The REHupa Barbarian Horde

Howard Days 2014 was another great success. Temperatures were quite moderate, though there was a hailstorm around Abilene that seriously damaged Chris Gruber’s car. There were many new faces there this year, evidently because of increased promotion on social media sites spearheaded by Jeff Shanks.

IMG_2928dThe theme this year was Howard History: Texas and Beyond. During the first panel, “In the Guise of Fiction,” Shanks and Al Harron discussed REH’s use of early history. Shanks said that Howard’s stories utilized the anthropological theory favored at the time, involving racial templates now known to pseudoscientific. REH was also inspired by Haggard and Burroughs, who were popular then. Harron opined that the Picts were Howard’s greatest creation, appearing in more different types of stories, both fantastic and historical, than any other of his creations. Historical fiction, e.g. by Mundy and Lamb, was quite popular. REH loved it and wrote as much as would sell, but he put a gritty, bloody spin on it that was more colorful and realistic than that of other authors. Shanks mentioned that Howard employed Wells’s The Outline of History and as many other authoritative references as he had access to. His first goal was to get into the adventure pulps, but he often had to add a weird element to sell his stories; this practice peaked with his submissions to Oriental Tales and Weird Tales. Harron said Conan incorporated historical and fantastic elements. Cormac Fitzgeoffrey is Harron’s favorite Crusades character. Shanks said that REH pioneered a dark, cynical, violent interpretation of history, which has made the stories age well and resonate with today’s readers, unlike a lot of other writers such as Doyle. But historical fiction requires a lot of research, so he set Kull and Conan in an earlier, hypothetical Hyborian Age that freed up Howard to write his own kind of fiction. Harron stated that “Shadow of the Vulture” starring Red Sonya was another groundbreaking character, being a strong female protagonist and warrior, with no romantic links to other characters. It was also anchored in historical characters and settings. Harron’s favorite female character is Dark Agnes, especially in “Sword Woman.” She is unique in having an origin story, though REH only able to get Red Sonya published. He and C. L. Moore conceived of their strong heroines independently. Shanks said that Howard was influenced in his historical fiction by Arthur Macon’s dark stories about fairies portrayed as malevolent little people. He said that REH did a lot of anthropological world-building, incorporating migrations which turned out to be very important historically, as we know now. Howard was also doing westerns, historical and weird, near the end. An audience member added that REH admired Jack London and may have just been emulating London’s racial theories, though these were somewhat behind anthropological theory of the time, however popular they were then. Another person pointed out how the race Howard regarded as superior changed with time and publishing venue.

10453434_10204295624973680_482758632251404194_nIn an interview by Rusty Burke, Guest of Honor Patrice Louinet said that he first got interested in REH through French translations of Marvel comics. He was the first to do pre-doctoral and doctoral theses based on Howard. He visited the U.S. to do the associated research, joined REHupa, and met legendary Howard scholar and collector Glenn Lord, who got him interested in examining REH’s typescripts of stories and letters. He found he could date transcripts from typewriter artifacts and REH’s idiosyncratic spellings. Burke also led him into looking at the Conan typescripts and recommended him to be editor of the Wandering Star Conan pure-text editions. The time-ordering of Howard’s stories is critical to understanding him as a writer, which is also why reading the Conan tales in the order they were written (as in the WS books) is so revelatory. Dating the transcripts was essential to determining which were the most authoritative versions to use in the pure-text books. Thus, there would be no de Campian Conan saga. REH used Conan as a catalyst to the plot and to tell the kind of story he wanted to tell. Louinet’s first professional publication was “The Birth of Conan” in The Dark Man. Reading Howard in English made him realize how bad the existing French translations were, so he started translating the stories himself. He thinks that Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright’s suggestions often improved REH’s stories. Louinet is now working on a documentary on REH and is a consultant on a Howard-related board game. He has done many interviews about REH, including ones on television. He won a Special Award from France’s Imaginales (Imaginary World) Convention for his Howard work. He has published 10 REH books in France and has another one coming out. In France, Howard was a cult figure in the ‘80s, was forgotten in the ‘90s, and is now popular and recognized as a pioneer fantasist. Lovecraft started becoming mainstream there in the ‘60s and has been helped by a Cthulhu video game. Clark Ashton Smith is unknown. The French do not like westerns. Working as a translator gave Louinet the most insight into REH’s maturation as a writer. Howard’s earlier work is bursting with ideas, but he later learned how to control that without losing anything. “The Dark Man” and “Kings of the Night” of 1930 are about when he became a mature writer. Louinet plans to do another doctoral dissertation on REH.

rsz_dscn0324The Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards were given to: (1) Jeff Shanks for the Outstanding Print Essay “History, Horror, and Heroic Fantasy: Robert E. Howard and the Creation of the Sword and Sorcery Subgenre”; (2) Bill Cavalier, Rob Roehm, and Paul Herman for the Outstanding Periodical The REH Foundation Newsletter; (3) Brian Leno, Patrice Louinet, Rob Roehm, Damon Sasser, and Keith Taylor for the Outstanding Web Site REH: Two-Gun Raconteur; (4) Rob Roehm for the Outstanding Online Essay “The Business”; (5) Patrick Burger as Emerging Scholar; (6) Ben Friberg for the Outstanding Achievement of filming REH Days panels, as he was doing for this event and selling DVDs of last year’s; (7) Tom Gianni for Artistic Achievement; (8) Patrice Louinet for Lifetime Achievement; and (9) Paul Herman for Outstanding Service. Karl Edward Wagner is next year’s nominee for Lifetime Achievement.

Read the rest of this entry »


A third of the 200 copy print run of new issue of The Definitive Howard Journal sold in the five days since its publication this past Friday. Issue number 17, with its stellar line-up of rare Howard fiction, essays, articles, reviews and artwork is quickly being snapped up by hungry Robert E. Howard fans. So don’t procrastinate and be left on the field of battle with an empty scabbard, order your copy today!

REH: Two Gun Raconteur No. 17 Contents:

Front Cover: “…a fierce exultation swept her as she felt the edge cleave solid flesh and mortal bone.” From “Red Nails” by Michael L. Peters

Inside Front and Back Covers: Scenes From “Spears of Clontarf” by Stephen Fabian

Back Cover: Skull-Face by Terry Pavlet

“The Stones of Destiny” by Robert E. Howard, illustrated by Nathan Furman

“The Diabolical Blonde” by Rob Roehm, illustrated by Clayton Hinkle

“What the Thak?: Anthropological Oddities in Howard’s Works” by Jeffrey Shanks, illustrated by Clayton Hinkle

“Non Sequiturs Inside the Academy Gates” by Don Herron

“Robert E. Howard’s Heroes of the Desert: A Portfolio” by Bob Covington

“Robert E. Howard and Past Lives: Reincarnation, Dreams and Race Memories” by Barbara Barrett, illustrated by Richard Pace

“Apocalypse on the Liffey” by David Hardy, illustrated by Robert Sankner

“Ernest Hemingway, Robert E. Howard and Battling Siki: Typewriters and Fists” by Brian Leno, illustrated by Bill Cavalier

Price: $25.00, US postage paid.

To Order by Mail and Pay with Check or Money Order,
Send Your Order To:

Damon C. Sasser
6402 Gardenspring Brook Lane
Spring, TX 77379

(Please make checks or money orders payable to Damon C. Sasser.)

Order and Pay Via PayPal:

Patrice Louinet Getting The Black Circle Award

Well, it’s mid-afternoon in Cross Plains and the REH Foundation Awards have already been presented to the winners.  Originally the awards were known as The Cimmerian Awards and the black skulls on marble bases were handed out at the Pavilion after the Friday night banquet. When the awards became the REH Foundation Awards, the wooden plaques were given out at the Community Center immediately after the banquet and it was a somewhat rushed affair, with Howard fans wanting to go to the Pavilion and the locals bolting for the door, not having much interest in the awards. So it was decided to make the awards a bigger deal by having a less rushed and more formal ceremony on Friday afternoon at 2:30.

So without further waiting, here are the winners:

The HyrkanianOutstanding Achievement Print Essay:

Jeffrey Shanks – “History, Horror, and Heroic Fantasy: Robert E. Howard and the Creation of the Sword and Sorcery Subgenre,” Critical Insights: Pulp Fiction of the 1920s and 1930s.

The AquilonianOutstanding Achievement, Periodical:

The REH Foundation NewsletterBill Cavalier, Rob Roehm, Paul Herman.

The StygianOutstanding Achievement, Website:

Brian Leno, Patrice Louinet, Rob Roehm, Damon Sasser, Keith Taylor- REH: Two-Gun Raconteur (Website and Blog).

The CimmerianOutstanding Achievement for Online Essay:

Rob Roehm – “The Business” REH: Two-Gun Raconteur (13 parts).

The Venarium AwardEmerging Scholar:

Patrick Burger

The Black River AwardSpecial Achievement (The following nominees have produced something special that doesn’t fit into any other category: scholarly presentations, biographical discoveries, etc.):

Ben Friberg for filming the panels at Howard Days, editing them, and making them available on YouTube.

The Rankin AwardArtistic achievement in the depiction of REH’s life and/or work (Art must have made its first public published appearance in the previous calendar year.):

Tom Gianni for cover art for Pirate Adventures (REHFP), cover art for Fists of Iron, Round 1 (REHFP), cover art for Robert E. Howard’s Western Tales.

The Black Circle AwardLifetime Achievement:

Patrice Louinet

The Crom Award—Board of Directors Choice:

Paul Herman

Next Year’s Black Circle Award Nominee:

Karl Edward Wagner

Congratulations to the winners and remember, it is not too late for you to step up and find your name on the list next year!

EPSON MFP imageWhile Robert E. Howard’s anorexic super villain, Skull-Face has mellowed a bit with age, he is still pretty ornery. So you don’t want to get crossways with him. Since his ghastly visage graces the back cover of the new issue (courtesy of artist Terry Plavet) and he is obnoxiously vain, he wants you to buy the issue or else.

In addition to the portrait of ol’ skin and bones, the issue kicks off with a fantastic color cover by Michael L. Peters, followed by a hard-to-find Howard story and essays and articles by Barbara Barrett, Dave Hardy, Don Herron, Brian Leno, Rob Roehm and Jeff Shanks.

Of course there is the usual great line-up of artwork in the new issue of The Definitive Robert E. Howard Journal by the likes of Bill Cavalier, Bob Covington, Stephen Fabian, Nathan Furman, Clayton Hinkle, Richard Pace, Terry Pavlet and Michael L. Peters.

So scrounge through those couch cushions and dig out those stray pazoors so you can buy TGR #17 and not wake up to find Skull-Face hiding behind your curtains.

IMGI’ve only been to Cross Plains three times but I’ve fallen under the spell of this historic little town.  It’s a place Robert E. Howard called home, and while I don’t live there whenever I visit I quickly feel like I belong. Perhaps this is due to the friendliness of the fans and the scholars; it’s great to discuss literature with people who share some of the same feelings I have for writers such as Howard, Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and others of the Weird Tales talent parade. But that’s not the whole story.

While my admiration for Howard has been a part of my life since I was about eleven, my obsession with Cross Plains clearly started on my second visit, in 2007.  During my first visit, in 1967, I stayed for only a few hours, but this second time I was there for days, and the town left a lasting impression.  I’ve been a collector of Howard since about 1966, but upon returning home in 2007 I also became a collector of all things Cross Plains.

Well, perhaps, not all things, but any item that has a little age to it will find a welcome place in my library.  I’ve travelled the Internet and picked up postcards which show the town as Howard must have known it—these are the coolest items and are becoming increasingly hard to find.  I even purchased a little wooden temperature gauge that proudly declares it comes from this Texan town—it no longer works but that really doesn’t matter.  To show the depth of my obsession I’ve even bought some old pencils that advertise Cross Plains.  Pencils, for God’s sake.

The latest item I picked up is a packet of letters written by a traveling salesman to his wife.  These epistles are all from the year 1921 and are pretty dry reading.  The salesman keeps telling his “sweetie” how much he misses her and that business is bad—he was evidently working for Firestone and the money was not exactly being raked in.

But the reason I bought these letters is because this Texas version of Willy Loman stayed in Cross Plains at the Kemper Hotel, and while there he availed himself of the hotel stationary, shown at top.  1921 is about the year Howard started reading Adventure—maybe when he stood in line to pay for his pulp this salesman was also there, picking up some reading material himself to help kill the time until he got back home, to the waiting arms of his “sweetie.”

At this time of year, for all of you heading to Cross Plains, it’s too bad the Kemper Hotel is no longer taking reservations.

Howard Days 2014 Blog Cover

It is hard to believe the annual Howard Days celebration of Robert E. Howard, his life and writings is just two weeks away. By now everyone who’s going has their travel plans and reservations made. But it is not too late. If you are sitting on the fence about whether or not to make the pilgrimage to Cross Plains, hop off that fence and get the ball rolling. If you have been following Jeff Shanks’ Howard Days blog, then you are aware of all the featured attendees and the Guest of Honor, Patrice Louinet. The REHupa website has a full schedule of events, as well as information on the Silent Auction, which is especially important this year to raise the funds needed to give the Howard House Museum a long overdue restoration. To further help the cause, I’ll be donating some very special items for the Gift Shop to sell. And if my printier is not fibbing, the Gift Shop will have the new issue of REH: Two-Gun Raconteur print journal in stock. Hell, that alone is worth the trip!

Plate 4

The centerpiece of every issue of REH: Two-Gun Raconteur is the art folio.  For the upcoming issue number 17, Bob Covington has drawn four outstanding illustrations of Howard’s Desert Heroes. In addition to El Borak, Kirby O’Donnell and Steve Clarney, Lal Singh is featured and not one, but two Yar Ali Khans.

The issue is slated for publication next month, so keep checking back here for payment and ordering details, which will be posted soon. This illustration is just a tidbit of the great artwork and essays to come, not to mention a rare Howard story, in the pages of the new issue of The Definitive Robert E. Howard Journal.

This entry filed under El Borak, Howard Illustrated, News.

1924 09-07 REH to TCS 01

Following his graduation from Brownwood High in May 1923, Robert E. Howard went home to Cross Plains and worked on his writing; he also worked at a few odd jobs. By the spring of 1924, he was working at a tailor shop, but this wouldn’t last long; another shop had opened in Cross Plains, the third, and he hadn’t “made very much money lately.” (REH to TCS April 21, 1924)

Despite his seeming lack of cash, Howard visited the American Legion convention in Brownwood early in the summer. In a June 19 letter to Clyde Smith, he says, “I looked all over the convention for you but didn’t see you. There were quite a few drunks there but all I saw were good-natured drunks. I didn’t see a single fight. Speaking confidentially, though, you ought to have been up in the Cross Plains band headquarters. Oh, boy, talk about hilarity. I’ll tell you about it when I see you.”

Also that June, Howard tried to trade up in employment, as he explained to Smith in the same letter: “I was promised a job in Brownwood, quit my job in the tailor shop here, then the guy went back on it. Leaves me without a job. I’ve been heaving freight at the depot some but there’s not much money in it.”

While Howard was working, some of his friends and neighbors had been off pursuing their educations. That June, Tom Ray Wilson came home from nearby Coleman where he had been going to school and Renerick Clark, with whom Howard had tried to launch a radio station two summers ago, came home from A & M College, where he “finished this year with high honors.” Besides these items of a perhaps more personal nature, Howard was no doubt aware of the local news that the town was buzzing about: the new oil rig that was being erected northwest of town and the speaker from the Ku Klux Klan who spoke on June 1st, both of which were reported on in the Cross Plains Review (CPR) for June 6: “R. G. Brown, of Atlanta, Ga., Klan lecturer, spoke here Saturday night in the interest of the Klan. The Review is informed that about 25 members were added to the local organization. One hundred men attended the meeting it is stated.”

The paper also began running a serial, The Lord of the Thunder Gate by Sidney Herschel Small, which Howard may have read.

At the end of the month, June 27 and 28, the town of Burkett had its big picnic, which featured “Candidate speaking, Rodeo, ball games, Merry-go-round, Klan speaking and parade.” (CPR 1924 June 13). As a former resident with friends in the area, Howard may have attended (though in his June letter to Smith he says that picnics “get on my nerves”). The July 4 Cross Plains Review had a page-one write-up on the event under the headline “Big Crowds Attend Picnic at Burkett”:

The big two-day picnic at Burkett last Friday and Saturday drew thousands of people both days. Cross Plains was well represented Friday and Saturday nights. Friday night the Klan staged a spectacular parade followed by a lecture on Klan principles, by Rev. Wright of Plainview. And Saturday night, A. V. Dairymple Anti-klan speaker, who spoke here Saturday afternoon, lectured there. Both speakers were given a good hearing. Other attractions featured at the picnic were baseball games, rodeo performances, the Merry-Go-Round, and candidate speakers.

A few weeks later, July 16-17, it was Cross Plains’ turn for a picnic. The July 11 CPR reported that it would feature a “Big Round-up, Free for all Prize contest, Merry-Go-Round, Big Ferris Wheel, the Whip, general assortment of amusements by the famous H. B. Poole Shows, candidate speaking which will include a number of prominent state men and good music by the best band in Texas its age—The Cross Plains C of C Band.” Our man Robert Howard even invited Clyde Smith to attend in his June letter:

But if you want to see real drunkenness, come to the Cross Plains picnic. Why can’t you come and stay with me and attend it? It’s July 16 and 17. Of course as a source of entertainment it isn’t much, usually a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel and a few dozen booths of various kinds. But there’s always a lot of drunks and usually several fights. Oh, yes, they usually have a rodeo too. They have it in a big enclosure surrounded by tow sacking or something and it’s amusing to watch the efforts of the officers to keep kids from sneaking in. Sometimes, too, they have prize-fights. I haven’t attended the picnic much the last few years, they get on my nerves, but if you’ll come over and stay with me we’ll take it in, maybe.

Whether or not Smith made the trip is unknown—the 16th and 17th were a Wednesday and a Thursday in 1924—but we do know that Howard saw a friend that week: his former Burkett buddy, Earl Baker. The July 25 Cross Plains Review had these two items: “Earl Baker of Ballinger visited Robert Howard last week” and “Alma Baker spent Wednesday and Thursday in Cross Plains, guest of Mrs. I. M. Howard.” The same edition of the paper tells us what Howard did after the picnic, whether or not he actually attended it:

1924 07-25 CPR p01

If not in July, we know that Smith visited Cross Plains at least once that summer. An item from the August 23 Review says that “Clyde Smith of Brownwood was a week end guest of Robert Howard.” The same paper reports that “Dr. and Mrs. Howard and son visited in Brownwood Tuesday.” Perhaps they gave Smith a ride home.

And there was still time for one more trip that summer. No one can know when the Howard family first planned its trip to south Texas, but the August 8 edition of the Review had the following, which may have piqued Dr. Howard’s interest:

Cross Cut, Texas, 7, 29 24.
Mr. Editor Review:

I am moving with family to Weslaco, Texas, Hidalgo Co., to contract a farm home on land I bought one mile southeast of town the first of the year, where I have a fine cotton crop being gathered on 23 acres and I am to get 1-4 of the cotton. It is estimated to make one to two bales of cotton per acre.

Mrs. A. L. DeBusk also bought 41 acres and that too in cotton. We expect to place all eventually in grapefruit orchards. I expect to buy more of this cheap land, as it is being taken fast. I will only be there one week, then return to move 25th of August.

I am not selling any thing here, as I think lots of the mineral rights on my holdings in and near Cross Cut. Will see you some more,

W. A. Prater.

Whether or not the Howards knew those involved with the above prospecting, by early September they had traveled south. On September 7, Howard sent Clyde Smith a letter/illustrated poem from Weslaco, Texas. Two days later, September 9, opening exercises for the fall term at Howard Payne College began; Howard was enrolled at the Howard Payne Academy that term—perhaps he missed the opening. On September 19, the Review had the following item:

1924 09-19 CPR p05

With that, summer was over. Two months later, Robert E. Howard made his first professional sale.

WV Ervin grave

When researching Robert E. Howard and those around him, every once in a while you run into conflicting “facts,” like the different birth dates for Howard himself. This past January, my dad and I were in Texas looking for Howard’s uncle on his mom’s side, William Vinson Ervin, and ran into one of those discrepancies.

At some point I’ll put all the information I’ve got regarding W. V. Ervin into an article or blog post, but for today, all that one needs to know is that W. V. appears to have been a fairly big shot in the city of Big Spring, where he started a newspaper, The Enterprise, and lived with his family beginning in late 1898. As we have seen, the Howards visited the Ervins in Big Spring at least once.

Anyway, the November 11, 1927 edition of the Big Spring Herald ran the following:


William Vinson Ervin, Sr., aged sixty-seven years, one of our long time residents and highly esteemed citizens was claimed by death at the family home south of Big Spring at four o’clock Monday afternoon, Nov. 7. Mr. Ervin had been ill for a number of years and had traveled over a great portion of the state the past four years in the hope of regaining his health. He had been seriously ill for months past at his home here.

Mr. Ervin is one of the best newspaper men in Texas. He was former owner and editor of the Big Spring Enterprise and played a big part in the task of converting West Texas from a cowman’s paradise to an agricultural section. When he conducted a newspaper in Big Spring away back in the 1900s, it was not popular to boost the agricultural possibilities of this section but he stuck to his prediction that Howard County was destined to become the farmer’s paradise. He was for better churches and schools and never lost an opportunity to aid these great moral and educational forces.

He was a most worthy citizen from every standpoint: big hearted, kindly, and ever ready to aid the needy. He was a faithful husband, a fond and indulgent father and loyal and true to his friends and many hearts are saddened by his death.

Funeral services were conducted at the First Christian Church, of which he was a staunch and faithful member, by the pastor, Claude Wingo, at five o’clock Tuesday evening and the remains were laid to rest in Mt. Olive cemetery.

He is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, W. V. Ervin of this city, J. R. Ervin of Dalhart, Misses Lesta and Maxine Ervin of Dallas. Two brothers, C. E. Ervin of Shawnee, Okla., Wynton Ervin of Oklahoma City; two sisters, Mrs. M. A. Mitchell of Gainsville, Texas, and Mrs. I. M. Howard of Cross Plains, Texas, and three half-sisters, Mrs. W. P. Searcy of Exeter, Mo., Mrs. S. H. Doyel, Exeter, Mo., and Mrs. Grover Baker of Roger, Ark., also survive.

To the relatives who mourn for their loved one is extended the heartfelt sympathy of the many friends in this community.

I had visited Mt. Olive Cemetery before and found W. V.’s sister, Alice Comer, but couldn’t locate W.V.’s grave at that time. So this January, dad and I stopped in at the cemetery’s office and they explained why I hadn’t found the burial site: W. V.’s grave has no headstone. I found this strange, mostly because Ervin was a big name in the city, at least I thought he was. They gave us the location of his grave and off we went. In the photo that heads this post there is a light gray headstone on the left (one of W. V.’s sons, Frank Wynton Ervin, who only lived two years) and a dark gray headstone on the right. Cemetery records say that W. V. Ervin occupies the empty space between those two stones.

After leaving the grave yard, we hit the county courthouse. There, I grabbed a copy of W. V.’s death certificate. If anyone can decipher the cause of death, I’d sure like to know what it says.

1927 death cert

Before W. V.’s death, and certainly after it, the remaining family sort of scattered, and by the time of the 1930 U.S. Census, some of them had landed in Jefferson County, on the Gulf Coast, and others in Harrison County, east of Dallas. It is there that we find the fact that does not fit.

On the 1930 Census form for the town of Marshall, we find W. V.’s son, William V. Ervin, Junior, working as a clerk at a railway office. He is listed as the son of the head of household: William V. Ervin, Senior, a man who supposedly had died two years before. True, there are problems with the listing, both of their ages are wrong, for example, but not too wrong, and as Hester Howard’s example shows, one didn’t have to be truthful on the Census. This, and the lack of a headstone, could it be?

1930 Ervin WV

I know, I know, I’ve probably watched too many episodes of CSI, and these two Ervins are not related to the ones I was looking for. But wouldn’t it be cool if Robert E. Howard’s uncle faked his own death for some mysterious reason?

Happy Friday.

This entry filed under Hester Jane Ervin Howard, Howard Biography.


He was stained with the blood of the Viking’s band,
His spear had shivered in his hand,
Now he held aloft his crimson brand.
His shield the Viking’s broadsword turned,
Along his arm the keen edge burned.
The red drops followed the slicing steel,
Turlogh cursed in the trumpet peal,
Rose in his stirrups, spurred and smote,
Breaking the shout in the Viking’s throat.

Robert E. Howard, “The Ballad of King Geraint”

The Battle of Clontarf had been decided, but not quite ended. Brian Boru’s Irish warriors had gained the victory. Those of the enemy who survived were running for the shelter of Dublin or retreating to their dragon-ships in the bay. Brodir the Warlock, probably for the first time in his life, had fled earlier in the battle. Now he skulked with a band of Vikings in Tomar’s Wood, looking in rage upon the disaster.

Brian-BoroimheBrodir was hardly the man to accept defeat graciously. He led his fugitives around through the wood to where King Brian’s tent stood behind the battle-lines. This was the man who had rallied the Irish, fought and intrigued his way to the High Kingship, given his people a measure of unity, and brought about this day. Brodir swore he should not live to enjoy it. His fugitives attacked suddenly, cut down the men guarding the royal tent, and burst into it. Brian faced them, tall, white-haired and unafraid. It was Brodir who cut him down. According to the Icelandic Njal’s Saga, he left the scene calling out, “Now let man tell man that Brodir felled Brian!”

The saga also recounts that he was swiftly pursued by a group of vengeful Irish warriors, led by Wolf the Quarrelsome. As stated in the previous post, this blogger thinks that Wolf and REH’s Black Turlogh were the same person; that in some circumstances, Turlogh was known to the Danes by that alias.

Wolf, or Turlogh, pursued Brodir into the woods. He and his men surrounded the Vikings, and caught Brodir alive by hurling masses of green branches on him, then bearing him down by weight of numbers. He was helpless. Turlogh slit open Brodir’s belly and nailed one end of his intestines to a tree-trunk with a dagger. Leading him around the tree until all Brodir’s entrails were drawn out, he brought the warlock to a complete and messy end. Brodir had spilled a lot of blood in Ireland, and also slain Turlogh’s grandfather, the king. He probably died wishing he hadn’t announced his last deed so loudly.

“Brodir’s men were slain to a man,” adds the saga.

irishbrianboruatclontarfgaelym0The Orkney and Manx Vikings, in retreat, had difficulty reaching their ships. During the gruelling day-long battle, the tide had come in, cutting them off from their vessels. They attempted to swim, exhausted as they were. While Black Turlogh was killing Brodir so ferociously, the other Turlogh, Prince Murrogh’s fifteen-year-old son, chased the fleeing Vikings into the water and hurled himself upon two of them, stabbing them again and again in a battle-fury worthy of his dark cousin. But his dying enemies dragged him under and he drowned.

Three generations of the royal Clan na O’Brien had perished on the same day; Brian Boru himself, his son Murrogh, and grandson, young Turlogh. Most of Brian’s other sons died at Clontarf as well. Donnchad, who had been absent by Brian’s command, keeping many of the Meathmen too busy to join the battle, survived. Malachi of Meath became the High King after Brian, and then Donnchad succeeded him. But even the men who ruled as a result of the battle did not deem it less than appallingly costly.

The losses on both sides were huge. Modern estimates have it that the Vikings lost six or seven thousand men, including all their chieftains, except King Sigtrygg Silkbeard of Dublin, who had not fought. His sons, who did, were now corpses. The Irish lost perhaps four thousand, or one man in seven. The wounded and maimed, as always, would have numbered far more. Black Turlogh might well have said wearily, as REH has him do, “The king has fallen and all his heroes, and though we have freed the land of the foreign chains, we too are but as ghosts waning into the night.” (“Spears of Clontarf”)

OdinSo also was Odin. In two of his stories, “The Grey God Passes” and “The Cairn on the Headland.” Howard has the northern god disappear from human ken after that climactic battle. In the former, Odin foresaw his own end with the words, “To each being there is an appointed time, and even the gods must die … ” Conn the escaped thrall, to whom he spoke the words, sees him again, in company with Black Turlogh, after the bloody fighting is done. He does not understand who the mysterious “grey man” is, but Turlogh does.

“It is Odin, god of the sea-people,” said Turlogh somberly. “His children are broken, his altars crumble, and his worshippers fallen before the swords of the South. He flees the new gods and their children, and returns to the blue gulfs of the North which gave him birth. No more will helpless victims howl beneath the daggers of his priests; no more will he stalk the black clouds.” (“The Grey God Passes”)

Odin’s disappearance from the human world is effected differently in “The Cairn on the Headland,” though it still occurs. In that story, his human form receives a fatal wound from a cross-adorned spear on the field of Clontarf, and he is buried under a great heap of stones lest he should ever revive. He mutters while perishing that the touch of “the magic plant – even holly — ” would make it possible. In the twentieth century, it almost happens, but he is frustrated by a ghost and a great saint’s crucifix.

The narrator of ““The Cairn on the Headland,” a modern O’Brien, is the one who reluctantly opens the cairn. His nemesis, a parasitic blackmailer, hopes to find treasure in it. Warning him against the course, O’Brien passionately makes the speech that can best serve to close these posts:

Here on this very plain the Dark Ages came to an end and the light of a new era dawned faintly on a world of hate and anarchy. Here … in the year 1014, Brian Boru and his Dalcassian ax-wielders broke the power of the heathen Norsemen forever – those grim anarchistic plunderers who had held back the progress of civilization for centuries.

It was more than a struggle between Gael and Dane for the crown of Ireland. It was a war between the White Christ and Odin, between Christian and pagan. It was the last stand of the heathen – of the people of the old, grim ways. For three hundred years the world had writhed beneath the heel of the Viking, and here on Clontarf that scourge was lifted forever.

Then, as now, the importance of that battle was underestimated by polite Latin and Latinized writers and historians. The polished sophisticates of the cities of the South were not interested in the battles of barbarians in the remote northwestern corner of the world – a place and peoples of whose very names they were only vaguely aware. They only knew that suddenly the terrible raids of the sea kings ceased to sweep along their coasts, and in another century the wild age of plunder and slaughter had almost been forgotten – all because a rude, half-civilized people who scantily covered their nakedness with wolf hides rose up against the conquerors.

Here was Ragnarok, the fall of the gods!

Read Part One, Part Two

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