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Writers such as Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner, and even J.R.R. Tolkien laid the groundwork for a modern literary genre that is often called Sword and Sorcery, but which might better be called “Heroic Fantasy.” These authors established the broad tropes of the genre for today’s times, but we must recognize that this type of heroic storytelling dates far back in history, to the time of Homer and, even earlier, to the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Heroic fantasy is, and always has been, a literature of myth making and myth exploration. As such, it may well be the most important type of literature ever attempted. The tales in this genre are not about telling things the way they are, or even how they were. They’re about telling, or at least hinting at, the deepest mysteries and truths of human existence.

At their core, the themes of heroic fantasy arise out of ancient days, out of a time thousands and even hundreds of thousands of years ago when human consciousness was first struggling into existence, and when we as a race were becoming something more, and less, than animal. In those days the gods and demons and all manner of supernatural beings were real–at least to the people of those times–more real than they can ever be to modern “sophisticated” humans.

Despite what Robert E. Howard once wrote in The Nemedian Chronicles, heroic fantasy is not about “an age undreamed of.” In symbols, at least, we have all dreamt of such an age. Although most elements from the personality theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung have not held up well under the microscope of modern psychological analysis, these authors’ concepts about symbolism and the origins of human thought bear considering for anyone who is interested in literary traditions. (Today, Freud and Jung are actually more influential in the study of literature than in psychology.)

For both Freud and Jung, human prehistory was a time when the seeds of later myths, and of many later truths, were being planted. I believe they are right, though not always for the reasons they suggested. Biologically, modern humans are not very different from the first fully modern Homo sapiens of 200,000 years ago. Brain size and overall brain architecture appear to have remained largely unchanged from then until today, although small scale changes in brain structure are likely to have occurred throughout that time. We know that cultural complexity began to grow rapidly after about 50,000 years ago and subtle reorganizations of the brain might account for that.

But whether we speak of 200,000 year old sapiens or 50,000 year old ones, the fact remains that our mind is their mind, with a lot of culture and a little bit of rational science as icing on the cake. Both the roots and the trunks of our myths, and our realities, arise from the ways that early Homo sapiens tried to understand their mysterious and dangerous world. They told stories to explain their experiences. And those stories have passed down to us as myths. Heroic fantasy is the closest thing we have to modern mythmaking in the great human tradition.

Storytelling is how we all make sense of our world. And despite Heroic Fantasy’s critics, who sometimes refer to it as “juvenile” literature, no other form of modern storytelling does so much to explore the way that humans became human.

This entry filed under Howard Fandom, Howard's Fiction, Sword & Sorcery.

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That’s the question Butch repeatedly asks Sundance in the movie while the super-posse is hounding them. I felt like asking it myself as I perused some of REH’s horror stories, specifically “The Black Stone,” “The Thing on the Roof” and his Conrad-Kirowan fragment “The House,” in which his two occult investigators probe the early life of the mad poet Justin Geoffrey. Bits of Geoffrey’s verse serve as the epigraphs to both stories. There are mysteries here. Chiefly they concern the identity of the narrators of the stories, neither of whom are named. Can they be the same man?  Are they the same as characters in other REH yarns, or are both “TBS” and “TTotR” one-offs?

(I confess this post is largely a shameless, self-serving plug for Nameless Cults, by Deuce Richardson and myself, now finished, and for the novel on which I’m still working, Damned From Birth, a direct sequel to “TTotR.” The readers have been warned. Let’s go.)

In both stories we learn only a few things about the narrators. Both are studious types who like their rare books, and are fascinated by odd events that took place in largely unexplored alleys of history. Both seem to travel quite a bit. Both are acquainted with von Junzt’s magnum opus, Nameless Cults (ah-haaa!) and seem to know the work of the mad poet Justin Geoffrey. Both place an epigraph of Geoffrey’s verse at the head of their accounts. The narrator of “The Black Stone” discusses Geoffrey and his final fate with the village innkeeper of Stregoicavar in Hungary.

We could infer that the two narrators are the same person. They might even be John Kirowan, Conrad’s friend, who accompanies him into the Catskills to check out a sinister old house that affected the boy Justin Geoffrey’s mind. After all, “The Black Stone” takes place in Hungary, and John Kirowan lost the love of his life in Hungary as a young man (“The Haunter of the Ring”).  He could have returned there years later to pay his respects at her grave.

The chronology would fit. “Dig Me No Grave” is a definite Conrad and Kirowan yarn, and it just as definitely takes place in 1930. That was the year John Grimlan’s bargain with “the one black master” ran out. It’s equally certain that “The Black Stone” takes place in 1931. The narrator tells the innkeeper that Justin Geoffrey “died screaming in a madhouse five years ago.” Justin Geoffrey died in 1926. If “Dig Me No Grave” takes place in England, on wild, desolate Exmoor – and Deuce Richardson and I both think it does – Kirowan could have travelled from there to the continent.

I can’t quite buy it, though. The person narrating “The Black Stone” doesn’t seem like John Kirowan, the disinherited black sheep of a noble Irish family who travelled the world (Zimbabwe, Mongolia, the South Seas) investigating the black occult arts, or a man with a tragic past. He comes across as a bookish academic, pedantically citing various sources like Dostmann’s Remnants of Lost Empires and Dornly’s Magyar Folklore – all as fictional as Nameless Cults. And he doesn’t seem to know enough about the bizarre and supernatural to be Kirowan.

howard03_a09_b(For similar reasons, I doubt the Professor Kirowan who is one of the group in Conrad’s study in “The Children of the Night,” is the same person as occult investigator John Kirowan. The latter was never called “Professor” in any of the stories in which he definitely appears, and Professor Kirowan also seems like a waspish academic who doesn’t know nearly enough about dark occult matters. Probably an English relative. The Kirowans, or Kirwans, of Galway were an extensive race.)

To distinguish the two narrators without making a tedious reference in full each time, I’ll call them N1(TBS) and N2(TTotR) from now on.

References to Nameless Cults in the two stories add to the doubt. N1(TBS) says that he “stumbled upon … one of the unexpurgated German copies, with heavy leather covers and rusty iron hasps.” He also thinks “no more than half a dozen such volumes in the entire world today” are left. Contrarily, N2(TTotR) did not “stumble upon” the copy he found. He obtained it for someone else after diligently searching for three months. He too comments on the German edition’s rarity. “He might almost as well have asked me for the original Greek translation of the Necronomicon.”

This being so, it hardly makes sense to have copies of the original Dusseldorf edition of Nameless Cults showing up here, there and everywhere. N1(TBS) obtained one; N2(TTotR) got hold of one; Conrad in “The Children of the Night” has a copy on the shelves of his “bizarrely furnished study”, and I’ll bet that was one of the originals. John Kirowan’s buddy would be satisfied with nothing less. Miskatonic University is sure to have one, or even two. Michael Strang in “The Hoofed Thing” has one in his library – a strong indication that both Conrad and Strang, and also N2(TTotR) have plenty of cash. They couldn’t afford such rare items otherwise. They must be the independently wealthy types who appear so often in pulp fiction of the 1930s and earlier.

It’s fair to suppose that a couple of the above copies, at least, were the same volume. If N1(TBS) and N2(TTotR) were different men, then one of them might have obtained Nameless Cults after the other disposed of it. Michael Strang might have done so too (obtained it or disposed of it). Any assumption that keeps the number of those “extremely rare” Dusseldorf editions to a minimum is a reasonable one to make.

Now there is a link between the stories “The Black Stone” and “The Thing on the Roof”, or what seems like a connection. (Deuce Richardson pointed this out. I completely missed it. Another one I owe him.)  N1(TBS) sees a similarity between the strange characters on the Hungarian “Black Stone” and those on “a gigantic and strangely symmetrical rock in a lost valley of Yucatan.”  He opined to “the archaeologist who was my companion” that the marks were sophisticated writing and the rock was the “base of a long-vanished column”. The archaeologist “merely laughed” and said the massive base would suggest “a column a thousand feet high.”

Hmm. Deuce is right. N2(TTotR) is an archaeologist, and he has done field work in Yucatan. One of the first things he mentions in “The Thing on the Roof” is his paper, “Evidences of Nahua Culture in Yucatan,” and his academic quarrel with the bull-headed Tussmann over it. He also refers to a “Professor James Clement of Richmond, Virginia” who located his copy of the vanishingly rare Nameless Cults.

A professor. An academic. A man to whom you turn to find a rare book for you. A man who knows all about the history of von Junzt’s “Black Book”. He automatically mentions the publication date and the printing house even of a book he’s only giving a passing mention (Dostmann’s Remnants of Lost Empires, Berlin, 1809, “Der Drachenhaus Press”). He seems a lot like N1(TBS). Seems fair to suppose at this point that the two narrators really are two different men, neither one John Kirowan, but that they are acquainted at least, and that N1(TBS) is Professor James Clement. N2(TTotR) is the still unnamed archaeologist who was his companion in Yucatan, and who laughed at Clement’s speculation about the huge rock they saw in the “lost valley” together. He probably should not have laughed. I infer he was young at the time. And came to take Clement’s view more seriously later.

This blogger is working on a novel that serves as a direct sequel to “The Thing on the Roof” and gives the narrator a name, Boston background, family, fiancée – fleshes him out quite a bit. But none of that is from canonical REH or Lovecraft sources. It doesn’t apply in this context. And nothing in REH, so far as I know, sheds any more light on the background, career, or even name, of N2(TTotR).

howard03_a08_bHe wouldn’t be Costigan in “The Little People.” Nothing in that story suggests he’s an archaeologist, and nothing in “TTotR” suggests that its narrator is an amateur boxer “with a terrific punch in either hand”, as Costigan is. John O’Brien in “People of the Dark” doesn’t seem like a candidate either. He too is no academic, no archaeologist. “I was born and raised in a hard country,” he says, “and have lived most of my life on the raw edges of the world, where a man took what he wanted, if he could, and mercy was a virtue little known.”  Hardly the type an archaeologist like Tussmann would approach to procure for him a rare book like Nameless Cults.

He could possibly be James O’Brien of “The Cairn on the Headland”, as O’Brien is an accomplished and successful scholar. “TTotR” might have happened after eerie circumstance (and the god Odin) rid O’Brien of the blackmailer Ortali. But O’Brien’s line appears to be Gaelic language and history, not Central American ancient cultures. A man established and highly regarded in one field of scholarship wouldn’t shift to another, especially once he was rid of the blood-sucking extortionist who had made his life miserable for ages, and was free to enjoy the rewards of his regular work – in which he “commanded an enormous salary”.

I reckon the verdict there has to be “not proven” – but not too likely.

REH’s mad poet, Justin Geoffrey, has a connection with both “TTotR” and “TBS”. A few lines of his verse form the epigraph or motto to both stories. He is the subject of a conversation in “TBS”, which attests that he too visited that “sinister, ill-regarded village in Hungary”. Justin Geoffrey is without doubt a part of the shared Howard-Lovecraft universe. “TTotR” mentions “the original Greek translation of the Necronomicon.” “The Thing on the Doorstep” names Lovecraft’s character Edward Pickman Derby of Arkham as “a close correspondent of the notorious Baudelairean poet Justin Geoffrey, who died screaming in a madhouse in 1926 …”  The same story mentions “the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt.”

REH’s “The House” has Conrad expounding to his friend Kirowan his certainty that Justin Geoffrey’s extraordinary differences to the other members of his – very mundane – family were due to an experience when he was ten. He was lost overnight near a village (called Old Dutchtown) at the foot of the Catskills in New York State. He slept in a grove of trees near a curious old house, long abandoned, that no-one evidently wanted to own. The artist Humphrey Skuyler says, “It fairly exudes an aura of abnormality … that is, to a man sensitive to such impressions … There’s something almost Oriental about the thing, and yet it’s not that either … At any rate, it’s old – that cannot be denied.”

Young Justin didn’t enter the house, merely slept near it. Yet apparently it caused him to become such an off-the-wall person and eventually go mad. Why did the house exert such a baleful influence, and who (a horrid character, we can assume) built it where he did?  To paraphrase this post’s title … who was that guy?

No-one in the fragment knows. Conrad and Kirowan can’t find out. The owners of both adjoining properties deny it belongs to them. Their friend Skuyler the artist, who was impressed enough by the ominous place to paint a canvas of it, has no idea. Even the mayor of the nearby burg, Old Dutchtown, cannot tell them.

There are three signposts that might point the way for a start. Justin Geoffrey is a character in the Howard-Lovecraft universe. The house stands at the foot of the Catskills. It was built long ago, near “Old Dutchtown.”

Lovecraft had at least two old Dutch families with ghastly histories in his canon, and they both lived in grim, ill-starred big houses. The Martenses of Tempest Mountain (in the Catskills!) in “The Lurking Fear” were one. They were inbred, numerous (a bit too numerous) and characterised by mismatched eyes, one brown, one blue. They also reacted to thunderstorms with horror and intense, violent nervous excitement.

The other Dutch clan, which flourished in the days when New York was still New Amsterdam and one-legged Peter Stuyvesant its governor, was van der Heyl. The Martenses were only degenerate. The van der Heyls (“The Diary of Alonzo Typer”) were vile and diabolic warlocks from far back. They moved from Albany to Attica in 1746 “under a curious cloud of witchcraft suspicion” and built a “large country house” there. The van der Heyls and their servants all “suddenly and simultaneously disappeared” in 1872.

e7c645_09eb3972a7804da6937c7361d86b4da6It’s this blogger’s hypothesis that a Martense man left home, went to work for the van der Heyls in the early 17th century, and married a van der Heyl woman. They were prosperous fur traders then, and had shipping interests in the Dutch East Indies, along with their secret diabolism. “The Lurking Fear” records one instance of a Martense man who did go into the outer world later, in the 1750s, and when he returned after years, his own kindred murdered him and buried him in an unmarked grave. I’m supposing the earlier one prospered and stayed away, sagacious fellow.

Further speculation. He and his van der Heyl wife had a son. The boy had the mismatched Martense eyes, and of course the Martense surname. As an adult, he went out to the East Indies as a van der Heyl agent, and did a fine job trading for them there – in nutmeg, sandalwood, and other commodities. He spent a few years in Aceh, Sumatra. He also learned a good deal about the local varieties of black magic, true to his inheritance on the mother’s side. Back in America, though, he grew sick of having his relatives regard him as less than a true van der Heyl, and broke with them at last. Going back to the Catskills (though not to Tempest Mountain) he built his own “castle-like house” close to the foot of those mountains. Settling there, he practiced the fiendish magic of his mother’s kin and the malignant isolationism of the Martense breed. At last he died.

It would account for the atypical architecture of the house. “Almost Oriental … and yet it’s not that either.”  If the builder had spent years in Java, Aceh and Makassar, that would explain it. If his ghost haunted the place, or it remained imbued with his dark sorceries, that could also explain its effect on young Justin Geoffrey. And maybe the above gives a partial answer to the question of who “those guys” were …

This entry filed under Howard Scholarship, Howard's Fiction.

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“ … the Druses who worship the Gold Calf … ”

Robert E. Howard, “Three-Bladed Doom”

It must have been nice, in some ways, to write for the pulps in the old days. You certainly didn’t have to worry about being tactful to minorities or foreigners. Or primitive people. If you wanted horrible villains with sinister, incomprehensible, fanatical motives, hey, you could start with Chinese, go on to voodoo cultists from Haiti or New Orleans, and then proceed to the Middle East for a revived Assassin sect … or Yezidee devil-worshippers (Islamic State these days fully agrees with that one) … or Ahriman cultists from Persia … or Druzes. That last wasn’t used as frequently, but it was used. Any religion that wasn’t western, Christian, and White Anglo-Saxon Protestant at that, could be presented as devil-worship. You could also give your imagination free rein in the happy confidence that your audience didn’t know beans about the tribes or cults concerned.

Or as Robert E. Howard said – to E. Hoffman Price, I think – about Baibars’ speech at the end of “Sowers of the Thunder,” with a grin, “Sure, it was crap. But sometimes you have to do it that way.”  To which Price responded, “Damned right you do!”

paysans-druzes-repasThe earliest bit of gaudy fiction – that I know of – to depict Druzes as devil-worshippers is “The Fire-King” by old Sir Walter Scott. Yes, the author of Ivanhoe, The Talisman, and Quentin Durward, all of which I reckon excellent, if you can get past the rich, old-fashioned language and even more old-fashioned attitudes. “The Fire-King” is a ballad of the Crusades done in pseudo-medieval style, not a prose story. It doesn’t mention the Gold Calf; Scott credits his Druzes with a different sort of demonic idolatry, but demon-worship just the same. Their deity is a terrible djinn of flame, the titular Fire-King.

Briefly, Count Albert goes on crusade, and leaves his faithful “fair Rosalie” at home, waiting. A pilgrim from the Holy Land brings the news that the Christians are winning, but “Count Albert is prisoner on Mount Lebanon.”  Rosalie is aghast, but decisive. She takes a horse and a sword and sets out to find him.

That’s the first clue that the heroic count’s captors are Druzes. The Mount Lebanon Range was their original home. Rosalie arrives in Palestine disguised as a knight, like Eleanor de Courcey in REH’s “The Sowers of the Thunder.” But she’s too late. Count Albert has fallen for “the Soldan’s fair daughter,” changed sides and abandoned his faith. And Rosalie withal.

He has thrown by his helmet, and cross-handled sword,
Renouncing his knighthood, denying his Lord;
He has ta’en the green caftan, and turban put on,
For the love of the maiden of fair Lebanon.

The “heathenish damsel” asks him to keep a night-long vigil “ … in the cavern, where burns evermore/the mystical flame which the Curdmans adore.”  Second clue that these are Druzes. “Curdmans” is a nineteenth-century term for Kurds, and while Druzes don’t worship fire, the Persian Zoroastrians did. Druzes are clannish, secretive (especially about their religious beliefs) and don’t marry outside the group, but they descend from Kurds and/or Persians. At least, I can quote one famous, high-powered Oriental scholar to that effect.

The leading families among the Druzes have been throughout their history either of full Kurdish and Persian origin or of Persianized and ‘Irāqized Arab origin. That is, they have been either Kurdish and Persian families or tribes from the Arabian peninsula who, before their advent into the Lebanon, sojourned for many generations in Mesopotamia where they became fully indoctrinated with the ‘Alid ideas and subjected to Gnostic and Manichaean influences.

Origins of the Druze People and Religion, by Philip K. Hitti (1924)

Once Count Albert removes his rosary and cross, the evil djinn of flame appears to him and gives him a charmed sword with which he’ll conquer invincibly, until and unless he shall once again “ … bend to the Cross, and the Virgin adore.”  No problem, thinks Albert, now a renegade. I’ll never do that. I’m protected to the max.

As always, of course, there’s a loophole and a fatal catch he doesn’t foresee. He inadvertently breaks the Fire-King’s condition at the worst moment, right in the middle of a roaring melee against King Baldwin of Jerusalem and the Templars. Read the ballad for the details; it’s a good yarn and it’s online.

f0130a6e9f449a06943972468dfc5344Harking forward to pulp of the early 20th century again, and Howard in particular, he listed the Druzes (in the shorter version of “Three-Bladed Doom” among the other cults that derived from his Zurim or Hidden Ones, “a pre-Canaanitish race who lived in Syria before the coming of the Semitic tribes.” Erlikites, Assassins and Yezidees all derived from the ancient Zurim. The Persian lord of Shalizahr, the Shaykh az Zurim, tells Howard’s hero El Borak that there were also splinters of the cult in Egypt, Persia and India. That sounds rather as though the Brothers of Ahriman (REH, “Black Wind Blowing”) and the Thugs were affiliated with the Zurim also.

Maybe coincidentally – although REH probably read “The Fire-King” – in the yarn “Black Wind Blowing,” Ahriman is described as the “Lord of Fire,” and his evil devotees want a western damsel for sacrifice. Actually Ahriman is the lord of darkness, lies, death and evil, while his opposite, Ormazd, represents sunlight, fire, goodness and life. But the Moslem Arabs who conquered Persia loathed the Zoroastrian fire-worship and represented it as devilish, which may be the source of the idea. (Whenever an evil wizard appears in the Arabian Nights, he’s usually a Persian or posing as one.)

In “Three-Bladed Doom,” REH specifically refers to the Druzes “who worship the Gold Calf.”  That wasn’t Howard’s invention. It was widely believed among folk who are not Druzes. It could even have been true so far as ordinary Druzes knew, since the rank and file of the faith aren’t privy to its inner secrets, only the initiates. A circumstance that always encourages everybody to believe the worst.

Hitti considers this aspect of Druze faith in the chapter of his book titled “The Cult of the Calf.”  He gives pro and con. The Golden Calf, of course, was the figure of a bull which the Children of Israel worshipped below Mount Sinai when they lapsed from belief in Jehovah. It is a perfect symbol of paganism, and the Druze faith is strictly monotheistic. Philip Hitti writes:

Persistent local rumor continues to associate ‘calf worship’ with the Druze religion, but the Druzes them-selves have with equal persistence and vehemence denied it. No worse curse could even today be levelled against a Druze in the Lebanon than to call him ‘calf worshiper.’ Certain travelers like Pococke gave credence to the report; others including Volney rejected it. That there is jealously guarded and hidden from the uninitiate eye, in one of their leading places of seclusion (khalwah), of which there are about forty in the Lebanon, some gold figure of a calf or bull inside of a silver box has been almost ascertained beyond doubt. A high Druze sheikh has practically admitted in a recent interview the existence of such a box.

 The purpose of such an image is a different matter. If it exists. Hitti again, on the question of how it may be interpreted, elucidates.

The question, in view of the secrecy that surrounds the cult and the ambiguity of some of the references, is one of interpretation. De Sacy explains the calf as the emblem of Iblīs (devil), the enemy and rival of al-Ḥākim. Colonel Churchill states that Ḥamzah, indignant at the treachery of his emissary, Darazi, denounced him as the ‘calf whom a deluded people had set up as their idol.’ [Lieutenant Colonel] Conder considers it ‘a relic of older paganism’ which they keep in their solitary meeting places ‘only to treat with insult and contempt.’

If and when the calf cult is proved in the case of the Druze religion, some connection will then be sought with earlier cognate Israelitish and Egyptian cults. Animal worship has greatly figured in Oriental religions, and Christianity bears traces of its survival.

Pulp writers, as I’ve observed, were not scholars. They didn’t have the same purposes as scholars, with one or two exceptions like Harold Lamb, who combined great action writing with a desire to inform as well as entertain. REH admired his work greatly. A desire to be authentic and a capacity for good research imbues a lot of Howard’s stories set in the Orient and the Middle Ages, but he was sometimes rushed and couldn’t take meticulous pains. He also knew perfectly well that a pulp writer could always get mileage out of fiendish Oriental cults with nasty practices.

imagesIn at least one of his stories, he represents Druzes as being almost inhuman. This is “Lord of the Dead,” one of his tales of hard-boiled gumshoe Steve Harrison, often confronted by cases in the Oriental district of the un-named town where he operates. It begins with Harrison attacked in an alley by “a snarling, mouthing fury that had fallen on him, talon and tooth. The thing was obviously a man, though in the first few dazed seconds Harrison doubted even this fact … This denizen of the dark not only was as strong as he, but was lither and quicker and tougher than a civilized man ought to be.”

His assailant follows Harrison, tells him, “You shall not escape again,” and swears “By the Golden Calf!”  In the subsequent fight the would-be killer loses his knife, gets gashed along the ribs and almost blasted with a shotgun before he decides to run for it and vanishes among the trees. An Oriental scholar named Brent, on the basis of the fanatic’s “hawk-like appearance” and “mention of the Golden Calf”, tells Harrison, “I am sure he is a Druse.”  Harrison, slashed, bashed, half-strangled and decidedly irked, roars, “What the hell is a Druse?”

“They live in a mountain district in Syria,” answers Brent. “A tribe of fierce fighters — ”

“I can tell that,” Harrison snarls. “I never ex-pected to meet anybody that could lick me in a stand-up fight, but this devil’s got me buffaloed. Anyway, it’s a relief to know he’s a living human being.”

Harrison goes to a Chinese named Woon Sun for fur-ther information. He asks if these “Druses” are “Moham-medans … Arabs?”  Woon Sun replies, “No, they are, as it were, a race apart. They worship a calf cast of gold, believe in reincarnation, and practice heathen rituals abhorred by the Moslems. First the Turks and now the French have tried to govern them, but they have never really been conquered.”

Harrison answers feelingly, “I can believe it, alright.”

Woon Sun is Chinese, and as much as Harrison and Brent, he is looking at the Druzes from the outside. He may not be wholly correct. The Druzes do appear to believe in reincarnation, but as Hitti points out, it can be doubted that they actually worship the Golden Calf. It’s even possible that they keep the image as a symbol of the ancient idolatries of Baal, which they despise, in order to revile it, as Lieutenant Colonel Conder thought.

The Online website, Brotherhoods and Secret Societies, in the section “Hermetecists and Druzes” has this to say about the Druzes:

They covet no proselytes, shun notoriety, keep friendly — as far as possible — with both Christians and Mahometans, respect the religion of every other sect or people, but will never disclose their own secrets.

Vainly do the missionaries stigmatize them as in-fidels, idolaters, brigands, and thieves. Neither threat, bribe, nor any other consideration will induce a Druze to become a convert to dogmatic Christianity. We have heard of two in fifty years, and both have finished their careers in prison, for drunkenness and theft …  There never was a case of an initiated Druze becoming a Christ-an. As to the uninitiated, they are never allowed to even see the sacred writings, and none of them have the remotest idea where these are kept.

That their religion exhibits traces of Magianism and Gnosticism is natural, as the whole of the Ophite esoteric philosophy is at the bottom of it. But the characteristic dogma of the Druzes is the absolute unity of God. He is the essence of life, and although incomprehensible and invisible, is to be known through occasional manifestations in human form. Like the Hindus they hold that he was incarnated more than once on earth.

Since the website also has sections on “Ancient Secret Societies, UFOs, and the New World Order” and “Occult Symbols Found on the Bank of America Murals”, I’m not absolutely convinced by the “Ophite Esoteric Philosophy” bit, although it’s a fact that the Druzes were, as Hitti says, “subjected to Gnostic and Manichaean influences”, and the claim about their intractable resistance to con-version is right on target.

proclamation_of_king_faisal_i_as_king_of_syriaREH wrote his Steve Harrison stories in the 1930s, which is to say, after the Druze Revolt of 1925-27. It wasn’t solely a Druze Revolt, and is more often and more accurately called the Great Syrian Revolt today, as it involved Sunni, Alawite, Christian and Shi’a rebels as well as Druzes, all of them eager to end French control of the region. But it certainly gave substance to Brent’s description of Druzes as “a tribe of fierce fighters.”  The rebels won early victories, but after that the French sent in thousands of troops, including the Foreign Legion, and shelled and bombed Damascus, destroying much of the city. The revolt was crushed by 1927, and the Druze leader, Sultan al-Atrash, sentenced to death by the French authorities. He fled into exile to avoid the sentence being carried out.

Neither then nor later was the Golden Calf of the Druzes found. Robert Benton Betts gives his views in his book, The Druze (Yale University press, 1990). Betts was a professor at the University of Balamand in Lebanon. He is now retired and living in South Carolina.

Only one person to my knowledge has claimed to have seen the legendary golden calf in this century and that was Francis A. Waterhouse, a former French Legionnaire who wrote about his experiences in Syria during the Druze Rebellion of 1925-27 in a highly sensational and suspect narrative entitled ‘Twixt Hell and Allah. According to Waterhouse, he and a comrade were led by an old Druze man and a naked lad through a hole in the ground (“near the humble Druse village of Tell —– ”) in the Jabal al-Druze to a subterranean cavern where they were allowed to view “the most monstrous effigy that ever beggared imagination.

A Foreign Legionnaire telling war stories wouldn’t necessarily be truthful. Betts calls his account “sen-sational and suspect”. The most suspect thing about it, to me, is the idea that a Druze ancient and a boy of the sect would lead an enemy soldier to the most secret shrine of a secretive religion in the middle of a vicious war. As Eliza Doolittle said, “Not bloody likely.”

Waterhouse served in the 1st Foreign Legion Cavalry Regiment. Besides ‘Twixt Hell and Allah, he wrote another book about his experiences in the Legion, Five Sous a Day. He was wounded in the savage fighting of the Druse Revolt, and honorably released as unfit for com-bat. In 1926 he was hired to wear Legion uniform outside movie theaters to promote Beau Geste. In Five Sous a Day, he insists vehemently that all the incidents he describes in ‘Twixt Hell and Allah did really happen. Decide that for yourself, gentle reader, as you scan this description, in his own words, of the Golden Calf that Waterhouse says he saw “in the dread cavern, deep deep under ground” (Scott).

Towering above our heads on a rough stone dais stood this beast, two long forelegs supporting a grotesque body surmounted by a hideous head in which scintillated two large green stones for the eyes. The beast was graven in solid gold and we stood dumb in wonder, wet with the sweat of fright, gazing … gazing at the Golden Calf of Baal.

Francis A. Waterhouse, ’Twixt Hell and Allah

I’d have to say I prefer REH’s Steve Harrison stories. They’re just as entertaining and no more lurid. Besides, REH didn’t try to tell us they’re strictly true.

This entry filed under E. Hoffmann Price, El Borak.

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Ebony and Crystal: Poems in Verse and Prose (1922, The Auburn Journal) was Clark Ashton Smith’s third volume of poetry, following The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912, Robertson) and Odes and Sonnets (1918, The Book Club of California). Smith had conceived the volume as early as 1916, and by late 1920 had a manuscript which he shopped around to Alfred A. Knopf, Boni & Liveright, and Houghton Mifflin, all of whom turned it down. (SU 148, 167, 186-189) Finally, in 1922 the Auburn Journal was willing to publish the book—“aside from half-a-dozen of the more ‘daring’ erotics”—on credit. (SU 209)

George Sterling helped, providing a preface for the book, going over the proofs, soliciting reviews in newspapers, as well as writing a review of the book which appeared in the San Francisco Bulletin. (SU 11) Problems with the binders delayed the timely publication of the book, which was published in December 1922 in an edition of 500 numbered copies, not counting unbound copies, etc.; Smith says in a letter to Sterling that 550 copies were printed in total, which probably includes unbound copies for review, at a cost to Smith of “about a dollar per copy.” Smith sought to retail them for $2 a copy, from which booksellers would take a commission. (SU 217-218) By May 1923, Smith wrote to Sterling that “The entire bill was $556, of which I still owe $180.”; this suggests that at least 200 copies must have sold, possibly more depending on the bookseller’s commision. To pay off the remainder of the debt, Smith began writing a column for the Auburn Journal. (SU 231) By 1926, Smith still had a hundred copies of Ebony & Crystal in stock; in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft in 1936, Smith admitted that the stock was “not yet exhausted.” (SU 272, SLCAS 278)

In August 1922, several months before Ebony and Crystal was published, Smith gained a new correspondent. H. P. Lovecraft and Smith shared a mutual friend in Samuel Loveman, to whom E&C is dedicated, and at Loveman’s suggestion Lovecraft began writing to Smith. (LNY 19) Through Lovecraft, Smith and his work began to be exposed to a wider circle—Lovecraft published a review of E&C in the amateur periodical L’Alouette (Jan 1924), and promoted the book to friends and correspondents—including Robert E. Howard, who Lovecraft had starting exchanging letters with in 1930. In a letter dated 24 July 1933, Lovecraft wrote to Robert E. Howard:

By the way—I enclose a circular of Clark Ashton Smith’s new brochure of weird stories, all of which are splendid. I advise you to pick up this item—and also the book of poems at its reduced price. (MF 2.619)

The “brochure” was The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies (June 1933), a collection of weird fiction privately printed for Smith by the Auburn Journal. Smith advertised the sale of of The Double Shadow for 25¢ a piece, and the remainder of the copies of Ebony and Crystal marked down to $1 each; besides the announcements circulated by Lovecraft, the advertisements ran in The Auburn Journal, The Fantasy Fan, Science Fiction Digest, Fantasy Magazine, and (for The Double Shadow only) Weird Tales. (ED 205)

As it happened, Lovecraft was slightly behind on events. In the first surviving letter from Robert E. Howard to Clark Ashton Smith, postmarked 15 March 1933, Howard thanks Smith for a copy of The Double Shadow, and adds:

I am enclosing a check for Ebony and Crystal and would feel most honored if you would write your autograph on the fly page. (CL 3.42)

Smith obliged, on the title page of Howard’s copy of the book, which was printed without fly-leaves, Smith inscribed the date, 4 July 1933, and the simple message:

For Robert E. Howard,

These litanies to Astarte and Hecate and Dagon and Demogorgon.

With fraternal good wishes,

Clark Ashton Smith

There is a slight discrepancy between the publishing date of The Double Shadow (June 1933), the date of Smith’s inscription (4 July), and Howard’s reception of it and order for Ebony & Crystal (postmarked 15 March); on the face of it, the likelihood is that the envelope’s postmark doesn’t correspond with the letter. Howard for his part was enthusiastic, as recorded in his reply to Smith, dated 22 July 1933:

I can hardly find words to express the pleasure — I might even say ecstasy — with which I have read, and re-read your magnificent Ebony and Crystal. Every line in it is a gem. I could dip into the pages and pick at random, anywhere in the book, images of clarity and depth unsurpassed. I haven’t the words to express what I feel, my vocabulary being disgustingly small. But so many of your images stir feeling of such unusual depth and intensity, and bring back half forgotten instincts and emotions with such crystal clearness. (CL 3.96)

The 152 page book contains 94 poems and 20 prose-pastels; despite the efforts to proof the book before publication, several of the extant books contain corrections in Smith’s own hand. Howard went on to expound on several of the contents:

For instance, the stanza containing the line: “The pines are ebony”. A memory springs up with startling clearness of a starlit glade wherein I stood, years ago and hundreds of miles distant, a glade bordered with pine trees that rose like a solid wall of blackness. “Ebony”. I have never encountered a darkness like that of a pine-forest at midnight. And again, “Winter Moonlight” and the line: “Carven of steel or fretted stone.” It limns a picture of last winter when I was struck with the weird and somber imagery of a tall mesquite tree etched against a snowy land and the dimly gleaming steel of a cloudy winter sky. (CL 3.96-97)

Refers to Impression (“The silver silence of the moon,” E&C 10); and Winter Moonlight (“The silence of the silver night,” E&C 71) respectively. Howard’s final praise was reserved for the centerpiece of the volume: The Hashish-Eater; or, the Apocalypse of Evil (“Bow down: I am the emperor of dreams,” E&C 49-64), a 582-line epic which would provide one of Smith’s most enduring epithets:

But I could go on indefinitely. I will not seek to express my appreciation of “The Hashish-Eater”. I lack the words. I have read it many times already; I hope to read it many more times. (CL 3.97)

The Texan closed out the letter with:

And in the meantime, my sincerest congratulations on Ebony and Crystal, and thanks for the intriguing inscription on the leaf. (CL 3.97)

Smith appreciated Howard’s comments, and his estimation of Howard’s own poetry seems to have raised his opinion of the Texan, as he wrote to August Derleth in a letter dated 29 August 1933:

H. seemed very appreciative of my book of poems, Ebony and Crystal, and evidently understood it as few people have done. (SLCAS 219)

Howard for his part confirmed in a letter to Lovecraft c. September 1933, writing that “Yes, I got both Smith’s brochure and his book of poems, as I told him.” (MF 2.634, CL 3.108)

Ebony and Crystal remained in Robert E. Howard’s library at the time of his death on 11 June 1936. Dr. Isaac M. Howard decided to donate the books in his son’s library, including E&C, to his son’s alma mater, Howard Payne College, as recounted in an article in the Brownwood Bulletin 29 June 1936, which reads in part:

The library consists of some 300 books, the great majority of which deal with history and biography. More than 50 volumes of current drama and current poetry are included in the collection.

Along with the books, the college acquired a complete file of all the magazines which carry the literary contributions of Robert E. Howard. Included in this file are short stories, novelettes, and book length novels and many poems.

The library is being prepared for cataloguing and circulation and is to be known as “The Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection.” (CLIMH 62)

The collection was also augmented by donations from Howard’s friends, including H. P. Lovecraft and R. H. Barlow. The college affixed the new acquisitions with a special bookplate, and then appears to have sent them into general circulation—as Steve Eng noted, “Such is standard library practice with any donation made in someone’s memory.” (TDB 183-184) The indifferent treatment upset Dr. Howard, who wrote to Farnsworth Wright on 19 December 1936 regarding the collection of his son’s pulp magazines:

These magazines were installed and I was particular enough to have Howard Payne College place his Library in a room part from all the rest of the Library in the College. I took the utmost pains to have this collection placed in such manner as to preserve it entirely.

I was in the Library one day this week. I find that they are wearing the backs off of his magazines. The net thing the leaves will be falling apart, and all that Robert Howard ever wrote will be lost to me if they remain there.

I have got to do one of two things if I preserve his magazines. (The books will stand rough usage.) The magazines will not. (CLIMH 143)

Dr. Howard removed the magazines from the library collection. In Dr. Charlotte Laughlin’s 1978 index what remained of the collection, she noted that one Cross Plains resident claimed “some articles had even been cut out of the magazines” (PQ 1.24), as well as providing another possible reason for the removal of the pulps:

The woman who was the librarian at Howard Payne in 1936, told the English teacher that she did not think that the pulp magazines had any place in the library of a Christian college. She was offended, like many people before or after her, by the scenes of violence and scantily clad women depicted on the covers. She said that she placed these magazines in the basement of the administration building, now known as Old Main. When Dr. Howard learned that they were in a damp basement, he boxed them up and took them home with him. (PQ 1.25)

The vicissitudes of library use led to attrition, so that the majority of the Howard donations lost their bookplate; some appear to never have had them. The original holograph accessions ledger which records Dr. Howard’s donation contains many errors, and over the decades many titles simply disappeared: lost, stolen, or discarded, so the full list of the original Howard Memorial collection will probably never be known. However, in the late 1970s the Howard Payne librarian Corrine Shields attempted to pull together what remained of the original collection, from which Dr. Charlotte Laughlin compiled “Robert E. Howard’s Library: An Annotated Checklist,” the first effort to catalogue both the original extent of the collection and what was left of it, published over the first four issues of the Paperback Quarterly. (PQ 1-4). This initial effort was followed by subsequent efforts by Glenn Lord, Steve Eng, Rusty Burke, Rob Roehm, and others to identify unknown works and locate lost volumes. The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies, for example, does not appear on Dr. Howard’s holograph accession list; perhaps he included it among the pulp magazines.

When Steve Eng collated the lists for the appendix on Howard’s library in The Dark Barbarian (1984), he noted that Ebony and Crystal was not a part of the College’s collection. Charlotte Laughlin in “Robert E. Howard’s Library: An Annotated Checklist” in Paperback Quarterly vol. 1 no. 4 (Winter 1978) notes that Howard’s inscribed copy of Ebony and Crystal was given to Glenn Lord, representative of the Howard Estate, by a former Howard Payne librarian.

Of the approx. 300 titles from Dr. Howard’s initial donation, 68 titles remain in the Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection. These were separated from the circulating collection in the Howard Payne University Library Treasure Room; they are now stored at the Robert E. Howard House and Museum in Cross Plains.

Works Cited

CL            The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols. + Index and Addenda)

CLIMH     The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard

E&C         Ebony & Crystal

ED           Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography

LNY         Letters from New York

MF           A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (2. vols)

PQ           Paperback Quarterly: A Journal for Paperback Collectors (vol. 1, no. 1-4)

SLCAS    The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith

SU           The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith

TDB         The Dark Barbarian

Read Ebony and Crystal here

Photo courtesy of Paul Herman

0725 “Spear and Fang” is certainly not one of Howard’s best tales, but it is with this story that the young Texan became professionally published, in the July 1925 issue of a then fairly recent pulp magazine, Weird Tales.

Weird Tales, which had begun publication in March 1923, claimed to be the first magazine entirely devoted to tales of the weird and the fantastic. However, its first year of existence had been quite chaotic and it was on the verge of cancellation. Lacking direction, suffering from a series of changes in format and frequency of publication, the magazine was failing to build a solid base of readers. All that would change in late 1924 when Farnsworth Wright was hired as the new editor. Wright had an eye for literary quality, knew what the readers liked (and he also realized that the latter was not necessarily linked to the former). His years at the helm of Weird Tales would later become legendary, but in his first few weeks at the job, Wright’s main task was to search for new talent and new direction. It was obvious that the magazine couldn’t survive any longer on a steady diet of (hackneyed) ghost stories.

Robert E. Howard had been writing stories since 1921, aged 15. The young man had begun, and sometimes completed, dozens of tales, the immense majority of which were adventure yarns, aimed at – or written after he had read the latest issue of – his favorite pulp magazine: Adventure. We don’t know when exactly he discovered Weird Tales, but it was very early on, as he submitted two now-lost stories to the new publication: “The Mystery of Summerton Castle” and “The Phantom of Old Egypt.” Weird Tales was hunting talent while Adventure was a highly respected magazine, way above the literary abilities of the young Howard. It was only logical that Howard would try to sell a story to Weird Tales, and this is exactly what happened in November 1924.

On November 27, Howard announced the sale to his friend Tevis Clyde Smith in the following manner, if we are to believe Howard’s account in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (1928), his slightly fictionalized autobiographical novel:

– I sold a story to Bizarre Story Magazine.

– That’s great, said Clive [Clyde Smith]. You sure deserve it – you’ve been working long enough. How much did they pay you?

– Fifteen dollars – I’ll get paid when they publish it.

– When will that be?

– I don’t know; pretty soon, though, I guess.

Lindsey Tyson, one of Howard’s best friends, would later explain that: “Bob and me were rooming together at 417 Austin Avenue in Brownwood when Bob got notice that Weird Tales magazine had accepted his story and enclosed a check for about $20.00. He was about the happiest man that I have ever seen.”

“Spear and Fang,” the tale Wright had just accepted for Weird Tales, would launch Howard’s career – even if the initial going would be quite rougher than what he anticipated – and initiate his special relationship with Farnsworth Wright. Years later, at the time of Howard’s death, Wright wrote: “I feel a great sense of personal loss in Howard’s death, for he was one of my literary discoveries, and although I had never met him, we have corresponded for twelve years, during which time I had come to know him and admire him both as a friend and as a writer of genius.”

For all these years, we had simply assumed that Howard wrote “Spear and Fang,” submitted it to Wright, who liked the subject and treatment well enough to publish it, because it was obvious he couldn’t have been that impressed by Howard’s literary style at this point in his career. It turns out that things were a little more complex than that.

In “The Eyrie” (the readers’ column) of the second issue of Weird Tales he edited (December 1924 issue, published November 1st), Wright wrote:

The inclusion in this issue of the first of two cavemen stories by C. M. Eddy, Jr. [“With Weapons of Stone”], gives rise to reflections regarding a type of caveman story which we have never seen in print, but which ought to afford opportunity for plenty of thrills. Why has not someone written of a fight between a Cro-Magnon caveman and a Neandertal man?

We get plenty of manuscripts dealing with fights between dinosaurs and pterodactyls on the one hand and cavemen on the other, but we send them all back because these strange creatures had disappeared from the earth before the first great anthropoid apes rose to the stature of manhood, according to the records of the rocks as read by the geologists. But Neandertalers and Cro-Magnons existed side by side, and waged relentless and savage warfare against each other. (“The Eyrie,” in Weird Tales, December 1924, pgs. 176-177)

These first two paragraphs certainly read as the spur that led Howard to write “Spear and Fang,” but as it turns out, Wright provided much more than a spur. Here is the third paragraph, followed by a short extract from Howard’s tale:

Our learned friends among the anthropologists tell us that the legend of ogres dates from cavemen tribes. The Neandertalers were so terrible and primitive and brutish, they tell us, that the Cro-Magnon cavemen never interbred with them, but killed them without mercy. And when a Cro-Magnon child strayed alone from its cave, and a cannibalistic Neandertaler stalked it, that was the end of the child; but the memory of those brutish and half-human people remains in our legends of ogres; for the Cro-Magnons were not exterminated by the nomadic tribes that afterwards entered Europe and peopled it, but intermarried with them, and retained some of their legends. (pg. 177)

More feared than mammoth or tiger, they had ruled the forests until the Cro-Magnon men had come and waged savage warfare against them. Of mighty power and little mind, savage, bestial and cannibalistic, they inspired the tribesmen with loathing and horror – a horror transmitted through the ages in tales of ogres and goblins, of werewolves and beast-men. […] Sometimes children went, and sometimes they returned not; and searchers found but signs of a ghastly feast, with tracks that were not the tracks of beasts, nor yet the tracks of men. (Robert E. Howard: “Spear and Fang”)

Wright concluded:

How would you like a tale of the warfare between a Cro-Magnon (say one of the artists who painted the pictures of reindeer and mammoths which still amaze the tourist) and one of those brutish ogres, perhaps over a girl who has taken the fancy of the Neandertaler; and the Cro-Magnon artist follows the Neandertal man to his den, and… But we have no room to tell the story in “The Eyrie”. We wish one of our author friends would write it for us.

And this is exactly what Howard did in early November 1924, probably the very day he bought the latest issue of the magazine, faithfully following Wright’s suggestion. Wright accepted the tale because he had, in a way, specifically requested it. At $16 (or $15, depending on the source), payable on publication, it was probably the best investment Wright ever made.

The rest, of course, is history.

This entry filed under Weird Tales.

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And while we’re on the subject, why should anyone be down on the flapper? Who is? but a lot of venerable hypocrites who raise a yell when they see a girl doing honestly and openly what they did secretly and evilly? Bah! This blatting about the sanctity of the American home makes me tired. Listen to the words of a bird who knows: love marriages! Bunk. Out of one hundred marriages, five people, I mean men, marry for love. Ten marry to spite some other girl. Fifty marry for money, no, I’ll say thirty. The rest all marry to satisfy their lust. That means men. Most women marry for love, but not all. Some marry for the same reasons most men do. I dont suppose youll believe this. But that wont alter statistics.

Letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, June 8th, 1923

Flappers were with-it young women whose heyday was the Roaring Twenties, at which time Robert E. Howard was in his teens and early twenties. Their dress and conduct scandalized their elders. Flappers wore their hemlines short, about one inch below the knee, and their underwear scant; the teddy and step-ins appeared about that time. They wore makeup. They smoked. They drank, and Prohibition be damned. Not only did they share young men’s hip flasks, they often had hip flasks of their own. They bobbed their hair. They attended parties unchaperoned and drove about in cars with college men. (The typical college man’s car was a stripped-down Ford adorned with slogans like “Chicken, Here’s Your Roost,” “Four Wheels, No Brakes,” and “This Car’s Like the Mayflower – Many a Little Puritan has Come Across In It.”) They danced the Charleston and the Black Bottom, which could not be done in corsets. Their depraved behavior had few limits.

(In passing, ten or a dozen years before, when the tango appeared in England and North America, it had made the blue-noses shudder. A hundred years before, when the waltz came in, that one threatened utter moral collapse among the young. What?  Men and women holding one another while they danced?)

flappers-1The mass-produced automobile brought huge changes in young people’s courting and dating habits by itself. It meant mobility, including social mobility. It meant being able to get out of your own neighborhood and go somewhere anonymous, quickly and with ease. And World War One had slaughtered millions of young men. The ones that were left were at a premium with young women. Wait until you were married?  Why?  When you couldn’t be sure of getting married?  And young men who’d been to the war and come back had a big motivation to live while they could.

Young women during 1914-18 had entered the work force in huge numbers out of necessity, and they too had found an existence outside “church, kids and kitchen”. Amelia Earhart was an example of the new symbol for girls. Besides millions of young people, war had killed the old certainties and the old values. The hellish influenza pandemic of 1918 had killed millions more world-wide, and added to the “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” attitude that widely prevailed.

Makeup was considered shocking. The Mrs. Grundys still called it “painting.” Smoking … well, it was a time when only a certain kind of girl  smoked. Bobbed hair and flat chests (they were in, the Gibson Girl S-curve figure was passe) were disgraceful and unfeminine.

Flappers flicker and flap and flirt,
Hip flasks flame and flash and fly,
Gay tints glimmer beneath each skirt –
Stocking tops go not that high.
Silks and satins take the eye,
Flimsy fabrics that cling and stay
Molding the contours daintily –
But where are the drawers of yesterday?

Step-ins, bloomers and panties all,
Combinations hold brief sway –
Not less easily do they fall –
But where are the drawers of yesterday?

–Robert E. Howard

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Female fashion and wanton adornment was a big issue back in the 14th century. Despite the wars, torture, rape, the black plague, endemic treason among the nobles, and kings as a rule being moral degenerates, a constant topic for ranting sermons was the vanity of women. They were assured by celibate (sometimes) priests with straight faces and loud voices that every follicle they had ever plucked on their hairline or eyebrows would have red-hot needles thrust into it by demons for eternity, once the ladies arrived in hell, as they surely would.

Robert E. Howard was informed enough about the Middle Ages to be aware of the above. And all his fans know he was seldom on the side of conformity. Nor did he have patience with hypocrisy or phony pretense. His verse “A Great Man Speaks” gives us the ruminations of a statue of some big-time politician or whatnot as he gazes over the park. There is a drunkard passed out among the flowers, and the Great Man is wishing he was alive, not a statue, so that he could glug the drunk’s whiskey bottle. A pretty girl passes, and he wishes he was alive, not a statue, so that he could get his hands under her skirt. To hell with the puff jobs his admirers give out.

“They set me up on high, a marble saint,
As if to guard the virtue of the park,
My flanks are gaunt, my gaze is cold and stark,
For I must look the part the liars paint.
They’ve cleansed my history of fleshy taint.
The elders bid the younger people mark
How virtuous I gleam against the dark  –
Could I but speak I’d make the bastards faint.”

belles-on-their-toes-1950-hardcoverFathers, of course, took their daughters’ virtue seriously back then. Trifling with it could still get your arse shot off, and the never-darken-my-door bit happened often enough. They meant it, too. For the genuine flavor of those times, look through a copy of the autobiographical Belles on Their Toes, by brother-and-sister team Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. It’s breezy, warm and rambunctious. (The hilarious scene where the large group of siblings, it was a big family, catch a peeping tom and reduce him to gibbering pleas as he’s trapped up a tree, is beyond price.)  But the girls were young and full of beans in a free-and-easy time, and their father Frank Gilbreth Senior didn’t like it, especially when his daughters wanted to be with-it.

There were disputes, heated ones, about makeup and underwear, and Frank Senior was inclined to thump the table and bluster. He threatened to put his daughters in a convent if they didn’t toe the line, although they knew he wasn’t even close to meaning it. “The one with the ten-foot wall, or the one with the twelve-foot wall?” Ernestine asks pertly, when he accuses her of wearing makeup. (She wasn’t.)

Dad Gilbreth was appalled by modern underwear when Ernestine bought a couple of teddies home. She figured that as the oldest it was up to her to pioneer the revolution and weather the storm. “I don’t want to be a sneak,” she announced, “so I’m showing you these now. If you won’t let me wear them here I’ll change into them on the way to school. I’m not going to be the only girl there with long underwear that has a flap in the back!  It’s disgusting.”

“It’s not as disgusting as having no back to the underwear to sew a flap on!” her father roared. “I can’t believe every girl at your school wears these teddy-bear, or bare-teddy, things. If that’s all the underwear women have on nowadays, no wonder you read about all those crimes and love-nests, like that New Brunswick preacher and the choir-singer …”

That would be the Hall-Mills murder case of 1922. Edward Hall, an Episcopal priest, and Eleanor Mills, a member of his choir, were found shot dead in a New Jersey field.  The main suspects, Hall’s wife and her brothers, were tried in 1926 but acquitted. Nothing eclipsed the case until the Lindbergh kidnapping of 1932. Robert E. Howard was possibly thinking of that double murder when he penned another of his caustic verses on spurious superficial morals, “The Choir Girl”.

“I have a saintly voice, the people say;
With Elder Blank I send the music winging –
I smile, and compliment him on his singing –
By God, I’d rather hear a jackass bray.
I nod and smile to all the pious sisters –
I wish their rears were stung with seven blisters.
That youthful minister, so straight and slim –
I’d trade my soul for one long night with him.”

delphineatger-cars-1920s-01a-575x381Harking back to Belles on Their Toes, Ernestine assured her father she was not drawing the long bow. “Come to school and see.”  He blushed and backed down. In the end he grumbled, “The bare-teddies and six o’clock stockings are OK, I guess, but I’ll have no painted women in this house.”  His daughters told him that everybody used makeup these days, and didn’t call it painting any more. He barked, “I don’t care what they call it.”

For the times, Frank Gilbreth was actually quite liberal and advanced. At least, he was proud of his wife for being an industrial engineer and career woman, (in the 1920s, mind) and all his kids adored him. There were twelve, which means Lillian Moller Gilbreth must have been the sort of superwoman you don’t think exists outside wish-fulfilling novels. Both of them were quirky, affectionate people if the book is halfway right. But like the temple priests in ancient Sumeria, they thought there was no more res-pect for tradition and decency and the world was going to hell.

The Gilbreth girls could be reactionary, too. When their parents yielded on bobbed hair, and Lillian took all five to the salon, the hairdresser asked in all innocence, “What about you, Mrs. Gilbreth?”  Well. Her daughters clouded up and rained all over the parade. “No sir!  You don’t touch a hair of her head. The idea!”

Lillian was tickled to have the situation reversed, and pretended to consider the notion. “I don’t know, girls,” said she, smiling sweetly. “It might look very chic. What do you think?”

“I think it would be disgraceful,” declared Anne – the second oldest, as I remember. “After all, a mother’s a mother, not a silly flapper.”

“Just my daughters today, then,” said Lillian. “I guess five bobbed-hair bandits in the family should be enough.”

bathe5413bab61cec5199697161711f0Bathing suits became an issue for the Gilbreth girls too. A two-piece swimsuit then didn’t mean a bikini. The first piece was heavy wool that covered a girl from neck to knee. It wasn’t considered enough for decency. The second piece was a sort of massive, enveloping cape. Long black stockings too. The one-piece suit that appeared in the 1920s consisted of a long top combined with shorts. Legs and arms were exposed. Anne called her mother’s bathing suit a “sea anchor”.

There was more to worry about then, for those who observed it, than petting parties, jazz and blues, too much mobility, or even Al Capone. There was the Red scare, the National Origins Act of 1924, which restricted immigration on precisely the basis it said (and sadly was favored by Howard and Lovecraft) and the exponential rise of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan had broadened its horizons from lynching and shooting blacks to keep them from voting; its hate now included Catholics, Jews, and foreign immigrants in general. Membership was probably five million across the nation, at a conservative estimate, and included plenty of respectable middle class men, doctors, lawyers and ministers. The Klan didn’t like bootlegging, motion pictures, city folks or any kind of religion but Protestant fundamentalism. It was, naturally, all for strict moral conduct and family values.

The flapper was a lewd menace.

mindful-money-party-flapperThe quintessential novel of the flapper era was The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby, the mysterious millionaire and former World War One soldier obsessed with Daisy Buchanan, lives in a mansion and throws extravagant parties. It turns out that his fortune, far from being respectable “old money,” was made bootlegging, and even his name is phony. His passion for Daisy turns out to be delusional too. The woman he has been desperately trying to impress for years is flighty and selfish enough to let him take the blame for a motor car fatality when in fact she was the one driving. Another character, a married man who is himself unfaithful, still explodes in righteous rage when he finds his wife is cheating too. A couple of murders result.

The moral vigilantes of the time should have lived until now. Not that anything is being done now that wasn’t done then. As another Robert, Bob Heinlein, wrote, “Most of our current moral decline can be summed up in one sentence. What used to be covered up is now being talked about.”  I may as well let REH have the last word here:

Ye ancient, honest, olde farmer ye-speaks. “The young people of terday air simply awful. Haint got no decentcy ner nuthin’ … these here one-piece bathin’ suits, and dancin’, and all. Some gals axually read novels! And goin’ bathin’. When I was young folks didnt bathe atall. An’ gamblin’. Taint no harm to bet on hoss-races and play euchre cause I’ve did both myself. But I considers it right-down sinful to play poker and bet on automobeel-races. And drinkin’ … the young men and young women nowadays is right-down scandalous … Well, times aint like they used to be and all the young men and young women is goin’ to hell especially the young women.”

Letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, July 30th, 1923

This entry filed under Howard's Poetry, Tevis Clyde Smith.

arkham-alwayscomesevening

If, like me, you love the work of Robert E. Howard (and if you are reading this blog, I know you do), you may be possessed of literary OCD. You need to get it all. Depending on the depth of your OCD, you will fall into several categories – the reader/collector, the completist, the minutia gatherer, or the super collector.

The super collector is that rare individual. They want the best of everything. They need the Herbert Jenkins A Gent From Bear Creek, The Hyborian Age, Skull-Face and Others, Always Comes Evening, the Gnome Press Conans, and complete runs of The Howard Collector and Amra. These collectors are an exclusive bunch and this article is not specifically directed at them.

grant-sowersofthethunderThere are plenty of fine Howard editions out there for the finding. I love the Donald M. Grant The Sowers of the Thunder. Illustrated by Roy G. Krenkel, one of Frank Frazetta’s friends, collaborators and mentors, it is a work of art as well as a collection of four fine stories. Pre-ordered copies from Grant came autographed by Krenkel! In a similar vein The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane from Wandering Star with illustrations from Gary Gianni carried forward that tradition. Both volumes contain numerous illustrations ranging from full color paintings to large detailed black and white illustrations to tiny spot sketches throughout the book. You cannot go five pages without encountering some figure or scene in the text or margin. The illustrations really enhanced the reading experience to me.

So, as a collector, the big question is “How do I do this without breaking (or robbing) the bank? The easiest answer is “You can’t!” There is just too much material out there. Even if you get paperback copies of everything, you will spend several hundred dollars. And much more, if you want nice copies of those paperbacks.

berkley-hourofthedragon-1stAs I write this, American Book exchange (one of the largest online purveyors/pushers of my OCD) lists 11,863 entries when you search for “Robert E. Howard.” This includes 7,180 paperback entries. (now this number is inflated since anthologies listing a Howard piece will be listed as well as any books that feature the names Robert and Howard somewhere in their description). Prices start at $3.00 plus shipping and go to several thousand for some really rare items. Over on eBay, there are 2,468 entries in Books alone (670 in Collectibles). The prices show 728 items over $35 and 818 under $13.

So there is a lot of material out there. How do you go about gathering your collection? There are several tried and tested methods:

  • Buy whatever you can find – REH, de Camp and Carter, pastiches, Role Playing Games, movies. Make Serendipity your favorite muse. I’ve done this on multiple occasions myself. I didn’t really know what I wanted until I saw it, so I bought it all. OCD, I love you.
  • Set up some filters early on. Do you want only the pure REH stuff? Or all the Conans no matter who wrote them? Do you want novels only? (This is not recommended in combination with the pure REH as you will get Almuric and The Hour of the Dragon and be done. And Almuric will be cheating some as it was finished by someone, probably Farnsworth Wright after Howard’s death.) Perhaps it is the artists associated with Howard – Frazetta, Krenkel, Brundidge, Boris, Achilles, Jones, or any of the other great artists who have tackled his work. There are a lot of them too. What about poetry, boxing, oriental, essays? This can help limit what you go after and allow you to focus in on some nice specific items.
  • Pick your format. Paperback? Combine it with the filters above. Hardcovers? Are you interested in any version, first editions, illustrated editions, signed and numbered, US only, US and UK, or full international?
  • Price point is the next important area. What are you willing to pay? Is $50 too much? Then the Arkham House, Wandering Star, and Gnome Press titles are going to be out of your price range. You want a nice Skull-Face and Others with a pristine Hannes Bok dustjacket. Be prepared to shell out some big bucks, generally $600 or more, up to a price with a comma in it. But, if you just want the stories, you have several options. You can get the entire volume in three paperbacks from the UK Panther Press ($25 or more). Or for a hardback copy, the Neville Spearman reprint from the mid-1970’s can be found for $35 to $50. However, it has an awful cover rather than the beautiful Bok cover. Other than that, you can track down the individual stories and/or pulps (Don’t get me started on that path. That way lies MADNESS!! And an extended money sinkhole.) However, going for the individual piece will mean you won’t get the August Derleth introduction or the memories of Lovecraft and E. Hoffman Price which are original and are not reprinted elsewhere that I know of.
  • The thing that happened when collectors get together to discuss their books, the question always comes up about the one that got away. When I was in college, I worked part time for about 20 hours a week at slightly less than $2.00 an hour. My take home was about $32 a week. Things were a lot cheaper then but still. Every time I visited my bookseller/pusher, she showed me a book. It was lovely, bound in bright red leather. The binding said Presentation Copy. It was Phantasmagoria by Lewis Carroll. I was holding a signed Lewis Carroll book. The price was $150. That was roughly five weeks pay! I was already a starving college student trying to justify $5.00 in paperbacks. I regret not getting it to this day, more than 40 years later. But, I could not afford it. The thing to remember is, if you find it and you can afford it, buy it. You don’t generally regret the books you buy. You always regret the ones you did not buy.
  • The most important rule is simply, buy what you like. Do not buy with the idea of investing and making a fortune over the years. Buy what you like at a price you think is fair and you will be happy. Sure some of the prices may go up. But to realize those prices, you have to find someone willing to pay that price. Which means selling it yourself. I’ve been involved in the book selling world for more than 40 years. There is something sad about seeing the face of someone who wants to sell their collection to me. They come in with high, high expectations. But the reality is the buyer (me) has to realize a certain price and profit for that purchase, that means, if I don’t have an immediate buyer, I am going to sit on this investment for a while. So, I have to store it and advertise that I have it and take it to shows and talk to people about it and, if it suffers some wear and tear along the way, mark it down. It might sell in two months, or six months, or maybe, two years. My money is tied up all the time I hold on to it. That means I have to figure all that in what I can offer. And it will not be what you were hoping. That is the sad reality of it. You may decide you want to keep it. Then, if it is something you loved and enjoyed and bought for a price you were happy with, you will generally remain happy. If you bought it as an investment, you may be disappointed. Be happy. It’s better for your life.

So now, where to start? For series characters, you can’t go wrong with the Del Rey omnibus volumes of Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, El Borak, or Bran Mak Morn. And they have several great collections of short stories, such as The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard and The Best of Robert E. Howard (a two volume set). Reasonably priced, they contain a lot of great reading. Pick a character and dive in! But this isn’t nearly all there is. You want more!

bison-endofthetrailAnother great place to look is the set of paperbacks published by Zebra Books in the late 1970’s. They include The Sowers of the Thunder mentioned earlier with the great spot illustrations included though there is a different cover. There are at least 13 paperback volumes, most with covers by the amazing Jeff Jones. And these are (generally) not the series characters, no Conan, Kull, Kane. There are some Breckinridge Elkins and El Borak stories. The series includes fantasy, adventure, boxing, oriental, westerns, and other types of fiction. There are many other sets and collections. The Bison Press, Wildside Press and Penguin Books reprints are out there and are worth seeking out. Find the Ace The Howard Collector volume. Search, find, acquire, gloat that you have them. Wallow in the OCD.

And that’s not including the electronic versions out there. My Kindle has a collection of 99 Howard stories from various series as well as standalone pieces. And since I have a Kindle on my smart phone, I always have Howard with me for those times when I am waiting for a movie or a table at a restaurant. (Of course, my Kindle has a couple of hundred books on it!) There are many electronic collections out there. For free you can check out Project Gutenberg or manybooks.net which have a mix of stories available.

rehfoundationpress-fistsofironAnd I would be remiss if I do not address the work of the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press and the fabulous hardcover books they publish. Titles like Spicy Adventures and Tales of Weird Menace feature the more obscure stories, variants, outlines, and their history of writing and publication. And the four volume Fists of Iron is to die for. These are for the hardcore collector who wants it all. Check them out. True story here. When I first looked at them, I was at Howard Days at a time when I was unemployed and looking for work. I saw the books and I wanted them. I bought $300 of them at the show, I did not hesitate or think about it. I wanted them right then and I knew that if I hesitated I would regret it.

So, now if you have followed the guidelines, you have a roadmap for your collecting habits. There is a whole wide world of Robert E. Howard material waiting for you to step up and find it. Or, you could just go off-roading.

shipbattle1

I stood on the deck of a ship offshore
And harked to the awesome and deafening roar
Of the ocean waves when they struck the reefs,
High tossed on the tide like crested chiefs
Whose plumes toss high ‘bove the battling hordes
Where leap the lances and flash the swords,
And the mighty waves rose high and steep
To the hand of the waves that smote the deep
And my soul leaped wild and my soul leaped free,
To the leap and the swing of the rolling sea!

Robert E. Howard, “The Sea”

The strangely matched couple of pirate Helen Tavrel and staid, honest trader Stephen Harmer had been thrown together by fate on a remote Caribbean island. They had mutual enemies, the group of pirates led by brutish, ape-faced John Gower, and already in a couple of clashes they had reduced their adversaries’ numbers. Upon seeing the five surviving rogues come together again, none with the longboat on the beach, Helen decided to return and rifle the boat of supplies. It was reckless, and they were caught in the act by Mike Donler and Will Harbor. Stephen shot Donler through the chest, then finished him with a cutlass, while Helen ran the other pirate through. Now the odds were only three against two.

Gower and his fellows, a dark, saturnine Frenchman with the Spanish name of La Costa, a thing he never explained, and a bearded, ill-natured giant called Bellefonte, might have left in the boat. But Gower, the captain, was obsessed with the idea that there was a fabulous treasure on the island. It was supposedly contained in a stone temple, a relic of a lost empire called “Mogar”, which Harmer doubted had ever been. He also thought that fabulous was the very word to describe the treasure. Helen considered it worth searching for, at least, and she was proved right.

265796_190786330981827_128082643918863_545499_6719297_oThey discovered the temple, on the other side of a noisome barrier of bamboo, vines and mud. Howard’s description of its architecture is not dissimilar to that of the “Temple of the Toad” found some fifteen decades later by Freidrich von Junzt, in Honduras. (REH, “The Thing on the Roof”) “… built of great stone blocks … windowless and doorless … huge, squat columns … formed the front of the edifice …”  Perhaps they were products of the same culture. Steve asked himself, “What alien people had built that shrine so long ago?  Surely some terrible and somber people who died ages before the brown-skinned Caribs came to rear up their transient empire.”

Gower and his companions caught them at a disadvantage there, and Steve was wounded by a pistol shot. Clubbed down by La Costa’s musket, he could not assist Helen, and she too was taken prisoner. Gower spared them for the present only because he was impatient to find the treasure he insisted was there. Bellefonte was just as eager, but La Costa had become skeptical. “As for the gems,” he averred, “a legend hath it that the ancient priests of these people flung them into the sea, and I, for one, believe that legend.”  That aside, he felt superstitious about the temple itself. “This is a haunt of demons; nay, Satan himself hath spread his dark wings o’er this temple and it’s no resort for Christians!”

Whatever gave La Costa the idea that he and Bellefonte and Gower were Christians is beyond me. But that’s by the way. REH had a sense of irony. Before long, searching for secret doors or hiding places, La Costa was bitten by a deadly snake and shot himself to end his torment.

Captain Gower was scarcely moved, and continued his search. After a while he stated, “I believe yon altar is the key of this mystery. Bring the sledge and let us have a look at the thing.”  They had a heavy hammer with them, and Bellefonte had the strength to crack almost anything, even what appeared to be a solid square of stone. But Stephen Harmer felt chilled as he watched them prepare. As he expressed it:

“They mounted the stair like two rogues going up the gallows steps, and their appearance in the dim light was as men already dead. A cold hand touched my soul and I seemed to hear the sweep of mighty bat-like wings. An icy terror seized me, I know not why, and drew my eyes to the great stone which hung broodingly above the altar. All the horror of this ancient place of forgotten mysteries descended on me like a mist, and I think Helen felt the same for I heard her breath come quick and hard.”

Gower and Bellefonte didn’t seem to share those feelings. They continued to batter the altar until it proved hollow and broke open. There was nothing in the cavity, though, except one great red gem at the bottom, which seemed to be set firmly in place. They pried it loose. Not having read REH’s “The Thing on the Roof,” or seen an Indiana Jones movie, they didn’t know enough to be very careful what they touched in a secret ancient temple.

With a crunching, grinding noise, the huge central stone dropped out of the ceiling, smashing the bits of the altar and the two pirates. Nothing more was seen of them except blood oozing from under the stone. There was no treasure, either; that had been a fable, or else La Costa had been right in his belief that the priests of Mogar had hurled the jewels into the sea at the time of the Spanish conquest. The bloodshed and death had been for nothing, but on the pirate round, it frequently was. And then death came close to Helen again, when a vessel passing the island proved to be a warship whose officers would hang her if they knew her identity. Steve promptly vowed to pass her off as his sister, and then made an avowal of love, proposing that they change the plan and tell the ship’s captain she was his betrothed. Helen did not refuse, but she asked for time to consider, and to gain Roger O’Farrel’s approval, he being the nearest thing to a father she had. Steve swore in frustration, but he claimed a kiss at least.

Read the rest of this entry »

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.

the-robert-e-howard-foundation

The REH Foundation now has access to the collection of Glenn Lord, including all the thousands of typescripts that he owned. Paul Herman, of the Board of the Foundation, has been cataloging the pages, and has come across a mystery. Perhaps you can help solve it.

There is a piece of poetry that has been published as Untitled (“For what is a maid to the shout of kings”).

For what is a maid to the shout of kings?

To the gilt parade and the host that sings?

Honor and gold and glorious raids

To he that is bold – and other maids.

Dawn gems gleam and white stars dim

By the quiet stream she watches him

Ride with the flash of shields and brands

To the battle’s clash and the far strange lands.

Beyond the skyline where great kings ride,

Glory, jewels, honor and pride.

For the sap in the North must rise again

With the wild geese winging thither;

Gay hours die and a hawk must fly

And the rose of Spring must wither.

The actual page of typescript, however, is numbered page 2! This means it must go with a page one somewhere. Could it be one of the known poems that we didn’t realize had a second page that it went with? If so, what poem is the beginning that goes with this page 2?

That would mean, matching the tone, rhyming pattern, and subject matter. Given the page is numbered, that MAY indicate that it was a finished poem, with a title and REH’s name in the upper corner of the front page. Though it could also be an untitled first page, those exist as well for multipage poems. This page 2 is set up to go around 26-30 lines. So an untitled first page would have a similar line count, a titled page perhaps 4 less. Those are just estimates.

Can you identify the mystery poem? Can YOU put back together one of REH’s poems that has long been split apart? The first to come up with the answer will get their name mentioned in the Foundation Newsletter, along with the publication for the first time of the complete poem together. And the thanks of the Board.

Now, it may be that the first page is lost. REH didn’t keep nearly everything, and some pages have gone missing over the years of moving from owner to owner. But it is worth the hunt to see.

Thank you.

This entry filed under Glenn Lord, Howard Scholarship, Howard's Poetry, News.

2After participating in the Howard Days panel about the Lancer Conan series,  I realized quite a few are interested in Lancer Books and the later Zebra Books. The presentation (and my previous article) concentrated on Frazetta’s influence, but now let’s talk a little more about Irwin Stein and Walter Zacharius, the founders of Lancer Books.

Irwin Stein had a journalist background but had an affinity for comic books and science fiction. He wrote for Quality Comics (chiefly known for Jack Cole’s Plastic Man) and later the romance comics line for St. John. When he left comic books to start his own company, Royal Publications, he published genre magazines (men’s adventures, detective, SF, monsters).

4Stein and Zacharime partners somewhere along the line. They formed Magnum Communications Corporation. One of their first purchases was Swank Magazine. Martin Goodman (Timely/Atlas/Marvel) was the owner at that time. Swank had a reputation as a quality men’s magazine. Aficionados of these things say the quality took a slightly downward slide after their takeover. Magnum Publications include Untamed, Lion Adventures and True War.

They then started Lancer Books in 1961. Later Stein hired Larry Shaw as editor. Shaw was instrumental in acquiring the Conan series and in getting Frazetta to illustrate the first cover. Mr. Shaw was honored with a special Hugo Award for lifetime achievement in 1984, a year before his death.

The early Lancer books had a distinctive green (often bluish looking) edge around the pages. 1962 saw the start of the Lancer Science Fiction Library. These sold for 75 cents at a time when most paperbacks were only 50 cents. Lancer realized they were pitching to a specialty market that would pay a premium. In 1966 they began publishing paperback originals with the purple colored edges. One notable entry was Michael Moorcock (writing as Edward P. Bradbury) doing a Martian series that owed a great deal to Edgar Rice Burroughs.

For Robert E. Howard fans, the key year was 1966, and the publication of Conan the Adventurer.  There is no need to rehash that story again; suffice to say everyone knew that the Frazetta cover was a smash!

Stein in an interview, from Confessions, Romances, Secrets, and Temptations: Archer St. John and the St. John Romance Comics by John Benson, talks about that first Conan painting:

Yes, those covers really put him on the map, I think. He was known mostly to the fans at the time. I tried to keep one of the paintings, and he threatened to come up with a gun. Well, most of the cover artists, if you said you liked something, they’d say, “Keep it.”  What the hell, they had very little residual value at the time. But Frazetta always had a huge sense of his own worth. And rightfully so. Generally, there were very few that I really wanted to keep for myself. But that was one of them, and I asked him for it.

In 1968 they reissued Conan the Adventurer and issued Conan the Wanderer at 95 cents. From the fanzine, Megavore, which featured a Lancer SF Checklist in their 10th issue comes this comment:

It tells you something about the popularity of the series that Lancer could jump the price so rapidly and not have to worry about the effect it would have on sales.

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Lancer was doing well and besides the Conan books published Howard’s King Kull, The Dark Man and Others, and Wolfshead. Larry Shaw left Lancer in 1968. He was replaced by Robert Hoskins. Hoskins, apparently a fan of S&S, edited an anthology Swords Against Tomorrow for Signet Books that mentions REH as a literary descendant of Homer.

conan-the-adventuer11971 saw the change from purple edges to yellow and 1973 brought with it the bankruptcy.

The details of the bankruptcy can probably be found with enough patience and access to legal archives but suffice to say Lancer Books was no more. Magnum Communications Corporation continued on with various publishing ventures and at least three other non-publishing ventures: Vacation Ownership Marketing; Capital Solutions I, and Fuda Faucet Works.

Gerald Jones in Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book tells the story of Harry Donnenfeld. Donnenfeld started National (DC) comics. Donnenfeld apparently had ties to gangster Frank Costello. New York publishers bought a lot of paper shipped from Canada. Canada was in full liquor production during the failed U.S. experiment of prohibition. Along with shipments of paper there was plenty of booze. So pretty much all publishers of exploitation literature (comics, pornography, and men’s adventures) have rumors of mob money.

3As mentioned before Stein and Zacharius purchased Swank from Martin Goodman (of Marvel Comics fame) and Stein worked for various comic book companies. So, yes, they traveled in the same circles as Donnenfeld and others that might have had mob ties. No doubt pornography publishing makes strange bedfellows, but no real evidence of organized crime exists. There was the occasional article in the SFWA Bulletin newsletter about Lancer not paying royalties and offering lame excuses and after the Lancer bankruptcy their remaining publishing arm, Magnum Books, republished books from the Lancer catalog that were in violation of previous contracts. So there were shady-doings but nothing that other publishers had not set as a precedent.

After the Lancer bankruptcy Walter Zacharius chose to start the Kensington Publishing Corporation (which included Zebra Books) with a new partner, Roberta Grossman. Apparently there was a falling out with Stein but other than a very brief mention in Publishing Romance: The History of an Industry, 1940s to the Present by John Markert not much has been said.

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Zebra Books published 14 REH books:

  1. The Sowers of the Thunder
  2. Tigers of the Sea
  3. Worms of the Earth
  4. A Gent From Bear Creek
  5. The Vultures of Whapeton
  6. The Incredible Adventures of Dennis Dorgan
  7. The Lost Valley of Iskander
  8. The Iron Man
  9. The Book of Robert E. Howard
  10. The Second Book of Robert E. Howard
  11. Pigeons From Hell
  12. Black Vulmea’s Vengeance
  13. The Sword Woman
  14. Three Bladed Doom

According to Leon Nielsen in Robert E. Howard: A Collector’s Descriptive Bibliography:

[the] books were selling so well that Zebra capitalized on its success by adding the line, “Heroic fantasy in the tradition of ROBERT E. HOWARD” to the front cover of any book that might fit loosely into the category of heroic fantasy.

Second only to Frazetta as a fan favorite, most of the REH Zebra books featured art by Jeff Jones. Even the most conservative REH fan would probably let Jeff Jones go to the public restroom of his choosing.

Jeff Jones was a troubled fellow with loads of artistic talent. If Frazetta was power, then Jones was poetry. I think it is possible he could surpass Frank Frazetta as a REH fan favorite one day. His best work is breathtaking if not always true to the story.

Walter Zacharius was always an innovator. Early in his career he helped start the Ace Double Novel line (along with Aaron Wyn), and with Kensington he signed deals with Wal-Mart and QVC, and made the first forays into e-books.

One of his more exploitative tricks was during the height of Lee Iacocca’s success with the automobile corporation, Chrysler. Iacocca was popularly known as an innovative entrepreneur (there was talk of him running for President, as if Americans would vote for someone with no political experience!). He had a best-selling autobiography eating up the sales chart. Zacharius republished a previously little read paperback with the same title and it ended up as one of the best selling paperbacks of 1985.

Even with his other successes the Lancer Conan series was a hallmark. His New York Times obituary had this to say in summing up his accomplishments:

With Irwin Stein, he founded Lancer Books in 1961 to publish genre fiction, primarily science fiction and fantasy, notably the “Conan the Barbarian” stories of Robert E. Howard…

The New York Times knew “those were books!”