Archive for October, 2013

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The above grisly postcard was sent by Howard from Santa Fe, New Mexico to  Novalyne Price, postmarked June 20, 1935 with a simple handwritten message on the back:

Santa Fe, N. M.
19/6/35

Dear Novalyne;

Cordially,
Bob.

Also on the back of the postcard was a description of the front of the card:

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The postcard was sent while he was on a trip to New Mexico with Truett Vinson. It is believed that Howard had found out just before the trip that Novalyne was dating Vinson secretly behind Howard’s back. While it is impossible to say what his reason was for sending the card with just a lighthearted greeting on the back, obviously his hurt feelings played some role in prompting him to mail it to her. Perhaps Howard felt a bit like the rabbit. And, of course, there is that old idiom: “a snake in the grass,” defined as “someone who betrays you even though you have trusted them.”

Just the day before, on June 19th, Howard sent her this more benign postcard from Roswell, New Mexico.

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Dear Novalyne; Roswell.

The weather is good but the beer is lousy. Hoping you are the same.

Bob.

As above, the back of the postcard has a description of the front of the card:

Postcard Back

Interestingly, here Howard makes a contradictory statement followed by a sarcastic remark. So what is his true wish for Novalyne? To feel good or lousy? Of course, being a master of the written word, he could be trying to be humorous, but there is a tinge of bitterness.

Of course, no one knows what was really going on in Howard’s mind during the trip, but it would have been interesting to have been along for that ride. By all accounts, (based on his letters) Howard enjoyed himself. Hopefully Vinson did too. Of course, Howard was a master at masking his true feelings. The hours leading up to that fateful morning of June 11, 1936 attest to that.

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“By Saint Denis, girl,” quoth he, “you have a proper spirit, but it takes more than a pair of breeches to make a man.”

“If that other woman of whom you spoke could march and fight, so can I!” I cried.

“Nay.” He shook his head. “Black Margot of Avignon was one in a million.”

— Robert E. Howard, “Sword Woman”

Etienne Villiers, later to be Agnes de Chastillon’s comrade, was born in 1493 by my reckoning. At that time Guiscard de Clisson, who would tell Agnes of the remarkable Black Margot, was twelve, and Margot herself was in Italy – first in Milan and then in the Florence of Piero de Medici and Savonarola. Pope Innocent VIII had just died, and Rodrigo Borgia had succeeded him as Alexander VI. He would be remembered, with cause, as the vilest, most corrupt Pope in history.

In 1494, King Charles of France entered Italy by way of Piedmont on a military expedition. His forces were formidable – 25,000 men, among them 8,000 Swiss mercenaries, and he brought artillery with him. His dubious claim to Naples was the pretext; the late King Ferdinand of Naples had refused to pay feudal dues to the Papacy, and been excommunicated. Innocent III had then offered the crown of Naples to King Charles of France, who had a remote hereditary claim. The quarrel between Ferdinand and the Pope was later mended, and Innocent revoked the ban of excommunication before he died. Ferdinand also died shortly afterwards, at the beginning of 1494, and was succeeded by his son Alfonso II. The matter of Charles’s claim might have rested there, but Milanese politics arose to complicate matters. Alfonso challenged Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, since Alfonso also had a claim to rule that city, so Ludovico decided to remove the threat by urging Charles of France to conquer Naples. Certain fellow schemers also desired the French invasion; Charles’s favorite courtier, Etienne de Vesc, and the Cardinal Guiliano della Rovere, who didn’t like the Borgia Pope and hoped the French campaign would result in his overthrow, or at least weaken him. Charles marched on Pisa, and arrived before Florence in November.

WEB_CHEMIN_421_1253277720Pierre de Bayard, twenty-one years old, went with the French forces. Margot of Avignon, nineteen, heard of their advance and enthusiastically joined them, meeting them outside Florence. Like Dark Agnes after her, Margot had to fight several men in order to be taken seriously, and for that matter avoid rape. Bayard heard about the matter, even witnessed one such event, and took Margot’s part. He was chivalrous, but conventionally so, and thus always felt quite baffled by Margot. But he treated her as a comrade-in-arms.

We can suppose that a far less gallant person than Bayard was also with the French army – Dark Agnes de la Fere’s father, the illegitimate child of a peasant woman and the Duc de Chastillon, as Agnes tells Etienne in “Sword Woman”, who “ever used the name, and his daughters after him.” Those daughters would not be born until six and ten years later, after de Chastillon had become “marked with scars … in the service of greedy kings and avaricious dukes” and “looted and murdered and raped as a Free Companion”. Perhaps de Chastillon was even one of the men who attempted to rape Black Margot, and one or more of his scars came from her, as she forcibly taught him to have better manners … with her, at least. No doubt he hated her afterwards and would have done her an ill turn at any chance that offered.

He never mentioned her in the village where he ended his days as a married man. It would have hurt his pride. Agnes was evidently hearing about her for the first time when Guiscard de Clisson spoke of Margot so admiringly.

On their way to Naples, the French easily crushed the small armies the Pope and the Neapolitans were able to send against them. They also responded with bloody massacre in any town that resisted them. Their savagery appalled the Italians, who were used to small wars conducted by contract. Bodies of businesslike condottiera carried them out, seeking to take prisoners for ransom and minimize bloodshed, since an enemy this year might well be their employer next time. The French invaders made war in a very different fashion.

With Charles’s army outside their walls, the terrified Florentines exiled their Duke, Piero de Medici (known thereafter as “the Unfortunate”) and surrendered on terms. Under Bernardo Rucellai and other prominent Florentines, they formed a republic. They suffered plunder but not wholesale slaughter, though the mercenaries and other soldiers in their city were brutal whenever it suited them. 1494 went out and 1495 came in. The French army reached Naples, which yielded in February without one pitched battle or even a siege. The French remained there for three months, and systematically plundered the city. The usual assaults and outrages occurred. During those three months, Margot filled her pockets as never before, and enjoyed luck at dice besides.

While Naples was being rifled, the other Italian states realized that the French would not be content with that city. They were all staring foreign conquest in the face. The Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor (who also ruled Spain) and Venice, formed the so-called Holy League in March. Milan also joined it. Charles saw that this opposition was too powerful for his army to trounce, and so he retreated by way of Rome. Even though pursued by their opponents, the French halted long enough to plunder that city too. Pope Alexander had left in a hurry, abandoning Rome to the invaders.

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

Hanging Out at the Robert E. Howard Foundation Dealer’s Table

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 Out and About in San Antonio

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Photos courtesy of John Bullard, Rusty Burke, Patrice Louinet, Dennis McHaney, Rob Roehm, Jeff Shanks, Keith West and probably one or two other folks.

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“You are all woman; yet your attire strangely becomes you. A pistol in your girdle, too. You remind me of a woman I once knew. She marched and fought like a man, and died of a pistol ball on the field of battle. She was dark where you are fair, but there is something similar in the set of your chin, in your carriage – nay, I know not.”

— Robert E. Howard, “Sword Woman”

So the mercenary captain Guiscard de Clisson says to Agnes de Chastillon at their first meeting. We receive little more information about the woman to whom he refers, except her name and birthplace – Black Margot of Avignon. De Clisson speaks of her with high admiration.

Coming from a redoubtable leader of Free Companies that would mean something. We can suppose that Black Margot was indeed someone out of the common. Her name and Agnes’ seem like a sort of fissioning of the historical Scots lady, Black Agnes Randolph, who held Dunbar Castle against English attack throughout the first half of 1338. Her husband was away with the Scottish army, and although the English commander, the Earl of Salisbury, was a fine soldier, he couldn’t get anywhere against Agnes. Her spirit and determination inspired the castle garrison and kept it fighting. With siege catapults constantly pounding the ramparts, Agnes and her ladies, in their finest gowns, strolled scornfully along the battlements as though promenading to church, and when dust and grit from the bombardment dirtied them, they flicked it away with their handkerchiefs to taunt the English. Salisbury is credited with having said ruefully,

“Came I early, came I late,
I found Agnes at the gate.”

During the siege, the English captured – it’s said – Agnes’ brother, the Earl of Moray, and brought him before the castle with a rope around his neck. They threatened to hang him if Agnes did not surrender. She answered, “Hang him, then, and I’ll inherit the earldom.” If she actually said that, it was merely a smartass way of calling their bluff, as she wasn’t next in line for the earldom anyway. Her brother may have been irked by her lack of sweet sisterly anguish, but at least he survived. The English didn’t carry out their threat.

Black Margot became a legend, and I’ve little doubt that Robert E. Howard had read about her.

BlackThe story in which Margot of Avignon is mentioned, “Sword Woman,” takes place in 1521 from the internal evidence. The Emperor is “gathering his accursed Lanzknechts to sweep de Lautrec out of Milan,” says de Clisson to Agnes. Black Margot probably died a generation before that. De Clisson may have met her as a lad just beginning his martial career, and been forty when he saw Agnes at the Tavern of the Red Boar. Then 1475 would be a believable working date for Margot’s birth.

Two years earlier, a boy called Pierre Terrail de Bayard had been born. He would go down in the legends of romance as the Chevalier Bayard, “without fear and without reproach”. Margot would encounter him and fight in some of the same major battles as he.

Her birthplace, anyhow, was definitely Avignon. REH informs us so. This city of south-western France had been the capital of the exiled Popes between 1309 and 1377, a time sardonically called the “Babylonian captivity” of the papacy. Avignon was still a papal possession, governed by papal legates, down to the late eighteenth century when the French Revolution began.

The Italians of the papal court had consistently despised the locale. Petrarch, in the 14th century, described it as a place where the winter mistral blew bitterly, and “a sewer where all the muck of the universe collects”. Perhaps he was referring to moral muck. While the Popes lived there, criminals and rebels from other territories found sure asylum, plague often broke out, and Avignon abounded in grog-shops and whorehouses. The papal legates (who were governing at the time of Margot’s birth) seem to have made few social improvements.

Avignon, though, was more than a place the Popes had once called home and where the mistral wind drove people mad. A school of painting influenced by Flemish art flourished at Avignon in the 15th century, when Black Margot was born. Walls built by the Popes surrounded the town, with ramparts, projecting turrets and formidable gates. The palace of the popes with its eight strong towers rose above the city on its rocky vantage. The famous bridge of Avignon crossed the Rhone in Margot’s day, as it had since Saint Benezet and his followers had thrown its arches across the river three hundred years before her birth; the first attempt to succeed in the teeth of the swift, treacherous river currents. The folk song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon” celebrates the structure. Avignon, too, lies about twenty-five miles north of Arles, with its honey-colored stone, Roman ruins (the great aqueduct and theatre) and its important merchant port. The Rhone delta embraces the eerie, romantic wilderness of the Camargue, with its trackless marshes and lagoons, home to vast flocks of flamingoes, egrets and other birds, wild white horses and feral cattle.

f520a535d9cfb10930cca05568355bd8It’s pretty certain that Margot would have been a younger contemporary of at least one REH character – de Montour of Normandy, who was attacked by a werewolf “In the Forest of Villefere” and appeared on the west coast of Africa many years later, at the bizarre castle of Dom Vincente da Lusto, still under a demonic curse. The errand that brought de Montour to the unlucky forest and his meeting with Carolus le Loup (a forebear of the bandit Le Loup in “Red Shadows”?) was, as he said himself, to warn the Duke of Burgundy about a treaty the King of France had made with the English. That would have been the Treaty of Picquigny, in 1475, when Margot was born. This blogger supposes that de Montour was then twenty-three, and concerned to warn Charles the Bold because he was the Duke’s illegitimate half-brother – one among many.

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This is the third 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:

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Weird Tales (July 1936)
Girasol Collectables Inc. has just published the first replica (which sports a great Brundage cover) of the three issue run of Weird Tales containing the three part serial of “Red Nails,” the last Conan story Howard wrote. Part 1 appeared in the July 1936 issue, Part 2 in the August-September 1936 issue and Part 3 in the October 1936 issue. The remaining two issues will be published by Girasol in the very near future.

Conan: “Red Nails” Original Art Archives
Speaking of “Red Nails,” some forty years after its original publication, Genesis West has brought the classic 59-page Conan tale adapted by Roy Thomas and Barry (Windsor) Smith to an oversized hardback book. Presented in the size of the original art, this high-line edition faithfully captures the appearance of the actual pages as drawn in 1973. The book is filled with interviews, commentaries and biographies. Hardcover, 14″ x19,” 136 pages, the volume is now out and you can order the book here.

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Conan the Phenomenon
This comprehensive volume has just been republished in softcover by Dark Horse. Originally published in 2007 in a hardcover edition, this groundbreaking volume traces the Cimmerian’s career from 1932 to the present, and features cover art by Frank Frazetta, whose  definitive–and often imitated–Conan artwork set the standard for dynamic fantasy artwork. Roy Thomas, with Barry Smith and John Buscema used the character to push the boundaries of comic-book adventure are also featured. The book includes a section on how Arnold Schwarzenegger launched his amazing film career portraying Conan. Now, with the character’s popularity renewed thanks to the award-winning comics series by Kurt Busiek, Timothy Truman, Cary Nord, and Dave Stewart, all of these eras of Conan are examined under one cover in this lavishly illustrated book. Conan historian Paul Sammon looks at all the stages of the character’s development, with commentary and archival material from the most integral players in that history, in this must-have book for anyone who’s followed the barbarian through any of his incarnations.

SONY DSCThe Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage
Surprisingly, this is the first book devoted to the art of Margaret Brundage. This talented artist forever changed the look of fantasy, science-fiction, and horror with her alluring sensationalistic covers for the legendary pulp magazine, Weird Tales. She was the first cover artist of the pulp era to paint Conan. Brundage was years ahead of her time – her provocative paintings featuring semi-nude young women bearing whips, became a huge scandal in the 1930s, with many newsstands ripping off the covers before selling the magazines. The authors Stephen D. Korshak and J. David Spurlock showcase her artwork and Rowena, Robert Weinberg, and other pay homage to her with essays. There are three editions from a softcover version to a regular hardcover to a limited, slip-cased hardcover edition. It is a big book — 9″ x 12″ — lavishly illustrated in full-color. Published by Vanguard Productions.

Coming Soon:

Western Tales

Western Tales
The REH Foundation Press is now taking pre-orders for the collection of Howard’s western yarns. The humorous westerns will be out in the near future in a two volume set. Also on the horizon are the three remaining boxing books of the four volume collection of Howard’s fistic fiction. Volume One is still available. Additionally, the softcover edition of Mark Finn’s Howard biography, Blood and Thunder can be ordered from the Foundation Press’ Lulu.com Storefront.

Fight Stories  (December 1931)
Due out soon from Adventure House is a pulp replica of the December 1931 issue of Fight Stories featuring Robert E. Howard’s Sailor Steve Costigan in “Circus Fists.” Also available from Adventure house is a replica of the May 1934 issue of Jack Dempsey’s Fight Magazine that includes another Costigan tale, “The Slugger’s Game.”

WeirdTalesCoverGallery1Weird Tales – Pulp Cover Gallery
Coming on October 31st, just in time for Halloween, is a collection of all the Weird Tales covers from Girasol Collectables Inc. The volume has all 279 covers from the original run of the magazine from 1923 to 1954, plus the variant cover of #1. The cover images are the full magazine plus the overhang edges, nothing has been cropped out. All have been retouched to maximize the viewing experience. The collection is a mix of full page scans, size as to the original pulps, as well as some 4 per page and 6 per page. The exterior is made from bonded leather, with a small color cover inset on the front of an issue-of-interest from the interior. There is a brief introduction about the cover art and artists, as well as a title checklist with issue number, date, and cover artist if known. Note this is not a history of the Unique Magazine, but a collection of the covers.

EPSON MFP imageNegari, black queen of a former Atlantean colony deep in sixteenth-century Africa, is a wildly contradictory figure. I believe it’s not merely because she features in a story that appears to have been written in haste for the 1930s pulp market. A dying priest, described by himself as the last Atlantean, is biased in his contempt for her, and his bias is partly racial. (He belongs to an ancient, brown-skinned people whose civilization was among the very first, if not the first, and he’s equally scornful of black and white “savages.”) It’s also social. “Slave and the daughter of a slave!” he snarls.

He has valid personal reasons for loathing her as well. Nakari kept him shackled in a dungeon and tortured him for years. But going by his record, he deserved his fate. He’d sacrificed human victims and presided over monstrous rites before Nakari overthrew him.

The question arises straight away: how was she able to? These priests knew the ancient secrets and sorceries of Atlantis, even though they had become a captive sacred clan in a city ruled by barbaric squatters. Nevertheless – and the last of them says it without equivocation – “Alone of all the black Negari she feared us not, and she not only overthrew the king and set herself on the throne, but she dominated the priests – the black satellites and the few brown masters who were left. All these last, save me, died beneath the daggers of her assassins or on her racks. She alone of all the myriad black thousands who have lived and died between these walls guessed at the hidden passages and subterranean corridors, secrets which we of the priestcraft had guarded jealously from the people for a thousand years.”

Quite an achievement for a slave and daughter of a slave. The priest is contemptuous of the black people of the city, describing them viciously as “apes” and “fools” because they had lived in the ancient city for centuries and never discovered its inner secrets. It was Atlantean, though, and they were African tribesmen. Moreover, they had been infected with the madness that emanated from the ancient wizard’s skull they worshipped. Newton and Galileo, given an opportunity, would hardly have been able to fathom how an electric light bulb worked, either.

Nakari may have been more than she seemed, and more than she allowed people to know. By reputation she was a “vampire queen.” Solomon Kane describes her as such when he explains, at the outpost of her realm, that he has come seeking her. Sharing his memories with his townsfolk in Devon, he says in “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming”:

And I have known a deathless queen in a city old as Death;
Where towering pyramids of skulls her glory witnesseth.
Her kiss was like an adder’s fang, with the sweetness Lilith had,
And her red-eyed vassals howled for blood in that City of the Mad.

Deathless and a vampire. Even though “struck with admiration for her lithe beauty” Kane felt “a shudder of repulsion, for her eyes gleamed with vibrant and magnetic evil, older than the world. ” Looking upon her, he compares her to Lilith. However, in other moments, she seems to Kane like “a spoiled, petulant child engaged in a game of make-believe and using for her sport a toy discarded by her elders.”

Perhaps significantly, in that paradigm of all vampire novels, Dracula, the fiendish Count is described by Abraham van Helsing as possessing “a great child-mind. ”

AkivashaThe best known deathless female vampire in REH’s stories is Akivasha. She was ten thousand years undead when Conan encountered her below a Stygian pyramid in The Hour of the  Dragon. She, however, could not have been identical with Nakari. She belonged to “an ancient Stygian noble family” and had “ivory skin.” But she tempts Conan with the words, “Give me of your blood to renew my youth and perpetuate my everlasting life! I will make you, too, immortal! I will teach you the wisdom of all the ages, all the secrets that have lasted out the eons in the blackness beneath these dark temples. I will make you king of that shadowy horde which revel among the tombs of the ancients … I am weary of priests and magicians, and captive girls dragged screaming through the portals of death. I desire a man.”

Suppose Nakari, a Kushite slave, had been one of those “captive girls”, and then one of the shadowy horde of the undead? Most would have been destroyed when the cataclysm came, and great areas of West Africa were hurled up from beneath the waves of the ocean. Nakari might have been among those who survived, and the Atlantean colony deep in Africa, protected by an ancient super-science, must have survived also, if it still existed in Elizabethan times.

Nakari knew where to find it. She knew some of the “secrets that … lasted out the eons” which Conan had rejected. She found human prey to sustain her on her journey. She reached the city that would become known as Negari. She passed as one of the African slaves who did the menial work. The rulers never knew what a serpent had come among them. “There were more of these slaves than there were masters. And they increased while the brown people dwindled. ”

This post isn’t the place to examine the racial attitudes embedded in the story “The Moon of Skulls.” They are repellent and worth examining – but here I’ll simply suggest that Nakari, immortal, superhuman and subhuman at the same time, was behind the revolt which overthrew the brown-skinned Atlanteans in favor of their black slaves . She apparently had a partner, described in “The Moon of Skulls,” Chapter V, as “the last great wizard of Atlantean Negari. A brown renegade … who conspired against his own people and aided the revolt … ”

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Pre-Con Bus Trip to Cross Plains

Photos by Barbara Baum

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