Archive for the 'Howard’s Poetry' Category

And so his boyhood wandered into youth,
And still the hazes thickened round his head,
And red, lascivious nightmares shared his bed
And fantasies with greedy claw and tooth
Burrowed into the secret parts of him –
Gigantic, bestial and misshapen paws
Gloatingly fumbled each white youthful limb,
And shadows lurked with scarlet gaping jaws.

Robert E. Howard, Fragment

Justin Geoffrey left the witch-haunted town of Arkham early in 1916, with heartfelt thanks to his friend and fellow poet Edward Derby. He returned to Greenwich Village resolved to gain some worldly advantages before he was done – if not a complete formal education, then at least sufficient money. He hungered to visit Europe. He had made casual acquaintances of French, Italian, German and Hungarian origin in the Village, and despite his generally antisocial nature, they liked the intent way he listened to their stories of their home countries.

In a former stable that was now an artist’s studio in MacDougal Alley, at a party to celebrate recent successful sales of several paintings, Justin Geoffrey met a fake medium by the name of Ethan O’Neill. O’Neill too was enjoying success, but he thought it might be greater. Genteel in appearance and manner, he was also blandly ordinary, and he thought an intense young poet with a disconcerting presence would make a useful partner. Justin didn’t care for O’Neill’s line of grifting – in fact, he despised it – but he saw his chance and deep-sixed his remaining scruples. Sourly quoting a line of Horace he had picked up from Derby in Arkham (“Si possis recte, si non, quocumque modo rem”)* Justin began helping O’Neill fleece his various well-breeched dupes. (*If possible make money honestly; if not, make it somehow.)

O’Neill had been right about the value of Justin Geoffrey’s presence. Business picked up remarkably. The United States had not yet entered the war in 1916, but there were many bereaved families in England that O’Neill reasoned would be in the market for messages from beyond. To England they went.

Again, he was right, and they did well, especially when the hellish carnage of the Somme began. There were over 57,000 British casualties on the first day (July 1st). O’Neill concentrated on noble and wealthy families, from which many British officers came, and he was a Protestant who decried the Easter Rising, so his Irish descent did not count against him. (To ingratiate himself with clients he would have said it even if he had been a red-hot rebel at heart.)

Justin detested the fraud even while money rolled in — the fraud and his partner. Neither offended him ethically very much, but the banal platitudes he uttered daily turned his stomach. He seethed at the thought that his darkly brilliant poetry made him almost nothing, while this rubbish gained the pair thousands of pounds.

O’Neill and Geoffrey were lucky enough to make the acquaintance of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle while in England, and to gain his active support. Conan Doyle had become an ardent believer in spiritualism by this time, and he was impressed by the pair. He attended some of their séances and endorsed them as genuine. Their clients after that included some of the noblest – and richest – families in the land.

Justin was still subject to fearful nightmares. He did in fact possess psychic sensitivity, but not of a kind to comfort bereaved parents or wives, or – in the end – to have much commercial value. His talent and magnetic presence disturbed more than soothed when he sprang to his feet while feigning to commune with a soldier dead in an artillery barrage and screamed, “The face … the face … the face!”  O’Neill carried such moments off by explaining that malign spirits were interfering with the séance, but he worried that this might not succeed forever, and even more that Justin would go insane, as the youth feared would happen.

Besides, Justin told him ever more frequently that he wanted to quit his imposture and travel on the continent once the war ended, regardless of who won. Their partnership was going to cease whether or not O’Neill desired it. The older man decided to end it unexpectedly and on his terms; to run out on Justin, taking their considerable profits with him.

O’Neill knew Justin was young, thought him naïve and foolish, possibly mad, but he made a fatal mistake in deeming him stupid. Justin knew things about O’Neill, too – that he lacked any trace of scruple and thought it clever, even admirable, to deceive. When O’Neill tried to decamp with their money in the spring of 1918, his actions did not take Justin by surprise. O’Neill fled from London to Southampton, planning to sail for the United States on a liner.

He never boarded the ship. He disappeared.

It is likely that Justin Geoffrey caught O’Neill as he fled with the cash in a carpetbag, and that a fatal confrontation ensued. Justin’s brother John, still wearing the scar of a far less serious clash when they were boys, would have believed it. Although Justin was neither physically robust nor – much of the time – adequately fed, in a rage he might have overcome a soft, middle-aged man like O’Neill, and even struck him dead without meaning to. No corpse was ever found, but the harbor of Southampton was spacious, boat anchors and baling wire cheap enough.

I believe that Justin Geoffrey went to Ireland for the remainder of 1918, and after that appeared in Europe with enough money to travel where he liked. Justin had produced poetry only in a desultory fashion while associated with O’Neill. In Ireland he began writing again, prodigious amounts, working twenty hours at a stretch sometimes and filling reams in a fortnight. To that period belong his bleak and morbid poems on the theme of murder – of which, perhaps, he was guilty. Since REH created Justin Geoffrey, and wrote a great deal of poetry himself, it is possible to consider some of it as being work Geoffrey might have written. “One Who Comes at Eventide”, for example, deals with the remorse and horror of a man who has committed a terrible slaying.

“My blood ran fire when the deed was done;

Now it runs colder than the moon that shone

On shattered fields where dead men lay in heaps

Who could not hear a ravished daughter’s moan.

“So now I fire my veins with stinging wine,

And hoard my youth as misers hug their gold,

Because I know what shape will come and sit

Beside my crumbling hearth – when I am old.”

There was also “Flight”, purporting to deal with Cain and his emotions as “… now he fled from the silent dead and the wrathful face of God.”  It ends with the couplet,

“The stars were dim and the moon was red and leaves stirred on the bough.

Cain stood alone by the nameless sea and the mark was on his brow.”

Other poems from his hypothetical “Irish period” which Geoffrey might have written were “Recompense”, “The Singer in the Mist”, “Shadows of Dreams”, “The Madness of Cormac”, “Babel” and “Laughter in the Gulfs”.

O’Neill’s disappearance might have been investigated more closely, and Geoffrey arrested, if it had not occurred in the war’s final year. Germany unleashed the desperate “Spring Offensive” in an effort to win before the American forces could be fully deployed. Then the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 began. It killed more people world-wide than the Black Death of the 14th century had done. In Britain it appeared first in Glasgow, in May, and reached London by June. Almost 230,000 people died in that country alone. O’Neill, for all anybody knew, might have been one of them.

Justin Geoffrey contracted it himself, but survived with a mild case. As a young adult – he was then twenty – he belonged to the group most at risk in that pandemic. Children and the aged actually perished less often, statistically, for the precise reason that their immune systems were weaker. This special and uncommon strain of influenza ravaged the human body more fiercely as its immune system fought back. Justin had always been some-what sickly and had poor resistance to illness. In this instance it may actually have saved his life.

He wrote voluminously to Edward Derby while in Ireland, also. Residing in Dublin most of the time, he visited the sites of Tara, Emain Macha and Cashel, as well as spending some time in Cork, Limerick and – for a couple of months – Galway. The Irish War of Independence opened while Geoffrey was there, but as with the Great War, he took little interest in it. He departed in 1919, avoiding Britain, perhaps because he feared being questioned as to O’Neill’s fate. He travelled from Galway to Bilbao on a Spanish freighter.

In Bilbao, a thriving center of shipping and commerce, Geoffrey promptly deposited his money with the Banco de Vizcaya. Then, as far as his haunted mind would let him, he took his ease for a few weeks and planned his future. Another man might have taken the opportunity to cross the mountains and visit Burgos and Valladolid. Justin Geoffrey felt a keener interest in the macabre hints von Junzt had given in Nameless Cults. A hundred years before, von Junzt and his friend Ladeau had come to this very region, and the German had inveigled his way into certain cults of the Basques, a very ancient people he was convinced were related to the Etruscans and the prehistoric Picts described in the Nemedian Chronicles. He had been almost forthright concerning nests of the hideous Deep Ones beneath the stormy surface of the Bay of Biscay. In Bilbao, and then after he crossed the Pyrenees to Bayonne and Bordeaux, Geoffrey wrote several poems about the horrors of the unplumbed sea.

Passing through France, he paused longest in the region which in the Middle Ages was known as Averoigne. Geoffrey knew a good deal about its legends, the strange beings said to haunt it even in his day, and the medieval sorcerers such as Azedarac and Luc le Chaudronnier who had flourished there. From Nameless Cults he was fully aware that von Junzt and Ladeau had also been in the Averoigne district before him, and experienced one or two disturbing adventures in Vyones. In Germany he visited Schloss Kurenthal outside Dusseldorf, the ancestral castle of the von Junzt barons, and the ruins of the tenth-century monastery where the Nemedian Chronicles had been penned by an Irish monk.

His nightmares had plagued him endlessly during his time in Ireland, nor did they give him peace as he travelled in Europe. His poems dealt more and more with the theme of encroaching madness, the lack of hope or meaning in human existence, the conviction that the universe was ruled by malevolence and chaos. A number of his letters to Derby expressed his conviction that he would die in a madhouse.

Then, in 1921, while passing through Hungary, he stopped at the village of Stregoicavar, which in ancient times – a thousand years or more before Christ – had been known as Xuthltan, a word from a lost, unknown language. The strange monument known locally as the “Black Stone” had been described in von Junzt’s Nameless Cults, and naturally Justin Geoffrey paid it a visit, looking at it for a long time and running his hands over the curious mineral of which it was made. The local innkeeper remembered him as “… a young fellow and queer-acting – mumbled to himself – a poet, I think.”  When he was in-formed, ten years later, that Justin had died screaming in a madhouse, he was not amazed. His only comment was, “Poor lad – he looked too long at the Black Stone.”

(The location of Stregoicavar would be worth another post.)

The narrator of the story, by its end, reaches the conclusion, “Well for Justin Geoffrey that he tarried there only in the sunlight and went his way, for had he gazed upon that ghastly conclave [of ghosts], his mad brain would have snapped before it did.”  He also declares, “… but the seeds of madness had been sown in the poet’s brain long before he ever came to Stregoicavar.”

So they had. However, visiting the Black Stone did nothing to prolong Justin’s fragile sanity, and he must have received disturbing psychic impressions from it. In Hungary he wrote his longest, possibly his most fantastic and terrible poem, “People of the Monolith”. His perennial nightmares began to include, after that, visions of great toadlike horrors with squashy, malleable bodies. They possessed broad boneless wings they could retract within their bodies when not flying, and having that ability despite their bulk – rhinocerotic or greater – seemed to prove they could wholly or partly ignore gravity. They also possessed tentacles. In some cases they had taloned feet, in others misshapen hoofs. Their characteristic sound was a hideous tittering that seemed to express extremes of lust and demonic cruelty. At this time or shortly afterwards, Justin wrote the lines,

They say foul beings of Old Times still lurk

In dark forgotten corners of the world,

And Gates still gape to loose, on certain nights,

Shapes pent in Hell.

It was then too, or in Turkey, that Justin wrote Out of the Old Land, with the passage,

They lumber through the night

With their elephantine tread;

I shudder in affright

As I cower in my bed.

They lift colossal wings

On the high gable roofs

Which tremble to the trample

Of their mastodonic hoofs.

That outpouring of work continued after his return to the U.S.A. in 1923 – but only briefly. The nightmares which had long haunted his sleep entered his waking hours, afflicting him with hallucinations, making him see weird alien landscapes and bizarre monsters where other people saw parks and woodland. On several occasions he fled screaming in the street from demons no-one else could see, or believe in. Before the end of 1923 he was confined in an asylum.

He might have survived an indefinite time there, or even been released, though that seems unlikely – but he was to suffer the last shattering experience that made an end of Justin Geoffrey. H.P. Lovecraft’s story “The Call of Cthulhu” records “outré mental illness and outbreaks of group folly or mania in the spring of 1925.”  People around the world, especially those of poetic or artistic temperament, “dream of great Cyclopean cities of Titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with latent horror.”  Arthur Wilcox, an eccentric young sculptor, was among them. On March 23rd, he lapsed into a semi-conscious feverish state and hallucinated – or received psychic visions of – a monstrous being miles high, with talons and a tentacled face. Many artists and poets had similar experiences between March 23rd and April 2nd. One “widely known architect with leanings toward theosophy and occultism, went violently insane on the date of young Wilcox’s seizure, and expired several months later after incessant screamings to be saved from some escaped denizen of hell.”

If that was the architect’s fate, Justin Geoffrey’s seems to have been inevitable. R’lyeh, the citadel of great Cthulhu – or part of it — briefly rose again from the abyss at the bottom of the Pacific in 1925, and Cthulhu was as briefly freed. As the narrator of “The Call of Cthulhu” says, “He must have been trapped by the sinking whilst within his black abyss, or else the world would by now be screaming with fright and frenzy.”  That was precisely what happened to a number of artistic or psychically sensitive people around the world – and it was impossible that Justin Geoffrey of all men would have been oblivious to the resurgent horror.

Nor was he. “Screaming with fright and frenzy” was precisely how the unfortunate young man died, a year later, his nightmares even more intense and horrific. His shrieks and convulsions wore out his body, and no drug or medicine could alleviate the visions he suffered. As Conrad says, “Toward the last, they merged so terribly with his waking thoughts that they seemed grisly realities and his dying shrieks and blasphemies shocked even the hardened keepers of the madhouse.”

In pace requiescat – or so let’s hope.

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

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

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

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

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

For further information and background about Glenn Lord, see:

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

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

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And while we’re on the subject, why should anyone be down on the flapper? Who is? but a lot of venerable hypocrites who raise a yell when they see a girl doing honestly and openly what they did secretly and evilly? Bah! This blatting about the sanctity of the American home makes me tired. Listen to the words of a bird who knows: love marriages! Bunk. Out of one hundred marriages, five people, I mean men, marry for love. Ten marry to spite some other girl. Fifty marry for money, no, I’ll say thirty. The rest all marry to satisfy their lust. That means men. Most women marry for love, but not all. Some marry for the same reasons most men do. I dont suppose youll believe this. But that wont alter statistics.

Letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, June 8th, 1923

Flappers were with-it young women whose heyday was the Roaring Twenties, at which time Robert E. Howard was in his teens and early twenties. Their dress and conduct scandalized their elders. Flappers wore their hemlines short, about one inch below the knee, and their underwear scant; the teddy and step-ins appeared about that time. They wore makeup. They smoked. They drank, and Prohibition be damned. Not only did they share young men’s hip flasks, they often had hip flasks of their own. They bobbed their hair. They attended parties unchaperoned and drove about in cars with college men. (The typical college man’s car was a stripped-down Ford adorned with slogans like “Chicken, Here’s Your Roost,” “Four Wheels, No Brakes,” and “This Car’s Like the Mayflower – Many a Little Puritan has Come Across In It.”) They danced the Charleston and the Black Bottom, which could not be done in corsets. Their depraved behavior had few limits.

(In passing, ten or a dozen years before, when the tango appeared in England and North America, it had made the blue-noses shudder. A hundred years before, when the waltz came in, that one threatened utter moral collapse among the young. What?  Men and women holding one another while they danced?)

flappers-1The mass-produced automobile brought huge changes in young people’s courting and dating habits by itself. It meant mobility, including social mobility. It meant being able to get out of your own neighborhood and go somewhere anonymous, quickly and with ease. And World War One had slaughtered millions of young men. The ones that were left were at a premium with young women. Wait until you were married?  Why?  When you couldn’t be sure of getting married?  And young men who’d been to the war and come back had a big motivation to live while they could.

Young women during 1914-18 had entered the work force in huge numbers out of necessity, and they too had found an existence outside “church, kids and kitchen”. Amelia Earhart was an example of the new symbol for girls. Besides millions of young people, war had killed the old certainties and the old values. The hellish influenza pandemic of 1918 had killed millions more world-wide, and added to the “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” attitude that widely prevailed.

Makeup was considered shocking. The Mrs. Grundys still called it “painting.” Smoking … well, it was a time when only a certain kind of girl  smoked. Bobbed hair and flat chests (they were in, the Gibson Girl S-curve figure was passe) were disgraceful and unfeminine.

Flappers flicker and flap and flirt,
Hip flasks flame and flash and fly,
Gay tints glimmer beneath each skirt –
Stocking tops go not that high.
Silks and satins take the eye,
Flimsy fabrics that cling and stay
Molding the contours daintily –
But where are the drawers of yesterday?

Step-ins, bloomers and panties all,
Combinations hold brief sway –
Not less easily do they fall –
But where are the drawers of yesterday?

–Robert E. Howard

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Female fashion and wanton adornment was a big issue back in the 14th century. Despite the wars, torture, rape, the black plague, endemic treason among the nobles, and kings as a rule being moral degenerates, a constant topic for ranting sermons was the vanity of women. They were assured by celibate (sometimes) priests with straight faces and loud voices that every follicle they had ever plucked on their hairline or eyebrows would have red-hot needles thrust into it by demons for eternity, once the ladies arrived in hell, as they surely would.

Robert E. Howard was informed enough about the Middle Ages to be aware of the above. And all his fans know he was seldom on the side of conformity. Nor did he have patience with hypocrisy or phony pretense. His verse “A Great Man Speaks” gives us the ruminations of a statue of some big-time politician or whatnot as he gazes over the park. There is a drunkard passed out among the flowers, and the Great Man is wishing he was alive, not a statue, so that he could glug the drunk’s whiskey bottle. A pretty girl passes, and he wishes he was alive, not a statue, so that he could get his hands under her skirt. To hell with the puff jobs his admirers give out.

“They set me up on high, a marble saint,
As if to guard the virtue of the park,
My flanks are gaunt, my gaze is cold and stark,
For I must look the part the liars paint.
They’ve cleansed my history of fleshy taint.
The elders bid the younger people mark
How virtuous I gleam against the dark  –
Could I but speak I’d make the bastards faint.”

belles-on-their-toes-1950-hardcoverFathers, of course, took their daughters’ virtue seriously back then. Trifling with it could still get your arse shot off, and the never-darken-my-door bit happened often enough. They meant it, too. For the genuine flavor of those times, look through a copy of the autobiographical Belles on Their Toes, by brother-and-sister team Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. It’s breezy, warm and rambunctious. (The hilarious scene where the large group of siblings, it was a big family, catch a peeping tom and reduce him to gibbering pleas as he’s trapped up a tree, is beyond price.)  But the girls were young and full of beans in a free-and-easy time, and their father Frank Gilbreth Senior didn’t like it, especially when his daughters wanted to be with-it.

There were disputes, heated ones, about makeup and underwear, and Frank Senior was inclined to thump the table and bluster. He threatened to put his daughters in a convent if they didn’t toe the line, although they knew he wasn’t even close to meaning it. “The one with the ten-foot wall, or the one with the twelve-foot wall?” Ernestine asks pertly, when he accuses her of wearing makeup. (She wasn’t.)

Dad Gilbreth was appalled by modern underwear when Ernestine bought a couple of teddies home. She figured that as the oldest it was up to her to pioneer the revolution and weather the storm. “I don’t want to be a sneak,” she announced, “so I’m showing you these now. If you won’t let me wear them here I’ll change into them on the way to school. I’m not going to be the only girl there with long underwear that has a flap in the back!  It’s disgusting.”

“It’s not as disgusting as having no back to the underwear to sew a flap on!” her father roared. “I can’t believe every girl at your school wears these teddy-bear, or bare-teddy, things. If that’s all the underwear women have on nowadays, no wonder you read about all those crimes and love-nests, like that New Brunswick preacher and the choir-singer …”

That would be the Hall-Mills murder case of 1922. Edward Hall, an Episcopal priest, and Eleanor Mills, a member of his choir, were found shot dead in a New Jersey field.  The main suspects, Hall’s wife and her brothers, were tried in 1926 but acquitted. Nothing eclipsed the case until the Lindbergh kidnapping of 1932. Robert E. Howard was possibly thinking of that double murder when he penned another of his caustic verses on spurious superficial morals, “The Choir Girl”.

“I have a saintly voice, the people say;
With Elder Blank I send the music winging –
I smile, and compliment him on his singing –
By God, I’d rather hear a jackass bray.
I nod and smile to all the pious sisters –
I wish their rears were stung with seven blisters.
That youthful minister, so straight and slim –
I’d trade my soul for one long night with him.”

delphineatger-cars-1920s-01a-575x381Harking back to Belles on Their Toes, Ernestine assured her father she was not drawing the long bow. “Come to school and see.”  He blushed and backed down. In the end he grumbled, “The bare-teddies and six o’clock stockings are OK, I guess, but I’ll have no painted women in this house.”  His daughters told him that everybody used makeup these days, and didn’t call it painting any more. He barked, “I don’t care what they call it.”

For the times, Frank Gilbreth was actually quite liberal and advanced. At least, he was proud of his wife for being an industrial engineer and career woman, (in the 1920s, mind) and all his kids adored him. There were twelve, which means Lillian Moller Gilbreth must have been the sort of superwoman you don’t think exists outside wish-fulfilling novels. Both of them were quirky, affectionate people if the book is halfway right. But like the temple priests in ancient Sumeria, they thought there was no more res-pect for tradition and decency and the world was going to hell.

The Gilbreth girls could be reactionary, too. When their parents yielded on bobbed hair, and Lillian took all five to the salon, the hairdresser asked in all innocence, “What about you, Mrs. Gilbreth?”  Well. Her daughters clouded up and rained all over the parade. “No sir!  You don’t touch a hair of her head. The idea!”

Lillian was tickled to have the situation reversed, and pretended to consider the notion. “I don’t know, girls,” said she, smiling sweetly. “It might look very chic. What do you think?”

“I think it would be disgraceful,” declared Anne – the second oldest, as I remember. “After all, a mother’s a mother, not a silly flapper.”

“Just my daughters today, then,” said Lillian. “I guess five bobbed-hair bandits in the family should be enough.”

bathe5413bab61cec5199697161711f0Bathing suits became an issue for the Gilbreth girls too. A two-piece swimsuit then didn’t mean a bikini. The first piece was heavy wool that covered a girl from neck to knee. It wasn’t considered enough for decency. The second piece was a sort of massive, enveloping cape. Long black stockings too. The one-piece suit that appeared in the 1920s consisted of a long top combined with shorts. Legs and arms were exposed. Anne called her mother’s bathing suit a “sea anchor”.

There was more to worry about then, for those who observed it, than petting parties, jazz and blues, too much mobility, or even Al Capone. There was the Red scare, the National Origins Act of 1924, which restricted immigration on precisely the basis it said (and sadly was favored by Howard and Lovecraft) and the exponential rise of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan had broadened its horizons from lynching and shooting blacks to keep them from voting; its hate now included Catholics, Jews, and foreign immigrants in general. Membership was probably five million across the nation, at a conservative estimate, and included plenty of respectable middle class men, doctors, lawyers and ministers. The Klan didn’t like bootlegging, motion pictures, city folks or any kind of religion but Protestant fundamentalism. It was, naturally, all for strict moral conduct and family values.

The flapper was a lewd menace.

mindful-money-party-flapperThe quintessential novel of the flapper era was The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby, the mysterious millionaire and former World War One soldier obsessed with Daisy Buchanan, lives in a mansion and throws extravagant parties. It turns out that his fortune, far from being respectable “old money,” was made bootlegging, and even his name is phony. His passion for Daisy turns out to be delusional too. The woman he has been desperately trying to impress for years is flighty and selfish enough to let him take the blame for a motor car fatality when in fact she was the one driving. Another character, a married man who is himself unfaithful, still explodes in righteous rage when he finds his wife is cheating too. A couple of murders result.

The moral vigilantes of the time should have lived until now. Not that anything is being done now that wasn’t done then. As another Robert, Bob Heinlein, wrote, “Most of our current moral decline can be summed up in one sentence. What used to be covered up is now being talked about.”  I may as well let REH have the last word here:

Ye ancient, honest, olde farmer ye-speaks. “The young people of terday air simply awful. Haint got no decentcy ner nuthin’ … these here one-piece bathin’ suits, and dancin’, and all. Some gals axually read novels! And goin’ bathin’. When I was young folks didnt bathe atall. An’ gamblin’. Taint no harm to bet on hoss-races and play euchre cause I’ve did both myself. But I considers it right-down sinful to play poker and bet on automobeel-races. And drinkin’ … the young men and young women nowadays is right-down scandalous … Well, times aint like they used to be and all the young men and young women is goin’ to hell especially the young women.”

Letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, July 30th, 1923

This entry filed under Howard's Poetry, Tevis Clyde Smith.

arkham-alwayscomesevening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the-robert-e-howard-foundation

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

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

For what is a maid to the shout of kings?

To the gilt parade and the host that sings?

Honor and gold and glorious raids

To he that is bold – and other maids.

Dawn gems gleam and white stars dim

By the quiet stream she watches him

Ride with the flash of shields and brands

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

Beyond the skyline where great kings ride,

Glory, jewels, honor and pride.

For the sap in the North must rise again

With the wild geese winging thither;

Gay hours die and a hawk must fly

And the rose of Spring must wither.

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

frond_medium

noun

  1. a large leaf (especially of a palm or fern) usually with many divisions

[origin: 1785; Latin frond-, frons foliage]

HOWARD’S USAGE:

Stay not from me, that veil of dreams that gives
Strange seas and skies and lands and curious fire,
Dragons and crimson moons and white desire,
That through the silvery fabric sifts and sieves
Shadows and shades and all unmeasured things,
And in the sifting lends them shapes and wings
And makes them known in ways past common knowing—
Red lands, black seas, and ivory rivers flowing.
How of the gold we gather in our hands?
It cheers but shall escape us at the last,
And shall mean less, when the brief day is past,
Than that we gathered on the yellow sand—
The phantom gold we found in wizard-land.
Keep not from me, my veil of curious dreams,
Through which I see the giant things which drink
From sensuous castled rivers—on the brink
Black elephants that woo the fronded streams.

[from “Shadow of Dreams”; to read the complete poem see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 338 and Shadows of Dreams, p. 46]

This entry filed under Howard's Poetry, Word of the Week.

SKULL_FACE

Howard anniversaries, by their very nature, tend to come along thick and fast. Alongside everything else which is worth commemorating this year it shouldn’t be forgotten that 2016 marks the seventieth anniversary of the publication of Skull-Face and Others, arguably the most important collection of Howard’s work ever compiled.

Strange to consider that it is a book which is now as old as the United Nations, similarly superseded in so many ways but whose importance can likewise never be eclipsed.

The discovery of Skull-Face and Others was, at one time, a pivotal development in a Howard fan’s education. And for Howard collectors the acquiring of a copy of the original Arkham House edition remains a rite of passage. Every copy seems to come with a story of some sort attached to it, be it one of astronomical expense or unbelievable thrift. For what it’s worth my own copy came courtesy of a stallholder at a London pulp fair who told me that he had got it from his father who had once been a New York City taxi driver. His father claimed to have salvaged it from a fly-tip of dumped books on some Big Apple waste ground. I have no idea if the tale is true or not – more likely another New York tall story – but it remains indicative of the sort of mystique and urban mythmaking that continues to attach itself to the book.

derlethWhen August Derleth compiled the book – almost under protest it is often said – he can scarcely have dreamed, even in his wildest nightmares, of the vast array of imitations it would ultimately engender. Even when he died in 1971 the quantity of books by Howard that were then available was relatively modest. He passed away without any serious cause to doubt his conviction that, despite acknowledged potential, Howard was essentially a facile entertainer – albeit an adept one – doomed to be eventually forgotten along with the other 99% of the hacks who had once labored at the rock face of the pulps. In his estimation the very process of putting together what he came to term a “memorial volume” was tantamount to erecting a headstone to Howard’s career, one every bit as unequivocal as its equivalent in Greenleaf Cemetery. As has become palpably self-evident over time we now know that the ending of Howard’s life was but the beginning of his reputation. He has been re-evaluated, reappraised, rediscovered and reassessed so many times over the intervening years that it can sometimes seem as if he never died at all. And yet despite the vast publishing edifice we now all have access to the fact remains that Derleth’s jaundiced and grudging compilation remains the foundation stone for it all. This is both its greatest cachet and its single biggest flaw.

Arkham-TheDarkManandOthersIt has long been an amusing pastime amongst Howard fans to compile lists of his best and/or most important stories. One list seldom chimes with another in all but a minority of indisputably seminal tales. For that reason there seems little point or profit in challenging Derleth’s own idiosyncratic selection for Skull-Face and Others. Although I daresay I can’t be the only one over the years to have scratched his head and wonder how stories such as “Pigeons from Hell” and “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth” could be deemed good enough for inclusion in The Dark Man and Others and yet not match the same merit for inclusion in the memorial volume as “Rattle of Bones” and “The Phoenix on the Sword.” Or to dispute why it was considered necessary to include two Solomon Kane stories that are, ostensibly, as similar in nature as “The Hills of the Dead” and “Wings in the Night” when either would have sufficed leaving room for something else. But these are exercises in futility. The book is what it is rather than what it might have been and so must be assessed as such.

As things stand the contents remain perfectly adequate and understandable. The poems and the character sketches by Lovecraft and Price are nice touches which compliment the fiction well. Although, personally, I find it very hard to read the Price appreciation nowadays without thinking of the crabby old misanthrope he was to become; one forever grouching over subsequent generations’ obsession with dead pulp writers whilst perpetually living off of his own recollections of them.

The real problem with the book lies in Derleth’s arbitrary decision to restrict himself solely to Howard’s weird fiction for choice of inclusion. By doing so whatever benefit the book gains in reflecting the span of Howard’s career it loses in the denial of his versatility. One may argue that Arkham House was a weird fiction specialist and as such Derleth was simply catering to his customer base. But Derleth was perfectly well aware that, unlike his beatified Lovecraft, there was a lot more to Howard than a good weird yarn. His own introduction makes the point of acknowledging Howard’s interest and late divergence into western lore. He even postulates the possibility of work of importance eventually arising out of it: (as a regionalist himself Derleth would naturally equate such material as important but it seems odd to dismiss entertainments as unimportant by implication when he has just devoted half his introduction to defending the legitimacy of pulp writing). And yet despite this concession there is almost nothing in the book to reinforce the opinion except for a solitary comedy western included almost as a sop to the idea that there might just be more to Howard than gore and ghosts. By neglecting wholesale Howard’s brilliant excursions into historical fiction, marginalizing his gift for humor and disregarding vast swathes of his output it was Derleth, more than anyone else, who effectively pigeonholed Howard as a mere fantasist for decades afterwards. As a consequence this inflicted incalculable damage upon his reputation simply as a writer first and foremost.

manchess_conanIt might even be argued that the later regrettable pre-eminence of Conan was a direct result of Derleth affording the character undue prominence in the book. Certainly the character had been popular at one time, but that was ten years and more in the past, and surely the purpose of the book was to preserve the best of Howard’s work rather than simply his most successful. If that had been the case then why wasn’t a Costigan or Elkins story included? Derleth himself clearly didn’t rate the Conan stories very much and so one must query why he allocated space to no less than five Conan adventures, particularly when only one of his choices warranted inclusion on literary merit alone.

There is nothing inherently wrong or disreputable about being remembered solely as a fantasy writer. Most authors would give their right arms to be remembered for anything at all, period. But Howard had more than just the one string to his bow and Derleth’s short sightedness denied him the right to be judged on his versatility.

And yet whatever its faults and failings the fact is that Skull-Face and Others remains to this day the quintessential Howard collection. I have it in its Arkham, Spearman and Panther editions, and if my house was burning down it is the Howard volume I would elect to rescue over all others. Although I can’t claim I wouldn’t be fussy about which version I chose to save. That really would be a fantasy story.

umber

noun

1. a brown earth that is darker in color than ocher and sienna because of its content of manganese and iron oxides and is highly valued as a permanent pigment either in the raw or burnt state

[origin: ca. 1568; probably from obsolete English, shade, color, from Middle English ombre, umbre shade, shadow, from Anglo-French, from Latin umbra]

HOWARD’S USAGE:

Red swirls the dust
O’er the Plains of Gilban,
Stirred by the breezes that eddy the air.
Carpeted, mingled, crimsoned with sword rust;
Ages’ old relics of fierce battles there.
West turns to umber,
Ghastly the white east;
O’er the red desert sands
Sinks the sun dim.
Like an old high priest
Over the vague lands,
Whisper the winds from the horizon’s rim.

[from “The Plains of Gilban”; this is the complete poem as it appears in The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 280 and A Rhyme of Salem Town, p. 140]

This entry filed under Howard's Poetry, Word of the Week.

stolol299414

noun

1. any of several plants (genus Dasylirion) of the agave family of the southwestern United States and Mexico that resemble a yucca; an alcoholic beverage made from this plant. It grows in northern Mexico, New Mexico, west Texas and the Texas Hill Country.

Commonly known as Desert Spoon, sotol, which grows in northern Mexico, New Mexico, west Texas and the Texas Hill Country, produces a distilled spirit similar to the mescals of central Mexico. The Chihuahua Indians fermented sotol juice into a beer-like alcoholic beverage as early as 800 years ago. Spanish colonists introduced European distillation techniques in the 16th century.

The Desert Spoon takes approximately 15 years to mature and yields only one bottle of sotol per plant. It typically grows on rocky slopes in the Chihuahuan desert grassland between 3,000 and 6,500 feet above sea level. Sotols produce a flower stalk every few years. The outer leaves are removed to reveal the center core, which is taken back to the distillery. The core can then be cooked and/or steamed, shredded, fermented, and distilled.

While distilled sotol is attaining international recognition, at the Fate Bell Shelter, which is on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, sotol is depicted in paintings on the rock walls. Sandals, baskets, ropes, mats, and many other items of sotol fiber show that it was a highly important resource to ancient Pueblo people. These artifacts date to around 7000 BCE.

[origin: 1881; American Spanish, from Nahuatl zotolin palm tree]

HOWARD’S USAGE:

From Sonora to Del Rio is a hundred barren miles
Where the sotol weave and shimmer in the sun—
Like a horde of rearing serpents swaying down the bare defiles
When the scarlet, silver webs of dawn are spun.

There are little ’dobe ranchos brooding far along the sky,
On the sullen dreary bosoms of the hills;
Not a wolf to break the quiet, not a desert bird to fly
Where the silence is so utter that it thrills.

[from “The Grim Land”; to read the complete poem see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 302 and Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 342]

This entry filed under Howard's Poetry, Word of the Week.

Latin_Poet_Ovid

noun

1. a wreath to be worn on the head

[origin: 14th century; Middle English chapelet, from Anglo-French, diminutive of chapel hat, garland, from Medieval Latin cappellus head covering, from Late Latin cappa]

HOWARD’S USAGE:

Nial of Ulster, welcome home!
What saw you on the road to Rome?—
Legions thronging the fertile plains?
Shouting hordes of the country folk
With the harvest heaped in their groaning wains?
Shepherds piping under the oak?
Laurel chaplet and purple cloak?
Smokes of the feasting coiled on high?
Meadows and fields of the rich, ripe green
Lazing under a cobalt sky?
Brown little villages sleeping between?
What saw you on the road to Rome?
“Crimson tracks in the blackened loam,
“Skeleton trees and a blasted plain,
“A heap of skulls and a child insane,
“Ruin and wreck and the reek of pain
“On the wrack of the road to Rome.”

[from “Shadows on the Road”; to read the complete poem see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 520; Always Comes Evening, p. 30; Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 204]

This entry filed under Howard's Poetry, Word of the Week.