This page features just a small sampling of the articles and essays written by well know Howard scholars that fill the pages of REH: Two-Gun Raconteur.


The Image of Conan

by Leon Nielsen

If one should ask a devoted Conan afficionado how he or she would best visualize the Cimmerian swordsman, I believe that in most cases, the answer would be the image of Conan created by Frank Frazetta’s and to a lesser degree by Ken Kelly and Roy Krenkel.  Furthermore Mark Schultz, Gary Gianni and Gregory Manchess need also be added to the list of recent Conan illustrative interpreters. Nevertheless, the king of fantasy paintings has prevailed and particularly Frazetta’s painting for the Lancer paperback Conan the Adventurer(Lancer 1967) has been hailed as the definitive visualization of Conan. Thus, generations of Conan fans have been conditioned to believe that the Frazetta image is the most emblematic, although it may be quite different from what Robert E. Howard had in mind, and somewhat distant from a realistic image of the Cimmerian.

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photoGouged Eyes and Chawed Ears: The Rough-and-Tumble World of Breckinridge Elkins

by Jeffrery Shanks

In Robert E. Howard’s first published Breckinridge Elkins yarn, “Mountain Man,” Pap gives his boy some interesting advice before sending him off to the frontier town of Tomahawk:

Don’t be techy — but don’t forgit that yore pap was once the rough-and-tumble champeen of Gonzales County, Texas. And whilst yo’re feelin’ for the other feller’s eye, don’t be keerless and let him chaw yore ear off. (1-2)

 “Rough-and-tumble” fighting is a uniquely American style of unarmed combat that was prevalent in the South and on the frontier from the late 18th through the middle of the 19th century. It is characterized by the use of brutal biting and gouging tactics that would horrify the sensibilities of even the most hardened of modern boxing or mixed martial arts fans. Rough-and-tumble was not simply uncontrolled mayhem – it was a fighting system with standard techniques that generally involved grappling and pinning the opponent in order to be able to bite the nose or ears or to use a thumb to remove an eye.

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The Hyperboreans Re-imagined

by Morgan Holmes

Reading Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories set in the Hyborian Age, one is struck by the rich background teeming with detail. Howard wrote the essay “The Hyborian Age” as a “writer’s bible” for the milieu, which provided the tales with a great degree of consistency to go along with the elaborate design. Examining each story for clues can lead to numerous revelations concerning the sumptuous world of Conan.

Knowing this, it always surprises me to see how writers charged with telescoping the Hyborian Age into non-Howard stories and other media manage to make such a mishmash of the Texan’s vision. Take L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter’s portrayal of a little-seen nation in Howard’s original stories, Hyperborea. The first of their Hyperborean tales, “The Witch of the Mists” originally appeared in Fantastic Stories sporting a nice Jeff Jones cover. In this story De Camp and Carter turn the Hyperboreans into near albino witch-men called the White Hand, and throw around some Finnish names. The Gruesome Twosome return to Hyperborea in Conan the Swordsmanwith “Legions of the Dead,” an inadvertently funny story due to a chapter entitled “The Horror on the Parapet”—the only thing horrific here is Carter’s attempt at horror! Lin Sprague de Carter’s use of Hyperborea should be called “Thongor vs. the Black Druids.” A story featuring Conantic’s son Conn kidnapped by wizards is pure Carter and recycled Thongor. My guess is de Camp provided the Finnish names taken from the Kalevala, as he and Fletcher Pratt had written a Harold Shea story decades earlier with that backdrop.

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Forgotten Secrets of Bloody Pride

by Bill Wallace

Howard had a talent for naming his stories. Titles like “Tower of the Elephant” or “Kings of the Night” are incredibly evocative. Among his horror stories, titles range from the rather classically pulpish, “The Fire of Asshurbanipal” to the quiet extremes of “The Hyena” or “The Black Stone.” Perhaps the day was too hot forty years ago when it came time to apply a title to his story of particularly nasty revenge in a decaying  Southern mansion, because “Pigeons From Hell” has to go down on record as one of the least likely, and least effective titles ever applied to a story of pure unadulterated  horror. Compare, for example “Field Mice of Doom” or “Night of the Raccoon.” It is equally remarkable that in the many appearances of the story – it may be the most commonly anthologized Howard story ever – no editor has ever changed the name. Even for its appearance on television, a medium which usually abides no deviation from accepted patterns, the incongruous title remained.

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The Swift and the Doomed

The Corruption of the Short Version of “Three-Bladed Doom”

by Damon C. Sasser

In June of 1977, I unexpectedly ran into Byron Roark at Houstoncon. He and a friend had driven down from Kansas for the event.  It was a pretty big convention – mostly comic books, Star Trek and old movies. Roy Thomas was one of the Guests of Honor and Glenn Lord was there as well, though just as a fan. Roark and I hung out together for most of the three day event, talking Howard and fanzines.  Shortly before we parted company, Roark bragged to me that he had rewritten the ending of the previously unpublished short version of “Three-Bladed Doom,” which had just appeared in REH: Lone Star Fictioneer #4.

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Fists of Cross Plains

by Charles R. Saunders

“Testing . . . testing . . . one, two. . .  How I ever drew this ridiculous assignment I’ll never know. . . Oh, well, another day, another dollar. . .”

“Howard!  We’re on the air!”

“Oh.  Right. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen to KBC’s Wacky World of Sports.  Tonight, live from Cross Plains, Texas, we bring you the finals of the Robert E. Howard Heavyweight Championship, pitting Yucca Junction, Arizona’s Kirby Karnes against Dennis Dorgan of the good ship Python in fifteen rounds or less of pugilistic peregrinations. I’m Howard Moresell, and with me is my distinguished colleague Frank Stifford, and we are about to give you the blow-by-blow account of what promises to be a grueling, brutal bout. As we wait for the contestants to emerge from their dressing rooms, let’s recap some of the bouts that led up to tonight’s confrontation. And some exciting and unusual bouts they were, right, Frank?”

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Black Stranger, White Wolflord

Or, Not Out of the Woods Yet

by Steve Tompkins

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
Che la diritta via era smarrita.
Ahi quanto a dir qual era e cosa dura
Esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
Che nel pensier rinova la paura!
Tant’ e amara che poco e piu morte

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
About those woods is hard — so tangled and rough
And savage that thinking of it now, I feel
The old fear stirring; death is hardly more bitter.

– Dante, The Inferno (English version from Robert Pinsky’s 1994 translation)

The whole continent was one continued dismal wilderness, the haunt of wolves.

– John Adams, 1756

But these eyes are all you will be able to glimpse of the forest assassins as they cluster invisibly round your smell of meat as you go through the woods unwisely late. They will be like shadows, they will be like wraiths, gray members of a congregation of nightmare.

– Angela Carter, “The Company of Wolves”

A man whose pursuit of vengeance has led to his pursuit by vengeance, whose very success in prosecuting a bloodfeud has arraigned him as a defendant in a lawless courtroom. A man whose enemies will follow him to hell and be reminded of home. He has fled them through a landscape the balefulness of which suggests the natural become supernatural through murderous concentration, a howling wilderness both literally and figuratively. As his pursuers find him, he finds, all-unlooked for, a bastion or redoubt of human civilization, not just an incongruity but an impertinence in this locale: a space claimed, tamed, and named, and as such an affront which only aggravates the wildness of the surrounding wilds. Once inside, it becomes clear that the newcomer has exchanged the outdoor frying pan for the indoor fire: flames of panic and paranoia immediately fanned by his arrival. Be it ever so garrisoned and provisioned, a fortress can only fortify against an external threat, and there is a secret as pent up within this castle’s residents as are they within its walls. Something else knows this secret and, even as it marshals and directs those on the outside looking hungrily in, preys on the minds of the besieged in anticipation of preying on their bodies. Having lost the initiative, the newcomer may lose his life as well.

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