Archive for the 'Farnsworth Wright' Category


If, like me, you love the work of Robert E. Howard (and if you are reading this blog, I know you do), you may be possessed of literary OCD. You need to get it all. Depending on the depth of your OCD, you will fall into several categories – the reader/collector, the completist, the minutia gatherer, or the super collector.

The super collector is that rare individual. They want the best of everything. They need the Herbert Jenkins A Gent From Bear Creek, The Hyborian Age, Skull-Face and Others, Always Comes Evening, the Gnome Press Conans, and complete runs of The Howard Collector and Amra. These collectors are an exclusive bunch and this article is not specifically directed at them.

grant-sowersofthethunderThere are plenty of fine Howard editions out there for the finding. I love the Donald M. Grant The Sowers of the Thunder. Illustrated by Roy G. Krenkel, one of Frank Frazetta’s friends, collaborators and mentors, it is a work of art as well as a collection of four fine stories. Pre-ordered copies from Grant came autographed by Krenkel! In a similar vein The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane from Wandering Star with illustrations from Gary Gianni carried forward that tradition. Both volumes contain numerous illustrations ranging from full color paintings to large detailed black and white illustrations to tiny spot sketches throughout the book. You cannot go five pages without encountering some figure or scene in the text or margin. The illustrations really enhanced the reading experience to me.

So, as a collector, the big question is “How do I do this without breaking (or robbing) the bank? The easiest answer is “You can’t!” There is just too much material out there. Even if you get paperback copies of everything, you will spend several hundred dollars. And much more, if you want nice copies of those paperbacks.

berkley-hourofthedragon-1stAs I write this, American Book exchange (one of the largest online purveyors/pushers of my OCD) lists 11,863 entries when you search for “Robert E. Howard.” This includes 7,180 paperback entries. (now this number is inflated since anthologies listing a Howard piece will be listed as well as any books that feature the names Robert and Howard somewhere in their description). Prices start at $3.00 plus shipping and go to several thousand for some really rare items. Over on eBay, there are 2,468 entries in Books alone (670 in Collectibles). The prices show 728 items over $35 and 818 under $13.

So there is a lot of material out there. How do you go about gathering your collection? There are several tried and tested methods:

  • Buy whatever you can find – REH, de Camp and Carter, pastiches, Role Playing Games, movies. Make Serendipity your favorite muse. I’ve done this on multiple occasions myself. I didn’t really know what I wanted until I saw it, so I bought it all. OCD, I love you.
  • Set up some filters early on. Do you want only the pure REH stuff? Or all the Conans no matter who wrote them? Do you want novels only? (This is not recommended in combination with the pure REH as you will get Almuric and The Hour of the Dragon and be done. And Almuric will be cheating some as it was finished by someone, probably Farnsworth Wright after Howard’s death.) Perhaps it is the artists associated with Howard – Frazetta, Krenkel, Brundidge, Boris, Achilles, Jones, or any of the other great artists who have tackled his work. There are a lot of them too. What about poetry, boxing, oriental, essays? This can help limit what you go after and allow you to focus in on some nice specific items.
  • Pick your format. Paperback? Combine it with the filters above. Hardcovers? Are you interested in any version, first editions, illustrated editions, signed and numbered, US only, US and UK, or full international?
  • Price point is the next important area. What are you willing to pay? Is $50 too much? Then the Arkham House, Wandering Star, and Gnome Press titles are going to be out of your price range. You want a nice Skull-Face and Others with a pristine Hannes Bok dustjacket. Be prepared to shell out some big bucks, generally $600 or more, up to a price with a comma in it. But, if you just want the stories, you have several options. You can get the entire volume in three paperbacks from the UK Panther Press ($25 or more). Or for a hardback copy, the Neville Spearman reprint from the mid-1970’s can be found for $35 to $50. However, it has an awful cover rather than the beautiful Bok cover. Other than that, you can track down the individual stories and/or pulps (Don’t get me started on that path. That way lies MADNESS!! And an extended money sinkhole.) However, going for the individual piece will mean you won’t get the August Derleth introduction or the memories of Lovecraft and E. Hoffman Price which are original and are not reprinted elsewhere that I know of.
  • The thing that happened when collectors get together to discuss their books, the question always comes up about the one that got away. When I was in college, I worked part time for about 20 hours a week at slightly less than $2.00 an hour. My take home was about $32 a week. Things were a lot cheaper then but still. Every time I visited my bookseller/pusher, she showed me a book. It was lovely, bound in bright red leather. The binding said Presentation Copy. It was Phantasmagoria by Lewis Carroll. I was holding a signed Lewis Carroll book. The price was $150. That was roughly five weeks pay! I was already a starving college student trying to justify $5.00 in paperbacks. I regret not getting it to this day, more than 40 years later. But, I could not afford it. The thing to remember is, if you find it and you can afford it, buy it. You don’t generally regret the books you buy. You always regret the ones you did not buy.
  • The most important rule is simply, buy what you like. Do not buy with the idea of investing and making a fortune over the years. Buy what you like at a price you think is fair and you will be happy. Sure some of the prices may go up. But to realize those prices, you have to find someone willing to pay that price. Which means selling it yourself. I’ve been involved in the book selling world for more than 40 years. There is something sad about seeing the face of someone who wants to sell their collection to me. They come in with high, high expectations. But the reality is the buyer (me) has to realize a certain price and profit for that purchase, that means, if I don’t have an immediate buyer, I am going to sit on this investment for a while. So, I have to store it and advertise that I have it and take it to shows and talk to people about it and, if it suffers some wear and tear along the way, mark it down. It might sell in two months, or six months, or maybe, two years. My money is tied up all the time I hold on to it. That means I have to figure all that in what I can offer. And it will not be what you were hoping. That is the sad reality of it. You may decide you want to keep it. Then, if it is something you loved and enjoyed and bought for a price you were happy with, you will generally remain happy. If you bought it as an investment, you may be disappointed. Be happy. It’s better for your life.

So now, where to start? For series characters, you can’t go wrong with the Del Rey omnibus volumes of Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, El Borak, or Bran Mak Morn. And they have several great collections of short stories, such as The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard and The Best of Robert E. Howard (a two volume set). Reasonably priced, they contain a lot of great reading. Pick a character and dive in! But this isn’t nearly all there is. You want more!

bison-endofthetrailAnother great place to look is the set of paperbacks published by Zebra Books in the late 1970’s. They include The Sowers of the Thunder mentioned earlier with the great spot illustrations included though there is a different cover. There are at least 13 paperback volumes, most with covers by the amazing Jeff Jones. And these are (generally) not the series characters, no Conan, Kull, Kane. There are some Breckinridge Elkins and El Borak stories. The series includes fantasy, adventure, boxing, oriental, westerns, and other types of fiction. There are many other sets and collections. The Bison Press, Wildside Press and Penguin Books reprints are out there and are worth seeking out. Find the Ace The Howard Collector volume. Search, find, acquire, gloat that you have them. Wallow in the OCD.

And that’s not including the electronic versions out there. My Kindle has a collection of 99 Howard stories from various series as well as standalone pieces. And since I have a Kindle on my smart phone, I always have Howard with me for those times when I am waiting for a movie or a table at a restaurant. (Of course, my Kindle has a couple of hundred books on it!) There are many electronic collections out there. For free you can check out Project Gutenberg or which have a mix of stories available.

rehfoundationpress-fistsofironAnd I would be remiss if I do not address the work of the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press and the fabulous hardcover books they publish. Titles like Spicy Adventures and Tales of Weird Menace feature the more obscure stories, variants, outlines, and their history of writing and publication. And the four volume Fists of Iron is to die for. These are for the hardcore collector who wants it all. Check them out. True story here. When I first looked at them, I was at Howard Days at a time when I was unemployed and looking for work. I saw the books and I wanted them. I bought $300 of them at the show, I did not hesitate or think about it. I wanted them right then and I knew that if I hesitated I would regret it.

So, now if you have followed the guidelines, you have a roadmap for your collecting habits. There is a whole wide world of Robert E. Howard material waiting for you to step up and find it. Or, you could just go off-roading.


Another enjoyable Howard Days has come and gone, and it is safe to say that any who attended were glad they did.  The number of attendees on June 10th and 11th seemed to be a bit above average, reflecting a trend toward straining the capacity of current venues and program formats.  The panel audiences are already larger than could be served by formerly used facilities like the Cross Plains Library and the Howard House Pavilion.  Panels this year were held at the CP High School and the CP Senior Center.  Many new faces were evident at the banquet in the Community Center.  The weather was hot but otherwise pleasant, though mosquito repellent was sometimes required.


The day before the festivities began, the staff of the Cross Plains Review newspaper kindly offered a tour of their old facilities, complete with antique printing press and other equipment.  Original copies of editions containing articles about or by Robert E. Howard were on display.


On Friday, following the bus tour of the CP area hosted by Project Pride veteran Don Clark, a panel composed of Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier, and Susan McNeel-Childers discussed the first 30 years of Howard Days celebrations.  REHupans Burke and Vern Clark made an initial foray to Cross Plains in 1985.  Impressed by the wide open spaces of Texas and even more by how imaginative Howard must have been to have envisioned stories in such settings, Burke thought that other serious fans might be lured to visit Cross Plains, and so organized a trip there the next year by ten REHupans, including Cavalier and Glenn Lord.  The Friends of the Library, headed by Joan McCowen, gave a gracious reception to those they called international scholars on June 6th, which the mayor proclaimed to be “Robert Howard Day.”  Those the visitors talked to included Cross Plains Review editor Jack Scott, head librarian Billie Ruth Loving, REH heirs Alla Ray Kuykendall and Alla Ray Morris, and Charlotte Laughlin of Howard Payne University in Brownwood.  Laughlin would act to preserve what remained of REH’s personal book collection that his father had donated to HPU and which now resides in the Howard House.  Seeing the commercial possibilities in attracting more such visitors, the founding members of Project Pride (originally created to spruce up the downtown area of Cross Plains) bought the Howard House in 1989, which Project Pride then renovated and operated as a museum with the aid of donations.  Alla Ray Morris contributed $10,000 to Project Pride just before her death in 1995. The money was used to install central heat and air conditioning and to remodel the inside of the house. Project Pride also received a portion of Alla Ray’s estate and that money was used to build the pavilion next to the house and finish the remodeling. The pavilion was completed in 2000 and dedicated to Alla Ray. By that time Howard Days had become an annual 2-day event organized by Project Pride and REHupa, who have done so much to welcome and educate fans of the Texas author and to change the once-low opinion of many of the residents regarding Howard and his admirers.


Guest of Honor Michael Scott Myers spoke at the banquet and was interviewed by REHupan Mark Finn at a Friday panel marking the 20th anniversary of the film The Whole Wide World, which Myers had adapted from the memoir One Who Walked Alone, written by Howard’s sometime girlfriend Novalyne Price Ellis.  Myers was a speech student of Ellis during her last years at Louisiana State University.  As a movie publicist, Myers saw the potential in making a small independent film based on her book, but many individual factors have to align before such a movie can be made.  Myers optioned the book for $20 and wrote the script between 1989 and 1994.  Director Dan Ireland and the actor portraying REH, Vincent D’Onofrio were on board early on.  Replacing actress Olivia d’Abo, who had become pregnant, in Novalyne’s part was Renee Zellweger in her first major role.  TWWW was filmed over 3 and a half weeks in the summer of 1996 for $1.2M.  While it did well at the Sundance Film Festival, an unfavorable release date held the film back until positive reviews led to its success on home video and cable TV.  It served as many people’s introduction to REH, and the film helped to bring a less narrow, more nuanced, and very human portrayal of the author to the fan public.  Ellis did see and enjoy the movie.  After the interview, TWWW was screened in the high school auditorium.

The Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards were bestowed Friday afternoon.  The winners are spotlighted elsewhere on this blog.


REHupans Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, and Jeffrey Shanks staged another of their always entertaining “Fists at the Ice House” presentations outdoors at the site where Howard boxed with his friends and locals.  This sport, REH’s part in it, and his boxing fiction were the subjects.  Experts on these stories, the speakers recommended them highly to all.  Even if one is not into the sport, the surprisingly good humor of the yarns will be enough to get one through them.  And Howard’s enthusiasm and versatility shed light on important aspects of the author’s personality that one might have no clue about if one is familiar only with his fantasy tales.  Howard’s boxing and boxing stories served as vital releases for the pressures and frustrations that were dogging him at the time.

HD1013428618_10154388778576282_8861018026693324947_n (2)

The first panel on Saturday concerned REH and artist Frank Frazetta, who painted the covers of most of the Lancer Conan paperbacks of the late 1960s which did so much to attract readers to Howard’s fiction.  The panelists were REHupans Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier, Gary Romeo, and Jeff Shanks.  Cavalier called the publication of Conan the Adventurer the single most significant event in the history of Howard publishing and the one that drew him in personally.  Shanks noted that this was the 50th anniversary of that event.  Frazetta had illustrated comic books, but it was his covers of Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks that got him noticed.  Frazetta’s artistic resonance with the material made for an impressive product that was greater than the sum of its parts.  Burke said that the Conan stories had come out earlier in book form as Arkham House and Gnome Press hardbacks.  Writer L. Sprague de Camp was a fan of REH and, working with agent Oscar Friend, took on the editing of the Conan reprints.  Romeo explained that de Camp assiduously shopped the stories to publishers, finally hooking Lancer’s Larry Shaw, as well as Frazetta by letting him keep the ownership of his art.  Romeo thinks that Frazetta’s art was a big part of Conan’s appeal, but not as much as the prose itself.  Burke added that, though you can’t judge a book by its cover, the cover can be important in providing an essential good first impression of and introduction to the character.  Shanks observed that, even though the images were static, Frazetta’s dynamic, exciting poses were a game changer for fantastic art.

Read the rest of this entry »

Over at You Tube there is a clip available of actor/comedian Joe Rogan giving a spirited defense of Robert E. Howard and Conan. The Fear Factor host gives a hyper-macho somewhat humorous speech about the greatness of REH and Conan. What makes this important to this article is his summary statement: “… you’d buy the paperbacks, with the Frank Frazetta oil paintings on the covers!  Holy Shit!  Those were books!”


While fans can argue over his comments about REH’s sanity, you can’t argue with his conclusion. The Lancer paperbacks are totemic. They’ve become a distinctive and venerated symbol of sword and sorcery.

Let’s rehash the familiar story. REH died in 1936 and Conan seemed a goner as well. There was talk of other authors continuing the adventures of Conan but Farnsworth Wright put the kibosh on that idea.

The Conan stories remained uncollected except for a few that were reprinted in Arkham House’s Skull-face and Others. Derleth said jokingly, the complete stories would need to “printed on blood-colored paper.”

Books Gnomes

Then publisher Martin Greenberg, whose reputation seems to be one of avoiding royalty payments to authors, along with longtime REH fan John D. Clark editing the first few volumes, began the Gnome Press editions. Author Fletcher Pratt gave a copy of Conan the Conqueror to L. Sprague de Camp. De Camp became an instant fan and took over the character for the next 40 years.

Gnome Press went out of business in 1962 and de Camp gambled on taking the books to another publisher. Legal wrangling between him and Greenberg came out in de Camp’s favor and Lancer editor Larry Shaw made the decision to start publishing Conan paperbacks.

Lancer Books existed from 1961 – 1973. Irwin Stein and Walter Zacharius were the men behind the curtain. Stein was a former magazine publisher who was betting paperback publishing was the better horse. Zacharius (also an author) was more the financial backer and when Lancer went bankrupt in 1973, he continued on with Zebra and Pinnacle Books.

Larry Shaw, a science fiction writer, was no stranger to SF/Fantasy fandom and publishing and was aware of Frazetta and Krenkel’s art for Ace Books and their successful Edgar Rice Burroughs’ line. According to Arnie Fenner, writing in Icon, Shaw was astute enough to offer Frazetta “twice the pay rate he was getting from Ace and a provision that the original art would be returned to him.”

According to Fenner, again from Icon, “Upon publication of the first cover, Conan the Adventurer in 1966, long-time friend and fellow illustrator Wallace Wood clapped Frank on the back and asked, “How’s it feel to be the world’s greatest cover artist?””

Conan the Adventuer

Conan the Adventurer sold well and was followed with more great Frazetta covers. Sometimes, it is said by the more Frazetta oriented fan, that his covers sold the books. It is, of course, axiomatic that an editor chooses art that sells books. Farnsworth Wright paid Margaret Brundage to sell Weird Tales, publishers paid Robert McGinnis to sell sexy thrillers, Bantam Books paid James Bama to sell Doc Savage and so on.

But REH’s fiction and the Conan character kept fans buying the books and turning them into million sellers. REH and Frazetta were the perfect combination. Other series with Frazetta covers did not sell as well and Frazetta’s own concepts like Death Dealer and Fire and Ice did not have the impact of Conan.

Did Lancer Books know that Frazetta was such a hit?  Even though Larry Shaw hired him and knew he was a talent, they hedged their bets in 1968. Five Conan books were published that year and three of the books featured cover art by John Duillo.

Who knows the thinking at the time?  Paying Frazetta for five covers might have been too expensive for the art budget (Frazetta was definitely asking for more money) or maybe they figured the books would sell anyway without Frazetta, or maybe it was an intentional decision to try another artist?

De Camp apparently had criticized the Frazetta look in some fanzines. I’m unaware of any specific criticisms but de Camp’s final words on the subject appeared in his autobiography Time and Chance. Sounding like your cranky grandpa de Camp writes:

Conan the Adventurer had a cover by Frank Frazetta, who painted covers for most of the Lancer Conans. Frazetta’s work was superior to that of most illustrators, but he gave Conan something I have objected to ever since. Robert Howard described Conan’s hair as a “square cut black mane,” implying a Prince Valiant bob. In 1966, however, the rage among rebellious youth was to let one’s hair grow long. So Frazetta gave Conan hair down to his solar plexus, and long-haired Conan has been ever since.

Books 2a

The Lancer Books were easily available in most cities but rural consumers relied on other means. Jim Warren, publisher of Eerie, Creepy, and Vampirella had used Frazetta covers on his magazines. Jim Warren said he found advertisers avoided his “monster” magazines and he needed revenue from other streams other than newsstand sales. He created Captain Company to sell genre products to his readers. Rubber masks, TV tie-ins, posters, etc. The Captain Company ad for the Conan paperbacks had the iconic Frazetta barbarian but they did not overly stress Frazetta. Two of the four illustrations in the ad are of Duillo art. So, the thinking at the time favored the Conan name over Frazetta.

Frazetta was back for Conan of Cimmeria in 1969, so maybe the Duillo books did sell less as Frazetta supporter’s claim. But printing history for the books does not really support this. Conan the Wanderer (Duillo) went through more printings than Conan the Usurper (Frazetta). So most likely there were letters and fanzine articles that simply clamored for Frazetta’s return and the books in total sold well enough to give the fans want they wanted.

Lancer obviously realized the popularity of Frazetta since they released a Conan poster in 1971 and it sold over 100,000 copies. Frazetta’s wife, who had a head for business, realized they should have a poster business of their own to sell Frazetta’s work. In the early ads for Frazetta posters they featured the Conan name prominently.

Books 3

According to Icon, business acrimony developed between Lancer and Frazetta over the Conan name being used in ads for the posters. The posters began appearing under new names. Conan the Conqueror became Berserker, Conan the Adventurer became Barbarian and so on.

Despite the Conan phenomenon, Lancer went bankrupt in 1973, it took a while for the Conan books to be scarce but once they were the British Sphere series began appearing in the United States. They were heavily advertised as featuring the Frazetta covers.

With the Lancers out of print Frazetta began overshadowing REH, leading some Frazetta fans to credit Frazetta’s art as being the most successful element in the Conan series. But REH fandom was growing as well and the Marvel Comic was huge. Out of the ashes of Lancer, came Zebra Books. They placed their faith in REH and Jeff Jones.

Books 4

When Ace Books republished the Conan series, they had Boris Vallejo do the new volume Conan of Aquilonia and Vallejo later did new covers for the Duillo volumes but Frazetta remained the premiere artist.

Books 5

REH and Frazetta are forever linked. Both have their own fandom and intermingling, of course, exists. After Frazetta, Conan’s popularity continued to rise with scores of new books from Bantam and Tor, two successful movies, and the continuing comics.

Frazetta received his own volumes of illustrations. The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta published by Ballantine Books sold over 300,000 copies!

Today Frazetta’s original Conan art has been sold for record prices. His repainting of Conan the Buccaneer sold for 1.5 million. Conan remains a popular character with graphic novels, planned films, and gaming modules.

REH’s stories are pretty much vacant from the newsstand though. The book industry changed big time after the Thor Power ruling, so now paperback publishers no longer keep an inventory of classic SF/Fantasy authors unless their names are Tolkein, Heinlein, and Dick.

Conan books are currently mostly available online through the remaining stock of the Del-Rey volumes. Will we see a revival if the next Swarzenegger or whatever future Conan movie hits big?  It is impossible to know. Conan is available in millions of old books, public domain collections, and even on-line pirated and non-pirated formats. We most likely will never see a groundswell like the Lancers ever again.

But Joe Rogan was right. Those were books!

Melek Taus1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Part 1, Part 2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Between December 1933 and June 1936, a group of rather unusual Robert E. Howard stories were published: “Talons in the Dark” (1933), “The Tomb’s Secret” (1934), ‘‘People of the Serpent” (1934), “Names in the Black Book” (1934), “Graveyard Rats” (1936) and “Black Wind Blowing” (1936) were published in the magazines Strange Detective Stories, Super Detective Stories and Thrilling Mystery, which specialized in crime and detective stories.

These stories hold a special place in Howard’s work. Although they were published in magazines catering to the crime and detective markets, they were certainly a departure from Howard’s preferred writing subjects. Moreover, Howard’s personal opinion about his achievement in this genre is also noteworthy. In May 1936 he wrote to H. P. Lovecraft:

I have definitely abandoned the detective field, where I never had any success anyway, and which represents a type of story I actively detest. I can scarcely endure to read one, much less write one. (Means to Freedom Vol. 2, 953)

femme_fatale_by_kaceymThis statement raises several questions: why would Howard write anything in a genre he admitted to not only hating, but also not having a propensity for? Are Howard’s crime/detective stories actually ‘crime” stories in the way dictionaries define it? And if not, what are the differences? And lastly, are these stories really as bad as Howard regarded them?

For Howard, who wanted to make a living as a professional writer, the decision to splash other markets was not simply a logical one, but one based on painful necessity – the need for money. The pulps were a volatile market with magazines folding right and left under the weight of the Great Depression. Additionally, the pulps paid very little — anywhere from half a penny a word to five cents a word, with the majority of the pulps paying on the lower end of the scale. So the secret to earning a decent living writing for the pulps was quantity.

He was without a doubt versatile enough and had the necessary skills to be successful outside of fantasy and horror fiction. A look at his work in genres such as historical short stories about the crusaders, weird western tales, humorous westerns, boxing stories, and even his later work published in the “Spicy” magazines clearly demonstrate that Howard could write and deliver quality in a variety of environments.

By the time Howard began to write detective stories, the market was already dominated by stars like Dashiell Hammett and Carroll John Daly. Furthermore, the pulp magazines selling crime stories had a sufficient stock of experienced crime story writers available, writers who specialized in catering to the needs of their readers. All of this made the attempts of latecomers trying to enter this market a daunting task.

To get a foothold in the crime stories market, Howard used a method he was an expert at – mixing different genres. For Howard, that mix would be fantasy and horror genres he had superb experience writing in. The result of such a mixture though, would have probably created another “supernatural sleuth,” and that throne was already firmly held by Seabury Quinn and his Jules de Grandin series.

There is a high possibility that Howard’s literary agent Otis Adelbert Kline encouraged him to write detective stories. In a letter to Lovecraft, dated September 1933, Howard mentions that “Kline has been a big help in teaching me the technique of detective story writing” (A Means to Freedom Vol. 2, 634). This though is not sufficient proof that Kline was really involved in Howard’s decision to write crime stories.

fu_manchu_color_by_madlittleclown-d33xe5fAnother possibility of why Howard might have felt confident in writing crime stories was his love of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories. According to Howard’s personal library inventory list, he possessed eight books by Sax Rohmer. Howard also wrote parodies of Fu Manchu stories (“Few Menchu” or “Fooey Mancucu”) (Collected Letters 1, 53-55, 139 – 142, 113 – 119), which he sent to his friend Tevis Clyde Smith (March 1925/October 1927/February 1929). This clearly indicates that Howard was very familiar with the stories about the Chinese villain. The influence of these Fu Manchu stories on Howard was so strong that some of Howard’s crime stories feature a Mongolian super-villain by the name of Erlik Khan that was obviously based on Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu.

In the Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, “crime fiction” is defined as “the commission and detection of crime, with the motives, actions, arraignment, judgment, and punishment of a criminal is one of the greatest paradigms of narrative. Textualized theft, assault, rape and murder begin with the earliest epics, and are central to Classical and much subsequent tragedy.” (192)

Although it is widely assumed that the publication of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murder in the Rue Morgue” (1841) marked the origin of the crime fiction genre, this is actually not the case. According to the Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory the first crime story can be traced back to the late 18th century to William Godwin’s “Caleb Williams” (1794). This new genre culminated in its first phase with the 1887 publication of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes story, which established the short story as the genre’s prominent form (a form also used by Howard).

The Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory set the end of this “First Golden Age of Detection” in 1914. A Second Golden Age of crime fiction began in the late 1920s when female writers such as Agatha Christie successfully entered the stage. These women extended the short story to full novel length. In the United States crime fiction became popular via the pulp fiction market, where according to Ron Goulart, “the private eye was born in the early 1920s and flourished in the decades between the two World Wars” (Cheap Thrills, 89), with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to be the most prominent writers in the field.

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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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