“Know, oh prince…”: The “Nemedian” Chronicles?

“Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of…”


That lead-in sentence from “The Phoenix on the Sword” is very easily one of the most memorable in the whole Conan canon. The entire paragraph that it initiates wouldn’t even exist without Farnsworth Wright’s editorial interference. Wright asked Robert E. Howard to take out much of the geo-political information contained in Chapter II of the “submitted draft” that was sent to Weird Tales. REH encapsulated that data (along with additional facts) in the “Nemedian Chronicles” epigraph for the first chapter of “The Phoenix on the Sword.” Robert E. Howard seems to have put more into that first sentence than might be apparent upon first glance…

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The Call of Kathulos: Kull, Skull and “Call”

I’m Deuce Richardson and I’ll be your blogger for this evening. I’m a native south-east Kansan and grew up working on my parents’ farm/ranch, the fourth generation of Richardsons to do so. At the age of nine I discovered Robert E. Howard and haven’t been right in the head since. Subsequent to graduating high school, I attended Kansas State and then Pittsburg State University. After that, it was time to get to work. In early 2005, I leapt into the twenty-first century by purchasing my own computer. That eventually led me to becoming a member on the Official Robert E. Howard Forum. Membership there landed me in various places like Cross Plains, Texas and then, surprisingly, here. Enough about me. On with the show.

Ever since a certain “Mr. O’Neail” wrote in to Weird Tales wondering, there has always been a question hovering, bat-winged, over Robert E. Howard’s novella, “Skull-Face”: Was REH’s “Kathulos” (and the tale thereof) influenced, somehow, by Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”?

Howard had this to say in a letter to HPL (ca. August 1930):

A writer in the Eyrie, a Mr. O’Neail, I believe, wondered if I did not use some myth regarding this Cthulhu in “Skull Face”. The name Kathulos might suggest that, but in reality, I merely manufactured the name at random, not being aware at the time of any legendary character named Cthulhu — if indeed there is.

That’s that, I guess, but… all indicators point to Robert E. Howard reading “Call of Cthulhu” before he ever started composing “Skull-Face.” In a letter to Weird Tales, Howard demonstrates he’d already savored the darksome pleasures of “CoC” (published in the February 1928 issue of Weird Tales): “Mr. Lovecraft’s story, ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ is indeed a masterpiece, which I am sure will live as one of the highest achievements of literature.” (ca. April 1928)


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Contra “Hyboria”; Or, Convenience Isn’t Everything

Readers who have shipped with Ahab on his voyage-of-the-damned pursuit of the great white whale might remember that Herman Melville has this to say of master harpooner Queequeg’s natal site: “It is not down on any map; true places never are.” I’m here today to inveigh against a false place that has elbowed its way onto maps and into gaming paraphernalia and goes unchallenged in a dismaying number of articles, reviews, and blog or forum posts: “Hyboria.”

Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age was a Cynara to whom Roy Thomas, L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Karl Edward Wagner and Robert Jordan all sought to be faithful in their fashion. Not one of them ever resorted to the ersatz term “Hyboria,” but recently this un-Howardian usage has been spreading like the invasive kudzu in Wagner’s Knoxville horror story “Where the Summer Ends.” Google “Hyboria” and it comes a-choogling at us with “Kings of Hyboria,” “Gods of Hyboria,” “Welcome to Hyboria,” “Living Hyboria,” “Images of Hyboria,” “Cities of Hyboria,” “The Women of Hyboria,” exhortations to “strap on your sword, it’s time to explore Hyboria,” and the especially irksome “Robert E. Howard’s Hyboria.” I don’t believe that either Kurt Busiek or Tim Truman has slipped and referred to “Hyboria” in one of their scripts for a Conan comic, but reams of Dark Horse promotional copy has demonstrated no such taste and discernment. The term is creeping into submissions to The Dark Man, and Richard Tierney, as well-versed in Howard as he is well-equipped to write weird verse, dignified it with title-status in his “The Doom of Hyboria” cycle for TC. On May 16 of this year the Entertainment Weekly website offered a slideshow of “18 Awesome Imaginary Worlds” and added Austrian-accented insult to injury by not only listing “Hyboria” but illustrating said “world” with a still of Arnold the Isshurian looking particularly learning-disabled.

Why is this happening? I haven’t seen anyone champion the rightness or needfulness of “Hyboria” yet; maybe this post will provoke some such defense. My suspicion is that the spurious term is flourishing out of a vague sense that the Hyborian Age, Howard’s formulation, doesn’t work due to being by definition a when rather than a where, a time rather than a place. So a perceived necessity is the mother of this misbegotten invention: we have to call Conan’s world, the kingdoms that dominate human history from the fall of Acheron to the equally uncushioned fall of imperial Aquilonia, something, don’t we? “Hyboria” is. . .convenient, almost like an abbreviation or acronym in that respect, and why shouldn’t authorial intentions join so much else as burnt offerings on the altar of our modern Moloch Convenience? Thus the Entertainment Weekly feature lumps ‘Hyboria” (described as “vaguely Eurasian,” like some Macao chanteuse seducing sailors in a pulp story) in with Narnia, Oz, Terabithia, and, amusingly, Liberty City from Grand Theft Auto IV.

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The Lion In His 75th Winter


(With profuse apologies to Robert E. Howard)

Still carven with the heraldry of a dynasty decades gone, the door closed behind his well-wishers, and all at once the walls, ceiling, and floor of the chamber were only a more well-appointed version of the dungeons into which his many captors had flung him. They crowded in upon the king, tightening their grip in much the same fashion, it seemed to him, as would the old age he had held at bay for so long. He listened to the retreating footsteps, footsteps which to his irritation tripped lightly, almost mincingly. The footsteps of men too young to have been at Valkia and Tanasul, too young for the siege of Khorshemish or the foray that caught thirty war-chiefs bickering over Zogar Sag’s old ostrich feathers at Gwawela. The footsteps of those born too late even for the great eastern campaign that had ended with Hyrkanian horsemen gazing in awe across the Vilayet as the night sky was lit by what had been Aghrapur and was now the funeral pyre of Yezdigerd’s ambitions. The footsteps of courtiers and dissemblers.

His stormy nature mutinied against the notion of celebrating his 75th birthday. The feigned merriment of the interlude just past fell away from him like a mask, and his face was suddenly even older than the occasion implied, his eyes clouded. For weeks the inherent melancholy of his ancestral hills had been dampening the dynamism he had always taken for granted, paralyzing him with a crushing sense of the futility of human endeavor and the meaninglessness of life — of his life as it would be told and retold in the far future. His kingship, his pleasures, his fears, his hopes, and all earthly things were revealed to him suddenly as dust and broken toys. He now knew that the borders of the life he had lived would be transgressed, flouted. Dozens of spurious episodes, devoid of either veracity or invention, would diminish him, as if jesters from an alien, frivolous court had been vouchsafed the power to dress him in fool’s motley. Dropping his snow-lion head in his formerly mighty hands, he groaned aloud.

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An Example for Howard Fandom


I recently ordered the magisterial collection The History of the Hobbit, a three-volume set available in slipcase. Those of us who treasure Christopher Tolkien’s The History of Middle Earth in twelve books have always lamented that, for various reasons, he failed to publish the same substantial analysis of The Hobbit that he undertook for The Silmarillion, The Lord of the Rings, and most of Tolkien’s other writings. Author John D. Rateliff has now rectified that oversight in spades.

Rateliff spent well over a decade analyzing the manuscripts for The Hobbit in a fashion that anyone familiar with Christopher Tolkien’s work will appreciate: sifting through drafts, dating manuscripts and typescripts, undoing many of the mistakes of earlier scholars, and offering a bewitching look into the creation of a modern classic. The set contains a great copy of the novel, complete with Tolkien’s original drawings, maps and color illustrations reproduced as plates on glossy paper stock, a pleasantly large font suitable for reading, and of course the latest corrected text. Two accompanying volumes, titled Mr. Baggins and Return to Bag-End, comprise Rateliff’s meticulous research, featuring not only a mountain of notes and other scholarship but Tolkien’s entire story in draft form, which gives us all sorts of strange and wonderful glimpses into a Hobbit that never was. When you get through the introduction and find out that Thorin began as a dwarf named Gandalf, it’s clear that you’ve dropped down a particularly beguiling rabbit (hobbit?) hole.

There is much here to inspire Howard fans. Might not our field someday get a History of the Hyborian Age, that charts the creation of REH’s body of fantasy work, reprints all the drafts, offers extensive commentary and notes, and contains an encyclopedia (or “glossography,” as Gary Gygax referred to the material underlying his Greyhawk campaign world) of all the people and places that make up the legendarium? Some of the work has been done, appearing in various journals and editions, but much remains for the enterprising scholar. I’ve always wished I had time to collate a Complete Guide to Hyboria the way Tolkien fans have Robert Foster’s Complete Guide to Middle-Earth. It’s volumes like these that go a long way towards captivating fans, and if one was written for REH I’m guessing it would vastly increase the respect for his world-building achievement.

Coming up in the October issue of TC (almost ready to ship) is a great letter from Steve Tompkins that speculates on various aspects of Aquilonian realpolitik, and reading that offers a small taste of the unexplored depths of Howard’s creation, namely how much realistic complexity those four years of brilliant story-writing generated. The usual know-nothings often assume that Howard gave little thought to realism and consistency — not true, as Tompkins amply shows in his letter. One of the most startling revelations Rateliff makes is that, far from Tolkien slowly composing his children’s story in languorous stretches of cautious composition, the manuscripts show that in all likelihood The Hobbit was written at white heat during vacation breaks from his teaching duties. This directly contradicts most of the favored images of Tolkien burning the midnight oil for leisurely years on end, and indeed sounds much more like the writing habits of a pulpster like REH than some would care to admit.

I have only begun exploring this spectacular effort on behalf of Tolkien scholarship, but already it has generated all sorts of thoughts about how REH scholarship could benefit from applying this Tolkienian example to our bailiwick.

The Cat, the Skull, and the Editor


I’m staring moodily into my alehorn, like one of the Icelandic sagas’ barely socialized wolf’s-heads who can’t be trusted to behave in the skalli, pondering how best to retort on behalf of the disloyal opposition to Leo and Gary’s “If Loving the Lancers Is Wrong, We Don’t Want To Be Right” post. But before getting into that, I want to revisit a conflict of such escalatory excess that the groundskeepers of TC‘s Lion’s Den are still turning up unexploded munitions and unidentified body parts: The Farnsworth Wright War of 2005-2006.

Was Wright not just a good, but a great, editor? Or did he play Cardinal Richelieu in the story of Weird Tales’ Three Musketeers? With his tendency to reject in haste and repent at leisure, was he perhaps born with a unique chromosome, a “C” chromosome to go with his X and Y, that made him more capricious than should have been humanly possible? These questions and more were fought out in the Den, with Don Herron in particular storming the satrap Pharnabazus’ mausoleum to place satchel charge after satchel charge against Farny’s sarcophagus. A passage in Patrice’s Kull: Exile of Atlantis essay “Atlantean Genesis” got me thinking about the whole contretemps:

Howard, in a particularly unprofessional move, didn’t even rewrite his story, making all his changes on his first draft, and retitled the tale The Cat and the Skull, whose “Skull” is an explicit reference to Thulsa Doom. . .The story is rather poor and suffers from a lack of cohesiveness, which is not surprising given the late addition of Thulsa Doom. . .Not surprisingly, the story was rejected by Weird Tales, apparently to Howard’s surprise, if this is indeed the unnamed story he is alluding to in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (p. 133). Undaunted, Howard wrote yet another tale featuring Kull, the second and last featuring Kuthulos, The Screaming Skull of Silence. The story was quickly submitted to Weird Tales and likewise rejected.

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