Archive for July, 2011

It has been six months since the TGR Facebook page was launched and thus far the page has picked up 126 followers. You will find items on the Facebook that do not appear on the blog, usually because while the topics might be of interest, they don’t rate full-blown blog posts. Notices are also posted every time a new post goes up here on the TGR blog.

I realize some folks are wary of the whole “social media” phenomenon, but it does have its merits, along with its drawbacks. Bottom line, it is a great way to keep up with what is happening in real time. If you are not already a follower of the TGR Facebook page, here are a few items posted during the past 30 days you’ve missed out on:

C. L. Moore — First Lady of Science Fantasy

After editor Farnsworth Wright had finished reading an unsolicited manuscript entitled “Shambleau,” he closed the Weird Tales office in honor of “C. L. Moore Day.” For the next six years, Catherine Lucille Moore contributed her own brand of sensual and colorful adventures to “The Unique Magazine,” all featuring her interplanetary rogue Northwest Smith or Jirel of Joiry, one of the first female protagonists of sword-and-sorcery fiction.

A correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert Bloch, Moore married writer Henry Kuttner in 1940. Together, they collaborated on many stories. Among her rare non-collaborative efforts following her marriage are “Judgment Night,” “There Shall Be Darkness,” “The Children’s Hour,” and “Vintage Season” for Astounding Science-Fiction, Startling Stories, Strange Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and others.

Complete story at  the PulpFest 2011 website.

On an Underwood #5

This fan blog is devoted to Robert E. Howard, the Texas tale-spinner, and all his works of fiction: Sword & Sorcery, Westerns, Boxing, Pirates, Desert Adventures, Horror, poetry, sonnets, and his letters.
You can find items of interest posted at this blog daily, such as this quote from a Solomon Kane story:

“Then he turned his head again to the hills. A finish fighter was Solomon Kane. Along that grim skyline dwelt some evil foe to the sons of men, and that mere fact was as much a challenge to the Puritan as had ever been a glove thrown in his face by some hot-headed gallant of Devon.”

– Robert E. Howard, “Wings in the Night”

New Issue of The Dark Man Coming Next Month

The contents for Vol. 6, No. 1 of The Dark Man have been announced: “Faction and Fiction in Barack the Barbarian” by Jeffrey Kahan, “Gloria” by Rusty Burke and Rob Roehm, “Theosophy and the Thurian Age: Robert E. Howard and the Works of William Scott-Elliot” by Jeff Shanks, plus a letters column. Additional information (cover price, etc.) will be forthcoming – editor Mark Hall is shooting for publication in August.

The Dark Man is an academic journal devoted to the study, discussion, and criticism of the life and literary works of Robert Ervin Howard (1906-1936). The journal is intended to provide a scholarly forum for the study of Howard’s legacy, literary achievement, influences, and the impact he has had on other writers and popular culture.

Visit The Dark Man website.

New Radio Play Adapting REH’s “The Valley of the Lost”

REH fan Matthew Clark and his crew have a new Howard radio play based on “The Valley of the Lost” up on the KBOO website:

After surviving a bloody ambush, as result a long running feud between families on the open ranges of West Texas, and with the murderous McQuil clan in hot pursuit, John Reynolds hides out in what is known as a ‘haunted valley’. To say anything more than this, would spoil the enjoyment of this amazing tale by Robert E. Howard.

This new adaptation can be heard on the KBOO website.

Also, as previously noted here on the blog, Matthew has done adaptations of “Pigeons From Hell” and “Wild Water.”

The Keegans win the REH Foundation’s Rankin Award

The Keegans recently posted on their blog about winning a Robert E. Howard Foundation Award:

In 2009, one of our Adventures of Two-Gun Bob strips was devoted to Rankin — and, except for the hand in panel 2, it was entirely composed of Rankin’s own illustrations from Howard’s stories.

We weren’t able to be in Cross Plains for the awards presentation this year, but we received a pleasant surprise package last week from the Foundation. Along with several wonderful new books, the box included … the first Rankin Award. We were both really flattered to have won — especially with such amazing artists as Tim Bradstreet and Tomás Giorello also in nomination.

Another great Rankin nominee, “Indiana” Bill Cavalier, designed the handsome award plaque. He tells us that it’s laser engraved into bamboo!

The Whole Wide World: Reviewed by Roger Ebert

To commemorate Vincent D’Onofrio’s birthday, which was June 30th, here is Ebert’s review of TWWW.

The pulp magazines that flourished from the 1920s through the 1950s were one of the great trashy entertainment mediums of our century. I got in at the end of the period, as the big-format classic pulps like Thrilling Wonder Stories were being pushed aside by television, and replaced on the newsstands by more respectable digest-sized mags like Analog, Galaxy and F&SF. But I haunted used book stores and brought home old pulps in cardboard boxes strapped to the back of my bike, and late into the night I’d read their breathless stories, and feel faint stirrings of unfamiliar emotions as I examined their covers, on which desperate women in big titanium brassieres squirmed in the tentacles of bug-eyed monsters.

The Whole Wide World is based on a 1988 memoir of Howard, written by a woman named Novalyne Price Ellis, who was a retired Texas school teacher when the Conan boom came along. Disturbed by portraits of Howard as some kind of loony loner, she wrote the book to recall her own romance with Howard more than 50 years earlier. Her memories have served him well, even though he probably was loony, and a loner given to statements like “the road I walk, I walk alone,” which are not designed to inspire confidence in the bosom of a potential fiancee.

If you are already a member of Facebook, visit the TGR Facebook page and click on the “Like” button and start getting regular updates from the TGR website. If you are not on Facebook, you might want to consider getting on board.

Back in February of 2010, I wrote about my search for the Aztec Bar in El Paso, a bar Howard and Truett Vinson stopped at during one of their trips out west. It seems I’m not the only one interested in the place. Last Saturday I received a letter in the mail from a gentleman who is even more curious about the bar than I am—his grandfather ran the place, and may have even served the pair from Texas their drinks. He was hoping there was more information about the bar in the portion of Howard’s letter that I didn’t quote in my post. His letter gave me an email address, so I sent him the rest of the passage, which, sadly, didn’t have any new information for him. Despite my inability to help, he was kind enough to bother his family for a picture of the bar for me.

The photo above has “46” written on it, but my dad says the cars are from the ’30s. Of course, since no new models came out during World War II, there would have been quite a few 1930’s cars running around in 1946. Anyway, the picture above is certainly closer to what Howard saw than the scene below, from 2010.

This entry filed under Howard Biography, Howard's Texas, Truett Vinson.

Geoffrey the Bastard, barely mentioned in Robert E. Howard’s stories as the “renegade Norman knight” who became Cormac Fitzgeoffrey’s father, had taken part in the Second Crusade. He’d found it fully as much of a disaster as our modern history books describe it. Returning to Venice, he discovered that his mother was dead. While he’d been crusading – or rather, seeking a fortune in loot so that he could support himself and her in style – she had perished of a fever.

Turning to crime in earnest, he became a Venetian merchant’s bodyguard, then robbed and murdered him. On the proceeds, he travelled north through the German Empire, equipping himself with mail, weapons and two good war-horses. The first he purchased, the second he took from a Bavarian knight he left dead by the roadside. Then, turning west through France, he came to his forebears’ home of Normandy. The duchy had been united with the crown of England until 1144, but then Geoffrey the Handsome, Count of Anjou, became the Norman duke by right of conquest. His son Henry inherited Anjou and Normandy late in 1151 (he would become Henry II, King of England). Geoffrey came to the duchy in the spring of 1152.

He saw little opportunity there for himself, but much across the Channel in England. The country had been a war-torn hell of civil strife between King Stephen and the rival claimant, Empress Matilda, for almost twenty years. The period is described in history books as “The Anarchy” or “Nineteen-Year Winter.” The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle calls it a time “when Christ and his saints slept.” Sharon Penman – a superb historical novelist, by the way – used that quote for the title of a novel set in the period. Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth takes place during the same years and carries on into the reign of Henry II. Ellis Peters’ medieval sleuth, Brother Cadfael, solves his mysteries from the town of Shrewsbury during the Anarchy. It’s a great setting for blood-and-thunder adventure. It must have been less fun to live in.

Geoffrey the Bastard plunged into this crimson hell with enthusiasm. He took service with one of the first great nobles he found, the second earl of Essex, whose name was also Geoffrey – Geoffrey de Mandeville. (To avoid confusion I’ll refer to him as “the earl” or “Mandeville.”)

Since Geoffrey the Bastard had now become a robber knight, criminal and killer, he might well have preferred to serve Mandeville’s father, the first earl, if he could only have arrived in England fifteen years earlier. That Geoffrey de Mandeville had been completely suited to the terrible times he lived in, a brigand lord, traitor, turncoat and cruel plundering fiend. He became known as “the monster of the fens” before he was finished. King Stephen had been silly enough to heap rewards and privileges on him, and appoint him “Constable of the Tower,” which had effectively put him in charge of London – a city whose people soon learned to detest him. But then history doesn’t give much praise to Stephen’s judgment.

The first earl was eventually deprived of his possessions and excommunicated for having pillaged church lands. After that he revolted against King Stephen, going into the fen country that had been a haven for outlaws since Hereward led resistance to William the Conqueror. Leading an army of mercenaries and other thugs, he began by seizing the Isle of Ely and driving out its lawful inhabitants – the monks of Ramsey Abbey. Turning the abbey into his robber castle, he raided in all directions, looting, burning and taking captives for ransom. There was no torture too cruel for his use when it came to extracting money from stubborn victims. Between 1142 and 1143 he had even plundered and burnt the towns of St. Ives and Cambridge. His depredations were so serious they led to famine in the area.

The evil de Mandeville was as brazen, as immune to authority and law, as Capone seemed in Chicago until they nailed him for tax evasion. He (de Mandeville, the first earl, not Capone) had the main ways into the trackless fens covered and fortified. King Stephen couldn’t get to the monstrous noble, even when he arrived with an army. He resorted to building castles at the approaches to the fens, with garrisons he could ill spare from the civil war, to at least control this pest he couldn’t eradicate.

The criminal earl took this as an affront. One of the king’s castles, Burwell, stood in direct opposition to one of Mandeville’s, at Fordham. Mandeville decided he’d lead a force against Burwell and destroy it, to teach King Stephen that he was nothing but Mandeville’s bitch. He might have succeeded, too. It looked like a sure thing. But by God’s blessing on the countryside (better late than never) an archer on the walls of Burwell put a fatal shaft into the earl as he was leading the attack. A few days afterwards he died.

He’d been married to Rohese de Vere, sister of the earl of Oxford. They had sons. Ernald, the earl’s eldest, was illegitimate, no child of Rohese’s, and he’d joined his father in rebellion against the king, which led to his being exiled. Two good reasons why he couldn’t inherit the earldom of Essex. Neither objection existed to the eldest legitimate son, who thus succeeded his ghastly sire.

Yes, Geoffrey the Bastard might well have preferred to serve the first earl. But, c’est la vie. He came too late. The dreadful time of the Anarchy was then in its last couple of years, though nobody knew that; it looked as though it might go galloping on through a river of blood for twenty more.

All that meant to Geoffrey was a fresh chance. The earl – the second earl, his father’s namesake – had accepted him. Geoffrey found the second earl a compact, deliberate man with cold eyes and a mouth like a trap, not quite the mighty warrior and certainly not the fiend in human form his father had been, but still no soft touch, seasoned through the dreadful years of the Anarchy. He was married, to the former Matilda de Biden of Buckinghamshire, and they had no children. Without an heir, the earl could be eliminated and Geoffrey the Bastard could take over. The state England was in then, nobody would blink, least of all King Stephen, whose hold on the throne was precarious and whose son and heir Eustace had just died. The Empress, his rival, might make trouble again at any moment. Her teenaged son Henry of Anjou had already invaded England twice, the second time forcing Stephen to sign the Treaty of Wallingford, recognizing Henry as his successor. Geoffrey the Bastard thought to himself that if he knew politics at all, King Stephen was already looking for a way to repudiate the less-than-welcome treaty. He’d be desperate for support and take it where he could find it. Let Geoffrey seize Essex, and Stephen would acknowledge him as earl quickly enough.

Wishful thinking. Geoffrey was desperate himself, for advancement and a place in the sun, and it made him scramble. He attempted his coup against the earl too quickly. It failed. Mandeville kept the earldom, and Geoffrey found himself fleeing across the country to Wales, as an alternative to the torture chamber or gallows, in 1154. A few years after he’d gone, Mandeville and his countess did have a son, who with time succeeded his father as the third earl.

The Welsh Marches lay on the other side of England from Essex. They were a conflict-ridden frontier society; Geoffrey the Bastard knew little about them, and what he knew he saw only from a Norman viewpoint. Normans, courtly, knightly and civilized, were masters here by right of conquest, as they were in England. The native Cymry (“Welsh” was a derogatory term meaning approximately “foreigner”), like the Saxons, were boorish savages who needed to be taught their proper place. Their customs were disgusting and their language an affront to a gentleman’s tongue.

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

Somewhere around part 3 or 4 of “The Vinson Papers” I was given “Independent Scholar” status (thanks to two fine letters of recommendation from Rusty Burke and Mark Finn) and granted access to the rare books collection at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Why, you ask? They have a complete collection of Lone Scout, that’s why. Any-who, the following items and information should have been included in part one of this series; I just didn’t know it when I posted that first installment.

As we have seen, Truett Vinson and Clyde Smith started the All-Around Club some time in 1921. What I failed to mention was that this club was almost certainly intended as a Lone Scout “tribe”: the Lone Scouts of America’s (LSA) answer to the Boy Scouts’ troops. One big part of LSA activity was the “tribe paper”—little newsletters circulated between the boys and across the country, including Canada and other parts of the world. Clyde’s paper, The All-Around Magazine, was definitely a tribe paper. One of the issues has an ad for a Los Angeles tribe paper, the Pueblo Totem, and other issues feature work or ads by other Lone Scouts.

Anyway, before all of this occurred, both Truett and Clyde were participating in Lone Scout, the magazine, which served as a meeting place for boys all over the world, and featured articles, stories, and poems written by them. Vinson contributed several pieces—Clyde only appears once, in a column where boys exchanged addresses for correspondence.

Two of Vinson’s contributions show what he was interested in during 1919. The first is from the Lone Scout for May 10:

And this is from the issue for August 9:

There are a few more items related to Vinson and the gang, but I’m saving them for an appendix in Lone Scout of Letters, forthcoming from my old Roehm’s Room Press. This is a collection of material by and about Herbert Klatt. Stay tuned.

And this really is the end of the Vinson Papers.

Back to Part 1 

This entry filed under Herbet Klatt, Tevis Clyde Smith, Truett Vinson.

Part 9

Following his 1981 death, Truett Vinson’s stature continued to grow, at least in the minds of Robert E. Howard’s fans. Vinson plays a significant role in Dark Valley Destiny (1983); he is a major player in Novalyne Price Ellis’ One Who Walked Alone (1986); and he is fleshed out even further in Necronomicon Press’ Day of the Stranger (1989), Selected Letters Vol. 1 (1989) and Vol. 2 (1991), and Report on a Writing Man (1991). Of course, he really comes to life in Robert E. Howard’s Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (1990). All of these items are out in the world, so I didn’t feel the need to include much material from them in this series of posts.

After compiling the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (2007-2008), I started researching the large cast of characters I’d encountered in those letters. Some of the results have been posted here, but one person remained shadowy: Truett Vinson. Probably due to their publishing, Clyde and Novalyne got much more play than Truett. People visited their graves, at least. Well, I wanted to pay Mr. Vinson a visit. The problem was, no one seemed to know where he was buried. Before I uncovered most of the material in “The Vinson Papers,” I’d heard he was buried in Brownwood, in Austin, even as far away as El Paso—no one seemed to know for sure. Well, that’s no good.

I crossed Greenleaf off the list easily enough, and when I saw that he’d moved to Austin, I began to focus my attention there, but he’s not listed in any of the online grave finding services that I frequent. I was up against a wall. Then, I happened upon a family tree that gave me Truett’s first name, Wade, and other information followed.

After I found his wife’s name, I uncovered a “snippet view” of her obituary in an Austin paper. Naturally, the one piece of information I wanted, the site of her burial, was one of the things “snipped.” I needed someone with some access to give me all the details.

Now, before I continue, we’ve all heard how hard-headed Howard fans can be, at least I’ve heard them (me included) described that way. But I wouldn’t have been able to post the picture above without the help of two prominent Howard-heads. To wit:

After finding the aggravating “snippet” of Grace Vinson’s obituary, I contacted Dave Hardy (you’ve all read his introduction to the Del Rey El Borak book). Within a day or two he sent me the following, from the March 22, 1995 Austin American-Statesman:

GRACE VINSON

Grace Vinson, 86, of Austin died Wednesday, March 22, 1995.

Mrs. Vinson was born October 4, 1908, in Malvern, Iowa, to Frank and Maud (Crow) Churchill. Mrs. Vinson retired from the Austin Independent School District as head teacher at Dill School. She married Truett Vinson in November of 1949. He preceded her in death in 1982.

Graveside funeral services will be held Friday, March 24, 1995, at Cook-Walden/Capital Parks.

Survivors include two sisters; one nephew and one niece.

Arrangements by Cook-Walden Funeral Home, 6100 N. Lamar.

Now that I had a “full view,” I knew where to look. I contacted the Cook-Walden Funeral Home to find out if Grace had joined her husband. Indeed she had. They refused to take a picture for me, since I’m not a relative, so I needed a man on the ground in Austin. I didn’t want to wait until next year’s Howard Days to see the headstone (I do plan on paying my respects in 2012).

I’d already bothered Hardy, so I pestered my other favorite Austinite, Dennis McHaney. Not long after my request, I received an email with “Ghoul” in the subject line. The picture at the head of this post was attached.

Who says Howard fans aren’t nice, cooperative people?

And that’s that, the end of “The Vinson Papers”—except for the Addendum I’ll be posting soon . . .

This entry filed under Truett Vinson.

As previously mentioned here on the blog, the REH Foundation Press is coming out with a long awaited collection of Howard’s “spicy” stories. In the last sentence of this post from February 21, 2010, I opined that Rob probably had the idea for this book rattling around in his head and indeed it has come to fruition.

Information on pre-orders is coming in a week or two, so hold your horses. Meanwhile, here are the steamy contents:

Introduction by Patrice Louinet

The Stories:

“The Girl on the Hell Ship” (aka “She-Devil”)

“Ship in Mutiny”

“Desert Blood”

“The Purple Heart of Erlik”

“The Dragon of Kao Tsu”

“Murderer’s Grog”

“Guns of Khartum”

“Daughters of Feud”

Miscellanea:

Untitled Synopsis (“John Gorman . . .”)

“The Girl on the Hell Ship”—draft

Untitled Synopsis (“Ship in Mutiny”)

“Ship in Mutiny”—draft

List of Characters (“Desert Blood”)

Untitled Synopsis (“The Purple Heart of Erlik”)

Untitled Synopsis (“Daughters of Feud”)

As shown above, this volume features a suitably “spicy” cover by the Keegans.

Update: Pre-orders are now being accepted and The REH Foundation Press reports it has already sold half the print-run of Spicy Adventures. The book is due out the end of September with a print run of 200 copies. Pre-order the book here.

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction, News, Wild Bill Clanton.

Part 8

We’ll begin with the only mention of Vinson I’ve found from the 1960s in the newspapers, and then we’ll get into a little more interesting stuff.

From the July 26, 1962 Malvern [Iowa] Leader, in its “News of Malvernians” column:

Mr. and Mrs. Truett Vinson of Austin, Texas, and Mr. and Mrs. G. C. Moomaw of Lincoln, Nebr., were Friday visitors in the Henry Nims home.

Now then, let’s back up just a bit. Following the 1957 publication of Always Comes Evening, Glenn Lord got into contact with Lenore Preece, who supplied him with information and various copies of the surviving issues of The Junto. Lord also got in touch with Clyde Smith, who was cool at first, but later warmed up. In the summer of 1961, a milestone, Glenn Lord published the first issue of The Howard Collector. He bagan by running items obtained from The Junto, and elsewhere, but in the fourth issue (summer 1963), he ran Clyde Smith’s “Report on a Writing Man.” This was the first real glimpse of the man who had created Conan, and while Vinson’s name is not mentioned, Smith’s article makes it clear that Howard wasn’t the isolated loner he had previously been described as.

The next issue, summer 1964, introduced Vinson as one of the three swordsmen shown above. The winter 1965 issue has the first Howard letter that mentions Truett, others would follow. Then, in the summer 1966 issue, Harold Preece includes Vinson in an important circle of friends:

Yet the personal impact of Bob Howard has to be defined in terms of the total influence of that whole little Brownwood group on me and on the work I would do later — Truett Vinson, Clyde Smith, Gladys Brannan, Ottie and Mary Gill. They were my very first intellectual circle anywhere.

Preece further cemented Vinson’s standing in his essay “The Last Celt,” which appeared in the spring 1968 issue:

[Summer 1927] was the apropos season to be excited by a poem, by the turn of a girl’s thigh, or by this and that proclamation of the New Jerusalem delivered by Upton Sinclair in California or Norman Thomas in New York. Fittingly, that year when I was twenty-one, it was a good time to meet, in the flesh, people like Truett Vinson and Bob Howard.
Our first session was held in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel at Austin, my home town. Those two were returning home from a vacation, I believe, in Mexico.

That same issue has Howard’s “Musing of a Moron,” a humorous sketch involving Howard, Smith, Preece, and Vinson. By the time The Howard Collector ceased publication in 1973, Howard fans had a general idea of Vinson’s place in the Howard biography. And that was about all they were going to get for a while.

Following the demise of The Howard Collector, Clyde Smith changed venues. Work by Smith started to appear in Jonathan Bacon’s fan publications, Fantasy Crossroads and Fantasy Crosswinds. Aware of Smith’s personal connection to Howard, Bacon commissioned him to write a biography. The first and only installment, “The Magic Name,” appeared in Fantasy Crossroads #10/11 in March 1977 (reprinted in “So Far the Poet”).

It was probably around that time that Smith contacted Vinson, who is without a doubt the unnamed person in this quote from Smith’s article:

Another friend, very, very close to Bob, declined to write a biography. He said, “No, you are the one to write it—you were closer to him than I was.” So, much valuable information will be lost, but I respect this man’s wishes, and will not reveal his name, or keep asking him to do something which he does not wish to do.

Sadly, Smith died before completing the work, but his notes survived and were published as “So Far the Poet” in the Necronomicon Press chapbook Report on A Writing Man in 1991. In those notes, Clyde clears up any mystery about the identity of the “friend” above:

My request to Truett to write a biography — Felt he was closer to Bob — he said “No — you are the one to write it — You were closer to him than I was.”

And Clyde wasn’t the only one looking for more information about Bob Howard in the 1970s. L. Sprague de Camp was also writing a biography. He’d found Vinson and written him a letter which, apparently, went unanswered. Later, de Camp acquired Vinson’s telephone number and gave him a call on June 28, 1977.

Probably thinking he’d hit the jackpot, de Camp was disappointed, describing Vinson as “close-mouthed and relatively uncommunicative.” In his short answers, Vinson doesn’t provide any information to support de Camp’s various theses, in fact he debunks a few (of course, that didn’t change his mind, but that’s another story). As a matter of fact, Vinson is so tight-lipped that he doesn’t say anything about Novalyne Price, except to agree that she was “lively and attractive.”

The following day, June 29, 1977, Vinson wrote a letter to de Camp. Again, he discusses things in a fairly innocuous way, providing no fuel for de Camp’s fires. While there is nothing “new,” in his letter, he does say that he never really understood Bob Howard and was surprised when he killed himself. He “never detected any sort of animosity” between father and son, though he acknowledged that Bob was closer to his mother, who was “a good cook!”

While it seems clear from his comments in The Junto that Vinson appreciated Howard’s poetry, the same can not be said of his fiction. In the telephone conversation, de Camp noted that Vinson described Howard’s stories as “trash,” in his follow-up letter, Vinson dialed it back a bit and said that Bob’s stories were not “edifying.” This conclusion, he says, following “a very meaningful religious experience.” He closed the letter with the following:

Now, I do not care to have any part, at this late date, forty years in time, of trying to take Robert Howard apart to find out what “made him tick.” I am opposed to this sort of thing for anybody, whether he be “strange” or not. And so I will greatly appreciate your leaving me out of your “study” of Robert Howard, and please do not ask me any more questions concerning him.

With that, Vinson fades from the record. He died in December 1981, taking whatever he knew about Robert E. Howard with him to the grave. De Camp’s biography came out two years later. While Dark Valley Destiny leaves a lot to be desired, if one can sift through de Camp’s interminable psychoanalysis of his subject, his guesses as to what motivated different people, it does provide a general outline of Howard’s life. Most of the errors of fact can be explained by his limited access to some of the information that has since been unearthed; of course, he did choose to ignore some information, but again, that’s another story. One thing DVD does establish is Truett Vinson’s central location in the life of Robert E. Howard. And we’ll leave it at that.

More next time . . .

Part 10

Geoffrey the Bastard, who in future would be the father of REH’s rage-filled adventurer Cormac Fitzgeoffrey, was in trouble. He was just fourteen, and his prospects for growing old enough to father anybody didn’t look sanguine. His father, William, who had been among the King of Sicily’s greatest war-captains, was dead in battle with the Pope’s soldiers. His mother, William’s long-time mistress, was savagely hated by William’s widow Mildred and his legitimate sons, Rainulf, Guy and Humphrey. Mildred’s name means “strong yet gentle.” Few women can ever have been less appropriately christened.

Chiefly Norman, she had a bit of native Sicilian in her ancestry, a strain she hated and fiercely denied. One of her creatures, a distant cousin, was an apothecary of rare talent but evil reputation. He created a beautiful linen shift so imbrued with poison that Aveline would never have survived putting it on. Mildred contrived for her rival to obtain it from a source that seemed innocuous.

Aveline was lucky. Her maid couldn’t resist the garment’s beauty and tried it on her naked body in secret. Soon she was screaming and ripping her own flesh in torment. She perished by nightfall. That scheme having failed, Mildred accused Aveline of plotting to kill her by witch’s poison, and of testing the devilish toxin on her unsuspecting maid. Many believed it.

Fourteen-year-old Geoffrey offered to prove his mother’s innocence in trial by combat. A good fighter for his age, he still would have had no chance against the paid champion Mildred produced to contest her case. Maybe his bastard status had given him bitter wisdom beyond his youth, because he decided not to rely on the justice of his cause and God’s concern. He resorted to means strictly forbidden. Using his mother’s jewels, he paid a nefarious but potent wizard of Syracuse to enchant his shield. (The jewels had originally come from his father. Geoffrey must have found that a satisfying thought. Let the gems Mildred’s own husband had given his leman now protect that leman from Mildred’s malice.)

With a steady voice he perjured himself before fighting, taking the oath that he had no spell or charm about him on which he relied, but trusted only in the justice of his quarrel. Then he put on his helm and drew steel. His adversary’s sword broke on Geoffrey’s shield after several grueling minutes, and Geoffrey cut him down. This was the first man he’d killed. He regarded it as the most valuable lesson he’d ever learned, as well; a just quarrel is fine, but an advantage is better.

Mildred was furious. Outfoxed by a boy of fourteen! She told him and his mother she would see them both dead before the year was out. Her sons would spit on their graves. Geoffrey replied that he would be a greater knight than all her sons, and do worse than kill them; he would humble them.

Still, he and Aveline didn’t wait for Mildred to try again. They traveled to Venice, where no-one from Sicily was likely to be able to harm them easily. Venice and the conquering Normans weren’t over-friendly. Geoffrey became a squire in the household of a noble, ancient family. I believe it was one of the families that supplied Venice with a doge. But Geoffrey found it difficult to rise to knighthood. He lacked funds. In theory money meant nothing to a man of knightly blood, but try telling that to a lad who craved the station and couldn’t afford the costly war-horses it required. (Knightly armor wasn’t as expensive in the twelfth century as it later became, being largely mail, but a highly-bred destrier with battle training cost a fortune.)

This was 1140, though, and the Second Crusade loomed like a dark cloud on the horizon. The man who would light the fire was Zenghi, the moving force in REH’s story “The Lion of Tiberias.”  Howard describes him as “Zenghi … whom men called the Lion of Tiberias, because of his exploits at the siege of Tiberias … the wide lips smiled, but it was the merciless grin of the hunting panther.”

Well, the best-known siege of Tiberias is the one that took place in 1187, when the crusader fortress was besieged by Saladin. Either REH made a mistake or there was an earlier siege of the same castle, because Zenghi certainly died before 1187. There may have been. The “Heritage Conservation in Israel” website says that the “earliest evidence for the fortress’s existence dates back to 1099 CE.”

In “The Lion of Tiberias”, Zenghi routs the forces of the emir “Doubeys ibn-Sadaka of Hilla” on behalf of the Caliph al-Mustarshid. Then he brutally knouts to death Doubeys’ young son and sends the boy’s English friend, John Norwald, to the galleys. Later he became atabeg of Mosul and Aleppo. In 1138, Zenghi met the combined armies of the crusader princes and the Byzantine emperor, and hurled them back from Shaizar. He married, in that year, a fitting mate for him – Zumurrud, a woman who had murdered her own son Ismail, Emir of Damascus, just three years earlier, to prevent his surrendering the city to Zenghi.

While Zenghi “rides on the wind with the stars in his hair”, the red-haired grim giant John Norwald heaves on his oar in the galleys and never speaks – but also never forgets his promise to Zenghi that he will come to him again if it takes twenty years.

Then, in 1144, Zenghi besieges the crusader County of Edessa, first of the crusader states to be founded, and now the first to fall again to the Muslims. Queen Melisende of Jerusalem sent an army to help Edessa, but Count Raymond of Antioch had his hands full – fighting other Christians, the Byzantines. Zenghi took Edessa in late December with terrible slaughter.

Pope Eugenius proclaimed a crusade. He appointed the remarkable Bernard of Clairvaux to preach it for him and inspire zeal. Among his first converts was King Louis VII of France, who badly needed some credit with God. Charles Mackay describes him as “both superstitious and tyrannical.”  He’d been guilty of an infamous massacre at Vitry, in his own kingdom. During an armed quarrel with the Pope, he besieged and took Vitry, whereupon “Upwards of thirteen hundred of the inhabitants, fully one-half of whom were women and children, took refuge in the church; and when the gates of the city were opened, and all resistance had ceased, Louis inhumanly gave orders to set fire to the sacred edifice, and a thousand persons perished in the flames.”

King Louis decided that if he came to the defense of the crusader states he might have a chance to escape hell. Large numbers of knights took the cross in Germany, too. Conrad III, the German Emperor, joined the crusade along with his nephew, Frederick III, Duke of Swabia (later to become emperor himself, and better known as Frederick Barbarossa).

REH records that a knight named Miles du Courcey was serving the Prince of Antioch when Edessa fell. He was actually in Edessa and barely got out alive; thus he hated Zenghi. Also abroad in the region was a spy for the Byzantine ruler, using the name Roger d’Ibelin. His real name is Wulfgar Edric’s son, and he’s actually a captain in the Byzantine emperor’s Varangian Guard. (For details see REH’s story, “The Lion of Tiberias.”)

History tells that Zenghi was assassinated in 1146. The chronicler al-Qalanesi wrote that a Frankish slave named Yarankash assassinated him in his sleep by stabbing him. The Christian William of Tyre, on the other hand, records that a eunuch of his retinue strangled Zhengi while the atabeg lay drunken. REH clarifies the matter in “Lion” by telling us that Zenghi had indeed been drinking hard, but stirred in his tent to find his eunuch “Yaruktash” stealing his wine. He promises to punish him in the morning and orders him out. “Punish” from Zenghi means impaling on a stake, so the eunuch decides to flee, and cons the guards outside Zenghi’s tent into running away with him.

A couple of hours later Zenghi wakes again, and finds the deformed twisted giant that once was John Norwald looming over him, three years after a shipwreck freed him from the galleys at last. Zenghi dies stabbed by his own dagger in Norwald’s terrible hands. In the morning Zenghi’s army disperses, leaving the castle, looting and then scattering from “a silent and abandoned camp, where the torn deserted tent flapped idly in the morning breeze above the bloodstained body that had been the Lion of Tiberias.”  The murder occurs in the nick of time to save Miles du Courcey and his lady-love, Ellen de Tremont.

A Muslim who appears in another REH story of the crusades, “Gates of Empire”, is Shirkuh – in full Asad ad-Din Shirkuh bin Shahdi. Shirkuh was exiled with his brother Ayyub over a murder. He served in Zenghi’s army in the 1140s. It happened long before “Gates of Empire”, a story set in 1167, and while Shirkuh doesn’t appear or get a mention in “Lion of Tiberias”, he was definitely around. Besides being an important military commander and the eventual bane of the untrustworthy vizier of Egypt, Shawar, Shirkuh was Saladin’s uncle. Saladin, or Yusef ibn Ayyub as he then was, appears in “Lion” as a nine-year-old boy de Courcey seizes as a hostage. Cormac Fitzgeoffrey, of course, encounters the adult Saladin in “Hawks of Outremer” during the Third Crusade.

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

Well my fellow barbarians and barbettes, we are only a mere 30 days away from the premiere of the much anticipated rebooted Conan the Barbarian movie. As the date nears, more and more promotional stuff is pouring out of Lionsgate to entice and intrigue us.

The trailers, commercials and posters all look slick and professional, featuring Jason Momoa who looks pretty close to the Conan Howard wrote about. While appearances can be deceiving, the actor has been saying all the right things and seems sincere about capturing Conan as Howard envisioned him.

Obviously, I won’t walk into the theater expecting to see Howard’s Conan on the big screen, but I am willing to give the movie a chance. The Paradox folks have done right by Howard, so I’ll be there supporting them. I have heard the sequel will be based on one of Howard’s Conan stories, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves – a second film is several years down the road.

This first film is made up pretty much whole-cloth, with some events in the Cimmerian’s life sprinkled in. This is part of the mindset that every hero needs an origin story. In taking this approach, a lot of liberties were taken with the saga of Conan. While it might be well meaning, it is somewhat misguided in the case of Conan. Howard would ocassionally drop hints about Conan’s early years in the stories, which were written in no particular order, but never wrote an origin story. The phase “born on the battlefield” is enough of an origin story for me.

The hope among serious Howard fans is that the movie will prompt people to seek out the original Conan stories and from there, jump to the many other characters he wrote of.  Thankfully, the Del Reys are readily available and if they look further, they’ll locate other sources for Howard stories and material such as the REH Foundation Press, as well as all the material available online – both here and at the other Howard related websites and blogs. 

Meanwhile, while you are waiting for August 19th, mosey on over to the Conan the Movie blog for the most up-to-date news and analysis on the film by TGR contributor Al Harron. And don’t forget to gird your loins before taking your seat in the theater – for sure if you are sitting in one of those D-Box motion seats – it is going to be a bumpy ride through (*gag*) Hyboria.

Update: The first full scene from the movie just released online and it boggles the mind with its absurdity.

This entry filed under Howard in Media, Howard's Fiction.

Part 7

Following his November 4, 1949 marriage to Grace Troxell, the couple spent the 1950s traveling back and forth from their home in Austin, Texas (above), to their families’ homes in Texas, Iowa, and Nebraska. Most of the items this time don’t need much comment.

1950, Sept. 6 – Beatrice [Nebraska] Daily Sun:

Buys Theater

Buys Theater—Irvin Beck, mayor of Wilber, has purchased the Moon Theater from Mrs. Truett Vinson of Brownwood, Tex. The theater has been operated by Jerry Horacek and was formerly operated by W. M. Troxell. The theater will be closed from Sept. 11 to 14 for cleaning and re-equipping and will reopen Friday, Sept. 15.

1953, March 22 – Brownwood Bulletin:

Mrs. Vinson Is Celebrating 90th Birthday

Mrs. Wade D. Vinson, 1818 Coggin, who has been seriously ill for the past ten days, is quietly observing her ninetieth birthday today at her home.

Born near Goldwater, Ala., during the Civil War, Mrs. Vinson was married to the late Rev. Wade D. Vinson in 1890. He died here in 1931.

The family moved to Brownwood in 1899 and with the exception of ten years has resided here since that time. Rev. Vinson entered Howard Payne College and served as field representative for the college in the administration of Professor J. H. Grove.

Before her marriage Mrs. Vinson was Abbazena Comer. She has four children: Miss Lena Vinson of Brownwood, Mrs. Mark A. Wilson of Big Lake, Truett Vinson of Austin and Mrs. David B. Chancellor of Alexandria, Virginia. She also has two grandchildren, Mrs. William Goree of McCamey and Mrs. Sanford Brown of Big Lake, and one great-grandchild, Paul Ray George.

I. O. Comer of Brownwood is a nephew.

At the dedication service Saturday at Howard Payne College, an apartment in the Ministerial Courts was dedicated to Mrs. Vinson’s late husband.

Mrs. Wilson of Big Lake, Mr. and Mrs. Truett Vinson of Austin are here for the occasion.

1953, May 24 – Brownwood Bulletin:

Edward Laffman, HPC, Receives Vinson Award

Rev. Edward Laffman, a World War II veteran who entered Howard Payne College on examination, was the recipient of the Vinson Award at the Joint commencement exercises of Howard Payne and Daniel Baker Friday night.

The Vinson Award is a Biblical Commentary given annually by Truett Vinson and Miss Lena Vinson to the ordained Baptist minister having the highest scholastic standing of all ordained Baptist ministers in the senior class for the year.

Rev. Laffman entered Howard Payne by taking an examination. He had attended the James Monroe High School, Bronx, New York City, for three years.

He was a pilot Instructor in the Air Force in World War II and attended Howard Payne under the G. I. Bill of Rights program. He is now pastor of the Baptist Church at Mercury. The late Rev. Wade D. Vinson, father of the donors of this award, was pastor of the same church more than 40 years ago. Rev. Laffman also served as pastor of the Stoddard Mission of the Coggin Avenue Baptist Church since entering Howard Payne.

The award recipient had 114 honor points for his senior year, and a total of 365 since entering Howard Payne. Only 120 honor points are required for graduation.

He plans to enter the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N. C., this fall.

1953, July 22 – Brownwood Bulletin:

Relatives Return Home After Mrs. Vinson’s Funeral Service

Relatives, who have returned to their homes after attending Mrs. Wade D. Vinson’s funeral Friday, are Truett Vinson of Austin, Mrs. Mark A. Wilson of Big Lake; Mrs. William Goree and son, Paul, Fort Stockton; Mrs. Eva Laws, Cisco; Miss Sue Steele of Dallas.

Other relatives, who attended the funeral, and are visiting relatives here are Mrs. David B. Chancellor of Alexandria, Va., and A. H. Comer of Fort Worth.

1954, July 22 – Malvern [Iowa] Leader:

News of Malvernians

Mrs. Frank Churchill came Friday for a visit of several weeks in the W. A. Caldwell home here and H. L. Nims home at Strahan. She has been in Lincoln with Mr. and Mrs. Glen Moomaw for several weeks after spending the winter in Texas, with Mr. and Mrs. Truett Vinson of Austin and with Mr. and Mrs. B. N. Thompson of Ft. Worth.

1955, April 5 – Yellow Jacket:

Registration at College Becoming a Family Affair for “Miss Lena”

Signing up new students at Howard Payne College is getting to be a family affair for Miss Lena Vinson, HPC office secretary. Last month she registered Nathan Dyer, a cousin from Lubbock, her 15th relative to enroll for classes at Howard Payne since the school opened in 1889.

Other relatives enrolled at HPC have included her father, two sisters, her brother, a niece, a nephew, a brother-in-law, a sister-in-law, and six other cousins.

Miss Lena’s father, the late Rev. Wade D. Vinson, enrolled as a ministerial student during the early days of the college. Miss Lena herself first enrolled at Howard Payne as a child in 1900—in Mrs. J. H. Grove’s primary department. She was again enrolled in 1918 as a regular college student.

Her other relatives who have been students at HPC are as follows: two sisters, Mrs. Mark A. Wilson (the former Grady Vinson), Big Lake, and Mrs. David B. Chancellor (the former Blanche Vinson), Alexandria, Va.; a brother, Truett Vinson, Austin; a brother-in-law, the late Mark A. Wilson; a sister-in-law, Mrs. Truett Vinson, Austin; a niece, Ruth Wilson Goree, Fort Stockton; and six other cousins: I. O. Comer, Brownwood; Mrs. Eva Fisher Laws, Cisco; Mrs. Willie Gene Fisher Syler, Amarillo; F. E. Fisher, Dublin; Ronald Comer, Colorado City; and Eby Dyer of Lubbock.

Nathan Dyer, the cousin who registered last month, was the last student to enroll for the spring semester. He was serving with the U. S. Army in Germany until his discharge, and barely made it to HPC before the spring enrollment deadline.

Nathan is the grandson of the late Rev. Hood Vinson, well known leader in this section during the early part of this century.

Miss Lena Vinson became office secretary at Howard Payne in 1934 and has enrolled some 20,000 students since that time.

“Several of that number have been relatives,” she says.

1956, May 27 – Brownwood Bulletin:

Vinson Ministerial Award at HPC Goes to Rev. F. G. Heard

Rev. Floyd Gene Heard, Howard Payne senior from Olney, was declared winner of the Vinson Award, during commencement exercises Friday afternoon. Howard Payne president, Dr. Guy D. Newman, made the presentation.

The Vinson Award, offered annually by Truett Vinson of Austin, and Miss Lena Vinson, office secretary Howard Payne College, is a Biblical Commentary given to the ordained minister having the highest scholastic standing of all ordained Baptist ministers of the senior class. Rev. Heard finished out his senior year with a ninety plus average.
[. . .]

1957, Nov. 1 – Yellow Jacket:

Miss Lawrence and Mr. Venson [sic.] Make Gifts to the Library

Eloise Lawrence and Truett Vinson recently have donated gifts to the Walker Memorial Library of Howard Payne College.
[. . .]
Mr. Vinson, a brother of Miss Lena Vinson, college cashier, has given The Life of Johnny Reb (B. I. Wiley), Treasure of Great Mysteries, a two-volume set edited by Howard Heycroft, and the book reviewed this week, The American Story (E. S. Miers).

1958, Jan. 10 – Yellow Jacket:

Donation Made to Walker Library

Truett Vinson of Austin, brother of Miss Lena Vinson of the business office, has given the Walker Library three more books: So Help Me God, by Felix Jackson, Divided We Fought . . . 1861-1865, by David Donald, and Fall of a Titan, by Igor Gouzenko.

1958, Jan. 17 – Yellow Jacket:

More Donations to Walker Library

Announcement of two more donations to Walker Memorial Library were made this week by Miss Frances Burrage, librarian.
[. . .] Donations from Truett Vinson include Zambesi (J. F. McDonald) and A Secret Understanding (Merle Miller).

1958, March 25 – Brownwood Bulletin:

Social Calendar

Weekend Visitors – Visiting in the home of Miss Lena Vinson over the weekend were Dr. Waldine Tauch and Mrs. W. C. Tauch, both of San Antonio and Mr. and Mrs. Truett Vinson of Austin.

1958, June 19 – Malvern [Iowa] Leader:

News of Malvernians

Mrs. Maude Churchill who has spent the winter at Fort Worth and Austin, Tex., and her daughter, Mrs. Truett Vinson of Austin, were over night visitors in Malvern Monday. Mrs. Churchill was a guest in the W. A. Caldwell home and Mrs. Vinson in the Miss Mae Churchill home. They went to Lincoln Tuesday where they will visit in the Glenn Moomaw home. Mrs. Churchill will return later for a visit here.

1958, July 13 – Beatrice [Nebraska] Daily Sun:

Wilber News

Visitors of Mrs. A. W. Greer, were Mrs. Truett Vinson of Austin, Tex., Mr. and Mrs. Ray Stanley of Vernonia, Ore., and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Stanley of Wathena, Kan.

1958, Dec. 5 – Yellow Jacket:

Gifts Are Made to Walker Library

[. . .]
Truett Vinson of Austin has given the library a copy of J. T. Flynn’s While You Slept. [. . .]

1959, May 31 – Brownwood Bulletin:

Library Listening Post

Tethers End a mystery by Margery Allingham was a gift of Truett Vinson of Austin to the library this week.

We’ll have a little more fun next time . . .

Part 9

This entry filed under Truett Vinson.