Archive for January, 2012

As you may have noticed, prolific poster Keith Taylor hasn’t been appearing here as often as he was during the better part of 2011. That is because he has been busy as of late working a new batch of fiction pieces; after all, a guy has to eat and feed his family. But fear not, Keith says he loves blogging here on the TGR website and will be posting every chance he gets.  In the meantime, here is an update on some of his upcoming fiction projects:

I’ve been working flat out in recent days on three new Kamose the Magician stories, One is slated for an anthology Darrell Schweitzer is producing – That is Not Dead — of yarns that feature aspects of the Cthulhu Mythos set in different times and places in history, The idea is that if those hideous cults and beings were really that old, and that widespread, then they’d have manifested themselves down the ages, around the world, not just in Lovecraft’s beloved New England in the early 20th century. Mine deals with a confrontation between Kamose and Nyarlathotep the Crawling Chaos in ancient Egypt.

Next was a story to round out a collection of Kamose yarns that I hope will be put together this year — all the ones that were published in Weird Tales plus two others that haven’t seen print yet – my working title is “The Shabti Assassin.”

Last of all, the one I’m still writing, is for Scott Oden’s planned anthology of stories about zombies in history Again, it’ll feature Kamose, but I’ll be harking back to a time some decades before the others I’ve written about him, (He achieved a greatly extended life-span in Damascus, in the reign of Pharaoh Seti I, How that occurred deserves a novel to itself, I believe, and I hope to get it written someday, He lived nearly two centuries before he finally cashed in.)  This story is set in the reign of Rameses II, the Great, the one Yul Brynner played in The Ten Commandments, Kamose probably won’t be the Archpriest of Anubis as yet, just Third Prophet or some such position, An evil necromancer is raising the dead from their rest for his own purposes, Since Anubis is the funerary god and guide of souls, this would offend him considerably, and Kamose would be expected to do something about it.

If you are unfamiliar with Kamose, our buddy Deuce Richardson posted some additional background on the learned Egyptian magician over on the Conan Forums — it is definitely worth a read. And keep your eyes peeled for the new Kamose stories and for new posts from Keith here on the TGR blog.

This entry filed under News, Weird Tales.

Last evening I was one of a select few to get a sneak preview of the completed Barbarian Days film. Principal photography of the film was done at the 2008 Howard Days; the stars of the film are Rusty Burke as the “Godfather of Howard Days,” Mark Finn as the “Guest of Honor,” Bill Cavalier as the “Boss Dog of REHupa,” Chris Gruber as the “Boxing Stories Expert” and a host of other recognizable Howard Days attendees. But my ugly mug wasn’t among them — I was attending my wife’s family reunion in Mexico and couldn’t make it that year – it is the only Howard Days I’ve missed in the past ten years. For some background on the film, check out this previous blog post. The crew of filmmakers include Damian Horan, director; Grant Gish, writer and executive producer; Scott Thomas Towler, producer; Andrew Pettit co-producer; Adam Watson, cinematographer and Michael Koerbel, cinematographer. Here is the film’s synopsis from the Barbarian Days website:

Synopsis

Most people spend their whole lives searching for what makes them happy. Few find it. Even fewer get the chance to share it with friends.

Every year hundreds of fans flock to tiny Cross Plains, Texas, the home of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. Nearly 80 years after his death by suicide, Howard, an outsider himself, has attracted his own merry band of self-admitted outcast followers.

We followed the Big 4, the top two Howard scholars from the old guard and two up and comers, through their world of fandom at “Howard Days,” the annual celebration of Howard’s life and works.

Despite the cheery air of the celebratory weekend, drama and emotions often run high as Howard fans take their pastime very seriously, often leading to heated arguments and in some cases, brawls. In the end, however, the fans are all gathered for the same reason, to share their passion for Howard and for one weekend a year leave their ordinary lives behind.

The cinematography, editing, lighting, sound, music, etc. are all first rate; this is a very professional film. The director and the rest of the crew deserve a big hat tip from all Howard fans for putting thousands of man hours into the production and editing of this movie – the easy part is the filming, but the real work begins after the last scene is shot. This being an independent film, it has taken a few years to get the funds together to finish it. However, the film crew has worked hard to get it completed and ready for viewing.

The film itself covers a lot of ground, with extensive interviews with the four “stars” and many other Howard Heads. Each has their own story  to tell about their connection to Howard and what he means to them and the filmmakers allow ample time for them to make their point. Transitions from scene to scene and topic to topic are very smooth, which follows a logical chronology to the story they are telling.

Obviously, Barbarian Days was produced for a broad market, so some of the content might be common knowledge to the regular suspects who attend Howard Days. But those people are already on the Howard bandwagon – the hope for the film is it may bring new converts to the Texan fictioneer’s fold.

In places Howard Heads do look like and sound a bit like geeks (heck, some of us are), but overall the film portrays the fans and Howard in a favorable light – something many us were worried about. Indeed, the filmmakers take the topic seriously and treat everyone with dignity, especially the Cross Plains townspeople. A segment on the December 2005 fires is included and highlights the devastation the town suffered and the big comeback the citizens made from the near destruction of the town. Inter-cut with the film are scenes from the two Schwarzenegger Conan movies and The Whole Wide World, but they are not just thrown in, but rather interwoven the topic being discussed. Bottom line, if you’ve never been to Howard Days, the film gives you a good feel for what it is like. All of the activities and events are shown from Friday morning’s coffee and doughnuts at the Pavilion through the annual barbecue at the Caddo Peak Ranch. The Barbarian Festival gets some nice coverage as well.

The only scene I would take issue with is an animated one. The animated sequence was used to illustrate the much discussed 2007 confrontation at Howard Days between Chris Gruber and Leo Grin. Since no one would talk about it on camera, not even the instigator (Chris), the filmmakers took some artistic license and used Leo’s own account from the pages of the August 2007 issue of The Cimmerian in Brian Leno’s trip report, “Down the Rabbit Hole.” Situations like this are like a falling out among family members – everyone moves on afterward and what happened stays in the family. Such is the case here.

One thing thing that was particularly compelling is Indy’s voice over statement at the end of the film. He gets the last word with his statement “Robert E. Howard saved my life.”

But Lee Breakiron pops up after the credits and gets upstaged by a group of nearby mooing cows, which renders him speechless.

All in all, it is a great film that keeps you entertained and invested in the story — I recommend it to Howard fans and non-believers as well.

As to where you can view the film, it has made the short list at several festivals at which the filmmakers are hoping to premiere it, but they have not yet been granted full acceptance. If and when they are accepted, the word will come down from them and I will be sure and get the names and dates of the pertinent festival(s) up on this blog.

Other than screening at festivals, which will definitely be a good forum to attract potential distributors, the filmmakers also plan on distributing DVD’s on as a backup plan. The DVD’s will only be available once they’ve either played the film at least one festival, or once they’ve heard back from all festivals regarding their submission status. They would also love to be able to allow for paid streaming of the film online at some point. So keep your fingers crossed and wish these gents much success in their efforts to bring Barbarian Days to the masses.

06/21/2013 UPDATE: The Barbarian Days DVD is now available.

Rob Roehm has just posted a call for nominations for REH Foundation Award nominees. Previously, everyone and anyone who produced anything Howard-related was automatically nominated for an REH Foundation Award. This year, to make being nominated an honor in itself, the Foundation is limiting the ballot to the top five nominees in each category that are picked by Howard fans. The awards for Outstanding Achievement in 2011 will be presented to the winners on Friday evening, June 8, in Cross Plains immediately following the Howard Days banquet.

While the new nomination process for these awards is open to the general public and not just members of the Foundation, the actual voting is limited to Foundation members only. If you want to vote on the final roster of nominees, there is still time to join the Foundation.  The REH Foundation has three levels of membership, perfect for anyone’s budget:

$20 – as a Supporting Member you will receive a 10% discount on REHF and REH Foundation Press (REHFP) books and merchandise.

$50 – as a Friend of REH you will receive the member discount above as well as the REHF newsletter, and your name posted (if wanted) on the website.

$100 – Legacy Circle members will receive all the above, along with invitations to special events, plus a yearly REHF pin. Legacy Circle members might also get other additional benefits during the year.

So, whether you are a Foundation member or part of REH fandom in general, you can partipate in the first part of this process by selecting three nominees in each of the award categories. Once you have made your selections, e-mail them to Rob for tabulation. Rob has requested that the e-mail containing your nominations be “signed” with your first and last name.

You can nominate up to three in each of the categories. The top five nominees in each category will go on the ballot. Deadline for nominations is February 29, 2012. After the nominees are selected, the next step will be the voting process. Be sure and check the Foundation’s website for voting details in February and March. And if you are not a member of the Foundation, now is a good time to join.

This entry filed under Howard Days, Howard Fandom, Howard Scholarship, News.

In December of 1932, readers of Weird Tales got a little something extra in their stockings for Christmas, namely a Cimmerian named Conan. That first Conan story, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was followed by 16 additional Conan adventures that were published through October 1936 in the pages of The Unique Magazine. Four additional yarns and a handful of fragments were discovered by L. Sprague de Camp and Glenn Lord and published in the ensuing decades. Events are already being planned to mark this monumental milestone in Howardian history.

As announced a few weeks back, Chuck Hoffman will be the Guest of Honor at this year’s Howard Days (June 8 — 9). Chuck is one of the early pioneers of Howard lit crit and, with his credentials, he fits right in with this year’s theme for Howard Days, “80 Years of Conan the Cimmerian”:

The Robert E Howard Foundation, along with The Robert E Howard United Press Association and Project Pride, is pleased to announce that Charles Hoffman has accepted our invitation to be Guest of Honor at Robert E. Howard Days, June 8-9, 2012.

Chuck’s seminal essay, “Conan the Existentialist,” appearing in Amra 61 in March 1974, is widely regarded as the first true literary criticism of Howard’s work. Before its appearance, discussions of REH tended to take the form of book reviews or light-hearted “Hyborian scholarship.” Chuck was the first to stake out a claim for Howard as a writer whose work would repay critical scrutiny; he demonstrated clearly that the claim that “philosophical meanings” were absent from Howard’s work was untrue. He revised the essay for a later appearance in the magazine Ariel, and it has since been reprinted in Cromlech #1 and The Barbaric Triumph.

I know, Dennis and I will be a tough act to follow, but Chuck is more than capable enough to make us look like a couple of pikers. In addition to the Conan theme, there will also be a special panel devoted to Glenn and I imagine a few other tributes for him as well. The REHupa website should have the 2012 Howard Days webpage up and running soon, so be sure and check in over there from  time to time for updates.

PulpFest 2012 is also jumping on the Conan anniversary bandwagon. In addition to the main theme of the convention, celebrating 100 years of Tarzan, the folks at PulpFest will also recognize this important anniversary for Conan:

PulpFest will celebrate the Cimmerian’s eightieth birthday and honor Howard’s career with two very special programs. First, Rusty Burke will moderate a panel of REH experts who will discuss Conan, Howard’s other characters, and the author’s influence on the sword-and-sorcery genre. Rusty needs no introduction to devotees of “Two-Gun Bob.” He is the editor of the highly acclaimed Howard reprint series published in the US by Del Rey Books, the president of the Robert E. Howard Foundation, and a long-time participant in REHupa (The Robert E. Howard United Press Association). We will provide the names of other panelists as soon as they are confirmed.

The second Conan-themed presentation will be made by another well-known Howard aficionado, Jim Keegan, who with his wife Ruth produces “The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob,” which appears in every issue of Conan, Kull, and Solomon Kane published by Dark Horse Comics. The Keegans have also illustrated several of the Del Rey volumes (including Crimson Shadows and Grim Lands: The Best of Robert E. Howard, Volumes One & Two) and are the proprietors of Jim & Ruth’s Two-Gun Blog. Jim will offer a look at the Cimmerian as depicted by various illustrators over the last eight decades.

The guys at Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention are fans of Howard and Weird Tales, so I would not be surprised if they did not add an event or two to celebrate the Cimmerian’s 80th anniversary. And, of course, you’ll see some posts here on the blog marking this Cimmerian anniversary, as well a Conan treat or two in the upcoming new issue of TGR. By Crom, it will be a year to remember!

It was 106 years ago today that Robert E. Howard was born in the tiny town of Peaster, Texas.  In recent years, there have been celebrations in either Cross Plains or Austin to mark this anniversary, but this year the mood is more subdued and a gathering is not in the picture. Everyone is still mourning the passing of Glenn Lord and not feeling in a partying mood.

Howard himself did not make a big deal out of his birthday; perhaps it was the hardscrabble times he lived in where putting food on the table took precedence over throwing a party.  He only mentions birthdays a few times in his letters, making one reference about getting a book for his birthday. And he did make this comment in a letter to Harold Preece, postmarked September 5, 1928:

Today at town I saw the hang-over of some old and lascivious custom — a girl had a birthday and her girl and boy friends pounced upon her and indulged in a spanking debauch. I have never been able to find just how that custom originated, but have an idea its roots lie in the old superstition that spanking a woman or whipping her with a switch makes her bear children oftener and easier.

Howard was likely referring to an ancient tradition the Romans practiced called Lupercalia. Each spring young girls would be switched so that they would live longer lives and be fertile. This ritual was also carried out by the ancient Germans and the Druids.

Another possible origin the tradition is based on is the slap on the bottom newborns used to get at the time of birth. Physicians used this practice to cause the infant to cry, allowing breathing to begin. Nowadays they suction out their mouth and nose to remove any mucus to clear the airway.

At one time, it was considered bad luck if the birthday celebrant was not spanked because it “softened up the body for the tomb.” This idea has its roots in ancient Egypt where they were obsessively preoccupied with the afterlife.

Of course, the tradition of a birthday spanking exists all around the world, rooted in the idea of delivering some form of physical torment to the person whose birthday it is, in order to drive away evil and to attract good luck. A wide variety of torments are used from beatings, punches, earlobe-pulling and “The Bumps.” An extra “one to grow on” swat is usually added as a show of good luck to your health.

I don’t know if anyone was brave enough to give Howard a birthday spanking — particularly after he bulked up, but he seemed to enjoy writing about spankings and whippings, notably in his Conan yarns appearing in Weird Tales. Speaking of Conan, to commemorate Howard’s birth, I’ll be reading one of my favorite Conan stories today — either “Beyond the Black River” or “Red Nails” — I haven’t decided yet. Either way, it will be one heck of a ride.

Happy Birthday, Bob and thanks for all the yarns.

This entry filed under Howard Biography, Weird Tales.

Slavery, Retribution and Vengeance

Robert E. Howard’s hatred of the slave trade was unequivocal. His poems in this subject area are so vivid they could almost be used as part of the history of the slaves taken from Africa. It is one of the few subject areas in which REH shows no conflicting point of view in his poetry.

The opposite of slavery is freedom and in a letter to Farnsworth Wright. ca. June-July 1931, (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v. 2, p. 198) Howard expresses his definition of being free:

I’ve always had a honing to make my living by writing, ever since I can remember, and while I haven’t been a howling success in that line, at least I’ve managed for several years now to get by without grinding at some time-clock punching job. There’s freedom in this game, that’s the main reason I chose it. As Robert Service says in “A Rolling Stone”:

—In bellypinch I will pay the price
But God, let me be free!—
For once I know in the long ago,
They made a slave of me.

Life’s not worth living if somebody thinks he’s in authority over you……

Freedom was also a subject in the discussions between H. P. Lovecraft and Howard during their years of correspondence. In a letter to HPL, (ca. Dec 1932) The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v. 2, p. 506) he further states,

If it came to a show-down, I suppose it would be natural for me to throw in with the working classes, since I am a member of that class, but I am far from idealizing — or idolizing — it or its members. In the last analysis, I reckon, I have but a single conviction or ideal, or whateverthehell it might be called: individual liberty. It’s the only thing that matters a damn. I’d rather be a naked savage, shivering, starving, freezing, hunted by wild beasts and enemies, but free to go and come, with the range of the earth to roam, than the fattest, richest, most bedecked slave in a golden palace with the crystal fountains, silken divans, and ivory-bosomed dancing girls of Haroun al Raschid. With that nameless black man I could say:

“Freedom, freedom,
Freedom over me! —
And before I’d be a slave,
I’d lie down in my grave
And go up to my God and be free!”

That’s why I yearn for the days of the early frontier, where men were more truly free than at any other time or place in the history of the world, since man first began to draw unto himself the self-forged chains of civilization. This is merely a personal feeling. I make no attempt to advocate a single ideal of personal liberty as the one goal of progress and culture. But by God, I demand freedom for myself. And if I can’t have it, I’d rather be dead.

With this demand of freedom for himself, the core feeling in the following poems becomes clearer.

First is “Cornish Jack” (undated) with its supernatural aspects. It tells the story of a lustful, cruel man, with a “hell-born soul.” He has cornered a frightened young tribal girl in one of the huts when quite literally, all Hell breaks loose. While the poem does not explicitly state Jack Cornish’s race, lines 5 through 8 could indicate he was actually an African. Africans themselves did play a role in the slave trade. Europeans rarely entered the interior of Africa due to a fear of disease and even more than that, the fierce resistance of the African warriors. It was a common practice for Africans to sell their captives or prisoners of war, usually taken from neighboring or enemy ethnic groups, to European buyers. The poem “Cornish Jack” is a story of revenge and divine retribution.

Away in the dusky barracoon,
A slave shrieked out, for against the moon
He’d seen a phantom leap up, then fade
From the top of the village barricade.
Then through the heavy gate unbarred
Came the massive-limbed Jekra guard.
A savage warrior, a Jekra brave,
He haled by the hair the shrinking slave,
Hurled him before him across a log,
With a rhino lash proceeded to flog.

So when the slave saw arrayed,
Another shape on the high stockade,
He spoke no word, though he gaped with surprise,
Silent—he thought of his welted thighs.
A moment the second phantom stood,

Like a ghastly specter of some dim wood,
Then vanished; still higher roared the din
Of lustful women and lusting men.

Through the deep, dusky shadows back
Of the village huts went Cornish Jack,
From empty hut to hut he stole,
Lust and desire in his Hell-born soul.
Ha! Chopping branches for fuel wood,
In the shadow a slim young woman stood.
Ha! Cornish Jack sucked in his breath,
He knew not his face was a mask of Death.
He knew he was Cornish Jack, the same
That had had his desire of many a dame.

A Thing of horror, a thing of night,
That loomed grotesque in the dancing light,
A midnight horror, a monstrous thing;
Each negro might have taken wing,
For they scattered, they fled, like leaves on the wind
And Devil might take the ones behind.
Still after the girl flew Cornish Jack,
Still the phantom stayed at his back.

Over beneath the high stockade,
Cornish Jack stopped the flying maid,
But ere he touched her, he turned by chance,
And followed her wild, half-insane glance.
Then jungle, stockade, and hut-roof peak
Echoed again with his frightful shriek.
And over the village a strange light shone,
For the Devil had come to claim his own.

Over the wall two phantoms sped,
Out through the jungle two phantoms fled,
They rode on the winds, they soared on the blast,
One fled swiftly, one followed fast.
On and on through the jungle wrack,
Like a flying smoke fled Cornish Jack,
On and on through the jungle dim,
Flaming, the Devil followed him.

And sometimes now, say the Jekra folk,
On a trail of flame and a trail of smoke
Hot on a roaring Hell-fire blast,
The flying twain go hurrying past.
And they say Cornish Jack is past them whirled,
And the Flaming God of the Flaming World.

Truly a tale of the devil coming to claim his own.

“Ju-Ju Doom” (undated) is another tale of retribution and vengeance. This time it’s directed towards Joab Worley, who Howard compares to “a great spider,” making him particularly loathsome.

As a great spider grows to monstrous girth
On life-blood sucked from smaller, cringing things,
So Joab Worley, in his plunderings
Of black folk spawned in nakedness and dearth,
Grew great in all the riches prized of earth;
Dwelling in state, a brother to black kings,
In his great throne-hut, safe from spears and slings;
The deep black jungle echoed to his mirth.

Until he dared to go, in drunken pride,
Alone into the ju-ju hut; all round
The black priests trembled and the drums were beat;
At last they, on their bellies crawled inside;
There Joab Worley lay, without a wound,
Stone dead before the leering idol’s feet.

In his description, REH calls Worley a “brother to black kings” and one who dwells in “his great throne-hut, safe from spears and slings”; but again he’s not clear regarding Worley’s race and there are good arguments for either side. Under the previous evaluation of “Cornish Jack,” it is noted that Europeans rarely ventured into interior Africa because of their fear of disease and the tribes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Howard based Bran Mak Morn and the Picts on the historical Picts he discovered in a New Orleans library. The Howards lived in New Orleans for a short time in 1919 when Dr. Howard was enrolled in medical classes at Tulane University. Howard recounts his discovery in a January, 1932 letter to H. P. Lovecraft:

Then when I was about twelve I spent a short time in New Orleans and found in a Canal Street library, a book detailing the pageant of British history, from prehistoric times up to — I believe — the Norman conquest. It was written for school-boys and told in an interesting and romantic style, probably with many historical inaccuracies. But there I first learned of the small dark people which first settled Britain, and they were referred to as Picts. I had always felt a strange interest in the term and the people, and now I felt a driving absorption regarding them. The writer painted the aborigines in no more admirable light than had other historians whose works I had read. His Picts were made to be sly, furtive, unwarlike, and altogether inferior to the races which followed — which was doubtless true. And yet I felt a strong sympathy for this people, and then and there adopted them as a medium of connection with ancient times. I made them a strong, warlike race of barbarians, gave them an honorable history of past glories, and created for them a great king — one Bran Mak Morn. I must admit my imagination was rather weak when it came to naming this character, who seemed to leap full grown into my mind. Many kings in the Pictish chronicles have Gaelic names, yet in order to be consistent with my fictionized version of the Pictish race, their great king should have a name more in keeping with their non-Aryan antiquity. But I named him Bran, for another favorite historical character of mine — the Gaul Brennus, who sacked Rome. The Mak Morn comes from the famous Irish hero, Gol Mac Morn. I changed the spelling of the Mac, to give it a non-Gaelic appearance, since the Gaelic alphabet contains no “k”, “c” being always given the “k” sound. So while Bran Mac Morn is Gaelic for “The Raven, Son of Morn”, Bran Mak Morn has no Gaelic significance, but has a meaning of its own, purely Pictish and ancient, with roots in the dim mazes of antiquity; the similarity in sound to the Gaelic term is simply a coincidence!

But what I intended to say was, I am not yet able to understand my preference for these so-called Picts. Bran Mak Morn has not changed in the years; he is exactly as he leaped full-grown into my mind — a pantherish man of medium height, with inscrutable black eyes, black hair and dark skin. This was not my own type; I was blond and rather above medium size than below. Most of my friends were of the same mold. Pronounced brunet types such as this were mainly represented by Mexicans and Indians, whom I disliked. Yet, in reading of the Picts, I mentally took their side against the invading Celts and Teutons, whom I knew to be my type and indeed, my ancestors. My interest, especially in my early boyhood, in these strange Neolithic people was so keen, that I was not content with my Nordic appearance, and had I grown into the sort of man, which in childhood I wished to become, I would have been short, stocky, with thick, gnarled limbs, beady black eyes, a low retreating forehead, heavy jaw, and straight, coarse black hair — my conception of a typical Pict. I cannot trace this whim to an admiration for some person of that type — it was a growth from my interest in the Mediterranean race which first settled Britain. Books dealing on Scottish history were easier for me to obtain than those dealing with Irish history, so in my childhood I knew infinitely more about Scottish history and legendry than Irish. I had a distinct Scottish patriotism, and liked nothing better than reading about the Scotch and English wars. I enacted these wars in my games and galloped full tilt through the mesquite on a bare-backed racing mare, hewing right and left with a Mexican machete and slicing off cactus pears which I pretended were the heads of English knights. But in reading of clashes between the Scotch and the Picts, I always felt my sympathies shift strangely. But enough of this; it isn’t my intention to bore you.

Being a voracious reader, Howard must have felt he had found a gold mine exploring the largest library he had seen at that point in his young life. And finding the Picts in that historical book (probably The Romance of Early British Life, From the Earliest Times to the Coming of the Danes, by G.F. Scott Elliott, London, Seeley & Co. Ltd, 1909) was just icing on the cake.

I was curious about this New Orleans library where a young Howard spent some time while his father attended medical classes nearby. A search of the 1919 property records for Canal Street only lists one library at 2940 Canal Street, so I thought it must be the one Howard visited. I also suspected it was a Carnegie Library since nearly 1,700 were built across the country during this time frame. Sure enough, a main library and five branches were funded in 1902 by the Carnegie Foundation. However, the Canal Street branch was not completed until 1911. I contacted a researcher at the New Orleans Public Library with hopes of finding some photos of the library during its heyday; however she was unable to locate any.

The Canal Street library closed in 1958, later reopening as a business college, it was used as a jobs training program for Spanish-speaking immigrants, and then it became a beauty school until 2005 when Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing floods severely damaged the building. But, as you can see from the accompanying photos, the old gal is still standing, though now painted a Windex blue.

One other item of interest, and something Howard would have liked, is a mural on a wall inside the library that was painted by a young artist in 1941 as part of the WPA program. The artist’s name was Edward Schoenberger. The mural’s theme is “The History of the Written Word,” which starts out depicting the cavemen and their drawings and progresses to the then present (1941) newspaper printing techniques.

Schoenberger designed the historic tableau in the stiff, cartoonish style that was popular for public art in the Mid-Century. In addition to the cavemen, Egyptians, monks, calligraphers and old Gutenberg himself are depicted on the mural. Schoenberger did not apply paint directly to the library wall. He used a 50-foot fabric sheet affixed to a layer of plaster, producing what was said to be the largest continuous artist’s canvas in the world at the time.

He was an artist with a sense of humor – he wrote an inscription on one of the monks’ books at the center of the mural, too small to be visible from the library floor: “If you can read this, you are too damn close . . .” He also added a few personal flourishes — the faces of the monks are based on friends and members of his family, including himself and his first wife.

Sometime after the library changed hands, the 16-foot ceiling of the reading room was lowered six feet in the type of renovation typical of the 1960s era. This caused the only the top third of the “History of the Written Word,” to become visible in what was now an attic and resulted in the lower portion being covered with plaster and paint, totally obscuring the bottom portion of mural. In addition to the damage done by the construction of the false ceiling, graffiti taggers had done their dirty work defacing the mural and added duct work, plumbing, and electrical equipment punctured the surface of the mural.

By the time his mural was damaged and truncated, Schoenberger’s career had taken him on an artistic tour of the United States. According to an obituary from a Wausau, Wisconsin funeral home website, the artist had painted military-themed murals while serving in the Air Force at Kelly Field Texas during World War II; attended classes at the Art Students League in New York; and finally moved to Wausau where he became director of the Marathon County Historical Museum. Schoenberger passed away in October 2007 at the age of 92.

In September of 2008, a chiropractor named Sylvi Beaumont, bought the three-story Italianate structure with the intention of converting it into a yoga school. She chose the building because it was close to downtown and a nearby streetcar line. The doctor soon discovered the buried antique mural and, despite its poor condition, she considered it a bonus, making its restoration part of her renovation plans.

After considering several costly options, Dr. Beaumont turned to Jeanne Louise Chauffe, an artist who specializes in period painting and faux finishes. Ms. Chauffe had previously worked for Beaumont and agreed to take on the task.

Ms. Chauffe restored the “History of the Written Word” mural in the hot stillness of the un-air conditioned, un-ventilated building. She spent the six months carefully flaking the plaster from the canvas weave, doing her best not to disturb Schoenberger’s brushwork beneath. She patched the gaping holes and cracks with metal mesh and plaster. As she prepared to repaint lost and blemished areas of the painting, she applied a barrier of dissolvable varnish, so that future generations could separate her work from Schoenberger’s. When she finished, the building was still a barren, gutted hulk, awaiting the permits needed to begin the renovation, but Schoenberger’s mural shone in its original glory. The story of the restored mural detailed in this video.

So if you are ever in New Orleans, stop by the building (now the Swan River Yoga Shala) at 2940 Canal Street where Howard discovered the Picts and take a look at the “History of the Written Word” mural. Of course, you should also take a few minutes to visualize what the library was like in its glory days and imagine a young Two-Gun Bob roaming the aisles, looking for secrets to the past while daydreaming of ages undreamed of.

Offensive or Derogatory Words or Phrases

The five poems in this next category contain demeaning and derogatory expressions for Africans and African-Americans, including the offensive word “nigger” in the first two.

“De Ole River-Ox” (undated) The racism analysis of this poem includes the use of the “N” word as well as the dialect itself.

De ole river-ox come over de ridge!
    Whoom! Whoom!
He bellow, he roar, he fling his head,
He tear up de reeds where de mud-flats spread!
He low, and he plunge and he butt de bridge.
He shake he horns at de gnat an’ midge,
    An’ he kick up de spray an’ spume.

De ole river-ox on a big rampage!
    Whoom! Whoom!
He lash his tail and he stomp his hoofs
An’ he splash de spray on de niggers’ roofs.
He roar an’ he prance wid a marvelous rage
An’ he try uproot de landin’ stage!
    An’ he whirls de banks like a flume.

De ole river-ox come up to de sea!
    Whoom! Whoom!
He catch de boats in his yellow horns
And he tromp ’em down just like he scorns.
He stomp de ocean an’ low an’ roar
An’ drive de ships way up on de shore.
    An’ shouts in de flyin’ spume.

Merriam-Webster defines “nigger” as an offensive description of a black person or a member of any dark skinned race. But even among dictionaries there is no agreement. The online Urban Dictionary (21st Century Definition) says it is: “An offensive word that, despite its past usage as an racial slur, is now gaining popularity as a word to describe ignorant, ill mannered, or low-class people, without regard to their ethnicity.”

In A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary, and Expositor of the English Language (Collins and Hannay, No. 230, Pearl Street, NY 1819) the words “racist” and “racism” do not appear. Nor does the word “nigger.” In it, “negro” as a “blackmore” with this added note: “Some speakers, but only those of the very lowest order, pronounce this word as if written ‘ne-gur.’”

Although today it is generally regarded as a racial slur, despite its 21st Century meaning, that was not always true. Webster-online-dictionary website states:

In the United States, the word nigger was not always considered derogatory, but was instead used by many as merely denotative of black skin, as it was in other parts of the English-speaking world. In nineteenth-century literature, there are many uses of the word nigger with no intended negative connotation. Charles Dickens, and Joseph Conrad (who published The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ in 1897) used the word without racist intent. Mark Twain often put the word into the mouths of his characters, white and black, but did not use the word when writing as himself in his autobiographical Life on the Mississippi.

The word was much more common in usage in REH’s time and even into the 1950s. For example, in the movie, The Dam Busters, Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s black dog bears that name which was changed to “Trigger” for US film distributions. Ironically, the dog playing “Nigger” in the film had that name.

Does a racial slur constitute racism? While this concept has been thoroughly examined under “The Gods of the Jungle Drums,” in Part 2, Fredrickson’s definition of racism also applies.

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.

In this case, Howard is referring to the roofs of people who live next to the river. Again, it is mainstream thinking but even under that meaning, his statements do not contain anything derogatory about African-Americans as a people.

The other issue in this poem is whether REH’s use of the dialect can be considered racism. Did he use it to be purposefully offensive or demeaning? Without more information about the circumstances under which the poem was written, this can’t be determined. However, there are other clues regarding its usage. A possible reason that should be considered is Howard’s background and familiarity with the dialect. In The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v. 2, pp 75-6, he writes to H. P. Lovecraft:

As regards African-legend sources, I well remember the tales I listened to and shivered at, when a child in the “piney woods” of East Texas, where Red River marks the Arkansas and Texas boundaries. There were quite a number of old slave darkies still living then. The one to whom I listened most was the cook, old Aunt Mary Bohannon who was nearly white — about one sixteenth negro, I should say…. She told many tales, one which particularly made my hair rise; it occurred in her youth. A young girl going to the river for water, met, in the dimness of dusk, an old man, long dead, who carried his severed head in one hand. This, said Aunt Mary, occurred on the plantation of her master, and she herself saw the girl come screaming through the dusk, to be whipped for throwing away the water-buckets in her flight.

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

This poem and other dialect poems of the same nature could be the result of his relationship with Aunt Mary Bohannon and are possible tributes to her memory. The article, ”The Dialects of American English,” which traces the English language in its many forms in the United States, was used to trace the dialect used in the poem. It states: “Southern English was mixed with Black English when Black nannies helped to raise white children. The resulting language was a form of pidgin English.”

The Howards stayed in Bagwell from mid-1913 to January 1915 — long enough according to his letter above to keep an impressionable boy spellbound with her horror stories and possibly to pick up her way of speaking. Aunt Mary Bohannon was not a nanny for Howard, but her tales had a great influence on him. Most Howard readers will recognize his short story, “Pigeons From Hell” in the second paragraph quoted above.

Read the rest of this entry »

From time to time frequent TGR contributor Charles Saunders jumps in his wayback machine and brings back some gems from the heyday of the Howard Boom. One of these gems is his classic article “A Mouthful of Feathers” that appeared in The Chronicler of Cross Plains #1 in 1978. The article compares the similarities and differences between two giants of adventure fiction — Conan and Tarzan, particularly in a similar scene that appears in “A Witch Shall Be Born” and Tarzan the Untamed. Since Howard did read Burroughs, it is possible that he was inspired by the vulture scene in Untamed when he was writing “Witch.” However, while a copy of Tarzan the Untamed does not appear on Rusty Burke’s “The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf” list, he could have checked it out from the library or borrowed a copy from a friend.

Here are the classic scenes comparing the two heroes taking that un-tasty bite out of the vultures menacing them:

Conan:

In his dulled ears sounded the louder beat of wings. Lifting his head he watched with the burning glare of a wolf the shadows wheeling above him. He knew that his shouts would frighten them away no longer. Conan drew his head back as far as he could, waiting with terrible patience. The vulture swept in with a swift roar of wings. Its beak flashed down, ripping the skin on Conan’s chin as he jerked his head aside; then, before the bird could flash away; Conan’s head lunged forward on his mighty neck muscles, and his teeth, snapping like those of a lion, locked on the bare, wattled neck.

Instantly the vulture exploded into squawking, flapping hysteria. its thrashing limbs blinded the man, and its talons ripped his chest. But grimly he held on, the muscles starting in lumps on his jaws. And the scavenger’s neck bones crunched between those powerful teeth. With a spasmodic flutter the bird hung limp. Conan let go, spat blood from his mouth. The other vultures, terrified by the fate of their companion, were in full flight to a distant tree, where they perched like black demons in conclave.

Tarzan:

Ska, filled with suspicions, circled warily. Twice he almost alighted upon the great naked breast only to wheel suddenly away; but the third time his talons touched the brown skin. It was as though the contact closed an electrical circuit that instantaneously vitalized the quite clod that had lain motionless for so long. A brown hand swept downward from the brown forehead and before Ska could raise a wing in flight he was in the clutches of his intended victim.

Ska fought, but he was no match even for a dying Tarzan, and a moment later the ape-man’s teeth closed on the carrion-eater. The flesh was coarse and tough and gave off an unpleasant odor and a worse taste; but it was food and the blood was drink and Tarzan was only an ape at heart and a dying ape into the bargain … dying of hunger and thirst.

Exciting, but appetite suppressing stuff. If you have the stomach for more, mosey on over to Charles’s website and read the entire post and while you are there, check out Charles’ take on a Conan vs. Tarzan match-up in “Fantasy Superfight: Conan vs. Tarzan.”

This entry filed under Charles R. Saunders, Howard's Fiction.

I love a mystery. Unfortunately, I don’t really have the time or cash to spend a lot of time in Texas, where all of my favorite mysteries are, but I did manage a trip during the first week of January with my dad. Rather than explore old Texas towns as we usually do, this trip was full of courthouses and documents—those led to old Texas towns, but that wasn’t what we set out to do. The mystery at hand was Robert E. Howard’s vague reference to the “Wichita Falls country” in his circa October 1930 letter to H. P. Lovecraft:

Why, by the time I was nine years old I’d lived in the Palo Pinto hills of Central Texas; in a small town only fifty miles from the Coast; on a ranch in Atascosa County; in San Antonio; on the South Plains close to the New Mexican line; in the Wichita Falls country up next to Oklahoma; and in the piney woods of Red River over next to Arkansas.

This laundry list of locations was repeated close to a year later in a letter to Wilfred B. Talman:

I was born in the little ex-cowtown of Peaster, about 45 miles west of Fort Worth, in the winter of 1906, but spent my first summer in lonely Dark Valley among the sparsely settled Palo Pinto hills. From then until I was nearly nine years old I lived in various parts of the state — in a land-boom town on the Staked Plains, near the New Mexico line; in the Western Texas sheep country; in San Antonio; on a ranch in South Texas; in a cattle town on the Oklahoma line, near the old North Texas oil-fields; in the piney woods of East Texas; finally in what later became the Central West Texas Oil-belt.

Now, let’s connect the dots. Peaster, Dark Valley, and the “Palo Pinto hills” require no explanation. The “South Plains” and “Staked Plains” near New Mexico are references to Seminole, where the Howards lived in 1908. “Western Texas sheep country” must be Bronte, where the Howards lived in 1909. For San Antonio and Atascosa County, we turn to Dr. I. M. Howard’s November 7, 1936 letter to his sister-in-law, Jess Searcy:

I well remember when Robert was only four years old we spent the winter in San Antonio and the spring months in Atascosa County, some thirty miles south of San Antonio.

Robert turned four in 1910, and it is then that we find Isaac M. Howard registered in Atascosa County, mailing address at Poteet. This appears to be the location of the “ranch in South Texas.”

The “piney woods” are located in Bagwell, Red River County, where the Howards lived starting in 1913. The “Central West Texas Oil-belt” is the region surrounding and including Cross Plains. That leaves us with only two unidentified locations: “a small town only fifty miles from the Coast” and the “cattle town on the Oklahoma line, near the old North Texas oil-fields,” i.e. the “Wichita Falls country.” I have yet to do much traveling near the coast, so let’s see what we can find near the Oklahoma line.

“Wichita Falls country” has been a problem for biographers starting with L. Sprague de Camp. In Dark Valley Destiny, he handles it this way:

The Howards’ next move was to a place near Wichita Falls. Although there is no record of Dr. Howard’s medical registration in the District Clerk’s Office in any of the three nearby counties—Wichita, Clay, or Archer—Robert later told Lovecraft that his family had made their home in a little cattle town near the old North Texas oil field, which lies in the Wichita Falls area.

Turns out de Camp was wrong on at least one point, but we’ll get to that later. Some time after DVD was published, Howard fans started focusing on Burkburnett as the most likely “little cattle town.” A quick look at a Texas map will show that it is in Wichita Falls country and certainly near, if not on, “the Oklahoma line.”

Due to its format and intended audience, the next big work, Rusty Burke’s A Short Biography of Robert E. Howard, bypasses the issue completely: “Isaac Howard seems to have been possessed of a combination of wanderlust and ambition that led him to move his family frequently in search of better opportunities. By the time he was eight, Robert had lived in at least seven different, widely scattered Texas towns.” However, in Seanchai 111 (REHupa mailing 197, Feb. 2006), Burke notes the following:

Robert himself seems to suggest that, during at least some part of this three-year period [1911 to 1913], the Howards were living near the Oklahoma line, in what he calls “the Wichita Falls country” in a letter to H.P. Lovecraft, and told Talman was “a cattle town. . . near the old North Texas oil fields.” Thus far no documentary evidence for this has been located.

Burke ends the section with this:

In 1911 the North Central oil fields produced almost 900,000 barrels of oil; in 1912 the figure was over 4 million and in 1913 over 8 million barrels. Either Electra or Burkburnett might qualify in REH’s mind as an “ex-cowtown,” since both had their beginnings in association with large ranches. Unless some other evidence comes to light, we will never really know whether Howard lived in the “Wichita Falls country” at all. If he did, it would have given him his first experience of an oil boom town.

Both Electra and Burkburnett are in Wichita County, with Wichita Falls serving as the county seat. Any investigation of Howard’s claim would have to include a stop in that county, but before we hit the road there’s one more source to check.

The most recent biography, Mark Finn’s Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, tells it like it is: “The years 1911 and 1912 are somewhat confusing. Howard mentions [. . .] that he lived in the Wichita Falls area up next to Oklahoma.” After recounting Howard’s description of the area, Finn adds the following:

The evidence suggests that Isaac pulled the family out to the burgeoning Burkburnett Oil Field to see if it suited him. When oil was struck in 1912, the town became swamped as a torrent of people invaded the area in what had become the usual boomtown fashion.

Finn goes on to say that the Howards then returned to the Palo Pinto area before moving on to Red River County and Bagwell.

With all the bookwork finished, let’s look at the map. Howard’s use of “Wichita Falls country” leaves lots of wiggle room. De Camp says he looked in three counties— Wichita, Clay, and Archer—maybe by expanding the net to include nearby Wilbarger, Baylor, and Montague Counties, I could find something. Montague County was especially enticing: Dr. Howard had registered there in May 1900, could a return to familiar stomping grounds be the solution? Me and my dad made our plans and hit the road on January 1, 2012.

After spending some time near Waco, we headed up to the Wichita Falls country: first stop, Montague County. After searching several courthouses in the days preceding our arrival, my dad and I were old hands at searching for what we were after. We scoured the land purchases from 1899 to 1915 and found nothing. Neither the County nor District Clerk knew anything about a physician registry. Strike one.

Over in Henrietta, the County Seat of Clay County, our luck changed. We walked into the courthouse and found the District Clerk. She informed us that the County Clerk’s office was located across the street. While we were there, of course, we asked about a physician registry from the early 1900s. “No one has ever asked for that before,” she said, but had no trouble producing it. I opened it up to the section marked “G H” and there it was: “Howard, I. M. – 51.”

Breathless, I turned to page 51 and received part of the answer to the riddle of the Howards’ whereabouts from 1911 to 1913: on December 19, 1912, Doc Howard was standing right there in the Clay County courthouse, presenting his credentials (click thumbnail below).

Now, funny thing about these physician registries: they don’t actually tell you when the physician began practicing in the county. For example, while researching for Dark Valley Destiny, Jane Griffin learned that Doctor Howard had started recording births in Gains County (Seminole) as early as February 1908, but he did not present his credentials to the county until September [UPDATE: A document found in Bexar County indicates that this registration was actually in Coke County, not Gaines]. If this is how things worked, the Howards could have been living in Clay County for a long time before Isaac registered in December, but where in the county? A typed statement signed by Doctor Howard said that his “post office address” was Byers, Texas (a scene from Byers in 1910 heads this post).

I turned to the clerk: “Do you know where Byers is?”

“Sure,” she said. “It’s up north on 79, about five miles from the Oklahoma line.”

As I chatted with the clerk, my dad took several pictures of the book and its pages, with two different cameras. When he was finished, we crossed the street to the County Clerk’s office. No land records for I. M. Howard were found. Next stop, Byers.

The town (above) will require a little more looking into, maybe there’s a newspaper or library, but based on what we saw in our drive-by I doubt it: lots of crumbling buildings and abandoned storefronts. Next stop, Wichita Falls.

I could go on, but there’s nothing more to tell. The Wichita County library and courthouse had no information. The District Clerk looked at me like I was crazy when I asked for a physician registry; the County Clerk had never heard of one but did spend some time looking around, to no avail. From there, we went to Burkburnett and found nothing useful in their library. At Electra (seen below in 1912), we found a superior library, but no information on the Howards. Wichita County was all tapped out.

Despite the lack of evidence in Wichita County, Isaac Howard may well have worked in Burkburnett, too. Without a physician registry, there’s no way to rule it out. He was, after all, always trying to expand his territory, and what’s a county line to a country doctor? But at least we now know—without question—that I. M. Howard practiced in Byers, near “the Oklahoma line,” and we finally have the evidence to back up Robert Howard’s claim that he once lived in the Wichita Falls country.

Now, what towns are fifty miles from the Coast?