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This essay is a follow up to my article, “Theosophy and the Thurian Age: Robert E. Howard and the Works of William Scott-Elliot,” that was published in the November 2011 issue of The Dark Man journal (Shanks). In that article I argued that the principle source for the theosophical elements identified by Rusty Burke and Patrice Louinet (350) in Howard’s 1926 story “Men of the Shadows” and his 1928 “Atlantis” letter to Harold Preece was the book The Story of Atlantis by William Scott-Elliot. This is important because “Men of the Shadows” is the first story in which we see Howard beginning to creat his fictional prehistoric world that would later evolve into the Thurian Age of Kull and the Hyborian Age of Conan.

I argued further that Scott-Elliot’s influence could be seen in other stories, particularly “The Shadow Kingdom,” “Moon of Skulls,” “Skull-Face,” “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth,” and “The Hyborian Age.” I also identified several specific themes that Howard seems to have taken from The Story of Atlantis, including the idea of a “deep time” antediluvian civilization existing hundreds of thousands of years ago, a later maritime Atlantean empire, a series of multiple geological cataclysms, and a sequence of races of mankind.

9781258170066_p0_v1_s260x420Not long after submitting that article I came across an item, which I had not realized existed, but that I now feel adds more information to our understanding of Howard’s interest in theosophical ideas about prehistory and human evolution. It also helps answer some of the lingering questions that I still had after my previous research. This item is Little Blue Book No. 477, Theosophy in Outline by Frederick Milton Willis, first published in 1923.

Willis was a theosophist and author of several books on reincarnation, Christian mysticism, and the like. His Theosophy in Outline is exactly what the title implies—a concise summary of the Theosophy movement and its principle ideas and beliefs. This includes a section discussing and summarizing Scott-Elliot’s version of antediluvian prehistory from The Story of Atlantis.

The Little Blue Books (or LBBs) were a series of small chapbooks published by editor, author, and social reformer E. Haldeman-Julius beginning in 1919 (Gibbs, “Dating”). They were designed as inexpensive, concise, popular works on a variety of topics such as politics, literature, history, science, philosophy, religion, and self-help. Howard seems to have been a fan of the LBBs and he mentions them and Haldeman-Julius in his letters on several occasions (Burke, “Bookshelf”). In Howard’s semi-autobiographical novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, the narrator Steve (meant to represent Howard) calls the Little Blue Books “a godsend” (76). So it’s not at all unreasonable to suggest that the LBB Theosophy in Outline might have been one of Howard’s sources for the theosophical elements that we find in some of his stories.

The section that concerns us is located near the end of Willis’s booklet under the heading “Root Races and Sub-Races” and is worth quoting at length:

Seven root-types of men evolve on our Earth during this stage of its life. Theosophists call these types Root-Races, and each has its own special “Continent,” or configuration of land. The first two Root-Races have disappeared. Of the third, the Lemurian, which flourished on the continent of Lemuria, now beneath the Pacific Ocean for the most part, hardly a pure specimen remains; the negroes are its descendents from mixed marriages. The fourth, the Atlantean, spread over the Earth from the continent of Atlantis, which united western Europe and Africa with eastern America. It built some of the mightiest civilizations the world has known, and the greater part of the world’s inhabitants still belong to it. The fifth, the Aryan, leads humanity today. The sixth is in the womb of the future, but its continent is beginning its formation and will occupy, roughly, the Lemurian site; the islands now being thrown up in the northern Pacific are indications of the commencement of a work which will demand hundreds of thousands of years for its accomplishment. The seventh lies far, far ahead. (88)

Here we find represented many of the theosophical elements that appear in “Men of the Shadows,” such as the idea that the islands of the Pacific are the peaks of sunken Lemurian mountains. More significant is the discussion of the progression of Root Races. In the oft-quoted 1928 letter to Harold Preece discussing Atlantis, Howard summarizes the theosophical Root Race concept, but describes the first two Root Races as “unknown and unnamed”:

The occultists say that we are the fifth—I believe—great sub-race. Two unknown and unnamed races came, then the Lemurians, then the Atlanteans, then we. They say the Atlanteans were highly developed. I doubt it. (Collected Letters i:237)

In the sequence of the Races of Man in “Men of the Shadows,” he replaces the first two races with his own prehistoric Picts. As I noted previously, however, the first and second Root Races are not “unnamed,” but are referred to in a number of theosophical works as the Polarians and Hyperboreans respectively (Shanks 57–58). The fact that Theosophy in Outline gives no names or details on these two early races, lends credence to the idea that this may been one of Howard’s sources for the Root Race concept.

Willis continues his synopsis of Scott-Elliot’s ideas with a description of the sub-races of the Atlantean Root Race:

Each Root-Race divides into seven sub-races. We have the fourth Root-Race [i.e. the Atlanteans] divided into the Rmoahal, Tlavatli, Toltec, Turanian, Semitic, Akkadian and Mongolian sub-races. (89)

When I came across this passage it occurred to me that it may help resolve one of the nagging problems regarding Howard and his concept of Atlantis. A curious August 24, 1923 letter to Tevis Clyde Smith contains Howard’s earliest known mention of Atlantis. The letter is a little odd in that Howard, in a matter-of-fact way, discusses a past life as a Philistine soldier and goes into great detail about a number of civilizations and events from the Bronze Age Near East and Mediterranean (Collected Letters i:20-21). Almost in passing he mentions that Atlantis existed at that time and was a contemporary of the Mesopotamian civilization of Accad (an alternate spelling of Akkad).

AtlantisThis placing of Atlantis in the historical past is completely incongruous with the “deep time” Atlantis that we see later in his stories. Unlike Scott-Elliot, who places the lost continent far back in prehistoric times, Willis does not give any dates for Atlantis in Theosophy in Outline. If you didn’t know that Scott-Elliot uses the names of historic cultures (Toltec, Semitic, Turanian, Akkadian, etc.) as stand-ins for their supposed prehistoric antecedents, you might easily assume that Willis was making Atlantis contemporaneous with the historic versions of those cultures. If Howard was basing his comments in the Smith letter solely on the content of Theosophy in Outline it would explain this placement of Atlantis in the Bronze Age.

Another interesting point to consider is that earlier in Theosophy in Outline there is a section on reincarnation and how one can sometimes remember their past lives (51-57). Whether or not Howard truly believed the past life information that he was detailing in the letter to Smith or was simply having a bit of fun with his friend is impossible to say, but in either case it seemed reasonable that Howard’s reading of Outline might have inspired this letter.

Upon sharing a copy of this Little Blue Book with Patrice Louinet, he noticed similarities not only with the letter to Smith, but also the untitled Bran Mak Morn story that was discovered in 2001 (Howard, “Untitled”; Louinet). The story, which is essentially a sequence of past lives, contains the line “The Wheel turns and the cycles revolve forever. The Wheel turns and the souls of all things are bound to the spokes through all Eternity” (291). Patrice noted the similarity of that passage and the line from Outline referring to reincarnation: “Looking at this long-turning wheel of births and deaths” (54).

haggardHoward’s story also mentions a drug called Taduka, which when smoked allows the user to experience his past lives (291). Charles Rutledge has noted that Howard’s source for this is likely the “Taduki” plant in H. Rider Haggard’s The Ancient Allan, which has a similar effect (“Ancient Allison“), but it is worth noting that Outline also suggests that various drugs such as hashish, bhang, and opium can allow glimpses of the astral world (16).

Initially then, it seemed as though Willis’s LBB Theosophy in Outline might have been a source of inspiration for not only the theosophical material in “Men of the Shadows,” but also both the reincarnation story and the August 24 letter to Smith. But then, Patrice realized there was a problem—more on that in Part Two.

 

Bibliography

Burke, Rusty. “The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf. [http://www.rehupa.com/OLDWEB/bookshelf.htm]” REHupa.com. Robert E. Howard United Press Association. 1998. Web. November 2011.

Burke, Rusty, and Patrice Louinet. “Robert E. Howard, Bran Mak Morn, and the Picts.” Bran Mak Morn: The Last King. New York: Del Rey, 2005. 343-360. Print.

Gibbs, Jake. “Dating Little Blue Books. [http://www.haldeman-julius.org/haldeman-julius-resources/dating-little-blue-books/]” haldeman-julius.org. Haldeman-Julius: Pocket Series and The Little Blue Books. March 2009. Web. November 2011.

Howard, Robert E. The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. 3 Vols.. Ed. Rob Roehm. Plano, TX: The REH Foundation Press, 2007. Print.

———. “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth.” The Black Stranger and Other American Tales. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. 110-145. Print.

———. “The Hyborian Age.” The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian. Eds. Rusty Burke and Patrice Louinet. New York: Del Rey, 2003. 381-398. Print.

———. “Men of the Shadows.” Bran Mak Morn: The Last King. New York: Del Rey, 2005. 1-30. Print.

———. “The Moon of Skulls.” The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane. New York: Del Rey, 2004. 99-170. Print.

———. Post Oaks and Sand Roughs. Hampton Falls, NH: Donald M. Grant Publishers, 1990. Print.

———. “The Shadow Kingdom.”  Kull: Exile of Atlantis. New York: Del Rey, 2006. 13-51. Print.

———. “Skull-Face.” Tales of Weird Menace. Plano, TX: Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, 2010. 3-94. Print.

———. “Untitled.” Bran Mak Morn: The Last King. New York: Del Rey, 2005. 289-320. Print.

Louinet, Patrice. Personal communication. November 2011. Email.

Rutledge, Charles R. “The Ancient Allison. [http://singular–points.blogspot.com/2011/01/ancient-allison.html]” singular–points.blogspot.com Singular Points. January 2011. Web. November 2012.

Scott-Elliot, William. The Story of Atlantis. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1896. Print.

Shanks, Jeffrey. “Theosophy and the Thurian Age: Robert E. Howard and the Works of W. Scott-Elliot.” The Dark Man 6:1-2 (2011). Print.

Spence, Lewis. Atlantis in America. London: Ernest Benn. 1925. Print.

———. The Problem of Atlantis. London: William Rider and Son. 1924. Print.

Willis, Frederick Milton. Theosophy in Outline. Little Blue Book No. 477. Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Company, 1923. Print.

J-01

It appears that most issues of The Junto started their way down the mailing list at the end of the month prior to the date on the cover; so, the July issue most likely started circulating at the end of June. As we saw last time, the June issue was “lost,” so the July edition is the first of new editor Lenore Preece’s issues that survive. On the cover is a poem by former editor Booth Mooney:

The Moths

A moth came flying.
It approached a lamp
And beat against it
And perished. . . .

And a fool said,
Verily, serenity is greater than force.

But many moths came
And beat against the lamp.
They labored mightily
And called to other moths.
The mass of moths grew larger—
All beating against the lamp. . . .

Many were consumed in the flame,
But at last the lamp was extinguished.
The remaining moths
Held counsel. . . .
They set up a new lamp
That shed a most magnificent light.

This is followed by editorial comments from Lenore Preece. These tell the origin and purpose of the travelogue and are presented at the head of this post. Up next is “The Monotony of Being Good,” an article by John Doughty. This is a meandering rant that points out the difference between what the Christian faith advises people do and their actual behavior. It ends with this: “That some thus far inconceivable fashion of man will arrive who will try being good once in his life, at least; and thereby for the first time in the history of the race, learn whether, after all, there is an actual monotony in being good. As matters now stand, we can only speculate.”

This is followed by a couple of short paragraph items, both untitled, and both probably supplied by Lenore Preece as space fillers. The first is a little rant that claims that the mixing of white and black blood, “according to scientists, seems to bring out the worse qualities of both.” The second deals with France’s war debt, sort of.

Up next is “Hate’s Dawn,” verse by REH, one of the few to reference the World War. After this is “Women,” a tirade by Harold Preece containing this, “Naturally weak, Woman relies upon her only commodity, sexual favors, for her existence”; this, “Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an intellectual woman”; and this, “The Orientals have the proper idea; they keep their women in deserved subjection,” just to mention a few. One wonders if this article is similar to the “tirade against women” that Preece sent to Howard at Clyde Smith’s instigation back in December.

“Sic Transit,” verse by Booth’s brother, Orus Mooney, tells the story of a man who played three women, “thinking to choose in time,” but at the end his “friends and opportunities passed away” and he is alone. This is followed by “An Open Letter to Texas’ Governor,” by Truett Vinson, the text for this is in here.

Up next is “The King and the Mallet,” verse by REH. Beneath the poem, fellow Juntite Norbert Sydow has written this: “The gentleman must not make his knowledge of Poe’s poems so obvious as to mutilate a line from ‘The Greenest of Our Valleys’ poem.” A criticism that I haven’t looked into.

This is followed by Booth Mooney’s “Spirit of God,” wherein an elderly man offers Mooney a ride after his car breaks down. This surprises Mooney as the man is known as a miser. Once in the man’s buggy, he pesters Mooney about his actions and implores him to go to church: “Quit your nonsense. Don’t kill your soul by goin’ to a show. Live right.” After enduring this, Mooney muses:

How easily is the down rubbed off the wings of our little butterfly illusions—patriotism, religion, democracy—the little illusions that breed maggots.

Following this are several poems. First is a series of four “Sonnets on the Recognition of the Vatican” by Lenore Preece. The second of these is subtitled “Mussolini” and has these lines: “[. . .] is’t for this / That all the centuries of effort spent / Have spawned a brute to ravish and to rent / The total sum of art’s hard-conquered bliss?”

The sonnets are followed by “Fragment” by Booth Mooney, which tries to channel Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” with lines like this: “This is America working and singing and sweating and swearing.” Then there’s “To Franz Schubert” by Harold Preece, a 15-line lyric praising Schubert as a “weaver of melodious webs.” And, finally, another by Mooney: “To an Evangelist,” wherein the speaker accuses the evangelist of robbing the poor.

“On the Death of a Great Juntite,” by Lenore Preece, is a heartfelt, if humorous, obituary for her cat, Thomas Paine. The issue concludes with Robert E. Howard’s “Singing in the Wind” and Orus Mooney’s “Faith,” which asks, “How, believing not in that which I can see, / Can I believe in a Divinity I know not of?”

At the end of the issue is the “Texas Mailing List,” which explains the rules of membership:

J-17

This is followed by the names and addresses of everyone who will receive the issue. Each name has an inch or two of space left open for comments on the current issue. Here are some selections:

Harold Preece: “On the whole, exceptional. Orus not up to his usual standard. Bob Howard’s ‘King and the Mallet’ best contribution of this issue.”
Truett Vinson: “An extraordinary issue. The ‘Sonnets on the Recognition of the Vatican’ are superb. They should be passed on to some good poetry magazine. Bob Howard is still fine—as usual. Harold’s article is a fine collection of words! Good luck to The Junto’s new editor!”
Booth Mooney: “Harold’s article good, but I think his argument flawed. Howard’s stuff good, of course. [. . .] For God’s sake, don’t publish ‘Open Letters.’ I agree with T. V., however. [. . .]”
Maxine Ervin: “The best issue we have had in a long time, and it still has plenty of room for improvement.”

And a note from Truett Vinson:

Miss Preece—
Please add the name of Edna Mae Coffin, No. Chelmsford, Mass., to your National Mailing list. She is an artist of some ability and will be interested in The Junto.
T.V.

Fists_3_coverWith the jack-o-lantern rotting on the front porch and a half-finished list of items needed for Thanksgiving dinner in a kitchen drawer, the bombardment of Christmas sales and advertisements that unmercifully pound our senses has begun. In this tempest of holiday commercialism, where there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, there is solace within the pages of a spate of new Howard books and publications to calm one’s shattered and battered nerves. This year end publishing surge is a well-deserved reward for having survived yet another year of living on a planet that is seemingly coming apart at the seams. Escapism is the watchword for these troubled times, so let’s see what is on the reading menu for the waning weeks of 2014.

Now shipping is the third volume of the collected boxing stories of Robert E. Howard, Fists of Iron, Round 3. The volume is a smorgasbord of Costigan misadventures. If you are not onboard with the boxing stories, it is not too late. Volumes one and two are still available on the Robert E. Howard Foundation website. While you are there, check out the Membership details; being a member of the foundation is a great way to support REH, get discounts on books, the quarterly newsletter and some free swag to boot!

girasol-WeirdTales-September1934Neil Meacham over at Girasol Collectibles has been making many a Howard fan happy with the flurry of Weird Tales replicas featuring Conan stories he has been publishing the past months. The latest is one of Two-Gun’s best Conan yarns, “The People of the Black Circle.” Part one of the three part serial originally published in the September 1934, with a Brundage cover based on the story was published last month by Girasol, part two this month and part three will appear next month. It is really great to read Howard as he was originally published.

Also available from the Cimmerian Press is John D. Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos: Origins of the Cthulhu Mythos. This is the first volume from Leo Grin’s new publishing venture. The Cimmerian Press falls under the umbrella of LMG Books. Check out the website for more information. I am very please to see Leo get back in the publishing game. His The Cimmerian journal was far and away one of the best Howard zines ever, second only to Glenn Lord’s The Howard Collector

Swords-smSwords of the North from the REH Foundation Press is shipping next month. The book is one that the late, great Steve Tompkins dreamed of, what he called “The Northern Thing.” The volume is a comprehensive collection of all Howard’s “Northern Adventures,” featuring Cormac mac Art, Turlogh O’Brien, James Allison, and a number of other stories and poems. In a perfect world, this would have been the twelfth volume of the Del Rey series of Howard books.

A new volume from McFarland might be of interest to Howard fans: J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and the Birth of Modern Fantasy by Deke Parsons, edited by Donald E. Palumbo and C.W. Sullivan III. Per the website “The birth of modern fantasy in 1930s Britain and America saw the development of new literary and film genres. J.R.R. Tolkien created modern fantasy with The Lord of the Rings, set in a fictional world based upon his life in the early 20th century British Empire, and his love of language and medieval literature. In small-town Texas, Robert E. Howard pounded out his own fantasy realm in his Conan stories, published serially in the ephemeral pulp magazines he loved . . . ”

With Christmas coming, any or all of the above items would make great additions to your collection or gifts for other Howard fans, provided they haven’t been naughty and reading Conan pastiches.

SweetwaterBroadwayStreetScene1939

The Howards paused in their southward journey close to the point where the Texas Panhandle merges with the main body of the state in the town of Sweetwater, as Howard continues his travelogue in a letter to H.P. Lovecraft dated December 5, 1935:

So we came south, following the road we had taken in our northward travels, and reached the town of Sweetwater, in Nolan County, before sunset. It was formerly a clean, likable cattle-town, but now, since it is becoming an industrial center, has attracted some pretty unsavory characters, as well as many decent and honest citizens. While having my car greased (and being just full enough of beer to be talkative) I listened to a tale by one of the mechanics concerning the activities of a mysterious character who had tried to rob his house on more than one occasion, and once had even got into his bedroom, while he slept, and tried to ransack the place. He said he suspected a certain dope-fiend and announced his intention of filling the offender’s legs with lead on the next offense. I heartily sympathized with him, but doubted the wisdom of aiming at the fellow’s legs.

Howard loved to talk to people, hearing their life stories, tales of woe and misadventure. He would often incorporate these firsthand accounts of life in 1930s Texas one way or another and in his yarns.

Howard continues his narration of the trip to Lovecraft:

Returning to the tourist camp where we were staying I got a glimpse at another phase of life when a small girl and her young brother came out of a cabin and wistfully eyed a melon that had just been cut. We shared with them, of course, and this inspired the girl to volunteer unasked information concerning herself and parents. They were nice looking kids, but poorly dressed, and were, the child volunteered, being taken to California by their mother. She naively prattled away of watching her mother being beaten by their father, and it was rather revolting to hear her matter-of-fact tones relating how their father had, on one occasion, pinned their mother against the wall and beaten her eye nearly out of her head. This tale confirmed the fact that they were not natives of Texas, which of course was evident from their accents any way. They told where they were from, but that doesn’t matter.

SweetwaterTourist CampWhile I don’t doubt this encounter took place, as he was wont to do, Howard embellished it a bit. In his mind Texans were good, honest hard working people, incapable of domestic violence. But reality tells us people are both good and bad. And the good ones are not all confined within the borders of Texas.

There was one man Howard didn’t mention who also spent time in Sweetwater, Bat Masterson, whose name appears in several places in his correspondence.

In 1874 Masterson was a young man, an excellent rifle shot, and was also the youngest of 29 defenders at the Battle of Adobe Walls on July 27, 1874 in the Texas Panhandle. Adobe Walls was little more than a wide spot in the road, having only a picket blacksmith shop, 2 sod stores and a sod saloon, all of which had been built to serve regular parties of buffalo hunters who passed through. In that time and place, Masterson and his fellow buffalo hunters found their way of life threatened by a force of a superior force of 700 Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche, and Cheyenne warriors who had a plan to sweep through the Panhandle, massacring all the whites.

The Indians made their first attack at dawn. However, the marauding force soon discovered they had me a formidable force, albeit very small (28 men and 1 woman) but deadly force — all 29 were superb shots with the famous “Big Fifty” Sharps buffalo gun. Hunkered down behind the thick adobe walls, they repulsed charge after charge of the Indians. The seasoned buffalo hunters were such good shots that one warrior was knocked off his horse almost a mile away. Suffering huge losses under the barrage of those massive caliber rifles, the Indians lost a large number of warriors and quickly retreated. The defenders lost 4 men, including 2 who had been sleeping in a wagon outside the buildings. This fight triggered the Red River War of 1874-1875. Masterson worked through this war first as a scout for Colonel Nelson A. Miles, and then as a teamster running mule teams and wagons out of Camp Supply. The Texas Indian wars ended in 1875, with the Indians forced onto reservations. It was once again safe for soldiers and buffalo hunters to return to the area and the tiny town of Sweetwater became a stopping point for them to resupply and rest.

batmasterson1879It was in Sweetwater that Masterson took the life the of the only man he ever killed in a gunfight. The disagreement that led to the shooting was over a saloon girl named Molly Brennan. A soldier, Corporal Melvin A. King, stormed into the Lady Gay Saloon on January 24, 1876, and discovered Masterson and Brennan together. In a jealous rage, he opened fire. Witnesses to the shooting stated that Brennan jumped in front of Masterson to protect him from the gunfire. A bullet from King’s gun passed through Brennan and into Masterson, leaving both wounded. As Masterson fell to the floor, he fired his pistol at King, who had paused to cock his gun. King and Brennan both died of their wounds and Masterson was left severely wounded. It was during his long recovery that Masterson began using his famous cane. Masterson would go on to become a lawman in Kansas and Colorado. Despite his reputation, Masterson never killed another man, preferring instead to use his wits and negotiation skills to deal with lawbreakers.

After their brief respite in Sweetwater the Howards turned southward, heading toward San Angelo.

Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Five

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

halloween6_0

Hallowe’en in a Suburb
by H. P. Lovecraft

The steeples are white in the wild moonlight,
And the trees have a silver glare;
Past the chimneys high see the vampires fly,
And the harpies of upper air,
That flutter and laugh and stare.

For the village dead to the moon outspread
Never shone in the sunset’s gleam,
But grew out of the deep that the dead years keep
Where the rivers of madness stream
Down the gulfs to a pit of dream.

A chill wind weaves thro’ the rows of sheaves
In the meadows that shimmer pale,
And comes to twine where the headstones shine
And the ghouls of the churchyard wail
For harvests that fly and fail.

Not a breath of the strange grey gods of change
That tore from the past its own
Can quicken this hour, when a spectral pow’r
Spreads sleep o’er the cosmic throne
And looses the vast unknown.

So here again stretch the vale and plain
That moons long-forgotten saw,
And the dead leap gay in the pallid ray,
Sprung out of the tomb’s black maw
To shake all the world with awe.

And all that the morn shall greet forlorn,
The ugliness and the pest
Of rows where thick rise the stones and brick,
Shall some day be with the rest,
And brood with the shades unblest.

Then wild in the dark let the lemurs bark,
And the leprous spires ascend;
For new and old alike in the fold
Of horror and death are penn’d,
For the hounds of Time to rend.

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

IMGWhen John D. Haefele won the Venarium Award for emerging scholar for the 2007 Cimmerian Awards, I knew he was destined for great things—I mean, I was also nominated that year and he had beaten me, so this guy had to be good, right?

Well, the new, revised trade paperback edition of Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos:  Origins of the “Cthulhu Mythos” shows that the confidence the Cimmerian Awards voters had in this particular Howard fan was not misplaced.  As a founding participant in the birth of the Cthulhu Mythos, Howard is mentioned quite often in Haefele’s book, always respectfully, something which should make readers of this blog very happy.

Fittingly, this book is the first volume published by the Cimmerian Press, which should cause shouts of joy in Howard fandom.  Leo Grin’s journal The Cimmerian was a Golden Age for fans and scholars of our favorite Heroic Fantasy author.  At that time Howard studies was an enjoyable field of endeavor, with the essays being not only informative but entertaining to read—something lacking in much of the literary criticism lately, with titles that strive to be pretentious, and essayists who are not at all familiar with the work of those dedicated individuals who toiled earlier, in some cases before these new “scholars” were even born.

Readers of A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos will see that Haefele is indeed a scholar, putting in years of work on a book which can only enrich the writing and publishing heritage of August Derleth and force people to throw away their Joshi-tinted glasses and re-evaluate their opinions of the Sac Prairie Sage.  Fans of Robert E. Howard need to realize that August Derleth was indispensable in the history of REH, publishing the first hardcover collection of Howard’s weird fiction, Skull-Face and Others, and in 1957 printed, with much help and financial backing from Glenn Lord, Always Comes Evening, a book Haefele describes as “iconic.”

What is probably not so well known is that ten years earlier Arkham House had included a sampling of Howard’s verse in Dark of the Moon, which also included a poem by no less than Robert Frost, putting our pulp author in some pretty high company.

So, just in time for Halloween, appears John D. Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos.  A hefty, 510 page book that, at less than twenty dollars, will give you much bang for your buck. Run, don’t walk, over to Amazon.

2014 06-08 p002

In Dark Valley Destiny, L. Sprague de Camp says, “Early in 1929 a professional colleague had told Isaac Howard of a cotton boom in sparsely-inhabited Dickens County.” And, after a description of the area, this:

Dr. Howard learned that many new people would be coming into the region to grow cotton by irrigation. Undoubtedly they would have need of a physician. Thinking this a chance to make some quick cash, Isaac Howard went to Spur, a town of moderate size in Dickens County, 112 miles northwest of Cross Plains.

On May 4, 1929, he took out his license to practice medicine in Dickens County. He transferred his letter of membership in the First Baptist Church of Cross Plains, which he had joined in 1924, to the Baptist Church in Spur. He evidently meant to stay for some time in Spur, one of those places on the fringe of things to which he had always been drawn. We can only guess what part was played in Isaac’s move by his discomfiture over his wife’s royal pretensions, his son’s animosity, and the necessity of sharing his small house with a roomer.

While the dates of Isaac’s moves are uncertain, it appears that his sojourn in Spur lasted at least half a year. He must have come back often to Cross Plains to visit his family, for the townsfolk of Cross Plains seem to have been unaware of his absences. In mid-1929 he probably returned home to stay for at least half a year, because of Robert Howard’s absence during this time. We do not know whether the doctor returned to Spur during the first half of 1930; in any event he transferred his church membership back to Cross Plains on August 28, 1930.

The last sentence ends with the following footnote: “Interview with J. Scott, 21 Feb. 1980; letter from Rev. T. Irwin, 25 Aug. 1977.” De Camp’s notes on his talk with Jack Scott say, “The reason for IMH’s stay in Spur was a cotton boom in that region, which he thought would give him a chance to make some money.” I haven’t seen the letter from Rev. Irwin, but I assume that is where the information regarding church membership comes from.

That all sounds pretty squishy, and I’ve never been a fan of speculation. Here are the few nuggets regarding Dr. Howard’s trip to Spur that I’ve seen. First up is Norris Chambers’ July 7, 1978 letter to de Camp:

Received your letter asking about Dr. Howard’s trip to Spur. I heard a little about this, but all I knew then (I was pretty young in 1929), was that he was thinking of moving his practice out there. I remember he talked some in later years about the country out there, but I never really knew that he went out there with the intention of “taking out.” However, this could easily have been the case. He often spoke of moving to various parts of the country, but we had heard this talk so much that we just listened to it and figured that nothing would come of it. The Dr. talked of doing many things that he never did. Sometimes he would start on something, but usually got other interests or changed his mind before he went very far with the actual act.

Besides de Camp’s notes on the 1980 Jack Scott interview, there’s also an earlier, August 31, 1978, letter to de Camp’s partner, Jane W. Griffin, which has this:

I was in college in 1929 at the time you say Dr. I. M. Howard moved to Spur and opened temporary practice. Consequently, I have no knowledge of that. Neither am I familiar with any unhappiness in his marital life.

And there are these items:

Cross Plains Review – May 3, 1929 (page 8)

1929 05-03 CPR p8 IMH to Spur

Cross Plains Review - June 7, 1929 (page 8)

1929 06-07 CPR p8

Cross Plains Review – July 5, 1929 (page 1)

1929 07-05 CPR p1

Cross Plains Review – July 5, 1929 (page 8)

1929 07-05 CPR p8 IMH ad

So, de Camp’s “at least half a year” looks more like two months, though I can’t explain the late membership renewal at church. I suppose it’s possible Dr. Howard went back to Spur, but I think it’s more likely he just didn’t get around to renewing. Speculation—yuck. During a recent trip to the area, my folks and I stopped in Dickens County and visited the courthouse in the town of Dickens. There are no land records for Dr. Howard, but I did get a copy of his medical registration. I also talked to local historian Erick Swenson. He told me that the cotton boom was over by 1929 and couldn’t think of anything special that would bring someone to town at the time.

Just a tad south of Dickens, we also visited Spur itself. I learned that the local newspaper, The Texas Spur, has been in business practically since the town was created due to the cotton boom in 1909. All of its holdings are archived at Texas Tech; unfortunately, it appears that no issues from 1929 survive. The town has a small museum, but other than a few old photographs of Spur, I didn’t find much of interest.

IMG_1225

madamelalaurieI first saw her face on a beignet break in the French Quarter. My native New Orleans tour guide/friend lay sleeping off our binge at a wine bar appropriately named Bacchanal, so I decided killing some time eating deep fried goodness to be a bonne idea. After reveling for the umpteenth time in the sinful caffeine orgasm that is French fried donuts sponging up some frozen coffee, I puttered around a few shops in the area. In a little bric-a-brac cluttered window on Royal Street my gaze froze on the face of a woman pale as death and a pair of hypnotic eyes that quickly reeled me into the overpriced tourist trap.

The vampirish woman emblazoned the cover of a book entitled Madame Lalaurie — Mistress of the Haunted House. The tome by Carolyn Morrow Long basically purported to be the true story of the notorious haunted mansion just a few blocks further down Royal Street. I vaguely remembered picking up something of the story on my last trip to NOLA. It is a twisted tale of diabolical evil a carriage driver took much joy in relating to me with his own sanguine embellishments. Something about a woman who tortured her slaves and let her doctor hubby conduct all kinds of unholy experiments upon their innocent flesh before trying to burn all the evidence in a catastrophic fire. Something to that effect. But with much focus on the tortures of the damned, maggots, whips, hellfire and Nicholas Cage — he happened to be the owner of the house at the time.

Thumbing through the book I quickly figured out this was a legitimate history book and not just a retelling of urban legends. The author makes use of original documents, genealogies, newspaper accounts, etc. to build a compelling case for the true story about Madame Lalaurie and her ghoulish goings on. Turns out, the urban legends weren’t too far off the mark from reality. This was one sadistic bitch of a Creole and apparently very guilty of most everything she was accused of. Madame was a member of the original New Orleans blue bloods, had been married to the Spanish Governor as a tender teen, married a second time to a slave trader who did quite a hopping business with the Lafitte brothers, and finally getting hitched a third time to a young doctor about 20 years her junior. And this was about a year after he got her pregnant. She was already a fairly fascinating lady before you even get to the slave abuse aspect of her tale. Things turn pretty dark pretty quickly.

houseNot only was she notorious throughout the city for abusing her slaves, she had even been taken to court over the accusations which, in those days, should tell you how absolutely awful she was. The Code Noir of 1820’s New Orleans was far more liberal that the rest of the South but slaves were still slaves and couldn’t bear witness against a white person. She was acquitted of the charges but her neighbors still despised her and spied on her. One night she was seen chasing a screaming young serving girl with a horsewhip off the edge of her roof. The unfortunate young lady’s broken body mysteriously disappeared. Then the fire happened. After the cruel Creole and her family escaped the flames, the nosy neighbors quickly realized that many of her slaves were unaccounted for. The heroic Samaritans charged inside amongst the smoke and flame finding to their horror ten or so slaves chained in a small attic like room. The poor wretches were emaciated and covered with sores, maggots gnawing at their insides. The slaves were taken immediately to the doctors to be treated but not before a growing mob had seen the nasty result of Madame’s hobby. They were none too pleased. When the authorities allowed her to escape the city, the grumbling mob exploded into flame.

A thousand screaming demons rushed the empty Lalaurie mansion and tore it almost entirely to the ground. The destruction was so complete that the house had to be entirely rebuilt – meaning the famous haunted mansion of today isn’t really the same building where the poor slaves lived out their terrible existence. The author of the biography using what’s left of the slave records figured out that at least twenty of Lalaurie’s slaves died between 1816 and 1833. Another nineteen simply vanished from all records after the fire in 1834. Even accounting for some natural deaths in a time without modern medicine, that’s a big pile of corpses. Oh, and they never caught up with the mistress of that house of horrors. She fled to France with the aid of her loyal butler and lived out the remainder of her days in the motherland with her family, exiled by the scandal but otherwise unharmed. Her young hubby left her and she was eventually forced to live off others’ charity the rest of her days. But after she died in her early 60’s (according to some tales gored to death by a wild boar!) her body was returned to New Orleans and there her ghost festers to this day.

Now, as I read this sordid tale, certain aspects of it seemed to strike sparks in my synapses:

(1.) A savage Creole mistress of an old family abuses not only all her slaves but focuses on a young slave girl in particular;

(2.) The slave girl and other slaves eventually disappear;

(3.) A grim attic hiding the loathsome secret of chained bodies;

(4.) The evil woman disappears and is never heard from again.

I couldn’t put my finger on what seemed so familiar about it. But fortunately I had Rusty Burke’s history of REH in New Orleans from several mailings of REHupa with me. One of the articles talked about Howard’s three landladies, the Durell sisters, whom he believed to be the inspiration for the three Blassenville sisters in “Pigeons from Hell.” Reading over that material lit my imagination and I quickly realized why Madame Lalaurie seemed so familiar — she’s basically the monstrous Celia Blassenville of “Pigeons from Hell!”

In Howard’s tale, the Blassenvilles are of French-English descent and from the West Indies, moving to their home before the Louisiana Purchase. They, like many wealthy Southerners, were ruined in the War Between the States. Celia is described as a fine, handsome woman in her early thirties. The family was unusually brutal towards their slaves, an idea picked up from their time in the West Indies. Celia whipped her mulatto serving girl just like a slave. She also tied the unfortunate young beauty naked to a tree  and lashed her with a horsewhip.  In the story, a hidden room was built in the manor house where the three sisters’ mummified bodies would be found, hanging by their necks from the ceiling in the windowless chamber.

lalaurieGoing back to the biography of Madame Lalaurie, I found that her family was of French-Irish descent with connections to the West Indies. Her story takes place a good thirty years before the War Between the States but she certainly does lose pretty much everything because of the fire and the scandal. The bonne vie of Creole plantations and grand parties and balls were no longer in her future. Madame Lalaurie was well known as a great beauty and must have been quite seductive and charming to have a love child with a much younger man in that day and age. She was certainly no Kathy Bates — the actress who portrayed her in American Horror Story: Coven. The one known portrait of her is striking. She became infamous for horsewhipping a young slave girl as she chased her off the roof. Then of course both women’s homes have secret attic rooms convenient for storing bodies. Also, her house is on Royal Street — the same street that the Durell sisters lived on for a time. Oh and Madame Lalaurie’s first name is Delphine, the same name as one of the Durell sisters.

Of course much of this could be circumstantial. A decadent old southern family guarding dark secrets is a pretty familiar cliché in the horror genre. Howard could have easily tapped into that whole traditional Southern gothic atmosphere. I have no evidence he ever mentioned Delphine Lalaurie or had read any of the books she is featured in. But she is a legendary figure in New Orleans and a precocious kid like Howard who loved local legends and ghost stories would have quickly learned about her. The building had been a haunted tourist attraction since the 1890’s and it’s not far from where he briefly lived on Canal Street when he was 13. There were also several popular New Orleans history books published at that time which mentioned her that Howard could have easily found at the local library. Maybe not concrete evidence but I think it builds up an interesting case.

We will never know for sure, but I feel pretty positive that he mixed Delphine Lalaurie’s evil shadow with the Durell sisters, sprinkled in the ax works from a ghost story he heard as a child, stirred in a little double double toil and trouble and before you can say zuvembie, Howard had cooked up “Pigeons from Hell,” recognized today as one of the best horror stories ever written.

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction, Howard's Travels, Rusty Burke.

IMG_0001Paula Raymond, the pretty woman to the left, once stated in an interview that Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright was her uncle.  However, it would seem that wherever I look on the Internet, and of course I haven’t looked everywhere, I am informed that Ms. Raymond was the granddaughter of Wright.  Indeed, in Screen Sirens Scream, the authors preface her interview by listing her as Farnsworth’s granddaughter, ignoring her remarks entirely.

But considering that Wright was born in 1888, and married in 1929, and that his son Robert was born a year later, and that Paula Raymond was born in 1924 I have a lot of trouble envisioning her as his granddaughter, no matter what I may find on the Internet.  If any of the readers of this blog are proficient on the ancestry sites, which I most certainly am not, I would appreciate any verification one way or the other.

However this may end up, this beautiful actress was related to the famous editor, and if he had lived past 1940 he would undoubtedly have been very proud of her.  She appeared in many of the top-rated television shows of her time, including 77 Sunset Strip, Perry Mason, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Maverick, and Rawhide.  She was also apparently picked to play the role of Kitty on Gunsmoke but turned it down.

IMG_0003But the movie that probably would have meant the most to Farnsworth Wright was Paula’s starring appearance in the Ray Harryhausen classic, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.  One of the great giant monster movies, the lighthouse scene, based on the story “The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury, is undoubtedly one of the high points of the film, and that takes us full circle, as Bradbury was one of the great contributors to Weird Tales. 

Another interesting movie Ms. Raymond starred in, along with John Agar, was “Hand of Death,” which was considered “lost” for a time.  Perhaps the most notable moment in this flick is the transformation of John Agar into a monster that looks like a cross between The Fantastic Four’s The Thing and the repulsive night-watchman in Robert W. Chambers’ “The Yellow Sign.”

After this film Raymond was involved in a horrific automobile accident, which I’ll let her relate in her own words.  “All I can remember is me screaming…and then the impact.  The rear view mirror crushed my face, taking my nose off completely.  Then the car overturned six or eight times, and I was later told that I was pulled out of the car seconds before it exploded.” She explains that even though the surgery to repair her nose was mostly successful she “never worked so much after that.”  Ms. Raymond passed away in 2003.

This entry filed under Farnsworth Wright, Weird Tales.

Fists_3_cover

Okay boys and girls, time to start flipping couch cushions and looking for those wayward pazoors because the newest offering from the REH Foundation Press is on the way. Coming soon is the third of four volumes of the collected boxing fiction of REH, Fists of Iron, Round 3. Ordering details have not yet been posted on the Foundation’s website, but you’d better keep a close lookout for the information, because if you are a Sailor Steve Costigan fan, this is one volume you must have. Hell, you really need all four of them! Here is the pugilistic fight card for Round 3:

Introduction: “Big Talk Don’t Bust No Chins” by Chris Gruber

“Circus Fists”
“Vikings of the Gloves”
“Night of Battle”
“Sailor Costigan and the Yellow Cobra”
“Sailor Costigan and the Jade Monkey”
“Alleys of Darkness”
“Sailor Costigan and the Destiny Gorilla”
“A New Game for Costigan”
“A Two-Fisted Santa Claus”
“The Slugger’s Game”
“General Ironfist”
“Sluggers of the Beach”
“The Honor of the Ship” (originally untitled)
Untitled story (“A sailorman ain’t got no business…”) (aka “Flying Knuckles”)
“Iron-Clad Fists”
“Sailor Costigan and the Swami” (originally untitled)
“Alleys of Treachery”

Appendix:

“Night of Battle: (synopsis)
“Sailor Costigan and the Turkish Menace” (incomplete)
“Sailor Costigan and the Turkish Menace” (synopsis)
“Sailor Costigan and the Jade Monkey” (3rd person version)
“Alleys of Darkness” (synopsis)
“Sailor Costigan and the Destiny Gorilla” (synopsis)
“A New Game for Costigan” (synopsis)
“A Two-Fisted Santa Claus” (synopsis)
“The Slugger’s Game” (synopsis)
“General Ironfist” (synopsis)
“Sluggers of the Beach” (synopsis)
“Iron-Clad Fists” (synopsis)
“Alleys of Treachery” (synopsis)

“The Lord of the Ring,” (part 3), by Patrice Louinet

And let’s not forget Round 3 has a knockout of a cover by Tom Gianni. Tom was a special guest at Howard Days this year and while there, he snagged the 2014 REHF Rankin Award for best Howard artist. Indeed, it was well deserved for all the fine work he has been doing on the Foundation books dust jackets.

Speaking of the Foundation, they recently changed their mailing address. All correspondence may now be addressed to:

Robert E. Howard Foundation
PO Box 2641
Sugar Land, TX 77487-2641

The web site remains the same at: www.rehfoundation.org.