Archive for the 'Howard’s Favorite Authors' Category

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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

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It has become fashionable to regard Robert E. Howard’s Steve Harrison as the author’s lone failure. Much is made of what Howard expressed in letters about disliking hardboiled detective stories as both an author and a reader. Emphasis is placed on the fact that very few of the Steve Harrison stories found a market in the author’s lifetime. Critics measure the Steve Harrison tales against Hammett and Chandler and dismiss Howard’s efforts with disdain. All of this ignores how the character first came to prominence in the late 1970s when Berkeley Books collected “Lord of the Dead” and “Names in the Black Book” in Skull-Face.

Tarzan01h6As a 45-year-old man today, I first discovered Robert E. Howard through the worlds of Conan and Kull from Marvel Comics. My youth in the 1970s had seen me move from Tarzan films to the far more exciting jungle adventures found in DC and Marvel Comics. These comics led me to challenge myself to read the wonderful Ballantine editions of the original Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. As a comics fan, the cover art by Neal Adams and Boris Vallejo was half the attraction. A trio of low budget AIP movies with Doug McClure led me to discover the worlds of Caspak and Pellucidar which were back in print courtesy of Ace Books with gorgeous cover art by Frank Frazetta. I soon found Tarzan in Pellucidar in the Marvel Comics series. There was an excitement that made me believe there were far more fantastic worlds to discover.

I found these worlds in Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs was never quite the same. Burroughs was Paradise and Howard was Paradise Lost, but damn if that Forbidden Fruit didn’t taste better than anything else. I was a latecomer to church. Consequently, I resented losing out on Porky Pig cartoons on Sunday mornings. My Mom attempted to entice me with a Children’s Bible. The illustrations were nice, but I was mainly interested in The Old Testament which at least had the Flood and Samson to commend it. Along came Conan and Kull comics and suddenly I found characters that could rival Tarzan but lived in a world closer to The Old Testament but far more interesting to my young mind.

By the time I was thirteen, I had enjoyed a brief obsession with Ian Fleming’s James Bond series before discovering Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu books. These opened a world that was to become my favorite retreat from reality and one that continues to resonate with me well into middle age. The Berkeley edition of Skull Face and the Donald M. Grant hardcover edition of Lord of the Dead immediately caught my eye when I first discovered them in my early twenties. Here was Robert E. Howard moving away from the fantastic worlds of his own imaginings and turned loose on the twentieth century. I was in my forties by the time I first encountered El Borak and, along with Steve Harrison, I now knew the Howard characters that held me under a spell greater than his barbarian heroes.

severin_1Howard’s Weird Menace stories, despite their Rohmer influence, were also very much in keeping with his more celebrated sword and sorcery fiction. Steve Harrison was a powerful latter-day barbarian as equally at home with an axe as a pistol. Harrison teamed with Khoda Khan (from Howard’s El Borak tales) to battle the sorcerous Erlik Khan is reminiscent of the bond forged between Kull and Brule the Pict. Harrison removed from the seedy fog-enshrouded River Street to run down a voodoo cult in Bayou country could just as easily be set in Stygia. Those expecting traditional hardboiled gumshoe tropes are doomed to be disappointed, but fans of Howard’s fantastic fiction will find much that will prove the writer’s talents were not bound by place or time. Harrison, like Nayland Smith (the protagonist of the Fu Manchu series) has been granted a roving commission to run down the sort of exotic crimes that fall beyond the white man’s comfort zone of the 1930s.

That last bit is likely the key for me. Howard’s characters are men out of time. Whether Kull or Conan or Solomon Kane or Steve Harrison or El Borak, they are men without homes who function best in exotic worlds. They are old souls who do not fear a world that isn’t white and civilized. They are men at home with Eldritch terrors, in exotic jungles, facing Oriental cults or serpent worshippers. They know this world is far older than white civilization with its fragile sense of security and a neat, orderly view of the world and its creation. They are not afraid to step beyond conventions for the non-white world of exotic danger and pagan thrills promise far more than the restrictions of civilization. And so it is for readers these past 80 years who understood that Robert E. Howard’s fiction was finite, but the promises they hold were infinite.

For anyone who accepts the common belief that Howard stumbled and fell when he created Steve Harrison, I urge you to revisit “The People of the Serpent,” “Names in the Black Book,” or “Graveyard Rats” and see them for the masterly Tales of Weird Menace they are and enjoy the same wonderful world of Robert E. Howard as it exists in a modern world. For a world of fantasy and escape is not ossified in the past, it is accessible today as it was yesteryear. You just need to step outside the confines of a conventional world that is safe and dull and realize the world is as it ever was and always worth discovering Gnostic truths and exploring uncharted corners. The key is to read and learn to open your mind for ultimately, that is the lesson of Burroughs and Howard and Rohmer and every other author who raised the lantern and shone its light on shadows.

William Patrick Maynard is the authorized continuation writer for the Estate of Sax Rohmer. His third Fu Manchu thriller, The Triumph of Fu Manchu will be published by Black Coat Press later this year.

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By the way, I recently took the liberty of using your mythical “Arkham” in a single-stanza rhyme which Mr. Wright accepted for Weird Tales, and which fell far short of doing justice to it’s subject. Here it is:

Arkham.

Drowsy and dull with age the houses blink

On aimless streets the rat-gnawed years forget—

But what inhuman figures leer and slink

Down the old alleys when the moon has set?

– Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, 9 Dec 1931 (AMtF 1.238, CL2.280)

What did Robert E. Howard know of Arkham, which caused him to compose this quatrain? What might he have known? By December 1931, Lovecraft had published less than a dozen stories that mentioned the fictional town, which comprised what he sometimes called his “Arkham cycle.” (SL2.246) Most of these were published in Weird Tales, and many of them we can be sure by comments in his letters that Howard had read.

Weird_Tales_1924-01The eponymous dwelling of “The Picture in the House” (National Amateur Jul 1919, Weird Tales Jan 1924) was set in “an apparently abandoned road which I had chosen as the shortest cut to Arkham,” and places the town in New England. Howard had apparently missed this story when it came out, but Lovecraft apparently later sent him a copy. (AMtF 1.85, 97; CL2.93, 118)

“The Festival” (WT Jan 1925), Howard did read (AMtF 1.159; CL2.179), though as a locale it is set mainly in Kingsport until the very end, when the narrator ends up in St. Mary’s Hospital, where the kindly staff were helpful enough to borrow the copy of the Necronomicon from nearby Miskatonic University for his perusal.

“The Unnamable” (WT Jul 1925) also mentions St. Mary’s Hospital, but adds an “old burying ground” with “a dilapidated seventeenth-century tomb.” While Lovecraft is not known to have ever sent Howard a copy of his street plan for Arkham, he did have a very definite geography developed in his imagination while writing of the place, one readers get a sense of in lines describing “a lonely field beyond Meadow Hill, a mile from the old burying ground, on a spot where an ancient slaughterhouse is reputed to have stood.”

One of the fuller descriptions of the land around Arkham was given in “The Colour Out of Space” (Amazing Stories Sep 1927), which opens with:

West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods no axe has ever cut. There are narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooks trickle without ever having caught the first glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but they are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.

It is not entirely clear if Howard ever read this story, as there are no mentions of it in his letters, but Lovecraft mentions it in his letters to Howard from time to time. (AMtF 2.533, 582, 656; SL4.170)

The “Colour” described Arkham as “a very old town full of witch legends,” but it was in “The Silver Key” (WT Jan 1929) that Lovecraft grows fulsom about the old town’s history, describing it as “the terrible witch-haunted old town of his forefathers in New England, and had experiences in the dark, amidst the hoary willows and tottering gambrel roofs.” This of course helps to point out Arkham as corresponding closely with Salem and its famous witch-trials, something that Lovecraft himself would confirm in an early note to Howard: “Old Salem with its spectral memories (the prototype of my fictional ‘Arkham’) is only about 60 miles from Providence.” (AMtF 1.31)

dunwich-horrorThe Arkham Advertiser, the town newspaper, first made an appearance in “The Dunwich Horror” (WT Apr 1929); and Howard certainly read that story. (AMtF 1.17; CL2.50) While little of the town is described, much of the action centers around the Library of Miskatonic University. Howard, living in Cross Plains and having attended Howard Payne College in Brownwood, would at least have some impression of a college town in a rural district. Miskatonic University and the Arkham Advertiser would likewise appear in “The Whisperer in Darkness” (WT Aug 1931); Howard “went thirty miles to get the new magazine” (probably to Brownwood) and read it straight away. (AMtF 1.180-1, 205; CL2.220-1, 223)

The last story that would appear in Weird Tales before Howard probably composed “Arkham” was “The Strange High House in the Mist” (WT Oct 1931), where the eponymous house was located on a cliff such that “only the western side, inland and toward Arkham, remained.” Here we also get a brief description of “[…] a lovely vista of Arkham’s white Georgian steeples across leagues of river and meadow. Here he found a shady road to Arkham […]” Howard praised the story claiming:

It’s pure poetry of the highest order, and like all great poetry, stirs dim emotions and slumbering instincts deep in the wells of consciousness. (AMtF 1.217; CL2.256)

Weird_Tales_March_1942So much for the published references to Arkham that Howard might have seen; it is unlikely the man from Cross Plains had ever run across “Howard West—Reanimator,” unless Lovecraft had lent him a copy, and if Lovecraft did there is no mention of it. Of course, by 1931 the Texan was on the “circulation list” for drafts of Lovecraft’s stories, which included the then-unpublished novella At the Mountains of Madness (AMtF 1.231; CL2.273, 274), concerning an antarctic expedition from Miskatonic University, sailing out aboard the Arkham.

There is a possibility that Howard may have read “The Port” (“Ten miles from Arkham I had struck the trail”) one of Lovecraft’s sonnets in the Fungi from Yuggoth cycle. Lovecraft had sent along at least some of the poems; probably the typescript, but possibly a collection of excerpts from those that had been published at this point. Howard does not specifically mention “The Port” among his favorites, but it would remain a potential influence. (AMtF 1.32; CL2.61)

Slight though it is, this was likely all that Howard knew of Arkham—the rest being not published or available to him—and it is not so hard to trace some of the imagery in his poem, and at a time when Howard was already experimenting with a “Lovecraftian” style, such as expressed in “The Black Stone” (WT Nov 1931) Lovecraft himself was enthusiastic in the poem’s reception:

Your “Arkham” stanza is splendid, and I feel honoured that my imaginary city of brooding horror should have evoked such an image. Glad Wright took it, and hope you’ll have more verse for him before long. (AMtF 1.246)

Works Cited

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

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

SL        Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft (5 vols., Arkham House)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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schultz medium pool of the black one robert e howard

Robert E, Howard’s “The Pool of the Black One” (Weird Tales, October 1933) features a magical pool that kills humans by transforming them into miniature statues.  There is firm evidence that the concept was borrowed from the works of Sax Rohmer and Robert W. Chambers, two authors whom Howard frequently listed among his favorite writers.

“Robert E. Howard’s Library” in Don Herron’s The Dark Barbarian (Greenwood Press, 1984) lists Sax Rohmer’s Tales of Chinatown (1922) among the books owned by Howard. One of the stories in this collection, “Tchériapin,” is a mixture of science fiction and supernatural horror. The title character was a Eurasian violinist who wrote a controversial composition with Satanic themes, “The Black Mass.”  The musician seduced a young model loved by an artist, Colquhoun. Deserted by Tchériapin, the woman eventually committed suicide. To avenge her death, Colquhoun strangled the violinist. One of the artist’s friends, Dr. Kreener, was a brilliant chemist who developed a scientific process that could transform a subject into a tiny statute. Kreener sought to cover up the murder by shrinking the corpse. In the conclusion, the tiny petrified cadaver returned to life in order to haunt Colquhoun by playing “The Black Mass” on a violin Although the resurrection wasn’t explicitly explained, the tale hinted that Tchériapin’s reanimation was due to a cloaked figure who may have been Satan in disguise.

sax-rohmerRohmer’s “Tchériapin” was possibly influenced by two stories in The King in Yellow (1895) by Robert W. Chambers, “The Mask” and “In The Court of the Dragon.” Both stories are connected to an artificial mythology revolving around the King in Yellow, a Satanic hooded figure dwelling among the black stars of outer space. “The Mask” featured Boris Yvrain, a sculptor who invented a liquid pool that could petrify human being into statutes. “In the Court of the Dragon” had an artist pursued by the spectre of a musician whom he killed in unrecorded circumstances. Playing organ music, the ghost transported his quarry to the cosmic realm of the King in Yellow.

Rohmer borrowed from Chambers the petrifying process, the artist and musician characters, and the shrouded Satanic entity. The surname Kreener may have been derived from Mr. Keene, the protagonist of Chambers’s The Tracer of Lost Persons (1906).  “Tchériapin” never detailed the exact nature of the petrifying process invented by Kreener. The chemist merely took the corpse into his laboratory and returned with a small statue.  The concept of a liquid pool only exists in “The Mask.” That fact raises the question of whether Robert E. Howard read “The Mask.”

In his letters, Robert E. Howard described Robert W. Chambers as one of his favorite writers. “Robert E. Howard’s Library” lists five books by Chambers: The Maid-at-Arms (1902), Little Red Foot (1921). America or the Sacrifice (1924), The Drums of Aulone (1927), and The Slayer of Souls (1920)/ The first four novels are historical adventures involving either colonial or Revolutionary War America. The depiction of the Native Americans in those books influenced the portrayal of the Picts of the Hyborian Age in “Beyond the Black River,” “The Black Stranger” and the fragmentary “Wolves Beyond the Border.” The Slayer of Souls is a supernatural thriller which pitted the American Secret Service against the cult of Erlik, the Mongolian god of the underworld. Chambers altered Erlik, an actual figure from Asian mythology, into a variation on the King in Yellow. While the King in Yellow vaguely paralleled Satan, Erlik was explicitly identified with Satan. Rather than lurking in Hell, Erlik resided on a dark stat called Yrimid.  The Slayer of Souls was a sequel to Chambers’s The Dark Star (1917) in which Erlik’s extraterrestrial abode sent forth telepathic emanations to Earth that resulted in World War I.  While there is no evidence in either Howard’s library or letters that he read The Dark Star, a recently discovered poem indicates that he did. “Whence Cometh Erlik” from The Robert E. Howard Foundation Newsletter (Volume 6, #3, Fall 2012) contained these lines:

Erlik the Dark Star,
Forerunner of war

Howard would use the cult of Erlik in several stories such as “The Daughter of Erlik Khan,” “Black Hound of Death” and “The Purple Heart of Erlik.” Howard’s “Dig Me No Grave” (Weird Tales, February 1937) mentioned the “Eight Brazen Towers” from The Slayer of Souls.   The story featured the Peacock King, a version of the Devil utilized by Howard’s friend and correspondent, E. Hoffmann Price, in stories like “The Stranger from Kurdistan” (Weird Tales, July 1925) and “The Word of Santiago” (February, 1926).

Howard gave the Peacock King an Asian appearance (like an idol of Erlik from The Dark Star) and dressed him in a yellow robe. This choice of wardrobe for the Peacock King was probably a subtle tribute to Chambers. Price’s avatar of the Devil was now a Peacock King in Yellow.

Even if Howard had never read Chambers’s The King in Yellow in its entirety, he could still have read “The Mask.” That short story was reprinted in the February 1930 issue of Ghost Stories. Howard was familiar with the magazine. It had published his story, “The Apparition in the Prize Ring,” in the April 1929 issue.

Howard probably read “The Mask” and recognized it as the inspiration for “Tchériapin.” Combining the petrifying pool from “The Mask” and the shrinking process from “Tchériapin,” Howard fashioned “The Pool of the Black One.” This wasn’t the only story by Howard that grew out of a conflation of elements from Rohmer and Chambers,

CasonPublished decades after Howard’s death, “Casonetto’s Last Song” (Etchings and Odysseys #1, 1973) featured Stephen Gordon and his friend, Costigan. The names are similar to John Gordon and Stephen Costigan from Howard’s “Skull-Face.”  One wonders if Howard simply confused the first name of the earlier John Gordon with his associate.

Giovanni Casonetto was an operatic singer who led a cult of Satanists. Witnessing Casonetto performing a human sacrifice in an underground chamber, Gordon eluded the pursuit of the singer’s underlings. Contacted by Gordon, the police arrested Casonetto. Gordon’s testimony at the trial resulted in the singer being sentenced to the gallows. After Casonetto’s execution, Gordon received a record in the mail. This was a recording of Casonetto singing the invocation of the Black Mass.  Foolishly playing the record, Gordon found himself in a trance in which he imagined himself as a sacrificial victim on Casonetto’s underground altar to Satan. Before the knife descended to dispatch Gordon in this nightmarish realm, Costigan rescued his friend by breaking the record with a sledgehammer.

Casonetto is Howard’s version of the violinist Tchériapin. Sax Rohmer based his musician on Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840), a great violinist rumored to be both a Satanist and a womanizer. Seeing the historical connection, Howard made his diabolical singer an Italian like Paganini.

While “Casonetto’s Last Song” was primarily inspired by Rohmer’s “Tchériapin,” clear echoes of Robert W. Chambers’s fiction can be found in Howard’s story. Casonetto talks of “the red-stained altar where many a virgin soul has gone winging up to the dark stars.” The passage suggests that the devil made his abode among the dark stars like Erlik and the King of Yellow. There are also elements that suggest Howard was familiar with other stories collected in The King in Yellow besides “The Mask.” Stephen Gordon described his emotional state upon hearing the invocation of the Black Mass in the following manner: “In the darksome caverns of by soul, some blind and monstrous thing moved and stirred like a dragon waking from slumber.” Is the reference to a “dragon’ paying homage to “In the Court of the Dragon?” The title of Howard’s story, “Casonetto’s Last Song,” is also reminiscent of “Cassilda’s Song,” the poem that Chambers included as a preface to “The Repairer of Reputations,” the first story in The King in Yellow.

ky2At the very least, Howard was aware of the existence of The King in Yellow by 1930.  In that year, H. P.  Lovecraft mailed a copy of his essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” to Howard. The essay prominently mentioned The King in Yellow, but only summarized “The Yellow Sign” from that collection. The surviving Lovecraft-Howard correspondence was collected in A Means to Freedom (Hippocampus Press, 2009) edited by S. T. Joshi, David E. Schultz and Rusty Burke. In a letter to Lovecraft written around August 10, 1931, Howard made this remark: “Your splendid article — which I have re-read repeatedly — whets my appetite for the bizarre. Someday I must read ‘Melmoth” and the tales you mentioned by Blackwood, Chambers, Machen etc.”  Howard’s Melmoth reference is to Charles Robert Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), and need not concern us. The significance or the letter is that Howard hasn’t read at least one Chambers’s story discussed by Lovecraft prior to August 1931. Most likely this is “The Yellow Sign,” although Lovecraft’s essay briefly noted two other collections by Chambers, The Maker of Moons and In Search of the Unknown. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Howard read The King in Yellow collection prior to August 1931. However, he still could have read “The Mask” in Ghost Stories during 1930, and possibly read The King in Yellow after August 1931.

Rick Lai is accomplished essayist and author in the field of pulp studies. You can find his books on Amazon.com.

“The Pool of the Black One” painting by Mark Schultz
“Casonetto’s Last Song” illustration by Marcus Boas

nickelpublications-StrangeDetectiveStoriesV5N3_Feb1934

In February of 1934, Strange Detective Stories included “Fangs of Gold,” the first Steve Harrison story from Robert E. Howard. It also included “Teeth of Doom,” the second Steve Harrison story from Robert E. Howard. Except it didn’t. Not wanting two tales from the same author, writing about the same character, Harrison became Brock Rollins, Howard became Patrick Ervin and “Teeth of Doom” became “The Tomb’s Secret.” Did you get all that?

Conan, Solomon Kane, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Sailor Steve Costigan, and Breckenridge Elkins: all are characters created by Howard who cast shadows far larger than Steve Harrison’s. Only four stories featuring the tough-as-nails private eye saw print before Howard took his own life in 1936 at the young age of 30. That tally properly would be five, but the should-have-been third, “Lord of the Dead,” went into limbo when Strange Detective Stories folded.

The non-crime pulp, Man Adventures, ran from October 1930 to July of 1931 (monthly, except for a pair of two-month issues). In November of 1931, it resurfaced as Popular Fiction, running until September 1932 (missing two months along the way). It then came out as Nickel Detective in January of 1933 (I can imagine the blurb: “Twice as much two-fisted crime as Dime Detective at half the price!”), publishing six issues in eight months. That title disappeared after the August issue and the magazine made one last, dying gasp in November of 1933 as Strange Detective Stories. Four months later, in February, it would print the two Robert E. Howard stories and fold up for good: it had no more lives remaining.

It’s a pretty good example of the high mortality rate of pulp magazines during the era. Howard was third-billed in that final issue, directly below William E. Barrett, who wrote Lilies of the Field, which was made into one of Sidney Potier’s finest films. Another novel, The Left Hand of God, became one of Humphrey Bogart’s final films.

dalyThe hard boiled school of detective fiction was well out of its explosive ‘birth’ era when Howard briefly enrolled. Carroll John Daly, Dashiell Hammett, Raoul Whitfield and Frederic Nebel were either completely or almost totally finished writing for Black Mask, the seminal magazine that created the hard boiled genre. The unbelievably prolific Erle Stanley Gardner had appeared in Black Mask 81 times from 1923 through 1933. There would be only 24 of his stories in Black Mask in the next eleven years.

In fact, only two years after “Fangs of Gold,” Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw, the editor at the heart of Black Mask’s prominence, would be relieved of duties. And after an amazing decade of production, Dashiell Hammett would barely write any more fiction until his death in 1961. Raymond Chandler’s (rather elitist) literary approach to the genre had just begun when “Fangs of Gold” appeared.

Howard wasn’t some romantic writing for the sake of art. He wrote to make a living and fought to get his payments. So, he wrote in a wide range of genres, working hard to get stories published in as many markets as he could. The mystery field was one he entered relatively late and also one that he spent very little time in.

Hugh_B_Cave_nodateHoward’s first mystery, “Black Talons,” had appeared in the December issue of Strange Detective Stories. You know, with three stories by Howard and one from Hugh B. Cave in its four-issue lifespan, it’s too bad that pulp couldn’t hang around a bit longer! “Talons” is really a weird tale with a detective thrown in and a bit of mystery. The protagonist is Joel Brill, a scientist-adventurer, and Detective Buckley is a rather unimpressive supporting character. It may (or may not) be a mystery, but not a detective/PI story.

In a letter to August Derleth, Howard wrote, “You’re right in saying that I don’t have the feel for detectives that I do for weirds. However, I’ve been writing weirds for nine years and “Black Talons” was the first detective story that I ever wrote in my life.”

Derleth, best known to Howard fans as that Cthulhu guy, would write over seventy tales featuring Solar Pons, who was, as Vincent Starrett said, “the best substitute for Sherlock Holmes known.” He certainly knew something about mysteries.

But it is in “Fangs of Gold” that we meet Howard’s hard boiled private eye, Steve Harrison. The story takes place in swampland somewhere in the Southern United States. The detective is after Woon Shen, who killed a fellow Chinaman and stole 10,000 dollars back in River City (Harrison’s usual hometown). The swamp is inhabited by Haitian refugees who practice voodoo.

I don’t really consider this to be a hard boiled story. Harrison is a tough guy who marches confidently into the dark, but the setting and the voodoo cult completely transform the feeling. However, change the swamp to River City; voodoo to a jewelry smuggling ring and put the power grab in that context and I think you would have a typical hard boiled tale.

dick_5L5bHr1o“Teeth of Doom” takes place in River City and fits the mold a bit better: though still not too well. Ostensibly, Harrison is trying to prevent the murder of a rich philanthropist: shades of maybe Ross MacDonald. But in fact, there’s a sinister plot afoot, with a Mongolian secret society, the Sons of Erlik, after the secrets to a formula for poison gas. The whole case has Far East ties and a world domination plot at its core. Harrison functions as more of the typical private eye in this one, though he’s actually a police officer and pretty much gives orders to everybody, including his boss. It feels more Dick Tracy than Sam Spade.

Back on January 1, Dierk Guenther wrote a post here at Two Gun Raconteur about Howard’s detective and crime stories. He made an interesting point about Howard having spent very little time in cities, which could well have impacted his ability to write hard boiled detective stories. That may well be valid. In a post I made last year over at Black Gate about Carroll John Daly and the birth of the hard boiled school, I wrote:

Regarding (Three Gun Terry) Mack and (Race) Williams, what Daly did was turn the classic pulp western into an urban story. Hammett would bring a realism to the new genre and Chandler would paint word pictures of the “errant knight.”

But Daly was taking the shoot ‘em up action of the wild-west and transplanting it to the city streets. And this was in direct contrast to the locked room and country cozy stories coming out England as part of The Golden Age. It reflected a Prohibition Era America.”

Daly, who lived like a hermit in White Plains, was nonetheless familiar with New York City and the urban life, even if he eschewed it. He could imagine the Wild West and put it in the big city. Howard, who even set his boxing tales in exotic locales, may have had trouble capturing that gritty, urban feel that was a key part to much (but not all) of the hard boiled school.

Harrisonf2f99215It is the two stories featuring the villain Erlik Khan, “Lord of the Dead” and “Names in the Black Book,” that exemplify where Howard might have carved out a hard boiled-ish niche. Khan is a Mongol, descendent of that Genghis fellow, who plans on uniting all of the Oriental secret societies to basically take over the world. Both tales take place in River City and are urban adventures.

In “Lord of the Dead,” Harrison wields a battle axe in the climactic battle. In “Black Book,” it’s a spiked mace. Howard can’t resist leaning towards those elements that he did so well. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine the “Black Book” rewritten as a Conan tale. And Harrison definitely has shadings of El Borak.

Sax Rohmer revived the nefarious Fu Manchu in the thirties (though we were still a few decades away from Christopher Lee’s portrayal).  They are far ranging adventure yarns, involving a sinister villain bent on world domination. Had Howard wished to continue on with Harrison, Rohmer-like adventures offered him the best chance to succeed.

Harrison himself is a hard boiled character. Howard found himself trying to shoehorn Harrison into the conventional mystery format. And he wasn’t up to it. He ended up with sort of mystery/hardboiled/detective adventure/weird tale stories.

The Harrison stories aren’t quite bad. But an honest assessment has to place them below much of Howard’s other series works. And they aren’t characteristic of the hard boiled genre, so they don’t compare well with quality authors in that field. They don’t fit in for the author or the genre. They are like debutantes at the wrong ball.

But Howard wasn’t interested in trying to work himself into a spot in the mystery field:

I’ve about decided to quit trying to write detective yarns. I sold a few of them – the first one I ever wrote, in fact – but I can’t seem to get the hang of the art. Maybe it’s because I don’t like to write them. I’d rather write adventure stuff.

And he simply packed it in: “I’ve given up trying to write detective yarns – a job I despise anyway – and am concentrating on adventure stuff.”

Perhaps if he had continued writing ‘adventure detective yarns’ – private eye stories with an El Borak feel – Steve Harrison might have found a place and Howard would have had another bankable series character. And books like Private Eyes: 101 Knights – A Survey of American Detective Fiction, 1922-1984 might have had an entry on Harrison.

Dick Tracy illustration by Chester Gould

Bob Byrne is a recognized aficionado on both Sherlock Holmes and Solar Pons, featured on his website. Bob posts at least weekly on the Black Gate blog. Additionally, he is the mover and shaker behind the Discovering Robert E. Howard series of posts by various authors posted on the BG blog.

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

satan-n-est-pas-celui-qu-on-pense

But hear me Satan, no man ever made me admit defeat — I’ve reeled beneath a bloody moon, on buckling legs, with blood pouring from my battered mouth and mingling with the sweat on my chest and a scarlet haze shimmering before my eyes — and I’ve been smashed from gong to gong, but I never admitted defeat even when I could scarcely stand. Anybody and any condition can batter me to pieces, but I’ll never admit I’m defeated.

– Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, Aug 1928 (CL1.220-221)

Robert E. Howard’s “Satanic” output—those stories and poems which have Satan, the devil, or devil-worship as a major element or theme—are comparatively few. However, if taken as a whole with his letters and other materials, readers can get a sense of the development of Howard’s ideas of Satan and devil-worship in his creative output over the last decade or so of his life.

References to the devil, under varied names and forms, punctuate the letters of Robert E. Howard since at least 1926, when in a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith he wrote “By Baal I am joyed that you wrote.” (CL1.75) Very likely, there were earlier usages in letters now lost to us; Smith’s own contributions to The Tattler from 1923 on contain exclamations like “Diavolo” (SFTP 15) and “Diable” (SFTP 17) and Herbert C. Klatt liked to use “Shades of Hades!” (LSOS 101, 110), so it seems probable on the face of it that such mild infernal oaths formed a not-too-uncommon part of the discourse in Howard’s circle.

In Howard’s letters and poetry, his approach to Satan and Christian religion in general is often ambivalent (“My ancestors were all Catholic and not very far back. And I have reason to hate the church.” CL1.237), and while he never quite transitioned to the purely secular materialism of H. P. Lovecraft, his views were in part informed by the anthropological views of the day, which cast a different light on the development of the Devil in Christian theology and folklore:

I feel a curious kinship, though, with the Middle Ages. I have been more successful in selling tales laid in that period of time, than in any other. Truth; it was an epoch for strange writers. Witches and werewolves, alchemists and necromancers, haunted the brains of those strange savage people, barbaric children that they were, and the only thing which was never believed was the truth. Those sons of the old pagan tribes were wrought upon by priest and monk, and they brought all their demons from their mythology and accepted all the demons of the new creed also, turning their old gods into devils. The slight knowledge which filtered through the monasteries from the ancient sources of decayed Greece and fallen Rome, was so distorted and perverted that by the time it reached the people, it resembled some monstrous legend. And these vague minded savages further garbed it in heathen garments. Oh, a brave time, by Satan! (CL1.238)

The ambivalence regarding the Biblical figure of Satan is evident in Howard’s early poetry, where we first find Satan (or the devil, Lucifer, etc.) named in several of his verses, particularly “Lilith” (1927, CL1.145), “The Chant Demoniac” (1928, CL1.161), “To an Earthbound Soul” (CL4.16-17), and the untitled verse “The iron harp that Adam christened Life” (1929, CL1.357) and “The men that walk with Satan” (CL4.9-10); Barbara Barrett in The Wordbook: An Index Guide to the Poetry of Robert E. Howard lists a couple dozen other poems that use some variation of the name (WB 146-147), though these usages are often incidental. The use of Satan in these poems is typically in the popular Christian context, as lord of Hell and understood to be a veritable personification of evil, although in “The Chant Demoniac” he is portrayed more as John Milton did in Paradise Lost:

I am Satan; I am weary,
For my road is long and hard
And it lies through regions dreary
Since the Golden Gates were barred.
(CL1.161)

Just as Milton famously included old gods such as Mammon and Moloch as demons in his epic, so too did Howard in his verse, though Howard skews closer to the image of fallen idols cast as devils than fallen angels masquerading as idols. Baal (or Baal-peor), for example, appears in Howard’s poems “Astarte’s Idol Stands Alone,” “Baal,” “Baal-Pteor,” “The Mysteries” (1929, CL1.145-146), “The Riders of Babylon”, “Serpent” (1926, CL1.99-100), “The Worshippers,” “The Gods Remember” (1927, CL1.145-146), and “Swings and Swings.” The idea of Satan as synonymous with these old gods appears most prominent in “Black Dawn” (1929), where Satan is listed among non-Christian figures of worship (“Mohammed, Buddha, Moses, Satan, Thor! I lifted fanes to each of you betimes,” CL1.323)

-conan_boris_vallejo02Satan and related matters in Howard’s fiction is a bit more complicated matter. The bulk of stories that feature “devil-worship” or demons do not involve the Christian concept of Satan as such; rather Howard followed the tendency of many other pulp writers in casting foreign, pagan, or exotic worship as “devil-worship,” such as the synopsis “The House of Om” which features a Mongolian “devil-worshipping” cult perhaps loosely based on Robert W. Chambers’ The Slayer of Souls; or various supernatural entities or objects of worship as “devils”—a good example might be the Conan story “The Devil in Iron” (1934), whose Khosatral Khel was an alien being who set itself up as a living god, with dark rites of worship. Other uses of Satan are only incidental, such as in the Solomon Kane story “Skulls in the Stars” (1929), (as “Ahriman”) “Sons of the Hawk” (1936), and (as “Shaitan”) “Black Wind Blowing” (1936) and “The Brand of Satan.” Once those usages are weeded out, the remainder comprises a handful stories, the bulk of which never saw print until after Howard’s death.

Of these, “Casonetto’s Last Song” (1973) is the only Howard story to focus on the Black Mass, a practice of a Satanic cult which meets either in a cavern or “sombre chapel” and involves human sacrifice and a sung invocation. (HSREH 73) The details are perhaps intentionally vague in this short piece, and the typical details supplied by Joris-Karl Huysmans in Là-Bas (1891) or Montague Summers in The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (1926) on the desecration of the host or the specificity of infant sacrifice are omitted. The Texan was at least aware of Huysmans and his reputation, as he was named in “The Children of the Night” (1931).

“Dig Me No Grave” (1937) is essentially a Faustian tale of a sorcerer “had ignored the white side of the occult and delved into the darker, grimmer phases of it – into devil-worship, and voodoo and Shintoism.” (HSREH 132-133) Part of the interest of the tale lies in how Howard crams so many different references and mythologies into it, as if trying to capture in one story all the names of the Devil—“There is but one Black Master though men calle hym Sathanas & Beelzebub & Apolleon & Ahriman & Malik Tous.” (HSREH 140) “Sathanas” being a medieval Latin construction of “Satan,” “Beelzebub” (Ba’al Zebub) and “Apolleon” (Apollyon, Abbadon) corruptions or translations of Biblical names typically taken for demons or fallen angels, “Ahriman” the dark spirit of Zoroastrianism, and “Malik Tous” (Melek Taus) the principle figure in the Yazidi religion.

The Yazidis and the myths surrounding their “devil-worship” form the basis of the bulk of Robert E. Howard’s remaining “Satanic” material.

 

Works Cited

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

DB               The Dark Barbarian (Greenwood Press, 1984)

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

SFTP            So Far The Poet & Other Writings (REH Foundation, 2010)

WB            The Wordbook: AN Index Guide to the Poetry of Robert E. Howard (REH Foundation, 2009)

“The Devil in Iron” illustration by Boris

Read Part 1, Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And again in 1996:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Works Cited

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

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

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

DB     The Dark Barbarian (Greenwood Press, 1984)

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

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

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

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

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

Read Part 2, Part 3