IMG_0001It was around 1975 when I read my first Karl Edward Wagner novel, Bloodstone, with that great Frazetta cover pictured to the left. I remember really enjoying it, and I thought his Kane was a fascinating creation.  I quickly realized that I had discovered a fantasy writer that was quite a bit better than most of the other sword and sorcery authors that were peddling their crap at that time.

In 1977, I picked up the Berkley/Putnam edition of The People of the Black Circle and my estimation of the Bloodstone author rose even higher, because, in this Wagner-edited volume Howard fans got to see the Conan stories as they had originally appeared in Weird Tales, with no pastiches, no yarns by lesser writers trying to self-promote themselves with their own versions of the dark barbarian.

Two more additions to this series followed, The Hour of the Dragon and Red Nails, but that, unfortunately, was it.  To any reader of this blog it should be apparent there is only one Conan and that is, of course, the Robert E. Howard Conan.  No movie, no comic book adaptation, and no pastiche should ever be considered part of the Conan canon—if Howard didn’t write it, it ain’t Conan, simple as that.

So my respect for Wagner soared when I noticed that the only by-line to appear on the book-spine was Howard’s, and nowhere in his foreword does Wagner mention the names of the other writers that had worked on the Lancer series—and since Mr. Wagner didn’t feel it fulfilled any purpose to state their names I’ll follow his lead and won’t either.  Hopefully it’s not necessary and hopefully their tales of their Conan will be buried somewhere and forgotten.

Wagner shows he’s my kind of Howard fan when he writes, “It is this editor’s feeling that the Conan stories should be presented exactly as Howard wrote them, and that examples of pastiche writing have no place in a collection of the original author’s own stories.  Pastiche-Conan is not the same Conan as portrayed by Robert E. Howard—and I say this as one who has written Howard pastiches.”  Beautiful.

In the second volume in the series, The Hour of the Dragon, he adds to this statement, noting, “later writers have revised nonfantasy adventures to turn them into Conan stories, and have further altered Howard’s Conan through a vast body of frank pastiches.  These are not Conan stories—not Robert E. Howard’s Conan—and have no more validity in relation to the stories than any Conan tales you might yourself decide to write.”  Wagner is becoming my hero.

In the last volume of this series, Red Nails, he refers again to the earlier tampering by, well, you know.  “Unfortunately these earlier efforts [the Gnome and Lancer editions] were burdened with the aforementioned Conan collaborations and pastiches, and Howard’s text in the completed stories was tampered with by previous editors.”  And then Wagner reiterates his belief that no collection of Conan should contain any stories except those by Howard.  My man. 

IMG_0002Because of this high regard I check eBay quite often for Wagner items and I was delighted to come across Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer, pictured to the left with the J. Cawthorn cover.  While the book is in itself collectible I was somewhat amazed to discover this was actually Wagner’s own copy, and contained his bookplate.  I quickly bought it and added it to my library.

Shortly after this purchase eBay yielded another surprise—a teleplay by Wagner adapting Howard’s “The Horror from the Mound” for the series Tales From the Darkside.  I had heard of this somewhat legendary script, but I’d never had the chance to read it.  So, on the day it arrived, I spent a pleasurable hour familiarizing myself with KEW’s remarkable adaptation.  Wagner deserves all the adulation Howard fans can give him, because this is the way Howard should be treated by screenwriters and movie makers.

It’s a solid retelling of one of my favorite REH yarns with one notable exception; Wagner introduces a third modern-day character, Jarrett Buckner.  The creation of this character helps KEW move the teleplay along, especially during the sequences when Brill reads the manuscript left by Juan Lopez—with Buckner on stage Brill can narrate Lopez’s tale aloud, instead of only reading it to himself.

IMG_0003I was never a Tales From the Darkside fan, at the time it first aired I felt most of the episodes fell kind of flat, and I ended up sarcastically calling the program Tales From the Unimaginative Side.

One of the episodes I fuzzily recall concerned an old man who had apparently died but would not admit it to himself, or his loved ones.  His relatives are of course unsettled by this and are trying to prove to the elderly gentleman that he has indeed perished and that it’s time for him to take his place in the coffin.  So, during one meal, his family members pepper his plate severely, enough to make him sneeze so heavily that he blows his nose off, thus confirming to himself that he is, indeed, a walking dead man.  I believe the last scene in the show is of his nose still embedded in his handkerchief, with lots of gross material surrounding it.

How correct my memory is of this show I’m not exactly certain but I do know that my estimation of Tales From the Darkside does not place it on the top shelf of horror shows—Thriller has nothing to worry about.  However, after reading Wagner’s teleplay, and recognizing how good it would have appeared on television, I may have to go back and take another look at some of those old Tales episodes.  The fact that “The Horror from the Mound” was even considered to be a possible candidate for this old horror series does say something good about Tales From the Darkside—I may have to take back that Unimaginative Side crack.

This Wagner teleplay deserves publication—if only to show that Howard can be brought to the small, or big, screen with very little tampering.  It can be done, Howard fans, and we all know it.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 10th, 2014 at 12:54 pm and is filed under Collecting Howard, Howard Fandom, Howard in Media, Howard's Fiction, Karl Edward Wagner, Sword & Sorcery, Weird Tales. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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7 Comments(+Add)

1   Jerry House    
February 10th, 2014 at 4:30 pm

That other story you mention is “A Case of the Stubborns,” adapted from a Robert Bloch story.

2   John Mayer    http://www.karledwardwagner.org
February 10th, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Thanks for your perceptive notes about Karl and his work as relates to Robert E. Howard. Karl was a friend of Howard executor (I guess it was) Glen Lord, and, necessarily therefore, no friend of L. Sprague de Camp.

Tales from the Darkside was rather a hard show to right for. The flatness you perceived may have been, at least in part, the result of their requirement that no show could have more than one scene change (it was a very low-budget show). Despite their limitations they occasionally aired an effective episode; the one you describe is from a story by Robert Bloch, who died the same year Karl did. I’d love to see a copy of that script.

3   Charles R. Rutledge    
February 10th, 2014 at 5:19 pm

I had wondered who picked up that copy of Stormbringer. I bought Karl’s copy of Anderson’s The Broken Sword. We’re a small brotherhood. Great tribute.

4   Gary    
February 11th, 2014 at 3:21 pm

I liked Wagner’s Conan pastiche “The Road of Kings” pretty well. I would hope “purist” REH fans would not be opposed to reprinting ALL the pastiches should Conan’s popularity ever soar again. Whoever is handling Wagner’s literary property could probably use the payday.

5   Brian Leno    
February 12th, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Jerry, I should have guessed that story was by Bloch–thanks for giving me the title. And Charles I’m jealous you picked up “The Broken Sword.” Another classic book from Wagner’s library. John–I remember talking to J. D. Squires over breakfast during PulpFest 2012, and he told me quite a bit about Wagner. All of it respectful and interesting, it’s a good memory. And now to Gary, “purist” that I am, I still have no trouble with the reprinting of Conan pastiches. If someone wants to read a pastiche, or a comic book, that’s fine, it’s just not Conan. I bought Wagner’s “The Road of Kings” many years ago, still have it, have not read it, and probably never will. It’s just not for me. Thanks for all the comments.

6   Richard C    
February 16th, 2014 at 7:11 am

Thanks for this piece on KEW. I too am a big fan of Wagner’s writing, and in particular the Kane tales. I was able to pick up a papeback from Karl’s collection. The book is by the late Britsh horror writer, R Chetwynd Hayes, who was a friend of Wagner’s & is called The Man From The Bomb. It is inscribed to Karl and signed by Hayes. I often wonder if the erotic novel The Other Woman, attributed to Karl will ever be re-published at sone point. It might not be a ‘great’ book but if Wagner wrote it I think it still might be worth a read.I’m looking forward to Centipede Press’s editions of the Kane stories which are to be published at some point. Cheers!

7   John A. Karr    http://www.johnakarr.com
February 20th, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Wagner was perhaps a darker Howard, imo. Often just as powerful but unencumbered by morals. Perhaps not as prolific in the short story but balanced it out with longer Kane collections and novels. Two sorely missed greats.

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