Archive for May, 2012

The Project Pride folks have sent out an alert that pre-registrations are way down this year. The registrations are important as they give the Howard Days organizers an idea of how many people are planning to attend so they can make sure there is enough food ordered for the Friday lunch, the banquet and the Saturday evening barbecue. The registrations also ensure they have enough chairs, supplies, etc. at the various venues where the panels and other activities are held.

If you are going to Cross Plains next week and have not pre-registered, it is not too late — you can send your payment ($15.00 per person) via PayPal to ProjPride@yahoo.com or contact Arlene or Era Lee via e-mail to make the necessary arrangements.

So everyone quit procrastinating, get those registrations in and help the fine folks with Project Pride organize the best Howard Days ever.

Update: Bill Cavalier reports that the Friday night Banquet has been moved back into the Community Center due to the low number of pre-registrations. So far, only 73 reservations have been made. Arlene is working on a better seating arrangement for the smaller space. The $15.00 registration fee is for the three meals only — there is no charge for touring the house, attending the panels and other activities.

This entry filed under Howard Days, Howard Fandom, News, Project Pride.

Today is Memorial Day and in addition to a day of honoring the brave men who fought and died in combat so we can enjoy the many freedoms we have, it also signals the official beginning of summer and that means the convention season is kicking into high gear. Of course, Howard Days 2012 is just days away and only the tip of the iceberg of a number of fan gatherings to come during the next three months.

Pulp conventions are of particular interest to Howard Heads since those magazines are where Howard plied his trade. The pulps have a rich history and just about every year there are several anniversaries of note. Two milestones that are getting a lot of attention this year are Edgar Rice Burroughs’s very first novels, Under the Moons of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes, which are celebrating their centennials and are the main theme at this year’s many pulp conventions, including the granddaddy of them all, PulpFest, which will be held August 9th through the 12th at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Not to be outdone, Robert E. Howard and a certain Cimmerian named Conan, who is celebrating the 80th anniversary of his first appearance in the pages of Weird Tales in “The Phoenix on the Sword,” are also getting their due. Two Conan panels are on the schedule as outlined on the PulpFest website:

 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 Land: 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.

As mentioned above, the panelists who will be joiing Rusty will be anounced soon, but I’ve learned two of panelists will be Don Herron and TGR blogger Brian Leno. So if you do not blow all your pazoors attending Howard Days, head to Columbus the second weekend of August for PulpFest. For complete details, please visit the PulpFest website or write to Jack Cullers, 1272 Cheatham Way, Bellbrook, OH 45305 — or e-mail Jack directly.

This entry filed under Howard Days, Howard Fandom, News, Rusty Burke, Weird Tales.

Listen, my lord. I was a great sorcerer in the south. Men spoke of Thoth-Amon as they spoke of Rammon. King Ctesphon of Stygia gave me great honor, casting down the magicians from the high places to exalt me above them. They hated me, but they feared me, for I controlled beings from outside which came at my call and did my bidding. By Set, mine enemy knew not the hour when he might awake at midnight to feel the taloned fingers of a nameless horror at his throat! I did dark and terrible magic with the Serpent Ring of Set, which I found in a nighted tomb a league beneath the earth, forgotten before the first man crawled out of the slimy sea.

— “The Phoenix on the Sword”

Can there exist an REH aficionado who doesn’t recognize that passage? Probably not. It’s Thoth-Amon speaking, the dark and terrible sorcerer from Stygia, that sinister land where wizard-priests ruled and serpents were worshipped. As Damon Sasser says, REH used the character sparingly, keeping him in the background — there was never a direct confrontation between Thoth-Amon and Conan in Howard’s own stories — but de Camp and Carter had him running amuck in their pastiches, and turned him into a cartoon villain. As someone else once remarked, the only melodramatic cliché they didn’t have him utter was, “Curses! Foiled again!”

Stygia in the Conan stories was REH’s prehistoric and supernatural version of Egypt. The Styx and Acheron in Greek myth were two of the dark rivers of Hades, hence the adjectives “Stygian” and “Acherontic”. Stygian darkness became a stock phrase for hellish and gloomy murk in English. In Howard’s stories, Stygia and Acheron were twin evil empires whose borders marched together, in prehistoric times, before the northern barbarians, the Hybori, invaded and destroyed Acheron and swept on southward, driving the Stygians back into their original homeland.

And the Stygians worshipped Set. In REH’s stories he seems to have been their only god, really. In The Hour of the Dragon, Howard writes (Chapter XVII) “ … serpents were sacred to Set, god of Stygia, who men said was himself a serpent.” In the story “The God in the Bowl” Thoth-Amon sends a deadly gift to an enemy of his cult — one of Set’s ancient children, a man-headed serpent asleep in a bowl-shaped sarcophagus. “The thought of Set was like a nightmare, and the children of Set who once ruled the earth and who now slept in their nighted caverns below the black pyramids.” Highly-placed sorcerer-priests of Set, like Thoth-Amon and Thutothmes, his rival, have the power of killing with a mere touch of their open hand. It leaves the black print of palm and fingers on the victim’s flesh (The Hour of the Dragon).

Well and good. Set was a genuine and documented ancient Egyptian god. He was also – certainly in the popular culture of REH’s day – considered an evil god, the murderer of Osiris, and persecutor of Isis and the infant Horus. The name was evocative in a modern Christian land – Set/Serpent/Satan. Like most of Egypt’s other gods, though, Set had many aspects, and there were many myths about him, which had developed and changed down the centuries. Trying to follow them from the beginning, and sort them out, will lead us on a trail as convoluted as a snake’s twisting in itself.

First and definitely, he was not a snake. Like many deities of Egypt, he was represented with the body of a human being and the head of some animal or bird. Thoth had the head of an ibis (and was also represented by baboons, who were said to be wise), the warlike Sekhmet a lioness, Horus a falcon, the maternal, nourishing, and supportive Hathor a cow. Set, in keeping with his puzzling and many-sided qualities, wore the head of a beast hard to identify. It had a curiously shaped muzzle and long, square-tipped ears. It has been suggested that the animal was a wild desert ass, an aardvark, a pig, or a composite of all three.

Like certain other Egyptian gods, though, Set was not always depicted with a non-human head. He was occasionally described as a man with red hair and red eyes – red being the color of evil in ancient Egyptian symbolism. He wasn’t considered always or exclusively evil until very late in Egyptian history – but that can be covered at another point in the post.

Set may even have been a Libyan god originally. He was always associated in the Egyptian mind with foreigners and the desert, with fierce storms and violence. He was first called Setesh, with a later hardening of the sound to Setekh or Sutekh, and a final abbreviation to Set.

(In passing, an old Doctor Who adventure, “The Pyramids of Mars,” featured one of the fourth Doctor’s most powerful adversaries, Sutekh the Destroyer, last representative of an alien race named the “Osirians”. Sutekh was a megalomaniac who regarded all life as his enemy and had devoted himself to wiping it out, like a living version of Fred Saberhagen’s berserker machines. If Sutekh escaped from the tomb in which his fellow Osirians had confined him – it was all over, since the others had long since died and no power except theirs could overcome him. When the Doctor’s human assistant asks, “Not even your lot? The Time Lords?” the Doctor answers dryly, “Not even my lot.”)

Even if he began as a Libyan deity, Set became one of the most important and powerful Egyptian gods at a very early period. He was recognized as the Lord of Upper Egypt (the south), with Nubt (the golden) as his sacred city. At least one very early Pharaoh, Peribsen of the Second Dynasty (28th century BCE, well before the Pyramids of Giza were built) went so far as to abandon his formal Horus name (Hor Sekhemib; Horus is Powerful of Heart) and take a Set name instead (Set Peribsen; He Who Comes Forth by the Will of Set). The change is so significant that it has led Egyptologists to create all kinds of theories to explain it, including a religious revolution during Peribsen’s reign. Maybe it was nothing so far-reaching. It’s very possible that Peribsen effectively ruled Upper Egypt only, which was from time immemorial Set’s domain. Maybe Peribsen called on Set for help during a crucial campaign, received it, won, and showed his appreciation by taking that deity’s name – as his purely personal patron.

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Last month at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention held near Chicago, longtime Friend of TGR and contributor Charles Saunders scored an award for his pulp novel Damballa, winning The Pulp Factory Award for Best Pulp Novel of 2011.

Of course, most readers of this blog are familiar with Charles’ sword and sorcery hero Imaro, featured in four novels and numerous short stories, along with Imaro’s female warrior counterpart, Dossouye.

Damballa is a pulp adventure hero in the tradition of The Shadow and The Spider. Per Charles, this character from the 1930s is a hero not unlike movie tough guy Shaft. As Charles states, “Damballa, like John Shaft, will risk his neck for his fellow man. The difference is Damballa wears a cloak instead of leather jacket, and uses both ancient African wisdom and modern science in his battle against injustice.”

Needless to say Charles is on cloud nine over winning thid prestigious award. While he was unable to attend, he did provide this acceptance speech which was read by author Van Plexico:

Writers ordinarily possess extensive vocabularies, with an abundance of words to choose from. In some cases, too many. Yet I am almost at a loss for words that would adequately describe the extent to which I am honored by the choice of my novel, Damballa, for this award. Damballa was an attempt to bring balance to an old situation in which pulps and people of color didn’t mix too well. Clearly, that situation is changing for the better, and I am proud that Damballa is part of that change.

I do not deserve all the credit here. I want to thank my old friend, Ron Fortier, for believing in Damballa and making it possible for the novel to be published. Thanks are also due to my new friend, Rob Davis, for his excellent book design. Artists Charles Fetherolf and Clayton Hinkle deserve kudos for the cover and interior art, respectively. And thanks also to Associate Editor Ray Rietmeier for his excellent copy-editing.

Writing Damballa was one of the highlights of my long literary life. Receiving this award is another. Thank you.

I hope you will join me in congratulating Charles on his award and if you have not yet read Damballa, get yourself a copy – it is a great read.

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

Five years ago, while beginning research for what eventually became The Brownwood Connection, I visited the Walker Memorial Library at Howard Payne University in Brownwood. I was interested in acquiring copies or photographs of Robert E. Howard’s stories in The Yellow Jacket. I also wanted to go through their yearbooks and catalogues, anything and everything from the 1920s. Unfortunately, some of the material was not available for viewing on that first visit, and I ended up returning to HPU several more times in the years that followed, each time getting more and different information, much of which has appeared on this blog.

About three years ago, I was told why the library never seemed to have everything I was looking for at any one time: their archives were being digitized and uploaded to the web. Uploaded to the web?

Yup. And where on the web would these archives be? I wanted to know. This would save me lots of time and travel expense. The answer is here: The Portal to Texas History. Not only do they have the files from Howard Payne, but also the archives from Daniel Baker College (where Clyde Smith and Novalyne Price attended), McMurray College (Austin Newton’s alma mater), and many others. Each college’s collection of catalogues, yearbooks, and school newspapers are available in searchable format. It’s a researcher’s dream.

And that’s not all that’s available on the website. There are also period photos from all over the state, city directories, legislative documents, various books and journals, a whole slew of information. There are a few drawbacks: the available images aren’t always of the best quality and the search function doesn’t always turn up all the results, especially from the school newspapers. So, when looking for something in those publications, sometimes the old-school approach—a page-by-page search—yields better results.

And there are some gaps in the available material. For example, while they do have issues of Daniel Baker’s Collegian, they don’t have any of the issues from Tevis Clyde Smith’s reign as editor, hence none of Bob Howard’s poems. But the issues they do have, especially when coupled with the yearbooks, provide a good picture of what it must have been like to be a student there in the 1920s.

The website takes some getting used to, but for the first-time visitor, I’d suggest clicking on the “Explore” tab at the top right of the home page, and then the letter “Y” under Collections. This will take you directly to the Yellow Jacket files.

Have fun.

This year is the 80th anniversary of the first appearance of Conan the Cimmerian in the pages of Weird Tales. “The Phoenix on the Sword” was published in the December 1932 issue of The Unique Magazine, giving birth to both a legend and the genre of sword and sorcery. To help commemorate this milestone, Michael L. Peters has drawn a magnificent four plate portfolio based on “Rogues in the House” for the upcoming issue of TGR. “Rogues” first appeared in the January 1934 issue and was the seventh Conan story published.

Of course readers of TGR are well aware of the talented Mr. Peters’ work. In addition to TGR, Michael’s art has appeared in Heavy Metal Magazine, Caliber, Image, and CFD. He also sells prints of a lot of his illustrations and paintings through his website. Several years ago he was hired by Ferris State University to create a series of pen and ink portraits of their former presidents and he has taught drawing and illustration through a local art gallery. Be sure and visit Michael’s website, which is chock full his artwork, including all the work he has done for TGR and The Chronicler of Cross Plains over the past six years.

Just a few months ago, Michael’s design for the new Howard House Museum t-shirt was selected as the winner of a contest to find a new design sponsored by Project Pride. The t-shirts are now in stock and available for purchase.

This weekend (May 18 – 20), Michael is attending the Motor City Comic Con at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Michigan where he will be selling his art prints and doing sketches at the convention’s “Artist Alley.” So if you are in the greater Detroit area, stop in and say hello.

The first plate of Michael’s “Rogues in the House” portfolio is posted above. You can see the entire portfolio, along with a plethora of Howard fiction, essays, articles, reviews and artwork in the new issue of TGR coming later this summer. Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks.

The last article in this series (Part Three) dealt at some length with the Texas feuds which followed the Civil War and grew out of it. Robert E. Howard saw them as manifestations of pride and independence, to a degree, anyway. I’ve quoted a story of his, “The Valley of the Lost” which has for its protagonist a Texan feudist, John Reynolds. The story describes Texan feuds as “short, fierce and appallingly bloody.” REH made a similar comment in a letter of March 1933 to August Derleth.

Texas feuds were short and bloody. They did not, as in Kentucky, drag on through the generations. The Sutton-Taylor, and the Lee-Peacock feuds were probably the most famous – the latter the more obscure because it was fought in the thickets and river bottoms of eastern Texas. It last[ed] from 1867 to 1871, during which time more men were killed than in the whole course of the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud of Kentucky.

As the 1870s drew to a close, the circumstances that had created the great cattle drives were changing. In 1869 a Chicago meat packer named Hammond had shipped beef to Boston in an air-cooled freight car. Some years later, the true refrigerated car was designed at the orders of Gustavus Franklin Swift, by an engineer named Andrew Chase. Chase produced a chilled car better insulated than its predecessors. Instead of being placed in compartments at the base or ends of the car, the ice was installed from the top, and the cold air produced sank downward.

(The major railroads all rejected the concept. They weren’t afraid that Chase’s car would fail to perform as he claimed. They were afraid that it would succeed. They had big investments in the traditional cars for transporting live cattle, and the holding pens in their rail yards, which would be superseded if refrigerated transport became a big new thing. It did. Swift created his own line, made his first run in 1878, and the bigger railroads missed their chance.)

The railroads were changing the map as well as their methods. Among the new cattle boomtowns was Ogallala, on the Platte River in Nebraska. The Indian agencies in northern Nebraska had to have beef in large quantities, to supply the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail reservations. The Bosler brothers held the contracts to do that, and made big profits. By the mid-1870s, too, the farmers were moving west in large numbers, disrupting the classic cattle trails – which had been established in the first place to avoid the complaints of the farmers. There had been a financial panic in 1873, but by 1875 the ranges along the Platte were opening up. More than 60,000 Texas cattle were driven to Ogallala that season, and in 1876 the number was much higher.

Part of Ogallala’s prosperity came about because Dodge City was still thriving as a cattle centre. The Western Trail to Dodge had largely replaced the older Chisholm Trail, and the younger, stronger beasts could continue from Dodge to Ogallala. The route through northern Kansas and south-western Nebraska was the driest part of the trip, especially the last thirty miles. But thirst was the worst problem. The Ogallala and Brule branches of the Sioux nation had been moved to reservations in northern Nebraska. The drovers didn’t have to fight off Red Cloud’s braves any longer. General Crook’s campaign of 1876 finished the last Sioux resistance, and the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of Dakota caused a rush. The price of Ogallala beef rose hysterically high, the usual result of any outbreak of gold fever. The Native Americans got shafted yet again as a result. For the Texan trail crews, though, it was good news.

Back in Texas itself, things were changing, and not necessarily for the better. The big cattlemen, the stereotyped SOBs who trampled on the struggling smaller operators, whether cowboys or farmers, were banding together in organizations to control grazing and water rights. They discouraged rustlers by hanging them high. (Rustlers, of course, were those the big men defined as rustlers.) Range rights became more fragile, grass and water scarcer.

By the 1880s “big business devouring the little” had progressed much further. Eastern and British capital was a factor in creating many a Texas cattle baron. The legendary Charles Goodnight had been a hired cowhand in his early days, and he became a big rancher in partnership with the Anglo-Irish businessman John Adair. Another western legend, Shanghai Pierce, had also been a hired hand, but before he died was boss of a million acres. How? In association with the Kountze Brothers, back east bankers and financiers. Trail driver Henry Campbell found backing from the Chicago banker Colonel Britton, which is how the Matador ranch was established. David Montejano’s book, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, describes the situation in a succinct paragraph.

Success and failure, good and bad luck, the judicious investment and the foolish one combined to separate cowboys into two groups; those who owned cattle and fenced pastures and those who hired themselves out to tend the cattle and fences. The distinction became especially pronounced once the cattle boom attracted investors from “back east” and from London. English syndicates as well as American concerns made cattle and range investments representing millions of dollars. By the late 1880s British ranching interests controlled one of every four or five acres in the Panhandle.

REH knew about it too, and wasn’t delighted by the situation. Besides being a patriotic Texan, he was powerfully aware of his Irish descent. He saw this foreign investment – by the English particularly — as a new form of the never-to-be-sufficiently-cursed absentee landlord system. He let off steam about it in July 1933, in one of his letters to Lovecraft.

The big ranches fell into the hands of Eastern and British corporations. The owners knew nothing about local conditions and cared less. They wanted money to be made from beef, and some of them didn’t care how it was made. An unsavory breed sprang up – gunmen, hired by the owners and managers to protect their interests. Which is the least civilized: a man who goes out with a gun and openly fights for his property, or a man who hires a thug to do his shooting for him?

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This entry filed under August Derleth, H. P. Lovecraft, Howard's Texas.

Readers of Report on a Writing Man and/or “So Far the Poet . . .”—collections of writings by Tevis Clyde Smith—will remember the incomplete “Gods in Arcady.” This article appeared in an issue of The Junto, probably early-to-mid 1928, and describes a trip that Smith, Truett Vinson, and Bob Howard made to a ranch house (probably Smith’s uncle’s place on the outskirts of Brownwood). The piece describes the trio’s shenanigans as they “ramble in the woods” and, the next morning, cook breakfast and hike to some nearby caves. During a cloudburst, they stash their clothes and camera in a cave and “prance about naked in the shower of rain.” As published in the two volumes mentioned above, the piece ends mid-sentence: “In a moment the deluge is over, and I crawl back into the caves after our pants and the camera. I hand Truett his pants, and he turns around to put them on,”—and that’s it.

I’m happy to report that we now know what happened next. The following stray page was found in Glenn Lord’s papers this weekend:

[. . .] but before he can do so, the click of the camera startles him. We all laugh boisterously. I have taken an artistic view of his posterior.
We then take a number of boxing pictures, as well as several “Afghan photos.” The cliff serves as the Khyber Pass, and Bob and Truett convert their shirts into a stylish form of Oriental headdress.
Then we repair to the caves once more, and chuckle loudly over several articles in The Debunker. We see that one preacher accuses the Evolution Theory as being the cause of the World War. This is a new accusation to us, so we wonder what in hell is going to happen next.
On the way back to the ranch house, I recite several poems by Sassoon, Bob follows, chanting one of Jack London’s verses. We then reach the structure, eat dinner, and put up the dishes.
Somebody recalls the bath which Vic McLaglen took in The Loves of Carmen. (Not the bath which he attempted to take in the horse trough, but the one which he really did take.) So all of us remove our clothes, and douse each other with bucketfuls of water. We make wry faces as each bucketful descends on our sensitive skins, for the water is rather cold, and a whole bucketful tossed upon a naked hide will almost bring one to his knees from the shock. But it is enjoyable at that, and all of us douse bucketful after bucketful upon each other.
After a brisk rubdown, we dress, and listen to Truett as he reads to us from The Road to Buenos Aires. After hearing the best parts of the book, we lock the door once more, and tool homeward.

A few comments:

The photography session described above is reminiscent of another photo shoot that we recently learned about.

Information about The Loves of Carmen (1927) is here.

The Debunker was a journal published by E. Haldeman-Julius, of Little Blue Book fame, from the early 1920s into the 1930s. Its articles “ranged from atheistic, darwinist, to yellow journalism revealing white collar and governmental criminality and lies” (Violet Books). Both Booth Mooney and Harold Preece had articles published therein in the late 1920s.

The Road to Buenos Aires was written by French writer and investigative journalist Albert Londres and published in multiple languages in 1927. The book reports on the trafficking of French and Polish women to Buenos Aires, bound for prostitution. It is a vivid account of the trafficking, part factual reporting and part creative writing. The book cover reads as follows:

Paralleling the disclosures contained in the suppressed League of Nations report on the white slave traffic, this independent work is important and timely. Its matter is sensational but it is written in a remarkable spirit of detachment.
Only at the end, after the sorry tale has been told, and told in the manner of one man relating to another a series of strange experiences, does the author make his challenge.
It is a challenge to our whole Western civilization, to justice and humanity, to the moral sanitation of the world.

Would have been right up Bob Howard’s alley.

Word comes from Rob that Adventures in Science Fantasy has arrived in Cross Plains and the Project Pride folks will begin shipping the pre-orders any day now. This volume collects all of Howard’s science fiction stories including his most well know sci-fi yarn, Almuric. Of course Howard places his mark on this genre by knocking the central theme of sci-fi that science is the solution on it keister as author Mark Stackpole notes in his introduction.

Howard’s stories do not adhere to one definition of science fiction, which holds that science must be part of the solution of any problem. In fact, in most of these stories, the application of science is the genesis of the problem, and man’s heroic spirit is the solution.

In addition to Almuric, another story of note in this volume is “The People of the Black Coast.” Last July Brian wrote a two part piece on this tale of giant intelligent crabs menacing the protagonist and his female companion on a deserted South Pacific island. Needless to say, this is one yarn the faint hearted should avoid. It is amazing how Howard could take relatively mundane creatures (spider, worm, snake, etc.) and turn them into giant, terrifying monsters.

The most interesting thing about these stories is while they are a departure from Howard’s usual fare, these yarns are still Howard and he serves enough fast paced action and thrills to satisfy everyone’s appetite – unless, of course, you are a giant intelligent crab.

If you have not ordered your copy yet, fear not because copies are still available. Click here for ordering details.

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction, News, Project Pride.