Archive for the 'Clark Ashton Smith' Category

2016-09-10-10-06-10

Ebony and Crystal: Poems in Verse and Prose (1922, The Auburn Journal) was Clark Ashton Smith’s third volume of poetry, following The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912, Robertson) and Odes and Sonnets (1918, The Book Club of California). Smith had conceived the volume as early as 1916, and by late 1920 had a manuscript which he shopped around to Alfred A. Knopf, Boni & Liveright, and Houghton Mifflin, all of whom turned it down. (SU 148, 167, 186-189) Finally, in 1922 the Auburn Journal was willing to publish the book—“aside from half-a-dozen of the more ‘daring’ erotics”—on credit. (SU 209)

George Sterling helped, providing a preface for the book, going over the proofs, soliciting reviews in newspapers, as well as writing a review of the book which appeared in the San Francisco Bulletin. (SU 11) Problems with the binders delayed the timely publication of the book, which was published in December 1922 in an edition of 500 numbered copies, not counting unbound copies, etc.; Smith says in a letter to Sterling that 550 copies were printed in total, which probably includes unbound copies for review, at a cost to Smith of “about a dollar per copy.” Smith sought to retail them for $2 a copy, from which booksellers would take a commission. (SU 217-218) By May 1923, Smith wrote to Sterling that “The entire bill was $556, of which I still owe $180.”; this suggests that at least 200 copies must have sold, possibly more depending on the bookseller’s commision. To pay off the remainder of the debt, Smith began writing a column for the Auburn Journal. (SU 231) By 1926, Smith still had a hundred copies of Ebony & Crystal in stock; in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft in 1936, Smith admitted that the stock was “not yet exhausted.” (SU 272, SLCAS 278)

In August 1922, several months before Ebony and Crystal was published, Smith gained a new correspondent. H. P. Lovecraft and Smith shared a mutual friend in Samuel Loveman, to whom E&C is dedicated, and at Loveman’s suggestion Lovecraft began writing to Smith. (LNY 19) Through Lovecraft, Smith and his work began to be exposed to a wider circle—Lovecraft published a review of E&C in the amateur periodical L’Alouette (Jan 1924), and promoted the book to friends and correspondents—including Robert E. Howard, who Lovecraft had starting exchanging letters with in 1930. In a letter dated 24 July 1933, Lovecraft wrote to Robert E. Howard:

By the way—I enclose a circular of Clark Ashton Smith’s new brochure of weird stories, all of which are splendid. I advise you to pick up this item—and also the book of poems at its reduced price. (MF 2.619)

The “brochure” was The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies (June 1933), a collection of weird fiction privately printed for Smith by the Auburn Journal. Smith advertised the sale of of The Double Shadow for 25¢ a piece, and the remainder of the copies of Ebony and Crystal marked down to $1 each; besides the announcements circulated by Lovecraft, the advertisements ran in The Auburn Journal, The Fantasy Fan, Science Fiction Digest, Fantasy Magazine, and (for The Double Shadow only) Weird Tales. (ED 205)

As it happened, Lovecraft was slightly behind on events. In the first surviving letter from Robert E. Howard to Clark Ashton Smith, postmarked 15 March 1933, Howard thanks Smith for a copy of The Double Shadow, and adds:

I am enclosing a check for Ebony and Crystal and would feel most honored if you would write your autograph on the fly page. (CL 3.42)

Smith obliged, on the title page of Howard’s copy of the book, which was printed without fly-leaves, Smith inscribed the date, 4 July 1933, and the simple message:

For Robert E. Howard,

These litanies to Astarte and Hecate and Dagon and Demogorgon.

With fraternal good wishes,

Clark Ashton Smith

There is a slight discrepancy between the publishing date of The Double Shadow (June 1933), the date of Smith’s inscription (4 July), and Howard’s reception of it and order for Ebony & Crystal (postmarked 15 March); on the face of it, the likelihood is that the envelope’s postmark doesn’t correspond with the letter. Howard for his part was enthusiastic, as recorded in his reply to Smith, dated 22 July 1933:

I can hardly find words to express the pleasure — I might even say ecstasy — with which I have read, and re-read your magnificent Ebony and Crystal. Every line in it is a gem. I could dip into the pages and pick at random, anywhere in the book, images of clarity and depth unsurpassed. I haven’t the words to express what I feel, my vocabulary being disgustingly small. But so many of your images stir feeling of such unusual depth and intensity, and bring back half forgotten instincts and emotions with such crystal clearness. (CL 3.96)

The 152 page book contains 94 poems and 20 prose-pastels; despite the efforts to proof the book before publication, several of the extant books contain corrections in Smith’s own hand. Howard went on to expound on several of the contents:

For instance, the stanza containing the line: “The pines are ebony”. A memory springs up with startling clearness of a starlit glade wherein I stood, years ago and hundreds of miles distant, a glade bordered with pine trees that rose like a solid wall of blackness. “Ebony”. I have never encountered a darkness like that of a pine-forest at midnight. And again, “Winter Moonlight” and the line: “Carven of steel or fretted stone.” It limns a picture of last winter when I was struck with the weird and somber imagery of a tall mesquite tree etched against a snowy land and the dimly gleaming steel of a cloudy winter sky. (CL 3.96-97)

Refers to Impression (“The silver silence of the moon,” E&C 10); and Winter Moonlight (“The silence of the silver night,” E&C 71) respectively. Howard’s final praise was reserved for the centerpiece of the volume: The Hashish-Eater; or, the Apocalypse of Evil (“Bow down: I am the emperor of dreams,” E&C 49-64), a 582-line epic which would provide one of Smith’s most enduring epithets:

But I could go on indefinitely. I will not seek to express my appreciation of “The Hashish-Eater”. I lack the words. I have read it many times already; I hope to read it many more times. (CL 3.97)

The Texan closed out the letter with:

And in the meantime, my sincerest congratulations on Ebony and Crystal, and thanks for the intriguing inscription on the leaf. (CL 3.97)

Smith appreciated Howard’s comments, and his estimation of Howard’s own poetry seems to have raised his opinion of the Texan, as he wrote to August Derleth in a letter dated 29 August 1933:

H. seemed very appreciative of my book of poems, Ebony and Crystal, and evidently understood it as few people have done. (SLCAS 219)

Howard for his part confirmed in a letter to Lovecraft c. September 1933, writing that “Yes, I got both Smith’s brochure and his book of poems, as I told him.” (MF 2.634, CL 3.108)

Ebony and Crystal remained in Robert E. Howard’s library at the time of his death on 11 June 1936. Dr. Isaac M. Howard decided to donate the books in his son’s library, including E&C, to his son’s alma mater, Howard Payne College, as recounted in an article in the Brownwood Bulletin 29 June 1936, which reads in part:

The library consists of some 300 books, the great majority of which deal with history and biography. More than 50 volumes of current drama and current poetry are included in the collection.

Along with the books, the college acquired a complete file of all the magazines which carry the literary contributions of Robert E. Howard. Included in this file are short stories, novelettes, and book length novels and many poems.

The library is being prepared for cataloguing and circulation and is to be known as “The Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection.” (CLIMH 62)

The collection was also augmented by donations from Howard’s friends, including H. P. Lovecraft and R. H. Barlow. The college affixed the new acquisitions with a special bookplate, and then appears to have sent them into general circulation—as Steve Eng noted, “Such is standard library practice with any donation made in someone’s memory.” (TDB 183-184) The indifferent treatment upset Dr. Howard, who wrote to Farnsworth Wright on 19 December 1936 regarding the collection of his son’s pulp magazines:

These magazines were installed and I was particular enough to have Howard Payne College place his Library in a room part from all the rest of the Library in the College. I took the utmost pains to have this collection placed in such manner as to preserve it entirely.

I was in the Library one day this week. I find that they are wearing the backs off of his magazines. The net thing the leaves will be falling apart, and all that Robert Howard ever wrote will be lost to me if they remain there.

I have got to do one of two things if I preserve his magazines. (The books will stand rough usage.) The magazines will not. (CLIMH 143)

Dr. Howard removed the magazines from the library collection. In Dr. Charlotte Laughlin’s 1978 index what remained of the collection, she noted that one Cross Plains resident claimed “some articles had even been cut out of the magazines” (PQ 1.24), as well as providing another possible reason for the removal of the pulps:

The woman who was the librarian at Howard Payne in 1936, told the English teacher that she did not think that the pulp magazines had any place in the library of a Christian college. She was offended, like many people before or after her, by the scenes of violence and scantily clad women depicted on the covers. She said that she placed these magazines in the basement of the administration building, now known as Old Main. When Dr. Howard learned that they were in a damp basement, he boxed them up and took them home with him. (PQ 1.25)

The vicissitudes of library use led to attrition, so that the majority of the Howard donations lost their bookplate; some appear to never have had them. The original holograph accessions ledger which records Dr. Howard’s donation contains many errors, and over the decades many titles simply disappeared: lost, stolen, or discarded, so the full list of the original Howard Memorial collection will probably never be known. However, in the late 1970s the Howard Payne librarian Corrine Shields attempted to pull together what remained of the original collection, from which Dr. Charlotte Laughlin compiled “Robert E. Howard’s Library: An Annotated Checklist,” the first effort to catalogue both the original extent of the collection and what was left of it, published over the first four issues of the Paperback Quarterly. (PQ 1-4). This initial effort was followed by subsequent efforts by Glenn Lord, Steve Eng, Rusty Burke, Rob Roehm, and others to identify unknown works and locate lost volumes. The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies, for example, does not appear on Dr. Howard’s holograph accession list; perhaps he included it among the pulp magazines.

When Steve Eng collated the lists for the appendix on Howard’s library in The Dark Barbarian (1984), he noted that Ebony and Crystal was not a part of the College’s collection. Charlotte Laughlin in “Robert E. Howard’s Library: An Annotated Checklist” in Paperback Quarterly vol. 1 no. 4 (Winter 1978) notes that Howard’s inscribed copy of Ebony and Crystal was given to Glenn Lord, representative of the Howard Estate, by a former Howard Payne librarian.

Of the approx. 300 titles from Dr. Howard’s initial donation, 68 titles remain in the Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection. These were separated from the circulating collection in the Howard Payne University Library Treasure Room; they are now stored at the Robert E. Howard House and Museum in Cross Plains.

Works Cited

CL            The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols. + Index and Addenda)

CLIMH     The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard

E&C         Ebony & Crystal

ED           Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography

LNY         Letters from New York

MF           A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (2. vols)

PQ           Paperback Quarterly: A Journal for Paperback Collectors (vol. 1, no. 1-4)

SLCAS    The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith

SU           The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith

TDB         The Dark Barbarian

Read Ebony and Crystal here

Photo courtesy of Paul Herman

Strange-Tales-5

In the 1930s, a circle of weird pulp writers developed an interwoven correspondence, with prominent members including Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, E. Hoffmann Price, and Henry S. Whitehead. The exact correspondence varied according to the tastes of each, but they all participating in answering letters, circulating stories, lending books, artwork, and other materials, and of course sharing the latest news and leads regarding their mutual field of endeavor. One of the most intriguing sidelights of this mutual correspondence involved a particularly deranged fan, mentioned by Clark Ashton Smith in a letter to August Derleth dated 15 May 1932:

No word from Bates about my various stories. He sent me yesterday, however, a terrific communication from one G. P. Olsen of Sheldon, Iowa, which had been addressed to me in care of S.T. I’ve had letters from madmen before, but this one really took the gilt-edged angel-cake. Twelve single-spaced pages, much of it phrased with a lucidity almost equal to that of Gertrude Stein or Hegel. Among other things, as well as I could make it out, the fellow seemed to be desirous of correcting certain erroneous ideas about demons and vampires which he had discovered in “The Nameless Offspring.” Also, he wanted to point out the errors of Abdul Alhazred! Some of the stuff about vampires was really weird: “You never thought of a Vampire in your life but he appeared like an Emperor or an Archangel.” Then he exhorts me to refrain from putting vampires in a bad light, since, by virtue of a little blood-sucking, they really confer immortality on those they have chosen! Later, apropos of godknowswhat, he told me that “you must realize it will never be stood for if you act in any other way than that befitting a Spanish Don.” The letter is the damdest mixture of paranoia, delusions of grandeur and mystic delirium that ever went through the U.S. mails. The fellow writes of Ammon-Ra and Ahriman—a regular hash of Oriental mysticism—in the language of an illiterate Swede. He ends with something to the effect that his letter is the most momentous intellectual promulgation of the age. I’m not in the habit of ignoring letters; but there’s nothing else to be done in this case. (SLCAS 177)

“The Nameless Offspring” was published in the June 1932 issue of Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror (which often hit stands the month prior to the cover date), which was edited by Harry Bates. The mention of Alhazred refers to Smith’s “The Return of the Sorcerer” (ST Sep 1931, the premiere issue) so Olsen (or Olson, as Robert E. Howard wrote his name), must have been reading Strange Tales from the the start. The mention of vampires is odd, as neither of Smith’s stories features an actual vampire—”The Return of the Sorcerer” involves another form of undeath, and “The Nameless Offspring” a ghoul—but this appears to have been a characteristic obsession of Olsen, as detailed by Robert E. Howard to Tevis Clyde smith in May 1932:

I’ve gotten some more letters from that fool Olson, in Iowa. I could endure his lunacy, but his illiteracy gets on my nerves. This time he’s frothing at the mouth on account of my “Horror from the Mound”. He lashed himself into a perfect frenzy because I said a vampire was really dead. He says that there is no death in the first place, and that Christ was a vampire. Also that a vampire is in “reallity” an idealist, with an earth-gravity of 50 per cent. Whatever the hell that means. He says that I ought to be ashamed “tweesting” the facts around and “making the allmighty God look like the dirtiest devil from Hell.” He also says that he is going to “proove” the Medical Society is a pack of fools shortly. He alleges to “proove” his “prooves” by Einstein, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, and other great scientists and philosophers. He seems to have the mysteries of life at his finger tips. Well, what the Hell. (CL 2.342-343)

popularfictionpublishingcompany-weird_tales_193205“The Horror from the Mound” appeared in the May 1932 issue of Weird Tales—Howard had, ironically, first submitted it to Strange Tales but it was rejected; he wouldn’t have a story in Strange Tales until June 1932. So it is reasonable that Olsen was a regular reader of WT as well as ST; Howard had previously addressed the subject of vampires in “The Moon of Skulls” (WT Jun-July 1930) and “Hills of the Dead” (WT Aug 1930), and Olsen had apparently previously written to Howard about the latter tale (CL 2.354, AMtF 1.292).

Howard’s story was, as described by Jeffrey Shanks and Mark Finn in “Vaqueros and Vampires in the Pulps: Robert E. Howard and the Dawn of the Undead West”, probably derived from Bram Stoker by way of Universal Pictures and Bela Lugosi. (UIW2 8-9) The vampire de Valdez would be familiar to contemporary readers, a suave nobleman vampire along the lines of Count Dracula; Olsen’s ideas of vampires, by contrast, are very atypical even by the pulp standards of 1932, not in keeping with traditional Eastern European folklore as used by Stoker in Dracula (1897) or Montague Summers’ Vampire: His Kith and Kin (1928), or even the more occult notions of the vampire promoted by Helena Blavatsky in Isis Unveiled (1877).

Whatever Olsen’s immediate sources, his fan-letters appear to be a personal combination of occult metaphysics…and physics, as Howard recounts in a later letter to Clyde Smith:

More gems from Olson: “The A-Rama is Einstein A-Space, the B-Rama is brain or Brama, the C-Rama is Solar Plexus or Pain and in it’s cappacity of being organic Pain it is Visshnue the creator and the D-Rama is that thing we know as Drama, which is the four-armed ballance of Shiva the destroyer, being the basical gender in nature and being in effect also sex, since sex and ellementairy nature is the same thing actually, as soon as I explain it —–” “The chief thing Jesus tried to impress was that want is in itself allmight and that by means of training the mind for greater wants and the body to hold greater hungers, if anything hapens to the consciousness, the atoms hold the hunger and do not break in decay, accordingly as the stomack eats up the filler and the blood thins down, the person comes up with high hungers and if he is a fool he is then a vampire.” “Accordingly, no vampire, however vampirally ignorant he may be, can possibly be as vampirical as yourself and all the people of the earth, since not knowing this, you account not at all the strict code that is Mrs. Cornelius VanderBilt or Mrs. Astor or that of any Duke or Duchess of the world — Why do you suppose that a Duke considers that he may withouth regrets pierce with his sword a man that refuses to pay him respect — A man that refuses to stop and utterly postphone the filling of his hungers the instance the Duke appears in the vicinity?” He also sends me a damnable chain letter and tells me I dare not refuse to continue the chain. Like hell I don’t. I might excuse his insanity, but writers of chain-letters are a blight and a stumbling block on the road of progress. (CL 2.350-351)

This rant at least contains a few more recognizable elements—”Brama” (Bhrama), ”Visshnue” (Vishnu) and Shiva are deities in the Hindu religion, and form a divine trinity; the forehead and solar plexus are typically associated with chakras in tantric yoga, and so suggest Olsen was tapping into Indian or Theosophical materials. The reference to Einstein’s “A-Space” is vague, but appears to be an interpretation of Einstein notation with regards to his theory of General Relativity—although I’ve yet to find a source that uses the exact nomenclature, Einstein notation does involve the use of vectors. Howard, in a letter now lost, apparently communicated something of Olsen to Lovecraft, who replied on 7 May:

As for this Olson—I haven’t ever been honoured by his direct attention, but I have seen some of the letters with which he has been pestering poor Whitehead during the last few months. It appears that he is quite a notorious nuisance among ‘scientifiction’ writers, especially those contributing to the Clayton magazines. he is—in the opinion of Bates, Whitehead (who has had some experience as a psychiatrist) and myself—a genuine maniac; though we don’t know whether or not he is under actual restraint. He may be a relatively harmless case living with his family—though none the less wholly emented in certain directions. He has been giving Whitehead long and frantic lectures on “vectors”, and “A, B, and C-space”. It seems there is something especially sinister and menacing about C—space—so that it will bring about the end of the world very shortly unless all living sages get busy and call in the aid of the “Vectors”. Olson also has some startling and unique biological theories. According to him, the blood is not the life but the death. It is our blood which makes us die—and therefore, since food makes blood, the one simple way to become immortal is to discontinue the use of food! Poor devil—I suppose he is an ignorant, weak-brained fellow who saturated himself with odds and ends of popular occult and scientific lore either before or after the crucial thread of sanity snapped. As Whitehead says, there is nothing to do but ignore the letters of a case like that. (AMtF 1.287)

Whitehead had published stories in both Strange Tales and Weird Tales in the months leading up to May 1932, none of which involve vampires per se, although “Cassius” (ST Nov 1931) comes close. What other writers Olsen made a nuisance of himself of is open to speculation; based solely on what we know of his interests and the magazines he read, likely victims include those whose vampire stories earned the front cover, such as Kirk Mashburn (“Placide’s Wife,” WT Nov 1931; “The Vengeance of Ixmal,” WT Mar 1932) and Hugh B. Cave (“The Brotherhood of Blood,” WT May 1932), though any of the Strange Tales or Weird Tales writers would likely be fair game; and apparently August Derleth was on the receiving end of Olsen’s intentions (SLCAS 289). Robert E. Howard replied to Lovecraft in a letter dated 24 May 1932:

Poor Olson — what you say of him clinches my conclusion that he is completely insane. I first heard from him a long time ago when he wrote commenting on my “Hills of the Dead”; favorably, by the way. “The Horror from the Mound” seems to have enraged him. He hasn’t pulled any “C-Space” or “vectors” on me, though he has had considerable to say about “Ramas” A,B,C, etc.. Neither has he given me the secret of immortality, though he has hinted darkly at it. I’ve never answered any of his letters, though the impulse has been strong to reply with a missive that would make his ravings sound like the prosaic theorizings of a professor fossilized in conventions. But it would be a poor thing to make game of the unfortunate soul. (CL 2.354, AMtF 1.292)

Howard also passed along an abbreviated version of Lovecraft’s record of Olsen’s rantings to Clyde Smith. (CL 2.369) More interesting, perhaps, is that Clark Ashton Smith continued to hear from Olsen, as Lovecraft duly passed on to Howard in a letter dated 8 June 1932:

As for the cracked and ubiquitous Olson—Clark Ashton Smith has been hearing from him now. He is fairly frothing at the mouth over what he considers Smith’s disrespectful treatment of vampires—who, he argues, are the saviours of the world because they take away the blood which forms the death of us all! Obviously, the poor fellow’s epistles admit of no reply. All one can do is to let him keep on writing—which doubtless relieves his agitated and disordered emotions. (AMtF 1.307)

Olsen continued to be a point of discussion for Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith; while their complete correspondence has not yet been published (Hippocampus Press is currently working on the volume, to be titled Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, to be edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz), we do have some intriguing fragments of their conversation. In a November 1933 letter to Lovecraft, Smith wrote:

Olsen, as you wisely say, is a totally different matter; megalomania, dementia, mystic delirium and whatnot were all scrambled together in the one interminable screed he wrote me. (SLCAS 236)

Lovecraft apparently came to Olsen’s attention after “The Dreams in the Witch-House” was published in the July 1932 Werid Tales, and received his own letter—much like Smith, Howard’s, and Whitehead’s in content, though apparently too offering the “secret of immortality” which Howard said he had hinted at. Lovecraft forwarded the letter to Smith, who replied on 4 December 1933:

The Olsen letter, which I return, is most illuminating. Someone, I forget whom, has fathered a book on the sort of cosmogony at which O. is apparently driving. Of course, if you accept the idea that the earth’s surface is really the inside of a sphere surrounding the negligible remainder of the cosmos, then the space-conceptions implied in your Witchhouse story are most egregiously fallacious. The letter is really a marvel of lucidity compared to the 10 or twelve page monograph on the nobility of ghouls, vampires et al which I received from Olsen in correction of my “Nameless Offspring” and the errors of Abdul Alhazred. It would seem that the bats in Olsen’s belfry—or the spirochetae in his spinal column—are less gyrationally active than of yore. However, it is plain that he has not relinquished his position of mentor-in-chief to the Weird Tales contributors! His offer to instruct you in person for 25 paltry pazoors is truly magnanimous not to say magnific. (SLCAS 242-243)

The “Hollow Earth” theory has been around in one form or another for centuries, and by the early 20th century was the domain of cranks, occultists, and fiction writers—he might possibly have been thinking of Marshall Gardner’s A Journey to the Earth’s Interior (1913, revised 1920). “Spirochetae” is a reference to syphilis, with Smith implying that Olsen was suffering from advanced stages of the disease, which can cause delusions and hallucinations; obviously, the Californian never knew that Lovecraft’s father had died of neurosyphilis (and it is unknown if Lovecraft himself was aware of the exact nature of his father’s terminal illness). Smith repeated the assertion in a letter to August Derleth dated 13 April 1937:

As for me, I’ll never forget the letters from that paretic Swede, Olsen; one of which letters corrected at great length certain mistaken notions of Abdul Alhazred. But I remember also that you had some experience with Olsen and his patents of infernal and grandiose nobility! (SLCAS 289)

From that point on, Olsen apparently became a familiar enough touchstone to be mentioned in passing in Lovecraft’s letters (LRBO 256), but was rarely mentioned.

Other than these fragments, we know very little about this individual; no Olson or Olsen with those initials is listed on the 1930 or 1940 US census for Sheldon, Iowa. There is currently no evidence of letters from Olsen before 1930 or after 1933, at least in the published correspondence of Howard, Lovecraft, Smith, & co., nor have I yet turned up any regular fan-letters in the letter-columns of Weird Tales or Strange Tales. Probably there’s some truth to Lovecraft’s assessment that Olsen “saturated himself with odds and ends of popular occult and scientific lore”—what with the disparate homebrewed mix of vampirology, Christian apocrypha, Einsteinian physics, Theosophy or Hindu religion, and Hollow Earth Theory—Olsen certainly qualifies as one of the weirdest correspondents in a weird circle.

Works Cited

AMtF               A Means to Freedom (Hippocampus Press, 2 vols.)

CL                   Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (REH Foundation Press, 3 vols. + Index and Addenda)

LRBO              Letters to Robert Bloch and Others (Hippocampus Press)

SLCAS            Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith (Arkham House)

UIW2               Undead in the West II: They Just Keep Coming (Scarecrow Press)

girasol-WeirdTales-July1925

Robert E. Howard was an avid reader of Weird Tales, the famous fantasy pulp magazine that was launched in the spring of 1923. He may have seen the first issue of the magazine while studying in Brownwood. The issues of Weird Tales usually appeared a month earlier than their cover date would suggest. Howard’s first known mention of Weird Tales was in a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith (July 7, 1923):

I sent a story to the Weird Tales, ‘The Phantom of Old Egypt,’ which I suppose they will turn down.

While it is well known that living in Cross Plains, Howard could not always buy the current issue — still it is reasonable to assume he read most of the issues. In a letter to Carl Jacobi (March 22, 1932), he mentions the nearest first-class newsstand (in Brownwood) is forty miles away:

It was not my fortune to read either of the other stories you mentioned; in fact, I live so far out of civilization, as it were, that 1 can’t keep track of the magazines very well. It’s forty miles to the nearest first-class news-stand, so my magazine reading is rather desultory.

In this post I single out some Weird Tales stories that probably influenced Howard on what he chose to write in that particular month. Occasionally I also mention stories whose influences were more long-term.

Howard sent a letter to Weird Tales, ca. January 1926, where he praised Seabury Quinn’s stories of the occult detective Jules de Grandin:

These are sheer masterpieces. The little Frenchman is one of those characters who live in fiction. I look forward with pleasurable anticipation to further meetings with him.

Years later Howard also tried his hands in detective fiction, although his most famous detective, Steve Harrison, operates quite differently than de Grandin. Robert M. Price thinks the name “Harrison” could be a tip of the hat to de Grandin’s base of operations in Harrisonville, and River Street (where many Steve Harrison tales take place) could have been suggested by the Harrisonville River.

The appearance of Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” (Weird Tales, February 1928) was a critical importance in the development of the young Texan’s career. Deuce Richardson in his essay “The Call of Kathulos: Kull, Skull and ‘Call'” has already pointed out the similarities between Lovecraft’s tale and some of Howard’s stories written just after its appearance, or within a few months.

Howard sent a letter to The Eyrie, which was published in Weird Tales, ca. April 1928:

Mr. Lovecraft’s latest story, “The Call of Cthulhu”, is indeed a masterpiece, which I am sure will live as one of the highest achievements of literature.

A scholar named Kuthulos is a protagonist of “The Cat and the Skull” and “The Screaming Skull of Silence,” both tales written in the spring of 1928, and subsequently rejected by Weird Tales. It is possible the name Kuthulos came from the title of Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” which appeared in Weird Tales at the start of the year. The second tale has even more similarities with the Lovecraft story. Like the sailors in HPL’s tale, Kull and his entourage are faced with a castellated tomb with a cosmic monster that is not dead but dreaming for aeons. Just as R’lyeh was found to be of “greenish stone,” Kull and his men find a gong and mallet “apparently of jade.” In both cases, a cosmic menace is dealt a crippling (perhaps mortal) blow.

Ken-Kelly-Original-Oil-Painting-Tomb-of-Deception-“Skull-Face” (Weird Tales, Oct/Nov/Dec 1929), written in the fall of 1928 shows also influences from Lovecraft’s story: the use of the first person, the technique of story within the story, the importance of the sea and the secrets hidden in its depths.

Surama, the resurrected Atlantean villain of Lovecraft’s revision story “The Last Test” (Weird Tales, Nov 1928), bears a curious likeness to Kathulos in many ways. Howard probably read this story around the same time as he wrote “Skull-Face.”

Lovecraft’s influence, and especially of his tale “The Dunwich Horror” (Weird Tales, April 1930), can be seen in a lot of stories REH pounded out on his faithful Underwood No. 5 in the second part of 1930, after starting his correspondence with the older writer in the summer. These tales include “The Fire of Asshurbanipal” (Weird Tales, December 1936), “Dig Me No Grave” (Weird Tales, February 1937), “The Black Stone” (Weird Tales, November 1931), “The Thing on the Roof” (Weird Tales, Feburary 1932) and “The Hoofed Thing” (rejected by Strange Tales). The many references to HPL’s stories and emerging mythology are well attested to and lie outside the scope of this blog post.

But another story was published in the summer, whose influence may be similarly important, Harry Noyes Pratt’s “The Curse of Ximu-tal” (Weird Tales, August 1930). Here, inspired by a jade image of a giant snake, the narrator discovers a Mayan temple and a giant green snake that could swallow an elephant. Many Conan stories feature giant snakes, cities built of jade-like green-stone with names beginning with a “X” (Xuchotl, Xuthal, Xapur).

It is probably after reading Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” (Weird Tales, August 1931) that Howard had decided to change his conception of the Black Stone: his new stories written in the fall, “People of the Dark” (Strange Tales, June 1932) and “Worms of the Earth” (Weird Tales, November 1932) feature a small stone instead of a monolith, as in “The Black Stone.”

The March 1932 issue of Weird Tales featured a story that had repercussions three years later, when REH wrote his last Conan tale, “Red Nails” (Weird Tales, Jul/Aug/Sep/Oct 1936). In Kirk Mashburn’s “The Vengeance of Ixmal” (Weird Tales, March 1932) the American leader of an excavation near a vampire-haunted village in Mexico turns out to be the reincarnation of an Aztec Prince, who was sacrificed on an altar by his lover princess Tascala. “Red Nails” has many Aztecian-sounding names and a princess called Tascela. We know REH had read and liked Mashburn’s stories, as noted in his letter to Mashburn, ca. March 1932:

Mr. Price mentions you often in his letters, and I have been much interested in your work in Weird Tales. I particularly remember “Tony”, “Sola”, “Placide’s Wife”, and your recent “Vengeance of Ixmal” — a powerful tale.

The April 1932 issue of Weird Tales (on sale April 1st) contained a story that could have been a springboard of REH’s reincarnation tales featuring James Allison. In Nictzin Dyalhis’s “The Red Witch” (Weird Tales, April 1932) scientist Randall Crone becomes conscious of his ancient life in an Ice Age tribe as the impetuous young warrior, Ron Kron, in love with the red-haired Red Dawn.

Howard’s first completed reincarnation story was “The Children of the Night” (Weird Tales, Apr/May 1931), which he wrote in September 1930. In that tale O’Donnel is struck unconscious by an accidental axe blow and drifts out of the darkness to find himself as a warrior of a primitive Celtic tribe in pre-Roman Britain fighting against the reptilian Children of the Night. In October 1931 Howard writes “People of the Dark” (Strange Tales, June 1932) where an accidental head injury leads John into a past life as Conan the Reaver, a Gaelic pirate. The reincarnation theme is also present in his poem “Cimmeria,” written in February 1932.

REH completed his first James Allison story, “Marchers of Valhalla,” in April of 1932. Allison lies at the end of a short and sickly life in rural Texas, but remembers a previous incarnation as a mighty yellow-haired warrior, Hialmar. Much has been written about how Jack London’s novel, The Star Rover has influenced the creation of James Allison, but the Dyalhis story could have been the final impetus for REH to start the James Allison series, where for the first time his reincarnated hero is living in the Ice Age and is in love with a gold-haired girl.

The story was rejected by Weird Tales in May. But it did not discourage Howard, who in a few weeks’ time completes “The Valley of the Worm” (Weird Tales, Feb 1934), one of his most famous stories, featuring the Æsir warrior Niord.

REH had created Conan the Cimmerian and wrote the first stories featuring the Cimmerian in February and March of 1932. According to Patrice Louinet, REH had written the third Conan story, “The God in the Bowl” (rejected by Weird Tales) in March. The story shows remarkable similarities to Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Gorgon” in the April issue, which theoretically appeared only at the start of April. In both stories a beautiful, but deadly, mythical entity kills an art collector. It could be just a strange coincidence, or perhaps REH somehow read Smith’s story previously.  REH and Smith have not started correspondence yet, and while it is possible Lovecraft had sent Howard this tale, it is not mentioned in REH’s correspondence.

The publication of Smith’s “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis” (Weird Tales, May 1932) coincides with REH’s writing of “The Scarlet Citadel” (Weird Tales, January 1933). Smith story taking place in a subterranean catacomb with deadly monsters (in his case brain-sucking leeches) could have influenced REH when created the catacombs beneath the Citadel.

In the spring of 1934 Howard was immersed in writing his only Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon (Weird Tales, December 1935, Jan/Feb/Mar/Apr 1936). A source for the scenes in the Stygian pyramid may have been Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Charnel God” (Weird Tales, March 1934), with a temple for the dead, ghouls (the Khitan sorcerers are described as ghoulish by REH) and reanimation of corpses. We know REH admired the story as stated in a letter to CAS in May of 1934:

Yes, I certainly did like “The Charnel God” and its fine illustration, and the Malygris story came up to expectations splendidly. In some ways I liked the illustration even better than that of “The Charnel God”, though both were fine.

As an aside, both “The Charnel God,” (Weird Tales, March 1934), and “The Death of Malygris,” (Weird Tales, April 1934) were illustrated by CAS.

These are just a handful of instances where Howard “borrowed” ideas and concepts from his fellow Weird Tales writers in the pages of The Unique Magazine.

Sources:

Patrice Louinet: “Hyborian Genesis: Notes on the Creation of the Conan Stories” (The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, May 2002)

Patrice Louinet: “Hyborian Genesis Part II: Notes on the Creation of the Conan Stories” (The Bloody Crown of Conan, May 2003)

Patrice Louinet: “Hyborian Genesis Part III” (The Conquering Sword of Conan, December 2005)

Robert M. Price: “The Many Incarnations of Anton Zarnak,” in Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak Supernatural Sleuth (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, June 2002)

Deuce Richardson: “The Call of Kathulos: Kull, Skull and ‘Call'”(The Cimmerian website, February 11, 2009).

The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, 2007-2008).

  • To Tevis Clyde Smith, July 7, 1923
  • To Weird Tales, ca. January 1926
  • To Weird Tales, ca. April 1928
  • To Kirk Mashburn, ca. March 1932
  • To Carl Jacobi, pm, March 22, 1932
  • To Clark Ashton Smith, pm, May 21 1934

Melek Taus1

The wings of Melek Taus hover over the world, the winds whisper of revolt, anarchy, war and red ruin for all the sons of men. (CL2.116)

The Yazidis (also given as Yezidis, and Yezidees) are a largely Kurdish people in the Middle East, whose religion reveres Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel; similarities with Abrahamic tales of Lucifer or Shaitan saw the Yazidis labeled as devil-worshippers by their Muslim neighbors, and have been the subject of centuries of persecution. Interest in the Yazidis was spurred by the publication of works like Robert W. Chambers’ The Slayer of Souls (1920) and William Seabrook’s Adventures in Arabia (1926), which includes a visit among those people; many of the details of his visit were incorporated into stories by pulp writers such as H. P. Lovecraft, Seabury Quinn, G. G. Pendarves, and E. Hoffmann Price, which featured in the pages of Weird Tales.

The first mention of the Yazidis by Howard is a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, in December 1930:

No doubt you’ve heard of the Yezidis who live on Mount Lalesh in Syria and worship the devil in the form of a brazen peacock. They believe that Satan was the foremost of angels and that he rules on earth for ten thousand years. God, they say, is too far away, too gigantic, to be concerned with the affairs of the earth, and only by worshipping Melek Taus can anyone prosper, for only he has charge of men’s affairs. Certainly the Devil is loose on the world, and the evil are more likely to prosper than the honest and virtuous. Perhaps the Yezidis are right. Certainly their cult is as logical as religions which teach that this earthly hell of red chaos and black insanity is ruled by principles of good and light, that justice exists and reigns, and that men are compensated for good and evil — God, what a bone-clanking jest — like the cataclysmic laughter from the gaping and froth-dripping jaws of a bleached skull. (CL2.115)

The Daughter of Erlik KhanA few things stick out in this passage: Howard uses the spellings “Yezidis” and “Melek Taus,” includes the image of the brazen peacock, and correctly identifies Mount Lalesh in Syria. This suggests that his source was neither Seabrook nor Chambers (who preferred the spellings “Yezidees” and “Melek Taos”), but more probably an encyclopedia article or the works in Weird Tales and Oriental Stories. H. P. Lovecraft, for example, used the term “Yezidis” in “The Horror at Red Hook” (WT Jan 1927), as did E. Hoffmann Price in “The Peacock’s Shadow” (WT Jul 1925).

Howard’s first writing inspired by the Yazidis would be “The Daughter of Erlik Khan” (Top Notch Dec 1934). In that story, El Borak ventures into a strange country, occupied by the Black Khirgiz, described as “devil worshippers” with a sacred city of Yolgan, who are antithetical to the local Muslims. (EB 30) This provided the basic format for the unsuccessful tale “Three-Bladed Doom,” which went through multiple versions without success, and finally first found publication in 1955, when L. Sprague de Camp re-wrote it as a Conan tale “The Flame Knife.” In “Three-Bladed Doom,” Howard follows much the same plot—El Borak penetrates a secret city of a group of devil-worshippers—but here he is more specific:

Devil worshippers, by the beard of Allah! Yezidees! Sons of Melek Taus! […] the people of that ancient and abominable cult which worships the Brazen Peacock on Mount Lalesh the Accursed. (EB 101)

The use of the term “Yezidees” suggests the influence of, if not Chambers and Seabrook, than perhaps Seabury Quinn, whose Jules de Grandin novel The Devil’s Bride, which was serialized in Weird Tales from February-June 1932. Quinn weaves together aspects of various Satanic myths in his story, from the accounts of the Black Mass to Seabrook (and perhaps also Chambers), postulating a worldwide connection between various cults, including “a revival of the cult of assassins” and attracting members “from as far as Mongolia”—both plot-elements of “Three-Bladed Doom.” (CAJG 2.678-679)

Howard was a fan of the Grandin stories, and in 1926 wrote to Weird Tales regarding them: “These are sheer masterpieces. The little Frenchman is one of those characters who live in fiction. I look forward with pleasurable anticipation to further meetings with him.” (CL1.75) So it appears very likely that he read this story. However, in one of those odd coincidences, shortly after Quinn’s story ran (August 1932), E. Hoffmann Price ran a shorter but thematically similar tale, “The Bride of the Peacock.” Quinn wrote on this:

Coincidences of this sort are not strange. Many readers have accused E. Hoffmann Price of plagiarising Quinn’s “Devil’s Bride” in his own story, “Bride of the Peacock.” The truth of the matter is that both stories were written at the same time, and Price’s story was in Farnsworth Wright’s office before Quinn’s was in print. (F&SF 7)

Also in “Three-Bladed Doom,” Howard identifies the Yazidis with the Kurds:

The man who killed the Sultan of Turkey was a Kurd […] Some of them worship Melek Taus, too, secretly. (EB 102)

There are too many sources where Howard could have picked up this detail to narrow it down much—E. Hoffmann Price mentioned it in “The Stranger from Kurdistan” (1925), Lovecraft in “The Horror at Red Hook” (1927), Quinn in The Devil’s Bride, etc.

The most notorious story using the Yazidi was of course “The Brazen Peacock”—where an adventurer, Erich Girtmann, disguised himself as a Druse (Druze) and infiltrated their city, to make off with a brass idol of a peacock sacred to the cult. Many of the details are plainly drawn either directly from Seabrook’s Adventures in Arabia or some source that ties closely to it, since they are absent from The Devil’s Bride and many of Howard’s other stories. Karen Joan Khoutek wrote an excellent article on Robert E. Howard and the Yazidis, “The Brazen Peacock,”so we need not go into detail of the comparisons here, save to add a few details. For example, where Howard writes:

A Yezidee may not speak the name of Shaitan—so it is commanded in the Black Book of their creed, the scroll dictated long ago by Satan to Sheikh-Adi, founder of the cult. (TWM 115)

The “Black Book” is the Khitab al Aswad mentioned by Seabrook (Khitab Asward in The Devil’s Bride), the “Black Book” or “Black Scripture” of the Yazidis; the similarity of the name with Howard’s own “Black Book”—Unaussprechlichen Kulten—which first appeared in “The Children of the Night” (1931) is probably coincidental.

It is interesting to compare the Yazidis as presented in “The Brazen Peacock” with how they are presented in “Dig Me No Grave,” where Howard writes:

“Malik Tous – good God! No mortal man was ever so named! That is the title of the foul god worshipped by the mysterious Yezidees – they of Mount Alamout the Accursed – whose Eight Brazen Towers rise in the mysterious wastes of deep Asia. His idolatrous symbol is the brazen peacock. And the Muhammadans, who hate his demon-worshipping devotees, say he is the essence of the evil of all the universes – the Prince of Darkness – Ahriman – the old Serpent – the veritable Satan!” (HSREH 136)

The Eight towers and Mount Alamout (Alamut) are details from Robert W. Chambers’ The Slayer of Souls, while the Seven towers and Mount Lalesh are details from Seabrook’s Adventures in Arabia; it is obvious that Howard relied on Chambers but not Seabrook when writing “Dig Me No Grave,” and Seabrook but not chambers when writing “The Brazen Peacock.” Very probably “Dig Me No Grave” dates to an earlier period in Howard’s writing. The use of Malik instead of Melek may owe itself to Howard’s letters with Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price, for Lovecraft’s nickname for Price was “Sultan Malik” and similar variations. (AMtF 2.761)

Three-Bladed DoomThe Druze present a more interesting difficulty; in “The Brazen Peacock” the Druze are explicitly not “devil-worshippers” like the Yazidi, yet in “Lord of the Dead” they are described as “a race apart. They worship a calf cast of gold, believe in reincarnation, and practice heathen rituals abhorred by the Moslems.” (CS 222) In this story, Howard revisits one of the concepts from “Three-Bladed Doom,” the idea of a cult that connects or underlies several different religions and ethnicities in Asia and the Middle East—a syncretism perhaps inspired in part by The Devil’s Bride, and echoing at least slightly the multiracial cult in Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook.” Why Howard chose to use a Druze instead of a Yazidi probably lies in the Druze religious beliefs in reincarnation, which forms a major motivation for the Druze character.

In the context of his times, the “Satanic” output of Robert E. Howard is not particularly exceptional; Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith wrote less of it, E. Hoffmann Price and Seabury Quinn did more. Probably it was only that Howard was published by Arkham House that caught LaVey’s attention—and that scarce enough; “Dig Me No Grave” was published in The Dark Man and Others (1963), a handful of poems in Always Comes Evening (1957), most of the other tales were not published until long after The Satanic Bible came out.

Satanism as Howard, Lovecraft, and Quinn understood it was theistic Satanism; it was focused on worship of an entity, simply not the Christian God. Only Price, of all of them, in his story “The Stranger from Kurdistan” appeared to appreciate the irony of the Black Mass, acknowledging Christ while proclaiming their allegiance to Satan. Satanism as LaVey understood it, and as his latter-day followers like Michael Rose understand it, is atheistic Satanism; more of a philosophy than a religion, despite the trappings and the sorcery. And there is much in Robert E. Howard’s poems and stories which, even without explicit reference to the Devil, fits neatly into the beliefs of LaVeyan Satanism—a desire for freedom of thought and action. Howard expressed ideas that LaVey himself might have written, such as when wrote:

Yet worshipping Satan is too much like kowtowing to a conqueror. We may realize his power without doing obeisance to him. (CL2.115)

 

Works Cited

AMtF     A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (2 vols, Hippocampus Press, 2009)

CAJG   The Compleat Adventures of Jules de Grandin (3 vols., Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2001)

CL         Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols. + Index & Addenda, REH Foundation, 2007-2015)

CS        Crimson Shadows: The Best of Robert E. Howard Vol. 1 (Del Rey, 2007)

EB        El Borak and Other Desert Adventures (Del Rey, 2010)

F&SF    F & SF Self-Portraits 2: Seabury Quinn Creator of Jules de Grandin (Necronomicon Press, 1977)

HSREH    The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard (Del Rey, 2008)

TWM     Tales of Weird Menace (Robert E. Howard Foundation, 2010)

“The Daughter of Erlik Khan” illustration by Tim Bradstreet
“Three-Bladed Doom” illustration by Jim and Ruth Keegan

Read Part 1, Part 2

sb_zpszlf0v80e

Among the names that appear in the dedication to the first editions of The Satanic Bible (1969) is that of Robert E. Howard. It is the first of several mentions that Anton LaVey, would make regarding the Texan author, usually in a passing manner. H. P. Lovecraft has spawned an entire genre of contemporary occult material, literally decades worth of false Necronomicons and associated books of theory, ritual, and practice, but Robert E. Howard’s impact on the occult has been comparatively slight.

Even then, the Howardian occult has mostly come through his association with Lovecraft and his participation in the Cthulhu Mythos and the mythology of the Necronomicon, particularly “The Black Stone” (1931)—for example, one Necronomicon hoax cites “The Book of the Arab, by Justin Geoffrey” (NF 64)—and Howard still crops up occasionally in volumes of the Lovecraftian occult like Peter Levenda’s The Dark Lord (2013, Ibis Press). Aside from this, occult references to Howard are rather sparse, such as when Robert Anton Wilson echoed (knowingly or not) Kenneth Grant’s interpretation of Lovecraft in ascribing Howard the attributes of a mystic:

In the course of writing, I’m always drawing on my unconscious creativity, and I find things creeping into my writing that I wasn’t aware of at the time. That’s part of the pleasure of writing. After you’ve written something, you say to yourself, “Where in the hell did that come from?” Faulkner called it the “demon” that directs the writer. The Kabalists call it the “holy guardian angel.” Every writer experiences this sensation. Robert E. Howard said he felt there was somebody dictating the Conan stories to him. There’s some deep level of the unconscious that knows a lot more than the conscious mind of the writer knows. (RAW)

lavey2Despite this general absence from occult circles, Robert E. Howard does have a small but consistent appearance in reference to Satanism, particularly the contemporary brand associated with the Church of Satan and its offshoots. Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan in San Francisco in 1966, not the sole Satanic organization, but perhaps the most widespread and influential. However, it was several years before LaVey began publishing the central texts of his new religion: The Satanic Bible (1969), The Satanic Witch (1971), and The Satanic Rituals (1972); during this time he associated with a number of writers, reportedly including August Derleth, Ben Hecht, Robert Barbour Johnson, Emil Petaja, Clark Ashton Smith, Forrest J. Ackermann, and Fritz Leiber, Jr. (SLAS 66) One such associate, science fiction writer Mike Resnick, made a suggestion regarding LaVey’s work:

I explained that the Malleus Malicifarum and the Compendium Malificarum were fine text books, but he was sitting on hundreds of wonderful (and occasionally Satanic) poems by Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and H. P. Lovecraft in his Arkham collection, poems that had beat and meter – and eventually he did incorporate some of them into his ceremonies. (AAF 297-298)

Resnick’s suggestion rings true with other evidence from LaVey’s life and writings. For example, Michael Aquino confirmed in a letter that “You will undoubtedly be pleased to know that Lovecraft and Howard are the High Priest’s favorites also!” (COS 105), and Blanche Barton in her biography of LaVey writes:

The Dunwich Horror of H. P. Lovecraft’s story comes through the angles of a trapezohedron. “The Lurker on the Threshold”, “The Haunter in the Dark” – the entire Cthulhu mythos and much of Lovecraft’s poetry makes references to the slavering beasts that find passage into our world through angles. Many of Robert E. Howard’s poems and horror stories, The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgeson, the supposedly apocryphal Emerald Table of Thoth (from which LaVey derived the text for Die elektrischen Vorspiele), and, one of the most terrifying stories ever written, Frank Belknap Long’s Hounds of TIndalos, all refer to the flux that angles induce. (SLAS 165)

The reference to the “Emerald Table of Thoth” (sic) might point to the influence of Maurice Doreal (sometimes given as Morris Doreal, real name apparently Claude Doggins), the founder of the Brotherhood of the White Temple. Doreal’s poem “The Emerald Tablets of Thoth the Atlantean” appeared in mimeographed form in the 1930s, and describes the secret history of a shape-changing Serpent Race which have strong parallels to Howard’s story “The Shadow Kingdom” (1929). (NC 112, ACOC 121)

In truth Lovecraft and his mythos inspired several sections of The Satanic Bible, and The Satanic Rituals contains several Lovecraftian rites crafted by Aquino. Howard came up less often, as in 1971 when LaVey wrote:

It is bad enough to hear of the “great teachings” of Aleister Crowley—who hypocritically called himself by the Christian devil’s number, yet steadfastly denied any Satanic connections, who wrote and had published millions of words of Kabbalistic mulligatawny, the distilled wisdom of which could have been contained in a single volume of once-popular E. Haldeman Julius’ Little Blue Books (which sold for a nickel). Strange, how seldom one hears plaudits for Crowley’s poetry, worthy of inclusion with the likes of James Thompson, Baudelaire, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard. If Crowley was a magician, it was the beauty of his creative art which made him so, not his drug-befuddled callings-up of Choronzon, et al. Unfortunately, his followers today have taken up his worst, while neglecting his best. (OOP)

And again in 1996:

Too often, “fans” want to keep their heroes pristine, especially where Satanic connection inconveniently surface. It has happened with many, from Benjamin Franklin to Mark Twain to Jayne Mansfield. One of the most flagrant sugar-coatings is contained in a biography of Robert E. Howard, in which the author of a chapter on “The Satanic Poetry” of Howard, opines those verses — to me the most powerful writing of his entire output — were scribbled for shock value and couldn’t be taken seriously. Mr. Howard at worst, had just gotten up on the wrong side of the bed when he wrote his most stirring and powerful litanies. (MIR 8)

It’s not clear what “biography” and chapter LaVey refers to; certainly not the de Camps’ Dark Valley Destiny (1983) or Marc A. Cerasini and Charles Hoffman’s Starmont Reader’s Guide 38: Robert E. Howard (1987). The nearest parallel seems to be Steve Eng’s essay “Barbarian Bard: The Poetry of Robert E. Howard,” where Eng writes:

Like Lovecraft, and probably nearly all pulp fiction writers of his day, Howard would have found real Satanism puerile or perverse, yet for dramatic effect Howard was unafraid of extremes. (DB 40)

Other mentions of Howard appear to be few, and despite LaVey’s professed enthusiasm, Howard’s fiction doesn’t doesn’t seem to have largely shaped any of the Church of Satan’s theology, rituals, or terminology (the Satanic magazine The Cloven Hoof shares a name with a poetry magazine mentioned in Howard’s “The Children of the Night,” but this appears to be a coincidence.)

After LaVey’s death in 1997 and the subsequent splintering of the Church of Satan, there is a corresponding drop off in references to Robert E. Howard—not everyone, apparently, shared LaVey’s appreciation. Blanche Barton dedicated The Church of Satan (1990) to:

Ben Hecht, Robert E. Howard, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Knox Hammersly, and Walt Disney, who made their Pacts.

Later associations with Howard and Satanism appear to be slight. There are a number of Black metal bands inspired by Robert E. Howard, including Bal-Sagoth, Khrom, Arkham Witch, Thoth Amon, Assàl, Damnation’s Hammer, Summoner’s Circle, The Sword, etc., but these bands are largely distinct from “Satanic metal,” and the imagery they borrow from Howard’s works is not particularly Satanic.

AAAAAAA51fBi7A4oXL__SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The most substantial Howard/Satanist connection in recent memory is Michael Rose’ Infernalia (2015, Underworld Amusements), which includes the brief chapter “Robert E. Howard: Satanic Skald” (96-98), which includes such epithets as “Robert E. Howard understood the Satanic spirit.” and “I do not weep for Howard, I rejoice in the poems he left us, poetry which stokes the black flame within.” (98)

For all this attention paid to the “Satanic spirit” of Robert E. Howard, the concept of real-world “Satanism” was a rather crudely developed concept in Howard’s time. Interest in survival of pagan religions and the medieval witchcraft trials increased, as evidenced by James Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890) and Margaret Murray’s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921); the Black Mass in particular features in Montague Summers’ The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (1926), as well as Joris-Karl Huysmans’ novel Là-Bas (1891). Likewise, a desire for exoticism and interest in foreign religions fostered an interest in accounts of the “devil worship” of the Yazidis, such as William Seabrook’s Adventures in Arabia (1927), and promulgated fictional portrayals like Robert W. Chambers’ The Slayer of Souls (1920).

Whether for personal or professional interest, Howard appears to have sought out some material related to these matters, as evidence by an unsent letter to bookdealer Merlin Wand (“Also interested in devil worship, human sacrifice, anything unusual, grisly or strange.” CL4.6). However, there is little evidence of this in Howard’s library, aside from Robert W. Chambers’ novel The Slayer of Souls and possibly reference works like John William Wickwar’s The Black Art (1925). (DB 188, 199) Certainly too, Howard had access to various encyclopedias, and fellow-pulpsters with interests in the same subjects, such as H. P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price.

Given this disparity of material and approaches, it may be worthwhile to examine Mike Resnick’s assertion at its root—what are the Satanic works of Robert E. Howard, which have so inspired Satanists for more than forty years?

 

Works Cited

AAF   …Always a Fan: True Stories from a Life in Science Fiction (Mike Resnick, Wildside Press, 2009)

ACOC A Culture of Conspiracy (Michael Barkun, University of California Press, 2006)

COS  The Church of Satan (Michael Aquino, Hell’s Kitchen Press, 5th ed., 2002)

DB     The Dark Barbarian (Greenwood Press, 1984)

MIR    “Introduction” to Might is Right (Anton LaVey, Shane Bugby, 2014)

NF      The Necronomicon Files (Dan Harms & John William Gonce III, Weiser Books, 2003)

OOP  “On Occultism of the Past” (Aleister Crowley, http://www.churchofsatan.com/occultism-of-the-past.php)

RAW  “Robert Anton Wilson: Searching for Cosmic Intelligence” (Jeffrey Elliot, https://web.archive.org/web/20120412051600/http://www.rawilsonfans.com/articles/Starship.htm)

SLAS The Secret Life of a Satanist (Blanche Barton, Feral House, 1990)

Read Part 2, Part 3

Strange-Tales-7

I have just gotten hold of your magazine and, believe me, it’s a hummer! I read it from cover to cover the night I bought it, and my one plea is give us more stories by those masters of fiction, Robert E. Howard and Henry S. Whitehead.

– Charles Roe, Strange Tales, January 1933 (WGP 44)

The Reverend Henry St. Clair McMillan Whitehead (1882-1934) was an Episcopalian priest and pulpster, one of the regulars of Weird Tales and Strange Tales and a correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, E. Hoffmann Price, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Bernard Austin Dwyer, and R. H. Barlow.

Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Whitehead attended Harvard from 1901-1904, in the same class with future president Franklin D. Roosevelt, but did not take a degree. He sold his first story to Outdoors in 1905, and shortly after began working for the Daily Record in Port Chester, CT. In 1909, having worked his way up to assistant editor, he entered Berkeley Divinity School. Whitehead gained an M.A. in pedagogy from Ewing College in 1911 (through an extension course), graduated divinity school in 1912, and was advanced to the priesthood in 1913. (HSMW 1, LHSW 2)

Henry_S_WhiteheadFrom 1912 to 1913, Whitehead was priest at the Trinity Parish House in Torrington, CT, and from 1913 to 1917 he was appointed rector of Christ’s Church in Middletown, CT; ill-health prevented him from serving in the army or the navy during World War I, though he served on the local draft board and in various other roles. 1917-1919 Whitehead was the Children’s Pastor at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York City, and after that was Senior Assistant at the Church of the Advent in Boston. Along with these ecclesiastical duties, Whitehead busied himself with various other positions run concurrently: running summer camps; acting as chaplain for the Connecticut State Hospital for the Insane and the Churchman’s Club in Wesleyan University; practicing psychology, tutoring, and writing. (HSMW 4-6, LHSW 2)

Whitehead suffered from ill-health for many years, and from about 1920 to 1929, began spending his summers in the American Virgin Islands (purchased from the Danes in 1916), and was acting Archdeacon for the Virgin Islands between 1921 and 1929. During this time Whitehead served at the Church of the Advent (1919-1923), Trinity Church in Bridgeport, CT. (1923-1925), Holy Rood Parish in New York City (1926), St. Paul’s Church in Oswego, NY (1927), and St. Luke’s School for Boys in New Canaan, CT (1928), before finally applying for the position of rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Dunedin, Florida, which position he occupied from 1929 to his death.  (HSMW 4-6, LHSW 2, DN)

Much of what we know of Whitehead’s life comes from a letter published in the 10 November 1923 issue of Adventure, which included Whitehead’s story “The Intarsia Box.” It was the custom of the magazine to ask first-time writers for a brief autobiography, and Whitehead obliged with a few autobiographical details, as well as excerpts from a friend’s letter describing Whitehead in the Virgin Islands. One of the appreciative readers of this letter was a young Robert E. Howard, who would later quote sections of Whitehead’s letter to H. P. Lovecraft of 6 March 1933, notably a particular stunt involving a deck of cards:

He is the strongest man, physically, I ever saw. Soon after he came here to Santa Cruz, it was discovered that he took a great deal of exercise. One evening he was asked to do a ‘stunt’ for a large group of people who were having an old-fashioned Crucian jollification, and he called for a pack of cards. He tore them squarely in half, and then quartered them. I had heard of cards being torn in two, but never quartered. Incredulity was expressed. The people present thought it was a trick, and said so, though pleasantly and in a bantering way. Father Whitehead asked for another pack to destroy, and for two wire nails. He nailed the pack through at both ends, so that the cards could not be “beveled”, and then quartered that pack. He had to do this everywhere he went after that. Everybody wanted to see it done. One night Mrs. Scholten, the wife of our Danish Bank manager, gave him a small pack of brand new Danish cards. They were made of linen! He tore those in two.” […] As usual the people of Santa Cruz were most interest in what I didn’t go there to do—strongman stunts. The card thing I have practised since I was about seventeen. (CL3.23-24, AMTF 2.538-539)

1923 was the beginning of Whitehead’s career as a pulpster proper, breaking into not only Adventure but Hutchinson’s Adventure-Story Magazine (“Christabel”) and People’s Story Magazine (“The Wonderphone”). The following year he splashed Weird Tales with a January letter in “The Eyrie” and the short stories “Tea Leaves” (May/Jun/Jul) and “The Door” (Nov). 1925 saw another story in Adventure (“The Cunning of the Serpent”), Whitehead splashing The Black Mask (“The Gladstone Bag”), and four stories in Weird Tales—”The Fireplace” (Jan), “Sea Change” (Feb), “The Thin Match” (Mar), and “The Wonderful Thing” (Jul)—the last of which also shared an issue with the first publication of Robert E. Howard in those pages, “Spear and Fang.”

At the present time, so far as the writer is aware, there is only one market in the English-speaking world for the occult short story. That is Weird Tales, which specializes in this branch of literature. (SWF 25)

Read the rest of this entry »

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Co-editor Jeffrey Shanks holds up a copy of the just released volume on the heyday of Weird TalesThe Unique Legacy of Weird Tales. Jeff and his co-editor Justin Everett complied an amazing line-up of authors, covering a wide range of topics for this in-depth look at The Unique Magazine. For some insight and background on this must-have volume, be sure and check out the interview with Jeff about the book here on the TGR blog.

Contents of The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales

Introduction: Weird Tales — Discourse Community and Genre Nexus

PART I: THE UNIQUE MAGAZINE: WEIRD TALES, MODERNISM, AND GENRE FORMATION

Chapter 1: “Something that swayed as if in unison”: The Artistic Authenticity of Weird Tales in the Interwar Periodical Culture of Modernism by Jason Ray Carney

Chapter 2: Weird Modernism: Literary Modernism in the First Decade of Weird Tales by Jonas Prida

Chapter 3: “Against the Complacency of an Orthodox Sun-Dweller”: The Lovecraft Circle and the “Weird Class” by Daniel Nyikos

Chapter 4: Strange Collaborations: Shared Authorship and Weird Tales by Nicole Emmelhainz

Chapter 5: Gothic to Cosmic: Sword and Sorcery Fiction in Weird Tales by Morgan Holmes

II. EICH-PI-EL AND TWO-GUN BOB: LOVECRAFT AND HOWARD IN WEIRD TALES

Chapter 6: A Nameless Horror: Madness and Metamorphosis in H.P. Lovecraft and Post-modernism by Clancy Smith

Chapter 7: Great Phallic Monoliths: Lovecraft and Sexuality by Bobby Derie

Chapter 8: Evolutionary Otherness: Anthropological Anxiety in Robert E. Howard’s “Worms of the Earth” by Jeffrey Shanks

Chapter 9: Eugenic Thought in the Works of Robert E. Howard by Justin Everett

III. MASTERS OF THE WEIRD: OTHER AUTHORS OF WEIRD TALES

Chapter 10: Pegasus Unbridled: Clark Ashton Smith and the Ghettoization of the Fantastic by Scott Connors

Chapter 11: “A Round Cipher”: Word-Building and World-Building in the Weird Works of Clark Ashton Smith by Geoffrey Reiter

Chapter 12: C. L. Moore and M. Brundage: Competing Femininities in the October, 1934 Issue of Weird Tales by Jonathan Helland

Chapter 13: Psycho-ology 101: Incipient Madness in the Weird Tales of Robert Bloch by Paul Shovlin

Chapter 14: “To Hell and Gone”: Harold Lawlor’s Self-Effacing Pulp Metafiction by Sidney Sondergard

This volume, published by, Rowman & Littlefield, is available now from Amazon.com.

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I liked your story in the current Weird Tales very much indeed; it had that smooth beauty of narration and sense of remote antiquity that characterizes all your work; poetic prose in the finest sense. And the illustration was splendid. I hope Wright will let you do a lot of illustrating for Weird Tales, for other stories as well as your own. I’ll certainly be glad to see your Zothique series collected in book form.

— REH to Clark Ashton Smith, circa January 1934

The 1930s “big three” of the Weird Tales authors’ line-up are well known. Robert E. Howard and Lovecraft wrote lengthy and opinionated letters to each other for years. Each obviously admired the other’s writing talent and genuine artistry.

Both, however, admired Clark Ashton Smith’s work just as much, although they never met. As Howard was a Texan through and through, and Lovecraft identified strongly with his beloved New England, Smith’s milieu was California. He was born there, in Long Valley, with the kind of ancestry most fantasy writers can only dream of having. He descended from Norman-French counts and barons, and one of his forebears was beheaded for his part in the Gunpowder plot.

Born early in 1893, Smith was thus thirteen years older than REH. He grew up in the small town of Auburn, seat of Placer County, a scene of rich gold strikes in the days of the rushes. Violet Nelson Heyer, a friend of the Smith family, described his father Timeus as “dark and reticent” and his mother Fanny as “a happy, light-hearted soul … of beautiful spirit and intense dedication to her family.” Timeus had travelled the world as a young man, but then settled in Auburn and remained there. Fanny was descended from French Huguenots, the Gaillards, who came to the New World in the 1630s. By her generation the name had been Anglicized to Gaylord.

Smith never attended high school or college. He began his education, in his own words, at “the little red schoolhouse of the precinct.” His final five years of grammar school were at Long Valley, and after that he educated himself, partly by reading Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary from first page to last – and, it seems, retaining nearly all of it, including the most exotic words, in his astonishing memory. He also read Encyclopedia Britannica (the legendary 11th edition) completely through at least twice, and among the fiction he read and loved early were Robinson Crusoe, Vathek, The Arabian Nights, and Gulliver’s Travels. At thirteen he discovered the work of Edgar Allen Poe, prose and poetry, and fell in love with Poe’s darkling genius. It was said of Smith’s writing later that “Nobody since Poe has so loved a well-rotted corpse.”

STcoverIn 1911, aged eighteen, Smith wrote to the poet George Sterling, a leading light of the California literary and artistic community. Sterling invited Smith to Carmel, an invitation he was not able to accept until mid-1912, when he spent a month in a circle that included Jack London and Ambrose Bierce. (Though he never did meet Bierce.) Sterling introduced Smith to the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, and on publishing his first book of poetry, The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912), Smith was hailed by critics as a prodigy, even described as “the Keats of the Pacific” and “boy genius of the Sierras” in front page stories. Company like that, and a reception like that, must have been intoxicating to a man who had yet to reach twenty.

Smith, then shy and awkward, backed away from that early fame. Along with being lionized, he had received some condemnation and abuse from the conventional, who described his work as “ghoulish.” He suffered from depression, and seems to have contracted tuberculosis, though exactly when is uncertain. Or he may merely have feared that he had it.

He produced little poetry over the next few years. Odes and Sonnets, which saw publication in 1918, contained only fifteen poems, but the Book Club of California printed it and George Sterling wrote an introduction in which he proclaimed fiercely, “ … to our everlasting shame, he is entirely neglected and almost completely unknown.”

Ebony and Crystal appeared in 1922, and Sandalwood in 1925. It contained Smith’s best-known work of poetry, “The Hashish-Eater” which H.P. Lovecraft thought splendid, calling it “the greatest imaginative orgy in English literature.” Robert E. Howard was also greatly impressed by Smith’s work. In July of 1933 he wrote Smith a letter which began:

I can hardly find words to express the pleasure, I might even say ecstasy with which I have read, and reread your magnificent “Ebony and Crystal.” Every line in it is a gem. I could dip into the pages and pick at random, anywhere in the book, images of clarity and depth unsurpassed. I haven’t the words to express what I feel, my vocabulary being disgustingly small. But so many of your images stir feeling of such unusual depth and intensity, and bring back half-forgotten instincts and emotions with such crystal clearness.

Among the phrases which struck him with particular force was the line, “The pines are ebony.” Howard had always been aware of the intense darkness of the piney woods region, a grimly oppressive ambience which he used in his southern regional horror stories, notably “Pigeons From Hell.” He was certainly being too modest when he described his vocabulary as “disgustingly small,” but then, compared with Smith’s, everybody’s is.

The fantastic fiction for which Smith is now best remembered (though like REH, this blogger is an avid fan of his poetry) was chiefly written in the dozen years between 1925 and 1937. His parents were always poor, and like many a writer, Smith had lived by a variety of odd jobs, such as fruit picking, wood cutting, and digging. He hated working for other people, but the hard labor he did appears to have been healthy for him. His physical condition improved. His parents were ailing, and the stock market crashed massively in 1929. His need to make a living and support his father and mother evidently spurred him to produce a considerable output of the fiction that suited him best – the weird and fantastic kind. Many of his stories are masterpieces of macabre and ironic horror set against fabulously inventive backgrounds.

His first published weird story was “The Abominations of Yondo.” The narrator has been driven into a ghastly wasteland by “the cruel and cynical inquisitors of Ong.” Smith would feature corrupt, cruel, false or merely ineffectual and pompous authorities of orthodox religion in numerous stories after that. Morghi in “The Door to Saturn” was one, the hypocritical temple priests in “The Theft of Thirty-Nine Girdles” another group. (Their temple “virgins” were actually harlots, like the titular “Virgins” who wait upon the Prophet Incarnate in Heinlein’s “If This Goes On –”).

With regard to that sort of theme, it can be remarked that while Smith’s stories were every bit as macabre and horrifying as Lovecraft’s, his protagonists often have a strong interest in the opposite sex which Lovecraft’s lacked – sometimes completely normal, sometimes perverse and outrageous, even by current standards. The sorcerers Mmatmuor and Sodosma in “The Empire of the Necromancers” raise royal corpses in a devastated palace to serve them; including empresses “they took for their lemans and made to serve their necrophilic lust.” In Tasuun, noble funerals are celebrated with orgies around the bier that Tiberius would have raised his eyebrows to behold, and Averoigne is haunted by succubi “whose kisses are a diabolic delight that consumes the flesh of men with the fierceness of hell-fire.”

CASee8ba5ca0e75155b7e882903edba3eMore attractively, in “The Holiness of Azedarac,” a young medieval monk named Ambrose is hurled seven hundred years into the past (his past, that is) by a sorcerer’s potion, and meets a comely enchantress who finds him attractive. “Still smiling, she fixed her amber eyes upon him, with a languid flame in their depths — a flame that seemed to brighten as the dusk grew stronger.” Lucky Ambrose. When he expresses awkward doubts about the propriety of the situation, and mentions his archbishop, she reminds him that it will be six hundred and fifty years before the archbishop is even born, and when Ambrose returns to his own day, anything that has happened between them will have happened seven hundred years ago, “which should be long enough to procure the remission of any sin, no matter how often repeated.” Ambrose, not surprisingly, yields to this “irrefutable and feminine reasoning.”

Despite his name, you won’t find that sort of writing in H.P. Lovecraft.

It was through Howard’s large and legendary correspondence with Lovecraft that he came to write a number of letters to Smith – who had the good taste to admire Howard’s writing, an attitude that was mutual. They corresponded for only three years, from 1933 to the time of Howard’s death. In a letter of October 1933, REH thanked Smith for “the kind things you said about my recent yarns” and a “magnificent drawing” of a reptile being in which, Howard said, “the suggestion of inhuman evil is caught so admirably … I find myself handling it gingerly, half expecting it to come to life.” In the same letter he informed Smith that Farnsworth Wright had three Conan stories which were yet to be published, “Iron Shadows in the Moon,” “Rogues in the House,” and “Queen of the Black Coast.” Smith, a superb poet of the macabre and horrific himself, had expressed admiration for Howard’s “Song of a Mad Minstrel,” and Howard thought Smith’s “The Hashish Eater, or, The Apocalypse of Evil” magnificent. “I will not seek to express my appreciation of ‘The Hashish Eater’,” he wrote. “I lack the words. I have read it many times already; I hope to read it many more …”

One of Howard’s letters to Smith (December 14th, 1933) contains the famous and often quoted passage about his creation of Conan the Cimmerian.

I know that for months I had been absolutely barren of ideas, completely unable to work up anything sellable. Then the man Conan seemed suddenly to grow up in my mind without much labor on my part and immediately a stream of stories flowed off my pen or rather, off my typewriter almost without effort on my part. I did not seem to be creating, but rather relating events that had occurred. Episode crowded on episode so fast that I could scarcely keep up with them. For weeks I did nothing but write of the adventures of Conan. The character took complete possession of my mind and crowded out everything else in the way of story writing. When I deliberately tried to write something else, I couldn’t do it. I do not attempt to explain this by esoteric or occult means, but the facts remain. I still write of Conan more powerfully and with more understanding than any of my other characters. But the time will probably come when I will suddenly find myself unable to write convincingly of him at all. That has happened in the past with nearly all my rather numerous characters; suddenly I would find myself out of contact with the conception, as if the man himself had been standing at my shoulder directing my efforts, and had suddenly turned and gone away, leaving me to search for another character.

One character – or being – that Smith created for his “Hyperborean” cycle of stories, was borrowed and modified by Lovecraft, then incorporated into his “Cthulhu Mythos.” But as Deuce Richardson has pointed out in a detailed analysis, it was REH who really took the concept of this being and ran with it like a quarterback going for a touchdown. This was the toadlike horror Tsathoggua.

In Smith’s stories, like “The Seven Geases,” “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros,” “The Testament of Athammaus” and “The Door to Saturn,” Tsathoggua was somewhat comic and grotesque. In “The Seven Geases” the savage sorcerer Ezdagor says, “You shall know Tsathoggua by his great girth and his batlike furriness and the look of a sleepy black toad which he has eternally.” Later in the same story the main character encounters “the formless bulking of a couchant mass” which “put forth with infinite slothfulness a huge and toad-shaped head.” Master thief Satampra Zeiros, in the story that carries his name, invades a deserted temple of Tsathoggua. It contains an image of the god which depicts him (it?) as squat and pot-bellied, with the head of a monstrous toad but a body which suggests a combination of bat and sloth, coated in short fur. The tip of a queer tongue protrudes from Tsathoggua’s fat mouth. Satampra Zeiros concludes, “In truth he was not a comely or personable sort of god.”

tsathoggua_by_mrzarono-d548t6bLovecraft made use of Tsathoggua, though in his hands the being became far more exclusively toadlike and the aspects of bat and sloth were discarded. REH did likewise, and his Tsathoggua – along with the god’s spawn – are characterized by cruelty, an evident urge to procreate with just about anything that moves, and a good deal more energetic activity than the Old One Smith created. Now Deuce Richardson has written with more detail and perception in this area than anybody else I know, and I’m citing his scholarship here. Tsathoggua and/or his offspring appear in a number of Conan stories, like “Xuthal of the Dusk,” “Beyond the Black River” “The Scarlet Citadel” and “A Witch Shall Be Born.” In Smith’s “Testament of Athammaus,” the outlaw Knygathin Zhaum is specifically said to be related to Tsathoggua on his mother’s side – only partly human – and his head and body can unite again after decapitation. The wizard Tsotha-lanti in Howard’s “Scarlet Citadel” has that same ability. The relationship between the names Tsotha and Tsathoggua is not one that has to be labored too hard. Then there is the Pictish wizard Zogar Sag in “Beyond the Black River.” Like Tsotha-lanti, he has non-human paternity, and his name only needs to be pronounced with a bit of a lisp – “Tsogar Thag” – for its derivation to become evident. A demon which attacks Conan late in the yarn announces before striking that it is Zogar Sag’s half-brother, out of a fire demon from a far realm. (Yes, they both claim to be children of an ancient deity named Jhebbal Sag, but as Deuce has ably demonstrated, “Jhebbal Sag” is the Pictish name for the Old One Tsathoggua.) REH’s version of Tsathoggua will couple with anything that moves, indeed, and leaves his wicked offspring hither and yon.

REH hugely admired Smith’s ability to write tales of sheerest horror. And we all know from stories like “The Thing on the Roof” and “The Black Stone” that he was no slouch in that area himself. One of his favorite tales of Smith’s was “The Return of the Sorcerer.” In his letter of October 1933 he wrote:

I envy you your knack of making the fantastic seem real.” (It’s Robert E. Howard saying this, do not forget!) “I particularly remember your remarkable ‘Return of the Sorcerer’ in Strange Tales. That was no story for one with weak nerves. The horror you evoked was almost unbearable. I have read and written weird stuff for more years than I like to remember, and it takes a regular literary earthquake to touch my callous soul. But it is the honest truth that my hair stood up when I read that story. Poe never wrote anything that congealed my blood like that did. I wrote the editor to that effect.

RSHwg+cp-LI agree about “The Return of the Sorcerer.” It’s a favorite horror tale of mine also. Incidentally, in that yarn John Carnby has in his possession a “Necronomicon” in the original Arabic, when (as REH made clear in “The Thing on the Roof”) even the Greek translation was almost impossible to find by the twentieth century. Carnby and his brother must indeed have been potent sorcerers to have obtained an Arabic copy.

REH was fully justified in his admiration for Smith’s work. But he underrated himself sorely when he wrote that he was gratified by Smith’s interest in “my junk.” Time has proved that Howard did not write “junk.” In fact he’s more widely known that Clark Ashton Smith today, a cult figure with his work reprinted again and again, taken seriously, turned into movies, the subject of wide scholarship, websites (like this one) and numerous articles. All deservedly — and Smith’s work, at least, is online at The Eldritch Dark website.

Art by Bryan “Zarono” Reagan

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TGR contributor Jeffrey Shanks has co-edited a new collection of essays on Weird Tales titled The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales. The book is being published by Rowman & Littlefield and is due out in October.  His co-editor is Howard scholar Justin Everett.  Shanks has a day job as an archaeologist and is very active in popular culture studies, currently serving  co-chair of the Pulp Studies area of the Popular Culture Association. Of course, he is well known to Howard fans has the author of a number of articles and essays on Two-Gun Bob.  Those efforts have garnered him the REH Foundation Award for Best Print Essay three years in a row. Shanks is one of the founders of Skelos Press, publisher Zombies from the Pulps! and The Hyborian Age – Facsimile Edition. He has taken out time from his busy schedule to answer some questions about the upcoming The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales.

TGR:  I know you and Justin Everett are co-editors of the book. When the two of you were putting this volume together, what were some of the goals you hoped the book to achieve?

Shanks:  Well, Justin and I are co-chairs for the Pulp Studies Area of the Popular Culture Association (PCA) and I began to realize that a large percentage of the papers being given at the annual conferences were on Howard, Lovecraft, and the other writers for Weird Tales. I knew that all of this outstanding research needed to get out there, but since venues for publishing academic work of this kind are somewhat limited I decided that we should look at putting a collected volume together.

At the same time, I wanted to include some of the great scholarship that is being done in fandom circles as well. So I began to envision the project as way to showcase the work of both established independent scholars as well as some the younger academics and grad students that are doing amazing work on the Weird Tales authors.

TGR:  How long did it take to bring this book to fruition?

Shanks:  It’s been a long, arduous process to bring this together. By 2012 I felt like we the potential to put together a good collection and I was already envisioning who I wanted the contributors to be. In early 2013 I approached Justin about being co-editor as many of the chapters would be coming from papers given in our Pulp Studies area and he readily agreed. I also began talking to a number of individuals that I wanted to contribute, among them S. T. Joshi. While Joshi felt like he wasn’t in a position to contribute, he did suggest that the volume would be perfect for his newly-launched Studies in Supernatural Literature series from Rowman and Littlefield.

The rest of the year was spent assembling the contributors and discussing chapter topics. Over time several contributors dropped out and others came in to replace them. By summer of 2014 we had most of the first drafts in, and spent the rest of the year reviewing chapters and getting revisions. By spring of this year, the final manuscript was turned in to the publisher. I just finished compiling the index and putting together a list of last minute corrections. Now with great relief I can announce that the book should be out this October.

REH:  Is the book divided into sections by the theme of the essays?

Shanks:  Yes, it is. The overarching theme of the book is that Weird Tales was something of a perfect storm as a venue for speculative fiction when it first appeared in 1923. It became a crucible for the formation and evolution of what would become the modern forms of fantasy and horror. So the first section of the book contains essays that look at Weird Tales through that lens – a place of genre creation. The second section focuses on two of the most influential writers from those early years, H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Lovecraft was a pioneer of modern horror just as Howard was a pioneer of modern fantasy, and their contributions are significant enough to warrant their own section. The final section looks at some of the other most important and influential contributors to Weird Tales, like Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, and C. L. Moore. There are many writers and topics that did not get the attention they really deserve due to space limitations, but hopefully we see more collections like this in the future.

TGR:  Will this volume cover “The Unique Magazine” throughout its lifetime (from March 1923 through September 1954)?

Shanks:  Well, the focus of the book is on Weird Tales during its heydey in the 20s and 30s under the editorship of Farnsworth Wright – the so-called Golden Age of the magazine. But the beginnings of the magazine under Edwin Baird are definitely explored in a couple chapters and some attention is given to the later incarnation of the magazine under Dorothy McIlraith. There is actually one chapter on Harold Lawlor, one of the later writers from the 40s who isn’t as well-known as he probably should be,

TGR:  Can you tell us who some of the contributors are?

Shanks:  Certainly, and in fact the full table of contents is available on the Roman and Littlefield website. There are names that should be familiar to REH fans like TGR and The Cimmerian contributor Morgan Holmes, literature professor and editor of Conan Meets the Academy Jonas Prida, Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos author and TGR contributor Bobby Derie, The Cimmerian and Conan Meets the Academy contributor Paul Shovlin, and the foremost Clark Ashton Smith scholar Scott Connors.

There are several established professors like Justin Everett, Sid Sondergard, Clancy Smith, and Geoffrey Reiter. And there are a number of up and coming young professors and graduate students that have made their mark at PCA/ACA in recent years and from whom you will be seeing much more in the near future. This includes Fulbright scholar Daniel Nyikos; C. L. Moore expert Jonathan Helland; The Dark Man contributor Jason Ray Carney, and Nicole Emmelhainz — both of whom will be giving academic papers at NecronomiCon this year.

TGR:  What are some of the topics covered by the contributors?

Shanks:  Jason and Jonas both look at Modernism and Weird Tales, but with very different approaches. Daniel discusses the Lovecraft Circle with a focus on HPL and REH. Nicole looks at Weird Tales as a “discourse community” – a subject that is her area of expertise. Morgan presents a survey of sword and sorcery in the magazine. Clancy Smith looks at Lovecraft and Postmodernism, while Bobby discusses Lovecraft and sexuality. Justin’s chapter is on Robert E. Howard and eugenics and Scott Connors explores Clark Ashton Smith’s struggle for literary acceptance. Geoffrey Reiter looks at Smith’s use of language. Jonathan discusses the different depictions of femininity in C. L. Moore’s “The Black God’s Kiss” and its accompanying artwork. Paul Shovlin probes into the psychological horror of Robert Bloch and Sid Sondergard discusses the metafictional aspects of Harold Lawlor’s works. And finally, my chapter looks at early anthropological and evolutionary theory in REH’s Little People stories like “Worms of the Earth.”

TGR:  What tone do the essays have? Are they more academic or causal and personable or a mixture of the two?

Shanks:  They are definitely academic, but also accessible, without an over-reliance on jargon and scholarly apparatus. It is intelligent, high-level scholarship but still very readable and interesting for the lay person and academic alike

TGR:  Do you believe this book will have a major impact on how people perceive fantasy and horror stories and the magazine itself?

Shanks:  Well I certainly hope so – or at least on how they perceive the origins of the modern forms of fantasy and horror. Weird Tales was the venue where much of that genre formation took place, but this is rarely acknowledged even by weird fiction scholars. I hope to show that the literary, historical, and social context in which modern weird fiction developed was the community of fans and professionals that formed around Weird Tales.

TGR:  Will we learn anything new about Weird Tales in this book?

Shanks: Well I definitely learned new things. Quite a bit actually. It’s hard not to you when have such an impressive team of scholars assembled, all delving into new aspects of Weird Tales and the early weird fiction writers. I think it would hard to read these essays and not come away with new appreciation for the cultural significance of Weird Tales.

TGR:  Anything you’d like to add that we need to know about The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales?

Shanks:  One thing that I think readers of this blog will appreciate is that Robert E. Howard and his weird fiction are featured very prominently in this collection and that’s not an accident. I feel that Howard’s significance has been overlooked or even downplayed in weird fiction scholarship in recent years and I hope this collection will be something of a corrective to that trend. Whether you are fan of his work or not, there is no denying his importance as an influential pioneer of speculative fiction and I want to make him and his work part of the conversation again.

Also, keep an eye out for some of the newer names in this collection as you are going to be seeing a lot more of them in places like TGR, The Dark Man, and Skelos, the new weird fiction journal that Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, and I will be launching later this year.

AAClarkRusty Burke once observed that H. P. Lovecraft was Robert E. Howard’s only truly significant correspondent—not just in the number of letters exchanged and the importance of their content, or even in their length, but in the sheer breadth of subjects that the two men covered in their seven years of acquaintance through letters—and perhaps more importantly, because so much of their correspondence has survived. The same cannot be said of Howard’s correspondence with the other great light at Weird Tales, Clark Ashton Smith. Only ten of Howard’s letters to Smith remain, and none of Smith’s letters to Howard are known to have survived. Still, this presents an interesting historical puzzle for the literary-minded detective. Given what we know of Smith and Howard, both from their surviving letters, and from the letters and memoirs of their friends and correspondents, especially H. P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price, how much of their correspondence can we reconstruct based on the letters that remain?

As background, the first mention of Clark Ashton Smith in Howard’s letters is in a missive to Tevis Clyde Smith c.July 1930 (CL2.58) regarding Lovecraft’s mention in a letter to Howard (AMTF1.31) that Smith had praised some of Howard’s work in Weird Tales, and with Howard replying to Lovecraft (c.August 1930, CL2.61) that he in turn had long been a fan of both Lovecraft and Smith’s poems in Weird Tales, and in fact both men had praised each other’s work in the Eyrie (March 1932, April 1932, April 1933). The earliest reference to Howard in Smith’s published letters dates to c.October 1930, commenting in passing on Howard’s “Kings in the Night” in Weird Tales (SLCAS 122). So before they ever began to correspond with one another, both Howard and Smith were aware of each other’s work, and had a mutual correspondent in H. P. Lovecraft, who encouraged Howard to order Smith’s book:

By the way—I enclose a circular of Clark Ashton Smith’s new brochure of weird stories, all of which are splendid. I advise you to pick up this item—and also the book of poems at its reduced price. Both are highly unusual and meritorious. (AMTF2.619)

DS&OFThe first letter from Howard to Smith that survives is postmarked 15 March 1933 (CL3.42-43); however it is clear from the contents that it is not the first letter in the exchange, but a reply to Smith. Probably the correspondence began in early 1933 or late 1932 with a letter from Howard, but almost certainly after Smith’s The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies (July 1932) was published, since Howard thanks Smith for a copy that Smith had sent him. In that letter, Howard commiserates with Smith on the demise of Strange Tales, the news of which arrived to Smith in early October 1932 (SLCAS 194), where both men had stories accepted but ultimately not published (“The Demon of the Flower,” “The Seed from the Sepulchre,” and “The Colossus of Ylourgne” for Smith, and “The Valley of the Lost” for Howard). Howard’s mention of “The Dark Eidolon” being accepted by Weird Tales further suggests that Smith’s letter preceding this one is from January or February 1933, since Smith only finished that tale and sent it to Farnsworth Wright late December 1932 (SLCAS 198), and typical replies seem to have taken at least a couple weeks.

Howard thanks Smith for his remarks on the Conan tales, and while few of Smith’s early opinions on these survive in his letters except that he liked “The Tower of the Elephant” (SLCAS 199), in a letter to August Derleth regarding his correspondence with Howard, Smith writes: “The Conan tales, in my opinion, are quite in a class by themselves.” (29 August 1933, SLCAS 219)—and this is probably representative of the substance of Smith’s comments to Howard. Given that Howard is enclosing a check for Ebony and Crystal (1922), we can also presume that Smith gave the price for the volume in his letter.

EHPIn a letter to Robert H. Barlow (c. 2 April 1933, CL3.47), Howard writes that he is forwarding some notes, which came from E. Hoffmann Price by way of Clark Ashton Smith—given that no mention of these notes were made in the letter of 15 March, this suggests that Smith had written Howard in reply in either late march or early April, forwarding the material. This was probably Price’s notes on theosophy, which Smith inquired about in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft (1 March 1933, SLCAS 203)

Howard’s next letter (c. July 1933, CL3.95-96) begins with an apology for not answering the previous letter due to being away from home the last few weeks; this probably refers to the same letter as contained Price’s notes. If so, then along with the notes Smith included a signed and addressed copy of his poem “Revenant,” which likely spurred Smith to talk about his proposals for published collections of poetry. The “selection from the already published volumes” is probably a reference to the never-realized One Hundred Poems (SLCAS 206), while the “book of new verse” is likely the also never-realized The Jasmine Girdle and Other Poems (SLCAS 103, 114). The stories Smith mentioned as accepted by Weird Tales depend on when he wrote the letter, but assuming it was late March or early April, likely have included “The Beast of Averoigne” (May 1933), “Genius Loci” (June 1933), and “Ubbo-Sathla” (July 1933). With regard to Howard’s note “Concerning the Necronomicon, etc.” while few of the inquiries remain, Smith later wrote to August Derleth that “HPL and I received dozens of queries, at one time or another, as to where The Book of Eibon, the Necronomicon, Von Junzt’s Nameless Cults, etc., could be obtained!” and probably reflects a comment along those lines.

EC1The letter from Howard letter postmarked 22 July 1933 concerns Howard’s signed copy of Ebony and Crystal (now in the Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection at Howard Payne University), which Smith probably sent under separate cover from his April letter and which arrived after Howard had mailed his earlier letter, otherwise he would have mentioned it to Smith. None of Smith’s thoughts on Howard’s poetry survive directly, but Howard’s remark “the anthology you mentioned” may refer to Wings, a quarterly poetry anthology edited by Stanton Coblentz which had published Smith’s poem “Lichens” (cf. SLCAS 211; in 1949 Coblentz edited a collection Unseen Wings containing poems from Smith and Lovecraft).

At this point, Smith mentioned his correspondence with Howard briefly at this point in a letter to August Derleth:

Howard is a rather surprising person, and I think he is more complex, and is also possessed of more literary ability, than I had thought from many of his stories. The Conan tales, in my opinion, are quite in a class by themselves. H. seemed very appreciative of my book of poems, Ebony and Crystal, and evidently understood it as few people have done. (SLCAS 219)

It is likely that Smith was delayed in answering Howard; a letter to Barlow dated 19 September 1933 opens with “I have exhumed the unanswered letters of the past month or six weeks […] and am answering them all in one fell swoop.” (SLCAS 222) The next letter from Howard in reply is from c. October 1933, and shows that the two pulpsters had been discussing Conan again; “The Pool of the Black Ones” had featured in that month’s Weird Tales, which Smith elsewhere described as “fine romantic fantasy.” (SLCAS 229) Evidently Smith had also tipped in a drawing of a “reptile-being” and a copy of the Fantasy Fan (CL3.135-136), or possibly a circular, as he sent to August Derleth in June of the same year:

A new “Fan” magazine is being started by Charles D. Hornig of Elizabeth, N.J. It will be devoted more to weird fiction than to science fiction. I enclose one of a bunch of rainbow-colored circulars which Hornig has just sent me. (SLCAS 210)

Howard’s comment on Unusual Stories recalls a similar blurb in a September 1933 letter to Derleth:

One William Crawford, of 122 Water St., Everett, Pa., is projecting a magazine of weird and pseudo-scientific tales, under the title Unusual Stories. No payment. I sent him “The White Sybil” in response to a request for material, and he seemed immensely pleased with it. I have a lurking fear that the venture may fizzle like Swanson’s Galaxy; but hope that I am wrong. If you have some unsalable weirds that you want to give away, Crawford would doubtless be a grateful recipient. I took the liberty of suggesting that he might write you. (SLCAS 224)

Incidentally, after receiving Howard’s reply Smith passed this tidbit on to Lovecraft: “Howard writes me that he has sent Crawford some material.” (SLCAS 236) It was very common of Lovecraft, Smith, and Howard to pass on industry scuttlebutt (leads to new pulps, story acceptances and rejections, and if they were paid) back and forth, just as Smith in this letter apparently informed Howard of the publication of “The Holiness of Azéderac” would be published in the forthcoming (November 1933) issue of Weird Tales. Smith’s comments to Howard regarding Astounding and Street & Smith are probably also similar to those made to August Derleth:

[…] the new S. & S. Astounding has three of my tales, none of which has been reported on. These tales are: “The Tomb Spawn” (revised), “The Demon of the Flower” (slightly abbreviated and simplified) and “The Witchcraft of Ulua” […] (SLCAS 223)

The most intriguing comment of Howard’s letter is the postscript, where he mentions Smith’s “remark about the correspondent who maintains that reptile-men once existed.” (CL3.137) This is a clear reference to William Lumley, a correspondent of Lovecraft and Smith’s, and in November 1933 Smith would write of him to Lovecraft: “The idea of a primeval serpent-race seems to be a favourite one with him, since he refers to it in his last letter as well as in one or two previous epistles.” (SLCAS 236) But why would Smith have brought up Lumley? Likely because Smith was at that point working on “The Seven Geases,” which contains a section referring to a race of Serpent-Men, but also perhaps because he made comment or reference to Howard’s own serpent-folk in “The Shadow Kingdom.”

Smith’s next letter probably came in the last half of November 1933, based both on Howard’s apology for the delay in replying (dated 14 December) and as Howard commiserates with Smith that Astounding is no longer accepting weird stories (cf. CL3.136n118). Once again, Smith has enclosed a drawing for Howard, this time of a “life alien to humanity” equated to Tsotha-Lanti of “The Scarlet Citadel”—probably the same drawing of a wizard mentioned in Howard’s letter of January 1934 (CL3.150, 194) Howard’s comment on Smith illustrating his own stories recalls a passage from a letter to August Derleth in October 1933:

Wright finally took “The Tomb-Spawn.” Also, he sprang a genuine surprise on me to do an illustration for “The Weaver in the Vault,” which appears in January. Evidently someone had been extolling my pictorial abilities around the W.T. office. I have done the illustration, taking much care with it, and hope that Pharnabosus will like the result. It will mean seven dollars extra on the story. (SLCAS 232)

It is unfortunate that we don’t have Smith’s description of William Lumley, for both he and Lovecraft have tended to write little about him and his exact beliefs, but would likely have been little more than a restatement of H. P. Lovecraft’s comments to Smith and Howard, though the reference to the “seven-headed goddess of hate” is intriguing. (cf. AMTF 287-8, 307; CL2.369; SL4.270-271, SLCAS 229) It also appears to have been the opening-point for a conversation on the dogmatism of science, where Howard and Smith found some immediate common ground.

Howard’s “I received Lovecraft’s story” is a reference to how both Howard and Smith were part of Lovecraft’s regular circulation of manuscripts, typescripts, and copies of unplaced or out-of-print stories; it is conceivable they might have passed such material to each other before 1933, though if so no record remains. The story in question is Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep,” as confirmed by a comment in a letter from Smith to Lovecraft dated c.4 December 1933:

I trust that Conan and most of the others on the circulation list fully appreciate the treat in store for them. The ms. goes forward to the Cimmerian monarch today. (SLCAS 239)

At this point, while not yet familiar enough to open his letters with anything but “Dear Mr. Smith,” Howard’s letters to Smith were getting longer, and he felt comfortable enough after nearly a year of correspondence to send Smith a Christmas card; if Smith reciprocated, the card has not survived, but he would certainly have made a point of mentioning it in his next letter, probably also wishing Howard a Happy New Year.

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