Archive for September, 2013

Solomon Kane by Ken Kelly

It’s a familiar theme in myth, fantasy, horror and pulp literature. The immortal and terrible queen who rules in the shadows, whether she literally drinks blood or not. Ereshkigal, the Babylonian Queen of Hell … Persephone in Greek myth … the death-goddess Hel of the Norse legends, and the grim Choosers of the Slain, the Valkyries … Rider Haggard’s She … the brides of Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel, to a degree, though they are unmistakably subordinate to the Count … a number of modern incarnations in literature, like Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned

There is also the clichéd figure of the sweet, innocent, pure girl who falls victim to this awful (and usually lustful, even if in a symbolic and kinky sense only) creature. Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra in Dracula (two for the price of one) are literally classic examples. They were created in the Victorian era, of course. After Lucy became a vampire she turned into a lusting, impure temptress herself, and her activities had more than a hint of pedophilia.

In REH’s “The Moon of Skulls” the vampire queen of hell is the black woman Nakari, and her pure sweet Anglo-Saxon captive is Marylin Taferal. Whether Nakari is a literal vampire or not is never made overt. It often appears not. But I’ll take the two archetypes of the post title above, virgin captive and vampiric harlot, in order. Marylin and her experiences first. Nakari and her (possible) history next post.

Marylin Taferal began getting a rough deal as a little girl. Her unprincipled cousin, Sir John, faked her death by drowning and sold her to a Barbary corsair, because he was afraid his uncle would leave the great family estates to her, having no children. (See “The Taferals and the Kanes.”) By my calculations this happened in 1574, when Marylin was eight. The corsair, a renegade known as El Gar, was probably known to Sir John because he had been an Englishman in former days. “El Gar” was perhaps an English mispronunciation of “El Giaour,” a derogatory Turkish term for infidels. Lord Byron wrote a poem called “The Giaour”.

(Sir John, I suspect, dealt illicitly with a number of pirates. It was common in those days, even on the part of highly placed English officials. Even a partial list would be lengthy.)

Whatever his origins, El Gar took Marylin south on his ship and entered the Mediterranean. As she recounted the tale later, the corsair met a merchant of Istanbul off the coast of France and sold her to him. The merchant intended to sell her in turn to “a black sultan of the Moors,” but he was attacked near the Straits of Gibraltar (“Gates of Hercules”) by a slaver out of Cadiz. The slaver, in turn, no doubt by questioning Marylin, learned she was the daughter of a wealthy English family, and meant to ransom her back to them, but he met with disaster on the dark African coasts first.

This blogger believes that Marylin’s memories were jumbled and foreshortened by her terrifying experiences. Kane, too, when he finds her, cuts his account of his long search down to the barest essentials. She says that when Sir John handed her to El Gar she was “little more than a baby,” but by my estimates she would have been eight.

It’s possible that the Barbary rover and the merchantman out of Istanbul met off the southern coasts of France, as Marylin says. France was being friendly to the point of collusion with the Turkish Empire in those days, despite the French monarch’s unctuous claim to be “the Most Christian King.” The French crown craved to gain an advantage over its bitter Christian rival, the Holy Roman Empire (whose ruler was also the King of Spain). The corsair and the merchant would both have had to watch sharply for any galleys of the Knights of St. John, based on Malta. The knights were sworn to combat the Turk and were exceptional fighting seamen. Exceptional pirates, too, when their victims were not Christian and Catholic. On balance it’s more probable that El Gar went to Algiers, and Marylin was sold to the Stamboul merchant there, along with other Christian captives. Afterwards, they were all taken to the Sublime Porte.

There had to be an interval of years. Even if, as I suppose, Marylin was taken from Devon as old as eight, she was a young woman when Kane finally found her, eighteen or at least seventeen. That’s nine years. She might, for a while, have been a slave in Cyprus, in Moldavia, in Greece – anywhere, in fact, from Egypt to Hungary, both of which were part of the Ottoman Empire at the time. Possibly, after that, she was purchased by another merchant, who took her west, as she said, meaning to sell her to the Sultan of Morocco. It must have been then that a Portuguese slaver – and sometime pirate, we can bet – attacked the merchant ship which carried Marylin, and formed the intention of selling her back to her English family for a pretty penny. But first he attempted to complete his run to the Slave Coast, where his luck ran out. He was ambushed in a bay and only one man, a Greek rascal, survived to tell the tale. His luck too ran out in the end. He was crucified in the Levant for piracy. Kane heard his last words.

Marylin had been taken by the river tribes and sent inland as tribute, ending up, eventually, in Negari – a hell-hole of blood and insanity. (For details, see “The City of the Mad.”) Here some speculation as to her experiences is due. If she came to the coasts of Africa aged fifteen, after having been a slave in the eastern Mediterranean for years, it’s hugely improbable that she was still a virgin. This was the 1500s. “If they’re big enough, they’re old enough,” was a view held even by Christian gentlemen.

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This entry filed under Howard's Favorite Authors, Howard's Fiction.
Howard Heads on Hallowed Ground

Howard Heads on Hallowed Ground (Left to Right) Kneeling: Keith West, John Bullard, Dave Hardy. Standing Jeff Shanks, Paul Herman, Rusty Burke, Partice Louinet, Rob Roehm, Bill Cavalier and myself.)

Worldcon 71 is history and everyone who attended has made it home and had time to reflect on the experience. Due to my work schedule and other factors I was only able to attend on Friday and Saturday (Worldcon ran Thursday, August 29th through Monday, September 2nd), which were probably two of the best days to be there. But some other folks who were there have filled in the gaps I missed for this wrap-up, so off we go.


The big pre-convention event was Wednesday’s bus trip to Cross Plains (hosted by Rusty Burke and Mark Finn) which was a success despite having only 14 people sign-up for it. Little surprise there since the con PR crew did little to no advance publicity for the trip. In my opinion, they dropped the ball on promoting the convention itself. I did not see any national coverage at all, only some local newspaper and television coverage  — I mean it was the “World Science Fiction Convention” and certainly should been heavily publicized nationally.

Getting back on topic, even though the day trippers were a small group, they were an enthusiastic bunch, touring the Howard House Museum, buying items from the gift shop and eating in the local restaurants — thus giving a shot of revenue to Howard’s hometown. On the return trip to San Antonio, the AV system on the luxury bus screened The Whole Wide World. All in all, the journey made for a fine prelude to Thursday’s opening day of the convention.

I drove from Houston to San Antonio after work on Thursday and met the gang at Dick’s Last Resort on the Riverwalk.  It’s basically a tourist trap where they put paper hats on your heads with insulting sayings written on them, make you wear plastic bibs and generally treat all the customers rudely, hence the  name “Dick’s”  The gang included Rob Roehm, Patrice Louinet, Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier, Jeff Shanks, Paul Herman and local fan and Legacy Circle member John Bullard. Dave Hardy, his wife Julie and daughter Bridget were also in attendance. After dinner, drinks and some general tormrnting from the staff, we retired to quieter and more pleasant surroundings, namely the bar at the Menger Hotel.

The hotel, built in 1858, is purportedly haunted by the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt; the hotel’s walls are decorated with photos and memorabilia related to our 26th President. Every evening The Menger Bar, which is just steps away from The Alamo, was ground zero for after dinner drinking, hanging out and the general telling of lies.


Talking Howard and swilling beer at the MengerBar (Left to Right) Jeff Shanks, Patrice Louinet, Dave Hardy, Paul Herman, Bill Cavalier, Rob Roehm and myself.

Friday morning when I arrived at the convention center, I ran into Rob outside and he showed where to check-in and get my badge and other credentials. I then wandered into the exhibit hall and checked out the REH exhibit, as was pretty damn impressive. Next I headed back to the dealers’ room to visit the REH Foundation’s dealer’s table and was pleased to see they had a nice set-up with a large supply of Foundation Press books. However, they were stuck way in the back of the dealers’ room — but as far as I could tell, it didn’t seem to affect the amount of traffic going by the table.

As for the con-goers, nothing to see there. People dressed in Furries, Steampunk, Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Dr. Who, and etc. gear — the usual con crowd; other than the person with a beard, dressed as a woman, whose gender was not apparent to me. Obviously, there was a lot of other activities going at the convention in addition to the Howard related events — usually about 20 panels, readings or screenings going on at the same time. Here is TGR blogger Rob Roehm’s reort on the event:

Due to time constraints I wasn’t able to drive to Texas as I prefer, but air travel has its benefits. I arrived late on Wednesday evening, had a Whataburger, and hit the sack. Thursday morning I drove to Victoria, which is the last Texas town mentioned by Robert E. Howard that I hadn’t visited before. Now I’ve seen them all.

Bill Cavalier and Dave Hardy holding down the fort down at the Robert E. Howard Exhibit.

I arrived at the convention center a little after noon and went looking for familiar faces. The first one I saw was Dave Hardy, who was manning the REH exhibit in the big hall. The exhibit was pretty nice, with lots of comics, a few books, and a couple of Howard’s typescripts borrowed from the Cross Plains Public Library. After a quick chat, Hardy pointed me in the direction of the REH Foundation table in the dealers’ section.

At the table, Paul Herman brought me up to speed on what was happening, as well as how to operate the credit card reader for my phone, and then slipped off to be part of a copyright panel. When he returned, I skipped out for lunch with Rusty Burke, Patrice Louinet, and Jeff Shanks. We went down to the River Walk and had sandwiches and beer at an Irish pub. By the time I got back to the dealers’ room, it was almost time to close it down, so I helped out a bit and then we all hit the town.

Bill Cavalier and Paul Herman setting up the REH Foundation table.

And speaking of the dealers’ room, the best part of WorldCon, for me anyway, was Paul Herman. If he hadn’t been so dedicated to the job at hand, I know that I would have been stuck behind the REH Foundation table selling books the whole time. As it was, I had lots of time to screw around. I *almost* feel guilty about it, but not quite.

The REHF Press Dealers' Table

I only watched one panel that I wasn’t part of, and I only participated in three, so I’m not really sure what I was doing most of the time. The panels I was on were fairly well attended, around twenty folks. And these were mostly *new* people, not the fans that stay up-to-date on Damon’s blog and read the current goings-on in Howard Studies. For many of them, Howard studies began and ended with de Camp in the 1970s. And they were generally receptive to having their notions changed. Of course, some of the more old-time fans and authors had a harder time of it. During Rusty Burke’s horror stories panel-the one panel that I watched-I enjoyed seeing him patiently counter some of Harry Turtledove’s comments.

Horror Stories Panel with Damon Sasser, Rusty Burke and Harry Turtledove.

The same thing was happening at the Foundation table. People were surprised to see the many different books by Howard and were almost always completely unaware of the Foundation and the doings of Howard fans in general. We were happy to fill in the blanks.

Of course, the real fun was just hanging out with friends and talking about Robert E. Howard. And it’s even better when you can do that in a city that Howard loved, and that serves alcohol in its restaurants.

Mark Finn was the head honcho as far as planning all the REH panels and wrangling all the contrary Howard Heads to sit in on them — a monumental feat in of itself. You can read Mark’s complete trip report here. Meanwhile, here is a sampling that focuses on the Howard related convention stuff:

Some of you may have noticed that there were, ah, a few panels on Robert E. Howard and his legacy. This was completely intentional. When I was asked to help out with the programming duties, I was told that there were absolutely zero panels on Robert E. Howard at the last Texas WorldCon, in 1997. This is not surprising. The 1990s are something of a Dark Ages for Howard Studies, with no copies of Howard’s own Conan books on the shelves and no real intentions to do so. It wasn’t until around the late 1990s that Wandering Star entered the picture, with their desire to produce authoritative texts of Howard’s work, in deluxe hardcover editions, and with high end illustrations. That was the start of the REH Renaissance, really. So, a lot has happened in the thirteen years between Texas WorldCons. A lot.


That track of programming was a corrective, and it was extremely successful. We had large crowds for most of the panels (the poetry stuff was a bust, frankly, and no one could find the film programming to come see “Barbarian Days”) and lot of participation. But in particular, I slanted the panels to hit the older fans. When I came down for the big meeting in April, I had two people pull me aside—older men, both—and tell me how pleased and excited they were to see that REH was going to be on the panels this year. They were big fans, they told me, and read all of that stuff in the 1970s. I asked them, “Have you been keeping up with what we’ve been doing in the past fifteen years?” Oh, no, they said. They just read the books and really enjoyed them, but they haven’t looked at them since the seventies. Heh. Okay, guys, this panel’s for you.

"The First Barbarian of Texas" --  Patrice Louinet and Mark Finn, with John Maddox Roberts (far right) and Patrick Nielsen Hayden (far left)

I intentionally loaded the topics to entice the older fans. We had an obligatory Conan panel, and that room was packed. Even better, it was a smashing success. I opened it up to talk about pop culture Conan, and everyone stayed right on Robert E. Howard’s Conan the whole time. Fantastic. And the more we talked about corrupted texts, bad biographical practices, ulterior motives, and the complicated relationship between the fans and L. Sprague de Camp, I saw more light bulbs going on behind these guys’ eyes. Oh, there were a few of them who wanted to debate the point, citing de Camp’s standing as a gifted and talented author, and blah blah blah. I told one of them what I always say, which is that de Camp was great for Conan, but really lousy for Robert E. Howard. That pretty much ended the discussion.We opened a lot of eyes and changed a lot of minds over the four day weekend.

The Robert E. Howard exhibit got a lot of traffic, as did the Robert E. Howard Foundation Table. Lots of books were sold, memberships handed out, and we all had a ton of great conversations with people who were genuinely interested in REH, his works, and what we were doing there. It was everything that we wanted WFC 2006 to be, and more.

“Beyond the Barbarian: Robert E. Howard’s Other Heroes” Panel

“Beyond the Barbarian: Robert E. Howard’s Other Heroes” Panel (Left to Right) Rob Roehm, David Spurlock, Dave Hardy, Mel White and John Maddox Roberts.

Like me, Howard fan and blogger Keith West also arrived in San Antonio late Thursday. Here is an excerpt from his trip report on his Adventures Fantastic blog (He also blogs at the Amazing Stories website):

The next day [Friday] was one of those where there was about twelve hours of programming I wanted to attend, all of it in a three hour block. I went to most of the Robert E. Howard panels, of which there were many. Most of the hanging out I did with friends was with members of the Robert E. Howard Foundation or chatting with folks at parties. Saturday was much the same, but Sunday was a little more relaxed. Among the non-Howard panels I attended were a discussion of C. L. Moore’s “Vintage Season”, the history of firearms in the 1800s, a reading by Jack McDevitt, a discussion on writing that included Michael Swanwick and James Patrick Kelly, a panel of Texas writers who have passed on, and readings by Jack McDevitt and Howard Waldrop. I only caught part of the panel on sword and sorcery since it was up against one of the more interesting Robert E. Howard panels. The autographing lines were either nonexistent or ridiculously long, so I only got a few signatures.

I went to the Alamo Saturday morning with Bill Cavalier, editor of REHupa. He hadn’t seen it, and it had been a while since I had paid my respects. Next to the Alamo is the Menger Hotel. Teddy Roosevelt recruited the Rough Riders in the bar, and it’s something of a mini-museum. I’ll do a write-up of it on Dispatches From the Lone Star Front over the weekend.

I didn’t try to attend the Hugos. I wasn’t impressed with the slate of nominees for the most part. But it’s a popularity contest, and currently my tastes and those of the field are in a state of moderate divergence. The Legacy Circle of the REH Foundation went to dinner Saturday night.

The REH Foundation Legacy Circle Dinner

The REH Foundation Legacy Circle Dinner (Left to Right) Paul Herman, Bill Cavalier, Rusty Burke, Dave Hardy, Damon Sasser, Jeff Shanks, Patrice Louinet, Rob Roehm, John Bullard and Ben Friberg (Keith West is the photographer).

My first panel was Friday at 4:00 pm “Two-Gun Bob: The Somewhat True Tales of Robert E. Howard.” The turnout was pretty good, as were the questions from the audience, though I found the guy wearing the pink bunny ears to be distracting. I had another panel at 8:00, “Nameless Cults: Robert E. Howard’s Horror Stories,” which had a pretty sparse showing of attendees — they scheduled a screening of The Whole Wide World at the same time, which certainly siphoned off of the potential attendees.

"Two-Gun Bob: The Somewhat True Tales of Robert E. Howard

“Two-Gun Bob: The Somewhat True Tales of Robert E. Howard” Panel (Left to Right) Mark Finn, Patrice Louinet, myself, Rob Roehm and Rusty Burke.

On Saturday I was only on one panel: “The Howard Boom” Barbarians, Fanzines and the 1970s,” which was interesting since I was the only one there who actually participated in the 1970s Howard Boom! Later that afternoon, I caught the “Robert E. Howard: The Weird, West and Worms” academic panel. It was one of the best, but there were only six or seven us in the audience. That was a shame because Mark and Jeff presented two of their excellent PCA papers: “Vaqueros and Vampires: Robert E Howard and the Genesis of the Weird Western” and “Evolutionary Otherness: Anthropological Anxiety in Robert E. Howard’s “Worms of the Earth”

Mark, Jeff, Chris, Patrice, Rusty, Rob and others have been working overtime to get Howard the literary credit he  deserves. If we, as Howard fans want to have his writings make some serious inroads into academia, we really have to get behind these guys, show our support and help them any way we can to further the cause. This convention was a good start, but there is still a lot of work left to be done.

When it was all said and done, Worldcon was certainly a big stage to show off Howard studies and just how it’s come in recent years. There were no Howard panels at the 1997 Worldcon, which was also held in San Antonio, The World Fantasy Con in 2006 corrected that slight somewhat, but Worldcon 71 blew the doors off with its great Howard presence. It looks like the future of Howard’s literary legacy is so bright, we all are going to have to wear shades.

Watch for “Worldcon 71: A Photo Gallery” coming soon!

Photos courtesy of Barbara Baum, Rusty Burke, Patrice Louinet, Dennis McHaney, Rob Roehm and Keith West.


One of the reasons I was so gung-ho about going to WorldCon this year was because it was in San Antonio. Readers of this blog may have noticed that I’m a tad obsessed with visiting county courthouses in Texas, and, up to this point, I hadn’t been to the Bexar County facility. There are reasons for this: I have generally found that the larger the courthouse, the less helpful they are; also, my usual traveling companion (my dad) disdains to drive in populated areas. But, since the Howards had lived briefly in San Antonio and visited on occasion, a stop at the courthouse was required. So, since I’d be traveling solo this time, I figured I’d brave the traffic and see what treasures I could uncover.

I’d originally planned on swinging by the courthouse in the morning, before my first WorldCon panel on Friday; however, I lost half an hour due to construction and the abysmal parking situation downtown, so I abandoned that plan and went to the convention center. During a lull between panels, I decided to take a walk. I asked my fellow Howard-heads if anyone else was interested; only equally-obsessed Patrice Louinet took the bait [that’s him in the photo above].

We walked the five or six blocks to the courthouse, emptied our pockets and walked through the metal detector, only to be told by the guard that everything we were looking for was at the annex across the street. We refilled our pockets and hit the county clerk’s office in the other building.

One good thing about the larger counties is that their land records have been scanned and indexed. A quick name search on the computer will generate a list of all the pertinent documents. I searched for Howards and McClungs while Patrice looked for Ervins. None of the Howards that popped up appeared to be connected to our Howards, but there was one item on W. O. McClung, Bob Howard’s uncle (Dr. Howard’s brother-in-law). The document raises more questions than it answers. Some kind of judgment was rendered against McClung and a few others, but the type of judgment is not mentioned and the clerk couldn’t find any other documents to help us make sense of this one. And it’s always possible that this McClung isn’t our McClung, though they were definitely in the area around that time. Maybe someone will look into it later.

After finishing up with the county clerk, we went down the hall to the district clerk, which is where medical/physicians registries are typically housed. There were at least two reasons for looking into this. In a November 7, 1936 letter to a sister-in-law, Dr. Howard says the following: “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.” In Dark Valley Destiny, L. Sprague de Camp reports this:

[O]n January 8, 1910, Dr. Howard presented his credentials at the county seat of Bexar County, giving his home address as Poteet, a few miles from the border. Years later Howard reported that he lived for a time on a ranch in Atascosa County, Texas, near San Antonio. These bare facts are the only records we have of the family’s South Texas adventures.

I already have a copy of the registration mentioned above, but it’s a crappy scan of a photocopy, and I always like to have color photographs of the real thing. Plus, there’s a problem with de Camp’s statement: The January 8, 1910 document was filed by the district clerk of Atascosa County, not Bexar County. Of course, when I went to the county seat of Atascosa County last winter, they couldn’t find a Medical Registry, so maybe, I figured, the book was housed in the larger county’s archives. Anyway, I wanted to have a look at the Medical Register for Bexar County.

With one exception, Clay County, the district clerks’ offices never know that they should have such a volume; Bexar County was no exception. Luckily, the director of archives happened to be in the building and he called over to his office. Someone there located the volume I wanted; unfortunately, the archives collection was clear across town. As Patrice and I walked back to the convention center, in the blazing, humid heat, I tried to decide if I really needed a color photograph of a document I already had a copy of. Obsession won.


Leaving a trail of sweat behind, we arrived at the Bexar County Archives and Training Center—they were expecting us. We drank gallons of water and wiped the sweat off of our bald heads with paper towels while waiting for the book to arrive. The book (above) has seen better days, but its index is still intact, so I turned to the section marked “H,” found Dr. Howard, and went to page 260. I didn’t remember the short list of Dr. Howard’s other registrations at the bottom of the page, but I was so convinced that I already had a copy of this document that I didn’t pay much attention to that. After taking a few photos, we settled back and waited for a taxi—if we’d tried to hike back in the sweltering heat, there’d be nothing left of us but a sweaty smear on the sidewalk.

In the cab, I inspected the digital images a little more thoroughly in my camera’s display window and started to think that maybe this wasn’t the same document that I already had, but we arrived back at the convention center and I put that thought on the back-burner and enjoyed the rest of WorldCon.

1909 RegOnce I got home, I pulled the image up on my computer and had a better look. Different document. The registration de Camp mentioned was indeed filed on January 8, 1910—but in Atascosa County, not Bexar—and Dr. Howard’s address is listed as Poteet. This document was filed on November 20, 1909, in Bexar County, and Dr. Howard’s address (after crossing out what would have been Holly Springs, in Arkansas) is listed as San Antonio! Plus, at the end of the page is a list of other counties in which Dr. Howard had registered: Palo Pinto (Oran), Gaines (Seminole), and Coke (Bronte). Some of the information here flies in the face of what has been presented in the past. For example, according to notes by de Camp’s partner in DVD, Jane Griffith, Dr. Howard registered at Seminole on the day that the Bexar Co. document has him registering in Coke County—I’ll take a document over someone’s notes any day of the week.

Using this document, and a couple of newspaper articles I found just before going to San Antonio, I’ve put together a more precise timeline for December 1907 to January 1910. To wit:

On December 20, 1907, I. M. Howard of Oran, Palo Pinto County, had his medical certificate recorded with the county. Shortly after doing that, he packed up his wife and almost two-year-old son and headed west. The January 3, 1908 edition of The Enterprise (edited by Hester Howard’s brother, William Vinson Ervin, in Big Spring, Texas), has this:

1908 01-03 Big Spring Enterprise cu

“Monday” would have been Dec. 30, 1907, and don’t go scrambling for a map to look up “Cran” like I did; there is a Crane, Texas, very close to Big Spring, but as soon as I showed this to Patrice he said it is “of course Oran.” Duh.

The January 24 Enterprise has an update:

1908 01-24 Big Spring Enterprise

The new San Antonio registration has Dr. Howard registering in Gaines Co. on February 3, and we know he was there until at least July 24 (see my previous post). The same document has him registering over in Coke County on September 14, 1908, and he starts recording births in Bronte at least as early as January 19, 1909. The last birth record I’ve found there with Dr. Howard attending was recorded on August 24, 1909.

I’ve theorized that after leaving Bronte the Howards visited the McClungs in Crystal City and went down the Nueces in the fall of 1909 (look here). Whether they did that then or not, we now know that they were in San Antonio sometime before November 20, 1909. Less than two months later, Dr. Howard registered in Atascosa County, with an address in Poteet. From there, things get pretty sketchy again (as seen here).

I never did get a picture of the Atascosa County registration.


While we wait for the end of this month and Howard scholar and TGR contributor Tim Arney’s meeting with Winona Morris Nation’s son John Nation in Asheville, North Carolina to review Harold Preece’s papers (along with Winona’s) here are some firsthand memories and photographs provided by John’s former significant other, Cheryl Cassidy:

Memories of  Harold & Winona

by Cheryl Cassidy

I had the deep privilege to share a room in Winona’s second story apartment, somewhere in the 80s. I am such a poor historian when it comes to dates and times. I later rented an apartment downstairs from her. I was intimately involved with her oldest son over a period of seven years, and thus was in her sphere of influence for all of that time. The time I spent living first with her, and then in an apartment below her, was at least one year, but not two. These details can be obtained through her son John, who has a fine mind that seems able to recall all the pertinent details of any event.

I have not thought about these things in any detail for some time, and as I try to organize my thoughts about it now, it seems the best approach is to simply write what comes to mind. If any of what I share is of interest to you, feel free to take what’s relevant and discard the rest. The very act of sharing these thoughts has brought deep comfort to my soul.

The first impression that comes to me is recognition of Winona’s great generosity. I had met her briefly, once, when she came east to visit family. I was a friend of the family, and have a vague recollection of an eccentric woman who smoked brown cigarettes, or whatever anyone else was smoking, with a wonderful sense of humor and a kind of “Joie de vive” that fascinated me. She was so unlike any “aunt” that I had ever known. They called her Tuffy. I must have asked about the origins of this nickname, but I can’t recall the answer. Fast forward a number of years. I arrived at her apartment in Edmond Oklahoma, not as a dinner guest bringing hostess flowers, but as a semi-permanent house guest bearing luggage! If she felt dismay at my arrival, she never let it show. I was welcomed into her home like a long lost member of the family. I was now involved with her son John She did not look upon me with suspicion, or judgment. There was no sense of being sized up as a suitable companion for her son. I was fed and settled in. If I passed muster with him, then it seemed, I passed muster with her and her home was generously offered as mine, for however long we chose to stay.

Housekeeping was not her strong suit and she was not beyond literally sweeping the dust under the rug, or leaving it piled in a corner until some later time (often weeks). Yet, when I remember the apartment, I experience only a feeling of warmth. It was a house overflowing with love and good will. That first night, over copious amounts of wine, she laughed as we regaled her with stories of our adventures and misadventures. She displayed appropriate outrage over injustices we were stinging from, dispensed sage advice, and generally behaved like a new best friend. I remember being struck by the casualness of her relationship with John, who lovingly called her “Chub,” though never in public.

Winona1There was also physical warmth to the apartment. Sun seemed to pour in from every window at once, regardless of the time of day. There was a little porch off the kitchen, enshrouded by a large tree, the type of which escapes me. It was very much like being in a tree house. We used to love to sit on the porch when storms were coming and feel the changing wind and sky. Oklahoma style storms were new to me and I never really got over the thrill of their advance. In winter, her world closed in, as Winona would close off most of the apartment to conserve heat, but the rest of the year, light prevailed. We were all on tight budgets, with John driving a bus while working on a novel, I doing temporary secretarial work and Winona living on money from her brother, and social security. Yet, it never felt like a life of poverty. In retrospect, it was one of the most “abundant” periods of my life.

Winona would often lie on her bed with the sun streaming in the window, just thinking. She called it the “spa.” She used to say she’d traveled the world in her mind and felt her experience was just as rich as if she’d actually gone…to China say…during the Ming Dynasty. Sometimes she was composing poetry while lying there. Other times, she might be revisiting images from her past. Often, she was just soaking in the impressions from bird song, warm breezes, and sunlight filtering through trees. She never expressed frustration at being disturbed from these musings, but one always had the sense that she was being drawn back to the room from a tremendous distance. It was as if she really was traveling in a far away country, from some period of immediate or distant history, integrating the most perceptive details of the senses, with the grand landscape of personal or historical events. Her work was internal. Many hours of contemplation illumined the “spa” before a gem of a poem appeared on a napkin, a scrap of paper, or a blank page from a book. The poems were everywhere.

I recall a family story, told by John’s brother Jack, of how he was traveling with his family and Winona, from Fort Worth Texas to … somewhere, when they came upon a terrible multiple car pileup. Lights flashed, sirens wailed, and the carnage was terrible to behold. Traffic crawled along at a snail’s pace, among the rescue vehicles and general mayhem of the scene. When they finally broke through the other side, Jack turned to his wife and commented, “Wow, that was a really bad wreck!” Winona, it is told, piped in from the back seat, “Oh, was there an accident?”

Never, before meeting Winona, did I understand how the richness of mind and imagination could eclipse the “real” world for individuals who were not “psychotic” but fully functioning in both the present pedestrian events of day to day living, and that deeper, more layered and nuanced place of paradox and insight known as contemplation. I realize now, in hindsight, how Harold’s understanding of this deeper place, inspired her great love and affection for him.


When I met Harold, he was already an “elderly” gentleman. His clothes were frumpy and his gait was measured. Observing only the surface of things, I wondered at the attraction, as Winona was arresting even in her later years. I believe it was the intensity of her eyes that caught one’s attention and colored the overall lasting impression of her. Yet over time, I came to see that his unwavering commitment to social justice, his belief in the goodness and endurance of the human spirit, and his sharp intellect, would be a compelling draw for a woman like Winona. I often heard him speak of, what I thought of as his “glory days,” when he was a passionate writer for some “subversive” publications (I wish I could recall which ones) fighting, with mighty words, for the end of racial prejudice and equal opportunities for all people. His commitment remained even in his later years. I can remember that living nearly at the poverty level, in subsidized housing, he would still send his $10 or $15 contribution to the causes he felt were just and important. I also recall his telling of an incident, where as an elderly gentleman he found himself walking down a dark street in some city, when a black man fell in step behind him. He spoke with some dismay of the paradox that he, who had spent a lifetime working for the end of racial hatred and inequality, should suddenly feel afraid, that this young black man was walking behind him. Our prejudices run deep. To the end of his life he was committed to the higher path, while remaining humble enough to acknowledge when the path became obscured by fallen debris. He never stopped searching until he found the way back.

Harold and Winona both had a remarkable quality of attracting friends of all ages and intellectual accomplishment. I recall a trip to Oklahoma University to hear a poetry reading. I had never been to a poetry reading in my life, and felt as though I were being included in some inner circle of great and avant-garde thinkers. There was a young couple there, whose names I regrettably cannot remember. They clearly admired and looked up to Harold and Winona. I recall the young woman referring to Harold as her “Rasputin.” I remember this, because I had no idea who Rasputin was and immediately felt myself to be in over my head. Only now, in sharing these memories, have I been moved to actually look up Rasputin. Though Harold was certainly not “religious,” in fact, I think he was an atheist, I could see that she saw him as both mystic and advisor, and held him in the highest esteem. From my perspective, the loveliest thing about Harold and Winona was that while they loved challenges of the mind and a high level of intellectual discourse, they were also quite happy to join those of us with average intelligence and simple thoughts at our level of discourse. Never did either of them make me feel in any way inadequate. They also had many friends, to whom even I felt a certain intellectual superiority. It didn’t matter. They loved people. They were interested in everyone’s perspective and could relate to all the trials and triumphs of our human condition, as our common experience. For a time, Winona had a job (I’m not sure if paid or volunteer) working with a group of mentally retarded adults. She was wonderful with them. Always kind, but never condescending. They seemed to love her and she loved them. I had the privilege of seeing her in this setting when John and I went to do a little performance with banjo and guitar. We were not particularly comfortable. It was amazing to me, seeing how naturally at ease she appeared to be in this setting. Really, she looked nearly as contented as the night of the poetry reading.

WInona4Just as Winona was not a great housekeeper, neither was she a great cook. This never deterred her from hosting dinner parties, nor did it discourage guests from attending. Harold of course, thought everything she concocted to be the best in “haute cuisine.” And really, by the time the 3rd or 4th cork had been popped, I was inclined to agree. I was no great cook myself and felt deep gratitude toward anyone who prepared a meal for me. Her one true claim to fame was her apple pie, made with golden delicious apples and more butter than I would have thought possible to consume and live to tell the tale. I helped myself to large portions of many of those pies, with eager anticipation and much smacking of lips…but I never dare to put so much butter in my own pies and so am always disappointed in the result! Here lies the difference between steadfast competence and wildly abandoned greatness…or so I suspect. In any case, the parties were always great fun. By the end of the night, wine would have insured that the great intellectuals and the solid (though rarely conventional) citizens looked across at each other with recognition that, at the heart of things, we shared many more similarities than differences and the world was a beautiful yet challenging place where we all had to pull together if we were to make it through with an honorable legacy. I loved learning that Harold’s ashes were spread on her grave. Their legacy was honorable indeed.

Another thought that pops into my mind as I remember those carefree days, is that Winona was a notorious flower thief. She did not drive. When she needed to go somewhere she walked if it was within a mile or two, or caught a ride with friends. She passed through an alley on her way to the grocery store, where flowers spilled over a picket fence, or bordered close to the road. Any flower that jumped the fence or came near the roadside was fair game. I’m sure had she been there under cover of darkness, no flower in anyone’s garden would have been safe. She got such tremendous pleasure from flowers, a legacy from her mother I believe, that I finally planted (well, if truth be known, John did the heavy digging) in the neighborhood of 50 or so tulips in her yard. She delighted in them. I have always felt it was the one gift I was able to give her that began to approach the great gift of her friendship to me. Like her friendship, they warmed the soul long after life pulled us in separate directions.

Winona had a lovely practice of lighting a candle each night. Sometimes the candle was lit for a particular person in need of a guiding light home. More often, the candle was lit for those unknown individuals who were lost in the night and needed a beacon to draw them to the safety of a lee shore, at least for a little while. Over the years, I have lost touch with this practice. Writing this brings back my awareness of the beauty in this simple act. I will light a candle now, and think of her. I hope she will be remembered for the great poet she was. I cherish my volume of If I Still Hold Earth as Dear. But I remember her most for the great human being she was. A laughing Buddha. An “awakened” being who continues, through her work, to light a steady candle that can lead us home.

While no one is expecting for Messieurs Arney and Nation to uncover the Holy Grail or the True Cross, we are not going to see a repeat of the emptiness of Al Capone’s Secret Vault as uncovered by Geraldo Rivera.  Something new will be found — of that I am certain. It may only be a handful of Howard memories or a chapter from an unfinished REH biography. But it will be something not previously seen.

 Photos courtesy of Cheryl Cassidy.
This entry filed under Harold Preece, Howard Scholarship.

“Do not look at the skull! … In life it housed the awful brain of a king of magicians! It holds still the life and fire of magic drawn from outer spaces!”

Robert E. Howard, “Red Nails”

Solomon Kane encountered no less than three of the classic pulp-fiction “lost civilizations” in Africa. One, founded by Assyrians, in the fragment “The Children of Asshur” was probably in East Central Africa, far to the south-west of Egypt – which had once been part of the Assyrian Empire. Another was Basti, which shared the practice of human sacrifices to the moon with Negari, where the innocent Marylin Taferal was held a captive until Kane rescued her. Basti may well have been an offshoot, a satellite city, of Negari’s.

The most memorable of these “lost cities” was Negari itself. It had been founded as an Atlantean colony, thousands of years before. The question immediately rises, was that Atlantis the same as the Thurian Age Atlantis which bred King Kull, and whose barbaric people were ancestors of the Cimmerians – Conan included — or did Howard imagine a different, unrelated Atlantis when he wrote the Solomon Kane yarn?

The Atlanteans and Cimmerians were white people, black-haired and blue- or grey-eyed, and they were barbarians without cities or writing. They were – in REH’s pseudo-history – the remote forebears of the Irish Gaels. But the last surviving Atlantean priest, found in a dungeon in Negari by Kane, tells of a different Atlantis. “Our cities banded the world,” he boasts, rambling in his dying mind. “We sent our colonies to all lands to subdue all savages, red, white or black, and enslave them. All over the world the brown people of Atlantis reigned supreme.”

KaneHowever, he was born many thousands of years after Atlantis sank. He may be recounting the traditional myths he’s heard. Besides, in REH’s essay, “The Hyborian Age”, Howard says only that “the barbarians” (of the pre-Hyborian, Thurian times) were the Atlanteans, the Picts, and the Lemurians. The “barbaric” Atlanteans would have been Kull’s black-haired, blue-eyed people. But there might have been civilized Atlanteans as well; the last Negarian priest’s race. Perhaps they came from elsewhere; the “nameless continent” to the west. To dominate Atlantis in the face of folk like Kull wouldn’t have been easy. The “brown people of Atlantis” – if they had ever existed anywhere but in the dying priest’s beliefs – must have been advanced indeed, as he claimed, and privy to “the secret things of land and sea and sky.”

Whence did they come at first? Maybe from the lands now known as the Americas. There might even be a link with REH’s horror story, “The Valley of the Lost.” The feuding Texan cowboy of the story, hiding from his pursuers in a cave with an evil reputation, encounters degenerate monsters of quasi-human aspect. They telepathically show him the city that stood in Lost Valley in a former, incredibly remote age, “a gigantic city of dully gleaming stone”. Its inhabitants are human, yet “of a humanity definitely different from his own.” One of their differences is in the shape of “the curious peaked skull.” More importantly, he perceives that these people are “very ancient and very evil. He saw them enact rituals that froze his blood with horror, obscenities and blasphemies beyond his understanding.”

It sounds very like the terrible things the Atlantean priest tells Kane about, the rites and sacrifices of Negari which are quite horrible enough, even though they have declined and become naïve compared with the ancient originals. If the people who conquered Atlantis and went on to found colonies in the depths of Africa (or the Thurian Age equivalent) were like those envisioned in “The Valley of the Lost,” they must have been appalling.

They may have been the reason why a large transplanted population of Kull’s Atlanteans, the savage, proto-Gaelic ones, came to the Thurian mainland. Perhaps they were escaping, not emigrating. Then they forgot or denied that humiliating exodus. It would have been consistent with their ferocious pride. Their descendants, thousands of years later, became the Cimmerians.

“We worshipped Valka and Hotah, Honen and Golgor,” the dying priest maunders. (Valka, of course, is King Kull’s god, by whom he swears frequently, and Golgor sounds like Gol-Goroth, the demon worshipped in the island of Bal-Sagoth, where Turlogh O’Brien is shipwrecked at one time.) “Many virgins, many strong youths, died on their altars. Then the sea rose and shook himself … new lands rose from the deep and Atlantis and Mu were swallowed up by the gulf … the colony cities in barbaric lands, cut off from their mother kingdom, perished … only the colony city of Negari remained as a symbol of the lost empire.”

Negari must have been protected by super-science or super-sorcery (as Arthur C. Clarke observed, when they are sufficiently advanced, they are indistinguishable) to survive the great cataclysm that wiped out the Thurian Age, and then the lesser one that came afterwards. But granting that … it could still have existed, isolated and dreaming, in the age of Conan. During the Hyborian Age, vast areas of what is now the great bulge of West Africa still lay beneath the sea, but Negari, as “The Moon of Skulls” makes clear, was situated in central Africa. Its vampire queen even uses that phrase. (But it was probably West Central Africa; it must have been within reach of the coast to be accessible to ships of Atlantis.)

It’s interesting that in “Red Nails” Conan and Valeria discover a lost city inhabited by weird, degenerate and cruel folk, originally founded by people who possessed super-science and super-sorcery. They could restore the fossilized bones of ancient dragons to life, and there was at least one weird weapon in the catacombs that seemed to fire bolts of electricity. The bizarre city stands without fellows or known history in a region which also corresponds to Central Africa.

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This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.