Archive for August, 2010

Like most of us, Robert E. Howard was a fan of the movies and like many people who lived through the Great Depression, movies were more than entertainment to him; they were a form of escapism. The movies were also a source of inspiration for his fertile imagination.  Indeed, some scenes from movies he saw even showed up in his stories – such was the case with King Kong and a Breckinridge Elkins story.

And I think he’d be surprised to find out he himself was the subject of a movie and any Howard fan worth his or her salt has seen that movie. The 1996 film The Whole Wide World is based on Novalyne Price Ellis’ book One Who Walked Alone, which details her reminisces of her time with Howard during the final years of his life.

A few days ago a review of  The Whole Wide World by Lars Walker was posted on The American Culture website.  Here is Walker’s take on D’Onofrio as Howard:

The role of Robert E. Howard is a big one, and actor Vincent D’Onofrio is every inch its equal. I’m not sure that what we’re seeing here is actually close to the original (I can’t help thinking it’s more a New York boy’s idea of a Texas boy than the genuine article), but he fully inhabits the part and you can’t take your eyes off him. (There’s an interesting scene, no doubt lifted directly from Novalyne’s journals, where he complains of his weak chin. This is manifestly untrue of D’Onofrio, but not of the real Howard). He plays Howard as a bipolar man-child, sometimes euphoric and grandiose, sometimes depressed and frightened at the prospect of facing life without his dying mother (to whom he has an unhealthy attachment), and sometimes just angry at the world.

Overall, it is a great review considering it is written by someone outside the realm of Howard fandom.  You can read the rest of it here.

If you are interested in reading more about Howard and the movies, Rusty Burke wrote up an in-depth history of Howard and the movies in his outstanding essay “Robert Ervin Howard Goes to the Movies.”

One of the nice things about editing collections of Robert E. Howard material is that I get to see what previous editors have done. Steve Harrison’s Casebook was no exception.

I usually begin with electronic text (e-text) that has been generated using a published appearance of the item I’m working on. With “Graveyard Rats,” I started with clean copies of its appearance in Thrilling Mystery and scanned the tale using Optical Character Recognition software (that is, software that creates editable etext from an image of that text). It would save a lot of time and effort if I could just start with Howard’s typescript pages, but OCR programs have a much easier time recognizing the text on a printed page than on a photocopy of a faded typescript, and Howard’s practice of using both sides of a sheet of paper really confuses things. Anyway, once I’ve got useable etext, I restore the text to exactly what Howard wrote on his typescript, when one is available. This is where I find out what previous editors have done.

Sure, usually there’s not much difference between Howard’s typescript and the printed appearance: a comma added here, a typo corrected there. But every once in a while some neat little things pop up. For example, on page two of the “Graveyard Rats” typescript, the paragraph that begins “Crouching against the wall,” there’s an extra phrase that doesn’t appear in any published version: “cursing the patter of the scurrying rat.”

It’s not much, I know, but it makes preparing text a lot more fun. And there were quite a few things like this in “Graveyard Rats.” Another example is toward the end of Chapter 3. In published versions, it’s at the end of the small paragraph, “Demons, the Negroes called them [the rats], and in that moment Harrison was ready to agree.” The paragraph in the typescript has the additional line, “ghoulish grey demons, mad with cannibalistic hunger.”

None of these extra phrases adds much to the story, in my opinion, but it’s exciting to find them, just the same. I’m sure Howard was only trying to bump up the word count—and his pay check—in most cases. At any rate, all of the omitted phrases have been restored for the yarn’s appearance in the upcoming REH Foundation Press release.

And speaking of word counts, the final version of “Graveyard Rats” has 9,373 words. The draft version which will appear for the very first time in Steve Harrison’s Casebook has 11,204 words—and that number doesn’t even include the first and last pages of the draft, which are missing and presumed lost. The draft has several interesting divergences from the final version, not like the observations above. There’s nothing like having more “Graveyard Rats,” hopefully just in time for Christmas.

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.

This is the second installment of the online version of Nemedian Dispatches. I’m taking this feature from the print journal and bringing it to the website. Four times a year, Nemedian Dispatches will highlight new and upcoming appearances of Howard’s fiction in print, as well as Howard in other types of media.

In Print:

A Thunder of Trumpets, by Robert E. Howard (Weird Works, Vol. 10)
Just out from Wildside Press is the final volume of The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard. A Thunder of Trumpets is the tenth book in the series and contains mostly fiction and verse published in Weird Tales after Howard’s death.  Contents and ordering information can be found on Wildside’s website. Also, check out this previous post for more information on the history of the series.

Conversations with the Weird Tales Circle
This is a massive volume that details the lives and careers of the notable Weird Tales writers. The Weird Tales authors  profiled include H.P.  Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Frank Belknap Long, Seabury  Quinn, E. Hoffmann Price, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Lee Brown Coye, Hannes  Bok, August Derleth, Edmond Hamilton, Manly Wade Wellman, Fritz Leiber,  Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Donald Wandrei, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, and others.

The book has a number of sections that contain letters and essays by the writers, with many interviews and memoirs about the writers, often by other writers from the Circle. With dozens of color and black & white photographs, and many of the articles never before reprinted (several coming from 1930s and 1940s fanzines that are now very difficult to find). The book is on sale at the Centipede Press website for $195.00, which is $30.00 off the cover price.

E-Books:

Robert E. Howard Omnibus (Kindle Edition)
This Halcyon Classics e-book contains 97 Howard short stories and novellas. In addition to a number of Conan stories, this collection includes boxing stories, westerns, detective stories, horror, and tales featuring Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, El Borak, Steve Costigan, Pike Bearfield and King Kull. Available from Amazon.com.

Audio Books:

Bran Mak Morn: The Last King
This audio collection from Tantor Media gathers together all of Howard’s published stories featuring Bran Mak Morn: “Men of the Shadows,” “Kings of the Night,” “A Song of the Race,” “Worms of the Earth,” “The Dark Man,” “The Lost Race,” plus additional material. Narrated by Robertson Dean.

Misc:

New Robert E. Howard Museum T-Shirt
TGR artist David Burton designed the 2010 Robert E. Howard Museum t-shirt, which is now available and can be ordered by mail for $18.00 per shirt (postage included). Shirts come in all Adult sizes from S to 3X and orders ship within 24 hours. You should make checks or money orders payable to: Project Pride and mail your order to: PO Box 534, Cross Plains, TX 76443. 

Coming Soon:

The Dark Man, Volume 5 Number 2 (Whole Number 15)  
Due out soon is the 20th Anniversary issue issue of The Dark Man.  Contents include an editorial by Mark Hall, an interview of Roy Thomas by Jeffrey Kahan and an essay, “Fandom at the Crossroads” by Lee Breakiron, plus a Solomon Kane cover by Bo Hampton. To celebrate this important anniversary, the cover price has been rolled back to 1990 prices, so the issue will sell for $3.50 plus postage and handling. Two book dealers who regularly carry The Dark Man are Mike Chomko and Gavin Smith.

Boris Karloff’s Thriller: The Complete Series on DVD
On August 31st you can experience the complete Thriller series, hailed as the most frightening ever created for television. The legendary Master of Horror Boris Karloff hosts 67 unforgettable episodes of suspense, murder and relentless terror from the minds of such masterful writers as Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance, and Cornell Woolrich.  Of special interest to Howard fans is the adaptation of “Pigeons from Hell.”  The Thriller website has a complete episode guide. The collection consists of 67 episodes on14 DVDs, with a total running time of 3,354 minutes. The series is presented in full screen black-and-white video with English mono sound and include a Series Promo and Still Galleries as extras.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
This October, Subterranean Press is continuing the series of limited editions, began by Wandering Star with an edition of Horror Stories. This is their third effort, following Kull: Exile of Atlantis and Crimson Shadows: The Best of Robert E. Howard, Volume I. The contents mirror those in the Del Rey edition.

Conan The Barbarian: The Original Unabridged Adventures
This November, Prion will be publishing a softcover U.S. edition of this British volume that collects all the Public Doman Conan stories. The 512 page book will measure 7 x 9 and retail for $29.95.

Conan’s Brethren: The Complete Collection
Paradox Entertainment and Orion have finally settled their rights dispute over the Howard material contained in this volume. That means this title will be placed on the fast track for publication in January 2011. This massive volume (750 pages) will appear under the Gollancz imprint and features a number of Public Domain Howard stories, including the PD Solomon Kane, Kull and Bran Mak Morn yarns, plus a number of historical and fantasy stories.  The book’s contents appear in this previous post.

Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures
Del Rey’s newest volume of Howard stories will be out in January 25, 2011. Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures will contain the Dark Agnes stories along with a selection of the best of Howard’s Historicals.  The book will be profusely illustrated by John Watkiss.

More than Human: The Evolutionary Heroes of Robert E. Howard
This critical work by Justin Everett, Ph.D. and Deirdre Pettipiece, Ph.D is due out around the first of next year from The Edwin Mellen Press. Included among the topics covered by the authors are: Why American Literary Studies Need Robert E. Howard; Early Influences and the Little Blue Books; Engaging with Ideas: What Howard Read and Its Impact on Howard’s Emerging Philosophy; Sex and Sinews: Sexual Selection, Secondary Sex Characteristics and Howard ; Howard’s Men and Women and Their Potential Sources in Literature and Life and Isolation and Community, Civilization and Barbarism: Binary Forces in Howard’s Fiction.

Robert E. Howard’s Hawks of Outremer: A Graphic Novel
The four issues of BOOM! Studios’ adaptation of the Cormac Fitzgeoffrey story, “Hawks of Outremer,” will be complied to make up a graphic novel.  Publication is slated for February 2011.

Weird Tales Anthology
This new collection of the best of Weird Tales magazine is coming by year’s end from PS Publishing in both deluxe and trade hardcover editions. It will be edited by Stephen Jones and Peter Crowther.  Only a very few details are currently available, but check in from time to time at Steven’s website for further updates.

Graphic Classics Volume Nineteen: Western Classics
An upcoming volume of Graphics Classics, which is similar to the old Classic Comics, will feature an adaptation of Howard’s humorous western “Knife River Prodigal,” featuring Buckner J. Grimes. This volume is due out in February 2011.

“The Tower of the Elephant” App
Conan of Cimmeria is coming to an iPhone or iPad near you. Paradox Entertainment, through its subsidiary Conan Properties International, has begun development of mobile games based on its library of character properties. First out will a game based on the classic Conan story “The Tower of the Elephant.” Release of this app is expected in fourth quarter 2010.

Other 2010 editions: No. 1No. 3, No. 4

Two new books are on the horizon which will be of interest to those of us who love Howard’s detective stories. Rob Roehm, TGR blogger and Director of the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, just posted news over at the Foundation’s website about Steve Harrison’s Casebook and Tales of Weird Menace. In addition to the detective stories and weird menace yarns, Rob has a few other surprises up his sleeve. After reading what is coming up, if you are not a Legacy Circle or Friend of REH member, now is the time to join up — the next two issues of the Foundation Newsletter will be well worth the price of membership. As for the new books, here are the contents of the two volumes, which will be available just in time for Christmas:

Steve Harrison’s Casebook

“Lord of the Dead”
“People of the Serpent” (aka “Fangs of Gold”)
“The Tomb’s Secret”
“The Black Moon”
“The Voice of Death”
“The House of Suspicion”
“Names in the Black Book”
“The Silver Heel”
“Graveyard Rats”

Miscellanea:

“The Mystery of Tannernoe Lodge”
Untitled synopsis (“Steve Harrison received a wire. . .”)
“The Silver Heel” (synopsis)
“Graveyard Rats” (draft)

Tales of Weird Menace

“Skull-Face”
“The Noseless Horror”
“The Brazen Peacock”
“Black John’s Vengeance” (aka “The Black Bear Bites”)
“Talons in the Dark”
“The Hand of the Black Goddess”
“Sons of Hate”
“Moon of Zambebwei”
“Black Hound of Death”
“The Devils of Dark Lake”
“Guests of the Hoodoo Room”
“Black Wind Blowing”

Miscellanea:

“The Red Stone” 
Untitled (“The night was damp. . .”)
“The Ivory Camel”
“Yellow Laughter”
“The Story Thus Far . . . ”
“Taverel Manor” 
“The Jade God”
“The Return of the Sorcerer”
Untitled synopsis (“James Norris”)
“Spectres in the Dark”
“The Spell of Damballah”
Partial synopsis (“Sons of Hate”)
Untitled synopsis (“The Devils of Dark Lake”)
“The House of Om” (synopsis)

If you are interested in purchasing these books, send Rob an e-mail and let him know, and remember the Foundation’s out-of-print Collected Poetry is now a collector’s item selling for as much as $250.00 a copy.

Pre-orders are being accepted via eBay for The Fantasy Fan, which will be published next month.  This hardcover volume features the complete run of all 18 issues, dating from September 1933 to February 1935, and contains original published stories and poems by Weird Tales authors Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, H. P. Lovecraft, and others. “Gods of the North,” a revised version of “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” is among Howard’s contributions to The Fantasy Fan, along with a number of poems. The publication was the first weird fiction fanzine and was edited by the then 17 year old Charles Hornig.

The publisher has carefully scanned each page of the 18 issues, cleaned up the areas that were difficult to read, but did not alter the typos or layout, so you feel like you are reading the originals of this 75 year old fanzine. 

The print run is 200 numbered copies, with the first 100 copies being a Deluxe Slipcased Edition. As an added bonus, a hand, letter-pressed print of editor Charles Hornig will be included in the first 100 copies. Free Priority Mail shipping is also included.

It is quite expensive to acquire a complete collection of this rare and important fanzine, so this volume is an excellent way to have all the issues at a fairly reasonable price.

Paul Herman, is a renowned Howard scholar, researcher and the author of The Neverending Hunt, the comprehensive bibliography of Howard’s prose and poetry. He is also a board member of the Robert E. Howard Foundation and just completed his editing duties on the ten volume Weird Works of Robert E. Howard collection from Wildside Press.

From the git-go Paul was one of those who toiled in the background to bring Howard’s works to generations of Howard fans starving for in-print Howard material. Several years back, he did a significant amount of research on the Public Domain and current copyright status of Howard’s writings and published what he discovered online

Paul recently recounted some significant finds he made at Texas A&M University over at the Conan.com Forums and has granted me permission to re-post the narrative of the discoveries here:

There are three great collections of original Howard typescripts: Glenn Lord’s massive collection, the 1000+ pages at the Cross Plains Public Library, and the Tevis Clyde Smith letters. Howard corresponded with all sorts of folks, but most of them didn’t save the letters. Smith, on the other hand, saved a lot of letters, over 130 of them – 330 pages. Smith was a long time friend, so letters to him start as early as 1923, and go through most of Howard’s life. Smith was also big into school papers and publishing, and so he got Howard’s youthful works printed in various school papers, and together they published various odds and ends. Smith also had dreams of being a poet, and wasn’t shy about saying he was great, but that never really panned out. Smith did write a couple history books on the region and that was about it.

The Howard portion of the Smith papers has had an interesting history. Glenn in the 1960s had asked Smith if he had any Howard material, and Smith had said no. When Smith died in 1984, he left his collection to a relative, Roy Barkley. Roy tried to sell the big stack of Howard material, via Christie’s, and indeed the collection was a featured item in the December 19, 1986 catalog. But the reserve was not met. Also apparently around that time, he had a professional appraiser go through it, and likely had, at the same time, a proper preparation and packaging of the papers (i.e., lots of good Mylar). He also shot a strip of microfilm of everything. Much to his surprise, a copy of that microfilm arrived unannounced on Glenn’s doorstep in 1985 or 1986. The arrival of this stash of letters had a big influence on the attempts to publish a book of Howard letters, first with Grant, which didn’t work out and finally via Necronomicon Press, in 1989 and 1991as Selected Letters, 1923-1930 and 1931-1936. In these publications, Glenn was restricted on word count, and so he stripped out the goofy stuff (and there is a lot of goofy stuff that Howard wrote to Smith), and tried to focus in the historically and biographically interesting. The missing chunks of those letters were finally restored with Howard Foundation Press’ Collected Letters series.

The Smith collection was eventually passed on to Tom Munnerlyn. I contacted Tom maybe a decade ago, asking if I could come shoot copies of his collection. He said no, that I’d just have to wait until the collection moved on, as he was planning to donate it to the Cushing Library at Texas A&M University. Cushing Library is the rare book library at TAMU, and they have a pretty serious SF/Fantasy collection. I had met and worked with the boss there, Hal Hall, years ago.

Recently, someone was looking for stuff and realized the Smith papers had indeed been donated to TAMU, and mentioned it to me. So, I went to have a look, and through the graciousness of the Library folks and with the permission of Paradox, I went down and spent a couple days scanning pages. The microfilm strip Glenn had been working from all these years was in B&W, I was going to shoot in color. Also, no one had any idea if the strip really was complete or not. So, time for a hunt!

The library has twenty boxes of Smith material, though only one with the Howard letters. Most of the remaining boxes were taken up by a massive collection of Howard publications. Pulps, chapbooks, magazines. And some pretty hard to find stuff in there as well, things like The Fantasy Fan. Smith had books as well, but those were off on shelves. All the letters had been stored in nice quality Mylar – Hal told me they came that way, and for the most part they were in very good shape. Some letters were typed on very cheap paper, a few were typed on onion skin (and those were burning up regardless of the Mylar’s protection), a few on legal length (from when Bob worked for the lawyer), but most were on his standard typing paper. Some letters we’d seen in the past, from Glenn’s strip, we’d assumed they’d just missed a little on making the copy, cutting off the right edge or the bottom. No, Bob just typed right off the edge of the page.

All the letters we were expecting to find were there. No new letters were found. We did come across one new handwritten poem, clearly in Howard’s hand. We also found a Howard drawing of a boxer on the back of one letter. Those items will be included in some forthcoming publications, most likely the Robert E. Howard Foundation Newsletters (join now!). We were also able to figure out which separated drawings and poems went with which letters, and we’ll actually be rewriting some details in our bibliographic notes, and over at the Howard Works website. When Glenn had received the microfilm strip, there was no indication where one letter ended and another began, what went together and what didn’t.

One interesting item, when Howard first went to work for the lawyer, the first thing he did was get some of the lawyer’s letterhead legal length paper, and typed up a pretend “summons” for Smith, accusing him of rape. Smith did not find it amusing. I’d previously seen the photo of that page, and it had several curious marks around the top and right side. With the letter in hand, the mystery was solved. Those were old style staples. Howard had attached a second page underneath the first one, and had stapled it top and side so that it wouldn’t easily be noticed or read. That second page starts “HAW! HAW!” and goes on to have some fun and mention he’s now working for a lawyer. I believe this is the first time we knew about that. Indeed, there was no way it could have been shot for Glenn’s microfilm without pulling the staples, and there were still there. I showed it to the staff at the library, and they just said “No problem” and proceeded to pull the staples. So, I got to shoot the front page with staples, then without staples, then the second page.

Smith also saved the school papers. There were several copies of The Tattler, as well as a few of the Daniel Baker Collegian. Some of these contained Howard material, and those got scanned as well. Indeed, in the case of one story, “The Sheik,” we only had Howard’s personal clipping from the paper (now in Glenn’s collection), and one word had been cut off, so we weren’t sure what it was supposed to be. Now we know. The newspapers, mostly from the early to mid 1920s, were incredibly fragile, and it was a bit nerve-wracking trying to very carefully get sections of them on the scanner.

There were also letters from other folks to Smith, mostly members of The Junto, a little writing circle that Howard belonged to. A couple good Howard comments in there, and we’ll be getting those published at some point soon. We also found a photo I had not seen before, and the note with it said it was Smith and Howard, but Rusty Burke and Patrice Louinet both looked at it in detail and agreed it is Truett Vinson and Smith. Also found some printing blocks based off of Howard photos, acid-etched copper on wooden blocks, that Smith used in a couple of his books.

I also went through the Otto Binder papers looking for anything interesting. Otto worked for a while with Otis Adelbert Kline, Howard’s literary agent, and some folks have suggested that he wrote the conclusion to Almuric. Four large boxes, with a mountain of correspondence. That chewed up a lot of time, just reading through it all. I found just a couple mentions of Howard – nothing about Almuric. But worth the dig.

I’m heading back down this week for one more visit, to double check some details, rescan just a couple items. It’s good to have a hobby.

 Part III: A Different Kind of Strength

 We’ve seen what strong women can accomplish in both Howard’s fiction and in the modern world. But, what of those women who because of the circumstances of their lives, do not have any control over their life or safety—those who are not “born to rule” and are unable to fight. Howard described the disenfranchised woman in his Untitled poem, “A cringing woman’s lot is hard:”

Let cringing woman kneel and fawn—
Her speech and actions guard,
And naked, writhe and tremble on
The knees of her harsh lord.

In his fiction there is compassion for those “cringing” women who live in a world where there are they have no rights and who do not have the strength to fight for them. The trademarks of the empowered Howard heroines are swords and pistols and a strong will. But to the disenfranchised woman he gave a special kind of weapon: the strength to survive.

This concept of survival mirrors the viewpoint of the Third Wave feminists who see themselves not as victims, but as survivors. Howard’s mirror reflects the strength of the women who endure incredible hardships and horrors and yet manage to survive.

In one of his most harrowing tales, “The Stones of Destiny,” the unnamed narrator, a young Russian émigré to the United States, is sold into slavery to a wealthy ranch owner deep inside the Mexican border. During the years of her captivity, she is repeatedly beaten and endures every kind of abuse:

That first whipping was a scarlet purgatory which other lashings equaled but never excelled. I fainted before it was over and how long he flayed my unconscious form, I do not know…In terrible fear of another lashing, reeling, half able to stand, I went to him, half insane from shame, yet overpowered with cringing fear—I came to him…my innocence filled him with a beastly delight and he never tired of inventing ways to outrage my modesty and decency. Sometimes when intoxicated upon mescal, he would enter my room at night and torture me in various ingenious ways until sometimes his brutality would actually render me unconscious.

In spite of the humiliation and degradation he has inflicted on her, her attacker knows she hasn’t been “tamed.” When he tells her this, she is confused. “I could not see how a woman could be more ‘tamed.’ I hastened to comply with his every wish. I cringed and fawned on him to avoid punishment and after cruel whippings I crawled to him and kissed his hands.” Her abuser replies, “You are pliant, yielding—and the more a thing gives, the more difficult it is to break. You are my slave now but if you should escape tonight, in a few months none could ever tell that you had been used as I have used you.”

She manages to live through this punishment and torture for three years until a neighboring rancher seeking revenge on her captor, offers to help her escape. Not knowing whether it is a trap or a test to see if she will try to escape again and even knowing she could be killed, she resolves to meet her rescuer. He does lead her to the border. Once she is across the Rio Grande and back into the United States, she celebrates her freedom:

I could hardly believe I was free. I laughed, I sang, I waved my arms. Any one seeing me would have thought me insane. Free! After three years, three centuries! Three eternities! Ah, no one can appreciate that freedom is the greatest of all blessings unless one has been like myself, a slave.

And, survival itself also carries a price. It means living with the memories of her three-year nightmare. When she returns to her aunt’s home in New Orleans, she knows she is not the same person:

Three years of shame and torture since I had left New Orleans, young, pure, vibrant for life and love, a child of seventeen; I returned a woman of twenty, and far older in experience, violated, defiled, broken like a flower upon the stones of Destiny.

The narrator in “Stones of Destiny” is a young woman of seventeen when she is lured away from her aunt’s home by the false promises of a man she believes loves her. In the Solomon Kane adventure, “Moon of Skulls,” Marylin, is a small child, little more than a baby, when she is kidnapped from her home by a cousin who fears she will inherit the estates he covets. He sells her to a Barbary pirate who in turn sells her to a merchant out of Stamboul. The merchant’s ship is set upon by a Portuguese slaver and sunk. Marylin becomes the captive of the slaver. Again, she is saved when the slave ship is ambushed on the African West Coast. This time she is taken inland as a part of a tribute.

After years of searching on a trail that had many times gone cold, Solomon Kane, who knew Marylin as a child, eventually finds her in the power of Nakari of Negari, a demon queen of a demon city, whose monstrous lust for blood had set half a continent shivering. Marylin tells Kane that all her earlier captors sought to either sell her or ransom her back to her family; so she was not harmed by them. But, it was different in Negari. He asks her if they misused her in the castle:

Marylin lay back on the couch and the blood drained slowly from her already pallid features until she was deathly white. Her response “Ask me not. There are deeds better hidden in the darkness of night and forgetfulness. There are sights which blast the eyes and leave their burning mark forever on the brain. The walls of ancient cities, recked not of by men, have looked upon scenes not to be spoken of, even in whispers.”

Subsequently, Kane refuses Nakari’s offer to make him king of Negari. In a passionate fury, she tells him Marylin “shall be punished as I have punished her before – hung up by her wrists, naked, and whipped until she swoons.” Later, another captive, who is the last descendent son of Atlantis, tells Kane that even worse horrors were endured by Marylin:

She has danced with the Star-maidens at Nakari’s command, and has looked on the bloody and terrible rites of the Black Temple. She has lived for years among a people with whom blood is cheaper than water, who delight in slaughter and foul torture, and such sights as she has looked upon would blast the eyes and wither the flesh of strong men. She has seen the victims of Nakura die amid horrid torments, and the sight is burned for ever in the brain of the beholder.

Like the young Russian émigré in “The Stones of Destiny,” Marylin survives by being compliant. After Kane kills Nakari and rescues Marylin from the castle, he sees her smile for the first time and he sighs with relief. Already the ghosts were fading from her haunted eyes and he looks forward to the day when her horrible experiences should be as a “dimming dream.”

And survival in Howard’s fiction comes in many forms, including the acceptance of what cannot be changed.

“The Pool of the Black One,” begins with a description of Sancha, who is a willing member of the pirate crew aboard the Wastrel, under the command of Captain Zaporavo:

Sancha, once of Kordava, yawned daintily, stretched her supple limbs luxuriously, and composed herself more comfortable on the ermine-fringed silk spread on the carack’s poop-deck. That the crew watched her with burning interest from waist and forecastle she was lazily aware, just as she was also aware that her short silk kirtle veiled little of her voluptuous contours from their eager eyes.

 While Sancha is lying on the deck, Conan, swimming from a leaky boat, climbs aboard the ship. As she eyes him with interest, Howard describes her background:

No great length of time lay between her and the palaces of Kordava, but it was as if a world of change separated her from the life she had lived before Zaporavo tore her screaming from the flaming caravel his wolves had plundered. She, who had been the spoiled and petted daughter of the Duke of Kordava, learned what it was to be a buccaneer’s plaything, and because she was supple enough to bend without breaking, she lived where other women had died, and because she was young and vibrant with life, she came to find pleasure in the existence.

Sancha is resilient and she has adapted to her new life. But, her existence on the ship is not all sun-bathing on ermine-fringed silk spreads. She is Captain Zaporavo’s captive, literally a slave without rights, and inside him exists a “lurking devil” that frequently hurts her without cause.

The young Russian émigré, Marylin and Sancha lived through the physical, mental and emotional abuse inflicted on them during their captivity and each managed to survive in her own way. And, while their stories are fictional, the strength to survive is not limited to fiction. The names and some of the circumstances change but the stories of the young Russian émigré and Sancha appear on the front pages of modern world newspapers far too frequently. Headlines today give examples of real life women and children who survive similar atrocities and live. One of these incredible tales of survival is that of Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was found alive eighteen years after she was kidnapped at age eleven. During this time, she bore two daughters by her kidnapper, one when she was fourteen and the other three years later.

Fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart is another young girl who showed strength and resilience. She was snatched from her bedroom and, at knifepoint, was told that if she screamed she would be killed. Nine months later she was found alive. At the trial of her kidnapper, Smart testified to being threatened, bound, and raped daily while she was held captive.

Not only did Jaycee Lee and Elizabeth survive their ordeals, they also continue to heal and to thrive; they are learning not to be defeated by what happened. Today, survivor Elizabeth Smart speaks of focusing on a positive future as her approach to healing. At a conference in California, the twenty-one-year old Smart tells of “overcoming the unimaginable” by not letting what happened to her “disable her from doing what she wants to do” with her life.

In Howard’s fiction, there is also healing. His stories tell of resilience and bending without breaking as a key to survival. Sancha and the young Russian émigré, as well as many other captives, both real and fictional, found a way to survive and to come to terms with the kidnapper/rapist on whom their lives depended. The young Russian woman was, in her own words, “violated, defiled, and broken like a flower.” But more than that, she and other disenfranchised women in Howard’s fiction showed more than survival skills: they also displayed the strength to heal and to thrive. Again in the words of the young Russian woman four years later, “My slavery no longer haunts my dreams, and the whole seems as a dim nightmare.” Solomon Kane sees Marylin’s healing as soon as she smiles with the “quick eagerness of a normal young girl.” He knows in time the ghosts will fade. And finally, paraphrasing Howard’s statement in regard to Sancha, “And because she was young and vibrant with life, she came to find pleasure in existence” gives some insight into the healing process itself.

The women in Howard’s fiction reflect those in the modern world. Both contain strong, empowered women who make decisions on issues that affect their lives. There are also the disenfranchised ones who use a different kind of strength, one that enables them to survive in a world where they are powerless to control any of the “unimaginable” and unthinkable events that happen to them. The strength to live through the pain and torture of abuse makes them, according to the Third Wave feminists, survivors, not victims.

Not all modern women and feminists adhere to the Third Wave beliefs regarding self-determination and survival. But, no matter what their beliefs, perhaps, they, as well as Howard’s fictional women, can agree that Su, an Australian woman interviewed for the 1996 anthology DIY Feminism, said it best: “[Feminists are] just women who don’t want to be treated like shit.”

Part I / Part II

During Howard Days 2008 and 2009, a group of film students from California who call themselves Goodspeed Productions made trips to Cross Plains to film Barbarian Days, a documentary on the event and the fans who attend each year. 

The title of the film is actually an interesting amalgamation of “Howard Days” and the “Barbarian Festival,” both of which are held during the second weekend of June.

Howard Days was first held in June 1986 and became an annual event in 1999.  It has grown steadily, drawing larger and larger crowds each year. Howard Days is sponsored by Project Pride, REHupa and the Robert E. Howard Foundation. Next year the event will be especially special as it will commentate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Cross Plains and the 25th anniversary of the very first Howard Days.

The Barbarian Festival originated in 1998 as a one-day fair/hunting festival hosted by Cross Plains each year during the month of September.  Hunting season (depending on the critter) generally starts in most Texas counties during the month of September. Over the ensuing years, it became increasingly difficult for the town to plan and host both Howard Days and the Barbarian Festival, so in 2003 they decided to move the Festival to coincide with the second day (Saturday) of Howard Days.  This allowed the Festival organizers to capitalize on the Howard Days attendees (especially non-Howard fans like spouses and children) who have time to spend at the festival to enjoy the food and various activities available. This support from the Howard fans and their families adds much needed dollars to the Festival’s bottom line.

The Festival runs from 10am–4pm on the second Saturday in June. Each year the event features a parade, food and craft booths, a classic automobile show that also features old timey tractors and a huge display of motorcycles, not to mention a hula-hoop contest, a petting zoo, and other types of family entertainment. 

The four “heroes” of the film are Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier, Mark Finn and Chris Gruber – all four are extensively interviewed and profiled.  And a number of other recognizable Howard Heads are featured as well, along with footage of the various activities, panels and events surrounding both Howard Days and the Barbarian Festival. The trailer featured at the film’s website gives a good indication of what the film is all about.  The filmmakers seem to have captured the essence of both Howard Days and its companion event, the Barbarian Festival.

Barbarian Days is just wrapping up post-production and the filmmakers hope to get it out on the film festival circuit later this year.  The filmmakers are actively soliciting donations to help with the production costs and promotion of the film.  This documentary is a good vehicle to spread the word about Robert E. Howard and the many followers he has worldwide.  So please support the film and keep up with its progress at the website and on both Facebook and Twitter.  With some luck and a lot of donations, Barbarian Days just might make it to Sundance, the mother of all film festivals and from there, hopefully, into theaters.

Part II: Inner Strength and Resolve

Many Howard fans consider his heroines such as Dark Agnes, Bêlit, Valeria and Red Sonya, with their swords and pistols, to be the only strong women in his fiction. But skill with weapons is not the only way for women to control the decisions and issues that shape their lives. Howard also created women with great inner strength and resolve. When these women were not able to right a wrong personally, they enlisted the strength of others.

Among those who showed this inner strength was the Devi Yasmina. In “The People of the Black Circle,” she seeks to coerce Conan to do her bidding when the death of her brother, the ruler of Vendhya, is brought about by the Black Seers of Mount Yimsha. The Devi is not strong enough to avenge her brother’s death by herself and devises a plan to get Conan’s help. She imprisons seven of his men intending to bargain their lives and freedom for the death of the sorcerers. Her plan backfires when Conan abducts her. As she and Conan flee from her soldiers, her life as the Devi of Vendhya is left behind. Yasmina is carried “on the saddle-bow” of a man she considers to be a hill chief, “like a common wench.” Although shamed and humiliated by this rough treatment, she remains adaptable. When she changes her tattered silk skirt for the garb of the hill people, Yasmina undergoes a further transformation:

It was indeed as if the changing of her garments had wrought a change in her personality. The feelings and sensations she had suppressed rose to domination in her now, as if the queenly robes she had cast off had been material shackles and inhibitions.

Now all the accoutrements of her royal and almost divine status as the Devi are gone. Conan comments when he sees her: “You were a goddess–now you are real.”

Ultimately Yasmina is captured by the Master of Yimsha, a sorcerer who decides to keep her for his own slave. Outraged, Yasmina says she will never yield, but the Master tells her that she will:

“Fear and pain shall teach you. I will lash you with horror and agony to the last quivering ounce of your endurance, until you become as melted wax to be bent and molded in my hands as I desire. You shall know such discipline as no mortal woman ever knew until my slightest command is to you as unalterable as the will of the gods. And first, to humble your pride, you shall travel back through the lost ages and view all the shapes that have been you.”

In one of the most unique forms of torture in Howard’s stories, Yasmina is transported back through time to her own beginning:

There was a sensation of all sanity and stability crumbling and vanishing. She was a quivering atom of sentiency driven through a black, roaring, icy void by a thundering wind that threatened to extinguish her feeble flicker of animate life like a candle blown out in a storm. Back beyond the dimmest dawns of Time she crouched shuddering in primordial jungles, hunted by slavering beasts of prey…She saw walled cities burst into flame, and fled screaming before the slayers. She reeled naked and bleeding over burning sands, dragged at the slaver’s stirrup, and she knew the grip of hot, fierce hands on her writhing flesh, the shame and agony of brutal lust. She screamed under the bite of the lash and moaned on the rack, mad with terror she fought against the hands that forced her head inexorably down on the bloody block. Her own consciousness was not lost in the throes of reincarnation…Life merged into life in flying chaos, each with its burden of woe and shame and agony, until she dimly heard her own voice screaming unbearably, like one long-drawn cry of suffering echoing down the ages.

Later, Yasmina tells Conan of her experience:

“I met the Master,” she whispered, clinging to him and shuddering. “He worked his spells on me to break my will. The most awful was a moldering corpse which seized me in his arms – I fainted then and lay as one dead.”

Although she fainted, Yasmina’s will was not broken. After the destruction of the Master, Conan leaves Mount Yimsha with Yasmina and her inner strength is tested once again when Conan declares he will keep her for himself. The Devi protests, saying that she cannot stay with him. When Conan finds his men are trapped and Yasmina’s army is approaching, he has to choose between keeping her or saving his men. The Devi points out he can save his men by letting her go. When he agrees, she and Conan go toward their own men and their combined armies overcome their mutual enemy. After the battle they meet as equals. When she laughs and gathers her reins, “Conan’s eyes shine with fierce appreciation and admiration and he steps back to allow her to pass, indicating that her road was clear before her.”

For modern feminists, empowerment means taking control over the decisions and issues that shape their lives. However, in most worlds, whether fictional or real, slaves have little control over anything. Howard’s fiction is an exception. In his stories, slavery is not always equated with weakness or helplessness. Nor does it mean once a slave, always a slave. In The Hour of the Dragon, Conan is rendered helpless by a three-thousand year old magician who has been reanimated. Zenobia, who is the slave of Tarascus, Conan’s enemy, rescues Conan from his underground dungeon. Drugging the bodyguards, Zenobia hands Conan the keys to his manacles:

“I am only a girl of the king’s seraglio,” she said, with a certain proud humility. “He has never glanced at me, and probably never will. I am less than one of the dogs that gnaw the bones in his banquet hall. But I am no painted toy, I am of flesh and blood. I breathe, hate, fear, rejoice and love. And I have loved you, King Conan, ever since I saw you riding at the head of your knights…My heart tugged at its strings to leap from my bosom and fall in the dust of the street under your horse’s hoofs.”

Zenobia’s inner strength contrasts sharply with her slave status in society. She was not a weak or helpless person. At great peril to her own life, she leads Conan out of the castle and provides him with a formidable knife as well as a fast, strong horse for his escape. As he promised her, Conan returns to defeat the eons-old magician and the armies of his foes. He also captures Tarascus. When Tarascus asks what ransom he must pay for his person, Conan responds, “There is a girl in your seraglio named Zenobia…She shall be your ransom and naught else…She was a slave in Nemedia, but I will make her queen of Aquilonia!” As a result, Zenobia, whose heart “tugged at its strings” at the sight of King Conan, becomes his queen.

Also strong in Howard’s fiction were evil women like Salome in “A Witch Shall Be Born.” Salome bears the witch mark of the red half-moon between her breasts. Left to die in the desert as a child because of this mark, she becomes a vicious, sadistic witch. In revenge, Salome imprisons, cruelly tortures, and usurps the throne her twin sister.

In a reign of debauchery and terror, Salome almost destroys her sister’s kingdom. While she has the inner resolve to seize the throne of her twin, she cannot hold it. Once the impersonation is discovered, not even her witch’s wiles that can summon forth monsters, can save her:

Valerius whirled on his toes, quick and fierce as a jungle-cat, glaring about for Salome. She must have exhausted her fire-dust in the prison. She was bending over Taramis, grasping her sister’s black locks in one hand, in the other lifting a dagger. Then with a fierce cry Valerius’s sword was sheathed in her breast with such fury that the point sprang out between her shoulders. With an awful shriek the witch sank down, writhing in convulsions, grasping at the naked blade as it was withdrawn, smoking and dripping. Her eyes were inhuman; with a more than human vitality she clung to the life that ebbed through the wound that split the crimson crescent on her ivory bosom. She groveled on the floor, clawing and biting at the naked stones in her agony.

While none of these women had the personal skill to put sword or pistol to effective use, each of them, through their strength and resolve, used whatever means available to achieve her purpose. For Yasmina, this purpose meant enlisting Conan’s help in the destruction and death of the sorcerers who brought about her brother’s death; Zenobia planned and bravely rescued Conan and subsequently became Queen of Aquilonia; and Salome’s dark inner strength allowed her to use her witch’s wiles to sit briefly on her sister’s throne.

Part I / Part III