Archive for the 'Farnsworth Wright' Category


2.  The Stigma of Tuberculosis

In addition to the pain, the horrific TB operations and the endless monotony of the sanitarium, tuberculars also suffered from the stigma of contracting TB.

The National Library of Medicine notes: “During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, tuberculosis (TB) was the leading cause of death in the United States and one of the most dreaded diseases known to mankind. Until Robert Koch’s discovery of the disease-causing tuberculosis bacteria in 1882, many scientists believed that TB was hereditary and could not be prevented. Doctors offered few effective treatments. A new understanding of TB in the bacteriological era not only brought hopes for a cure but also bred fear of contagion.” (Tuberculosis NLM)

For people who had TB, interstate travel was restricted, employment was sometimes denied, and forced confinement to state hospitals and public sanatoria were allowable measures used to protect the public. “Lungers need not inquire” was a sign that was commonly displayed in the windows of boarding houses and hotels that refused to rent to people who appeared to have TB. Beginning in the 1890s and persisting through the 1930s, having TB became such a disgrace that many infected people chose to keep the disease a secret from everyone, including family. (Dyer 56)

Stories of stigma often began at the moment of diagnosis when the new patients immediately offered a lengthy, defensive and apologetic explanation of how and why they contracted tuberculosis:

Overwork was a primary reason. But one young man who kept regular hours and did not overwork, was asked by his mother “Where did you get it, son?” as though it were a sexually transmitted disease. (Rothman 228-29)

Once they were diagnosed, tuberculars became outcasts and lepers in society.

Patients confirmed the wisdom of hiding the disease…Families and confidants were as secretive as the sick themselves. They told friends that family members were taking a much needed rest or vacation or cited other physical ailments to account for sudden departures. (Rothman 212)

When the public learned TB was an airborne germ, the resulting fear and panic produced many laws against tuberculars.

In addition to their own debility, isolation, and possible death, consumptives had to contend with the anger and prejudice of a phobic society. They were shunned, evicted and refused treatment by doctors and nurses…Consumptives and suspected consumptives alike feared for their jobs…Some town fathers suggested that tuberculars be compelled to wear bells around their necks, as medieval lepers had. These frightening stories made consumptives feel outcast, humiliated and helpless. These factors, along with the knowledge that one was a constant danger to oneself and others could make the alienation extreme. Consumptives were urged to live alone. Massachusetts passed a law stating consumptives must sleep alone unless their companions were also consumptives. Even pets were commonly denied them. They were to curb any desire to give or to receive affection; kissing, and even shaking hands was discouraged…Tuberculosis was added to the list of eugenic defects that could disqualify couples from marrying…As one doctor put it, “Marriage of consumptives is often the deliberate creation of a pest house.”  There were mentions of having to obtain physical certificates attesting that family histories did not contain feeblemindedness, tuberculosis, drunkenness, epilepsy and insanity. Still others mentioned the possibility of sterilizing consumptives.” [emphasis mine] (Ott 113-115)

Since one of the characteristic symptoms of TB is the hacking cough, it’s difficult to believe that people who were close to Hester did not guess her illness. For those who were aware of the TB symptoms, this could be one of the reasons REH and his father had difficulty hiring women to care for Hester and do the housework.

Woman after woman we hired and they quit, either worn out by their work, or unwilling to do it, [emphasis mine] though my father and I did most of it. (Roehm REH Letters 3-460)

While the public feared being infected by tuberculosis, the tuberculars who were shunned and outcasts feared “local, state and federal laws put into place to further isolate them. The spread of tuberculosis concerned everyone. “By 1930, 90,000 people a year still died from the disease in the United States.” (Ryan 28)

The legal rights of both the public and the tuberculars were debated.

How far the government could go to carry legal measures designed to control tuberculosis and not infringe upon the natural rights of American citizenship was the question for public officials trying to control the spread of the disease…Over the first decade of the twentieth century the campaign to educate the public gained momentum and as its message spread throughout the country, so did the fear of associating with persons who had contracted tuberculosis. (Rothman 190)


Fear won and many of the laws brought on further discrimination. When in 1893, tuberculars were required to register with the State of New York, (Rothman 213) Insurance companies  gained access to the list and cancelled or refused insurance based on it. (Rothman 188) By 1901 six states had some kind of reporting law.” (Ott 129) And, these brought on even more laws.

By 1908 eighty-four cities required both registration of the tubercular and disinfection of lodgings, procedures that led to discrimination in housing and employment. Landlords refused to rent to the tubercular, insurance companies refused to insure them, [emphasis mine] employers refused to employ them plus there were laws preventing them from working in dairies and bakeries and as school teachers. (Rothman 189) There were also efforts to ban travel by tuberculars and while no state enacted such legislation, fear and hostility did not prevent discrimination by private parties. Boardinghouse and hotel owners turned away the sick and town fathers reimbursed railroads who gave a homeless tubercular a lunch basket and a one-way ticket back home. Western doctors did their part to restrict the flow of travel to the west for those seeking a cure, “When will our professional brethren in the East learn that to send advanced cases to the West with no financial means to enable them to supply themselves with that food and environment that really forms a most important part of climatic treatment, is not only a sin of omission, but one of commission. (Rothman 191)

Another compelling reason for hiding a diagnosis of TB was the fear of mandatory confinement.

Public health officials had recourse to one final weapon in their campaign to control contagion: the power to confine anyone found liable to jeopardize the health of others. The goal was to commit persons with tuberculosis to a special facility until they were no longer a menace to public health. The primary goal was to confine the poor but the legislation extended to include anyone not meeting the standards set by the public health authorities. (Rothman, 191-92)

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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.


In 1936, regular readers of Weird Tales must have thought Robert E. Howard was having a good year. In the first seven months, Howard had serials or stories in six issues, of which two were voted the best story in their issues, and in July he had the cover, illustrated by Margaret Brundage. Even in May, when Howard didn’t have any stories in the issue, the Eyrie was filled with praise and criticism for the conclusion to Howard’s long serial-novel, The Hour of the Dragon. The announcement of his suicide the next month came as a shock, as shown by the outpouring of memorials and remembrances from his fellow pulpsters and fans. Yet behind the scenes, all was not well between Robert E. Howard and Weird Tales.

wrights_shakespeare_library_1935_n1Never a large operation, the Great Depression had taken its toll on the Unique Magazine. The bank that Weird Tales used reportedly closed and never reopened. (WTS 85) Various ventures failed to turn a profit: The Moon Terror (1927), an anthology, didn’t sell through until the 1940s; an effort at radio dramatizations ceased in 1930; a new weird pulp, Strange Stories, never materialized; Oriental Stories (later The Magic Carpet Magazine) did, but the oriental tales ended in 1934, taking with them another market for Robert E. Howard, and “Wright’s Shakespeare Library” (illustrated by Virgil Finlay) of 1935 likewise didn’t pan out. Writers were offered 1¢ per word—double the standard pulp rate—to be paid on publication; as was common at the time, the publisher usually retained all copyrights on the story, unless the writer specified “North American serial rights” only. However, by 1935 the magazine was badly behind on its payments to certain authors, most notably Robert E. Howard, and had been for some time.

The Howards too were hard-hit by the Depression. As a country doctor where cash was scarce, Dr. I. M. Howard was often forced to accept barter for his services. (CL2.450, 3.307) In 1932, Fiction House, publisher of Fight Stories and Action Stories suspended publication—this ultimately caused Robert E. Howard to acquire an agent, Otis Adelbert Kline, who broke Howard into new markets for a commission, though Howard kept Weird Tales as a market he had built up himself. (CL3.404) Some of these ventures, like the adventures of Breckinridge Elkins in Action Stories, proved a success. Others, like the Conan the Cimmerian novel The Hour of the Dragon, written for British publisher Denis Archer, didn’t pan out, and Howard eventually sold the 70,000-word novel to Weird Tales in December 1934 or January 1935, to be serialized in 1936. (CL3.255, 302)

Dr. HowardBetween January and May of 1935, matters came to a head. Weird Tales owed Howard $860 for stories published; unable or unwilling to pay the whole amount on publication, the company had settled on sending “half-checks” every month—these would, from notes on payments received that Dr. Howard kept in a ledger, appear to be half-payments for stories (i.e. if a story sold for $150, a half-check would be $75) (CLIMH358-373, CL3.306). The Howards depended on the steady income for medical expenses. Hester Jane Howard, long suffering from tuberculosis and associated illness, required surgery to remove her gall-bladder and reduce adhesions from an appendicitis operation, and the wound later developed an abscess; being far from major cities and hospitals, these operations required lengthy trips and stays away from Cross Plains. (CL3.306, 309) At a time when the Howards needed it most, Weird Tales missed a payment.

In May of 1935, Robert E. Howard sent a letter to Farnsworth Wright begging for money. (CL3.306-308) There was no reply, and in desperation Howard sent a letter to his agent, asking “Is Weird Tales still a legitimate publication, or has it become a racket?” (CL3.309)

It was a fair question; other pulps had treated their writers as badly or worse, with Hugo Gernsback’s Wonder Stories having a particularly poor reputation in the circle of Weird Tales correspondents, and Howard was far from the only writer for Weird Tales in a similar predicament. E. Hoffman Price noted of his own situation:

It is only fair that the most W.T. owed me at any time was never in excess of $300. This peak was achieved only because of a two-parter, and a short. They were not favoring me. When their indebtedness reached a certain point, they got no more scripts from me. My production went to cash customers. Belatedly, Howard, on his own initiative, adopted the same approach. (BOTD 72)

Other writers also noted that backlog of payments got so bad that some payments were made more than a year after publication. (CLIMH 178)

At the time, the staff at Weird Tales consisted of William Sprenger, the business manager; B. Cornelius, the printer, majority shareholder, and treasurer; and Farnsworth Wright, the editor who did everything else, from art layout to writing ad copy. Of the three, Howard had direct dealings with both Wright and Sprenger (though none of the latter’s letters survive), and it is likely that Sprenger made the ultimate decision as to whom would be paid and how much; certainly he signed some of the checks. (CLIMH 79) After Robert E. Howard’s death, Wright responded to Dr. Howard’s criticism of their business:

I must correct the impression that I or anyone else connected with Weird Tales “put in our pockets” the money that was due your son during the period when Weird Tales was in the throes of the depression. Fact is, I often did not know from one month to the other whether I would receive any money at all from the magazine; and I often received nothing (a serious condition, with my wife and son Robert to take care of); and it has been years since I received more than a fraction of the salary I used to get. […] Your son understood this state of affairs with the magazine, for both Mr. Sprenger and I explained it to him in our letters. (CLIMH 103-104)

The rumors that Wright went without a salary added something to the myth of Weird Tales in later decades, though E. Hoffmann Price, who visited Wright and the WT office in Chicago, poo-pooed the idea, and later even claimed:

A good many years after this dialog, I learned from an employee of the bank which had handled W.T. funds from the beginning and on until another outfit bought the magazine, that the publisher had money by the ream. The outfit had always pleaded poverty, and had found the “Great Depression” a handy device to exploit writers who could not, or fancied that they could not write salable yarns for any other than W. T. (BOTD 72)

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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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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.

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[Part 11 is here.]

By February 1962, Alvin Fick had completed his side of The Howard Collector #2, and by the beginning of March, copies were landing in mailboxes. Besides the rare Howard material, the first issue had included a verse index. The second issue contained Glenn’s listing of Howard’s fiction. These listings of Howard’s works, as well as Glenn’s use of Tevis Clyde Smith’s “Incidents” in #2, prodded Smith into his archives. On April 22, 1962 he wrote to Glenn:

Perhaps you’ll enjoy this rare little souvenir [The All-Around Magazine]. I set most of the type by hand, and the printing was done on a hand press that defied not only me but two employees from a semi-weekly newspaper who tried to get an impression.

I haven’t written because I’ve been extra busy since your last letter. There is information I wish to send you for the next copy of THE HOWARD COLLECTOR when I can get around to it—information that I believe that you’ll be able to use.

I think that you have an unusually good magazine in COLLECTOR, and I hope that you continue its publication.

1962 04-22 TCS to GL

Besides information from Smith, which came in slowly, Glenn was still on the hunt. On April 6, 1962, Leo Margulies, then publisher at Renown Publications and owner of Weird Tales, wrote the following to Lord after reviewing the Weird Tales records:

All that I was able to unearth were a series of seven cards—evidently Weird Tales kept a very careful record of all their purchases. And on those cards was a list of every story and verse they purchased from Mr. Howard. They indicated as his name and address: Robert Ervin Howard, L. B. 313, Cross Plains, Texas—and the notation that he died June 4 [sic.], 1936. “Send checks to his father, Dr. I. M. Howard, Cross Plains.” The cards also indicate that some of the stories were used in “os” (presumably Oriental Stories) and in “mc” (presumably Magic Carpet.) There was no correspondence whatsoever between Mr. Howard and Mr. Farnsworth Wright.

And E. Hoffmann Price was still good for a nugget or two. On June 11, he sent Glenn a postcard:

I mailed Mrs. Howard’s scrapbook to you Friday via insured parcel post. Keep it, & with my compliments. Far better it be in your hands, or those of any other aficionado, than in mine.

Meanwhile, Fick informed Glenn that he would no longer be able to produce The Howard Collector, though he could get the covers for #3 done. And, due to slow sales, Glenn was thinking about discontinuing it, anyway. But orders slowly came in and, by May 22, Glenn was talking to Donald M. Grant about printing. On that day, Grant wrote to Lord: “I’ll help you any way that I can on THE HOWARD COLLECTOR. However, please realize that I am not a printer by trade, and my equipment is entirely offset. [. . .] If you are agreeable to offset work and will not press for the completed job, in turn I would fit the COLLECTOR into my spare time and hold the cost to a minimum.” Grant wrote again on September 21, acknowledging receipt of the typescript for THC #3, and on October 15, saying that “The layout and first draft for THC #3 are complete. It will run 36 pages plus the cover (and the covers have arrived from Alvin Fick in good order; they will have to be trimmed a shade, but otherwise they look fine).” After a series of problems with his equipment, Grant was finally able to send proof copies to Glenn on November 20; and, despite its “Autumn 1962” date, the finished product wasn’t sent to Glenn until December 27, 1962, with copies reaching subscribers in January 1963.

Besides The Howard Collector, the only other Howard publishing to occur in 1962 was “The Grey God Passes” which appeared in the Arkham House collection Dark Mind, Dark Heart. On November 9, Arkham House top dog August Derleth wrote to Glenn:

I don’t think Oscar [Friend] is well. I have the contract in on THE DARK MAN & OTHERS, and the writing on it is very shaky indeed—like that of an old or very sick man. [. . .] I don’t believe either [Clark Ashton] Smith’s letters to HPL or Howard’s to HPL exist, no matter what you’ve heard. HPL used the backs of letters to write on, did occasionally keep scattered letters for some particular reference; but we have no reason to believe he kept entire correspondences.

On December 12, Clyde Smith wrote to Glenn: “I will have some interesting material for you for 4th issue, including some public domain stuff I know that you don’t have, and never heard of, and will be of interest. I unearthed it recently.” These items were more of Howard’s tales from The Tattler and his poems from the Daniel Baker Collegian.

With information from a variety of sources coming in regularly, a new printer for The Howard Collector, and a forthcoming Howard collection from Arkham House, 1963 was looking like it would be a great year for Howard fans. For one in particular, it would be the start of a life-changing series of events.

[Part 13, Conclusion, is here.]

The Robert E. Howard Foundation has just announced on their website that pre-orders are now being taken for Mark Finn’s new edition of Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard. In this new edition, Mark takes a broadsword to many of those tired, outdated myths that have grown up around Howard and his fictional creations. Armed with twenty-five years of research and a wealth of historical documents, Finn paints a very different picture from the one that millions of fans of Conan have been sold throughout the years.

Using quotes from Howard’s own letters, first-hand accounts, interviews, and meticulous research, Mark shows that Howard was, in fact, a product of his time and place in rural Texas, and that his legendary fiction was shaped by Texas history, folklore, and Howard’s incomparable imagination.

The updated and expanded second edition is more complete and up-to-date with new information discovered since the book was initially published in 2006, as well as more detailed examinations of some of Howard’s most famous and important characters and stories.

Mark was kind enough to take time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions on his new edition of Blood & Thunder and give us all some insight into what this updated Howard biography is all about.

TGR: First, why a new edition of Blood & Thunder?

Mark: Oh, well, it’s no secret amongst the movers and shakers of Howard studies and Howard fandom that there are some errors, both technical and factual, in the first edition. All unintentional, of course, but remember, I had to write it while the Centennial loomed nigh. So, I went fast, and Monkeybrain went fast, and we all pulled together and got it out in time for the World Fantasy Convention, which was in October of that year. Any later and we would have missed the deadline. So, unintentionally, some errors crept in from earlier drafts, and some wonky sentences didn’t get fixed.

And then, in 2006, Don Herron rediscovered Doc Howard’s medical books. And then Rob Roehm started uncovering tidbits here and there (and he’s still doing it). And then in 2007 or 2008, I forget which, Patrice Louinet managed to pinpoint when Howard and his family were in New Orleans, and the serendipitous discovery that led to, and oh, hell, there’s new stuff now! So, I was already keeping an error file, for fixing, and I kept my slush pile and my notes for some things I either decided not to include for space or time purposes, and all at once, it occurred to me: a second edition! That would fix everything!

And that’s how it all got started. It took a while for me, because I was shopping the hardcover hither and yon. For a while, I entertained the notion that Del Rey would release it along with their other REH books, but that fell through. In any case, I’m very happy that the Foundation picked up the ball, because it guarantees better control over keeping it available.

TGR: The new edition has a great cover. Tell me about the design. Who came up with the idea of using that classic photo of Howard wielding the gun and knife?

Mark: Oh, that was all Keegan, man! (laughs) He gets carte blanche, these days, you know? I’m sure he was thinking about how it would look with the other REH books on the shelf, but also, I know he wanted to use a photo of REH–but not the same two or three that seem to grace the covers of so many projects in the last 30 years. That picture is one of the posed photographs that he took with Vinson and Smith, and I always figured that they set them up intentionally as either reference for a story or as something to illustrate a project that never materialized. Of course, we’ll never know, but that picture is definitely one of the pics you don’t see very often. Good choice, I thought.

TGR: During the five years between the first and second editions, what new information about Howard’s life has emerged, if any?

Mark: You know, it’s not anything huge and world-shaking…I mean, there’s no bombshells. But what has come to light is a lot of what I’d call secondary and ancillary material. It’s all stuff to hold up to the light and say, “okay, what effect could this possibly have had on X part of REH’s life?” Doc Howard’s incessant, intricate geometric doodles in his medical books, The Axe-Man of New Orleans, conversations with Lovecraft, an interesting wrinkle on the day of Howard’s suicide… lots of little things. But given how little we actually know about the Howard family, even that stuff is pretty cool, I’d say.

TGR: With the passage of time between your two versions of Blood & Thunder have you formed any new opinions about Howard or his writings?

Mark: There are two new theses in B&T 2nd ed. One is about the Breck Elkins stories that I didn’t have time or room to include in the first edition. The second is something I’d been driving toward for a while, and that has to do with the Conan stories. We may have talked about it in Cross Plains this year, but basically, I make the charge that Conan was written for specific commercial considerations in Weird Tales. That’s not to say he phoned them in, but he was pitching specifically to Wright. And that’s why there’s things in the Conan stories that don’t jibe with the rest of Howard’s work–things like his mercurial attitudes about damsels in distress. I contend that the scholars and fans have been looking at it the wrong way: Conan is the anomaly. If you take those stories out of the picture, suddenly Howard becomes a proto-feminist. Put them back in, and he’s just another pulp author indulging in macho sex fantasies. That’s just an example, but I think you get what I’m saying.

TGR: Is there anything you found particularly challenging in updating the original edition?

Mark: Oh, god yes! I had to spend another year and a half with a book I’d already spent a year with earlier. It was, at times, torturous. Especially since I had to rewrite specific passages. I had to literally throw myself back into a mindset six years gone. Very difficult, very challenging. That said, some of the rewriting was a lot of fun. I loved adding in the new bits. That’s a fun creative challenge, to make sure it still flows from point to point and doesn’t get bogged down. I wanted to keep the book accessible and readable.

TGR: This second edition is nearly twice the size of the first. That is a lot of additional wordage. What does it contain?

Mark: Thirty five thousand additional words. It’s got a new index, notes on the chapters, all of the extra stuff mentioned earlier, new material in the Conan and Breck Elkins chapters, cleaned up sentences, new facts and pieces of info about a number of things, and all chapters save the first two have something new and different in them. It’s a true second edition, or as I’ve been calling it, my “director’s cut.”

TGR: There are still a group of folks out there who believe de Camp’s Dark Valley Destiny is the definitive Howard biography. Do you think this new edition of B&T will change their minds?

Mark: Nope. Not a bit. Take John Howe, for example. No, really, take him! He called the first book “pretentious to read” and “inaccurate.” Here’s a guy who came to B&T with a chip on his shoulder. There’s no other way he could have found that book pretentious. And as for “inaccurate,” that just a code-word for “I didn’t agree with his conclusions.” Whatever. You can’t make a horse drink. However, there are a lot of people who want to read about REH and can’t find Dark Valley Destiny anymore. So, good. Here’s Blood & Thunder instead. I think that’s kind of akin to burning the hydra’s head after you’ve cut it off. It’s still there, but it’s not very effective anymore.

TGR: I know is kind of early for this question, but you believe this new edition is the final word on Howard’s life and works or do you foresee yourself revisiting the topic a few years down the road?

Mark: Definitely not. The final word, I mean. I know there are at least two more books being talked about or worked on, and they will each have their own take, based on their experiences. I will say this, though: With this edition, I’ve included every theory, thesis, or idea I’ve ever had about REH, since the age of 15. That itch has finally been thoroughly scratched. I don’t see myself revisiting the biography again, but I’ll never say never. And it won’t keep me from writing more about the boxing and the westerns, or whatever I’m on about these days in Howard studies.

TGR: If there was one thing you would for readers of this new edition to walk away with, what would it be?

Mark: Everything de Camp ever told you about Howard is wrong. That’s what I want. A sense of anger and betrayal at the man who purported to know. I soft-pedaled de Camp in the first edition. Now the gloves are off. The second edition is much meaner to de Camp and E. Hoffmann Price, and I make pains to explain why.

Judging from Mark’s answers, this is going to be a humdinger of a Howard biography — chock-full of good stuff not in the first edition. I’ve already ordered my copy and encourage everyone who is interested to to the same.  With a 150 copy print run, it is sure to sellout fast.

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.

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While reading the November 1930 issue of Weird Tales that contained his “Kings of the Night,” Howard took notice of a poem by Alice I’Anson and quickly sent a letter of comment to the magazine, which was published in the January 1931 issue’s installment of  “The Eyrie”:

I was particularly fascinated by the poem by Alice I’Anson in the latest issue… The writer must surely live in Mexico, for I believe that only one familiar with that ancient land could so reflect the slumbering soul of prehistoric Aztec-land as she has done. There is a difference in a poem written on some subject by one afar off and a poem written on the same subject by one familiar with the very heart of that subject. I have put it very clumsily, but Teotihuacán breathes the cultural essence, spirit and soul of Mexico.

Editor Farnsworth Wright did confirm for Howard that indeed Ms. I’Anson resided in Mexico City. Here is her poem:


by Alice I’Anson

I sing of pagan rites that long ago
Ruled the great city lying far below
The twin volcanoes’ hoary bridge of snow –
I sing the Song of Teotihuacán!

Deep is the womb of Time in which I see
The drama of dead idolatry! –
I hear old voices chanting now in me
The mystic Song of Teotihuacán!

“The red dawn shimmers on Tezcoco’s lake,
O City of the Priests, awake, awake!
It is another Feast Day of the Snake,
The Serpent God of Teotihuacán!

“Behold the flaming signal in the skies!
The dawn is red!—today a victim dies!
O hear, O hear his agonizing cries,
Great Serpent God of Teotihuacán!

“Upon the stone his writhing form is laid—
His blood spurts redly from the ‘itxli’ blade—
With his dripping heart an offering is made,
To the mighty God of Teotihuacán!”

Shadows of centuries! still they grow apace
While Mystery hovers o’er the solemn place
Whose ruins whisper in this year of grace:
“Where is the God of Teotihuacán?”

O Souls that cross again the yawning deep
While round these monuments the lizards creep,
I feel your ghostly contact as you keep
Your vigils in old Teotihuacán!

O Spirit Guardians of this grim terrain,
Has Karma bound us with the selfsame chain?
Did I, too, worship at that gory fane
Long years agone . . . in Teotihuacán?

No wonder Howard admired the poem — with its ancient civilization theme, grisly human sacrifice, bloodthirsty serpent god and reincarnation slant —  it was right up his alley. There is not a lot of information floating around about the lady poet who got the attention of Ol’ Two-Gun with her poem, but a small amount of information is available.

Alice I’Anson, born in San Francisco on January 15, 1872, was the oldest of three children. Her parents were Miles and Elizabeth I’Anson and her younger siblings were Beatrice I’Anson (born 1875) and Miles I’Anson (born 1876).

Around 1875, her father Miles I’Anson was photographed at a studio in Valparaiso, Chile all decked out as a gold prospector – he was on his way to join the California Gold Rush where he worked as a mining engineer in until 1891. Miles was also a poet, which probably inspired Alice to write her own poems. Miles had a book of gold-mining themed poems published in 1891 titled A Vision of Misery Hill in New York and London. One of the poems pays homage to his daughter, Alice:

Where Alice Is

by Miles I’Anson

Come with me, O charming maid,
To the forest’s vernal shade
Where no strife or malice is,
And no cares of life invade; —
Peace shall reign where Alice is!

Come and seek the Dryad’s home
In the wildwood trellises;
Or by the ocean’s roar and foam
Blithely let us live and roam; —
Joy shall reign where Alice is!

Come where lilies, blossoming,
Lifting their fragrant chalices
To each living, loving thing
Pulsing with the life of Spring;
Love shall reign where Alice is!

So like Elfin king and queen,
Monarchs of a blest demesne,
Throned in leafy palaces
Love and Joy and Peace, I ween,
Shall be mine and Alice’s!

Little is known about Ms. I’Anson’s writing career, other than she was a poet and had poems published in several anthologies.  She did have five poems published in the Unique Magazine from 1930 through 1932, several letters published in “The Eyrie” and at least one of her poems appeared in Oriental Stories. The last of her poems to appear in Weird Tales was in the May 1932 issue, which featured Howard’s “Horror from the Mound.” That final poem also had an ancient Aztec theme and is presented below.

Shadows of Chapultepec

by Alice I’Anson

O Wood of Dreams! what misted centuries
Have wrapped their spell around your stately trees!
Veiled by the hanging moss, my spirit sees
Majestic halls, with jade and turquoise bright
And sculptured walls that catch the moon’s pale light,
Fantasmagoria of the Haunted Night!
I breathe the smoke of sacrificial fires
Where stark gray pyramids like funeral pyres
Loom darkly underneath these lofty spires …
And here and there symbolic serpents twine;
Their eyes of black and glistening “ixtli” shine
From moss-grown trunks and loops of twisted vine!
The drip of fountain marks the passing hours,
And creeping myrtle, loneliest of flowers,
Drapes with its amaranth bloom the fadeless bowers!
There is strange music in the silvery haze
That floats like incense in cathedral ways
Through these weird “sambras,” this enchanted maze;
For day and night I hear the measured tread
Of mighty warriors numbered with the Dead
Long folded in some dark and leaf-strewn bed!
The lordly Tzins! the chieftains of their race!
In all their spectral grandeur, I can trace
Pride that has dwindled to pathetic grace!
They mourn the glory and the pageantry
Of the dead Past they never more shall see
Save in the ghostly Wood of Memory!

According to a U.S. Consulate document, Ms. I’Anson died of heart failure on June 5, 1931 in Mexico City; she was 59 years old. I’ve read a few other places where she died in 1932, but I’d say given this document, the correct year is 1931. I seriously doubt, even with the huge population of Mexico City, that there were two Alice I’Ansons who resided in that city and submitted poems to Weird Tales.

At the time of her death, she had been living in Mexico for a little over four years and shared a house with her sister. Ms. Anson was buried in the American Cemetery and survived by her sister Beatrice and brother Miles.

This entry filed under Farnsworth Wright, Weird Tales.

In the last year of his life, money was a big issue in Howard’s life – his mother’s health was declining rapidly and the medical bills were piling up. Also, Weird Tales owned him over $1,000 and Editor Farnsworth Wright was not giving in to Howard’s urgent pleas for at least some money to be sent to him. Considering the team of Howard and Conan were one of the biggest draws for the magazine, it is perplexing that Wright could not come up with the money that was owed to Howard. Consequently, he was exploring new markets, looking for ways to increase his income. He had already hired fellow pulp writer Otis Adelbert Kline as his literary agent and a suggestion from another pulp writer and friend put him on the trail of a new market.

In this letter to  H. P. Lovecraft, dated December 5, 1935, Howard boasts of cracking that new market and suggests HPL give the market a try as well:

In my efforts to make new markets I’ve been “splashing the field” as Price calls it. One market I tried was Spicy Adventures, a sex magazine to which Ed is the star contributor. I sold the first yarn I tried, but doubt if I could make that market regularly, as it requires a deft, jaunty style foreign to my natural style. However, I’ll probably try it again. Why don’t you give it a whirl? You can use a pen name if you like; I did, and I think most of its contributors do. The maximum length is about 5000 words. That sort of yarn is easy to write, if not to sell. If they reject it, you’ve only wasted a day or so. If they accept it, you’re fifty bucks to the good, and they pay promptly. They like good strong plots, but the sex element is a cinch; any man can write that part of it. Just write up one of your own sex adventures, altered to fit the plot. That’s the way I did with the yarn I sold them.

No one knows if Lovecraft fainted when he read Howard’s suggestion that he try his hand at writing a story for a “sex magazine,” but for certain the Gentleman from Providence, with his Victorian morals, was not too keen on the idea.

As Howard notes, E. Hoffmann Price was a star contributor to Spicy-Adventure Stories and unlike most contributors, Price was bold enough to use his own name rather than a pseudonym for his “spicy” work. Indeed the spicys were Price’s single largest pulp market; over 150 of his yarns were published in them throughout the years.

The first “spicy” pulp appeared on newsstands in April 1934 with the publication of the first issue of Spicy Detective Stories. The publisher that released this first “spicy” was Modern Publications, based in Delaware, possibly for tax and censorship purposes, with main offices in New York. Soon the company’s name was changed to the unlikely name of Culture Publications. Spicy-Adventure Stories appeared in November 1934, with Spicy Mystery Stories’ first issue premiering in mid-1935. December 1936 saw the publication of Spicy Western Stories, which rounded out the “spicy” line.

The publishing staff was a shady bunch, to say the least, starting with Frank Armer, an editor and a publisher who had previously self-published the Ramer Review and Zeppelin Stories. The Donefeld family, led by Harry Donenfeld, was the printer and primary financial backer for Culture Publications. Back during Prohibition, it was suspected that some pulp publishers were used to launder money for the bootleggers. The Donenfelds and their Donny Press seemed to be high on this list.

This same publishing family helped usher in the golden age of comics when they acquired National Allied Publications, a company that owned them a great deal of money. That company later became DC Comics and soon Superman and Batman comics were rolling off their presses.

It’s tough to nail-down the start of the Armer/Donenfeld publishing empire, but it may have begin in 1932 with the acquisition the defunct  publisher of Spicy Stories, Pep and La Paree, straight sex magazines along the lines of Paris NightsGay Life and Venus. Shortly before the first issue of Spicy Detective Stories appeared, another detective magazine, Super-Detective Stories, edited by Armer, appeared with the promise of additional Super magazines to come. However, this venture was soon abandoned in favor of the Spicy line of magazines. Super-Detective Stories was discontinued after 15 issues, but resumed publication in 1940.

Due to censorship concerns and obscenity issues with the U.S. Post Office, Harry Donenfeld’s publishing empire used several names at during its history. In addition to Culture Publications, other names used included D. M. Publishing, Trojan Publishing and Arrow Publications. The location of business offices changed just as frequently. Indeed, the red hot spicys had as many detractors as they did fans. But, bottom-line, they were popular and flying off the newsstand racks. 

The recipe for the “spicy” pulps was to take fairly tried and true genre stories and mix in the ingredient of sex. This gave the spicy line a whole new slant on the pulps — spicys were racy and titillating, pushing the envelope of decency and providing the reader with a new experience by blending the spicy element with the standard pulp fare of adventures in faraway lands, hardboiled detectives, sinister and menacing manifestations and cowboy shoot-em’ ups.

A strict set of guidelines for writers was drawn up by editor Frank Armer. These included women could not be fully nude (unless they were a corpse!) and had to retain at least some article of clothing, even if it was some small piece of tattered lingerie. Descriptions of women’s nipples and areola were strictly forbidden – the same rule applied to the pubic area. The man had to remain fully clothed and no sexual descriptions were allowed of men’s bodies. Action in the sex scene between the man and woman had end at the point of consummation. Long-term relationships between the male and female characters were forbidden — these were strictly one-night stands, leaving the hero free to bed other women in subsequent adventures.

Overwhelmingly, the sex in the spicy magazines was very tame by today’s standards. The “spicy” element in the stories came from several sources: the heroines scanty undergarments, her willingness or unwillingness to give herself to the hero, her enticing bedchamber and her luscious “charms.” After a bit of foreplay and kissing, sexual contact was indicated by a sentence trailing off in ellipses (…). This was followed by a prudent line drop before the yarn resumed in the ensuing paragraph. This left any actual sexual activity the reader’s imagination.

In reality, the spicy pulps were selling the sizzle with no steak to back it up. While the bright color cover paintings and the interior illustrations suggested that the magazine’s contents were filled with steamy sex, in reality the actual stories came up short in fulfilling that promise. Despite the tameness of the sexual element, they were widely condemned by straight-laced critics as an insult to decency and frequently sold from under newsstand counters.

The spicy pulps were just what the doctor ordered for Howard, providing him with a dependable stream of revenue that he urgently needed. Spicys were considerably more expensive than their non-spicy counterparts with, a cover price of 25 cents versus 10 cents for most of the regular pulps. No doubt this higher cover price pumped in a lot of cash and allowed the publisher to pay a good wage and pay it promptly. Plus, the spicy authors were paid upon editorial acceptance of their stories, rather than on publication as was the case with Weird Tales and many other pulps. The stories could be no longer than 5500 words, not leaving much room for character development, but that was not the spicys’ aim. After getting the hang of the formula and story length, Howard seemed comfortable writing spicy yarns – no doubt he planned to splash further into the market by branching out to Spicy Mystery and Spicy Detective.

To protect their names in other markets, many spicy authors used pen names for their walk on the wild side. E. Hoffmann Price usually used his own name, but also used “Hamlin Daly” in instances where he wanted to place two stories in the same issue. Ditto for Henry Kuttner, though I don’t what pseudonyms he used when he had two yarns in the same issue. Hugh B. Cave wrote as “Justin Case,” Victor Rousseau Emmanuel wrote as “Lew Merrill” and “Clive Trent,” while Howard Wandrei (the brother of Donald Wandrei, who co-founded the publishing company Arkham House with August Derleth) wrote as “W.R. Rainey.” The most prolific of the spicy authors was Robert Leslie Bellum, who wrote under his own name and at least six pseudonyms. So Howard picked the name “Sam Walser” – the name of someone he erroneously thought was his ancestor – for his spicy writing alter-ego. Howard now needed a hero for his spicy yarns.

Even though he did not realize it at the time, Wild Bill Clanton would be the last series character he would create. Clanton was certainly a different kind of cat for Howard. The reckless adventuer was not exactly the type of guy a girl would bring home to meet her parents. He was a pirate, gunrunner, pearl-poacher, blackbirder (aka slaver), brawler extraordinaire and general all around scoundrel, having a penchant for mistreating women.

This is how pulp expert Morgan Holmes describes Clanton in his article “The Saga of Wild Bill Clanton and Two-Gun Bob: The Spicy Robert E. Howard” (Windy City Pulp Stories #9, 2009):

Clanton is a cross between Howard’s earlier character Sailor Steve Costigan, who had appeared in Fiction House’s Fight Stories, and Conan of Cimmeria. Known for everything from pearl diving to piracy, Clanton is good with his fists like Costigan, but also crafty, much in the same way Conan would insert himself into a situation and manipulate events to his own benefit.

The first Wild Bill Clanton yarn was written in September 1935 and published as “She Devil,” the cover story for the April 1936 issue of Spicy-Adventure Stories. Originally titled “The Girl on the Hell-Ship,” the editor re-titled the yarn to match a stock cover painting he wanted to use. Rather than depicting a girl on a ship in the South Pacific, the cover shows a bar in Alaska or some other cold environ, with rough looking male customers wearing furs and other heavy clothing. A scantily clad, young brunette girl dances in their midst, coyly raising a shot glass.

The plot of “She Devil” is one that Howard had used previously in the Conan story, “The Pool of the Black One” (Weird Tales, October 1933). Here is a summary of the plot from Charles Hoffman’s “Blood Lust: Robert E. Howard’s Spicy Adventures” (The Cimmerian, V2N5):

Like Clanton, Conan appears after swimming to a ship, having abandoned a leaky boat. Both protagonists were in that situation as the result of earlier predicaments. Aboard ship, Conan meets the pirate captain, Zaporavo, who has abandoned his usual trade to sail into unknown waters. Zaporavo, like the tyrannical Bully Harrigan encountered by Clanton, broods over maps and charts as he searches for some mysterious treasure kept secret from the crew. In both stories, the captain meets his fate after landfall on an island. Conan and Clanton assume command of their respective ships, which must take flight from the island’s dangers. Conan also appropriates Zaporavo’s sultry mistress, Sancha. Sancha is from Zingara, Howard’s Hyborian Age counterpart of seventeenth-century Spain. Like Raquel O’Shane, she is possessed of fiery Latin blood.

In the above excerpt from the HPL letter, Howard groused that writing for the spicys “requires a deft, jaunty style foreign to my natural style.” Despite his misgivings, Howard was able to capture that jaunty style for his first effort. However, he stumbled somewhat with his follow-up story, “Ship in Mutiny,” a sequel to “The Girl on the Hell Ship.”

To be continued…

A Shameless Spicy Plug

Coming late next month from the REH Foundation Press is Spicy Adventures. This 211 page volume collects all of Howard’s “spicys” and is the first time many of these stories have appeared in hardback. In addition to all of the complete tales, this volume contains a large miscellanea section with drafts and synopsizes that allow readers to glimpse Howard’s creative process. A standout cover by Jim and Ruth Keegan completes the package. Pre-orders are now being accepted at the Foundation’s website.

Read: Part II / Part III / Part IV / Part V