Archive for August, 2015



1. Bats are mammals of the order Chiroptera whose forelimbs form webbed wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight.

[origin: 1580; probably alteration of Middle English bakke, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Swedish nattbakka bat]


The dusk was on the mountain
And the stars were dim and frail
When the bats came flying, flying
From the river and the vale
To wheel against the twilight
And sing their witchy tale.

“We were kings of eld!” they chanted,
“Rulers of a world enchanted;
“Every nation of creation
“Owned our lordship over men.
“Diadems of power crowned us,
“Then rose Solomon to confound us,
“Flung his web of magic round us,
“In the forms of beasts he bound us,
“So our rule was broken then.”

[from “Song of the Bats“; to read the complete poem see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 147 and Always Comes Evening, p. 38]

This entry filed under Howard's Poetry, Word of the Week.


This past weekend a hoard of HPL fans gathered in Providence to mark the 125th anniversary of the birth of the Old Gent. Among the masses were representatives of the Robert E. Howard Foundation who were there to enlighten and separate conventioneers from their pazoors with some first rate REHF Press volumes. Here are some photos from the event.


The Howard A Team arrives (Rusty Burke, Mark Finn and Jeff Shanks).


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Setting up the Foundation table in the dealers’ room.



The REHF table open for business with the highly motivated sales team ready to greet customers.


Delears' room

The view of the dealers’ room from the Foundation’s table.


Jeff makes a new friend.

Jeff makes a new friend.



The Two-Gun Bob Rides Again! panel.



Panelists (left to right) Jeff Shanks, Rusty Burke, Scott Connors, Mark Finn and Rick Lai.



S. T. Joshi chatting with Jeff Shanks at the Foundation’s table.



Mark spinning a tall tale at the Foundation table.



Howard Heads enjoying the guest reception.



The gang enjoying some adult beverages al fresco in Providence (Jeff Shanks, Rusty Burke, Alex Gladwin, Dan Look, Laura Brown and Scott Connors).



Howard fan Scott Valeri with legendary author Ramsey Campbell and his wife Jenny.



The party is over. All that is left is for Mark to turn out the lights.

Photos by Jeff Shanks, Mark Finn, Scott Valeri, et al.



1. a type of animal (such as a chimpanzee or gorilla) that is closely related to monkeys and humans and that is covered in hair and has no tail or a very short tail

[origin: before 12th century; Middle English, from Old English apa; akin to Old High German affo ape


Where the jungle lies dank, exuding
The vapory swampland musk
Lurk the old ape-gods brooding
In the dim, shade-haunted dusk.

They dream through the jungle gloaming
Of the days of the claw and tooth,
When the whole world knew their roaming,
When the world was strange with youth.
When the wind sighs over the meadows
Its haunting melody brings
A tale through the jungle shadows
Of an age when the gods were kings.

[from “When the Gods Were Kings“; to read the complete poem see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 314; Night Images, p. 90; Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 291]

Art by Theodore Morde (“Lost City of Ancient America’s Monkey God”)
This entry filed under Howard's Poetry, Word of the Week.


I liked your story in the current Weird Tales very much indeed; it had that smooth beauty of narration and sense of remote antiquity that characterizes all your work; poetic prose in the finest sense. And the illustration was splendid. I hope Wright will let you do a lot of illustrating for Weird Tales, for other stories as well as your own. I’ll certainly be glad to see your Zothique series collected in book form.

— REH to Clark Ashton Smith, circa January 1934

The 1930s “big three” of the Weird Tales authors’ line-up are well known. Robert E. Howard and Lovecraft wrote lengthy and opinionated letters to each other for years. Each obviously admired the other’s writing talent and genuine artistry.

Both, however, admired Clark Ashton Smith’s work just as much, although they never met. As Howard was a Texan through and through, and Lovecraft identified strongly with his beloved New England, Smith’s milieu was California. He was born there, in Long Valley, with the kind of ancestry most fantasy writers can only dream of having. He descended from Norman-French counts and barons, and one of his forebears was beheaded for his part in the Gunpowder plot.

Born early in 1893, Smith was thus thirteen years older than REH. He grew up in the small town of Auburn, seat of Placer County, a scene of rich gold strikes in the days of the rushes. Violet Nelson Heyer, a friend of the Smith family, described his father Timeus as “dark and reticent” and his mother Fanny as “a happy, light-hearted soul … of beautiful spirit and intense dedication to her family.” Timeus had travelled the world as a young man, but then settled in Auburn and remained there. Fanny was descended from French Huguenots, the Gaillards, who came to the New World in the 1630s. By her generation the name had been Anglicized to Gaylord.

Smith never attended high school or college. He began his education, in his own words, at “the little red schoolhouse of the precinct.” His final five years of grammar school were at Long Valley, and after that he educated himself, partly by reading Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary from first page to last – and, it seems, retaining nearly all of it, including the most exotic words, in his astonishing memory. He also read Encyclopedia Britannica (the legendary 11th edition) completely through at least twice, and among the fiction he read and loved early were Robinson Crusoe, Vathek, The Arabian Nights, and Gulliver’s Travels. At thirteen he discovered the work of Edgar Allen Poe, prose and poetry, and fell in love with Poe’s darkling genius. It was said of Smith’s writing later that “Nobody since Poe has so loved a well-rotted corpse.”

STcoverIn 1911, aged eighteen, Smith wrote to the poet George Sterling, a leading light of the California literary and artistic community. Sterling invited Smith to Carmel, an invitation he was not able to accept until mid-1912, when he spent a month in a circle that included Jack London and Ambrose Bierce. (Though he never did meet Bierce.) Sterling introduced Smith to the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, and on publishing his first book of poetry, The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912), Smith was hailed by critics as a prodigy, even described as “the Keats of the Pacific” and “boy genius of the Sierras” in front page stories. Company like that, and a reception like that, must have been intoxicating to a man who had yet to reach twenty.

Smith, then shy and awkward, backed away from that early fame. Along with being lionized, he had received some condemnation and abuse from the conventional, who described his work as “ghoulish.” He suffered from depression, and seems to have contracted tuberculosis, though exactly when is uncertain. Or he may merely have feared that he had it.

He produced little poetry over the next few years. Odes and Sonnets, which saw publication in 1918, contained only fifteen poems, but the Book Club of California printed it and George Sterling wrote an introduction in which he proclaimed fiercely, “ … to our everlasting shame, he is entirely neglected and almost completely unknown.”

Ebony and Crystal appeared in 1922, and Sandalwood in 1925. It contained Smith’s best-known work of poetry, “The Hashish-Eater” which H.P. Lovecraft thought splendid, calling it “the greatest imaginative orgy in English literature.” Robert E. Howard was also greatly impressed by Smith’s work. In July of 1933 he wrote Smith a letter which began:

I can hardly find words to express the pleasure, I might even say ecstasy with which I have read, and reread your magnificent “Ebony and Crystal.” Every line in it is a gem. I could dip into the pages and pick at random, anywhere in the book, images of clarity and depth unsurpassed. I haven’t the words to express what I feel, my vocabulary being disgustingly small. But so many of your images stir feeling of such unusual depth and intensity, and bring back half-forgotten instincts and emotions with such crystal clearness.

Among the phrases which struck him with particular force was the line, “The pines are ebony.” Howard had always been aware of the intense darkness of the piney woods region, a grimly oppressive ambience which he used in his southern regional horror stories, notably “Pigeons From Hell.” He was certainly being too modest when he described his vocabulary as “disgustingly small,” but then, compared with Smith’s, everybody’s is.

The fantastic fiction for which Smith is now best remembered (though like REH, this blogger is an avid fan of his poetry) was chiefly written in the dozen years between 1925 and 1937. His parents were always poor, and like many a writer, Smith had lived by a variety of odd jobs, such as fruit picking, wood cutting, and digging. He hated working for other people, but the hard labor he did appears to have been healthy for him. His physical condition improved. His parents were ailing, and the stock market crashed massively in 1929. His need to make a living and support his father and mother evidently spurred him to produce a considerable output of the fiction that suited him best – the weird and fantastic kind. Many of his stories are masterpieces of macabre and ironic horror set against fabulously inventive backgrounds.

His first published weird story was “The Abominations of Yondo.” The narrator has been driven into a ghastly wasteland by “the cruel and cynical inquisitors of Ong.” Smith would feature corrupt, cruel, false or merely ineffectual and pompous authorities of orthodox religion in numerous stories after that. Morghi in “The Door to Saturn” was one, the hypocritical temple priests in “The Theft of Thirty-Nine Girdles” another group. (Their temple “virgins” were actually harlots, like the titular “Virgins” who wait upon the Prophet Incarnate in Heinlein’s “If This Goes On –”).

With regard to that sort of theme, it can be remarked that while Smith’s stories were every bit as macabre and horrifying as Lovecraft’s, his protagonists often have a strong interest in the opposite sex which Lovecraft’s lacked – sometimes completely normal, sometimes perverse and outrageous, even by current standards. The sorcerers Mmatmuor and Sodosma in “The Empire of the Necromancers” raise royal corpses in a devastated palace to serve them; including empresses “they took for their lemans and made to serve their necrophilic lust.” In Tasuun, noble funerals are celebrated with orgies around the bier that Tiberius would have raised his eyebrows to behold, and Averoigne is haunted by succubi “whose kisses are a diabolic delight that consumes the flesh of men with the fierceness of hell-fire.”

CASee8ba5ca0e75155b7e882903edba3eMore attractively, in “The Holiness of Azedarac,” a young medieval monk named Ambrose is hurled seven hundred years into the past (his past, that is) by a sorcerer’s potion, and meets a comely enchantress who finds him attractive. “Still smiling, she fixed her amber eyes upon him, with a languid flame in their depths — a flame that seemed to brighten as the dusk grew stronger.” Lucky Ambrose. When he expresses awkward doubts about the propriety of the situation, and mentions his archbishop, she reminds him that it will be six hundred and fifty years before the archbishop is even born, and when Ambrose returns to his own day, anything that has happened between them will have happened seven hundred years ago, “which should be long enough to procure the remission of any sin, no matter how often repeated.” Ambrose, not surprisingly, yields to this “irrefutable and feminine reasoning.”

Despite his name, you won’t find that sort of writing in H.P. Lovecraft.

It was through Howard’s large and legendary correspondence with Lovecraft that he came to write a number of letters to Smith – who had the good taste to admire Howard’s writing, an attitude that was mutual. They corresponded for only three years, from 1933 to the time of Howard’s death. In a letter of October 1933, REH thanked Smith for “the kind things you said about my recent yarns” and a “magnificent drawing” of a reptile being in which, Howard said, “the suggestion of inhuman evil is caught so admirably … I find myself handling it gingerly, half expecting it to come to life.” In the same letter he informed Smith that Farnsworth Wright had three Conan stories which were yet to be published, “Iron Shadows in the Moon,” “Rogues in the House,” and “Queen of the Black Coast.” Smith, a superb poet of the macabre and horrific himself, had expressed admiration for Howard’s “Song of a Mad Minstrel,” and Howard thought Smith’s “The Hashish Eater, or, The Apocalypse of Evil” magnificent. “I will not seek to express my appreciation of ‘The Hashish Eater’,” he wrote. “I lack the words. I have read it many times already; I hope to read it many more …”

One of Howard’s letters to Smith (December 14th, 1933) contains the famous and often quoted passage about his creation of Conan the Cimmerian.

I know that for months I had been absolutely barren of ideas, completely unable to work up anything sellable. Then the man Conan seemed suddenly to grow up in my mind without much labor on my part and immediately a stream of stories flowed off my pen or rather, off my typewriter almost without effort on my part. I did not seem to be creating, but rather relating events that had occurred. Episode crowded on episode so fast that I could scarcely keep up with them. For weeks I did nothing but write of the adventures of Conan. The character took complete possession of my mind and crowded out everything else in the way of story writing. When I deliberately tried to write something else, I couldn’t do it. I do not attempt to explain this by esoteric or occult means, but the facts remain. I still write of Conan more powerfully and with more understanding than any of my other characters. But the time will probably come when I will suddenly find myself unable to write convincingly of him at all. That has happened in the past with nearly all my rather numerous characters; suddenly I would find myself out of contact with the conception, as if the man himself had been standing at my shoulder directing my efforts, and had suddenly turned and gone away, leaving me to search for another character.

One character – or being – that Smith created for his “Hyperborean” cycle of stories, was borrowed and modified by Lovecraft, then incorporated into his “Cthulhu Mythos.” But as Deuce Richardson has pointed out in a detailed analysis, it was REH who really took the concept of this being and ran with it like a quarterback going for a touchdown. This was the toadlike horror Tsathoggua.

In Smith’s stories, like “The Seven Geases,” “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros,” “The Testament of Athammaus” and “The Door to Saturn,” Tsathoggua was somewhat comic and grotesque. In “The Seven Geases” the savage sorcerer Ezdagor says, “You shall know Tsathoggua by his great girth and his batlike furriness and the look of a sleepy black toad which he has eternally.” Later in the same story the main character encounters “the formless bulking of a couchant mass” which “put forth with infinite slothfulness a huge and toad-shaped head.” Master thief Satampra Zeiros, in the story that carries his name, invades a deserted temple of Tsathoggua. It contains an image of the god which depicts him (it?) as squat and pot-bellied, with the head of a monstrous toad but a body which suggests a combination of bat and sloth, coated in short fur. The tip of a queer tongue protrudes from Tsathoggua’s fat mouth. Satampra Zeiros concludes, “In truth he was not a comely or personable sort of god.”

tsathoggua_by_mrzarono-d548t6bLovecraft made use of Tsathoggua, though in his hands the being became far more exclusively toadlike and the aspects of bat and sloth were discarded. REH did likewise, and his Tsathoggua – along with the god’s spawn – are characterized by cruelty, an evident urge to procreate with just about anything that moves, and a good deal more energetic activity than the Old One Smith created. Now Deuce Richardson has written with more detail and perception in this area than anybody else I know, and I’m citing his scholarship here. Tsathoggua and/or his offspring appear in a number of Conan stories, like “Xuthal of the Dusk,” “Beyond the Black River” “The Scarlet Citadel” and “A Witch Shall Be Born.” In Smith’s “Testament of Athammaus,” the outlaw Knygathin Zhaum is specifically said to be related to Tsathoggua on his mother’s side – only partly human – and his head and body can unite again after decapitation. The wizard Tsotha-lanti in Howard’s “Scarlet Citadel” has that same ability. The relationship between the names Tsotha and Tsathoggua is not one that has to be labored too hard. Then there is the Pictish wizard Zogar Sag in “Beyond the Black River.” Like Tsotha-lanti, he has non-human paternity, and his name only needs to be pronounced with a bit of a lisp – “Tsogar Thag” – for its derivation to become evident. A demon which attacks Conan late in the yarn announces before striking that it is Zogar Sag’s half-brother, out of a fire demon from a far realm. (Yes, they both claim to be children of an ancient deity named Jhebbal Sag, but as Deuce has ably demonstrated, “Jhebbal Sag” is the Pictish name for the Old One Tsathoggua.) REH’s version of Tsathoggua will couple with anything that moves, indeed, and leaves his wicked offspring hither and yon.

REH hugely admired Smith’s ability to write tales of sheerest horror. And we all know from stories like “The Thing on the Roof” and “The Black Stone” that he was no slouch in that area himself. One of his favorite tales of Smith’s was “The Return of the Sorcerer.” In his letter of October 1933 he wrote:

I envy you your knack of making the fantastic seem real.” (It’s Robert E. Howard saying this, do not forget!) “I particularly remember your remarkable ‘Return of the Sorcerer’ in Strange Tales. That was no story for one with weak nerves. The horror you evoked was almost unbearable. I have read and written weird stuff for more years than I like to remember, and it takes a regular literary earthquake to touch my callous soul. But it is the honest truth that my hair stood up when I read that story. Poe never wrote anything that congealed my blood like that did. I wrote the editor to that effect.

RSHwg+cp-LI agree about “The Return of the Sorcerer.” It’s a favorite horror tale of mine also. Incidentally, in that yarn John Carnby has in his possession a “Necronomicon” in the original Arabic, when (as REH made clear in “The Thing on the Roof”) even the Greek translation was almost impossible to find by the twentieth century. Carnby and his brother must indeed have been potent sorcerers to have obtained an Arabic copy.

REH was fully justified in his admiration for Smith’s work. But he underrated himself sorely when he wrote that he was gratified by Smith’s interest in “my junk.” Time has proved that Howard did not write “junk.” In fact he’s more widely known that Clark Ashton Smith today, a cult figure with his work reprinted again and again, taken seriously, turned into movies, the subject of wide scholarship, websites (like this one) and numerous articles. All deservedly — and Smith’s work, at least, is online at The Eldritch Dark website.

Art by Bryan “Zarono” Reagan



1. one of a class of lustful rural gods, represented as a man with a goat’s horns, ears, legs, and tail; a figure in Roman mythology similar to but gentler than the satyr

[origin: Middle English, Old French faune Latin faunus


“Gold morn’s laughing o’er the ocean, dawn’s awhisper
on the sea!
“And a silver brook is brawling, with its tiny cat’ract
“From the woodlands Pan is calling, come away, with me!
“Come away! Come away! Where the wood nymphs
laugh at play!
“There are trails through sapphire meadows, night times
soft with laughing shadows,
“Emerald isles in topaz oceans where the mermaids
flash in spray!
“Come away! Pan is prancing! Come away! The fauns are
“And it’s my good time I’m wasting as I pause to sing this
“Come to the woodlands, away and away!”

You were the wind’s song, (starlight in your hair!)
I harkened to your singing, with wonder all a-stare.
Then to my forge I whirled and I gripped a mighty sledge
And I smashed the mighty anvil and flung it to the hedge.
I whirled on high the hammer and I hurled in the rill,
And the bellows and the forge I tumbled down the hill.
In the gold of the morning, my soul soared free,
And I laughed like a giant, and you laughed with me.
* * * * * * *
And your laughter was a chime, was the ripple of the rill,
As through the golden morning, we strode down the hill.
Your lyre was a breath from the far, far seas!
(Ah, your hair in the sunlight as it floated in the breeze!)
On my bow-legs I followed, wonder in my eyes,
All a-gape with wonder at your songs and your lies,
Tales of sea and city, and far, strange lands,
(Music of the gods from your slim, strong hands.)
Poems at your finger tips, jests on all you saw,
And each jest I greeted with uproarious guffaw.
As through the sapphire woodland we strode to meet
the dawn
On the roads o’ morning like a satyr and a faun.
* * * * * * *
The white roads o’ morning, the age’s golden truth.
We walked in green Arcady when the world was wild
with youth.

[from “Arcadian Days“; to read the complete poem see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 256 and The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, Vol. 1, pp 107]

Painting by Balaskas
This entry filed under Howard's Poetry, Word of the Week.


TGR contributor Jeffrey Shanks has co-edited a new collection of essays on Weird Tales titled The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales. The book is being published by Rowman & Littlefield and is due out in October.  His co-editor is Howard scholar Justin Everett.  Shanks has a day job as an archaeologist and is very active in popular culture studies, currently serving  co-chair of the Pulp Studies area of the Popular Culture Association. Of course, he is well known to Howard fans has the author of a number of articles and essays on Two-Gun Bob.  Those efforts have garnered him the REH Foundation Award for Best Print Essay three years in a row. Shanks is one of the founders of Skelos Press, publisher Zombies from the Pulps! and The Hyborian Age – Facsimile Edition. He has taken out time from his busy schedule to answer some questions about the upcoming The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales.

TGR:  I know you and Justin Everett are co-editors of the book. When the two of you were putting this volume together, what were some of the goals you hoped the book to achieve?

Shanks:  Well, Justin and I are co-chairs for the Pulp Studies Area of the Popular Culture Association (PCA) and I began to realize that a large percentage of the papers being given at the annual conferences were on Howard, Lovecraft, and the other writers for Weird Tales. I knew that all of this outstanding research needed to get out there, but since venues for publishing academic work of this kind are somewhat limited I decided that we should look at putting a collected volume together.

At the same time, I wanted to include some of the great scholarship that is being done in fandom circles as well. So I began to envision the project as way to showcase the work of both established independent scholars as well as some the younger academics and grad students that are doing amazing work on the Weird Tales authors.

TGR:  How long did it take to bring this book to fruition?

Shanks:  It’s been a long, arduous process to bring this together. By 2012 I felt like we the potential to put together a good collection and I was already envisioning who I wanted the contributors to be. In early 2013 I approached Justin about being co-editor as many of the chapters would be coming from papers given in our Pulp Studies area and he readily agreed. I also began talking to a number of individuals that I wanted to contribute, among them S. T. Joshi. While Joshi felt like he wasn’t in a position to contribute, he did suggest that the volume would be perfect for his newly-launched Studies in Supernatural Literature series from Rowman and Littlefield.

The rest of the year was spent assembling the contributors and discussing chapter topics. Over time several contributors dropped out and others came in to replace them. By summer of 2014 we had most of the first drafts in, and spent the rest of the year reviewing chapters and getting revisions. By spring of this year, the final manuscript was turned in to the publisher. I just finished compiling the index and putting together a list of last minute corrections. Now with great relief I can announce that the book should be out this October.

REH:  Is the book divided into sections by the theme of the essays?

Shanks:  Yes, it is. The overarching theme of the book is that Weird Tales was something of a perfect storm as a venue for speculative fiction when it first appeared in 1923. It became a crucible for the formation and evolution of what would become the modern forms of fantasy and horror. So the first section of the book contains essays that look at Weird Tales through that lens – a place of genre creation. The second section focuses on two of the most influential writers from those early years, H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Lovecraft was a pioneer of modern horror just as Howard was a pioneer of modern fantasy, and their contributions are significant enough to warrant their own section. The final section looks at some of the other most important and influential contributors to Weird Tales, like Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, and C. L. Moore. There are many writers and topics that did not get the attention they really deserve due to space limitations, but hopefully we see more collections like this in the future.

TGR:  Will this volume cover “The Unique Magazine” throughout its lifetime (from March 1923 through September 1954)?

Shanks:  Well, the focus of the book is on Weird Tales during its heydey in the 20s and 30s under the editorship of Farnsworth Wright – the so-called Golden Age of the magazine. But the beginnings of the magazine under Edwin Baird are definitely explored in a couple chapters and some attention is given to the later incarnation of the magazine under Dorothy McIlraith. There is actually one chapter on Harold Lawlor, one of the later writers from the 40s who isn’t as well-known as he probably should be,

TGR:  Can you tell us who some of the contributors are?

Shanks:  Certainly, and in fact the full table of contents is available on the Roman and Littlefield website. There are names that should be familiar to REH fans like TGR and The Cimmerian contributor Morgan Holmes, literature professor and editor of Conan Meets the Academy Jonas Prida, Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos author and TGR contributor Bobby Derie, The Cimmerian and Conan Meets the Academy contributor Paul Shovlin, and the foremost Clark Ashton Smith scholar Scott Connors.

There are several established professors like Justin Everett, Sid Sondergard, Clancy Smith, and Geoffrey Reiter. And there are a number of up and coming young professors and graduate students that have made their mark at PCA/ACA in recent years and from whom you will be seeing much more in the near future. This includes Fulbright scholar Daniel Nyikos; C. L. Moore expert Jonathan Helland; The Dark Man contributor Jason Ray Carney, and Nicole Emmelhainz — both of whom will be giving academic papers at NecronomiCon this year.

TGR:  What are some of the topics covered by the contributors?

Shanks:  Jason and Jonas both look at Modernism and Weird Tales, but with very different approaches. Daniel discusses the Lovecraft Circle with a focus on HPL and REH. Nicole looks at Weird Tales as a “discourse community” – a subject that is her area of expertise. Morgan presents a survey of sword and sorcery in the magazine. Clancy Smith looks at Lovecraft and Postmodernism, while Bobby discusses Lovecraft and sexuality. Justin’s chapter is on Robert E. Howard and eugenics and Scott Connors explores Clark Ashton Smith’s struggle for literary acceptance. Geoffrey Reiter looks at Smith’s use of language. Jonathan discusses the different depictions of femininity in C. L. Moore’s “The Black God’s Kiss” and its accompanying artwork. Paul Shovlin probes into the psychological horror of Robert Bloch and Sid Sondergard discusses the metafictional aspects of Harold Lawlor’s works. And finally, my chapter looks at early anthropological and evolutionary theory in REH’s Little People stories like “Worms of the Earth.”

TGR:  What tone do the essays have? Are they more academic or causal and personable or a mixture of the two?

Shanks:  They are definitely academic, but also accessible, without an over-reliance on jargon and scholarly apparatus. It is intelligent, high-level scholarship but still very readable and interesting for the lay person and academic alike

TGR:  Do you believe this book will have a major impact on how people perceive fantasy and horror stories and the magazine itself?

Shanks:  Well I certainly hope so – or at least on how they perceive the origins of the modern forms of fantasy and horror. Weird Tales was the venue where much of that genre formation took place, but this is rarely acknowledged even by weird fiction scholars. I hope to show that the literary, historical, and social context in which modern weird fiction developed was the community of fans and professionals that formed around Weird Tales.

TGR:  Will we learn anything new about Weird Tales in this book?

Shanks: Well I definitely learned new things. Quite a bit actually. It’s hard not to you when have such an impressive team of scholars assembled, all delving into new aspects of Weird Tales and the early weird fiction writers. I think it would hard to read these essays and not come away with new appreciation for the cultural significance of Weird Tales.

TGR:  Anything you’d like to add that we need to know about The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales?

Shanks:  One thing that I think readers of this blog will appreciate is that Robert E. Howard and his weird fiction are featured very prominently in this collection and that’s not an accident. I feel that Howard’s significance has been overlooked or even downplayed in weird fiction scholarship in recent years and I hope this collection will be something of a corrective to that trend. Whether you are fan of his work or not, there is no denying his importance as an influential pioneer of speculative fiction and I want to make him and his work part of the conversation again.

Also, keep an eye out for some of the newer names in this collection as you are going to be seeing a lot more of them in places like TGR, The Dark Man, and Skelos, the new weird fiction journal that Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, and I will be launching later this year.


In 1936, regular readers of Weird Tales must have thought Robert E. Howard was having a good year. In the first seven months, Howard had serials or stories in six issues, of which two were voted the best story in their issues, and in July he had the cover, illustrated by Margaret Brundage. Even in May, when Howard didn’t have any stories in the issue, the Eyrie was filled with praise and criticism for the conclusion to Howard’s long serial-novel, The Hour of the Dragon. The announcement of his suicide the next month came as a shock, as shown by the outpouring of memorials and remembrances from his fellow pulpsters and fans. Yet behind the scenes, all was not well between Robert E. Howard and Weird Tales.

wrights_shakespeare_library_1935_n1Never a large operation, the Great Depression had taken its toll on the Unique Magazine. The bank that Weird Tales used reportedly closed and never reopened. (WTS 85) Various ventures failed to turn a profit: The Moon Terror (1927), an anthology, didn’t sell through until the 1940s; an effort at radio dramatizations ceased in 1930; a new weird pulp, Strange Stories, never materialized; Oriental Stories (later The Magic Carpet Magazine) did, but the oriental tales ended in 1934, taking with them another market for Robert E. Howard, and “Wright’s Shakespeare Library” (illustrated by Virgil Finlay) of 1935 likewise didn’t pan out. Writers were offered 1¢ per word—double the standard pulp rate—to be paid on publication; as was common at the time, the publisher usually retained all copyrights on the story, unless the writer specified “North American serial rights” only. However, by 1935 the magazine was badly behind on its payments to certain authors, most notably Robert E. Howard, and had been for some time.

The Howards too were hard-hit by the Depression. As a country doctor where cash was scarce, Dr. I. M. Howard was often forced to accept barter for his services. (CL2.450, 3.307) In 1932, Fiction House, publisher of Fight Stories and Action Stories suspended publication—this ultimately caused Robert E. Howard to acquire an agent, Otis Adelbert Kline, who broke Howard into new markets for a commission, though Howard kept Weird Tales as a market he had built up himself. (CL3.404) Some of these ventures, like the adventures of Breckinridge Elkins in Action Stories, proved a success. Others, like the Conan the Cimmerian novel The Hour of the Dragon, written for British publisher Denis Archer, didn’t pan out, and Howard eventually sold the 70,000-word novel to Weird Tales in December 1934 or January 1935, to be serialized in 1936. (CL3.255, 302)

Dr. HowardBetween January and May of 1935, matters came to a head. Weird Tales owed Howard $860 for stories published; unable or unwilling to pay the whole amount on publication, the company had settled on sending “half-checks” every month—these would, from notes on payments received that Dr. Howard kept in a ledger, appear to be half-payments for stories (i.e. if a story sold for $150, a half-check would be $75) (CLIMH358-373, CL3.306). The Howards depended on the steady income for medical expenses. Hester Jane Howard, long suffering from tuberculosis and associated illness, required surgery to remove her gall-bladder and reduce adhesions from an appendicitis operation, and the wound later developed an abscess; being far from major cities and hospitals, these operations required lengthy trips and stays away from Cross Plains. (CL3.306, 309) At a time when the Howards needed it most, Weird Tales missed a payment.

In May of 1935, Robert E. Howard sent a letter to Farnsworth Wright begging for money. (CL3.306-308) There was no reply, and in desperation Howard sent a letter to his agent, asking “Is Weird Tales still a legitimate publication, or has it become a racket?” (CL3.309)

It was a fair question; other pulps had treated their writers as badly or worse, with Hugo Gernsback’s Wonder Stories having a particularly poor reputation in the circle of Weird Tales correspondents, and Howard was far from the only writer for Weird Tales in a similar predicament. E. Hoffman Price noted of his own situation:

It is only fair that the most W.T. owed me at any time was never in excess of $300. This peak was achieved only because of a two-parter, and a short. They were not favoring me. When their indebtedness reached a certain point, they got no more scripts from me. My production went to cash customers. Belatedly, Howard, on his own initiative, adopted the same approach. (BOTD 72)

Other writers also noted that backlog of payments got so bad that some payments were made more than a year after publication. (CLIMH 178)

At the time, the staff at Weird Tales consisted of William Sprenger, the business manager; B. Cornelius, the printer, majority shareholder, and treasurer; and Farnsworth Wright, the editor who did everything else, from art layout to writing ad copy. Of the three, Howard had direct dealings with both Wright and Sprenger (though none of the latter’s letters survive), and it is likely that Sprenger made the ultimate decision as to whom would be paid and how much; certainly he signed some of the checks. (CLIMH 79) After Robert E. Howard’s death, Wright responded to Dr. Howard’s criticism of their business:

I must correct the impression that I or anyone else connected with Weird Tales “put in our pockets” the money that was due your son during the period when Weird Tales was in the throes of the depression. Fact is, I often did not know from one month to the other whether I would receive any money at all from the magazine; and I often received nothing (a serious condition, with my wife and son Robert to take care of); and it has been years since I received more than a fraction of the salary I used to get. […] Your son understood this state of affairs with the magazine, for both Mr. Sprenger and I explained it to him in our letters. (CLIMH 103-104)

The rumors that Wright went without a salary added something to the myth of Weird Tales in later decades, though E. Hoffmann Price, who visited Wright and the WT office in Chicago, poo-pooed the idea, and later even claimed:

A good many years after this dialog, I learned from an employee of the bank which had handled W.T. funds from the beginning and on until another outfit bought the magazine, that the publisher had money by the ream. The outfit had always pleaded poverty, and had found the “Great Depression” a handy device to exploit writers who could not, or fancied that they could not write salable yarns for any other than W. T. (BOTD 72)

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1. a woody perennial plant, typically having a single stem or trunk growing to a considerable height and bearing lateral branches at some distance from the ground

[origin: before 12th century; Middle English, from Old English trēow; akin to Old Norse trē tree, Greek drys, Sanskrit dāru wood


Before the shadows slew the sun the kites were soaring free,
And Kull rode down the forest road, his red sword at his knee;
And winds were whispering round the world: “King Kull rides to the sea.”

The sun died crimson in the sea, the long gray shadows fell;
The moon rose like a silver skull that wrought a demon’s spell,
For in its light great trees stood up like specters out of hell.
The branches writhed like knotted snakes, they beat against the night,
And one great oak with swayings stiff, horrific in his sight,
Tore up its roots and blocked his way, grim in the ghostly light.

They grappled in the forest way, the king and grisly oak;
Its great limbs bent him in their grip, but never a word was spoke;
And futile in his iron hand, the stabbing dagger broke.

And through the tossing, monstrous trees there sang a dim refrain
Fraught deep with twice a million years of evil, hate and pain:
“We were the lords ere man had come and shall be lords again.”

Kull sensed an empire strange and old that bowed to man’s advance
As kingdoms of the grass-blades bow before the marching ants,
And horror gripped him; in the dawn like someone in a trance

[from “The King and the Oak“; to read the complete poem see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 3; Always Comes Evening, p. 40; Night Images, p. 13; A Word From the Outer Dark, p. 135 and Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 428]

Art by Ned Dameron


When I decided in early 1976 I wanted to start a Robert E. Howard fanzine, there was already a bunch of them being published, including Amra, Cross Plains, Fantasy Crossroads, The Howard Review and REH: Lone Star Fictioneer. Entering such a crowded field was not exactly a logical thing to do, but I was never much for logic, so I dove in. With little money and no contributors, I started out by contacting other fanzine editors (Jonathan Bacon, Arnie Fenner, Dennis McHaney, Byron Roark and Wayne Warfield).  I had been in contact with Glenn Lord for about a year prior to starting TGR. I asked them all for advice and referrals for contributors and artists. I also reached out to a few friends who shared my interest in Howard.

At least two of the fanzine editors tried to talk me out of starting a new REH zine saying there were already too many of them (toward the end of 1976, one of them proclaimed everything about Howard was already written and there was no future for Howard studies and fanzines).

I managed to get contributions from Warfield, Roark, Bill Wallace (a book dealer, collector and fellow Howard fan), James Bozath (a local artist and Howard buff) and Elaine Kuhns (my aunt and a professional astrologer). I wound up writing well over half the issue myself. Not something I intended, it just worked out that way. Howard fiction was in the works, but I was anxious to get the first issue out, so I charged ahead. That first effort was a meager one, but I could see the potential for improvement as I was adding more names of potential contributors to my Rolodex (link to information on a Rolodex added as a courtesy to younger readers).

At the tail end of the issue there was an article I wrote comparing the two versions of Red Sonya — Howard’s and Marvel’s. It was actually a filler piece – I had a few pages I needed to fill to get the issue up to a 44 page count.

At that time, various other Howard fanzines were getting plugged in the letters sections of Conan the Barbarian and other Marvel publications featuring Howard characters. So I sent Roy Thomas a comp copy of the first issue with a cover letter hoping he would do the same for REH: Two-Gun Raconteur. I was in for a rude awakening when I received a reply from Thomas.

Apparently he took umbrage at my criticism of Red Sonja and decided since it was not in line with the Marvel way of thinking, he was not going to plug REH: Two-Gun Raconteur in any of the Howard related comics or magazines. Of course I was disappointed and thought it was unfair, but as someone once told me, “fair is a place where they give blue ribbons to pigs.” But it was Thomas’ sandbox and he got to decide who played there so I quickly moved on with no hard feelings toward Thomas.

Here is a slightly abridged and lightly edited version of that infamous article:

Red Sonja is based on an original Robert E.  Howard character named Red Sonya. Red Sonya appeared only once in a story called “The Shadow of the Vulture” (The Magic Carpet Magazine, January 1934). “Vulture” is a historical yarn set in the 16th century during the siege of Vienna by the Turks. The story is one of Howard’s best and when it was adapted into comic form [Conan the Barbarian] it still retained most of the excitement REH wrote into it.

The Conan version appeared in Conan the Barbarian #23 with Barry Smith’s beautiful version of Red Sonja. The following issue also featured Sonja, but after these tales, the “She Devil” went downhill. We next saw her in The Savage Sword of Conan #1 sporting a ridiculous new costume – a scale-mail bikini. Her first solo tale appeared in that same issue and she popped-up again in Conan the Barbarian #’s 43-44 in a tale based on Dave English’s “Tower of Blood.” A second Sonja solo story was published in Conan the Barbarian #48 and she was at last given her own series in Kull and the Barbarians. After that magazine folded, readers were screaming for more of Red Sonja and so Marvel Feature was created with Sonja in her own four color series. Four rather dull issues have appeared to date.

My main gripes with Red Sonja are the lack of realism and the fact that the strip has no direction. Howard’s Red Sonya was like all his other characters – real in the sense that she was an individual. Sonya dressed realistically; REH described her thusly:

She was tall. Splendidly shaped, but lithe. From under a steel cap escaped rebellious tresses that rippled red gold in the sun over her compact shoulders. High boots of Cordovan leather came to her mid-thighs, which were cased in baggy breeches. She wore a shirt of fine, Turkish mesh-mail tucked into her breeches. Her supple waist was confined by a flowing sash of green silk, into which were thrust a brace of pistols and a dagger, and from which depended a long Hungarian saber. Over all was carelessly thrown a cloak.

As you can see, there are a number of differences between the two. Personally I wish Thomas had left Red Sonya in the sixteenth century since Howard created her for that era. The sword woman from Rogatino did not get her fighting ability from an “angel,” but rather in numerous fights where she had to be quick with a sword or pistol. In fact, to my knowledge, none of REH’s heroes or heroines had their fighting skills given to them – they learned them the hard way.

The lack of direction is another problem. Most of Red Sonja’s adventures take place in “Darkwood Forest” and I am sick of all the trees. Get her on a ship or in a sizable city; anywhere would be an improvement over that inane forest. Sonja, like the other Howard characters in Marvel Comics, should have a quest or goal in her wanderings; this would make the “She Devil’s” tales more interesting.

I think, with a few changes, the strip could improve 100%. First, get Red Sonja back into some decent clothing, that thing she is currently wearing only appeals to the adolescent readers. The original Barry Smith version of Sonja would be ideal, but I doubt if anyone would listen to my suggestions.

In the Howard version of “The Shadow of the Vulture,” Red Sonya hated her sister Roxelana because she was Suleyman’s mistress. Perhaps vendetta or quest could be worked into the Red Sonja comic; a goal or constant protagonist would greatly improve the tales.

I am not trying to tear the strip down, just offering a few opinions. The stories are fairly good swordplay and sorcery; however they are not very Howardian. Bruce Jones and Frank Thorne are a good team, but neither is suited for this type of heroine.

But when you come right down to it, the readers of Red Sonja like her as is. Hopefully some of them will realize that the so-called Howard character is pretty far removed from anything he wrote.

Damn, I wrote this piece nearly forty years ago. I’m old.

Editor’s Note: As I noted in my editorial in the current issue of the TGR print journal, there will special postings here from time to time in the coming months on the publication history of the print journal. This is the first of those posts leading up to the publication of 40th Anniversary edition of REH: Two-Gun Raconteur next June.

Elder God


1. An ongoing theme in Lovecraft’s work is the complete irrelevance of mankind in the face of the cosmic horrors that apparently exist in the universe, with Lovecraft constantly referring to the “Great Old Ones”: a loose pantheon of ancient, powerful gods from space who once ruled the Earth and who have since fallen into a deathlike sleep.

[origin: H. P. Lovecraft created a number of fictional deities throughout the course of his literary career, including the “Great Old Ones” and the “Outer Gods”, with sporadic references to other miscellaneous deities. According to HPL’s website, the term Elder Gods was coined by August Derleth. ]


The elder gods have fled
Before Mahomet’s tread,
From the sands of the lands
Where the moons rise red.

[from “The Passing of the Elder Gods“; to read the complete poem see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 460 and A Rhyme of Salem Town, p. 70 ]