Archive for December, 2011

In his January 7, 1925 letter, Robert E. Howard tells Clyde Smith that “Another one of my friends got married. He and the girl he married graduated from this school with me. We were all classmates together” (Collected Letters, vol. 1, p. 41. REHF Press). I’ve often wondered who the pair was, and now, with a little help from Linda Burns at the Cross Plains Public Library, I don’t have to wonder any more.

As reported in the Cross Plains Review for both May 5 and 19, 1922, there were only ten graduates from Cross Plains High School in 1922: Ruth Brewer, Clara DeBusk, Willie Swan, Irene Jones, Winnie Swan, Winfred Brigner, Robert Howard, Louie Langley, C. S. Boyles, Jr., and Edith Odom. We know it wasn’t Robert Howard who got married, and I have already eliminated Edith Odom as the bride; that left only eight possibilities. Because their last names don’t change with marriage, I focused on the boys. Other than REH, there were only four; how hard could it be?

Louie Langley (1904-1955), who became a Dallas attorney, married Ruby F. Brentlinger, not a CPHS grad: down to three.

Turns out Willie Swan was a girl, Winnie’s twin: down to two.

For a while I thought that it might be C. S. Boyles, but after reading an article in the May 8, 1925 Yellow Jacket (reprinted in School Days in the Post Oaks), I found that he had married one Ilene Embry on July 2, 1924. She was not a graduate of CPHS in 1922, so I marked Boyles off the list, too. Only one candidate remained.

Besides Boyles, the only other graduate I’d heard of before was Winfred Brigner (whose name is sometimes misspelled as Winifred)—one of the REH photos owned by Project Pride (above) has Winfred’s name written on the back—so, having eliminated the other guys, I focused my attention on him.

Brigner appears in Howard’s semi-autobiographical novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, as “Fred Gringer.” In the novel, Howard’s alter-ego, Steve, says that Gringer is one of only two “Lost Plains” residents “whom he really considered as friends.” He goes on to say that Gringer “was married and teaching school now in a small village north of Lost Plains and Steve seldom saw him.” This would have been in 1925. Later on, he adds the following:

He saw Fred Gringer occasionally now, as the youth’s school was out and he sometimes came into Steve’s office to argue religion. He was somewhat older than Costigan, a tall, powerfully built Northerner who had drifted into Lost Plains with his family some years before, following the track of the oil booms. He was a lonely sort of dreamer, a little like Steve, though with much different ideas on most subjects. He was strictly religious and with him Steve always drifted to the other extreme, realizing that Fred considered him a rank infidel and in eminent danger of everlasting torment. Steve usually wore a mask of callous buffoonery around Gringer, and many were the black moods out of which he jested the Northern youth.

Steve, contrary to his usual custom, showed the incomplete manuscript of “The Isle of the Eons” to Fred and asked him to read it. He did not ask for criticism for Steve considered that he was the best critic of his own work. After reading it Fred said:

“This is pretty good, but I think there are some mistakes in English – I noticed several.”

Steve was irritated though he tried not to show it.

“The English dont matter so much,” said he, “I’ll correct that. The idea is to get it over. The main thing in writing is to say what you want to say, in an interesting manner. Of course my English is far from perfect but that will improve by practice. As for these mistakes, I’ll correct them.”

Toward the end, we get a bit more:

Fred Gringer was cooking in a cafe for his living. His wife had divorced him, his teacher’s certificate had run out, and he was drifting with the tide, longing to go to college and get a permanent certificate, to teach in some large school and work his way up to the position of coach. But he could see no way for his ambitions to be realized.

In “Steve’s” final rant, 1928 in the real world, we learn even more:

“And there’s Fred Gringer. Finished high school at Lost Plains same year I did. His old man had been beat out of his year’s work by a slick crook he’d been drillin’ for and they couldn’t send Fred to school. He was plannin’ to finish high school in Redwood with me—you know till just lately Lost Plains didn’t have an affiliated school and you couldn’t get into a college on the strength of graduatin’ there. Had to have one more year at least, somewhere’s else.

“So Fred started teachin’ in little country schools. He had hell because he was a dreamer too. But he stayed with it, fought it out and had some money saved up to go to college on when he suddenly decided that the idea was the hokum and got married. Then he couldn’t go to school of course, and had to keep on teachin’ in little crumby country schools and they ain’t nothin’ will kill a bird’s guts quicker.

“Him and his wife couldn’t get along and finally she divorced him. He kept on sluggin’ but his certificate run out and he felt so plumb beaten that he didn’t take the trouble to take the examinations again.

“He cooked in cafes and the like and just drifted along like the rest of us till right lately. Now he’s in the smallest and crumbiest college in the state, takin’ seven subjects to get through in a hurry, doin’ janitor work to pay his board and tuition, and comin’ out for all athletics.

“He wants to be a coach and to work up to that position he’s got to start in a larger school than those he’s been teachin’ in. And to get a larger school he’s got to have four years of college work which will give him a permanent certificate.

“I got no kick at that rulin’ specially. I’ve had some samples of ignorant country school teachers. I say, make ’em be half way educated anyhow, but give ’em a chance to get that education. And Fred never got no breaks when he wanted to go to school. He wrote to a flock of colleges but not a peep outa any of them. Why? Because he didn’t have any dough. He cooked himself with ’em when he told ’em that he didn’t have any money and wanted to work his way through school. He wrote Gower-Penn [Howard Payne] that, and they didn’t even answer his letter. The one unpardonable sin in America is bein’ without dough. Joe Franey, who’s coachin’ there now, didn’t even think enough of him as a prospect for the college to send Fred any literature about it. Damn him! He’s just like all the other college scuts—a cursed boot-lapper at the feet of the wealthy. They don’t want men with ambition and guts—they want liquor swillin’, flapper pettin’, yellow-spined cake eaters that’s spendin’ the old man’s dough free and easy, God damn their souls to Hell.

“Then I personally saw the coach of Moses-Harper [Daniel Baker] and he came and talked with Fred and promised a lot—and come back to Redwood and did not one damned thing. Fred had to go to a college so small that they was willin’ to give a man a break. Fred ain’t lookin’ for no cinch—he ain’t wantin’ to get by on his face. All he wanted and all he asked for was the promise of a job by which he could work and pay his board and tuition. And the bastards wouldn’t even give him a hand. Oh, no, they wanted wealthy sons-of-whores.

“They don’t know what they passed up. Fred’s an athlete and some day, if he gets any breaks at all, he’ll be a great coach. He’s a runner, too. He’s broke the world record on the hundred yard dash, unofficially, of course. But they passed him up for some flat-chested bastard who couldn’t carry a football through a line of drunken flappers or for some scut who’ll put in a year at the game—spend two minutes in a scrimmage and the rest of the time struttin’ around over the field for the damfool girls to admire.”

Howard’s hyperbole aside, most of the information I’ve found on Brigner seems to match up with his Post Oaks counterpart.

The 1910 Census has Winfred in Cedar Township, Wilson Co., Kansas, with his father Charles W. (a driller in the gas wells), mother Bell, and younger brother Charles Leroy. Sometime before the 1920 Census was enumerated, the Brigners moved to Callahan County—Cross Plains, to be exact—where his father worked in the Oil business.

Following his son’s 1922 graduation, Charles appears to have been one of the main investors in at least one venture, as this notice from the August 17, 1923 Mexia Daily News suggests:


CROSS PLAINS, Callahan Co., Texas, Aug. 17— Machinery has been unloaded for a new wildcat test to be drilled for Brigner & Jose on the Odom ranch, eight miles west of Cross Plains. The new well will be located a short distance north of the old Odom test of the West Texas Oil and Gas Co, which was abandoned about two years ago. Special effort will be made to develop a shallow pay found in the old well at a little below 600 feet, and which was claimed showed for 20 to 25 barrels of production.

The above article caused me to investigate Edith Odom, but as my previous post shows, she never married Winfred.

The next item on Winfred comes, again, from the Cross Plains Review. It ran a little item in its September 18, 1925 edition: “Winfred Brigner will teach at Cado Peak school, this term.” This would be the “small village north of Lost Plains” mentioned in Post Oaks. The 1930 Census lists him as a laborer doing “odd jobs” and living at home with his parents, without a spouse. I seem to remember finding an article that mentioned Winfred as having run for a public office in Cross Plains during the 1930s. I can’t locate that article just now, but I recall that he was soundly defeated. Also in the 1930s, brother Charles Leroy had a little trouble with the law:

Man Wanted In Callahan County Captured Here

Charles LeRoy Brigner, wanted by Callahan county officers, was captured here Saturday by Deputies Andrew Merrick and Bob Wolf. Brigner faces two felony indictments in Baird, according to officers. (Big Spring Daily Herald, Nov. 25, 1934)

After serving as a pallbearer at Robert E. Howard’s funeral in 1936, Winfred drops out of sight for the most part. Army Enlistment records show a Winfred N. Brigner of Callahan County enlisting at Abilene on August 27, 1942 for “the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months.” He had one year of college and was divorced “without dependents.” Brigner died February 2, 1954 and is buried in the Cross Plains cemetery.

Having run out of sources on my end, I gave the Cross Plains Public Library a call. They have a Genealogy section; maybe, I thought, someone there could help me.

A few days later, I called back to see if they’d found anything. None other than Ann Beeler, author of Footsteps of Approaching Thousands, had done some digging and found that Brigner had married his CPHS classmate Winnie Swan on December 24, 1924—just two weeks before Howard wrote to Smith—and that he was divorced sometime before 1930. Brigner, it seems, never remarried; Winnie died in 1984 with the last name of Breeding.

Interracial Relationships

Anti-miscegenation laws were strictly enforced to keep the races segregated so it is especially interesting to view Howard’s quite different viewpoints here.

“Day Breaks Over Simla” (undated) is a poem about an interracial love affair between what sounds like a young woman from India and a member of the British Consul stationed there. The beautiful images of their love transcend Time.

Near a million dawns have burst
Scarlet over Jakko’s hill
Since our burning kisses first
Mingled in the twilight still,
In the magic, sapphire dust when our passions drank their fill.

I remember how the moon
Floated over shadowed dells
And the mellow mystic tune
Of the tinkling temple bells—
Ere Siddertha’s [sic] people turned to the braying sea-conch shells.

Lips to scarlet lips we pressed—
Ah, your eyes were starlit meres
As your tresses I caressed
Calmed your modest virgin fears—
Love upon an Indian night, love to last a thousand years.

Fades the rosy dawn as slow
Morning flames across the plain;
With a sigh I turn and go,
Humming some old-time refrain,
To the consul-house as day over Simla breaks again.

Interracial marriages between European men and East Indian women were very common during the British colonial times. Most of these women were Muslims belonging to the aristocracy or families with royal ancestry. According to the historian William Dalrymple, about one in three European men had Indian wives in colonial India.

Above, Howard speaks of the romance between a white man and an East Indian woman with great beauty but what if it were the opposite situation. For example a black man and a white woman? Surprisingly, the movie, The Rains Came which was released in 1939 is about an East Indian doctor (played by Tyrone Power) and a married white woman (Myrna Loy) who fall deeply in love. The subject of race is not raised. How could there be any outrage expressed when the role is played by Tyrone Power who is white with dark makeup. When Myrna Loy’s character is “punished,” it is for her adulterous transgressions.

But Howard is not so kind. The subject matter in the following two poems “To a Certain Cultured Woman” and “To a Roman Woman” is also about interracial relationships. This time between a white woman and a black man. In “Day Breaks Over Simla” the interracial relations between a white man and an East Indian girl are spoken of in terms of love and beauty but in these next two poems, the tone is one of contempt, not only for the woman but also for the man who is her lover.

“To a Certain Cultured Woman” is one of several poems that were included in an undated letter to Howard’s friend, Clyde Smith (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v. 3, p. 476.)

Open the window; the jungle calls;
(Searching winds in the grasses rank)
Your masters sleep in the silent halls.
(Breathe the wind, grown haunting and dank.)
Restless woman with magic eyes,
Jungle love is your heritage;
Deep in your soul it slumbers and lies,
Waking after an ageless age.
Men of your hue have drawn apart,
Climbing to heights you never can climb,
The jungle lies in your deep red heart,
Claiming you after a timeless time.
Men of your hue have turned away
From club and arrow and trail and cave—
Deep in your brain you long today
For the fires where the dancers leap and rave.
Open the window; there waits without
One who will sate your primal lust;
One who will grip you and strip and flout,
Humble your pride to the pulsing dust;
Make you a woman primal, debased,
Tame you as you wish to be tamed,
Waking the days when girls were chased
Hard through the reeking woods and shamed.
What do the men of your own race give?
Honor and wealth and tenderness—
What would you have to fully live?
Shame and pain and the whip’s caress!
Wild and ecstatic, burning pain,
Fingers that yield not to your plea—
Loins against which you strive in vain,
Blows and a brutal mastery.
Men may rise to the shining gates,
Out of the ancient bestial sea—
You are still, with your loves and hates,
Primal woman—and ever shall be.
Open the window; your masters sleep;
Wary and cautious; wake them not.
You feel the hot blood raven and leap,
Coursing veins that are passion hot.
Open the window; he waits without;
(Eyes agleam in the gliding gloom)
The jungle raises one gloating shout
As a black man glides in your moonlit room.

REH attributes this attraction to a return to the primal time when the jungle was in her heart and which is now reclaiming her. Most interesting to many women would be the lines:

What do the men of your own race give?
Honor and wealth and tenderness—

In the same verse, Howard describes the results of an interracial union:

What would you have to fully live?
Shame and pain and the whip’s caress

Shame and pain and beatings are not confined to just interracial relationships. Brutality against women does not have a color line. And REH was aware of the treatment of women. In a letter to his friend Clyde Smith (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v. 1, p. 250; ca. Nov 1928,) he said the following:

…I am nauseated at the injustice of life in regard to women. Woman-beating, for instance, goes on a lot more than most people realize especially in regard to young girls. Getting down to basic stuff, when a man and woman are alone, her only real protection against him is his better nature or weaker nature, whichever you prefer. It must be Hell to have to beg for everything you get, or to beg out of abuse or punishment.

Howard’s description of the Black man’s sexuality and the white woman seeking sexual satisfaction with him was common not only in Texas, but throughout most of the USA. In Racism a Short History, Fredrickson notes:

In the American South, the passage of segregation laws and restrictions on black voting rights reduced African-Americans to lower-caste status, despite the constitutional amendments that had made them equal citizens. Extreme racist propaganda, which represented black males as ravening beasts lusting after white women, served to rationalize the practice of lynching.

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Judging from a handful of references in his letters, Christmas was a low-key event in the Howard household. Howard mentions in one letter he usually received a book for Christmas. This quote from letter to August Derleth, written on or about December 29, 1932 is a pretty typical example:

… I hope you had an enjoyable Christmas. It was pretty quiet in these parts, nothing out of the ordinary occurring. Personally, I did about as usual — ate too much rich food, drank a good deal of whiskey, and shot a few holes in the air, by way of celebration. But it was all mighty tame. I can remember Christmases when liquor flowed and gunpowder was burnt in appropriate quantities — but that’s neither here nor there.

Other the firing of a barrage of gunfire in honor of the Baby Jesus, that does sound like a pretty tame Christmas — the type most Americans celebrate then and now.  Of course, during The Depression in rural Texas, it was likely a simple celebration — indeed nothing like the commercialization of the holiday we see today.

But there were a few exceptions. In a letter to August Derleth in February 1935, he mentions some post-Christmas shenanigans he indulged in, which may or may not be a true account of events — Howard was known to wildly exaggerate some of his day to day encounters with people:

I had a very mild Christmas. Not even a nip of whiskey. Though a few weeks later I did liquor up, for the first time in eleven months. Wandered into the county-seat of an adjoining county, got to boozing with some friends, and got a lot drunker than I ever intended. One of them — a 220 pound giant — went on a real tear — high, wide and handsome. He revived the old Western custom of shooting up the joint, and mixing whiskey with gun-smoke and flying lead is no combination for a peaceable man. Things are so very hazy in my memory I don’t know whether I objected to the noise, or if he took a shot at me for a joke, but I do remember coming to hand-grips with him, and one of my knees is still a bit lame from the knock it got as we hit the floor together. If I’d hit on my head it probably wouldn’t have hurt me as much.

Of course, there is that famous night of debauchery in 1925 Howard parcipated in with his friends, Herbert Klatt, Tevis Clyde Smith and Truitt Vinson. The party occurred a day or two after Christmas on a ranch belonging to Smith’s uncle. Howard relates the tale to H.P. Lovecraft in a letter, ca. June 1931:

I remember a wild night I passed on an isolated ranch in mid-winter, several years ago; one of the party was wild drunk on beer and another was stark crazy on raw Jamaica ginger, with the obsession that he was a werewolf. One of the bunch was a young German who didn’t drink, and wasn’t used to the violent drunks common to Americans; he backed up against a wall and I couldn’t help laughing at his expression when the Jamaica victim began to smash the furniture, gallop about on all-fours and howl like a mad-dog. About midnight a howling blizzard came up to add to the general lunacy. Gad, it makes me laugh to think about it now.

Of course, the young German was Klatt, the subject of Rob Roehm’s just-published book, Lone Scout of Letters. Klatt also makes an appearance in Howard’s semi-autobiographical novel Post Oaks and Sand Roughs as “Hubert Grotz.”

So, it appears Howard could either have a mild Christmas or a wild one, depending on his mood and company. No matter how you celebrate Christmas, please do so safely and relatively soberly — we want you around to read our posts next year. And here’s wishing you, from all of us here on the blog, a Very Merry Christmas!

Radharc O’Brien in the year 1152 was a widow with two little children. Her husband Conor had been killed in a fight with the MacCarthys, shortly before the greater battle of Moin Mhor. The power of the mighty O’Briens had been reduced since the days of Brian Boru, and they were restricted now to the northern part of divided Munster – to be called Thomond by the Normans. But Radharc was as fiercely proud as any of her male kindred, and O’Brien resurgence was a purpose close to her passionate heart.

Radharc’s ultimate aim was to have an O’Brien High King of Ireland again. For the present, she knew her clan had to break out of the little region of north Munster (Thomond) to which it was now confined, and rule the entire province once more. That meant settling accounts with the MacCarthys and breaking the power of the O’Connor High Kings. Those were big requirements.

The MacCarthys were being ruled by then by Dermod Mór na Cill Baghain, who held the port town of Cork as well as Desmond. He had been head of his clan since 1144. He still enjoyed the support of the High King, Turlogh O’Connor – or rather the High King was still pitting O’Briens and MacCarthys against each other so that neither would rival him. It was an ancient game, of course, and it wasn’t just played in Ireland.

The mighty O’Connor was ageing, though – he’d live only four more years — and a new contender had appeared in the north. Traditionally that was the centre of O’Neill power, but the new man was no O’Neill. Muirchertach mac Lochlainn, prince of Ailech and the Cenél nEógain, son of Niall mac Lochlainn, was on the road to power and nobody could ignore him. He counted even such men as Diarmait, king of Leinster, among his clients. In 1150 he had given twenty cattle and a gold ring to the abbot of Derry to enlist him as a supporter. He had successfully split the kingdom of Meath among three rival claimants, and in 1154, he hired a Norse fleet from the Hebrides and the Isle of Man to attack the fleet of the High King. The resulting naval battle saw Muirchertach’s defeat, but that he’d been able to launch it at all signified plenty. Despite losing the sea-fight, he was still able to gain the submission of the Norsemen of Dublin, and to seal the agreement he granted them, as a ceremonial gift to a new vassal, twelve hundred head of cattle. Turlogh O’Connor knew very well that gaining control of Dublin was a necessary step on the way to the High Kingship – and so did Radharc O’Brien.

Her father, Teige Glae, died in that year of 1154. He went out fighting, in one of his many affrays with the MacCarthys of south Munster. They were upstarts who had been confirmed in their lordship of that territory by the High King, in order to weaken the O’Briens, and Teige Glae had been stubbornly laying claim to the kingship of Desmond, or south Munster, since well before Radharc was born. The MacCarthys had just as consistently rejected his claim. Now they’d made their point at last with a strength that impressed even Teige Glae. They’d killed him.

He’d possessed his faults, such as being a tad treacherous; his brother Turlogh had once put him in fetters for a couple of years for intriguing with the High King, O’Connor of Connacht. Still, Radharc had loved him. She was shattered, torn by grief, and then furious. She resolved to see the MacCarthys pay — in blood, but also in the utter loss of prestige and power. Her brothers Ailill and Daui felt the same way – and she had no doubt her other brother, Muiredach, a hostage in Leinster, would too, once he was informed.

The O’Briens were no longer able to accomplish that without help. The politics of the day were too complicated to describe in a paragraph, but the great O’Connor High King had grown old and his strongest rival, Muirchertach mac Lochlainn, looked more and more certain to replace him – not least because Diarmait of Leinster had become his ally and vassal. Radharc had been to Leinster and knew Diarmait. He wouldn’t be above turning against Muirchertach and making a bid for the High Kingship on his own account.

She travelled to Leinster again. Her brother and cousins were hostages there; she always had a pretext. Other O’Briens were hostages of the O’Connor, and she didn’t forget that for a moment, but she wasn’t known as Radharc Casidhe, Radharc the Clever, for nothing. She acted as her uncle’s agent and carefully sounded Diarmait mac Murchada on the possibility of his helping the O’Briens against the MacCarthys. The implied promise was that if the MacCarthys were crushed and the O’Briens became lords paramount of all Munster again, they would support Diarmait in the future. Nothing overt was said about supporting him against Muirchertach mac Lochlainn, but not being dense, Diarmait could infer it.

He didn’t trust the O’Briens too far, naturally, but he held O’Brien hostages. Perhaps a more significant factor in considering them as allies lay in Ireland’s geography. If ever they turned against Diarmait, they’d have a hard time attacking him through the granite mountains and steep glens that separated Munster from Leinster. He wasn’t about to make foolish or premature moves against his powerful northern lord – but Radharc had given him food for serious thought. She was a glorious beauty, too. While Diarmait was no raw youngster to be melted like wax by a lovely woman, he wasn’t indifferent to that, either. He’d endured sitting in conference with much uglier schemers. Whether he committed himself or not, he would never be averse to Radharc’s coming to Ferns as an O’Brien ambassador.

At this time Geoffrey the Bastard, the renegade Norman knight who would become Radharc’s second husband, was fleeing across the breadth of England from the Earl of Essex’s revenge. (See “Cormac FitzGeoffrey’s Kin in the Crusades – Part Three”.) He was about to take service with Walter FitzRichard de Clifford in the Welsh Marches. He hadn’t the slightest notion that either Radharc or King Diarmait would be important in his future. He didn’t know that either of them existed.

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This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.

Under the modern definition, with his strong feelings of anti-miscegenation and the “sweeping racist generalities,” Howard would certainly be considered a racist. As quoted previously, Rusty Burke also gives him credit when he states REH “seemed to be able to give any man his due,” i.e., judging individuals on their merit. Definitely not mainstream thinking. However, Robert E. Howard was a complex man who held opposing viewpoints on many subjects. To analyze his views on the subject of racism, each of his thirty-two poems relating to Africa, Africans, and African-Americans are examined.

To aid in these analyses, two definitions will be used: (1) a belief in the superiority of a particular race; prejudices based on this. An antagonism towards other races especially as a result of this and a theory that human abilities, etc., are determined by race; and (2) Professor Fredrickson’s statements that racism is not merely an attitude or set of beliefs; it also expresses itself in the practices, institutions, and structures that a sense of deep difference justifies or validates. Racism, therefore, is more than theorizing about human differences or thinking badly of a group over which one has no control. It either directly sustains or proposes to establish a racial order, a permanent group hierarchy that is believed to reflect the laws of nature or the decrees of God.

All the poems have been categorized by genre and within each genre they have been alphabetized. Since most of the poems are undated, a chronological order is not possible. Wherever possible, verses that are not pertinent are omitted. To read the complete poem, see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard (Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, 2008)

 Historical/Narrative Poems

“The Chief of the Matabeles” (undated) is a story about the Matabeles African tribe and its history as told by Umengan, an elder in the tribe, to Baas, a tribesman. It is a narrative tale of the origins of the tribe, its various chiefs and the time and nature of their battles when impi [a body of Kaffir warriors] slayed impi. “Chief of the Matabeles” speaks respectfully of the tribal history.

The warm veldt spread beneath the tropic sun,
I climbed a rocky kopje and sat down.
The baboons chattered, full of rage
At me, invader of their dens, but came not near me.
So I sat, and watched the cattle grazing on the veldt.
Herded by small, half-naked Kaffir boys,
Who, as they herded, played their Kaffir games,
And ran about the veldt, waving their wooden spears
In mimic war.
A jackal slunk from bush to bush
Behind a kopje. Furtive, sly,
Stalking a small veldt-deer, who caught his scent
And fled away. And o’er across the veldt I saw
The kraal of Umlaganna,
Chief of the Matabeles.

Then up the kopje came old Umengan,
One of the oldest men of the kraal,
A counselor of the chief of the Matabeles,
And one who knew the legends of his race.
Umengan sat down near me. “Baas,” said he,
“Does not the veldt seem peaceful at this time?
Aye, so it is. With cattle grazing placidly,
Herded by umfan, the young warriors,
And yonder in the kraal the women cook
And they brew the beer for feasting, revel, dance.
Yet I have seen the plains drenched with blood,
Where warriors leaped and smote and thrust and slew,
And knob-sticks smote and whirled and smote again,
And spears were crimson-red from point to grip,
’Twas there that Lobengula made his stand,
’Twas there the British armies broke his power.

“When I was young,” Umengan said, “I followed many a chief,
Fought many a fight. Chaka, I followed first, the Zulu chief.
Chaka the bloody, Chaka the Wild Beast. There was a king!
When we had smote our foes so none remained,
And Chaka lusted for the battle-blood,
He bade the impis turn their spears on one another.
So we turned, impi on impi, Kaffir against Kaffir, and we smote,
And all the tribes made up those impis, all the tribes
Of Kaffirland. Spear clanged on spear and so we smote and slew.
And Chaka watched, his strange, black eyes, flaming with lust of slaughter.
So we slew, and slaughtered one another,
Till Chaka bade us cease.
So, as I said, I followed Chaka, for a king
To be a king and reign, must be a slayer.
For they rule by fear and power. Let a king
Allow his tribe to lose their fear of him and they will hurl him down.

“Then the young chief, Um Silikaz, arose in power,
A chief of my own tribe, Mosilikatze.
A mighty chieftain of the Matabele.
He was a Matabele and so am I. Should I, Umengan, serve a Zulu king?
Yet I think that the young chief, Mosilikatze,
Had never risen to power, had it not been for his aquira, Umlimo.
Many and mighty are the Kaffir tribes,
And Matabele and Zulu are akin. So with shrewd eye to coming power,
Umlimo, aquira of the Zulus came to the induna of the Matabele,
Mosilikatze. ’Twas he who counseled the young chief, Mosilikatze,
To raid the tribes of far Mashonaland.
Whereby the impi of Mosilikatze gained fame and power, women, cattle, loot.
’Twas he bade Mosilikatze withhold the cattle that were the Inkosa’s due,
Whereat Chaka, the king was full of wrath
And ordered forth an impi to bring captive, Mosilikatze, chief of the Matabeles.

“The impi found Mosilikatze, alone with his aquira, Umlimo.
Then in his mighty strength the chieftain laughed,
And with his spear and shield prepared for fray.
But the aquira spoke, ‘Nay, fight not now.
Nay, nay, throw down your spear and yield and I will steal away.’
So the chief of the Matabeles did as the aquira said,
And as the impi closed about, Umlimo sprang,
And leaped away and none could stay him, so he fled,
Escaping. Then they dragged Mosilikatze before the king.
And on him Chaka glared, and bold Mosilikatze
Shrank back before the glare of Chaka’s eyes, for none could
Face the Inkosa’s eyes when savage rage blazed from them.
‘Fling this jackal in a hut,’ then Chaka said,
‘And slay him when I order.’ So they took
Mosilikatze and placed him in a hut, whereby a warrior stood with an assegai.

“Then came Umlimo and with him warriors of the Matabeles.
The Zulu warrior they smote senseless and they freed
Mosilikatze and fled to the Matabeles.
And when Chaka learned his prey had fled,
He slew a dozen warriors in his rage, with his own spear.
And to Mosilikatze came many warriors of the Matabeles.

This unfinished poem uses the first person point of view and we see the Matabele tribe through the eyes of the elder, Umengan.  The story is told by REH as if he were “there” viewing the events as they occurred. It is an African tale of heroism that gives glimpses into the daily life of the tribe.

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This is the fourth and final post for 2011 of the online version of Nemedian Dispatches. This feature previously appeared in the print journal, but now has relocated here to the blog. On a quarterly basis, 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:

Lone Scout of Letters
This anthology, compiled and edited by Rob Roehm, collects Klatt’s letters to Tevis Clyde Smith and a sampling of Klatt’s Lone Scout material. In addition to being a friend and correspondant of Howard, he was a primary figure of the Lone Scouts of America movement in Texas. Not only did he contribute to Lone Scout, the organization’s official organ, he also wrote articles for a plethora of “tribe papers” and edited Lone Scout columns for regional and community newspapers. This volume also includes material by Howard, Truett Vinson, and Smith. From Roehm’s Room Press.

Conan the Indomitable
This is the third and final volume from British publisher Gollancz that collects all the Conan stories and fragments. Contents include: “The Black Stranger,” “The Phoenix on the Sword,” “The Scarlet Citadel” and The Hour of the Dragon. The first two volumes in the collection, Conan the Destroyer and Conan the Berserker are still available.

Spicy Adventures
The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press recently published a collection of Howard’s “spicy” adventures. This collection is the first time many of these stories have appeared in hardback, and is also the first time most of them have appeared with all the “spice” that Howard intended. In addition to all of the complete tales, this volume contains a large miscellanea section with drafts and synopsizes that allow readers to glimpse Howard’s creative process.

Anniversary: Glenn Lord and The Howard Collector
This is Dennis McHaney’s tribute to Glenn Lord and his ground-breaking Howard journal, The Howard Collector. The volume contains tributes from Don Herron, Morgan Holmes, Roy Thomas, Dennis McHaney, Patrice Louinet, Fred Blosser, James Reasoner, Frank Coffman, Rusty Burke, Leo Grin, Paul Herman, Bill Cavalier, Damon Sasser, Barbara Barrett, and Rob Roehm, plus a history of The Howard Collector with index by McHaney, and five works of Howard fiction from the pages of that journal This must-have book is available in both hardback and paperback from

Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!
Editor Otto Penzler collects a diverse catalog of zombie literature. This volume features world-renowned authors like W.B. Seabrook, Stephen King, Joe R. Lansdale, Robert McCammon, Richard Matheson and features Robert E. Howard’s classic zombie yarn, “Pigeons From Hell.” Published by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Original.

Weird Tales Volume 18, Number 5
Girasol Collectible has just released another in their series of Weird Tales pulp replicas.  This one is Weird Tales for December 1931 and features REH’s “The Dark Man.” Girasol is publishing new replicas monthly, with a lot of them having Howard material.


Conan the Barbarian (2011)
The 3D/2D Blu-ray Disc and regular DVD versions of the new Conan the Barbarian movie are now on sale. Both are loaded with bonus materials that includes two audio commentaries, a history of the Conan franchise featurette and “The Man Who Would Be Conan: Robert E. Howard,” plus two additional featurettes that examine the action and fight scenes. TGR blogger Rob Roehm even shows up to discuss Howard.

Kindle & E-Books:

The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard
Four more volumes of this ten volume series published by Wildside Press are now available for Kindle users: Gardens of Fear (Vol. 6), Beyond the Black River (Vol. 7), Black Hounds of Death (Vol. 9) and A Thunder of Trumpets (Vol. 10). This series collections all of Howard’s stories and poems that appeared in Weird Tales, plus several other weird stories from other pulps.

The Deadly Sword of Cormac, From Dark Corners and Names in the Black Book
Robert E. Howard fan Steve Miller has released several eBooks/PDFs of Howard’s stories in the hopes of showing people that Howard wrote other stories in addition to Conan and Solomon Kane. There are several other collections as well on the Drive-Thru Fiction website.


Coming Soon:

Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard (Second Edition)
As previously noted here on the blog, the 2nd edition of Mark Finn’s REH biography will be out the end of January from the REH Foundation Press. Pre-orders are being accepted at the Robert E. Howard Foundation website.

Science Fiction Collection
Also coming soon from the REH Foundation Press is an as yet untitled collection of Howard’s science fiction stories, which should be available around February. The hardcover book will have a color cover by Mark Schultz and an introduction by Mike Stackpole who penned the Conan the Barbarian movie novelization. Contents include:

  • Almuric
  • “The Challenge from Beyond”
  • “The Gondarian Man”
  • “The Last Laugh”
  • “The Last Man”
  • “The Last White Man”
  • “The Man Who Went Back”
  • “People of the Black Coast”
  • “A Room in London”
  • “The Supreme Moment”
  • Untitled synopsis (“Hunwulf, an American . . .”)
  • “The Valley of the Lost” (1)
  • “A Twentieth-Century Rip Van Winkle”
  • “The Iron Terror”

Conan Meets the Academy: Multidisciplinary Essays on the Enduring Barbarian
Coming late next year from McFarland Publications, is this collection of essays on everyone’s favorite Cimmerian. Contributors include Frank Coffman, Jeffrey Shanks, Jonas Prida, Daniel Weiss, Paul Shovlin, Dan Look, Nicky Falkof, James Kelly, Stephen Wall and Imola Bulgozdi. The volume is edited by Jonas Prida, who is an assistant professor of English and head of the English Department at the College of St. Joseph, in Rutland, Vermont.

The Sword & Sorcery Anthology
This a new heroic fantasy anthology from Tachyon Publications, slated for June 2012 publication, that contains Howard’s “Tower of the Elephant.” Other contributors include: Jack Vance, C.L. Moore, Fritz Leiber Michael Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner, David Drake, plus by Michael Shea. Edited by David G. Hartwell and Jacob Weisman.

Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword #4
Coming from Dark Horse on March 28, 2012, Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword #4, featuring eighty full-color pages filled with stories spotlighting Robert E. Howard’s finest creations. In addition to a Conan story, other stories feature Brule, The Sonora Kid and Kull.

The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: The Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art
Beginning in 1932, Margaret Brundage made her mark on the pulp magazine world of fantasy and horror. It was that year that she began a six year run as the primary cover artist for Weird Tales. Indeed her lust-filled cover paintings, bordering on the lewd, had as much to with the magazine’s success as its contributors. Authors and compilers Stephen D. Korshak and J. David Spurlock are joined by Rowena Morrill, Robert Weinberg, and Melvin Korshak, all contributing to this first book devoted to Brundage. Published by Vanguard Publications.

Masters of Horror Limited Edition
Coming in June 2012, an audio collection of horror stories from Audio Realms. Volume One includes stories by Algernon Blackwood, F. Marion Crawford, Bram Stoker, H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard (“The Voice of El-Lil”). This is a Limited Edition of 150 signed copies.

In his essay “Tevis Clyde Smith, Jr.,” Howard scholar Rusty Burke tackles the issue of Howard’s racism head on:

Both Clyde and Bob were confirmed, unabashed racists. Bob seemed to be able to “give any man his due,” judging individuals on merit – this was probably true of Clyde, as well. But both men were given to sweeping racist generalities. In the South of the 1930s, they were firmly in the mainstream, and we may simply say they were products of their time…. (Report on a Writing Man & Other Reminiscences of Robert E. Howard by Tevis Clyde Smith, Necronomicon Press, 1991)

That “Bob seemed to be able to give any man his due” fits in with Howard’s character as a complex man who often held opposing viewpoints on the same subject. Anyone reading Howard’s stories and letters will find they contain racial remarks. Reviewing these writings to discover whether he was a racist is difficult. Some were edited by publishers; others were deliberately written for the market or directed towards the tastes of his correspondent. So it is in his poetry, mostly the unpublished poems, that we search for Howard’s ability to “give any man his due,” examining each poem to consider how much Howard was influenced by the mainstream beliefs about racism that were prevalent during his lifetime.

 Definition of Racism

Just picking up a dictionary and looking up “racism” would make this analysis fairly simple. The only thing to be done would be to compare each poem with the definition.However, a word may be defined differently in different time periods. A good example is the word “bully” which in Howard’s day meant a “fine chap”; today it has changed to a “person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.” Even more complicated is that, according to George M Fredrickson’s book, Racism A Short History (Princeton University Press, 2002) the word “racism” didn’t appear in most dictionaries until after World War II.

The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1991) defines racism as:

 a belief in the superiority of a particular race; prejudices based on this. An antagonism towards other races especially as a result of this and a theory that human abilities, etc., are determined by race.  (emphasis mine)

But we all have prejudices and at times feel superior to others for various reasons. While many people may agree that we are created equal in the eyes of God, the “reality” seems to be different. There are some who are smarter, faster, more beautiful, and more talented both creatively and artistically than the rest of us even within and between each of the races.

Do feelings or thoughts of superiority in and of themselves constitute racism or discrimination? Speaking from the point of view of a woman, a man who thinks all men are superior to all women is no threat. It’s easy to brush off his prejudices as “unenlightened” or “boorish.” This is possible, that is, until he begins to discriminate by enforcing “glass ceilings” so that women who are more qualified cannot advance, or in a broader application, passing laws that forbid all women from pursuing an education, owning property, or voting. In effect denying them their rights as American citizens. In addition, these things are denied to them solely because they are women. Prejudice is feelings and thoughts of superiority; discrimination includes acts to enforce and protect those feelings of superiority. Prejudice and discrimination most often go hand in hand.

Since we are allowed privacy in our thoughts and feelings, what happens to the dictionary definitions of racism: “a belief in the superiority of a particular race; prejudices based on this. An antagonism towards other races especially as a result of this and a theory that human abilities, etc., are determined by race.”? Our beliefs and thoughts may reflect prejudice but do they constitute racism? And what happens when these private thoughts and beliefs are verbally expressed?

Although the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution protects the right of free speech, there are restrictions on it. For example, you cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater nor incite a riot. And what about someone who expresses him or herself vocally against women, races, gays/lesbians or other religions? Should they be considered racists or are they merely offensive to the rest of us?

In his book Racism a Short History, Professor Fredrickson’s defines racism, stating that there must be more than ideas and beliefs:

But racism as I conceive it is not merely an attitude or set of beliefs; it also expresses itself in the practices, institutions, and structures that a sense of deep difference justifies or validates. Racism, therefore, is more than theorizing about human differences or thinking badly of a group over which one has no control. It either directly sustains or proposes to establish a racial order, a permanent group hierarchy that is believed to reflect the laws of nature or the decrees of God. (emphasis mine)

And, most helpful, Fredrickson gives guidelines for recognizing racism:

(1) there is an official ideology that is explicitly racist and dissent from this ideology is dangerous; (2) this sense of radical difference and alienation is most clearly and dramatically expressed in laws forbidding interracial marriage; (3) social segregation is mandated by law and not merely the product of custom or private acts of discrimination that are tolerated by the state; (4) to the extent that the policy is formally democratic, outgroup members are excluded from holding public office or even exercising the franchise; (5) the access that they have to resources and economic opportunities is so limited that most of those in the stigmatized category are either kept in poverty or deliberately impoverished.

With this working definition of “racism,” attention can be focused on the mainstream beliefs about racism historically and during Howard’s lifetime.

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The Robert E. Howard Foundation has just announced on their website that pre-orders are now being taken for Mark Finn’s new edition of Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard. In this new edition, Mark takes a broadsword to many of those tired, outdated myths that have grown up around Howard and his fictional creations. Armed with twenty-five years of research and a wealth of historical documents, Finn paints a very different picture from the one that millions of fans of Conan have been sold throughout the years.

Using quotes from Howard’s own letters, first-hand accounts, interviews, and meticulous research, Mark shows that Howard was, in fact, a product of his time and place in rural Texas, and that his legendary fiction was shaped by Texas history, folklore, and Howard’s incomparable imagination.

The updated and expanded second edition is more complete and up-to-date with new information discovered since the book was initially published in 2006, as well as more detailed examinations of some of Howard’s most famous and important characters and stories.

Mark was kind enough to take time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions on his new edition of Blood & Thunder and give us all some insight into what this updated Howard biography is all about.

TGR: First, why a new edition of Blood & Thunder?

Mark: Oh, well, it’s no secret amongst the movers and shakers of Howard studies and Howard fandom that there are some errors, both technical and factual, in the first edition. All unintentional, of course, but remember, I had to write it while the Centennial loomed nigh. So, I went fast, and Monkeybrain went fast, and we all pulled together and got it out in time for the World Fantasy Convention, which was in October of that year. Any later and we would have missed the deadline. So, unintentionally, some errors crept in from earlier drafts, and some wonky sentences didn’t get fixed.

And then, in 2006, Don Herron rediscovered Doc Howard’s medical books. And then Rob Roehm started uncovering tidbits here and there (and he’s still doing it). And then in 2007 or 2008, I forget which, Patrice Louinet managed to pinpoint when Howard and his family were in New Orleans, and the serendipitous discovery that led to, and oh, hell, there’s new stuff now! So, I was already keeping an error file, for fixing, and I kept my slush pile and my notes for some things I either decided not to include for space or time purposes, and all at once, it occurred to me: a second edition! That would fix everything!

And that’s how it all got started. It took a while for me, because I was shopping the hardcover hither and yon. For a while, I entertained the notion that Del Rey would release it along with their other REH books, but that fell through. In any case, I’m very happy that the Foundation picked up the ball, because it guarantees better control over keeping it available.

TGR: The new edition has a great cover. Tell me about the design. Who came up with the idea of using that classic photo of Howard wielding the gun and knife?

Mark: Oh, that was all Keegan, man! (laughs) He gets carte blanche, these days, you know? I’m sure he was thinking about how it would look with the other REH books on the shelf, but also, I know he wanted to use a photo of REH–but not the same two or three that seem to grace the covers of so many projects in the last 30 years. That picture is one of the posed photographs that he took with Vinson and Smith, and I always figured that they set them up intentionally as either reference for a story or as something to illustrate a project that never materialized. Of course, we’ll never know, but that picture is definitely one of the pics you don’t see very often. Good choice, I thought.

TGR: During the five years between the first and second editions, what new information about Howard’s life has emerged, if any?

Mark: You know, it’s not anything huge and world-shaking…I mean, there’s no bombshells. But what has come to light is a lot of what I’d call secondary and ancillary material. It’s all stuff to hold up to the light and say, “okay, what effect could this possibly have had on X part of REH’s life?” Doc Howard’s incessant, intricate geometric doodles in his medical books, The Axe-Man of New Orleans, conversations with Lovecraft, an interesting wrinkle on the day of Howard’s suicide… lots of little things. But given how little we actually know about the Howard family, even that stuff is pretty cool, I’d say.

TGR: With the passage of time between your two versions of Blood & Thunder have you formed any new opinions about Howard or his writings?

Mark: There are two new theses in B&T 2nd ed. One is about the Breck Elkins stories that I didn’t have time or room to include in the first edition. The second is something I’d been driving toward for a while, and that has to do with the Conan stories. We may have talked about it in Cross Plains this year, but basically, I make the charge that Conan was written for specific commercial considerations in Weird Tales. That’s not to say he phoned them in, but he was pitching specifically to Wright. And that’s why there’s things in the Conan stories that don’t jibe with the rest of Howard’s work–things like his mercurial attitudes about damsels in distress. I contend that the scholars and fans have been looking at it the wrong way: Conan is the anomaly. If you take those stories out of the picture, suddenly Howard becomes a proto-feminist. Put them back in, and he’s just another pulp author indulging in macho sex fantasies. That’s just an example, but I think you get what I’m saying.

TGR: Is there anything you found particularly challenging in updating the original edition?

Mark: Oh, god yes! I had to spend another year and a half with a book I’d already spent a year with earlier. It was, at times, torturous. Especially since I had to rewrite specific passages. I had to literally throw myself back into a mindset six years gone. Very difficult, very challenging. That said, some of the rewriting was a lot of fun. I loved adding in the new bits. That’s a fun creative challenge, to make sure it still flows from point to point and doesn’t get bogged down. I wanted to keep the book accessible and readable.

TGR: This second edition is nearly twice the size of the first. That is a lot of additional wordage. What does it contain?

Mark: Thirty five thousand additional words. It’s got a new index, notes on the chapters, all of the extra stuff mentioned earlier, new material in the Conan and Breck Elkins chapters, cleaned up sentences, new facts and pieces of info about a number of things, and all chapters save the first two have something new and different in them. It’s a true second edition, or as I’ve been calling it, my “director’s cut.”

TGR: There are still a group of folks out there who believe de Camp’s Dark Valley Destiny is the definitive Howard biography. Do you think this new edition of B&T will change their minds?

Mark: Nope. Not a bit. Take John Howe, for example. No, really, take him! He called the first book “pretentious to read” and “inaccurate.” Here’s a guy who came to B&T with a chip on his shoulder. There’s no other way he could have found that book pretentious. And as for “inaccurate,” that just a code-word for “I didn’t agree with his conclusions.” Whatever. You can’t make a horse drink. However, there are a lot of people who want to read about REH and can’t find Dark Valley Destiny anymore. So, good. Here’s Blood & Thunder instead. I think that’s kind of akin to burning the hydra’s head after you’ve cut it off. It’s still there, but it’s not very effective anymore.

TGR: I know is kind of early for this question, but you believe this new edition is the final word on Howard’s life and works or do you foresee yourself revisiting the topic a few years down the road?

Mark: Definitely not. The final word, I mean. I know there are at least two more books being talked about or worked on, and they will each have their own take, based on their experiences. I will say this, though: With this edition, I’ve included every theory, thesis, or idea I’ve ever had about REH, since the age of 15. That itch has finally been thoroughly scratched. I don’t see myself revisiting the biography again, but I’ll never say never. And it won’t keep me from writing more about the boxing and the westerns, or whatever I’m on about these days in Howard studies.

TGR: If there was one thing you would for readers of this new edition to walk away with, what would it be?

Mark: Everything de Camp ever told you about Howard is wrong. That’s what I want. A sense of anger and betrayal at the man who purported to know. I soft-pedaled de Camp in the first edition. Now the gloves are off. The second edition is much meaner to de Camp and E. Hoffmann Price, and I make pains to explain why.

Judging from Mark’s answers, this is going to be a humdinger of a Howard biography — chock-full of good stuff not in the first edition. I’ve already ordered my copy and encourage everyone who is interested to to the same.  With a 150 copy print run, it is sure to sellout fast.

I got word last evening that my friend and longtime TGR contributor David Burton had passed away. Recently, David had been battling a myriad of health issues, not the least of which was a failing heart. Though he put up a brave fight, it was too much for him to overcome. David had open-heart surgery in the past and was hoping to get on a transplant list. However, he took a sudden turn for the worse yesterday and was rushed to the hospital where he passed away a few hours later.

David was born in Manchester, New Hampshire in 1960. When he was young, comic books were his earliest artistic influences and he took an interest in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs at age six. He was a mostly self taught artist and taught art for over ten years.

He was a working artist for over twenty years, producing creative images for magazines, books, comic books, advertising, as well as character design and concept for the movies. He also did private commissions and portraits. David is perhaps best known for his work on fantasy and science fiction projects and his “good girl” artwork

David’s first work for TGR  appeared in the seventh issue, which was published in 2005 and his illustrations appeared in almost every issue since. David also did three pieces of artwork for the second issue of The Chronicler of Cross Plains, published in 2006.

His groundbreaking illustrations for Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars won high praise from ERB’s grandson, Danton Burroughs, who stated that his grandfather would have been proud of Burton’s renditions and praised Burton further by saying that his renditions were the best that anyone had ever done.

Aside from art, David produced, directed and written a television commercial, wrote a script for a short film, worked with special effects for film, did some light stunt work, he acted in films and is a published poet and author.

In addition to his work for TGR, David did artwork for the following organizations and individuals.: Fox Searchlight Pictures, Rip Cord Productions, Paradox Entertainment, Chapter V Enterprises, Leanta Books, Oni Press, Wild Cat Books, Heavy Metal Magazine, Tarzana Entertainment, Hippocampus Press, University of Nebraska/Bison Press, Wildside Press, Liquid Silver E-Books, Ray Bradbury, Kirk Douglas, Sera Gamble, Jessica Alba and many more.

He was a multi-talented individual and an all around nice guy who was always positive and upbeat even in the face of live-threatening adversity. He will be missed.

Ad Occursum Futurum, Requiescat in Pace David.

This entry filed under Howard Fandom, Howard Illustrated, News.

Some might say that the mother of Robert E. Howard’s angry outlaw Crusader, Cormac Fitzgeoffrey, had been slighted in the two complete stories told about him. She’s merely described as “a woman of the O’Briens.” True, little is told of his father, Geoffrey the Bastard, but at least we’re given his name and told that he carried the blood, “it is said,” of William the Conqueror. We know the names of Cormac’s two brothers and how they died. Shane was apparently Cormac’s full brother, because he had, REH tells us through Cormac’s mouth, “Fitzgeoffrey blood.” (Al Harron pointed this out in his post for The Cimmerian blog, “Calavaria ad Victoriam: A Look at Cormac Fitzgeoffrey, Part Three.” It was posted on July 11, 2009. Thanks, Al.)

Shane was killed by a Norse sea-king making a raid into Munster. Cormac’s other brother, Donal, may be a half-brother, no son of Geoffrey the bastard’s; we’re not told. We are informed that an O’Donnell chief ate his heart after a battle at Coolmanagh. That’s in County Carlow, a few miles west of Hacketstown. Since there was a feud between Cormac and Donal, it’s possible, Cormac admits, that he might have killed his brother if someone else had not – “but for all that I burned the O’Donnell in his own castle.” He swiftly avenged Shane’s death, too, by killing the finely accoutered Norseman. Cormac reminisces to Rupert de Vaile that the sea-king “ … was a fine sight in his coat of mail with silvered scales. His silvered helmet was strong too – ax, helmet and skull shattered together.”

(In passing, this occurred at the end of the twelfth century, when the Viking Age proper had passed; but that never stopped Norse pirates from raiding and plundering. Neither did the Christian religion that was now official in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Many chiefs and most peasants were still heathen, no matter what the kings decreed. As REH wrote, “… from Norway and the Orkneys the still half-pagan Vikings ravaged all impartially.”)

About the mother of Cormac, Shane and presumably Donal, hardly anything is said. She’s passed over in one line and not even named. Possibly that complete anonymity should be fixed, even if it has to be done out of the imagination.

In a previous post or two I’ve posited that her name was Radharc O’Brien. It would be inappropriate to think she was anything but a descendant of REH’s character Turlogh Dubh O’Brien, grandson of the great Brian Boru. He fought at Clontarf in 1014, aged about nineteen. (Turlogh Dubh fought, that is, not Brian Boru. Brian was past seventy by then.)

Well, Turlogh was outlawed from his clan on false charges, due to “the jealousy of a cousin and the spite of a woman,” as all strong fans of REH’s writing know. I’ve averred here and there that the historical king of Munster who reigned until his death in 1086, and was also named Turlogh O’Brien, was Turlogh Dubh’s son, born in 1023 or 1024 – not 1009 as is usually stated. I’ve also chosen to suppose that Turlogh Dubh, the outlaw, and his namesake son, born to a Turgaslav woman in Russia (there were quite a few Turlogh O’Brien’s in the clan’s history) were combined into one person by legend and popular memory. The younger Turlogh became King of Munster and married three times.

King Turlogh’s known wives, the ones who provided him with children, were Dubchoblaig of ui Cheinnselaig and Derbforgaill of Osraige. (He had a third wife too. She was Gormlaith of ui Fogarta. But her children haven’t been recorded in the annals. Maybe she didn’t have any.) Dubchoblaig’s offspring included a son named Diarmait, who ruled Waterford and raided Wales as a youth of about twenty. He was nothing but trouble to his greater half-brother Murtogh. Murtogh O’Brien succeeded his father as King of Munster in 1086 and later declared himself the High King of Ireland. He died in 1119. Their complicated family tree – in part, and as I picture it – looked like this:

King Turlogh O’Brien of Munster (Born 1023 or 1024 – Died 1086)


       (1) Dubchoblaig of ui Cheinnselaig (Born 1029 – Died 1094)

    [Son: Diarmait O’Brien (Circa 1060 -1118)]


(2) Derbforgaill of Osraige (Born 1034 – Died 1071)

[Sons: (Diarmait’s half-brothers) Teige O’Brien and Murtogh O’Brien]

In 1114, Murtogh O’Brien became desperately ill. His half-brother Diarmait (a son of Dubchoblaig) seized his chance to depose Murtogh and take the Munster crown. He banished his half-brother. Possibly this gave Murtogh such deep offense that he recovered his health through sheer anger – long enough to attack Diarmait, capture him, and regain control of Munster, anyway. But then he retired to a monastery at Lismore in 1116 and died three years later.

Radharc O’Brien, mother of Cormac Fitzgeoffrey, descended from Diarmait. (She was his granddaughter.) Diarmait, despite his brother Murtogh’s illness, died the year before him, in 1118. But he’d married a woman called Mor ua Conchobar and fathered four sons, along with unknown daughters. The sons were yet another Turlogh – Turlogh mac Diarmait O’Brien – Conchobar na Catharach, Teige Glae, and Donnachad. Teige Glae O’Brien is the brother of interest here, since he fathered Radharc.

Caveat to the reader: Radharc O’Brien, whose by-name was Radharc Casidhe (Clever), is fictional. Her mother was Daimhin O’Brien, a distant cousin of Teige Glae’s, and Daimhin is fictional too, but Teige Glae and his brothers really lived. Daimhin – this writer proposes — descended from King Brian Boru’s sixth son Domnall, a son (probably) of Brian’s second wife, Echrad of the Ui Aeda Odba. Radharc was thus an O’Brien on both sides of her lineage.

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This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.