Archive for the 'Howard Scholarship' Category

In November 2011, along with many of his family members and other Robert E. Howard fans, I attended Glenn Lord’s 80th birthday party at the Monument Inn in La Porte, Texas. As usual, there was lots of good conversation with good friends. Besides a special birthday cake (baked by Glenn’s wife Lou Ann, if I remember correctly) the big highlight was the new book Anniversary: Glenn Lord and the Howard Collector that was distributed to all the guests by its editor, Dennis McHaney. It contained a series of Glenn Lord tributes by such Howardists as Fred Blosser, Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier, Frank Coffman, Leo Grin, Paul Herman, Don Herron, Morgan Holmes, Patrice Louinet, Dennis McHaney, James Reasoner, Rob Roehm, Damon Sasser, Roy Thomas and me. In addition to these articles, this limited edition book included a history of the Howard Collector (the prozine founded by Glenn Lord) and five REH stories. I remember how pleased Glenn was as he paged through it.

It was a wonderful weekend for me. The day before I had lunched with Lou Ann and Glenn in Galveston.  Glenn was pretty quiet at first but later we discussed a variety of subjects. The highlight for me that afternoon was listening to Glenn’s low voice as he quoted lines from several of his favorite REH poems. (For more details about the luncheon and the birthday party, see here.)

Like the Galveston lunch, the birthday party the next day was perhaps not as short as it seemed. But both were over all too soon. As I left, I kissed Glenn on the cheek and got a hug in return. I had also attended his 78th birthday celebration in 2009 and I planned to attend them every other year in the future. Sadly, there wouldn’t be any more. He died on December 31, 2011 – just six weeks later.

Glenn and I only met a few times. Yet anyone with a deep appreciation of Howard’s prose and poetry realizes the debt of gratitude we all owe Glenn. He began his search for more Robert E. Howard texts because he loved REH’s poetry. Lou Ann told me many stories about searches in dusty attics, garages, and storerooms. Over the years, this meant sifting through literally thousands of pieces of papers just to track down more original Robert E. Howard typescripts.

That Howard fans today can read REH’s words as he wrote them is due to Glenn Lord. He is the Father of Howard Fandom as well as the glue that bonded us together. I still miss him!

For further information and background about Glenn Lord, see:

In Memoriam” by Damon Sasser, February 14, 2012, which provides links to the tributes and remembrances written by Howard fans, and includes a Glenn Lord biography, an audio interview with Glenn, information about the funeral arrangements and an obituary.

The Legacy of Glenn Lord: REH’s Life’s Work Preserved for Posterity” by Damon Sasser, August 12, 2013.

wolfshead565

That’s the question Butch repeatedly asks Sundance in the movie while the super-posse is hounding them. I felt like asking it myself as I perused some of REH’s horror stories, specifically “The Black Stone,” “The Thing on the Roof” and his Conrad-Kirowan fragment “The House,” in which his two occult investigators probe the early life of the mad poet Justin Geoffrey. Bits of Geoffrey’s verse serve as the epigraphs to both stories. There are mysteries here. Chiefly they concern the identity of the narrators of the stories, neither of whom are named. Can they be the same man?  Are they the same as characters in other REH yarns, or are both “TBS” and “TTotR” one-offs?

(I confess this post is largely a shameless, self-serving plug for Nameless Cults, by Deuce Richardson and myself, now finished, and for the novel on which I’m still working, Damned From Birth, a direct sequel to “TTotR.” The readers have been warned. Let’s go.)

In both stories we learn only a few things about the narrators. Both are studious types who like their rare books, and are fascinated by odd events that took place in largely unexplored alleys of history. Both seem to travel quite a bit. Both are acquainted with von Junzt’s magnum opus, Nameless Cults (ah-haaa!) and seem to know the work of the mad poet Justin Geoffrey. Both place an epigraph of Geoffrey’s verse at the head of their accounts. The narrator of “The Black Stone” discusses Geoffrey and his final fate with the village innkeeper of Stregoicavar in Hungary.

We could infer that the two narrators are the same person. They might even be John Kirowan, Conrad’s friend, who accompanies him into the Catskills to check out a sinister old house that affected the boy Justin Geoffrey’s mind. After all, “The Black Stone” takes place in Hungary, and John Kirowan lost the love of his life in Hungary as a young man (“The Haunter of the Ring”).  He could have returned there years later to pay his respects at her grave.

The chronology would fit. “Dig Me No Grave” is a definite Conrad and Kirowan yarn, and it just as definitely takes place in 1930. That was the year John Grimlan’s bargain with “the one black master” ran out. It’s equally certain that “The Black Stone” takes place in 1931. The narrator tells the innkeeper that Justin Geoffrey “died screaming in a madhouse five years ago.” Justin Geoffrey died in 1926. If “Dig Me No Grave” takes place in England, on wild, desolate Exmoor – and Deuce Richardson and I both think it does – Kirowan could have travelled from there to the continent.

I can’t quite buy it, though. The person narrating “The Black Stone” doesn’t seem like John Kirowan, the disinherited black sheep of a noble Irish family who travelled the world (Zimbabwe, Mongolia, the South Seas) investigating the black occult arts, or a man with a tragic past. He comes across as a bookish academic, pedantically citing various sources like Dostmann’s Remnants of Lost Empires and Dornly’s Magyar Folklore – all as fictional as Nameless Cults. And he doesn’t seem to know enough about the bizarre and supernatural to be Kirowan.

howard03_a09_b(For similar reasons, I doubt the Professor Kirowan who is one of the group in Conrad’s study in “The Children of the Night,” is the same person as occult investigator John Kirowan. The latter was never called “Professor” in any of the stories in which he definitely appears, and Professor Kirowan also seems like a waspish academic who doesn’t know nearly enough about dark occult matters. Probably an English relative. The Kirowans, or Kirwans, of Galway were an extensive race.)

To distinguish the two narrators without making a tedious reference in full each time, I’ll call them N1(TBS) and N2(TTotR) from now on.

References to Nameless Cults in the two stories add to the doubt. N1(TBS) says that he “stumbled upon … one of the unexpurgated German copies, with heavy leather covers and rusty iron hasps.” He also thinks “no more than half a dozen such volumes in the entire world today” are left. Contrarily, N2(TTotR) did not “stumble upon” the copy he found. He obtained it for someone else after diligently searching for three months. He too comments on the German edition’s rarity. “He might almost as well have asked me for the original Greek translation of the Necronomicon.”

This being so, it hardly makes sense to have copies of the original Dusseldorf edition of Nameless Cults showing up here, there and everywhere. N1(TBS) obtained one; N2(TTotR) got hold of one; Conrad in “The Children of the Night” has a copy on the shelves of his “bizarrely furnished study”, and I’ll bet that was one of the originals. John Kirowan’s buddy would be satisfied with nothing less. Miskatonic University is sure to have one, or even two. Michael Strang in “The Hoofed Thing” has one in his library – a strong indication that both Conrad and Strang, and also N2(TTotR) have plenty of cash. They couldn’t afford such rare items otherwise. They must be the independently wealthy types who appear so often in pulp fiction of the 1930s and earlier.

It’s fair to suppose that a couple of the above copies, at least, were the same volume. If N1(TBS) and N2(TTotR) were different men, then one of them might have obtained Nameless Cults after the other disposed of it. Michael Strang might have done so too (obtained it or disposed of it). Any assumption that keeps the number of those “extremely rare” Dusseldorf editions to a minimum is a reasonable one to make.

Now there is a link between the stories “The Black Stone” and “The Thing on the Roof”, or what seems like a connection. (Deuce Richardson pointed this out. I completely missed it. Another one I owe him.)  N1(TBS) sees a similarity between the strange characters on the Hungarian “Black Stone” and those on “a gigantic and strangely symmetrical rock in a lost valley of Yucatan.”  He opined to “the archaeologist who was my companion” that the marks were sophisticated writing and the rock was the “base of a long-vanished column”. The archaeologist “merely laughed” and said the massive base would suggest “a column a thousand feet high.”

Hmm. Deuce is right. N2(TTotR) is an archaeologist, and he has done field work in Yucatan. One of the first things he mentions in “The Thing on the Roof” is his paper, “Evidences of Nahua Culture in Yucatan,” and his academic quarrel with the bull-headed Tussmann over it. He also refers to a “Professor James Clement of Richmond, Virginia” who located his copy of the vanishingly rare Nameless Cults.

A professor. An academic. A man to whom you turn to find a rare book for you. A man who knows all about the history of von Junzt’s “Black Book”. He automatically mentions the publication date and the printing house even of a book he’s only giving a passing mention (Dostmann’s Remnants of Lost Empires, Berlin, 1809, “Der Drachenhaus Press”). He seems a lot like N1(TBS). Seems fair to suppose at this point that the two narrators really are two different men, neither one John Kirowan, but that they are acquainted at least, and that N1(TBS) is Professor James Clement. N2(TTotR) is the still unnamed archaeologist who was his companion in Yucatan, and who laughed at Clement’s speculation about the huge rock they saw in the “lost valley” together. He probably should not have laughed. I infer he was young at the time. And came to take Clement’s view more seriously later.

This blogger is working on a novel that serves as a direct sequel to “The Thing on the Roof” and gives the narrator a name, Boston background, family, fiancée – fleshes him out quite a bit. But none of that is from canonical REH or Lovecraft sources. It doesn’t apply in this context. And nothing in REH, so far as I know, sheds any more light on the background, career, or even name, of N2(TTotR).

howard03_a08_bHe wouldn’t be Costigan in “The Little People.” Nothing in that story suggests he’s an archaeologist, and nothing in “TTotR” suggests that its narrator is an amateur boxer “with a terrific punch in either hand”, as Costigan is. John O’Brien in “People of the Dark” doesn’t seem like a candidate either. He too is no academic, no archaeologist. “I was born and raised in a hard country,” he says, “and have lived most of my life on the raw edges of the world, where a man took what he wanted, if he could, and mercy was a virtue little known.”  Hardly the type an archaeologist like Tussmann would approach to procure for him a rare book like Nameless Cults.

He could possibly be James O’Brien of “The Cairn on the Headland”, as O’Brien is an accomplished and successful scholar. “TTotR” might have happened after eerie circumstance (and the god Odin) rid O’Brien of the blackmailer Ortali. But O’Brien’s line appears to be Gaelic language and history, not Central American ancient cultures. A man established and highly regarded in one field of scholarship wouldn’t shift to another, especially once he was rid of the blood-sucking extortionist who had made his life miserable for ages, and was free to enjoy the rewards of his regular work – in which he “commanded an enormous salary”.

I reckon the verdict there has to be “not proven” – but not too likely.

REH’s mad poet, Justin Geoffrey, has a connection with both “TTotR” and “TBS”. A few lines of his verse form the epigraph or motto to both stories. He is the subject of a conversation in “TBS”, which attests that he too visited that “sinister, ill-regarded village in Hungary”. Justin Geoffrey is without doubt a part of the shared Howard-Lovecraft universe. “TTotR” mentions “the original Greek translation of the Necronomicon.” “The Thing on the Doorstep” names Lovecraft’s character Edward Pickman Derby of Arkham as “a close correspondent of the notorious Baudelairean poet Justin Geoffrey, who died screaming in a madhouse in 1926 …”  The same story mentions “the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt.”

REH’s “The House” has Conrad expounding to his friend Kirowan his certainty that Justin Geoffrey’s extraordinary differences to the other members of his – very mundane – family were due to an experience when he was ten. He was lost overnight near a village (called Old Dutchtown) at the foot of the Catskills in New York State. He slept in a grove of trees near a curious old house, long abandoned, that no-one evidently wanted to own. The artist Humphrey Skuyler says, “It fairly exudes an aura of abnormality … that is, to a man sensitive to such impressions … There’s something almost Oriental about the thing, and yet it’s not that either … At any rate, it’s old – that cannot be denied.”

Young Justin didn’t enter the house, merely slept near it. Yet apparently it caused him to become such an off-the-wall person and eventually go mad. Why did the house exert such a baleful influence, and who (a horrid character, we can assume) built it where he did?  To paraphrase this post’s title … who was that guy?

No-one in the fragment knows. Conrad and Kirowan can’t find out. The owners of both adjoining properties deny it belongs to them. Their friend Skuyler the artist, who was impressed enough by the ominous place to paint a canvas of it, has no idea. Even the mayor of the nearby burg, Old Dutchtown, cannot tell them.

There are three signposts that might point the way for a start. Justin Geoffrey is a character in the Howard-Lovecraft universe. The house stands at the foot of the Catskills. It was built long ago, near “Old Dutchtown.”

Lovecraft had at least two old Dutch families with ghastly histories in his canon, and they both lived in grim, ill-starred big houses. The Martenses of Tempest Mountain (in the Catskills!) in “The Lurking Fear” were one. They were inbred, numerous (a bit too numerous) and characterised by mismatched eyes, one brown, one blue. They also reacted to thunderstorms with horror and intense, violent nervous excitement.

The other Dutch clan, which flourished in the days when New York was still New Amsterdam and one-legged Peter Stuyvesant its governor, was van der Heyl. The Martenses were only degenerate. The van der Heyls (“The Diary of Alonzo Typer”) were vile and diabolic warlocks from far back. They moved from Albany to Attica in 1746 “under a curious cloud of witchcraft suspicion” and built a “large country house” there. The van der Heyls and their servants all “suddenly and simultaneously disappeared” in 1872.

e7c645_09eb3972a7804da6937c7361d86b4da6It’s this blogger’s hypothesis that a Martense man left home, went to work for the van der Heyls in the early 17th century, and married a van der Heyl woman. They were prosperous fur traders then, and had shipping interests in the Dutch East Indies, along with their secret diabolism. “The Lurking Fear” records one instance of a Martense man who did go into the outer world later, in the 1750s, and when he returned after years, his own kindred murdered him and buried him in an unmarked grave. I’m supposing the earlier one prospered and stayed away, sagacious fellow.

Further speculation. He and his van der Heyl wife had a son. The boy had the mismatched Martense eyes, and of course the Martense surname. As an adult, he went out to the East Indies as a van der Heyl agent, and did a fine job trading for them there – in nutmeg, sandalwood, and other commodities. He spent a few years in Aceh, Sumatra. He also learned a good deal about the local varieties of black magic, true to his inheritance on the mother’s side. Back in America, though, he grew sick of having his relatives regard him as less than a true van der Heyl, and broke with them at last. Going back to the Catskills (though not to Tempest Mountain) he built his own “castle-like house” close to the foot of those mountains. Settling there, he practiced the fiendish magic of his mother’s kin and the malignant isolationism of the Martense breed. At last he died.

It would account for the atypical architecture of the house. “Almost Oriental … and yet it’s not that either.”  If the builder had spent years in Java, Aceh and Makassar, that would explain it. If his ghost haunted the place, or it remained imbued with his dark sorceries, that could also explain its effect on young Justin Geoffrey. And maybe the above gives a partial answer to the question of who “those guys” were …

This entry filed under Howard Scholarship, Howard's Fiction.

2016-09-10-10-06-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Robert E. Howard,

These litanies to Astarte and Hecate and Dagon and Demogorgon.

With fraternal good wishes,

Clark Ashton Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Texan closed out the letter with:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

CLIMH     The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard

E&C         Ebony & Crystal

ED           Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography

LNY         Letters from New York

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

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

SLCAS    The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith

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

TDB         The Dark Barbarian

Read Ebony and Crystal here

Photo courtesy of Paul Herman

arkham-alwayscomesevening

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 manybooks.net 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.

the-robert-e-howard-foundation

The REH Foundation now has access to the collection of Glenn Lord, including all the thousands of typescripts that he owned. Paul Herman, of the Board of the Foundation, has been cataloging the pages, and has come across a mystery. Perhaps you can help solve it.

There is a piece of poetry that has been published as Untitled (“For what is a maid to the shout of kings”).

For what is a maid to the shout of kings?

To the gilt parade and the host that sings?

Honor and gold and glorious raids

To he that is bold – and other maids.

Dawn gems gleam and white stars dim

By the quiet stream she watches him

Ride with the flash of shields and brands

To the battle’s clash and the far strange lands.

Beyond the skyline where great kings ride,

Glory, jewels, honor and pride.

For the sap in the North must rise again

With the wild geese winging thither;

Gay hours die and a hawk must fly

And the rose of Spring must wither.

The actual page of typescript, however, is numbered page 2! This means it must go with a page one somewhere. Could it be one of the known poems that we didn’t realize had a second page that it went with? If so, what poem is the beginning that goes with this page 2?

That would mean, matching the tone, rhyming pattern, and subject matter. Given the page is numbered, that MAY indicate that it was a finished poem, with a title and REH’s name in the upper corner of the front page. Though it could also be an untitled first page, those exist as well for multipage poems. This page 2 is set up to go around 26-30 lines. So an untitled first page would have a similar line count, a titled page perhaps 4 less. Those are just estimates.

Can you identify the mystery poem? Can YOU put back together one of REH’s poems that has long been split apart? The first to come up with the answer will get their name mentioned in the Foundation Newsletter, along with the publication for the first time of the complete poem together. And the thanks of the Board.

Now, it may be that the first page is lost. REH didn’t keep nearly everything, and some pages have gone missing over the years of moving from owner to owner. But it is worth the hunt to see.

Thank you.

This entry filed under Glenn Lord, Howard Scholarship, Howard's Poetry, News.

New-Pledge-Levels-Issue-Spread

As a reader and amateur historian of the field of the fantastic, this is the type of publication I want to read.

-Keith Taylor

If you have some time this weekend, you might want to take a look at the Skelos Magazine website, which is up and running.  All sorts of information is located there, including a plethora of different options for ordering the The Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy.

The first issue is now shipping and this is one magazine you don’t want to miss out on.

bobby1_n-e1465824586645

The 2016 Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards were announced at an awards ceremony held on the afternoon of June 10th in Cross Plains. Here are the winners:

The Atlantean — Outstanding Achievement, Book (non-anthology/collection)

DERIE, BOBBY – The Collected Letters of REH: Index and Addenda (REH Foundation Press)

The Hyrkanian—Outstanding Achievement, Essay (Print)

SHANKS, JEFFREY – “Evolutionary Otherness: Anthropological Anxiety in Robert E. Howard’s ‘Worms of the Earth’” The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales

The Cimmerian—Outstanding Achievement, Essay (Online)

TIE:

BARRETT, BARBARA – “Hester Jane Ervin Howard and Tuberculosis (3 parts)” REH: Two Gun Raconteur Blog

PISKE, DAVID – “Barbarism and Civilization in the Letters of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft: A Summary with Commentary (6 parts)” On an Underwood No. 5

The Venarium — Emerging Scholar

DERIE, BOBBY – Contributed essays to TGR blog, On an Underwood No. 5, and compiled the The Collected Letters of REH: Index and Addenda

The Stygian—Outstanding Achievement, Website

REH: TWO-GUN RACONTEUR BLOG (Damon Sasser)

The Aquilonian — Outstanding Achievement, Periodical

REH: TWO GUN RACONTEUR (Damon Sasser)

The Black Lotus – Outstanding Achievement, Multimedia

FRIBERG, BEN – Howard Days Panels (videos)

The Black River—Special Achievement

ROEHM, ROB – For his biographical research published at the REH: Two-Gun Raconteur Blog, On an Underwood No. 5, and the Black Gate website.

The Rankin — Artistic achievement in the depiction of REH’s life and/or work (Art must have made its first public published appearance in the previous calendar year.)

GIORELLO, TOMAS and JOSE VILLARRUBIA: Cover and interior artwork for adaptation of “Wolves Beyond the Border” King Conan: Wolves Beyond the Border issue 1 (Dark Horse)

Black Circle Award – Lifetime Achievement

THOMAS, ROY – Approved

Congratulations to all the winners.

A Note from the Editor: Having received the The Stygian and The Aquilonian awards, I want to thank all the contributors to both the blog and print journal and I also want to thank all the Howard fans who read and support the REH: Two-Gun Raconteur blog and journal. None of this would be possible without you. And I must congratulate Barbara Barrett for her fine essay that won her The Cimmerian award for her series “Hester Jane Ervin Howard and Tuberculosis” posted on the blog, and David Piske as well since it was a dead heat between these two fine Howard scholars.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Shanks.

Author-1Robert-E-Howard-Home-Cross-Plains-Texas-June-2012-008-e1463067774688

From Bill Cavalier:

With June 10th being four weeks from today, it might be time to work on our Howard Days checklists.

First on the list should be: Registration for Howard Days. Now, you don’t have to register to attend the House Tours, Bus Tour, panels, activities or BBQ, but your $15.00 registration fee will get you a seat at the Friday night Banquet at the Community Center. As seating is limited to around 120, you want make sure there’s some chicken fried steak with your name on it – plus you’ll be on site to bid on all the great Howard collectibles in the Silent Auction there! If you’re not already registered, don’t wait until the last minute! Thanks!

Secondly, this is a perfect time to support the aforementioned Silent Auction by making a donation of Howard items (books, magazines, fanzines, 2D and 3D art, comics, etc.) There’s time for you to ship these items to: Project Pride Howard Days Auction, POB 534, Cross Plains, TX 76443. 100% of the proceeds from this auction goes to the upkeep of the House Museum by Project Pride.

You also might want to gather up a few other items to sell or trade in the Swap Meet at the Pavilion. Table space is somewhat limited but there’s enough for you share with other traders. We ask that the items be directly related to or by Robert E. Howard and that you donate 10% of your earnings to Project Pride. (Thanks.)

And while there’s no planning for some extemporaneous events that always pop up at Howard Days, we can tell you about several of them.

STOP THE PRESSES! (That’s newspaper jargon for ‘pay attention’…) While we know the Howard House is open on Thursday June 9th from 2-4 pm, let it be known the fine folks at The Cross Plains Review are also opening their doors at the same time for a tour for any early visitors to Howard Days. Their building is now a designated Historical Site and contains most of the same old-time newspaper printing equipment that was there when REH lived in Cross Plains. So pass through their threshold and step back to a time when newspapers were the #1 for of communication. The CP Review is looking forward to seeing you.

There will be a Launch Party in the Pavilion for the brand new Howard pro-zine: SKELOS #1 – The Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy. This beautiful new vehicle for fantasy stories and art (plus some never-before published REH) will no doubt set the Howard fans and collectors abuzz – and you’ll be able to get first crack at it ONLY at Howard Days. Their Kickstarter is currently ongoing and they’ve got a Facebook page too, so check it out!

We’re going to have a second smaller Auction at the Pavilion on Saturday afternoon/evening (time TBA), but probably tied in with the BBQ) where we’ll have y’all bid on items like the Howard Days banners and a few other special items. One of those items is rumored to be a limited edition bottle of Robert E. Howard beer – a special import brew compliments of Patrice Louinet. Again, 100% of the proceeds go to the Robert E. Howard Museum.

And while not so extemporaneous this year, the REH Porchlight Poetry event will feature an encore presentation of the poem “Cimmeria” being read in SEVEN languages! Last year we just let it pop up at the Saturday night Porchlight Poetry and it was simply fantastic. Come hear one of Howard’s most powerful and endearing poems read in English, French, German, Japanese, Italian, Spanish and Polish. It will be memorable.

Also, be sure to check out Cross Plains’ BARBARIAN FESTIVAL on Saturday from 10-4 in Treadway Park, 3 blocks west of the Howard House. It’s a great time at a good ol’ country fair with vendors, games, rides, activities and great food – family fun for all!

No doubt there will be additional surprises and special guests who show up at Howard Days – there always are – and it’s never too late to decide to come to Cross Plains for The Best Two Days in Howard Fandom. We certainly hope to see your smiling mug on June 10th & 11th – or even a day or two early.

HDs 2016 Banner Long_sm

Here is the schedule of panels and events for this year’s Howard Days to be held in Cross Plains, Texas on June 10th and 11th.

Thursday, June 9th

The Robert E. Howard Museum & Gift Shop will be open from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. The adjacent Alla Ray Morris Pavilion is available all day for Howard Fellowship.

Friday, June 10th

NOTE: All panels on Friday to be held in the Cross Plains High School Library

8:30 until gone: Coffee and donuts served in the Alla Ray Morris Pavilion, compliments of Project Pride.

9:00 am to 4:00 pm: The Robert E. Howard House & Museum and Gift Shop are open to the public for viewing and tours.

9:00 am to 4:00 pm: The Cross Plains Post Office is open for REH Postal Cancellation souvenirs. Note: Friday only for this event.

9:00 am to 11:00 am: Bus Tour of Cross Plains and Surrounding Areas. Bus leaves at 9:00 am sharp from the Pavilion. Note: Friday only for this event.

9:00 am to 5 pm: Pavilion available for REH Swap Meet.

10:00 am to 5 pm: Cross Plains Public Library open to view REH manuscript collection.

11:00 am: PANEL: 30 Years of Howard Days. The origins and history of Howard Days will be discussed, along with a showing of photos from over the years. Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier and Susan McNeel Childers of Cross Plains will tell their tales. Panel held at the Cross Plains High School Library.

12:00 Noon: Hot Dog Luncheon at the Pavilion. Sponsored by Project Pride.

1:30 pm PANEL: The Whole Wide World and One Who Walked Alone. Guest of Honor Michael Scott Myers will discuss the movie, the book and Novalyne Price Ellis, as interviewed by Mark Finn. Panel held at the Cross Plains High School Library.

2:30 pm: PANEL: Presentation of the Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards. Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier and a cast of several. 30 minutes. Panel held at the Cross Plains High School Library.

3:15 pm TO 5:15 pm: Presentation of the feature length movie The Whole Wide World at the Cross Plains High School Auditorium, with commentary by Guest of Honor Michael Scott Myers.

5:30 pm to 6:30 pm: Silent Auctions items available for viewing and bidding at the Banquet site.

6:30 pm: The Robert E. Howard Celebration Banquet at the Cross Plains Community Center. The keynote speaker is Guest of Honor Michael Scott Myers. The title of his speech is “From Memoir to Screen.”

9:00 pm: PANEL: Fists at the Ice House. Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, Jeff Shanks and Patrice Louinet will entertain you with a spirited discussion of the Pugilistic Bob Howard, complete with readings from Howard’s boxing tales. Held on the actual site of the Ice House where Howard boxed, which is outdoors now on the concrete slab behind the Texas Taxidermy shop on Main Street.

Around 10:00 pm: Robert E. Howard Porchlight Poetry. Direct from the porch of the house where he wrote them, we will have extemporaneous readings of REH poetry. This event will be highlighted by a reading of “Cimmeria,” where Howard’s famous poem will be read in multiple languages.

Howard Fellowship will continue into the late hours at the Pavilion.

Saturday, June 11th

All panels on Saturday to be held at the Cross Plains Senior Center

9:00 am to 4:00 pm: The Robert E. Howard House & Museum and Gift Shop are open to the public for viewing and tours.

9:00 am to 4 pm: Cross Plains Barbarian Festival in Treadway Park, 3 blocks west of the Howard House on Highway 36.

9:00 am to 5 pm: Pavilion available for REH Swap Meet.

10:00 am to 3:00 pm: Cross Plains Public Library open to view REH manuscript collection.

11:00 am PANEL: REH and FRAZETTA: Celebrating the Fifty Year Legacy of the Lancers. Come hear a lively discussion about this benchmark event in Howard Publishing along with the importance of Frank Frazetta’s iconic cover paintings for the series. Panelists to include: Gary Romeo, Special Guest Val Mayerik, Jeff Shanks and Rusty Burke (with an opening monologue by Bill Cavalier). Panel held at the Cross Plains Senior Center.

12:00 Noon: Lunch at the Barbarian Festival or any restaurant in Cross Plains.

1:30 pm PANEL: The Life of Robert E. Howard – A discussion of Howard’s life, his working habits, his mannerisms, his routines, his quirks, his interests. We’ll talk about Howard the Man as opposed to Howard the Writer and also show some rare Howard artifacts (typescripts, photos etc.). Panelists to include: Mark Finn, Patrice Louinet, Chris Gruber and Paul Herman. Panel held at the Cross Plains Senior Center.

 2:30 pm PANEL: The First Annual Glenn Lord REH Symposium. A presentation by several REH scholars regarding Howard the Writer, with special essay readings by Daniel Look,  Jonas Prida, Todd Vick, Dierk Guenther. Moderator: Jeff Shanks. 90 minutes. Panel held at the Cross Plains Senior Center.

5:00 pm to 8 pm: Sunset Barbeque at the Pavilion. Hang out at the Howard House and enjoy a fully catered Texas BBQ dinner with all the fixins as part of your registration package.

Afterwards, we’ll  reflect on a wonderful weekend and enjoy our final Howard Fellowship time, which will include an encore presentation of a reading of “Cimmeria.”

For any changes or updates to the schedule, stay tuned to this blog, the Robert E. Howard Days Facebook page and the Robert E. Howard Days blog.

144816

In 1955, L. Sprague de Camp published a posthumous collaboration with Robert E. Howard, Tales of Conan, consisting of four non-Conan stories written by Howard that were rewritten by de Camp as Conan stories.  This was followed by Conan the Adventurer in 1966 which contained 3 stories by Howard (edited by de Camp) and 1 story started by Howard and finished by de Camp. This was to become the first (in order of publication) in a 12 volume series.  The remaining 11 books in this series contain a mixture of stories written by Howard and edited by de Camp started by Howard and finished by de Camp, written by Howard (as non-Conan stories) and adapted (to Conan stories) by de Camp, and written by de Camp and Lin Carter (with the exception of one story started by Howard and finished by Carter and a sole story written by Björn Nyberg and L. Sprague de Camp.)

In this 12 volume series, L. Sprague de Camp provided a chronological ordering for these stories (which Howard did not do) beginning with a teenage Conan and ending with a Conan in his 60s. The publication order does not match de Camp’s in-story chronological ordering; volumes 1-10 and 12 were published by Lancer between 1966 and 1968 (the first book published being volume 3 in de Camp’s chronological ordering).  However, Lancer went out of business before publishing the final book, volume 11 in de Camp’s ordering.  This book, Conan of Aquilonia, was published in 1977 by Prestige.  Ace publications distributed and reprinted the entire 12 volume series.  As such, this series is often referred to as the Lancer-Ace series.

In the Blade of Conan de Camp stated that “In completing the unfinished Conan stories…I have tried to adhere to the style and spirit of Howard….readers may amuse themselves by guessing where, in stories like “Drums of Tombalku” and “Wolves Beyond the Border,” Howard left off and I began.”1 At this point we know don’t need to guess, as we have copies of Howard’s drafts, but I have done some work in the field of unsupervised authorship attribution and thought it would be interesting to see if I could determine where the split occurred using a slightly non-traditional method – namely, mathematics and statistics.

I can almost hear the clicking as people leave this page after that last line, so I want to give you my assurance that you will not need to understand (or even tolerate) any mathematical concepts to grok this post. I will leave the gritty details out, focusing on the results.

Robert-Galbraith-The-Cuckoos-CallingStylometry is the study, and often quantification, of stylistic differences in written language. Typically, stylometric analyses are used in conjunction with more traditional methods for determining style and authorship, such as literary critiques from individuals knowledgeable regarding works by the disputed authors. For example of recent usage, in 2013 stylometric techniques were used in the Sunday (UK) Times’s investigation of author Robert Galbraith, first-time novelist and author of The Cuckoo’s Calling. The paper had received an anonymous tip via Twitter that Robert Galibraith was really a pen name for J.K. Rowling, and stylometric analysis lent evidence supporting this claim. The analysis was included in the materials the Times sent to Rowling’s agent when they asked, directly, whether she was the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling. Less than a day later Rowling confirmed that she was the author.2

So how does stylometry do this? Well, writing contains a lot of choices. Some of these choices are intentional and some arise from dialects, but there are other choices that are subconscious and don’t have an obvious explanation. Some of these subconscious choices remain static across an author’s writings. If we have two possible authors for an unknown piece, we can compare prior writings by these authors to the unknown piece, looking at these subconscious choices. (As a side note, we can extend the concept of “author” beyond the person doing the writings. I have shown that stylometric techniques successfully distinguish Isaac Asimov’s Foundation stories written in the ‘40s and ‘50s from those he wrote in the ‘80s and ‘90s using the same methods I will describe in a bit. So, here, the two authors are both Asimov.)

A couple of questions immediately arise. For example, what are the subconscious traits and how reliable are the results? This is actively being researched, but a common subconscious trait is the use of function words in writing. Function words are words with little lexical meaning, but instead serve as a type of glue for the other words. Examples are words like “of” and “the.” On their own they have little meaning, but they are used to form relationships among the other words in a sentence. Since these are often used without much thought, the idea is that they demonstrate subconscious writing trends. (Maybe one author uses “on the left” while another “to the left”.) If you look at the use of, say, the 75 most common function words and compare their uses among the contested piece and sample writings, you can make a case for authorship.

It would be easy to think that these common function words, often referred to as the Most Frequent Words (MFWs) is a terrible metric with little meaning in determining authorship, but they have been shown useful in this regard. It makes a kind of sense since these words are typically chosen with little thought and indicate trends in sentence structure.

It is important to remember that the methods I use will (pretty much) always indicate one author in a head-to-head contest over the other, regardless of whether either author is the true author. We are simply choosing a particular measurable object (function word usage) in writing and comparing the measurements for the unknown piece to the measurements in sample writings by potential authors. Whoever differs least, “wins.” (So, there are a lot of caveats: Does the “measurable thing” really distinguish authors? Do we know the authors we choose to compare are the only ones who could have written the piece?)

I’m going to brush all of those nasty little questions aside for now and just do some stuff.

Conan the Adventuer1To demonstrate the potential of this method, let’s examine an authorship question for which we already know the answer. This may seem like a waste of time…why do a metallurgical analysis of a penny and a nickel to tell them apart when we already know which is which? The reason is quite simple: If we want to use these methods on actual authorship questions, it is necessary to see if the methods have any merit.

This demonstration will involve the finished story “Drums of Tombalku,” with the goal of finding the “hand-off” spot in the story. This story makes an ideal example because Howard’s writing comprises the first part of the story with few changes by de Camp, while the second part of the story is the sole work of de Camp. An important initial question is whether this technique can distinguish the writing of de Camp and Carter from that of Howard. (I’ll address the issue of de Camp sans Carter in a bit.) Using the 75 MFWs a Hierarchical Tree Diagram was created.3 This diagram shows how the texts line up in terms of MFW usage. Here, a story by Howard is marked as H_Title and a story by de Camp and Carter is DC_Title. The diagram is fairly intuitive; similar stories are “closer” in the tree structure. Here, we clearly see two large “clusters” that do a solid job distinguishing Howard from de Camp and Carter. The one exception is The Thing in the Crypt, which shows up in the Howard clump. There are potential reasons for this, including the authorship, since this piece is based on a draft by Carter for his Thongor character. Discussing this one outlier could easily be its own blog post, so I’ll leave it alone.

Look_Figure 1

If we accept that these methods, for the most part, reliably distinguish Howard from de Camp/Carter, we can move on to the issue of finding the split in “Drums of Tombalku.” Those familiar with this piece may have already caught a potential snag – namely, that I’ve been comparing Howard to the combined authorship of de Camp/Carter, but Carter was not involved in finishing Drums. This means that we really need a sample of “pure” de Camp for comparison. Unfortunately, this is a bit difficult since I need the copy in digital format and the piece should be similar in terms of publishing date, genre, etc. I chose to use three pieces for comparison, each with faults and strengths:

1) Conan of the Isles – This is not ideal as it is de Camp and Carter.

2) Conan and the Spider God – This is credited as a solo de Camp piece (the only Conan story with this distinction), but it was written 14 years after Drums and some believe that de Camp’s wife, Catherine, helped with the writing of this book.

3) The Eye of Tandyla – This is not ideal as it is not a Conan story and was written over a decade before “Tombalku” saw publication, but it has been described as being “in the Conan tradition in every sense of the word”4 and is pure, uncut de Camp.

A stylometric procedure known as Rolling Delta is used to find authorship changes in a single text. Basically, it “rolls” through the text examining “chunks” to see which author is the most likely author for that “chunk”. As an example, if I choose to “roll” through my text with a sample size of 2000 and a step size of 100, we would compare words 1 through 2000 in Drums to samples by both authors to determine which author is closer in terms of MFW usage. Each author is assigned a number; I’ll skip explaining exactly what this number means, but it suffices to say that the author with the lower number is the most likely author (according to this method). Next, words 101 through 2100 would be examined and again the most likely author would be determined. We “roll” through the text until we reach the end. A visual is created that represents the results by plotting and connecting the output numbers, creating two “graphs”, one for each author. When the lines cross we have a switch in authorship.

Here are the results using three Howard stories to represent Howard’s writing (Tower of the Elephant, People of the Black Circle, and Red Nails) and one book to represent de Camp’s style, with that book being Conan of the Isles, Conan and the Spider God, or The Eye of Tandyla.

Look_Figure 2

Look_Figure 3

Look_Figure 4

When looking at these graphs it is important to realize that we have great samples of Howard writing, but the samples used for de Camp are shaky. This means that rolling delta should do a pretty good job of identifying the pieces where Howard is the main author, but when de Camp is the main author, rolling delta may struggle a bit to classify the authorship. However, that is not a problem since we are mainly interested in seeing if we can identify the split. When compared to Conan of the Isles the split occurs a bit before the 10,000-word mark while for Conan and the Spider God and The Eye of Tandyla the split is a bit after the 10,000-word mark. Given the scale, it would seem that the split occurs between the 9,500- and 10,500-word mark. (In all three something appears to be happening a bit before the 10,000-word mark, even if the actual crossing occurs a bit later.)

We have copies of the manuscripts and know where the split actually occurs: Howard’s original draft is roughly 9826 words. With de Camp’s editing, it ends up being 9,888 words in the finished piece.5

So what does this all mean? Well, I’d argue that this supplies some evidence that unsupervised methods can distinguish de Camp from Howard. If we didn’t know where the split occurred, this would give a nice starting point for investigation. And the amazing thing is that this is only using one very simple measure, the MFW count. Those innocuous little words that we pay little attention to actually say a lot about how we write.

  1. de Camp, L. Sprague. “Editing Conan.” The Blade of Conan. Ed. L. Sprague de Camp. New York: ACE Books, 1979. p.120
  1. For those interested, a brief write-up of this can be found here: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Professor-Who-Declared/140595/
  1. The statistics were conducted and images produced using Stylo, a free software package for the R statistical programming language.
  1. As cited in “Galaxy’s 5 Star Shelf”, Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1954, p.122
  1. These word counts are from my digital copies; if there are any transcription errors the counts could be off by a few words.