steve Tompkins interviewing Howardists Charles Hoffman and Marc Cerasini about their critical volume on Robert E. Howard, plus much else. Take it away, old friend:

STEVE TOMPKINS: For each of you, what was your first exposure to Howard? If as seems likely you made the acquaintance of Conan by way of the Gnome Press or Lancer collections, please tell us what you made of the presence of posthumous collaborations and pastiches.

MARC CERASINI: I can recall my first exposure vividly. I was maybe thirteen or fourteen years old and had purchased issue # 11 of Castle of Frankenstein magazine for thirty-five cents. Inside Lin Carter had a column touting the new publishing releases and he covered the Conan books extensively. Now, the first Lancers had just come out and I was eyeing them anyway because of the beautiful Frank Frazetta covers (I knew Frank’s work from Creepy and Eerie — Vampirella had not come out yet.) On Lin’s recommendation — and the fact that my parents were going to Expo ’67 and felt guilty about leaving me behind and so footed the bill for a shopping spree — I went to my local mall and purchased the first four Conan books, and an Aurora model of Blackbeard the Pirate.

On a sunny afternoon in June I read “The People of the Black Circle” and I was hooked — changed forever. Prior to my exposure to REH, I was reading a limited amount of science fiction and horror (The ABC’s of course — Asimov, Bradbury and Clark; as well as some John Wyndham; HG Wells and Jules Verne; and the classics Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore). I also read too many comics: Marvel superheroes (which I discovered with Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man), DC war comics like Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, Johnny Cloud, the Navajo Ace, Star Spangled War Stories where U.S. Marines battled dinosaurs and the Japanese on remote South Pacific Islands during World War II, and even movie and television tie-in books. One irony of my writing life is that I grew up reading Michael Avallone’s Man From U.N.C.L.E. novels and now I’m writing 24 novels for HarperCollins.

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His Like Will Not Be Here Again

This has been an incredibly hard post to compose for a myriad of reasons. Steve Tompkins was nonpareil. His wit, his style, his awe-inspiring intelligence, his impact on Howard studies (and weird literature studies in general), his sheer output; there simply has not been any commentator on our beloved genre(s) quite like Mr. Tompkins. Many writers have pontificated about this or that aspect of weird/fantastic literature. Not one did so in quite the way that he did, nor did they do it quite so well, in this blogger’s opinion.

I never met Steve Tompkins (though we had a near miss at WFC ’06). I corresponded with him for about right on four weeks. Many others who knew him much better have already weighed in with praise for the man and his work. I can only give my perspective as a fan and as someone who hoped to call Steve Tompkins a friend someday.

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Jung At Heart


“It certainly does seem that certain individuals occasionally get in contact with forces outside themselves, something like cog-wheels grinding away in their spirits, that suddenly, perhaps only momentarily, slip into the notches of gigantic, unseen cog-wheels of cosmic scope. Maybe that’s what is meant by ‘getting in touch with the infinite.'”
-REH to CAS, undated.

Carl Jung introduced the idea of an archetype as a kind of prototypical concept, a basic building block of ideas. Jung thought of the archetypes as pychological “organs”, the product of mental or psychological morphology. Similarly, Jung believed the collective unconsciousness was a shared heritage bequeathed by our evolution, which shaped our minds just as it shaped our physical bodies.
Although we can study the genetic code that we carry for the shaping of our bodies, the collective unconsciousness can only be guessed at by the way it reveals itself to us in dreams, myth, religion and creative art. Through a life of study, Jung found that certain symbolic themes are universal. These archetypes are the hallmarks, the DNA, of the collective unconsciousness. Expanding on this, Joseph Campbell began working on the idea of a monomyth, a hero tale shared in its basic form by all cultures, even our pop culture; the monomyth involves a monumental task placed on a hero, who rises to meet the challenge through learning and growth (at the hand of a mentor of some sort, usually, who he will than grow to surpass).

It is not hard to see a similarity to the growth patterns of sons who learn from their father only to one day outstrip his abilities, as they grow to maturity while their father ages. Every individual must face his hero’s task in one way or another, if he is to find his own way in the world.
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The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard: First Impressions


Today, right in the midst of a domicilic transition, The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard landed on my doorstep. Knowing the consequences of giving in to temptation, I steeled my will and carried on carryin’ on the washer and the fridge and the bookcases…

Night has fallen and I now give myself a most just reward, drinking deep from the cup of Howard’s poetic genius.

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Anima Crackers


From the very beginning of his career, up to the very end, Robert E. Howard wrote stories that involved a man and a woman and a third force that had to be overcome before they could be together. The man, strong and often dark, was Howard’s projection of his self to some extent, and the woman, often blonde, was a projection of his anima, the standard version involving a feminine aspect. From the early days of “Spear and Fang” and “The Hyena” to later works like “Red Nails” and the novelized GENT FROM BEAR CREEK, this “boy meets girl, boy loses girl temporarily to dark menacing Other, boy wins girl” story line appears quite frequently. The dark menacing Other is the shadow. But as has been pointed out by critics like Leslie Fiedler and Richard Slotkin, an unusual aspect of American classic literature is the frequency with which the dark menacing Other becomes the anima; or takes its place.

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