CRS and the Empire of Gold

In welcome news, TC just learned that Charles R. Saunders has a fresh blog entry posted at Drums of Nyumbani, his website. The title of this post is “The First Ghana.” Much like his article, “The Epoch of Kush,” this piece by Saunders explores the rich history of sub-Saharan Africa. Another similarity betwixt the two is that both were written during the ’70s by CRS for one of the fantasy/S&S fanzines that proliferated during that decade. Fear not, Saunders’ scholarship still holds up.

Mr. Saunders reveals the history of the first Ghana (modern-day Ghana shares little but a name with its namesake). Called Aoukar by its own people, the kingdom was given its common name by Arab chroniclers, who derived it from one of the titles of the Ghanaian ruler (a situation similar to the one in which the “Inca” empire received its name from the Spanish). Reaching its height in the eleventh century AD, Ghana was a veritable sub-Saharan Klondike, exporting gold to Europe and Asia. Such riches invited envy and aggression. Eventually, Ghana succumbed.

Medieval Ghana was very likely the source of the name which REH bestowed upon the “Ghanatas” seen in the unfinished Conan yarn referred to as “The Tombalku Fragment.” Serious students of Conan the Cimmerian might also recall that he wielded a “Ghanata knife” when infiltrating black-walled Khemi in The Hour of the Dragon. Clues left by REH point to the Hyborian Age Ghanatas being a tribe situated somewhere betwixt Stygia and Tombalku, and that said tribe had notable iron-working skills. All things considered, that matches up fairly well with the Ghanatas’ (probable) historical inspiration.

I’ve been studying sub-Saharan Africa for more than twenty-five years and CRS’ post still taught me a few things. As I stated earlier, Saunders’ scholarship (like his fiction) has stood the test of time.

Spartacus Redux

Howard Fast’s book Spartacus is a kind of paradox; a book about the spirit of freedom written by an avowed Communist.  There are suggestions that the free slaves will share the wealth, but the main idea of the book is that all people must be free. It is subversive in a way, even today.  Howard Fast, like the screen-writer for the movie, Dalton Trumble, was jailed by the House UnAmerican Activies Committee for refusing to name names. He later renounced Communism after learning of Stalin’s crimes against his own countrymen and the repression of Hungary in 1956. But Spartacus had been written in 1951, while Fast believed in Communism. Because of the political climate of the time, he had to publish it himself, with the help of friends and fans who gave him money in advance.

For an account of how he came to write Spartacus, go here.

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More El Borak News


Over at the Official Robert E. Howard Forum, Paradox rep Jay Zetterberg proffered REH fandom the lowdown regarding the final contents of El Borak and Other Desert Adventures. This volume, due out February 2, 2010 from Del Rey/Ballantine, looks like another keeper. For those not willing or able to click over to, I reproduce the table of contents (and submit some random thoughts of my own) below.

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El Borak Reviewed at Publishers Weekly

ElB-finalOver at the Publishers Weekly website, they just posted their newest batch of “Fiction Book Reviews.” The capsule reviews are wide-ranging, covering books in both the ‘mainstream’ and ‘genre’ categories. A review of El Borak and Other Desert Adventures (coming in March from Del Rey) is amongst them.

Considering how small a percentage of eligible books actually get reviewed by Publishers Weekly, this is a nine-day wonder. When one takes into account that El Borak is a collection of previously published stories, the fact that it got reviewed at all is even more startling. PW is a book trade magazine read by booksellers and librarians all over the country. The review definitely ups the chances of REH’s fiction getting a wider distribution in heretofore seldom-seen venues. This is what the unnamed reviewer had to say…

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Afrikaaner Bob


In the latest The Dark Man, Charles Hoffman’s “Elements of Sadomasochism in the Fiction and Poetry of Robert E. Howard” has some interesting comments on The Hyena“, a very early Howard story written while Howard was still in his teens.
It is interesting to find that he also used this setting with two other tales, “The Slayer“, and The Wings of the Bat“, both unprinted until The Last of The Trunk. Both tales also involve Ju-Ju men, or witch-doctors, plotting mayhem against the whites. One would conclude that The Slayer is a direct sequel to The Hyena“, as the narrator refers to having killed Senecoza previously. But we are told by Hoffman that The Hyena was written in 1924, and the editor of Trunk tells us the other stories are “pre-1924”. So either Howard wrote the sequel first, or more likely someone is in error. In a homage to the Alan Quatermain stories, the king of the Zulus in Bat is named Umslopogas. It still amazes me that out of all the material available to him, August Derleth included “Hyena in the second Howard collection, The Dark Man and Others.

DEUCE ADDS: A couple years ago, over at, Patrice Louinet had this to say about “The Slayer”:

REH actually began a sort of sequel to the story, featuring the same hero and mentioning Senecoza. This fragment, tentatively titled “The Slayer” by Glenn Lord, will be included in The Last of the Trunk, the book collecting the immense majority of as-yet-unpublished Howard fiction, forthcoming from the Robert E. Howard Foundation.

“The Wings of the Bat,” to my ear, definitely sounds like it was partially a riff on Sax Rohmer’s Bat-Wing, a book we know REH read. [redacted] blogged about it [redacted].

As for Derleth selecting “The Hyena” for The Dark Man, I’m not particularly surprised, considering Derleth’s blinkered and untrustworthy taste in regards to REH’s fiction. On the other hand, just before The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard was released, there was a certain REH fan shambling about the blogosphere who practically called Rusty Burke a Howardian anti-christ for leaving “The Hyena” out. He cited Derleth’s unerring judgement for support.

Skulls and Dust… (Egypt’s curse is a deathly thing.)

The Persian slaughtered the Apis Bull;
(Ammon-Ra is a darksome king.)
And the brain fermented beneath his skull.
(Egypt’s curse is a deathly thing.)

He rode on the desert raider’s track;
(Ammon-Ra is a darksome king.)
No man of his gleaming hosts came back,
And the dust winds drifted sombre and black.
(Egypt’s curse is a deathly thing.)

The eons passed on the desert land;
(Ammon-Ra is a darksome king.)
And a stranger trod the shifting sand.
(Egypt’s curse is a deathly thing.)

His idle hand disturbed the dead;
(Ammon-Ra is a darksome king.)
Til he found Cambysses’ skull of dread
Whence the frenzied brain so long had fled,
That once held terrible visions red.
(Egypt’s curse is a deathly thing.)

And an asp crawled from the dust inside
(Ammon-Ra is a darksome king.)
And the stranger fell and gibbered and died.
(Egypt’s curse is a deathly thing.)

“Skulls and Dust,” by Robert E. Howard

“No man of his gleaming hosts came back.” Indeed. What REH (and Herodotus) said. Verification of Herodotus’ tale concerning Cambyses’ lost army has been a long time coming (sort of like what Howard said about the Picts and the Basques). The archaeological findings of twin Italian brothers in the sands of the eastern Sahara might finally solve a millennia-old mystery. Naysayers have scoffed at the veracity of the Man From Halicarnassus, but they may have to rearrange their paradigms now.

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Of Twenty-Fifths… and Giving the Dauntless Their Due



Enter the OE, bookmarking his place in “The Black Stranger”:

Rather proclaim it, Doc Pod, online and off,
That he which hath no ideas for this Mailing,
Let him gafiate; his name from the roster stricken,
And dues refunded put into his man-purse;
We would not zine in that fan’s company
That spares not his weekend to zine with us.
This day is call’d the feast of [Tim] Marion,
He that outlives this day, and comes safe to #201,
Will stand a tip-toe when this Mailing is nam’d,
And rouse him at the thought of August of ‘06
He that shall zine this day, and live to look like Burl Ives,
Will quarterly one night neglect the remote,
And say ‘Twas not always but a single section.’
Then will he fetch his stacks and show his zines,
And say ‘These printing problems I had in Mailing #200.’
All shall be Mylared; or sold off on eBay,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What pages he filled that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as usual suspects —
Indy the OE, Rippke and Trout-in-the-Dark,
Richter and Gramlich, Romeo and Sea-Burke
Be in their flowing cups beerily remembered.
This story shall the good fan teach his son;
And deadlines shall ne’er force FedEx,
From this Mailing to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered —
We few, we serconn’d few, we apa of brothers;
For he today that sheds his ink with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so minacked,
This day shall excuse his reprint;
And gentlefans at innercircle now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks
That zined with us for Mailing #200.

The above was penned by Steve Tompkins on July 25th, 2006, exhorting his REHupan brethren in Bard of Avonic fashion to make the heroic effort that culminated in REHupa Mailing #200.

It seems hard for me to believe that Tompk posted that tribute to King Harry’s pre-game speech as given on the morn of the Battle of Agincourt (as envisioned by Shakespeare) without being aware that he was doing so on the twenty-fifth of July. Steve Tompkins was nothing if not mindful of the passing of time and of the importance of observing anniversaries. He was certainly capable of seeing unlikely, but fitting, connections. (Continue reading this post)

First Word on Dark Agnes and Other Historical Adventures


Del Rey: DARK AGNES AND OTHER HISTORICAL ADVENTURES By Robert E. Howard – Coming in  2011!
John Watkiss has officially been announced as the artist for the next volume of Robert E. Howard stories, titled DARK AGNES AND OTHER HISTORICAL ADVENTURES.
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Yo, Hadrian!


The Smithsonian’s new issue has an article about the current state of Hadrian’s Wall, “‘now the heart of an 84-mile-long National Trail that winds through some of England’s most scenic countryside, following in the footsteps of Roman soldiers who once patrolled the empire’s frontier.”

It is well worth reading in its entirety, for it makes the interesting assertion that the primary result it was built was not to keep the barbarians out, but to limit the glory-hungry Roman commanders from seeking new areas to conquer. It also is believed to have been used to control immigration and emigration. Though there are still those who hold to the “keep out the barabarians” school of thought:

Even so, the wall also served to keep out not just “casual migrants” but enemies, says Ian Haynes, an archaeology professor at Newcastle University. In the past decade, excavators have turned up extensive pits that had held posts, possibly for sharpened stakes, fronting parts of the eastern section of the wall. “The kind of effort that goes into these defenses isn’t just for decorative purposes,” says Haynes. “It’s wise to think that they were doing this in deadly earnest.” Archaeologists have long searched for traces of the tribes who lived north of the wall, partly to assess the threats the Romans faced.

And though they are not cited in the article, every true Howard reader knows whom of they are speaking — the bloody Scots and the savage Picts.

Written On the Hearts of Men: Swords From the Desert


These fragmentary histories were jotted down on “date leaves, bits of leather, shoulder blades, stony tablets or the hearts of men.” But, put into words by men born and bred to war who spent most of their lives in the saddle, the written hadith have a real ring to them. Here we find no lengthy memoirs, no monastery-compiled chronicles, or histories written long after events. We have the word-of-mouth narrative of men who were on the scene.

Harold Lamb, in a letter to Adventure magazine, concerning the traditions of the Arabs.

While Swords From the Desert (Bison Books) is a light-weight in page-count when matched against its hefty companion volume, Swords From the West, it definitely holds its own in quality. Weighing in at a “mere” three hundred and seven pages, it’s crammed full with the timeless adventure tales for which Harold Lamb should be more justly renowned.

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