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.