Archive for October, 2010


Robert E. Howard had a long career in amateur publications. He started with his high school newspaper, The Tattler, and continued with his college paper, The Yellow Jacket; he also had work published in The Daniel Baker Collegian and Baylor College’s United Statement. Between those publications, he did some work for a few Lone Scout papers, including The All-Around Magazine, The Toreador, and his own venture, The Right Hook. After leaving college, he joined a group of similarly-minded Texans to produce The Junto. As his writing career picked up, The Junto dissolved, but that wasn’t the end of Howard in the amateur press.

Around October of 1933, fellow Weird Tales writer Clark Ashton Smith sent Howard a copy of The Fantasy Fan #2. In a letter that month, Howard thanked Smith:

Thanks for the copy of Fantasy Fan. I subscribed for a year; a dollar is little enough to pay for the privilege of reading stories by Lovecraft, Derleth and yourself. I enjoyed very much your “Kingdom of the Worm”. It is an awesome and magnificent and somber word picture you have drawn of the haunted land of Antchar.

True to his word, in a letter dated November 1, 1933, Howard wrote to the editor of The Fantasy Fan, Charles Hornig, and included a check for a year’s subscription. After praising the contents, he adds, “I shall be glad to submit some things, if you wish.”

Apparently, he wished. On November 10, Howard sent Hornig a copy of “The Frost King’s Daughter.” Originally a Conan tale, it had been rejected by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright. Howard did a minor rewrite, changing the main character from Conan to Amra, and sent it to Hornig. It was published as “Gods of the North” in the March 1934 issue. Besides “Gods,” Howard also contributed two poems to the magazine.

From October 1933 to April 1935, Howard’s letters are full of mentions of The Fantasy Fan. Besides a handful of letters to editor Hornig (some of which were published in the magazine), Howard also discussed TFF with Lovecraft, Smith, Derleth, Emil Petaja and Robert H. Barlow—contributors all.

Unfortunately, the magazine folded after the February 1935 issue. Howard wrote to Hornig in early May: “I’m very sorry to learn that The Fantasy Fan has to be discontinued. I enjoyed the magazine very much, and had hoped that it would be able to carry on.”

Besides the poetry and short stories, The Fantasy Fan had a bustling letters column. “Our Readers Say” is full of letters from all of the writers mentioned above, including Howard, as well as other big names in the field, like Forest Ackerman and Duane W. Rimel. The magazine also reported on events and authors of the era in columns like “Within the Circle,” by F. Lee Baldwin. Baldwin reported on a wide variety of events and authors, including this note from the June 1934 issue:

E. Hoffmann Price is touring the Southwest and is planning to call on Robert E. Howard, dip into Mexico, stop at Clark Ashton Smith’s and finally wind up in San Francisco. His beloved rugs are with him.

And that’s just one of the many references to Howard contained in the magazine’s 18-issue run.

Back in 2006, I issued a little collection called Robert E. Howard in The Fantasy Fan. I thought I had collected all of the Howard-related material found in those pages. Boy, was I wrong. Besides missing the Price/Howard reference above, I didn’t have access to a complete run and so missed many more. What’s a Howard fan to do?

Now, thanks to Lance Thingmaker, fans of Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and others, can take a trip back in time and read the complete run of The Fantasy Fan. Thingmaker has produced a beautiful, slip-cased, hardcover collection of all 18 issues—in facsimile, no less. And he’s added the complete text of Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” which ran in installments during the magazine’s lifetime, but was not completed before it ceased publication.

I received my copy a few days ago, and the attention to detail in this collection is much appreciated. Not only is each issue presented in its entirety, Thingmaker even matched the appearance of the originals. For example, the September 1934 issue had a white cover (it was the anniversary issue): For this collection, the pages are suitably tan, but the anniversary number has a white cover. The same with the pinkish May 1934 cover. Nice.

For people interested in Howard, Lovecraft, and/or Smith—or even Fantasy fiction in general—as well as those who just like weird fiction, this volume is a must have. Search for “fantasy fan hardcover” on eBay and “Buy it now” for $55. Or contact the publisher.

While living in Bagwell, a young Robert E. Howard became enamored with ghost stories told to him by a former slave and family cook, “Aunt” Mary Bohannon. The stories of the horrors, both man-caused and supernatural, the slaves endured scared him and at the same time piqued his interest in the darker side of the Old South.

But it was the stories told by his Irish grandmother that had the most profound effect on Howard – stories that had a grimness about them, deeply steeped in the forboding folklore from the Old Country, mixed with the superstitions of the New World.

The following is an excerpt from a letter Howard wrote to H. P. Lovecraft in September of 1930 describing these early horror influences.

Aunt Mary said that when a good spirit passes, a breath of cool air follows; but when an evil spirit goes by a blast from the open doors of Hell follows it.

She told many tales, one which particularly made my hair rise; it occurred in her youth. A young girl going to the river for water, met, in the dimness of dusk, an old man, long dead, who carried his severed head in one hand. This, said Aunt Mary, occurred on the plantation of her master, and she herself saw the girl come screaming through the dusk, to be whipped for throwing away the water-buckets in her flight.

Another tale she told that I have often met with in negro-lore. The setting, time and circumstances are changed by telling, but the tale remains basically the same. Two or three men — usually negroes — are travelling in a wagon through some isolated district — usually a broad, deserted river-bottom. They come on to the ruins of a once thriving plantation at dusk, and decide to spend the night in the deserted plantation house. This house is always huge, brooding and forbidding, and always, as the men approach the high columned verandah, through the high weeds that surround the house, great numbers of pigeons rise from their roosting places on the railing and fly away. The men sleep in the big front-room with its crumbling fire-place, and in the night they are awakened by a jangling of chains, weird noises and groans from upstairs. Sometimes footsteps descend the stairs with no visible cause. Then a terrible apparition appears to the men who flee in terror. This monster, in all the tales I have heard, is invariably a headless giant, naked or clad in shapeless sort of garment, and is sometimes armed with a broad-axe.


But through most of the stories I heard in my childhood, the dark, brooding old plantation house loomed as a horrific back-ground and the human or semi-human horror, with its severed head was woven in the fiber of the myths.

But no negro ghost-story ever gave me the horrors as did the tales told by my grandmother. All the gloominess and dark mysticism of the Gaelic nature was hers, and there was no light and mirth at her. Her tales showed what a strange legion of folk-lore grew up in the Scotch-Irish settlements of the Southwest, where transplanted Celtic myths and fairy-tales met and mingled with a sub-stratum of slave legends. My grandmother was but one generation removed from south Ireland and she knew by heart all the tales and superstitions of the folks, black or white, about her.

As a child my hair used to stand straight up when she would tell of the wagon that moved down wilderness roads in the dark of the night, with never a horse drawing it — the wagon that was full of severed heads and dismembered limbs; and the yellow horse, the ghastly dream horse that raced up and down the stairs of the grand old plantation house where a wicked woman lay dying; and the ghost-switches that swished against doors when none dared open those doors lest reason be blasted at what was seen. And in many of her tales, also, appeared the old, deserted plantation mansion, with the weeds growing rank about it and the ghostly pigeons flying up from the rails of the verandah.

There is a legend that was quite popular in its day in the Southwest, which I am unable to place. That is, I cannot decide whether it is one of the usual inconsistencies negro-folk-lore often displays, or a deliberate Irish invention, intended to be a bull. That is the one about the headless woman, who strange to say, was often heard grinding her teeth in the angle of the chimney, and whose long hair flowed down her back!

One can easily imagine a wide eyed, young and impressible Robert sitting on the edge of his chair, listening to these dark tales of the supernatural spun by his grandmother and “Aunt” Mary, subconsciously storing them away in his mind for future use, and they no doubt served as the genesis for many of his regional horror stories, including his most frightful tale, “Pigeons from Hell.”

Some of these tales of terror grew out of real places and real events, while others were pulled from Howard’s incredible imagination. Such is the mixed bag of East Texas ghost stories on the Texas Ghost Hunters website. And I have reason to be a little scared myself — at least five of the haunted places listed are in Old Town Spring, which is just up the road from where I live. Today, the old town is a popular tourist attraction with restaurants and an eclectic shopping area. Below you will find some examples of these harrowing tales of horror from the website.

Jackson Plantation (Lake Jackson, Brazoria County)
One night the two Jackson brothers had a fight. One ended up decapitating the other and throwing the head into the lake. The head was never found and the body had to be buried without it. To this day residents say that you can hear the sounds of someone wading into the lake and asking, “Where is my head?”

The lake for which the town was named is a slave-built structure with a strange history. The lake was made to serve the Jackson Plantation, owned by two brothers. During a particularly ugly spat, one of the Jackson brothers murdered the other and threw his head into the nearby lake. From that day, apparitions have appeared as well as sounds of the headless brother searching for his head. The plantation was moved decades later to make way for a new subdivision. People who live in the now-called Lake Jackson Farms have reported apparitions outside their homes, strange noises, and in at least a few cases, full hauntings. All that remains on the site of the original plantation house is the fireplace, made of mud brick.

Old Caddo Indian Museum (Longview, Gregg County)
This museum off Loop 1845 has been closed down for many years. The museum displayed artifacts that were found in burial sites in East Texas. Several people have seen a little ghost girl standing beside the road or in front of the museum during the night and strange sounds can sometimes be heard while driving down the street in front of the museum late in the evening. The ghost girl is said to be that of a little Indian girl that was killed from a head injury. Her skeleton was on display in a glass case for many years.

Ghost Riders (Neches River)
The ghost riders started haunting the Texas plains in the 1870s, when a cattleman driving his herd to market came across a new homestead blocking his normal route. It was a time of intense hatred between ranchers and farmers, and the cowboy was so angry that he stampeded his cattle right through the farmhouse, crushing everyone inside. Their screams are still heard whenever the phantom longhorns are sighted above the dusty plains. The legend inspired the popular song, “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”

Old Plantation Home (Paris, Lamar County)
This house is located off FM 195. Scores of people report seeing a small boy crying in the corner of his supposed room of this very large house. The house resembles an evil watcher of its woods, standing upright looking out over the moon. Some claim to see wheelchairs creeping across rooms. Contains large amount of missing boards.

This house can be found in Slate Shoals. Most people get a bad feeling just looking at this house because of the way that it seems to just stare at you. When you see it, you feel like someone is watching you. People report seeing a woman in the attic and hearing strange sounds. It has also been reported that you can see a wheelchair move across the room. If you look down into the well on the corner of the kitchen in the front of the house, you can see a reflection and this may be the son of the slave master. Out back there are eleven cabins. On one side there are six and on the other there are five. If you go to the middle cabin on the side with five cabins, known as cabin number five, you may hear screams. Cabin number five is where it is believed that some of the slave girls were raped and killed.

Dead Man’s Run (Sulpher Springs, Hopkins County)
Word has it that around 1890, a man was working on the railroad tracks that were being laid through town. About two miles off of 19 on Highway 11 to the right on a little black top road is a desolate patch of railroad tracks. Now this man who was working on the railroad was having a bad time with his wife. So one night he took her out for what he said was a romantic interlude. Instead he beat her badly and tied her to the tracks. Thinking she was unconscious he sat down beside her to rest and without his knowledge, she tied his bootlaces to the track. He felt so guilty as he sat there on the tracks that he didn’t move until he saw a train barreling down on him. When the train was almost upon him, he got up to move and couldn’t. He looked down to see his wife grinning up at him and his laces tied in multiple knots. He tried to untie his laces, but to no avail. He was killed with his wife on the tracks. Now if you go to those tracks on November 12 at about 2:00 to 3:00 AM, you can sit on the tracks and you will witness the entire scene. You can hear the man screaming and the woman laughing.

With Halloween just a few days away, I don’t want to scare you too much, so I’ll leave it to you to further explore these mysteries on your own. As for me, I’ll be sharpening my axe, locking my doors and listening for the rattle of bones.

(For more on “Aunt” Mary Bohannon and Howard’s life in Bagwell, read Patrice Louinet’s excellent essay, “Pigeons from Bagwell.”)

Rob recently posted this menacing looking Keegans cover for Tales of Weird Menace over at the Robert E. Howard Foundation’s website, and informs us we can soon pre-order it and the companion volume, Steve Harrsion’s Casebook.  Here is his complete update:

If everything goes as planned, we’ll be sending Tales of Weird Menace and Steve Harrison’s Casebook to the printer within a week. Don Herron is putting the finishing touches on his introductions, and Jim & Ruth Keegan are completing the second cover. Once the printer has the books, we’ll start accepting pre-orders. In the meantime, we thought you’d all enjoy a sneak peak at the first cover (above), also by Jim & Ruth Keegan.

A few months back, Brian posted a piece about Rex Beach and the Ranger, Texas oil boom. This reminded me of just how big the Ranger oil boom was and how during Howard’s early years Dr. Howard was looking to become rich in just such boom town.

From the time Howard was born until 1919, his small nomadic family moved from town to town, often settling in a boom town and soon moving on.  Then, for some reason, Dr. Howard decided to settle permanently in Cross Plains — despite the fact there was huge oil find in nearby Ranger. Perhaps he thought Cross Plains would boom as well, but as fate would have it, the tiny town remained largely immune to change (although there was a brief, oil-related boom in the 1920s). Given his personal experience, it is a well know fact that Howard was no fan of boom towns and the devastation they caused when they went bust. He often wrote on this topic in his correspondence and here are a few excerpts from his letters to Argosy All-Story Weekly and H. P. Lovecraft:

My family has been prone to follow booms, and I have lived in oil boom towns, land boom towns, railroad boom towns, and have seen life in some of its crudest and most elemental forms.

To Argosy All-Story Weekly, ca. Spring 1929.

The oil booms came along and ruined what agriculture was left. Now this country is poverty ridden and worn out. The old rocky, clayey farms won’t produce anything, what with the drouths, and the oil has just about played out or else the big companies have bought out the smaller ones and shut down the works, to cut expense or to freeze somebody out. But now this country is drifting back to cattle and sheep and goats again. It’s still a great country it just needs a little intelligence. All over the older settled parts of Texas, the trend is away from agriculture and back toward stock-raising.


I’ve seen towns leap into being overnight and become deserted almost as quick. I’ve seen old farmers, bent with toil, and ignorant of the feel of ten dollars at a time, become millionaires in a week, by the way of oil gushers. And I’ve seen them blow in every cent of it and die paupers. I’ve seen whole towns debauched by an oil boom and boys and girls go to the devil wholesale. I’ve seen promising youths turn from respectable citizens to dope-fiends, drunkards, gamblers and gangsters in a matter of months.

To H.P. Lovecraft, ca. October 1930.

You’re right about oil booms — they bring a lot of money into the country and take more out, as well as ruining the country for other purposes. This might offend men in the oil business, but it’s the truth that I’ve seen more young people sent to the Devil through the debauching effects of an oil boom than all the other reasons put together. I know; I was a kid in a boom town myself. The average child of ten or twelve who’s lived through a boom or so, knows more vileness and bestial sinfulness than a man of thirty should know — whether he — or she — practice what they know or not. Glamor and filth! That’s an oil boom. When I was a kid I worked in the tailoring business just as one terrific boom was dwindling out, and harlots used to give me dresses to be cleaned — sometimes they’d be in a mess from the wearer having been drunk and in the gutter. Beautiful silk and lace, delicate of texture and workmanship, but disgustingly soiled — such dresses always symbolized boom days and nights, to me — shimmering, tantalizing, alluring things, bright as dreams, but stained with nameless filth.

To H.P. Lovecraft, ca. December 1930.

On October 21, 1917, the “Roaring Ranger” oil field was discovered in Eastland County, Texas. On that day 93 years ago, the McClesky No. 1 well gushed, marking the onset of the oil boom in Ranger, Texas. The McClesky No. 1 well pumped out 1,700 barrels of oil daily and started the rush to Ranger that brought about the development of one of the greatest oil fields in the country. By 1919, the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company had 22 oil wells being drilled and there were also eight refineries open or under construction. That year more freight was unloaded in Ranger by the Texas & Pacific Railroad than at any other location upon its line, including the larger stations of New Orleans, Fort Worth and Dallas.

The town was soon peppered with oil derricks, gambling houses and brothels, and was home to an estimated 30,000 people at its peak. Indeed, the town had ballooned from a mere 2,000 souls as oilmen, roughnecks, gamblers, prostitutes, thieves and thugs streamed into the town by the thousands via wagons, automobiles and trains.  Among these thousands of fortune seekers were boxing promoter George L. (Tex) Rickard, heavyweight champion Jess Willard and novelist Rex Beach, who set his novel Flowing Gold in Ranger. But the rags-to-riches boom in Ranger was short lived, coming to an end in 1921.

This is how an article in one Texas newspaper heralded the boom:

The World’s Biggest Boom … The wildest, roaringest boom of them all – Ranger! … Truly, California in 1849, the Klondike, Butte, Spindle top — none of the other great riches, whether produced by gold, silver, copper, or petroleum equaled Ranger.

In 1917, the world was at war and the oil pumped from deep beneath Ranger and surrounding areas was the black gold that ran the Allied war machine. Desperately needed fuel flowed from West Texas to the frontlines, fueling the warships, planes, tanks, trucks and locomotives that propelled America and its European allies to victory.

But all was not well during the boom. After a long drought finally broke, Ranger’s dirt streets quickly turned into a morass. Unsanitary and crowded conditions caused an outbreak of typhoid fever and a fire in September of 1920 destroyed two downtown blocks, causing over $1,000,000 in damage.

Additionally, the human parasites that had descended on the city took their toll as violence, gambling and prostitution flourished in the booming town. Enter the Texas Rangers who raided gaming halls, smashed drinking establishments and rounded up a diverse group of miscreants and felons. Once the jails were filled to overflowing, the Rangers handcuffed their prisoners to telephone poles.  The Texas Rangers were no strangers to the town – years earlier, the city actually sprang up around an old Texas Ranger camp, hence the name Ranger.

By 1921 the boom was tapering off and the locals were hoping for new oil discoveries, but a round of bank collapses dashed all hopes. The 1930 census results put the population of Ranger at just 6,208.

After the bust, the unrest and discontentment provided a strong base for the Ku Klux Klan, who quickly ramped up their recruitment effort and seized the opportunity to spread their message of hate and intolerance.  To their credit, the citizens of Ranger and Eastland County soon organized against them and sought to minimize their impact, denouncing the Klan for boycotting Catholic and minority businesses. The  Klan next tried to make inroads into county politics, but after its defeat in the elections of 1924, the Klan declined rapidly and by 1930 had virtually disappeared from the area.

From a population of over 30,000 at the peak of the oil boom, the number of townspeople has dwindled over the years to less than 2,000 today.

So from sleepy small town to burgeoning boom city and back again – this was a fact of life for many residents of the Lone Star State during those heady years of the oil boom of the early years of twentieth century Texas. Many a fortune was made overnight and gone just as fast, leaving behind dry holes and broken dreams.

Below are scans of a promotional souvenir postcard folder produced by the City of Ranger Chamber of Commerce painting a sunny picture for the future of Ranger.

Why a New Manifesto? 

In the past twelve months, I’ve seen several rounds of speculation from various bloggers lately, two of which were the equivalent of Internet train wreaks that ended rather badly, despite everyone’s avowed intentions. In the interest of using the Internet as an actual research tool, I have written this manifesto on behalf of the fans and interested parties in the life and works of Robert E. Howard, as a guide to the person or persons who are new to Howard studies, or perhaps would like to write an article, essay, or blog post about him. If you’d like to delve deeper into the history and current state of Howard studies, and get some advice for participating in the debate, click on the link at the end of this Manifesto.


A New Robert E. Howard Manifesto

I am a fan of Robert E. Howard, the Texas author who created a multitude of unique characters, wrote original and inventive fiction, defined the genre of epic fantasy as we understand it, and inspired me to become a professional writer. There are tens of thousands of other fans just like myself. As fans of Robert E. Howard and his works, we are interested in reading more about our favorite author. We are interested in sharing and exchanging new ideas about his life and work, and we actively seek out these new ideas online, in print, and elsewhere.

What we do not want to see are semi-uninformed retreads of the same discussions that were in vogue circa 1984. The field of Howard Studies is alive and well, with new discoveries and voices appearing all the time.  Interest in the author is high and remains so. If you have a thought or an opinion, even a controversial or untested one, and want to share it with the world at large, we encourage that you do so.

We expect responsibility and accountability on your part. We are not interested in your grand pronouncement on a subject which has yet to be settled by people who have spent decades studying the issue at hand. We expect you to do your homework. There are a number of websites and literally stacks of new books that likely cover or answer most of your questions regarding Robert E. Howard. To not utilize those sources when doing your research smacks of willful ignorance and will not be tolerated by the fans of Robert E. Howard. 

If you want to write a review about how much you didn’t like Kull: Exile of Atlantis, have at it. Take it apart for any and all textual reasons you choose to invoke. We may not agree because Howard’s work isn’t for everyone, and we understand that. But the minute you start bringing Robert E. Howard’s life story into your Kull review, it will garner a much more careful reading, and if you don’t have your facts straight, or your opinions backed up by same, then we will call you on it.

The online Robert E. Howard fanbase calls itself the “Shield Wall.” Some writers who have been on the business end of the Shield Wall’s attacks have accused us of being bullies and overly-obsessed for the protective stance we take. While it is not our intention to bully anyone, and while we may get a little carried away on occasion, let me be very clear here as to why this is so: Robert E. Howard has not had a voice for 75 years now. For four decades after his death, he had very few advocates who would defend him against the libel and slander of those who stood to profit from his work. He has been misunderstood and misrepresented for years. The Shield Wall’s goal has been to stop in its entirety the kind of character assassination employed by L. Sprague de Camp and others who would adopt his methodology. 

Consider this a challenge to survey the amount of work that has been done in Howard Studies in the last ten years alone and then try to come up with your own take on a topic or angle of discussion that has not been beaten to death. Do not make the mistake that so many others have made; just because Robert E. Howard isn’t considered a “classic” author by the literary establishment that you can beat his literary reputation (or his personal life) like a rented mule and you will not get kicked for your efforts.

We expect you to accord Robert E. Howard the same respect as any other 20th century American author with continued and perennial popularity. No more back handed compliments. No more snide insinuations. No more rampant and irresponsible speculation with no basis of fact or evidence to bolster it. And for God’s Sake, no more “oedipal complex” crap, either. Those theories are thirty years out of date, and we are sick and tired of seeing it. Give us something new, or keep your parochial and backwards thinking to yourself. 

Mark Finn
Author of Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard
and Commander of the Texas Shield Wall

Read the rest of this entry »

Digging around on Newspaper Archive, I ran across the following pieces that provide a bit of information about Novalyne Price Ellis. For more on Novalyne, see my earlier post, here.

From the Lake Charles American Press – Nov. 20, 1960:
Debate Trophy Given (caption)

Ellis R. Guillory, director of student life at McNeese State college, presents the debate trophy won by Lafayette High School in the warm-up debate tournament at the college Thursday to Miss Ann de Gravelles, team member, and Mrs. William W. Ellis, coach, both from Lafayette. The high school is a second-year winner of the rotating trophy and will retain it if the team wins next year’s session.

From the Jennings Daily News – June 16, 1966:
LSU Speech Department schedules 3 one-act plays

 LAFAYETTE, La. – A triple bill of one-act plays for the production July 25-29 has been announced by William W. Ellis, director of theatre at the University of Southeastern Louisiana.
    The three plays, which are scheduled for 8 p.m. on each of the five nights in Burke Theatre on the USL campus are “Curse You Jack Dalton” by Wilbur Braun, “The Door” by Anton Chekov and “The Love Voodoo” by Novalyne Price Ellis, Lafayette High School speech teacher.
    Tryouts, scheduled at 2 p.m. June 21 in Burke Theatre, are open to all registered USL students with “C” or better average.
    “Curse You Jack Dalton” is an old fashioned mustache witsing [sic.] “Mellerdrammer” which has a cast of four women and three men.
    “The Door” is a famous light hearted farce which requires two men and a woman.
    “The Love Voodoo” is an original script in Cajun dialect by a local author with a cast of two men and two women. All three plays are comedies presented in contrasting styles and promise to be a triple treat.

This entry filed under Novalyne Price Ellis.

The latest dust up over bizarre comments made about Howard by a blogger arises out of a post made by Thomas Ellison over at the Retro Slashers blog. Bashing Howard has recently elevated itself from a minor annoyance to his fans to what seems like an all out assault on the reputation and character of Robert E. Howard.

Using “findings” based on what I call “selective research,” guys like Ellison mold what little facts they have to fit a preconceived notion of who Howard was.  If you note their cited sources are always outdated and in some cases debunked. This flawed method was one favored by L. Sprague de Camp, who started this “Howard was a crazy momma’s boy with no personality or life of his own who killed himself when his mother’s death was imminent” school of thought.

The premise of Ellison’s post is that besides Ed Gein, the later days of Howard’s life was also an inspiration for Robert Bloch’s novel, Psycho and its main character, psychotic killer Norman Bates. The Howard connection supposedly comes from letters Howard wrote to Lovecraft and other correspondents, along with Bloch’s own correspondence with HPL. This assumption does not hold water. Virtually none of Howard’s letters had been published when Bloch wrote Psycho, circa 1957-1958, so he could not have used those for his inspiration.

All of Mr. Ellison’s comparisons between Psycho and Howard are just ridiculous. Let’s review a few of them: Howard was from Texas, so are some of Bloch’s characters, Bates and Howard had extensive libraries, (wow, a smoking gun – both were well read) and both had pornography collections (shocking!). The phrase “grasping at straws” comes to mind.

As an example, here Ellison seems to be making sport of an elderly woman’s fatal illness by equating fictional Norman Bates’ “Mother” personality making messes (i.e., killing people) with the real-life, painful needle aspirations and night sweats of Hester Howard:

One of Norman’s duties as a good son is cleaning up when Mother makes a mess. In Psycho, Norman cleans the bloody bathroom and hides Mother’s victims in the swamp. Robert Howard, also a good son, had to clean a different type of mess. A letter from Robert Howard to Lovecraft dated February 11, 1936 reveals Howard has “had little opportunity to do any writing of any kind” due to his mother’s deteriorating health.  According to Howard, his mother” requires frequent aspirations” and “is subject to distressing and continual sweats, and naturally has to have constant attention.” The Howard family hired several women to help with Hester’s care, but none of them lasted very long. Hester Howard’s constant care always fell on Robert’s shoulders.

There is no shame in being a caregiver. In fact it is a very noble thing for one to undertake, caring for someone who is unable to care for themselves. Yet Ellison seems to equate it with cleaning up the bloody mess after a murder has been committed. I hate to burst your bubble Mr. Ellison, but the connection between Howard and Robert Bloch’s Norman Bates exists only in your mind.

Ellison’s Ed Gein angle doesn’t hold up too well either. Even though in 1957 Bloch lived just 35 miles from the site of the heinous crimes, Ed Gein was not the inspiration  for Psycho.  Here is excerpt  from The Psycho File: A Comprehensive Guide to Hitchcock’s Classic Shocker by Joseph W. Smith:

Remarkably, Bloch claimed that at the time he wrote Psycho, he was unaware of Gein’s transvestism and obsession with his mother – that he knew no details of the case and virtually nothing of the fiend himself until much later, when he began research for his essay on Gein in Anthony Boucher’s true-crime anthology The Quality of Murder (1962)

“I based my story on the situation rather than on any person,” Bloch wrote in his delightful memoir Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography. When he first conceived Psycho, Bloch was simply interested in the idea that “the man next door may be a monster” – and with this in mind, he set out to create his character “from whole cloth.”

When you boil it all down, this is a form of cyber bullying.  While Howard is beyond the realm of these outlandish statements, his fans are not and must step up to defend his legacy and reputation. But, I fear this will not end here no matter what we do or say to counter it.

This is the third 2010 installment of the online version of Nemedian Dispatches. This year I removed this feature from the print journal and brought it to this blog. 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:

The Fantasy Fan
This is the complete run of 18 issues dating from September 1933 to February 1935 and contains original first published stories and poems by Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, and many others.  Edited by the then 17 year old Charles Hornig, it was the first weird fiction fanzine ever. This hardcover edition is limited to 200 copies, of which the first 100 are slipcased. Contact the publisher for pricing and ordering information.

The Dark Man Volume 5 Number 2 (Whole Number 15)
The current issue celebrates the journal’s 20thanniversary of publication with an editorial by Mark Hall, interview with Roy Thomas by Jeffrey Kahan, “Fandom at a Crossroads” by Lee Breakiron and a Solomon Kane cover by Bo Hampton. As part of the celebration, the publisher is rolling back the cover price to the 1990 pricing. Both Gavinicuss Books and Mike Chomko stock The Dark Man.

The Robert E. Howard Reader
After a delay of four years, this collection of Howard essays and articles edited by Darrell Schweitzer has finally seen print. While it depends heavily on reprint material, there are some new essays in the mix that make it well worth the $15.00 cover price.  Wildside Press is the publisher.

Sword’s Edge: Paintings Inspired by Robert E. Howard
This is a collection of paintings by legendary Spanish artist, Manuel Perez Clemente Sanjulian. With the impact of a battleaxe, Sword’s Edge collects an action-filled brace of paintings that brings Howard’s classic stories to vivid life for a new generation of fans. This is a slim volume – only 48 pages. Edited by Arnie Fenner, Cathy Fenner and Manuel Auad.


Boris Karloff’s Thriller  
The complete Thriller series, hailed as the most frightening ever created for television, is now available. Horror legend Boris Karloff guides you through 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. Each episode features an incredible cast of stars, including William Shatner, Leslie Nielsen, Mary Tyier Moore, Elizabeth Montgomery, Rip Torn, Richard Chamberlain, Cloris Leachman, Robert Vaughn, John Carradine, Ursula Andress and many others. Of particular interest to Howard fans is the first season episode adapting “Pigeons from Hell.” The 14-DVD set runs 3,354 minutes long, with 67 episodes presented in full screen black-and-white video, and English mono sound. Extras include a series promo and still galleries.

Kindle & E-Text:

Paradox Entertainment E-Text Howard Downloads
Paradox has listed 29 Robert E. Howard titles that are available on as downloads. The e-text PDF files feature Conan, Cormac Fitzgeoffrey, Kull, El Borak and Solomon Kane stories.  The stories are also available in print format.

Collected Western Stories of Robert E. Howard
This Halcyon Classics e-book for Kindle contains twenty-one western stories by Robert E. Howard, nineteen of which are Breckinridge Elkins stories.  The remaining two are “The Vultures of Wahpeton” and “While Smoke Rolled,” which exists in two versions: one with Pike Bearfield and the other featuring Elkins.


 Coming Soon:

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
This upcoming volume coming from Subterranean Press features contents that are identical to the Del Rey edition, which was illustrated by Greg Staples. The Subterranean Press volume will include a number of previously unpublished color plates by Staples.  

Robert E. Howard:  A Collector’s Descriptive Bibliography of American and British Hardcover, Paperback, Magazine, Special and Amateur Editions, with a Biography
A softcover edition of this 2007 hardcover bio-bibliography by the late Leon Nielsen is due out soon from McFarland. This guide is an invaluable resource about Howard, with information for every known published work. Initial chapters provide a biography, discuss Howard’s literary legacy, and give basic tips about collecting Howard’s writings. The main body of the work is a bibliography of Howard’s published works from 1925 through 2004. Each entry includes a description and known details including publisher, date, print run, and estimated value. A thorough index locates the publication of every Howard story or poem.

Steve Harrison’s Casebook and Tales of Weird Menace
These two new books are on the way from the Robert E. Howard Foundation. Contents and ordering information can be found at the Foundation’s website. If you are not a member of the Foundation, check out the various memberships available and join up.

Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword #1
Continuing their tradition of bringing Robert E. Howard’s incomparable characters to life, Dark Horse will be publishing the inaugural issue of Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword in late December. The first issue features a recolored version of Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith and Tim Conrad’s adaptation of “Worms of the Earth.” Also featured is a new El Borak adventure written by Mark Finn and illustrated by Tim Bradstreet.  Writers Marc Andreyko and Paul Tobin, along with artists Robert Aktins and Esad Ribic are also featured, along with a number of other talented folks. This volume is perfect bound and runs 80 pages.

Blood and Thunder — Expanded Edition
Mark Finn has just completed the 127,000 word manuscript for a new, expanded edition of his 2006 biography of Howard.  The hardcover volume will be published by the Robert E. Howard Foundation sometime next year.

Other 2010 editions: No. 1, No. 2, No. 4

There is a niche for anything in the big tent that is the world wide web.  Such is the case with something called gender switching fiction, which involves someone (no, I’m not going to refer to them as an author) taking mostly Public Domain stories and changing the genders of the heroes and villains from male to female and vice-versa. There must be some profound purpose for doing this, but I am at a loss to comprehend what that may be.  Nor do I want to comprehend what it is.

Someone calling themselves “Roberta E. Howard” one day discovered the find and replace function in Word and went medieval on Howard’s Public Domain fiction. Besides Howard’s stories, Leigh Brackett, C. L. Moore and Poul Anderson were subjected to this gender switch scheme.

Evidently this person is one of those folks who believe if it is posted on the internet, it belongs to them and they can do whatever they want with it.  I have no idea why anyone would want to read Howard stories with the genders switched, so I don’t know if anyone is paying any mind to this stuff.  But you can’t just arbitrarily change a character’s gender without destroying the integrity of the story. And just changing the name does not change all the other masculine references to the character, so the altered stories become incoherent Needless to say if Howard had wanted Conan to be a woman, he would have written it that way.

If you haven’t seen “Roberta’s” work, let’s compare a paragraph from Howard’s “Beyond the Black River” to her gender switched version:

Crouching behind a thick stem, his sword quivering in his fingers, he saw the bushes part, and a tall figure stepped leisurely into the trail. The traveller stared in surprise. The stranger was clad like himself in regard to boots and breeks, though the latter were of silk instead of leather. But he wore a sleeveless hauberk of dark mesh mail in place of a tunic, and a helmet perched on his black mane. That helmet held the other’s gaze; it was without a crest, but adorned by short bull’s horns. No civilized hand ever forged that headpiece. Nor was the face below it that of a civilized man: dark, scarred, with smoldering blue eyes, it was a face as untamed as the primordial forest which formed its background. The man held a broadsword in his right hand, and the edge was smeared with crimson.

And here is a passage from “Roberta’s” “Beyond the Black River Again:”

Crouching behind a thick stem, her sword quivering in her fingers, she saw the bushes part, and a tall figure stepped leisurely into the trail. The traveller stared in surprise. The stranger was clad like herself in regard to boots and breeks, though the latter were of silk instead of leather. But she wore a sleeveless hauberk of dark mesh-mail in place of a tunic, and a helmet perched on her black mane. That helmet held the other’s gaze; it was without a crest, but adorned by short bull’s horns. No civilized hand ever forged that head-piece. Nor was the face below it that of a civilized woman: dark, scarred, with smoldering blue eyes, it was a face as untamed as the primordial forest which formed its background. The woman held a broad-sword in her right hand, and the edge was smeared with crimson.

Hopefully, Paradox’s legal department is looking into this and can take some sort of action. While the stories are Public Domain, most of the character names and fictional places have been trademarked by Paradox. I know Disney doesn’t stand for this sort of thing – try creating a character named Mickie Mouse and see how quickly the lawyers tackle you.

Maybe “Roberta,” should stop being so dammed lazy and write her own stories instead of usurping everyone else’s for her own personal gain. I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.

Charles Saunders has one of the better fantasy author hosted websites on the internet.  Besides keeping up to date with current fantasy and horror goings-on, Charles periodically delves into his archives and pulls out some real plums from the past such as “Chocolate Covered Conan,” which he posted last month.  Since reviving his sword and sorcery hero Imaro in 2006, Charles has been very active on the internet, both on his blog and as guest blogger and commentator on other websites.

Charles brings his unique perspective, along with years of experience in the field and a wealth of knowledge that both enlightens and entertains. So be sure and check out his website and bookmark it. You won’t be disappointed — the website is chock full of reviews, articles, fiction and general musings by a Grandmaster of Fantasy Writing.

Also, at the Black Gate blog, Ryan Harvey recently sang his praises with a review of the latest Imaro book:

Now at last we have that great battle of gods and men, which Saunders started writing back in 1983. And it’s Epic. Big Capital “E” Epic. Charles R. Saunders more than rewards readers’ twenty-five years of patience with the single best installment in the saga of Imaro. This is sword-and-sorcery beauty, filled with bloody rage, bizarre magic, pounding battles, horrific monsters, and intense emotion. It is one of the best fantasy novels I have read over the past five years—and I’m actually glad I came late to reading the Imaro stories, because it means I didn’t have to wait so long to read the last and the best.

And, Imaro is even on Facebook where Charles recently posted a summary of his upcoming writing projects.

This entry filed under Charles R. Saunders, News, Sword & Sorcery.