One of the interesting things about looking into the lives of Robert E. Howard’s contemporaries is finding out that some of the things a certain biographer described as odd were actually fairly common. Take, for instance, the fact that Howard’s mother stayed with him while he attended high school away from home in Brownwood. De Camp uses this to help paint Howard as a “momma’s boy,” but articles from the Brownwood Bulletin show that this practice wasn’t all that uncommon. For example, the Curtis brothers from Rising Star, both future editors of the Yellow Jacket and going to school in Brownwood, also had to share rooms with their mother. It even appears that Hester spent at least one week back in Cross Plains while Bob was in Brownwood alone. This may have happened more than once.

Another thing that much has been made of is Bob’s bachelorhood. De Camp, at least, thinks it strange that a thirty-year-old was unmarried. If Tevis Clyde Smith, who had been married twice before he turned thirty, is the yardstick, then yes, Howard was strange, but when you look at his other friends, he fits right in. Truett Vinson, a year older than Bob, didn’t get married until 1949. Austin Newton, also a year older than Bob, not until 1940. Austin who? Read on.

Beginning in the spring of 1978, L. Sprague de Camp began a conversation with Austin Newton of Monahans, Texas. Born on August 6, 1905, and raised in Cross Cut, Newton had known Howard during elementary and high school. He told de Camp that he and Bob Howard played cowboys and Indians, went fishing and hiking, etc. Bob had a great imagination, read a lot, and knew plenty about boxing. The boys sparred on occasion. He described Mrs. Howard as “refined and well-read,” and stated that Doctor Howard was considered a fine physician; Newton’s brother was even named after the doctor. Newton also provided a few details about the Howards’ home near the cemetery in Cross Cut, the school the boys attended, and other little details of life in the backwoods of Brown County where his father, Oscar, ran a family farm.

In 1919, after four years in the vicinity of Cross Cut, the Howards moved to Cross Plains, leaving Newton as the only student in the upper grades at the Cross Cut school. Like Cross Plains High, the Cross Cut school only went as far as the tenth grade, so Newton and Howard were reunited in Brownwood, where they both went to pick up the extra year of schooling required for college admittance; however, according to Newton, the boys were unable to renew their friendship. Newton was interested in athletics, Howard not so much. In the school’s yearbook, Newton is listed in the “Latin and Science Course; D. L. S. ’23; Basket Ball ’23; Base Ball ’23; Heels Club.” He is mentioned in a few articles from the school’s paper, The Tattler, as well (reprinted in School Days in the Post Oaks). We all know what happened with Bob Howard after his graduation from BHS, but what about Austin Newton?

Following his May 1923 graduation from BHS, Newton went to school at the newly opened McMurry College in Abilene. What follows is all the information I’ve found on Newton from various newspapers and yearbooks. The listings are formatted as follows:

Publication – date
“Article title”: “Quote from article” [or summary of relevant portion.]

The War-Whoop [student paper of McMurry College] – Oct. 19, 1923
“The Philomathians Have Good Program”: [Newton takes part in a debate: “Resolved that a chicken can roost on a round pole better than on a square pole.” Newton was on the affirmative side. No winner was declared.]

“Ministerial Council Meets”: [. . .] Scripture reading by Austin Newton. [. . .]

The Totem [McMurry yearbook] – 1924
[Newton is a member of the Philomathian Literary Society and the student council, also on the football, basketball, and baseball teams.]

The War-Whoop – May 3, 1924
“Opera Tues. Night Draws Large Crowd”: [Newton in the chorus.]

“Five Students Given Exam. At Baird Meeting”: “Five ministerial students and members of the Life Service Band here took the examination for license to preach in this conference.” [Including Austin Newton.]

The War-Whoop – May 24, 1924
“Indian Head Club Holds Stag Party”: [. . .] “Austin Newton was the honor guest, being asked to attend because of his efforts to make every team. Newton came out for football, baseball and basketball. Although he did not make letters in either sport, he never missed a practice and did his best when he knew there was no chance for reward.” [. . .]

“Freshmen Lose Close Baseball Contest Here”: [Newton plays centerfield after freshmen challenge sophomore and academy classes; they lost 9 to 8.]

The War-Whoop – Oct. 4, 1924
“Year’s Work Begun by the Philo Men”: [The Boy’s Philomathian Literary Society elected Austin Newton sergeant-at-arms.]

The War-Whoop – Oct. 18, 1924
“College League Extends Invitation to Studes”: [Austin Newton chosen for Fourth Department.]

The War-Whoop – Nov. 8, 1924
“Effulgent Effusions”: “Applications will be made for Carnegie medals for Robert Young, ‘Red’ Barnett, Anthony Hunt, John Bailey, and Austin Newton. These stalwart young men traveled the four hundred miles to Alpine and back in the college ford. To our minds this is the greatest feat of bravery since Washington crossed the Delaware. Also none of the preachers along uttered one word of profanity.”

The Totem – 1925
[Quote with Newton’s photo (at top of this post): “If matters go badly now, it will not always be so.” Listed with Philomathian Society, Volunteer Life Service Band, Indian Head Association, football, basketball, and baseball.]

The War-Whoop – May 16, 1925
“Personals”: “Leo Tucker of Ovalo spent the weekend with Austin Newton.”

The War-Whoop – Nov. 14, 1925
“Quartets Are Selected Friday”: On November 6 Austin Newton tried out for the school’s quartet. He didn’t get it.

The War-Whoop – Dec. 19, 1925
“President Hunt Serves as Toastmaster”: [3rd Annual Football Banquet] “President J. W. Hunt, in his superb and inimitable style, was the able toastmaster for the occasion. He introduced first the man who ‘is so fortunate as to be named after two distinguished men,’ Austin Newton, who toasted, with apologies to Kipling, and from an Indian’s viewpoint, the Pep Squad and the Band.” [. . .]

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Robert E. Howard had a powerful interest in the desperadoes of his native southwest. “I could fill a thick volume of such disconnected bits and still not exhaust my chaotic store,” he wrote to H.P. Lovecraft in June 1931. I’ve found that passion expressed again and again in his letters, and used them for material in a few posts I hope he’d have approved. There was “Murder Ranches and Gunmen,” “Silver and Steel – Bowie’s Mine,” and the recent two-parter on the lethal Hendry Brown, in his day one of Billy the Kid’s offsiders.

REH certainly viewed with a blend of fascination and horror the career of John A. Murrell. His letter – the June 1931 missive mentioned above, to Lovecraft – describing it, contains some of his most eerie and evocative writing outside his horror stories. Perhaps even including those:

John A. Murrell was a hellbender, in Southwest vernacular. He planned no less than an outlaw empire on the Mississippi river, with New Orleans as his capital and himself as emperor. Son of a tavern woman and an aristocratic gentleman, he seemed to have inherited the instincts of both, together with a warped mind that made him as ruthless and dangerous as a striking rattler.

Time for a caution to the reader, concerning the difficulty of sorting out legend and exaggeration from fact. John Andrews Murrell became a legend of murderous evil. Perhaps a long bow has been drawn with regard to the number of his followers – more than a thousand, it was said – and his victims, at least a hundred of whom he was supposed to have killed himself. The man denied to the end of his days that he had ever been guilty of murder. He was certainly a systematic horse thief and slave stealer, and he operated along the notoriously bloody and crime-ridden trail of the Natchez Trace. Thus, how far he can be believed when he says he was never a killer, is problematic.

Let’s start with the verifiable bit. He’d been born sometime in 1804 in Tennessee, third son of a completely respectable Methodist minister, Jeffrey Murrell – and you couldn’t, in those days, get much more respectable than being a Methodist. His mother Zilphia, nee Andrews, had been the daughter of a prosperous Virginia planter. Again, that was both genteel and accepted. She hadn’t been “a tavern woman” all her life; she inherited the inn from her parents. John A’s ancestors on both sides came from the state’s early landed families. Not a lawbreaker or ne’er-do-well in generations.

The moral decline in the family began with Zilphia. She managed the inn (near Columbia, Tennessee), since her preacher husband was often away giving sermons. Jeffrey Murrell didn’t think his wife was decorous enough for a clergyman’s partner, it seems, since he commanded her (without much effect) to “quit walking the way she did, hips swinging and breasts undulating, and long thighs molding themselves against her skirt with each step.” That’s from the 1985 book, The Devil’s Backbone: The Story of the Natchez Trace, by Jonathan Daniels, and I’ve quoted it, naturally, for its salacious effect. As the cliché goes, “ … and now that I’ve got your attention … ”

Poor old Jeffrey didn’t know the half of it. To put it bluntly, the voluptuous Zilphia was a bigger harlot than Rahab. She was also a thief to match any in Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar, and she taught her four sons to assist her. Male travelers with bulging purses were given the come-on by “Mom Murrell,” and she would whore with them while William, her eldest, or another son, took their coin, watches, and anything else worth having. They weren’t likely to complain later. It would have meant admitting in court that they’d paid the preacher’s wife for sex, and “Mom Murrell” would surely have denied it with a scandalized face, backed by her kids, well coached to appear wild with outrage at the slur on their mother’s honor.

All Jeffrey Murrell’s sons turned out to be worthless. William was a mean, miserable lump of malice, and a coward besides. He deserted his wife and kids in the 1820s. She petitioned for divorce. Not-so-sweet William became a schoolteacher between 1820 and 1824, at Salem Church School in Houston County, Tennessee. After he’d whipped one of his young students, the boy’s mother hurled rocks at him with Biblical vim, and then came after him with a pitchfork. The craven William ran out of town. Having drifted to Maury County, he turned forger, for which he was caught, arrested and fined. What happened to him after that is unknown. It’s possible — but not confirmed — that he joined a counterfeiting ring in Arkansas.

The second brother was James. He perjured himself on John’s behalf in 1823. The following year, he was charged with counterfeiting but acquitted. Maybe the siblings had the talent in common. Mark Twain, in Chapter 29 of his Life on the Mississippi, says that “Murel’s” gang was a highly organized group of “robbers, horse-thieves, negro-stealers and counterfeiters.” (Emphasis mine.)

As for James, he apparently decided to straighten out. He headed for Louisiana and married, in 1827, Mary McBride, a blacksmith’s daughter. I suppose we can hope he treated her well, if only from fear of her father’s muscle. At least she got a handsome man. The Murrells were a strikingly good-looking family. The notorious John had a splendid appearance, and his sister, Leanna Murrell (one of three or four girls) was both a beauty and a superb dancer.

That’s by the way, though.

The youngest brother, Jeffrey junior, proved another complete no-hoper. He “was arrested in Williamson County in 1828 on charges of keeping a whorehouse.” (The Life of John A. Murrell by Gordon P. Bonnet.) A female reprobate named Polly Staggs was charged beside him. Later in 1828 Jeffrey married a Mary Staggs – perhaps Polly’s sister, or Polly herself under an alias. Then he turned to fencing stolen goods, but he doesn’t seem to have been collared by the law again.

John, the Murrell who acquired the most dreadful record, was trained as a thief while still small, like his brothers. Growing older, he grew worse. He was first arrested in 1822, when he would have been about sixteen. Along with William and James he was charged with “riot.” They were supposed to have entered and damaged the house of a man named Thomas Merritt, making truculent threats. The following year, John graduated to stealing a horse, a form of crime that was to become one of his specialties later. This animal was a mare that belonged to a neighbor. James testified under oath that John had been with him, asleep in their room, when the crime occurred. He was caught in the lie. Released on bond into the custody of his father and uncle, John failed to appear in court, which left his relatives holding the bag.

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

It’s always interesting to read how Robert E. Howard felt about some of his fellow pulp writers. Browsing through A Means to Freedom, the Lovecraft-Howard correspondence, I came upon a reference to Frank Owen and his appearance in Oriental Stories  from October-November 1930. In a letter to Lovecraft Howard writes “I’ll admit I was disappointed in Owens’ story in the first issue…He seems to have written it hurriedly and without making much attempt at realistic portrayal.” The story was titled “Singapore Nights,” and it captured the cover spot.

For years I’ve noticed that Owen had appearances in Weird TalesOriental Stories and Magic Carpet Magazine, but I’d never read anything by him, so I decided it was time to see just how good this Owen guy was. I lugged my Girasol Complete Oriental Stories  off the shelf and got down to business. My initial reaction, upon completion of the tale, was that Howard was being kind to Owen, because I think “Singapore Nights” is a real stinker.

This story introduces us to Richard Varney, an American who lands in Singapore and is instantly swept up into the shadowy intrigue of the Orient. Varney runs afoul of a Mr. Isaacs and these two instantly become enemies with Isaacs declaring that Varney dislikes him because of his Jewish heritage, which I felt was kind of a strange thing to interject into the tale.

Soon we make the acquaintance of Dolores Cravat, who is about as pretty a girl as you’d ever want to meet, and of course Varney is smitten with her, but she’s just a little coy at first. Her father has died and we discover that she is to come into a rich inheritance only after she is married. The executor of her father’s estate is Mortimer Davga, a villain who wants her (and the money) for himself, and will do everything he can to block her marriage to anyone else.

Our hero Varney steps in and manfully offers himself as a groom candidate—with Dolores insisting that the marriage will be broken off as soon as she gets her dough and is free of Davga, because she doesn’t want to hold Varney to what she thinks is a bad bargain. He accepts, they get hitched, and she is suddenly kidnapped by Davga and Varney takes off in pursuit.

He journeys to the kidnapper’s house and finds, to his astonishment, that Davga is really Mr. Isaacs! I was surprised also, because I’d have thought that Singapore was way too big a place for such a coincidence. The fur starts to fly and Varney triumphs over Mr. Isaacs/Mortimer Davga and Dolores now admits she really is in love with Varney and so the marriage will continue—another surprise. At the very end of his story Owen informs us that Varney, who throughout this tale has been portrayed as being somewhat down on his luck, just recently came into an inheritance himself and is as rich as his new bride. Life is good, story is bad.

After the reading I turned to “The Souk”—the letters column for Oriental Stories—to see what the public thought of “Singapore Nights.” Wallace West, another Weird Tales writer, stated that Owen’s story, “though it was not so long on plot construction, captured the full flavor of the Orient.” E. Hoffmann Price, a man who knew a thing or two about penning Oriental stories, lists off his favorites—with no mention of Owen. However, there is no reference by Price to Howard’s story “The Voice of El-Lil,” which had also appeared in the first issue. A Mrs. Virginia Warner wrote in to express her pleasure at the magazine and she adds that she is saving Owen’s story for last, as “a special treat.” I wonder if she was as disappointed as I was.

But the Owen story is not yet done. In a letter to Lovecraft from December 1930 Howard expresses his opinion that even though he found the initial issue “slightly disappointing,” he is sure that with writers like Price, Owen and Otis Adelbert Kline, Oriental Stories  “bids fair to show more originality than the average magazine dealing with the East.” I respect Howard and his opinions very much, and, so knowing that one story does not an author make, I skipped ahead to the February-March issue and read Owen’s “Della Wu, Chinese Courtezan,” to see if this story was as bad, in my judgment, as “Singapore Nights.” More on Owen, and this tale, in my next post.

This entry filed under H. P. Lovecraft, Weird Tales.

It was 30 years this month that Charles Saunders’ first Imaro novel hit the street as a DAW paperback. By then I had been reading Imaro stories for five years, having read my first Imaro yarn in Gene Day’s Dark Fantasy magazine. A number of those early gems from DF were incorporated into this first Imaro volume. We owe the late Gene Day a debt of gratitude for giving Imaro his start. Over on the blog portion of his website, Charles has posted on this monumental occasion:

Imaro and I had come a long way to reach that peak moment. I’d first conceived the character 10 years before, and stories of his adventures had been published in small-press magazines and mainstream-press throughout the second half of the 1970s. DAW publisher Donald A. Wolheim had encouraged me to write an Imaro novel, but that didn’t lessen my anxiety as I awaited his decision on whether or not my novel would be published.

I didn’t know it then, but my Illyassai friend and I had a long way to go after that momentous day at my mailbox. We’ve reached other peaks, but we’ve had the chance to climb out of some deep valleys as well. After all these years, though, we are still standing on a new mountaintop. with the first four Imaro novels in print and another on the way.

A number of folks, including yours truly, Joe Bonadonna, Milton Davis, Valjeanne Jeffers, David C. Smith and others, have contributed our thoughts to Charles’ blog post celebrating this important milestone.

Charles is working on a fifth Imaro novel and has several other projects either in the works or recently published. I you have not read Imaro, you are missing out on a first fate sword and sorcery series that, like Howard’s Conan canon, has stood the test of time.

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

Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft were frequent correspondents while both – along with Clark Ashton Smith – were steady writers for Weird Tales. Lovecraft, of course, created the Cthulhu Mythos with its grotesque alien super-beings from beyond, often worshipped as gods by misguided or degenerate humans. Howard and Smith, also of course, added references to the beings of the Mythos and the ghastly Necronomicon to their own stories, as well as inventing other bizarre books of occult, forbidden lore. (Like Smith’s Book of Eibon.)

REH, to judge by a letter he wrote to Tevis Clyde Smith around September 1930, for a little while thought there might actually be real cults of Cthulhu and the other entities Lovecraft created, worshipped in odd places in the real world. He had encountered references to them in the writings of a Dr. De Castro and thought they were independent allusions. Lovecraft set him straight instead of kidding him along. REH wrote ruefully, “I got a letter from Lovecraft wherein he tells me, much to my chagrin, that Cthulhu, R’lyeh, Yuggoth, Yog-Sothoth, and so on are figments of his own imagination.”

Lovecraft, as quoted by Howard, had written:

The reason for its echoes in Dr. De Castro’s work is that the latter gentleman is a revision-client of mine – into whose tales I have stuck these glancing references for sheer fun. If any other clients of mine get work placed in W.T., you will perhaps find a still wider spread of the cult of Azathoth, Cthulhu, and the Great Old Ones.

The Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred is likewise something which must be yet written in order to possess objective reality. Abdul is a favorite dream-character of mine – indeed, that is what I used to call myself when I was five years old and a transported devotee of Andrew Lang’s version of the Arabian Nights. A few years ago I prepared a mock-erudite synopsis of Abdul’s life, and of the posthumous vicissitudes and translations of his hideous and unmentionable work Al Azif (called – some blighting Greek word – by the Byzantine (something) Theodoras Philetas, who translated it into late Greek in A.D. 900!) – a synopsis which I shall follow in future references to the dark and accursed thing. Long has alluded to the Necronomicon in some things of his – in fact, I think it is rather good fun to have this artificial mythology given an air of verisimilitude (?) by aside citation.

Howard joined in the game with a will. He created Unaussprechlichen Kulten, also known as the “Black Book” or Nameless Cults, written by the German von Junzt, who was evidently a devotee of the Necronomicon before he ever produced his own damnable occult work. In REH’s story “The Children of the Night”, one of the characters remarks that von Junzt was among the few people “who could read the Necronomicon in the original Greek translation.” As for von Junzt’s Nameless Cults, it was “regarded as the ravings of a maniac.” Von Junzt had “spent the full forty-five years of his life prying into strange places and discovering secret and abysmal things.” (“The Thing on the Roof”)

Since he was found strangled in a barred and bolted room in the year 1840, he must have been born in 1795. (The dates REH gives for his life in “The Black Stone” confirm that.) The battle of Waterloo was fought when he was twenty, and the Napoleonic Wars had raged all over Europe during his boyhood. He perished so weirdly when, in England, Queen Victoria had sat on the throne for three years, and only just married her cousin, Prince Albert. In the U.S.A., Martin van Buren, former Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson, was the nation’s eighth president – during the worst financial depression it had seen until then. More relevantly, Edgar Allan Poe, then aged thirty-one, had just had his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque published. He would have appreciated von Junzt.

The German’s death occurred six months after he had returned from “mysterious” travels in Mongolia. Nameless Cults had been first printed in Dusseldorf in 1839. He’d probably been absent in Mongolia at the time, so whatever he discovered there – and which may have precipitated his death – it wouldn’t have been recorded in his magnum opus. We’re informed in “The Black Stone” that he worked unceasingly on a manuscript for months before his death. That probably did deal with the results of his last journey. When he was found strangled in that locked and bolted room, the papers had been shredded and scattered about, perhaps by the same “taloned fingers” that had throttled him. His closest friend, who was unwise enough to spend hours piecing the rags of torn paper together and reading what was written on them, promptly burned them and committed suicide with a razor.

The narrator of “The Thing on the Roof” says of a dubious scholar who has approached him for a favor, “He might almost as well have asked me for the original Greek translation of the Necronomicon, making it clear that this is so rare as to be unobtainable. Even von Junzt’s Nameless Cults, we’re told in “The Black Stone”, has only half-a-dozen copies of the original, unexpurgated German edition remaining in the world, and that was published in the age of print, in the nineteenth century. The Necronomicon, on the other hand, was translated into Greek and re-titled by a Byzantine scholar circa 950 CE. At least H.P. Lovecraft assured his readers of this in his “History of the Necronomicon, which he wrote in 1927. He should have known.

It was originally in Arabic, and known as “Al Azif.” According to Lovecraft’s (fictional) history of the book, its author was “a mad poet of Sanaa, in Yemen, who is said to have flourished during the period of the Ommiad caliphs, circa 700 CE.” During his last years he lived in Damascus. It was there that he wrote “Al Azif.” He died or disappeared in 738. There are “terrible and conflicting” versions of his end. One 12th-century biographer of his wrote solemnly that he had been seized in daylight by an invisible monster and eaten alive before a crowd of witnesses.

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While preparing the text for the upcoming Lone Scout of Letters, a collection of material honoring Herbert C. Klatt, I managed to get a hold of one of his relatives. She provided some great data as well as the contact information for another Klatt relative. Through their willingness to share information and photos, the Klatt collection has grown in size and scope, and should answer just about all the questions any Howard fan might have about the gent from Aleman, Texas. (His graduation program from the Aleman school is seen above.)

While certainly interested in items relevant to Klatt (especially the pictures), I was, of course, primarily interested in finding out if any of his papers survived, especially letters. On April 26, 1925, Truett Vinson wrote to Clyde Smith and told him that “H. Klatt is now corresponding with Robert.” In his May 27, 1925 letter to Smith, Klatt himself says, “It seems that I know you as well as I do Truett. So many references to you in Truett’s and Bob’s letters.” From this point until Klatt’s death in May 1928, a stream of letters flowed from Howard’s typewriter in Cross Plains to Klatt’s farm in Hamilton County.

On July 7, 1925, Howard asked Smith, “Did Klatt ever write you? He owes me a letter, too.” And there are several other mentions of Klatt sprinkled throughout the surviving correspondence. There’s also the post-Christmas 1925 visit that Klatt made to Brownwood, immortalized (and fictionized) in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs. Also at this time, Klatt was corresponding with Harold Preece and, later, Booth Mooney. While it would be fantastic if Howard’s letters to Klatt survived, I don’t doubt that Preece’s and Mooney’s letters mentioned Howard a time or two. And what about Vinson? By all indications, he and Klatt had been writing to each other since as early as 1923. Klatt’s relatives might be sitting on a gold mine of Howardian information!

Nope.

While both of the relatives I spoke to were uncertain about what, if any, of Klatt’s papers were kept after his death, both were certain of one thing: they were lost by 1944. That April, a tornado ran through Hamilton County and left the Klatt’s two-story, “German designed” house upside down in the yard. (The photo above was taken in nearby Pottsville after the same storm went through.) Klatt’s mother survived the storm by clinging to a crab-apple bush outside. Herbert’s room had been upstairs, and the tornado scattered everything. For weeks afterward, neighbors would drop off items that they’d found in the fields. If Herbert and his family had saved the letters from his contemporaries, the storm did not.

So, another dead end. I don’t know where the single Howard letter to Klatt that we have came from—perhaps it was a draft that found its way into his trunk—but I know we won’t be getting any others. I am happy, though, to have met such nice Texas folks who were willing to share what they know about Herbert C. Klatt.

Glenn Lord, the Godfather of Howard Fandom, will turning the big eight-oh next month. As was the case in the past few years, a group of Howard fans will be celebrating it with him.  This is also a big year for Glenn’s seminal Howard journal, The Howard Collector — the first issue appeared 50 years ago.

Glenn literally built, stone by stone, the foundation upon which present day Howard Fandom resides. In 1956, fresh out of the Army, Glenn searched the country for Howard stories, poems, and letters. In the process, he became the ultimate Howard collector. Having been at it for some 55 years, today Glenn possesses world’s largest collection of Howard books, publications and original manuscripts. In addition to his collection, Glenn is also known for his outstanding work as literary agent for the owners of Howard’s literary works, a position he held for some 32 years, from 1965 to 1997.

As for the celebration, here are the details from the Master of Ceremonies, Paul Herman:

We will again be celebrating the birth of Glenn Lord. This year is especially special as it will be his 80th birthday!

We’ll be getting together on Saturday, November 19, 2PM, at The Monument Inn Restaurant, in La Porte, Texas, just to the east of Houston. Glenn and his blushing bride of way too many years will be on hand to chat it up, swap lies, and eat some very good seafood. They always enjoy meeting the fans, shaking hands, and signing books. Dennis McHaney’s fine book Anniversary would certainly make a nice item to get signed, for instance . . .

For those thinking about coming in early, I know at least two REHF board members are going to be spending Friday night at Quality Inn & Suites, Galveston. Rooms can be had for as little as $65, right across the street from the beach and the Gulf of Mexico, a view from every room. A fun Friday night enjoying the night life of Galveston is expected. Anybody that would like to come join us, please do!

So if you can make it, head on down and spend some time with a true living Howard legend and help us celebrate this milestone event in his life.

11/05/2011 Update: It is not too late to make plans to attend Glenn’s birthday bash on the 19th. If you can make it, e-mail Paul and RSVP. If you can’t come, then please mail Glenn your birthday wishes to him at P.O. Box 775, Pasadena, TX 77501.

This entry filed under Collecting Howard, Glenn Lord, Howard Fandom, News.

Nobody who follows this weblog at all will be likely to dispute that Robert E. Howard had few equals when it came to writing a fast-paced, gripping story with passion and energy that drew the reader along from beginning to end. He could also evoke a scene so vividly that you could see it and hear it. This blogger is about to consider his work from a different angle; his passion for history.

He displayed it even in his out-and-out fantasies, most of all the Conan stories. For those he devised a prehistoric world on a bigger, more colorful scale than ours and wrote a carefully thought out, crafted essay describing its history, catastrophes and migrations, so that he’d be able to keep the background consistent. He even had the scruples to explain in writing that he wasn’t putting forward any theories in opposition to accepted anthropology or archaeology; he was just creating a fictional background for some fiction yarns.

Conan’s world is a bigger-than-life stage with bigger-than-life versions of ancient and medieval countries. The readers find them familiar enough to enter with no trouble, but the writer has none of the restrictions imposed by known history. The nation of Aquilonia is England of the High Middle Ages, basically, with armored knights and a lion battle-standard, though the names are Latin. The Bossonian Marches, with their tough peasants skilled in archery, are the Welsh Marches. The province of Poitain, with its “beautiful women and ferocious warriors,” filled with “hot southern blood” and “quick jealous pride,” is medieval Gascony (in the fourteenth century subject to England), with touches of the U.S.A.’s southern states. And Poitain, significantly, was once an independent realm.

Zingara is medieval Spain. Stygia is ancient Egypt with snake worship and evil magic added. Turan would appear to be the Ottoman Turkish Empire with a dash of Sassanid Persia. The long-lasting conflict between Aquilonia and its neighbor kingdom, Nemedia, might as well be the Hundred Years’ War. The Cimmerians – of course – are prehistoric Irish Gaels.

Howard wrote quite a number of stories with a background of our world’s actual history, though. They featured his heroes Solomon Kane, Turlogh O’Brien, Dark Agnes and Cormac Fitzgeoffrey – and the fifth-century Gaelic pirate Cormac Mac Art, for that matter. Others were not part of any series, like “Sowers of the Thunder,” “Lord of Samarcand,” and “The Shadow of the Vulture.”

With regard to “Sowers of the Thunder,” he wrote to Wilfred Talman in April of 1931:

That reminds me; I just recently got a letter from Farnsworth who’s just read Lamb’s book on the later crusades, and wants me to write a tale dealing with Baibars the Panther; do you know anything about him? I’ll conceal my ignorance with a flare of action, as usual. Just in case you ever want to write to me, send it to my usual address. I wont be here long.

REH was a decided fan of Harold Lamb’s writing, wild adventure with sword-swinging heroes, Cossacks, Crusaders and the like. Lamb also wrote a two-volume history of the Crusades that REH would almost certainly have read, and a biography of Genghis Khan. Howard’s “ignorance” wasn’t nearly as great as he said, though he was well aware that he didn’t live at the scholarly hub of the nation. Circa January 1932 he wrote to H.P. Lovecraft, “Understand, my historical readings in my childhood were scattered and sketchy, owing to the fact that I lived in the country where such books were scarce.”

I know how he felt. This blogger lived in Tasmania as a kid, and the history we were taught in high school was practically blank between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Renaissance. The Byzantine Empire? The one that bridged the gap between the Western Empire and the Renaissance, lasted a thousand years, and gave Imperial Russia its religion? Didn’t exist. The only mention of it I heard in high school was in English classes; Yeats’ poem, “Sailing to Byzantium.” The Crusades got a passing mention, but other than that the brilliant human story was more than sketchy. Japan? Central America? Africa? Forget it. The only references to Africa were made in connection with explorers and missionaries like Livingstone, Mungo Park and Mary Kingsley. The most vivid accounts of history I read were in books like The Three Musketeers.

REH early became an avid reader of what history he could find, however. And he filled in the gaps splendidly from his imagination and story-teller’s instinct, as when he produced the story about Baibars he mentions to Talman, above – “Sowers of the Thunder.” Baibars was a thirteenth-century mamluk, a slave-soldier of Turkish origin, who rose to become Sultan of Egypt and ruled from 1260 to 1277. A warrior of iron toughness, he’s said to have swum the Nile daily in full armor to stay fit. Just REH’s type of character.

In “Sowers of the Thunder,” he meets his dangerous equal in Red Cahal O’Donnell, a failed Irish king. Cahal is fictional; Baibars al-Bunduqdari isn’t. In REH’s story, Cahal and Baibars first meet (in spring of 1243) while the latter is disguised as a common traveler, and then at the fearful sack of Jerusalem by Khawarezmi Turks in 1244. This wouldn’t seem to be historical, since Baibars was most likely born around 1223. He was twenty-one, and a member of the Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt’s bodyguard, at the most, in 1244 – not a general of mamluks. That Sultan, As-Salih Ayyub, really did call upon a great host of Khawarezmians to retake Jerusalem for him from his Abbasid rivals, but he couldn’t control them and the savages carried out a hideous sack of the Holy City which REH describes. The one real discrepancy in this yarn is that REH makes Baibars about a decade older than he was, and that may not have been REH’s mistake. There might have been no definite knowledge of Baibars’ birth year in the 1930s.

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While reading the November 1930 issue of Weird Tales that contained his “Kings of the Night,” Howard took notice of a poem by Alice I’Anson and quickly sent a letter of comment to the magazine, which was published in the January 1931 issue’s installment of  “The Eyrie”:

I was particularly fascinated by the poem by Alice I’Anson in the latest issue… The writer must surely live in Mexico, for I believe that only one familiar with that ancient land could so reflect the slumbering soul of prehistoric Aztec-land as she has done. There is a difference in a poem written on some subject by one afar off and a poem written on the same subject by one familiar with the very heart of that subject. I have put it very clumsily, but Teotihuacán breathes the cultural essence, spirit and soul of Mexico.

Editor Farnsworth Wright did confirm for Howard that indeed Ms. I’Anson resided in Mexico City. Here is her poem:

Teotihuacán

by Alice I’Anson

I sing of pagan rites that long ago
Ruled the great city lying far below
The twin volcanoes’ hoary bridge of snow –
I sing the Song of Teotihuacán!

Deep is the womb of Time in which I see
The drama of dead idolatry! –
I hear old voices chanting now in me
The mystic Song of Teotihuacán!

“The red dawn shimmers on Tezcoco’s lake,
O City of the Priests, awake, awake!
It is another Feast Day of the Snake,
The Serpent God of Teotihuacán!

“Behold the flaming signal in the skies!
The dawn is red!—today a victim dies!
O hear, O hear his agonizing cries,
Great Serpent God of Teotihuacán!

“Upon the stone his writhing form is laid—
His blood spurts redly from the ‘itxli’ blade—
With his dripping heart an offering is made,
To the mighty God of Teotihuacán!”

Shadows of centuries! still they grow apace
While Mystery hovers o’er the solemn place
Whose ruins whisper in this year of grace:
“Where is the God of Teotihuacán?”

O Souls that cross again the yawning deep
While round these monuments the lizards creep,
I feel your ghostly contact as you keep
Your vigils in old Teotihuacán!

O Spirit Guardians of this grim terrain,
Has Karma bound us with the selfsame chain?
Did I, too, worship at that gory fane
Long years agone . . . in Teotihuacán?

No wonder Howard admired the poem — with its ancient civilization theme, grisly human sacrifice, bloodthirsty serpent god and reincarnation slant —  it was right up his alley. There is not a lot of information floating around about the lady poet who got the attention of Ol’ Two-Gun with her poem, but a small amount of information is available.

Alice I’Anson, born in San Francisco on January 15, 1872, was the oldest of three children. Her parents were Miles and Elizabeth I’Anson and her younger siblings were Beatrice I’Anson (born 1875) and Miles I’Anson (born 1876).

Around 1875, her father Miles I’Anson was photographed at a studio in Valparaiso, Chile all decked out as a gold prospector – he was on his way to join the California Gold Rush where he worked as a mining engineer in until 1891. Miles was also a poet, which probably inspired Alice to write her own poems. Miles had a book of gold-mining themed poems published in 1891 titled A Vision of Misery Hill in New York and London. One of the poems pays homage to his daughter, Alice:

Where Alice Is

by Miles I’Anson

Come with me, O charming maid,
To the forest’s vernal shade
Where no strife or malice is,
And no cares of life invade; —
Peace shall reign where Alice is!

Come and seek the Dryad’s home
In the wildwood trellises;
Or by the ocean’s roar and foam
Blithely let us live and roam; —
Joy shall reign where Alice is!

Come where lilies, blossoming,
Lifting their fragrant chalices
To each living, loving thing
Pulsing with the life of Spring;
Love shall reign where Alice is!

So like Elfin king and queen,
Monarchs of a blest demesne,
Throned in leafy palaces
Love and Joy and Peace, I ween,
Shall be mine and Alice’s!

Little is known about Ms. I’Anson’s writing career, other than she was a poet and had poems published in several anthologies.  She did have five poems published in the Unique Magazine from 1930 through 1932, several letters published in “The Eyrie” and at least one of her poems appeared in Oriental Stories. The last of her poems to appear in Weird Tales was in the May 1932 issue, which featured Howard’s “Horror from the Mound.” That final poem also had an ancient Aztec theme and is presented below.

Shadows of Chapultepec

by Alice I’Anson

O Wood of Dreams! what misted centuries
Have wrapped their spell around your stately trees!
Veiled by the hanging moss, my spirit sees
Majestic halls, with jade and turquoise bright
And sculptured walls that catch the moon’s pale light,
Fantasmagoria of the Haunted Night!
I breathe the smoke of sacrificial fires
Where stark gray pyramids like funeral pyres
Loom darkly underneath these lofty spires …
And here and there symbolic serpents twine;
Their eyes of black and glistening “ixtli” shine
From moss-grown trunks and loops of twisted vine!
The drip of fountain marks the passing hours,
And creeping myrtle, loneliest of flowers,
Drapes with its amaranth bloom the fadeless bowers!
There is strange music in the silvery haze
That floats like incense in cathedral ways
Through these weird “sambras,” this enchanted maze;
For day and night I hear the measured tread
Of mighty warriors numbered with the Dead
Long folded in some dark and leaf-strewn bed!
The lordly Tzins! the chieftains of their race!
In all their spectral grandeur, I can trace
Pride that has dwindled to pathetic grace!
They mourn the glory and the pageantry
Of the dead Past they never more shall see
Save in the ghostly Wood of Memory!

According to a U.S. Consulate document, Ms. I’Anson died of heart failure on June 5, 1931 in Mexico City; she was 59 years old. I’ve read a few other places where she died in 1932, but I’d say given this document, the correct year is 1931. I seriously doubt, even with the huge population of Mexico City, that there were two Alice I’Ansons who resided in that city and submitted poems to Weird Tales.

At the time of her death, she had been living in Mexico for a little over four years and shared a house with her sister. Ms. Anson was buried in the American Cemetery and survived by her sister Beatrice and brother Miles.

This entry filed under Farnsworth Wright, Weird Tales.

In his unfinished essay, “Men of Iron,” Robert E. Howard mentions that he’s going to tell us of five “iron men”—Joe Grim, Battling Nelson, Tom Sharkey, Mike Boden and Joe Goddard. But before he introduces us to these warriors he states that he going to begin by informing us of Jim Jeffries, “one of the two iron men who achieved a title.” Going back to his list, we can see that this second man “who achieved a title” was Battling Nelson, who won the lightweight championship in 1905, but then lost it in 1906, only to regain it in 1908.

This iron man’s full name was Oscar Battling Matthew Nelson and he was born in Denmark on June 5th 1882—his nickname was “the Durable Dane.” His family immigrated to the United States shortly thereafter, and Nelson was raised near Chicago. In his autobiography, The Life, Battles and Career of Battling Nelson  (1908), Nelson tells us quite a bit about himself, and he’s not the most modest champion to ever hold the belt, nor the most politically correct. He praises his mathematical ability, writing that he went to school “off and on” until he was sixteen and that he had “all of the other kids in [his] class beaten to a frazzle when it came to mathematics.” The really bad part of the book is Nelson’s treatment of black fighters. One of the illustrations in the book portrays him standing by his “colored morgue,” with the bodies of the black fighters he has defeated arranged in coffins. He boasts “no black man ever defeated me” conveniently forgetting that Joe Gans bested him in 42 rounds on September 3rd, 1906. Nelson lost this fight on a foul, but many observers stated that he hit Gans with a low blow to save himself from being knocked out. He complains that he was forced to fight a black man on St. Patrick’s Day, and then apologizes to his Irish friends for doing so.

Battling Nelson is one of the greatest lightweights—but after reading his book I was amazed at just how prejudiced he was. There are many more examples of this within his autobiography and I’ve only related the “milder” ones—some are just downright mean and don’t need to be reprinted here. He did come back and defeat Gans twice after the first lost, knocking that great fighter out in the 17th round, and then two months later in the 21st.

Jack London called Nelson the “Abysmal Brute” and our fighter was pretty proud of that. After Nelson beat Jimmy Britt for the championship London published an article in the San Francisco Examiner and clarified what he meant by his new nickname for the Battler—and this piece is reprinted in Nelson’s book. “It is,” London writes, “this abysmal brute that we see in a man in a Berserker rage or in a jealous spell of anger. We see it in a horse, tied by too short a rope, frantic, dragging backward and hanging itself. We see it in the bull, bellowing and blindly charging a red shirtwaist…” London also described it this way—“By abysmal brute I mean the basic life that resides deeper than the brain and intellect in living things. It is itself the very staff of life—movement; and it is saturated with a blind and illimitable desire to exist.”

Nelson and GansNelson, like a lot of fighters from the turn of the century (and like most iron men), suffered in later life from too many blows to the head, and he was eventually committed to a Chicago hospital as being insane and died on February 7th, 1954, mumbling incoherently to himself.

In the Ace Jessel story, “Double Cross,” Howard’s black fighter is the victim of a horrible foul and when he falls to the canvass the lights go out and the bell rings, giving him a chance to recover. A somewhat similar situation happened when Nelson fought Young Scotty on June 6th, 1903. Every time Nelson knocked his opponent down the lights went out, giving Young Scotty much needed time to gather his wits. Nelson stated that he “knocked Scotty out about half a dozen times” and that “the lights were turned off purposely to save” this beaten fighter.

Nelson was very much a product of his hard times and Howard recognized that fighters, after all, are only human. In “The Right Hook” REH lists that Kid McCoy is “doing time in San Quentin,” and that John L. Sullivan is “guzzling booze in a bowery saloon,” while Jack Dempsey is “bouncing bums in a third-rate saloon.” He adds—“You don’t fool me. I know what you’ve been. I know what some of you are. But curse you, I admire you. Whatever else you were, you were what you were.” He could have been describing Nelson.