Archive for March, 2013

Frazetta's Conan the ConquerorThis is bit of a lightweight post. It does address a point that arose – not too seriously, and not for the first time ever – on the Robert E. Howard Readers Facebook group, though. And REH seems to have considered it himself in a couple of his stories, at any rate to the point of trying to make it more plausible. Why are pulp heroes, including REH’s barbarians and fierce Irish Gaels, always impeccably shaved?

It was a strong convention of the time (the 1930s) to be sure, in pulp literature and outside it. Decent stalwart English and American lads always planed themselves off. Anarchists, Bolsheviks and Arabs, stock villains, wore beards. Suave sneering bad men who menaced the pure Anglo-Saxon heroine were often identified as wrong ‘uns from the word go, by their moustaches. It was okay for an Englishman to have a facial mattress if he was disguised as an Afghan to play the Great Game or otherwise outwit the heavies. The attitudes of the day seemed to find something faintly indecent about it in other circumstances.

Even Tarzan. (It’s relevant; Howard liked ERB’s work and was certainly acquainted with the Tarzan novels that were published in his day.) Growing up in the jungle among apes, young Lord Greystoke was about twenty when he met Jane, yet he was as smooth as an Aqua Velva commercial. According to Burroughs, in Tarzan of the Apes, after he realized he was a man and not and ape, he began shaving with his father’s hunting knife to remove that apish facial hair. Philip Jose Farmer took the view that as a member of the families inheriting the Wold Newton mutations caused by the meteorite that fell there, Tarzan didn’t grow much facial hair until his mid-twenties anyway. Farmer corrected a number of Burroughs’ other “mistakes” too.

Robert E. Howard followed that pulp convention. He never offered any explanation as far as Conan was concerned. (Or I never noticed if he did.) Howard’s stories didn’t say this, but some of the pulp illustrations for his character, from Weird Tales to early covers of Amra to the cover painting for the old ACE novel Conan the Conqueror, had Conan looking decidedly Roman as far as his haircut and shave were concerned. Of course he’d settled down in Aquilonia as its king by the time of the latter, but even before that, no matter if he was staggering through a scorching desert as the last survivor of a defeated army, he was never described as bearded, or even stubbly.

Where other characters were concerned, within the centuries of our known history, REH did offer an explanation for a couple of his Gaelic heroes being meticulously shaven. The fifth-century pirate Cormac mac Art seems to have carried a razor, never losing it. In one story (“Tigers of the Sea”) he does grow a beard — as a disguise for a spying errand. He asks his Danish comrade Wulfhere what he thinks of it. Wulfhere, a brawny giant with an immense red beard of his own, as befits a Viking, answers:

I never saw you so unkempt before … except when we had fought or fled for days so that you could not be hacking at your face with a razor.

Cormac mac Art and Wulfhere by Tikos & VassNow, Cormac is the scourge of the seas around post-Roman Britain. He appears to have been influenced early by what Roman culture still remains in those parts. He is described by the British minstrel Donal as a superb swordsman. “ … he favors the point. In a world where the skill of the old-time Roman legionaries is all but forgotten, Cormac mac Art is well-nigh invincible.”

More significantly still, Cormac is literate. He describes REH’s version of King Arthur as “pure Celt” and “a shock-headed savage.” He adds, rather disparagingly, “He can neither read nor write.” He’d hardly mention that in a way that implies he sees it as a lack, unless he could read and write himself. In another exchange with Wulfhere, in “The Temple of Abomination”, it’s made clear that Cormac knows very little about Christians; nothing from personal experience, certainly. Thus he cannot have been taught by monks. It follows that he must have lived with Romano-Britons of some culture who were not Christians, but rather throwbacks to pagan times, holdouts against the new official religion of the Empire.

Cormac may have been fostered to such a family as a youth. On the other hand, the Irish then were pirates who raided Britain a good deal, and he too was a pirate in his later years. He may have been a hostage for a lengthy period as a boy, even though well treated. It’s possible he formed the habit of shaving then.

The matter of shaving is discussed in another story of post-Roman Britain and King Arthur, though the writer called him “Artos the Bear” – Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel Sword at Sunset. It’s excellent – in my view the definitive novel of Arthur-as-post-Roman-Britain’s-war-leader – and this although some other damned good writers have taken their hacks at it. It impressed this blogger so much that it influenced my choice of post-Roman Britain as a setting for my own Felimid the Bard stories, with a picked band of heavy cavalry led by “Count Artorius” resisting the Saxons and Jutes.

In Sword at Sunset Artos called a travelling trader in, hoping the fellow would have some of the pumice stone Artos used to remove his beard. Fighting for the last dying lights of civilization in the island, he was strong on Roman customs, even though he was Celtic on his mother’s side. When he couldn’t get pumice, as he said, it meant “the butchery of goose-grease and razor, and left me thanking the gods that at least I was not a black-bearded man.”

Turlogh-OBrienSomething similar is implied in the case of Turlogh Dubh O’Brien. Like most of REH’s heroes, Turlogh is “a black-bearded man”. This grim (with a streak of madness, REH tells us) Irish outlaw roved and fought from his homeland to Spain and east to Russia, in the years after the battle of Clontarf. That was about half a century before the Normans conquered England, At the beginning of the well-known Turlogh yarn, “The Dark Man”, a fisherman on the remote west coast of Ireland recognizes him because he’s “clean shaven and close cropped in the Norman fashion.” Also like the Normans, and unlike most of his countrymen, he wears full mail in battle.

Turlogh in his boyhood must have come under strong foreign influence to endure the discomfort of regularly removing a stiff black beard with the razors of the time. The fisherman who lends him a boat thinks it was Norman. He might well know about the Normans. The story makes it clear that although a common fisherman, he’s sailed far in his small boat, often just for fun and adventure. “Do you think it’s only you chiefs that take sport in risking your hides?” he asks.

Now, in the first decade of the eleventh century CE, Turlogh would have had to go to the Normans’ homeland in northern France to be influenced by them. They had not begun to appear in England much, nor were they found in southern Italy yet except as mercenaries. But it’s quite possible that Turlogh had been to Normandy. He’d been around on the western seaways, even before Clontarf. “The Dark Man” takes place only a few years after that battle, and the author tells us that “[Turlogh] had sailed [these seas] as a raider and as an avenger and once he had sailed them as a captive lashed to the deck of a Danish dragon ship.” He was to have that experience again, too, at the beginning of “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth”.

Thus it’s possible that he was shipwrecked on the coasts of Normandy, or sold to a Norman lord by the Danes who had captured him. The Normans were descended from pagan Vikings who settled lands in France, which is how they got their name – from “northman”. Their antecedents showed in their behavior! Those days weren’t so far behind them at the start of the eleventh century, either. Turlogh might have been held captive until he could be ransomed by his clan, a matter of a year or so, and like Cormac mac Art in a similar hypothetical situation, not badly treated. He could have fought his host’s enemies, thus adding to his combat experience and training among the Normans, as well as learning to appreciate the worth of protective mail. As a small additional matter, he might have formed the habit of shaving.

The O’Briens would have raised the price of his freedom. He was a near relative of Brian Boru. He hadn’t as yet become tainted with an accusation of treacherous dealings with the Danes, either. They would not have known where he was at once, though. Nor would they have been able to raise the kind of ransom rapacious Normans wanted in a month. Brian Boru had many pressing concerns circa 1010 CE.

REH, then, did ‘explain’ at least two of his Gaelic heroes’ improbably shaven faces as being due to foreign influence early in their careers. Whether it convinces is another matter. But he did it.

Solomon Kane by GianniHis dour Puritan adventurer, Solomon Kane, frequently fighting at sea or wandering alone through the depths of Africa, also seems to shave scrupulously, no matter what betide. But that’s a little different. Kane is a Puritan, and a fanatic withal. He might well be obsessive about planing off. He might have regarded a smooth chin as more godly than a beard. Under the African sun it would certainly be more comfortable and hygienic. Besides, they had better razors in Elizabethan times than in Cormac or Black Turlogh’s day.

Out of Howard’s wild Gaelic (or proto-Gaelic) heroes, the most implausible to be constantly shaven was Conan himself. I’d expect him, with his temperament, living as he did, to be heavily bearded much of the time, even if he trimmed it roughly. However, as stated at the beginning, in the 1930s it was a pulp convention. Any bearded man was likely to be the hero in disguise, or suspect at once as a wrongo. Conan, even fleeing through the Pictish Wilderness for hundreds of miles with a war-party of Picts chasing him like “human wolves”, in “The Black Stranger”, is apparently still unbearded. Of course REH might not have mentioned his facial fungus at that point, and when he discovered the cache of clothes and weapons Bloody Tranicos left in the cave with his treasure, Conan might have shaved as well as outfitting himself in hundred-year-old pirate finery before swaggering into Count Valenso’s stockade. But that wouldn’t apply in “Iron Shadows in the Moon”, and he doesn’t seem to have so much as a five o’clock shadow there, either.

One instance of that ideology, which I encountered long after the thirties, was as silly as it was unforgettable. Garner Ted Armstrong, fundamentalist preacher and creator of “The World Tomorrow”, printed it in one of his magazines. Armstrong didn’t care for bearded, long-haired hippies, and was made uncomfortable by depictions of Jesus as long-haired and bearded, even in illustrated Bibles. (That Jesus was invariably depicted as fair-skinned and blue-eyed, also, didn’t seem to trouble him.) Armstrong sought to “prove” that Jesus had shaved and cut his hair. That would have flouted Jewish sacred law, but Armstrong, ignorant as he was narrow-minded, quite possibly didn’t know that.

His argument was that Jesus lived under the Roman Empire’s rule. Romans cut their hair short and went clean-shaven. (Armstrong showed a bust of Julius Caesar to demonstrate this.) Then he contended that since Jesus was a young man on his way up in the Empire, and since he had said “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”, he too would have removed his beard and trimmed his locks.

Comment on that reasoning seems superfluous. But it does show how desperate we can be over trifles, especially when they go against our ideologies. Or just our notions of a proper appearance.

Art credits: Conan the Conqueror by Frank Frazetta, Cormac mac Art and Wulfhere by Tikos & Vass, Turlogh O’Brien and Solomon Kane by Gary Gianni

Norris Chambers

September 6, 1917 — March 22, 2013

Howardom lost perhaps its last living link (there are a few elderly ladies who may still be living) to Robert E. Howard this past Friday when Norris Chambers left this mortal coil at the age of 95. To say he was a friend to Howard would be an understatement — he was a friend to all Howard’s fans as well. Despite his advanced age, Norris was always happy to hear from Howard Heads and always promptly replied to their inquiries. He was certainly very helpful to me by supplying a wealth of information on Howard I needed for several research projects. He was an oracle of sorts, a fount of knowledge with an amazing memory. He was also a raconteur himself, a musician, a Mason, a teacher and very active in various community organizations. We stayed in contact pretty regularly — I am going to miss corresponding with him.

Here is the Obituary for Norris from The Grizzly Detail newspaper:

Norris Roe Chambers, 95, of White Settlement, Texas passed away March 22, 2013. Visitation will be held from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., Tuesday, March 26 at Baumgardner Funeral Chapel located at 3705 Highway 377 South, Fort Worth. Masonic graveside service will be held at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 27 at Wolf Valley Cemetery in Brown County.

Norris graduated from Cross Cut High School and Fort Worth’s Brantley Draughon Business College. In his teens he put his skills as a typist to work for family friend and writer Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian, and later worked for W. Lee O’Daniel as an engineer, recording transcriptions of The Hillbilly Boys radio shows for broadcast over Mexican radio station XEPN. Norris served briefly as a Merchant Marine during World War II. He owned and operated radio and television repair shops, operated a one-man printing shop for nearly 40 years, and retired from General Dynamics as an Electronic Technician after 28 years of service.

Norris served on the White Settlement ISD Board of Trustees for 13 years, and on the City of White Settlement Board of Adjustments and Appeals and Civil Service Commission. He was a member and past Secretary and Treasurer of the White Settlement Area Chamber of Commerce, a member and past president and vice president of the White Settlement Historical Society, and he helped establish the White Settlement Historical Museum and served as a curator and treasurer of the museum. Norris was also a member of the White Settlement Lions Club in the 70’s and 80’s, and worked for the city, school and county elections for 32 years.

With Clyde Morrow, Norris established the monthly White Settlement Musical Show, which ran for about 5 years in the 70s, and served as past president of the Texas Bluegrass Association. In the early 90’s Norris wrote a regular column appearing on Startext, an electronic information service. He maintained a website of his short stories and remembrances under his nom de plume “The Old Timer” at and wrote a weekly tale for local paper “The Grizzly Detail.” During the mid 1990’s until 2011 Norris was active in these musical groups at the White Settlement Senior Services; The Dukes of Ukes and the Ukeladies, The Modulators and The Golden Strings. Many video clips are posted on YouTube of The Modulators and The Golden Strings performances. For a few years he taught computer classes at the White Settlement Senior Services Center and filled in as an instructor in one guitar class.

Norris joined the Masonic Lodge (White Settlement Lodge No. 1372) in 1962, received the Golden Trowel award in 1991 and received his 50 year pin in 2012; he was active in the W. Steve Cooke Chapter of the Demolay for several years, was active in the Eastern Star Chapter No. 1053, and was a member of the Odd Fellows Lodge during the 1970s into the 1990s. Norris received the White Settlement Volunteer of the Year Award in 2000, was named an Honorary Brewer Ex in 2001, received the City of White Settlement Mayor’s Community Spirit Award in 2006 in recognition of his Old Timer Stories Series and White Settlement Historic Preservation. In 2012 the White Settlement City Council proclaimed September 6 to be Norris Roe Chambers Day. Norris was named a Director Emeritus by the White Settlement Area Chamber of Commerce in 2013 for his years of service and membership in the organization dating back to 1956.

The family would like to thank Vitas Hospice Care, Team 3 and volunteers for their care and assistance.

Norris was born in Cross Cut, Texas on September 6, 1917, to Martha and Dr. Solomon Roe Chambers. On May 16, 1939 he wed Ella Moselle Sudderth of May, Texas. Norris was preceded in death by his father, Dr. Solomon Roe Chambers, his mother, Martha Williams Chambers, his brother Thomas, sisters Deoma Morgan and Winnie Chambers. Survivors: Wife, Ella Chambers; children Dr. Dianne Blankenship and husband David, Patricia Chambers, Veronica Durnell and husband John, and Roger Chambers; grandchildren Sandie Dickens, Kathy Walters, Lisa Baker, Kelly Sustaire, Karli Sustaire; great grandchildren Zachary Swope, Christopher Baker, Jonathan Baker, Ella Sustaire, Martha Sustaire, Timothy Sustaire and Joseph Sustaire; nephew Rex Chambers and niece Marjorie Leeton.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the White Settlement Masonic Lodge No. 1372 (655 Mirike Drive, White Settlement, TX 76108) or the charity of your choice.

Leave a message and sign the online Guest Book for Norris.

Read an entry from Norris’ collection of Old Timer’s Tales about typing Conan stories for Howard.

Here are links to posts, tributes and articles about Norris:

I Knew Robert E. Howard” by Damon C. Sasser

Norris Chambers, 1917 — 2013” by Al Harron

Norris Chambers Honored by City Leaders” from The Grizzly Detail

Enjoy some YouTube videos of Norris showing off his musical talents.


Here is a link to Norris’ final “Old Timer’s Tale,” published posthumously on his website. Norris told us many tales and left us wanting more.

WeirdTales-1930-06As with innumerable other references and throwaway lines in REH’s stories, there are hints in the Solomon Kane saga that cry for further examination. His relationship with the Taferal family of Devon is one of them. Old Hildred Taferal, his evil kinsman Sir John, and the innocent Marylin Taferal, trepanned to the depths of Africa, were all of some importance in Solomon Kane’s life. He was fond of Sir (or Lord) Hildred, had evidently been decently treated by the old man in former years, and had been the instrument of the vile Sir John’s demise. All these matters are mentioned in REH’s story, “The Moon of Skulls”, but not treated in detail.

“Taferal” or a variant of it, is a name that recurs in a number of REH yarns, from the sixteenth century to the twentieth. “The Children of the Night”, for instance. One of the men gathered in Conrad’s study is named Taverel. The female pirate Helen Tavrel in “The Isle of Pirate’s Doom” is a Taverel with one letter missing. I suspect there were two main branches of the family, one in Devon, one in Cornwall.

The sixteenth-century Devon Taferals (who with the free-and-easy eccentric spelling of the time variously rendered their surname Taferal, Tafarel and Taffryl) are of most interest here. They were closely associated with the Kanes, the family that produced the grim Puritan adventurer Solomon Kane. The “little Devon town” to which he was native may well have been Salcombe, a fishing village about twenty miles east of Plymouth, which was home to the Hawkins family. Devon was also the home county of Francis Drake, Solomon Kane’s contemporary.

Hildred, John and Marylin are the Taferals most strikingly mentioned. Kane refers in passing to brothers (plural) of Marylin’s, though their number and names are not specified. Solomon Kane knew Marylin when she was a tiny child, and was clearly fond of her, so he must have had an association of some sort with the Taferals.

Hildred is the oldest still living. Kane calls him both “Lord Hildred Taferal” and “old Sir Hildred” in “Moon of Skulls”. In fact, to be “Lord Hildred Taferal” in England, he would have to be the younger son of a duke or marquis. That seems pretty high in the peerage for a person on familiar terms with a commoner – lesser gentry at most – like Solomon Kane. Solomon had even taken Hildred’s baby cousin on his knee! He also knows Hildred well enough to be aware that in his old age he has gout, and blasphemes a lot. It’s more significant still that Hildred, and Marylin’s brothers, trust him with a lone quest to find and restore her.

Besides, Kane also refers to Hildred as “Sir Hildred”, so there is a discrepancy here. I’d resolve it by supposing that Hildred had been a knight in his younger days, and was later created a baron. Then he would be “Hildred, Lord Taferal” not “Lord Hildred Taferal.” This is probably a slight slip of REH’s. As for Kane, he doubtless refers to the old man as both a “sir” and a “lord” to Marylin, in almost the same breath, because he isn’t paying much attention to niceties of title in the hellish city of Negari. He’s in a desperate, urgent situation (when wasn’t he?).

I’d assume that the Taferals were a gentry family, not noble, at the time Hildred was born. They had a manor house near Kingsbridge – a few miles north of “the little Devon town”, probably Salcombe on the coast that bred the Kanes. Salcombe is a fishing port known for the natural beauty of its setting, but as the sixteenth century began it lacked other distinctions. The much larger town of Plymouth, home of the Hawkins and Drake families, lay along the coast twenty miles to the west.

Hildred, and Solomon Kane’s grandfather – I like to think the latter’s name was Reuben – were born in the same year, 1502. Reuben was an ordinary, unlettered fisher lad. He knew boats and the sea, and not much else at first, while Hildred received the usual sort of gentry education, including training in arms. The two had hot blood and a reckless, scapegrace streak in common.

Henry VIIIThe Protestant faith was fairly new then, and Henry VIII’s break with the Church of Rome caused much horror. The nobles and gentry of Devon turned their religious coats at Henry’s command, while the commoners for the most part stayed Romish. The Kanes were an exception; they became Protestants, and staunch, stubborn ones, though they would not have qualified as “Puritans” in the early 1500s; the word wasn’t even in general use then. English Puritanism, strictly speaking, was founded shortly after Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558.

Both boys were more interested in adventure and hell-raising than in religion. Hildred enjoyed slumming among the smugglers and pirates whose ships often docked at Salcombe, and, to quote The Wind in the Willows, “simply messing about in boats”. Reuben dreamed of blooded horses and swords. The two met while young and took to each other. Hildred taught Reuben the principles of fencing. (His own instructor was an Italian fencer who had fled Milan for reasons he didn’t talk about.) He and Reuben practiced together with sticks before they were ten, and Reuben showed promise. Hildred took the rapiers from the house when they were older and practiced with Reuben with the genuine blades.

(Henry VIII had come to the throne, aged eighteen, when both these boys were seven.)

Reuben Kane’s father might have given his first-born that name because he knew the quotation from Genesis 49: “You are my first-born, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power.”

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

This is the first post for 2013 of the online version of Nemedian Dispatches. This feature previously appeared in the print journal and is now on the blog. On roughly 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:


Pirate Adventures
This collection of Howard’s pirate stories, verse and related material from the REH Foundation Press, is now available. In addition to great pirate adventures, the book features a fantastic pulpish cover by Tom Gianni and an Introduction by Rob Roehm.

The Dark Man Vol 7, No. 1
The new issue of TDM has arrived. Contents include: “The Writer’s Style: Sound and Syntax in Howard’s Sentences” by David C. Smith, “I and I Liberate Zimbabwe: Motifs of Africa and Freedom in Howard’s “The Grisly Horror” by Patrick R. Burger and “Robert E. Howard and the Lone Scouts” by Rob Roehm, plus reviews and more. The new TDM is available in electronic form as well as hard copy and can be ordered from Also, TDM is in the process of making all back issues of the journal available free of charge in electronic form.

I Am Providence PaperbackI Am Providence (Softcover Edition)
Published in 1996, S.T. Joshi’s award-winning biography H.P. Lovecraft: A Life provided the most detailed portrait of the life, work, and thought of the Old Gent from Providence ever published. While that book was massive, that edition was greatly abridged from Joshi’s original manuscript. This expanded and updated two volume edition restores the 150,000 words that Joshi omitted and, in addition, updates the texts with new findings. A must have for Howard fans, this reasonably priced softcover edition is the next best thing to owning a copy of the hardcover edition, which is now out-of-print and much sought after by collectors.

Conan Meets the Academy: Multidisciplinary Essays on the Enduring Barbarian
Editor Jonas’ anthology takes on Howard’s Conan as its only subject. Two TGR contributors, Frank Coffman and Jeff Shanks, are among the many contributors The collection of Conan essays focuses on the following topics: stylometry, archeology, cultural studies, folklore studies, and literary history, additionally the essays examine statistical analyses of Howard’s texts, as well as the literary genesis of Conan, later-day parodies, Conan video games, movies, and pop culture in general. By displaying the wide range of academic interest in Conan, this volume reveals the hidden scholarly depth of this seemingly unsophisticated fictional character. The volume is published by McFarland & Company, Inc.,

Coming Soon:

The Alluring Art of Margaret BrundageThe Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage
Currently being printed and available soon, this volume is an extensive tribute to  Brundage  and her art. Her fantasy, science-fiction, and horror paintings graced the cover of many an issue of Weird Tales and other pulps during Howard’s lifetime. The sexy, alluring and sensationalistic Brundage covers even featured Conan nine times. She was the first female cover artist of the pulp era and her work was controversial for the day, often featuring bondage themes, with semi-nude young women bearing whips. The book comes in three editions, all with full color art. Visit the publisher’s website for more details and ordering information.

The REH Foundation Press
Four volumes of boxing stories are coming soon from the Foundation Press.  This will be a  comprehensive collection of REH’s humorous and straight boxing yarns. Needless to say, getting the volumes done was a massive undertaking by Patrice Louinet, Mark Finn, and Chris Gruber.

Also in the works for the near future is a volume of Howard’s straight western stories. One has to imagine the humorous yarns will get their own volumes a little later on. Additionally, the limited hardcover edition of Mark Finn’s Howard biography, Blood and Thunder is sold out and Rob is prepping it for the Foundation Press’ Storefront. So it will still be available for purchase via POD.

Assyrian Lion Hunting

Various racial distinctions were evident in the human figures — the hooked noses and curled black beards of the dominant race wore plainly distinguishable. Their opponents were sometimes black men, sometimes men like themselves, and occasionally tall, rangy men with unmistakable Arab features …

And suddenly Kane remembered where he had seen similar carvings, wherein kings with black curled beards slew lions from chariots. He had seen them on crumbling pieces of masonry that marked the site of a long forgotten city in Mesopotamia, and men had told him those ruins were all that remained of Nineveh the Bloody, the accursed of God.

“The Children of Asshur” by Robert E. Howard

Last post finished with Sargon II’s death in battle against – REH must have smiled – the Cimmerians. It occurred in 705 BCE, not long after Sargon had moved the Assyrian Empire’s capital from ancient Asshur to Nineveh. He had begun to rebuild the city on a rectangular grid plan and taken the royal court there, but at his death there was still much to do. Sargon’s son Sennacherib inherited the task. He entered upon it with the prodigious energy that did generally belong to the Assyrian kings, whatever their other faults. He fulfilled his father’s intentions and made of Nineveh an utterly magnificent city. Besides laying out additional streets and squares on Sargon’s grid plan, he built therein the famous “palace without a rival”. The description was no empty brag, despite the justified Assyrian reputation for vainglory.

The palace was huge, especially by the standards of the time. It measured about 200 yards by 210 and contained at least eighty rooms. They were lined with sculpture reliefs. Many depicted the standard Assyrian atrocities against conquered rebels and other foes, intended to frighten as well as glorify. The Assyrians made a practice of atrocity and terror. Some of the doorways were flanked by statues of the famous Assyrian human-headed winged bulls. (They were carved with five legs, so that when viewed from the front they appeared to be standing with their forelegs together in dignified stasis, but from the side, they showed in profile with one leg behind another, as though actively walking.)

The Fire of Asshurbanipal by Greg StaplesIn his story “The Fire of Asshurbanipal”, REH describes Assyrian architecture and statuary in terms that seem perceptive and true to this blogger. “… great, somber images, half human, half bestial, partaking of the brooding brutishness of the whole city … awesome magnitude and sullen, breathtaking splendor …”

Sennacherib was also the king whose army met its doom from Jehovah’s angel of death when he sent it against Jerusalem. Lord Byron’s famous poem describes the event in romantic terms. There are of course two versions of that historical occurrence … the Biblical account in the Second Book of the Kings, Chapter 18-19, and the Assyrian record. The Biblical account would be the one that Solomon Kane believed, and he had evidently beheld the remains of Nineveh at some point in his travels. But that’s getting ahead of the story a bit.

Nineveh at its greatest, largely made so by Sennacherib, was splendid even by imperial standards. Fifteen great gates led through its extensive walls. Eighteen canals supplied it with water. A great aqueduct supplemented them. The population exceeded 100,000 and may have reached 150,000. In the ancient world that was enormous. Even Memphis in Egypt, at its utmost – supplied with water by the Nile, fed by the proverbially lush grain yields of that country – contained no more than 200,000 people.

Sennacherib was an able, intelligent king. As crown prince, in his father’s day, he did well as an administrator and diplomat. He declared himself that he was a man of “clever understanding” and his record justifies the boast. He wasn’t merely warlike, astute and a great builder. He was innovative. In his reign he sent expeditions to search for new sources of alabaster and building stone; he discovered new sources of huge timber in the mountain forests, and a more efficient method of casting bronze; he made use of new equipment for raising water from wells; and he introduced the cotton plant to his empire.

His greatest problem lay in the major revolts which began as soon as Sargon II died. Some took place in Palestine and the Mediterranean districts, inspired by Egypt. The kings of Sidon and Ascalon, and Hezekiah, king of Judah, listened to the Egyptian provocateurs and rejected Nineveh’s lordship. Sennacherib sent an army against Sidon, whose king fled to Cyprus, while King Sidka of Ascalon was captured and taken in fetters to Assyria. Egypt sent an army to support the rebels of Ekron, but it was defeated by the Assyrians, who put a puppet ruler on Ekron’s throne also. Then Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem, and his officials mocked Hezekiah for trusting to “the strength of this bruised reed, Egypt.”

Hezekiah refused to open the city’s gates and surrender. The Bible declares that he was encouraged in his resolution by the prophet Isaiah. Instead of taking the city, the Assyrians compromised for once, probably because Sennacherib knew he had potential risings in Babylonia and Elam to handle which were going to be much more serious. He hadn’t time or resources to waste on Judah. He settled for taking a huge indemnity; 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, and “all kind of valuable treasures as well as [Hezekiah’s] daughters, his harem, his male and female musicians” and several towns too.

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“The winged bulls of Nineveh! The bulls with mens’ heads! By the saints, Ali, the old tales are true! The Assyrians did build this city! The whole tale’s true! They must have come here when the Babylonians destroyed Assyria – why, this scene’s a dead ringer for pictures I’ve seen – reconstructed scenes of old Nineveh! And look!”

Robert E. Howard, “The Fire of Asshurbanipal”

One of Robert E. Howard’s preoccupations was the evanescence of civilization and life itself. Conan believed very much in “now”. “Let me live deep while I live,” he said to Belit. Conan’s adopted land of Aquilonia fell to a barbarian invasion a few centuries after his time. The entire age and world of Conan was destroyed in a cataclysm, leaving only a few names and legends to survive into the world of the history we know. Howard’s work concerning the faded glories of the Picts, the fall of Rome, the conquest of the Irish Gaels by the Normans, and the broodings of his failed Irish king Cahal Ruadh O’Donnell in “The Sowers of the Thunder”, all reflect it.

In a couple of poems he deals with the subject of this post, the great ancient city of Nineveh. From its beginnings to its end it lasted far longer than others, long enough to make Rome seem like a sapling. It was older than the Erech (Uruk) and Nippur REH describes in “The House of Arabu”; its origins as a Neolithic hamlet dated to before 6000 BCE. None could have imagined then what a mighty, opulent metropolis it would become after the Assyrian Empire rose.

It lay in northern Mesopotamia, about a hundred kilometers south of Lake Van, just across the Tigris River from modern Mosul. For at least 2000 years from its origins it remained a little town at the centre of a farming region. Painted pottery from that period is typical of the early chalcolithic cultures in Mesopotamia, and during the fourth millennium (4000-3001 BCE) farmers used clay sickles edged with flint teeth like those found further south and characteristic of the Ubaid Culture, which implies that there was contact between the two and some southern influence. Late in that same millennium, about 3200-3001, roughly made beveled bowls that were probably used for agricultural offerings to the gods have been found in the Nineveh region, and they show an exact correspondence with pottery in the Uruk (Erech) region of the lower Tigris-Euphrates valley.

Erech is mentioned in REH’s story “The House of Arabu” set in the early times of many warring and intriguing city-states, Erech and Nippur among them. The main character is Pyrrhas, an Argive mercenary in the service of Nippur, whose leadership and fury in battle “broke the hosts of Erech on the field, and the yoke of Erech from the neck of Nippur.” The legendary king Gilgamesh ruled over Erech “like a great wild bull”, but his name doesn’t come into the story, and “The House of Arabu” may be meant to take place after his death. Perhaps he conquered Nippur and it became independent again later. Anyhow, in Pyrrhas’s time, Egypt saw men toiling “beneath the lash to rear the FIRST pyramids” (emphasis mine), Crete still had nothing better to show than “a rude town of rough stone and wood”, and Troy was “a mud-walled trading village.”

The very first Egyptian pyramid known was the step pyramid of King Djoser, built in the 27th century BCE. Djoser belonged to the Third Dynasty, and so did Sekhemkhet, Sanakht and Khaba, all of whose pyramids were unfinished. Thus REH’s story “The House of Arabu” may be set in that century. We can pretty much take it as unfolding before the reign of Sargon of Akkad, anyway, and he reigned from about 2334 to 2279.

By then – in fact by 3000 BCE – Nineveh had become an important cult center for the worship of the goddess Ishtar. The town had been built right on an earthquake fault line, though, and one such convulsion leveled the first temple of Ishtar. Manishtusu, an Akkadian king, rebuilt it in 2260 BCE.

Ishtar is a goddess often sworn by in Conan’s world and time, often with reference to her lusty sexuality and gorgeous body. Pelias, in “The Scarlet Citadel”, one wizard by no means averse to sensuous pleasures, mocks the slain eunuch Shukeli with the words, “By the ivory hips of Ishtar, who is our doorman?” Later he observes, “Wine is a curse – by the ivory bosom of Ishtar, even as I speak of it, the traitor is here!”

In “Iron Shadows in the Moon”, when Conan asks the pirates, “Who’s your chief?” his old enemy Sergius of Khrosha swaggers forth and bawls, “I, by Ishtar!” When Taramis first sees her evil twin in “A Witch Shall be Born” she gasps, “Ishtar, I am bewitched!” In the same story, Constantius the Falcon leers, “By Ishtar, Taramis, I find you more alluring in your night-tunic than in your queenly robes.” The soldier Valerius swears by Ishtar. When the savant Astreas writes to his colleague in Nemedia concerning the events in Khauran, he confides that the witch has “ … abolished the worship of Ishtar … which, inferior as it is to the true religion of Mitra … is still superior to the devil-worship of the Shemites.”

The Shemites of Conan’s world appear to be pseudo-Assyrians, though divided into small city-states instead of ruling a unified empire. They worship a god called Pteor, grossly male, not Ishtar. If the “sons of Shem” in the Hyborian Age are based on Assyrians, then the description of them as characterized by “wild beast ferocity” and “the utter lack of doubt or mercy”, as well as delighting in skinning their captives alive, is no exaggeration. Plenty of ancient kings carried out massacres and tortures during their conquests, to subdue the defeated peoples, but they didn’t brag about their atrocities with the fiendish delight of the Assyrian rulers.

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

1883 09-22 IMH to JH 1

In [18]49 three brothers started for California. On the Arkansas River they split up, one went on to California where he lived the rest of his life, one went back to Georgia and one, William Benjamin Howard, went to Mississippi . . .

—Robert E. Howard to H.P. Lovecraft, ca. October 1930

Those three brothers were all sons of Henry Howard; William Benjamin was Robert E. Howard’s grandfather, Isaac Mordecai Howard’s father. We all know that story, but what about the Howard who came to California? In a December 1930 letter to Lovecraft, Robert Howard elaborated a bit, saying that his grand-uncle “settled in Sonora,” as good a starting place as any.


Using various online genealogy websites, I found the names of Henry Howard’s other children; the oldest son was Charles Henry Howard (1821-1864), who appears to have lived most of his life in Georgia, but died in Virginia. Perhaps he is the brother who returned to Georgia from the Arkansas River. In other letters, Robert Howard explains the reason for the group splitting up: cholera:

Had not cholera struck the camp of William Benjamin Howard and his band of ’49ers on the Arkansas River, reducing their number from nineteen to seven, and weakening their leader so he was forced to turn back, I, his grandson, would have undoubtedly been born in California instead of Texas (REH to HPL, ca. June 1931).

Whether or not William Benjamin was the “leader” of the group is arguable, but Robert Howard clearly believed that at least one of the brothers made it all the way to California; if not the oldest brother, perhaps it was the second oldest, one Isaac Mordecai Howard.


The first I. M. Howard was born in Georgia on October 3, 1825. If Robert Howard’s family legend is true, he headed west with his brothers in 1849. California voter registration documents found online have an “Isaac Mordecai Howard” living in Blanket Creek, Tuolumne County, California, in 1866. Blanket Creek is fewer than five miles southeast of Sonora and in the same county. He is listed as a 40-year-old farmer, born in Georgia. The California connection was more than I could stand, so I convinced my father and partner-in-research, to load up the Lincoln and make the six-hour trek to Gold Rush Country. Unlike our last trip, this time we hit pay dirt.

1869 10-18 Quartz Claim-smAt the Tuolumne County courthouse, we uncovered a few documents that tell a bit of Isaac Howard’s story. While listed as a farmer on the 1866 voter registration document, that clearly wasn’t all he was interested in. An October 18, 1869 Quartz Claim indicates that he was at least trying to strike it rich. His claim, the “Howard Vein,” was shared with eight others—including three with the last name of Berger— and was located “about 1½ miles North East of Ward’s Ferry.” A bridge has taken the place of the ferry today, and can only be reached via a treacherous, one-lane road that zigzags down a steep mountain face. Must have been fun on a horse or mule, and it appears that the claim didn’t pan out (pun intended).


At the time of the 1870 U.S. Census, those same Bergers mentioned above are running a farm. Right below the Bergers, the Census has Isaac Howard, unmarried, working as a farm laborer in Tuolumne County. The post office listed is Sonora. Ten years later, the 1880 Census of “Sonora Precinct” has Isaac M. Howard as a single Farmer, age 54. Schedule 2 of that Census, “Productions of Agriculture” in Blanket Creek, gives more detail: Isaac is the owner of 160 acres, 30 “improved” and 130 “Woodland and Forest”; he valued his land at 800, his equipment at 30, and his livestock at 100; he spent 50 on building and repairing in 1879; the value of “all farm productions” for 1879 is listed as 30; and he had three horses. Just up the road is a John Hawkins; remember that name.

And now, a history lesson (note that Howard had 160 acres in 1880):

In 1862, the Homestead Act was passed and signed into law. The new law established a three-fold homestead acquisition process: filing an application, improving the land, and filing for deed of title. Any U.S. citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U.S. Government could file an application and lay claim to 160 acres of surveyed Government land. For the next 5 years, the homesteader had to live on the land and improve it by building a 12-by-14 dwelling and growing crops. After 5 years, the homesteader could file for his patent (or deed of title) by submitting proof of residency and the required improvements to a local land office.*

1882 02-01 US to IMH

It is unclear exactly when Isaac Howard settled on his 160 acres, sometime between 1870 and 1880, but by February 1, 1882, he had met all of the Homestead requirements and his patent was approved. He didn’t keep the land (part of which is seen below) for long.


IMH_0168On September 22, 1883, Isaac Howard appeared at the Tuolumne County courthouse. His first order of business was to enter the deed to his land into the record; his second was to sell that land. “For the consideration of five hundred and seventy five dollars,” I. M. Howard sold his 160 acres in section 24 to one J. Hawkins, perhaps his 1870 neighbor. A 1948 topographical map shows a “Hawkins Ranch” east of where Isaac Howard’s property was located. The red dot marks the center of section 24, which is divided into four squares, all of which is seven miles southeast of Sonora proper.

With all of the above information in hand, we took the evening off and went downtown to meet up with Barbara Barrett, who had driven in for a visit. In the morning, we hit the genealogy library. We quickly added an 1881 listing from the city directory to our stack of documents, but we were unable to find the one piece of information that still eluded us: Isaac Mordecai Howard’s death date.

So, where did he go? The 1890 Census was destroyed by fire, so no help there, but California’s voter registrations for 1890 have been transcribed and are available in The California 1890 Great Register of Voters Index; unfortunately, Isaac M. Howard either didn’t register that year, had moved out of state, or was dead. Robert E. Howard said that Isaac “lived the rest of his life in California,” but where? At the end of September 1883 he was 58, living near Sonora, a single man with no property, but his wallet bulged with what would today be about $14,000. What would you have done?

* Potter, Lee Ann and Wynell Schamel. “The Homestead Act of 1862.” Social Education 61, 6 (October 1997): 361.
This entry filed under Dr. Isaac M. Howard, Howard Biography.

Come and Take It Flag

Today being Texas Independence Day, I thought a little history on the beginning of the Texas Revolution was in order. The Battle of Gonzales begin as an altercation between a Texan and a Mexican soldier, who struck him with a rifle butt. The citizenry quickly rounded up an old bronze cannon not previously turned over to the Mexican. The cannon was likely useless, but it became a symbol of defiance to Mexico’s oppressive rule. Real conflict began when the Texans refused to give it up and “politely” told them to “come and take it.”

Howard made a passing reference to the battle in an October 3, 1935 letter to Lovecraft in which he enclosed a newspaper article published to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the skirmish that started the revolution on October 2, 1835. On November 5, 1935, there was a big celebration of the cenntenial of the independance of Texas in Gonzales, hosted by Governor Allred:

Copies of “Come and Take It” Flag To Be Unfurled at Gonzales Today at Opening Centennial Parade.

San Antonio Express Newspaper, November 5, 1935, Tuesday.

Initial observance of Texas Centennial begins in Gonzales Tuesday when San Antonians will figure in a parade which will start at the boom of a cannon remindful of the famous Gonzales cannon which figured in the first hostilities in the struggle for independence and gave rise to the first Long Start flag.

Governor James V. Allred and other dignitaries are expected to witness the parade which opens the celebration at 1 p.m. Gonzales’ Centennial exposition will continue for five days.

San Antonio will be represented in the parade by a Fiesta de San Jacinto float on which will ride members of the Daughters of Republic dressed in the fashions of ’36 to represent a quilting party of that time. Alamo Mission Chapter members who will ride on the float are: Mrs. Gus Jones, Mrs. J. M. Olivarri, Mrs. Herbert Hearndon, Mrs. Lee Miller, Mrs. Joseph M. Carnal, Mrs. Henry Wofford, Mrs. Leita Small, Mrs. J. E. King, Mrs. Ethel Tom, Mrs. J. L. Browne and Mrs. Eugene Holmgreen. Mrs. R. F. Martin, president of the Presidio Chapter of Crystal City, also will ride on the float.

Jack Raybould, manager of the Fiesta Association, will be a judge of floats.

While aficionados of Texas history are familiar with the fight for the cannon, a lot of folks are not. The San Jacinto Museum and Monument website is a great place to read the story of how Howard’s beloved Texas came to be.

Of course, the war for Texas independance was one of his favorite topics. Here is a poem he wrote in tribute to that final, brief battle where Sam Houston and his men soundly defeated Santa Anna and his army:

“San Jacinto”

Flowers bloom on San Jacinto,
Red and white and blue.
Long ago o’er San Jacinto
Wheeling vultures flew.
Long ago on San Jacinto
Soared the battle-smoke;
Long ago on San Jacinto
Wild ranks smote and broke.
Crimson clouds o’er San Jacinto,
Scarlet was the haze —
Peaceful o’er calm San Jacinto
Glide the drowsy days.

Sam Houston at San Jacinto

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