Archive for the 'Cormac Mac Art' Category

The REHupa Barbarian Horde

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

This is the final post for 2013 of the online version of Nemedian Dispatches. This feature previously appeared in the print journal and is now on the blog. On roughly a quarterly basis, Nemedian Dispatches will highlight new and upcoming appearances of Howard’s fiction in print, as well as Howard in other types of media.

In Print:

1455099_698319006860121_1820056067_nWeird Tales (October 1936)
Just published by Girasol Collectables Inc., is the October 1936 pulp replica of Weird Tales featuring the third and final installment  of “Red Nails.”  Part 1 appeared in the July 1936 issue, Part 2 in the August-September 1936 issue, both of which are available from Girasol. 

Western Tales
The REH Foundation Press’ collection of Howard’s western yarns is now available to order. It is the most comprehensive collection of Howard’s straight westerns ever published, including his classic weird westerns. The volume also features a Foreword by western fictioneer James Reasoner, a cover by Tom Gianni and Notes on the Text by Rob Roehm.

Fight Stories  (December 1931)
Adventure House has released a pulp replica of the December 1931 issue of Fight Stories featuring Robert E. Howard’s Sailor Steve Costigan in “Circus Fists.”

41f6kD7xfsLUndead in the West II: They Just Keep Coming
This new scholarly collection kicks off with “Vaqueros and Vampires in the Pulps: Robert E. Howard and the Dawn of the Undead West” by Jeff Shanks and Mark Finn. And that’s just the beginning, the volume has sixteen other essays on topics related to the weird west. It comes at a hefty price, but it is a hefty book, clocking in at over 350 pages. The book is edited by Cynthia J. Miller and A. Bowdoin Van Riper, and features a foreword by science fiction author William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run).

 Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword #6
WriterMatt Kindt  teams with comic-book superstar artist Keu Cha  to bring you a familiar Conan story with a twist! Paul Tobin and Francesco Francavilla deliver the second exciting installment of “Dark Agnes: Sword Woman,” while Ian Edginton and TGR contributor Richard Pace to illustrate why the Picts are such a formidable fighting force in part 2 of “Bran Mak Morn: Men of the Shadows.” This plus much more in this latest issue.

61RT9j1FMCL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Colossal Conan
Finally, a collection gigantic enough for Conan the Cimmerian himself! This massive hardcover volume weighs in at 13 pounds and collects Conan issues #0 through #50 in 1264 pages. Beginning with the early work of Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord through the famous collaborations of Timothy Truman and Tomás Giorello, this huge tome features an introduction from Busiek and an afterword from Truman. It is truly a must have for any Howard comic collector. The many contributors include: Kurt Busiek (Writer), Timothy Truman (Writer), Mike Mignola (Writer), Cary Nord (Art), Tomás Giorello (Art), Thomas Yeates (Art), Greg Ruth (Art), Eric Powell (Art), Rafael Kayanan (Art), Paul Lee (Art), Leinil Francis Yu (Art), Joseph Linsner (Art), Ladronn (Art), Tony Harris (Art), Paul Lee (Art), Dave Stewart (Color), Richard Isanove (Color), JD Mettler (Color), Tony Shasteen (Color), José Villarrubia (Color), and Mark Schultz (Cover)

 Coming Soon: 

boxing2The REH Foundation Press
Fists of Iron, Round 2 is now available to preorder. This is the second of a four volume comprehensive collection of REH’s humorous and straight boxing yarns (volume one was published earlier this year) from the Foundation Press. Also in the works for the near future is a two volume collection of Howard’s humorous western yarns, a book of Celtic adventures (Cormac Mac Art, et al.), an autobiographical book of sorts consisting of Post Oaks and Sand Roughs and various articles and essays written by Howard with a biographical slant, plus several other volumes.

REH: Two-Gun Raconteur #17
After a one year forced hiatus, TGR is returning in 2014 with a new issue just in time for Howard Days in June. You can expect the usual stellar line-up of rare Howard fiction, great artwork and outstanding essays and articles from more Howard scholars than you can shake a stick at. Stay tuned for more details as 2014 progresses.

Frazetta's Conan the Adventurer

Rear mighty temples to your god –
I lurk where shadows sway,
Till, when your drowsy guards shall nod,
To leap and rend and slay.

[…]

For all the works of cultured man
Must fare and fade and fall.
I am the Dark Barbarian
That towers over all.

Robert E. Howard, “A Word From the Outer Dark”

Robert E. Howard – Conan the Barbarian. The two are popularly equated and no doubt always will be. Even REH’s other characters can usually be considered “barbaric” heroes, or very rough diamonds at least, like Conn the thrall in “Spears of Clontarf”, who smashes his Viking master’s head with a log of firewood at the beginning of the story, and continues from there! The fifth-century Gaelic pirate, Cormac mac Art, has his civilized aspects (such as literacy) and doesn’t lack intelligence, but he follows a ferocious and barbaric life-path nevertheless, with a band of Danish Vikings. Francis X. Gordon, “El Borak” seeks out an environment that suits him in the wilds of Afghanistan in the early twentieth century. Elizabethan England would be a wild enough milieu for most men, but the English protagonist of “The Road of the Eagles” leaves home and eventually becomes a Cossack under the name Ivan Sablianka.

Cormac Fitzgeoffrey, Turlogh O’Brien, and Kosru Malik — the Turkish warrior and narrator of “The Road of Azrael” — are all hard men of the wild waste places, and outlaws into the bargain. Bran Mak Morn, King of the Picts and resistance fighter against the Romans, is “a king with an iron crown” leading the savages of the heather – a barbarian and monarch of barbarians. Kull, too, is a barbarian and an outcast who has fought his way to a throne, even though a brooding, pensive one who muses on life, reality and illusion a good deal. The driven, adventurous Puritan Solomon Kane (who may have known Ivan Sablianka) spends much of his life wandering in savage lands, especially the depths of Africa. He also sailed around the world with Drake and appeared in Germany’s Black Forest.

frank_frazetta_branmakmornA recurring theme in REH’s stories is the evanescence of civilization; the tendency of all empires and advanced cultures to soften and collapse before tougher, fiercer, cruder folk. His Picts are the everlasting and ultimate barbarians, from Kull’s age to Conan’s to Bran Mak Morn’s and Cormac mac Art’s, then into the eleventh century in the Turlogh Dubh O’Brien yarn, “The Dark Man” – generally considered one of his best, along with “Worms of the Earth” and “Pigeons From Hell”. The Picts are the outsiders, beset by civilization, though they conquer Aquilonia at last (long after Conan’s time) as REH tells us in his essay “The Hyborian Age”.

He famously comments on this recurring situation in the Conan story, “Beyond the Black River,” another of his finest. Any REH fan can quote it without seeing it printed yet again, but here goes. It comes from the mouth of a woodsman who encounters Conan in a tavern at the end of the story, when a Pictish incursion has successfully wiped out a military outpost and pushed back the frontier. Conan has saved the lives of a number of settlers who would have been caught by the Picts but for him – and his own barbaric skills.

‘Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,” the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. “Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”

Much as H.P. Lovecraft admired REH’s writing and described him as “a true artist” whose stories were so vividly memorable because “he himself is in every one of them,” he took vehement issue with Howard there. The discussion in some of their correspondence became pretty heated, especially on Lovecraft’s side. On occasion he had wish-fulfilling visions of himself as “a Viking, a berserk killer, a drinker of foemen’s blood from clean-picked skulls,” which was his own idea of the primal Anglo-Saxon. However, for the most part he preferred civilization and genteel New England civilization in particular. As REH entertained and wrote intense visions of primeval barbarian warriors, Lovecraft dreamed of being a colonial Tory gentleman and rather considered the Revolution a regrettable piece of treason.

He actually became so miffed at REH’s attitudes at one point that he said they qualified him as “an enemy of humanity”. Yet Howard had a more balanced view than Lovecraft – not surprisingly, since Lovecraft was far more of a recluse than Howard. He dealt with real people with real foibles far less than Howard did. For example, the latter wrote (in a letter of September 22nd, 1932):

For myself, if I should be suddenly confronted with the prospect of being transported back through the centuries into a former age, with the option of living where I wished, I would naturally select the most civilized country possible. That would be necessary, for I have always led a peaceful, sheltered life, and would be unable to cope with conditions of barbarism … As a matter of personal necessity I would seek to adapt myself to the most protected and civilized society possible, would conform to their laws and codes of conduct, and if necessary, fight with them against the ruder races of my own blood.

He believed that if he could have been born a barbarian, “knowing no other life or environment than that … to grow up lean and hard and wolfish, worshipping barbarian gods” he would have been happier than he was in the world he knew. To quote John D. MacDonald, “A world I never knew. Maybe the worlds you never knew are always better than the ones you do.” REH himself was well, and realistically, aware of that truth. In another letter to Lovecraft, a couple of months later than the one quoted above (November 2nd, 1932), he admitted:

I would not choose to plunge into such a life now; it would be the sheerest of hells to me, unfitted as I am for such an existence. But I do say that if I had the choice of another existence, to be born into it and raised in it, knowing no other, I’d choose such an existence as I’ve just sought to depict. There’s no question of the relative merits of barbarism and civilization here involved. It’s just my own personal opinion and choice.

Perhaps. But to this blogger it seems significant that the ultimate barbarian, Conan the Cimmerian, is the only Cimmerian ever depicted in Howard’s stories. What’s more, in the first Conan story to see print, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” the scene that introduces Conan has him talking to his civilized pal Prospero about what a dismal country Cimmeria is. “A gloomier land never was … Mitra! The ways of the Aesir were more to my liking.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Frazetta's Conan the ConquerorThis is bit of a lightweight post. It does address a point that arose – not too seriously, and not for the first time ever – on the Robert E. Howard Readers Facebook group, though. And REH seems to have considered it himself in a couple of his stories, at any rate to the point of trying to make it more plausible. Why are pulp heroes, including REH’s barbarians and fierce Irish Gaels, always impeccably shaved?

It was a strong convention of the time (the 1930s) to be sure, in pulp literature and outside it. Decent stalwart English and American lads always planed themselves off. Anarchists, Bolsheviks and Arabs, stock villains, wore beards. Suave sneering bad men who menaced the pure Anglo-Saxon heroine were often identified as wrong ‘uns from the word go, by their moustaches. It was okay for an Englishman to have a facial mattress if he was disguised as an Afghan to play the Great Game or otherwise outwit the heavies. The attitudes of the day seemed to find something faintly indecent about it in other circumstances.

Even Tarzan. (It’s relevant; Howard liked ERB’s work and was certainly acquainted with the Tarzan novels that were published in his day.) Growing up in the jungle among apes, young Lord Greystoke was about twenty when he met Jane, yet he was as smooth as an Aqua Velva commercial. According to Burroughs, in Tarzan of the Apes, after he realized he was a man and not and ape, he began shaving with his father’s hunting knife to remove that apish facial hair. Philip Jose Farmer took the view that as a member of the families inheriting the Wold Newton mutations caused by the meteorite that fell there, Tarzan didn’t grow much facial hair until his mid-twenties anyway. Farmer corrected a number of Burroughs’ other “mistakes” too.

Robert E. Howard followed that pulp convention. He never offered any explanation as far as Conan was concerned. (Or I never noticed if he did.) Howard’s stories didn’t say this, but some of the pulp illustrations for his character, from Weird Tales to early covers of Amra to the cover painting for the old ACE novel Conan the Conqueror, had Conan looking decidedly Roman as far as his haircut and shave were concerned. Of course he’d settled down in Aquilonia as its king by the time of the latter, but even before that, no matter if he was staggering through a scorching desert as the last survivor of a defeated army, he was never described as bearded, or even stubbly.

Where other characters were concerned, within the centuries of our known history, REH did offer an explanation for a couple of his Gaelic heroes being meticulously shaven. The fifth-century pirate Cormac mac Art seems to have carried a razor, never losing it. In one story (“Tigers of the Sea”) he does grow a beard — as a disguise for a spying errand. He asks his Danish comrade Wulfhere what he thinks of it. Wulfhere, a brawny giant with an immense red beard of his own, as befits a Viking, answers:

I never saw you so unkempt before … except when we had fought or fled for days so that you could not be hacking at your face with a razor.

Cormac mac Art and Wulfhere by Tikos & VassNow, Cormac is the scourge of the seas around post-Roman Britain. He appears to have been influenced early by what Roman culture still remains in those parts. He is described by the British minstrel Donal as a superb swordsman. “ … he favors the point. In a world where the skill of the old-time Roman legionaries is all but forgotten, Cormac mac Art is well-nigh invincible.”

More significantly still, Cormac is literate. He describes REH’s version of King Arthur as “pure Celt” and “a shock-headed savage.” He adds, rather disparagingly, “He can neither read nor write.” He’d hardly mention that in a way that implies he sees it as a lack, unless he could read and write himself. In another exchange with Wulfhere, in “The Temple of Abomination”, it’s made clear that Cormac knows very little about Christians; nothing from personal experience, certainly. Thus he cannot have been taught by monks. It follows that he must have lived with Romano-Britons of some culture who were not Christians, but rather throwbacks to pagan times, holdouts against the new official religion of the Empire.

Cormac may have been fostered to such a family as a youth. On the other hand, the Irish then were pirates who raided Britain a good deal, and he too was a pirate in his later years. He may have been a hostage for a lengthy period as a boy, even though well treated. It’s possible he formed the habit of shaving then.

The matter of shaving is discussed in another story of post-Roman Britain and King Arthur, though the writer called him “Artos the Bear” – Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel Sword at Sunset. It’s excellent – in my view the definitive novel of Arthur-as-post-Roman-Britain’s-war-leader – and this although some other damned good writers have taken their hacks at it. It impressed this blogger so much that it influenced my choice of post-Roman Britain as a setting for my own Felimid the Bard stories, with a picked band of heavy cavalry led by “Count Artorius” resisting the Saxons and Jutes.

In Sword at Sunset Artos called a travelling trader in, hoping the fellow would have some of the pumice stone Artos used to remove his beard. Fighting for the last dying lights of civilization in the island, he was strong on Roman customs, even though he was Celtic on his mother’s side. When he couldn’t get pumice, as he said, it meant “the butchery of goose-grease and razor, and left me thanking the gods that at least I was not a black-bearded man.”

Turlogh-OBrienSomething similar is implied in the case of Turlogh Dubh O’Brien. Like most of REH’s heroes, Turlogh is “a black-bearded man”. This grim (with a streak of madness, REH tells us) Irish outlaw roved and fought from his homeland to Spain and east to Russia, in the years after the battle of Clontarf. That was about half a century before the Normans conquered England, At the beginning of the well-known Turlogh yarn, “The Dark Man”, a fisherman on the remote west coast of Ireland recognizes him because he’s “clean shaven and close cropped in the Norman fashion.” Also like the Normans, and unlike most of his countrymen, he wears full mail in battle.

Turlogh in his boyhood must have come under strong foreign influence to endure the discomfort of regularly removing a stiff black beard with the razors of the time. The fisherman who lends him a boat thinks it was Norman. He might well know about the Normans. The story makes it clear that although a common fisherman, he’s sailed far in his small boat, often just for fun and adventure. “Do you think it’s only you chiefs that take sport in risking your hides?” he asks.

Now, in the first decade of the eleventh century CE, Turlogh would have had to go to the Normans’ homeland in northern France to be influenced by them. They had not begun to appear in England much, nor were they found in southern Italy yet except as mercenaries. But it’s quite possible that Turlogh had been to Normandy. He’d been around on the western seaways, even before Clontarf. “The Dark Man” takes place only a few years after that battle, and the author tells us that “[Turlogh] had sailed [these seas] as a raider and as an avenger and once he had sailed them as a captive lashed to the deck of a Danish dragon ship.” He was to have that experience again, too, at the beginning of “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth”.

Thus it’s possible that he was shipwrecked on the coasts of Normandy, or sold to a Norman lord by the Danes who had captured him. The Normans were descended from pagan Vikings who settled lands in France, which is how they got their name – from “northman”. Their antecedents showed in their behavior! Those days weren’t so far behind them at the start of the eleventh century, either. Turlogh might have been held captive until he could be ransomed by his clan, a matter of a year or so, and like Cormac mac Art in a similar hypothetical situation, not badly treated. He could have fought his host’s enemies, thus adding to his combat experience and training among the Normans, as well as learning to appreciate the worth of protective mail. As a small additional matter, he might have formed the habit of shaving.

The O’Briens would have raised the price of his freedom. He was a near relative of Brian Boru. He hadn’t as yet become tainted with an accusation of treacherous dealings with the Danes, either. They would not have known where he was at once, though. Nor would they have been able to raise the kind of ransom rapacious Normans wanted in a month. Brian Boru had many pressing concerns circa 1010 CE.

REH, then, did ‘explain’ at least two of his Gaelic heroes’ improbably shaven faces as being due to foreign influence early in their careers. Whether it convinces is another matter. But he did it.

Solomon Kane by GianniHis dour Puritan adventurer, Solomon Kane, frequently fighting at sea or wandering alone through the depths of Africa, also seems to shave scrupulously, no matter what betide. But that’s a little different. Kane is a Puritan, and a fanatic withal. He might well be obsessive about planing off. He might have regarded a smooth chin as more godly than a beard. Under the African sun it would certainly be more comfortable and hygienic. Besides, they had better razors in Elizabethan times than in Cormac or Black Turlogh’s day.

Out of Howard’s wild Gaelic (or proto-Gaelic) heroes, the most implausible to be constantly shaven was Conan himself. I’d expect him, with his temperament, living as he did, to be heavily bearded much of the time, even if he trimmed it roughly. However, as stated at the beginning, in the 1930s it was a pulp convention. Any bearded man was likely to be the hero in disguise, or suspect at once as a wrongo. Conan, even fleeing through the Pictish Wilderness for hundreds of miles with a war-party of Picts chasing him like “human wolves”, in “The Black Stranger”, is apparently still unbearded. Of course REH might not have mentioned his facial fungus at that point, and when he discovered the cache of clothes and weapons Bloody Tranicos left in the cave with his treasure, Conan might have shaved as well as outfitting himself in hundred-year-old pirate finery before swaggering into Count Valenso’s stockade. But that wouldn’t apply in “Iron Shadows in the Moon”, and he doesn’t seem to have so much as a five o’clock shadow there, either.

One instance of that ideology, which I encountered long after the thirties, was as silly as it was unforgettable. Garner Ted Armstrong, fundamentalist preacher and creator of “The World Tomorrow”, printed it in one of his magazines. Armstrong didn’t care for bearded, long-haired hippies, and was made uncomfortable by depictions of Jesus as long-haired and bearded, even in illustrated Bibles. (That Jesus was invariably depicted as fair-skinned and blue-eyed, also, didn’t seem to trouble him.) Armstrong sought to “prove” that Jesus had shaved and cut his hair. That would have flouted Jewish sacred law, but Armstrong, ignorant as he was narrow-minded, quite possibly didn’t know that.

His argument was that Jesus lived under the Roman Empire’s rule. Romans cut their hair short and went clean-shaven. (Armstrong showed a bust of Julius Caesar to demonstrate this.) Then he contended that since Jesus was a young man on his way up in the Empire, and since he had said “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”, he too would have removed his beard and trimmed his locks.

Comment on that reasoning seems superfluous. But it does show how desperate we can be over trifles, especially when they go against our ideologies. Or just our notions of a proper appearance.

Art credits: Conan the Conqueror by Frank Frazetta, Cormac mac Art and Wulfhere by Tikos & Vass, Turlogh O’Brien and Solomon Kane by Gary Gianni

After a five month delay due to my accident, issue number 16 of The Definitive Robert E. Howard Journal is now ready and available to order. As most folks know, the new issue always appears at Howard Days each June, but that was not possible this year due to my injury.

However, I believe you will find it was well worth the wait as the issue is chock full of rare Howard fiction, a little poetry, articles and essays by the top Howard scholars and some fantastic artwork by a who’s who of artistic Howard fans. In addition to Howard, contributors include: Barbara Barrett; David Burton; Bill Cavalier; Bob Covington; Stephen Fabian; Nathan Furman; David A. Hardy; Clayton Hinkle; Morgan Holmes; David Houston; Brian Leno; Patrice Louinet; Jim Ordolis; Richard Pace; Michael L. Peters; Terry Pavlet; Rob Roehm; Jeffrey Shanks and Joe Wehrle.

For a full list of contents, price and ordering information, please visit the order the issue webpage.

 

Nobody who follows this weblog at all will be likely to dispute that Robert E. Howard had few equals when it came to writing a fast-paced, gripping story with passion and energy that drew the reader along from beginning to end. He could also evoke a scene so vividly that you could see it and hear it. This blogger is about to consider his work from a different angle; his passion for history.

He displayed it even in his out-and-out fantasies, most of all the Conan stories. For those he devised a prehistoric world on a bigger, more colorful scale than ours and wrote a carefully thought out, crafted essay describing its history, catastrophes and migrations, so that he’d be able to keep the background consistent. He even had the scruples to explain in writing that he wasn’t putting forward any theories in opposition to accepted anthropology or archaeology; he was just creating a fictional background for some fiction yarns.

Conan’s world is a bigger-than-life stage with bigger-than-life versions of ancient and medieval countries. The readers find them familiar enough to enter with no trouble, but the writer has none of the restrictions imposed by known history. The nation of Aquilonia is England of the High Middle Ages, basically, with armored knights and a lion battle-standard, though the names are Latin. The Bossonian Marches, with their tough peasants skilled in archery, are the Welsh Marches. The province of Poitain, with its “beautiful women and ferocious warriors,” filled with “hot southern blood” and “quick jealous pride,” is medieval Gascony (in the fourteenth century subject to England), with touches of the U.S.A.’s southern states. And Poitain, significantly, was once an independent realm.

Zingara is medieval Spain. Stygia is ancient Egypt with snake worship and evil magic added. Turan would appear to be the Ottoman Turkish Empire with a dash of Sassanid Persia. The long-lasting conflict between Aquilonia and its neighbor kingdom, Nemedia, might as well be the Hundred Years’ War. The Cimmerians – of course – are prehistoric Irish Gaels.

Howard wrote quite a number of stories with a background of our world’s actual history, though. They featured his heroes Solomon Kane, Turlogh O’Brien, Dark Agnes and Cormac Fitzgeoffrey – and the fifth-century Gaelic pirate Cormac Mac Art, for that matter. Others were not part of any series, like “Sowers of the Thunder,” “Lord of Samarcand,” and “The Shadow of the Vulture.”

With regard to “Sowers of the Thunder,” he wrote to Wilfred Talman in April of 1931:

That reminds me; I just recently got a letter from Farnsworth who’s just read Lamb’s book on the later crusades, and wants me to write a tale dealing with Baibars the Panther; do you know anything about him? I’ll conceal my ignorance with a flare of action, as usual. Just in case you ever want to write to me, send it to my usual address. I wont be here long.

REH was a decided fan of Harold Lamb’s writing, wild adventure with sword-swinging heroes, Cossacks, Crusaders and the like. Lamb also wrote a two-volume history of the Crusades that REH would almost certainly have read, and a biography of Genghis Khan. Howard’s “ignorance” wasn’t nearly as great as he said, though he was well aware that he didn’t live at the scholarly hub of the nation. Circa January 1932 he wrote to H.P. Lovecraft, “Understand, my historical readings in my childhood were scattered and sketchy, owing to the fact that I lived in the country where such books were scarce.”

I know how he felt. This blogger lived in Tasmania as a kid, and the history we were taught in high school was practically blank between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Renaissance. The Byzantine Empire? The one that bridged the gap between the Western Empire and the Renaissance, lasted a thousand years, and gave Imperial Russia its religion? Didn’t exist. The only mention of it I heard in high school was in English classes; Yeats’ poem, “Sailing to Byzantium.” The Crusades got a passing mention, but other than that the brilliant human story was more than sketchy. Japan? Central America? Africa? Forget it. The only references to Africa were made in connection with explorers and missionaries like Livingstone, Mungo Park and Mary Kingsley. The most vivid accounts of history I read were in books like The Three Musketeers.

REH early became an avid reader of what history he could find, however. And he filled in the gaps splendidly from his imagination and story-teller’s instinct, as when he produced the story about Baibars he mentions to Talman, above – “Sowers of the Thunder.” Baibars was a thirteenth-century mamluk, a slave-soldier of Turkish origin, who rose to become Sultan of Egypt and ruled from 1260 to 1277. A warrior of iron toughness, he’s said to have swum the Nile daily in full armor to stay fit. Just REH’s type of character.

In “Sowers of the Thunder,” he meets his dangerous equal in Red Cahal O’Donnell, a failed Irish king. Cahal is fictional; Baibars al-Bunduqdari isn’t. In REH’s story, Cahal and Baibars first meet (in spring of 1243) while the latter is disguised as a common traveler, and then at the fearful sack of Jerusalem by Khawarezmi Turks in 1244. This wouldn’t seem to be historical, since Baibars was most likely born around 1223. He was twenty-one, and a member of the Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt’s bodyguard, at the most, in 1244 – not a general of mamluks. That Sultan, As-Salih Ayyub, really did call upon a great host of Khawarezmians to retake Jerusalem for him from his Abbasid rivals, but he couldn’t control them and the savages carried out a hideous sack of the Holy City which REH describes. The one real discrepancy in this yarn is that REH makes Baibars about a decade older than he was, and that may not have been REH’s mistake. There might have been no definite knowledge of Baibars’ birth year in the 1930s.

Read the rest of this entry »

The unique Robert E. Howard tried his hand at quite a few fiction genres, from detective stories to oriental adventure to his humorous westerns about Breck Elkins. He virtually invented heroic fantasy featuring mighty roughneck barbarians, of course, as exemplified by Conan.  His historical adventures with the characters Turlogh Dubh O’Brien and Cormac Fitzgeoffrey (that less than idealistic crusader) are memorable.

He tried his hand at interplanetary adventure at least once, too – with his novel Almuric.

(Damon mentioned in the first “Nemedian Dispatches” for 2011 that “A new trade paperback edition of the often reprinted REH planetary adventure (Almuric) was recently published by Wildside Press, sporting a cheesy computer generated cover.”)

As always, REH gave it his own individual touch. The protagonist, Esau Cairn, the Earthman who finds himself in an alien world, is a misfit on Earth, a powerful throwback to the kind of epoch that produced characters like Niord in “The Valley of the Worm.” This mighty fellow can’t even make a satisfying career of boxing or football — because he’s just too strong and fiercely vital. Without even meaning to, he injures all who compete against him. “Cairn was not a great sluggish lethargic giant as so many powerful men are,” REH informs us, through the mouth of the scientist who introduces the tale; “he was vibrant with fierce life, ablaze with dynamic energy. Carried away by the lust of combat, he forgot to control his powers, and the result was broken limbs or fractured skulls for his opponents.”

Nearly killing a sparring partner finishes his hopes of a boxing career. His license is revoked. Thwarted and restless, he gets involved with a crooked political machine that tries to make him a fall guy, and when the city boss tries to intimidate Cairn, he gets killed by one furious blow. By a typical pulp-magazine stroke of incredible luck, before he’s trapped and shot by the coppers, Cairn meets a scientist with a device that can transport him to a distant planet far beyond the reach of the political machine’s vengeance. Or the law.

Esau Cairn, like some other Howard characters (Francis X. Gordon, or “El Borak,” for instance) was “born in the Southwest, of old frontier stock … whose traditions were of war and feud and battle against man and nature.”  Some of the warriors of the old west described in “Murder Ranches and Gunmen” would have appreciated Cairn, no doubt, and he them. But Cairn was actually born for a much more ancient, savage epoch, and on the world of Almuric he finds an environment that suits him.

His name is significant. Esau, in the Old Testament, was a hairy roughneck of a hunter who was conned out of his true birthright by his smooth-skinned, persuasive brother Jacob – a perfect symbol for the modern civilization that suits Cairn so poorly. In an ironic bit of role reversal, when Cairn arrives on Almuric, the apish Gura males see him as the smooth-skinned freak. The first one he meets asks him contemptuously if he’s a man or a woman. Cairn, typically, socks him on the jaw at once.

Later, captured in the city of Koth, he hears himself described as “a freak, a damned, smooth-skinned degenerate misfit which should not have been born, or allowed to exist.”  By one of the men, naturally. The girl Altha finds him not only interesting, but evidently attractive, from the first. She’s something of a misfit herself, though, in that she longs for a gentler world than the one she knows, something that “is not, and never was,” so far as she’s aware. Cairn, happy for the first time in his life on lusty, crude Almuric, is baffled by this attitude.

It’s an odd world, to put it mildly. It appears to have no history, no development of cultures to compare with the way Byzantine culture, for example, grew out of the fading Roman Empire, or Spanish, Italian and French developed from their common precursor, the Latin language, or the culture of Timbuktu in Africa was imported by Arab conquerors. There’s nothing like that. The race that first attacks and then adopts Cairn, the Guras, inhabit huge plains in crude stone cities they apparently heaped up in a sudden switch from nomadic habits and then never developed further. Cairn says the males evidently did this to protect their women, not because they had any inclination to comfort or shelter from the elements themselves.

Male Guras are massive, apelike fellows with big jaws and receding foreheads. Fighting, drinking and bellowing crude ballads are their chief pastimes. The women, on the other hand, look like earthly women. Physically, they and the men might as well belong to different species.

“Stupid pigs,” the queen of the demoniacal Yaga race says at one point, of the Guras, and some might agree.

The Yagas are about the only creatures the Gura men fear. They are winged, which of course gives them a huge tactical advantage against wingless victims. Cairn describes them as “tall and rangy in build, sinewy and powerful, with ebon skins. They seemed made like ordinary men, except for the great leathery bat-like wings which grew from their shoulders. They were naked except for loincloths, and were armed with short curved blades.”

They have no inhibitions about eating human flesh. They regard themselves as superior beings, if not gods, so it’s not as if they were eating each other; just the lower orders. When Cairn eventually meets their queen, Yasmeena, he finds she’s the most cruel of the lot, like a combination of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed and Howard’s own immortal vampire princess, Akivasha, in The Hour of the Dragon. She’s also the only female Yaga to have retained her wings. The others all have them amputated when young, in order to keep them in a subservient role, it seems. Nasty people.

“Men and women, the Yagas were open and candid in their evil,” remarks Cairn. “Their utter cynicism banished ordinary scruples of modesty and common decency. Deeming themselves gods, they considered themselves above the considerations that guide ordinary humans.”

They remind me strongly of winged semi-human devils in other REH stories, such as “The Garden of Fear.” It features one of James Allison’s former primitive incarnations, who tracks the last survivor of an ancient, pre-human winged race, because it has stolen his mate. He finishes it off in the “garden” of the title, the creature’s lair. Again, in one Solomon Kane story, “Wings in The Night,” the Puritan rover meets the last survivors of the legendary harpies, in the depths of Africa. They too are fiendish winged raptors with bat-like pinions. Cruel beyond measure, they prey on a peaceful black tribe that Kane fails to protect from the monsters, to his personal anguish.

Come to think of it, the Yagas aren’t unlike Michael Moorcock’s Melniboneans in the Elric stories. Theirs is a “sophisticated, brilliant, and cruel culture.” Returning stealthily to Immryr, the last Melnibonean city, Elric prowls through the thoroughfares, now and again hearing “a frenzied, idiot’s yell as some wretch of a slave died in obscene agony to please his master” (“The Dreaming City“). Such sounds would have been common in the Yagas’ inaccessible hold atop a sheer five-hundred-foot crag, also, the way Howard describes them.

The Yagas steal Esau Cairn’s girl, Altha, and carry her to their city of Yugg on the tall rock Yuthla. (In passing, those names are bloody awful.) Esau follows them, even though it’s an unheard-of thing, on Almuric, to defy the dreaded winged monsters. Esau doesn’t just defy them, he resolves to destroy them. He unites the different, feuding tribes of Guras to that purpose, for the first time in the history of Almuric, and overthrows the Yagas in their own citadel, upon which Yasmeena turns loose her private pet monster and completes the destruction. That’s a climax much like the way John Carter of Mars destroys the degenerate Holy Therns and the “goddess” Issus.

We’re all probably seeing echoes of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Barsoom in Almuric by now. The lost city of Opar in Africa, which Tarzan discovered, ruled by the priestess La, had a peculiar race of inhabitants. The men were apish, the women normal, like the Guras of Almuric. Burroughs’ John Carter, like Esau Cairn, is transported to an alien planet by mysterious means the details of which are never explained. From the time he arrives, he finds himself battling monsters and cruel degenerate elitists to save beautiful women. The fierce Black Pirates of Mars (who call themselves the First Born) prey on other races in aerial raids, though they use flying warships instead of natural wings. They too are ruled by a cruel woman (Issus, their living goddess). They too, like their unwitting subordinates the Holy Therns, eat human flesh and maintain that this is allowable since they are divine, a superior order of being. They too have their ancient “divine” order overthrown by the hero.

Read the rest of this entry »

It looks like you can already pre-order The Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures. I posted about this upcoming book last June before an artist was announced and the name was changed.  Now an artist has been selected – John Watkiss.

The book is listed over at Amazon.com, with a publication date of January 25, 2011. The great thing about Amazon.com is if they drop the price of an item before it ships, you are only charged for the lower price. Right now The Sword Woman is listed at full retail ($18), but soon they’ll discount it to $12 or $13.

After this volume is released, I hope Cormac Mac Art and Other Celtic/Northern Adventures will not be too far behind.  A little birdie told me Dutch artist Paul Bonner has been approached about doing the illustrations for that collection.

Now that El Borak has finally gotten the volume he so richly deserves, and with Dark Agnes getting her due soon, two other Howard heroes are overdue for new, complete collections: Cormac Mac Art and Wild Bill Clanton

The most recent collection of Cormac Mac Art stories was published 15 years ago as part of the Baen collection of eight Howard paperbacks. Howard completed two Cormac Mac Art tales, “Swords of the Northern Sea” and “The Night of the Wolf.” Two other stories, “Tigers of the Sea” and “The Temple of Abomination” were left incomplete and later finished by Richard L. Tierney. None of Howard’s Cormac Mac Art stories were published during his lifetime. Tigers of the Sea was the first collection published in 1974, spawning six pastiches by Andrew Offutt and Keith Taylor.

The four Cormac Mac Art stories would make for a slim volume; a good match with them would be the Black Turlogh O’Brian stories. While the O’Brien stories have appeared individually in print recently, there has never been complete collection in one single volume. There are two complete O’Brien stories (“The Dark Man and “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth”), plus O’Brien is a minor character in “Spears of Contarf” and its supernatural twin “The Grey God Passes.” He is also featured in an incomplete draft titled “The Shadow of the Hun” and a short fragment.  It should be noted that “The Dark Man and “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth” have appeared side by side several times, most recently in the hardcover edition of Wildside’s People of the Dark.

I can see Del Rey possibly doing a collection of the Cormac Mac Art yarns, the Turlogh O’Brian stories, with a number of other miscellaneous Celtic/Northern tales rounding out the volume, much as Joe Marek, Howard scholar and publisher of the extremely rare The “New” Howard Reader, has it listed on his website. The website is a bit out of date, but you can get the gist of what he is saying regarding a possible collection of the Celtic/Northern Howard stories.

Wild Bill Clanton is a different story. The “spicies” have a somewhat limited audience and The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press would be a likely candidate to publish the Clanton stories, along with other “spicy” tales and miscellaneous erotica. This is mainly because Clanton is not exactly a lovable little fuzzball, being a pirate, gunrunner, pearl-poacher, slaver, general all around scoundrel and having a nasty habit of mistreating women.  According to Patrice Louinet, the manuscripts are “spicier” than the published stories; they were toned done for publication in Spicy-Adventure Stories.  So a textually accurate Clanton would make him even a less likely candidate for a mass market book.  “Spicy” indeed.

girasol-SpicyAdventure-April1936

Five Clanton stories were published in Spicy-Adventure Stories during Howard’s lifetime and shortly after his death, with a sixth being discovered years later among his papers. A collection Howard’s “spicies” appeared only one time in book form in the 1983 Ace paperback The She Devil.  In addition to the six Clanton yarns, two other “spicy” stories were included (“Guns of Khartum” and “Daughters of Feud”).  Most of the Clanton stories have popped-up in print recently, notably in the Girasol pulp replicas. Joe Marek also complied a possible list of contents for a Clanton volume.

So, if Del Rey elects to do another volume after the publication of Dark Agnes and Other Historical Adventures next year, I believe the most likely candidate would be Cormac Mac Art and Other Celtic Adventures. As for the Clanton book, no doubt it is on Rob Roehm’s drawing board or rattling around inside that fertile brain of his.