Archive for the 'L. Sprague de Camp' Category

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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.

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Before getting too far into this, have a look at the section of a 1905 Rand-McNally map above. On the left is Palo Pinto County; near the center of the northern edge is a place called Christian, where a young doctor I. M. Howard practiced in the early 1900s. He also practiced in several nearby communities: Graford, just below Christian about five miles to the south; Oran, about five miles to the east; Whitt, just over the Parker County line to the east of Oran (the little circle next to the vertical “Creek”); and Peaster, Robert E. Howard’s birthplace, about ten miles southeast of Whitt and 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth (off the map to the right). The distance from Christian to Peaster is 25 miles, as the crow flies. On today’s roads, interested travelers can tour all of these tiny towns in one or two hours.

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[For a peek at Dr. Howard’s movements before the 1900s, look here.]

After a brief stint in the Indian Territory, where he had most likely gone to help out his favorite sister, Willie, Dr. Isaac Mordecai Howard (IMH) returned to Texas, where his Physician’s Certificate was filed for record in Palo Pinto County on January 8, 1902. Polk’s Medical Register and Directory for 1902 has him in both Petersburg, Indian Territory (which I assume is a holdover from a previous notification), and Graford, in Palo Pinto County, population 19. He is the only doctor listed there. The 1904 edition has him still in Graford, but the population has grown to 24, one of that number being another doctor, J. M. Patterson.

But the Polk’s directory doesn’t tell the whole story, and maybe not even the correct story. I’m guessing that the 1902 mention at Graford is probably correct, but by the middle of 1903, IMH was listing his address on birth and death records as Christian, not Graford, which would make the 1904 listing another holdover. Polk’s does list one F. R. Bowles practicing in Christian in 1902 (population 50) and 1904 (population 90), but no IMH. The Standard Medical Directory of North America for 1903-04 lists both IMH and Bowles at Christian. It also adds that IMH was “licensed by examination without college diploma” and began his career in 1899.

And, since the good doctor was listing his address as Christian up to November 21, 1904, it’s safe to assume that that is where he and Hester Jane Ervin made their first home together after their January 12, 1904 marriage. (Today, the only remnant of that town is a road sign, “Old Christian Rd,” about five miles north of Graford.)

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There are no documents to testify where the Howards were from December 1904 to May 1905, but we can hazard a few guesses.

During that time, the number of medical schools in Texas was expanding and Dr. Howard picked up his diploma from Gate City Medical College, over in Texarkana, on May 1, 1905. While “the founders of these schools had the best intentions to offer bona-fide instruction in medical science, [. . .] they had too few resources. Most of them ceased operations or were absorbed by other schools within a short time.” Gate City was closed in 1911 when it was caught selling diplomas, but I think it’s safe to assume that IMH spent a little time in Texarkana before being awarded his. [1]

Also during that time, the newlywed Howards approached IMH’s older brother, David Terrell Howard, about adopting his youngest son. Wallace Howard told L. Sprague de Camp that Dr. and Mrs. Howard, “they come to mama and papa and wanted to take me and raise me as their, their foster son.” [2] David Howard was farming in Limestone County at the time, some 125 miles southeast of Christian, and had quite a large family (six children in 1904, and 12 before he was finished having children in 1919). In 1977, Wallace Howard wondered if he “wouldn’t have been better off” going with the doctor, but nothing came of the plan and before the summer of 1905, Hester would have known that she was pregnant.

Another possibility is Dark Valley, a few miles southwest of Graford. In July 1977, L. Sprague de Camp interviewed Florence Green, who was close to 100-years-old at the time. In his notes, de Camp writes that “Hester and I. M. Howard came from Christian miles away to Dark Valley as a young married.  They lived for several months with Mrs. Green who had a house a few feet away from the creek.” According to Green, the Howards stayed with her until their own place was built, “a little ways down the creek from the Green’s” and when it was time for Hester to give birth, “She went to Peaster, a much bigger town in those days, 1906, and some buggy ride away—a day’s journey—to have the child.” After Robert’s birth, the family returned to Dark Valley for a while, but “[t]hey moved away while Robert was a babe in arms—meaning anywhere from 1-2 years of age.” [3]

There are some problems with Green’s account. There is no record of the Howards buying any land in the vicinity of Dark Valley Creek; why build a home on property they did not own? Mrs. Green also, apparently, didn’t think it was relevant that it was Dr. Howard who recorded the birth of her daughter in 1907 (where he listed Graford on the Record of Birth); at least, it doesn’t show up in de Camp’s notes. Also, in Dark Valley Destiny, de Camp says, “During her pregnancy, Hessie was all smiles and laughter, forever joking with her neighbors, but she never left her husband’s side. She traveled with Dr. Howard wherever he went” (pg. 32), information that must have come from Green, but how would she have known this when, shortly after receiving his diploma, Isaac Howard registered his credentials over in Parker County on May 12, 1905, and his name begins appearing on birth and death records that same month? Hester would only have been about one month pregnant at the time. And Peaster wasn’t the first place they went to in Parker County.

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On May 23, 1905, Dr. I. M. Howard filed a “Report of Death” for a two-day-old child. The doctor’s address is listed as “Whitt.” The 1904 Polk’s directory lists three doctors in Whitt and sets the population at 430, same as the 1906 edition; none of the listed doctors is IMH.

Shortly after his arrival in Whitt, Dr. Howard appears to have partnered with one of those other doctors, J. D. Pickens, as their names appear together frequently on birth and death records in June and July. The last birth record filed by Pickens/Howard is dated July 19; all of these records list IMH’s address as Whitt. After that July 19 filing, the record goes quiet until August 16, 1905, when Dr. Howard was awarded a “Certificate of Registration” from the Texas Board of Pharmacy indicating that he had “given satisfactory evidence that he is a Qualified Pharmacist.” After that, he moved to Peaster.

From late September to just after Christmas 1905, IMH was listing his address on birth and death records as Peaster. Like Whitt, Peaster already had a doctor or two. In fact, besides J. A. Williams, the doctor who recorded Robert E. Howard’s birth, there was also a Dr. J. M. Blackwell, with whom Dr. Howard planned to share office space, as reported in “Peaster Items,” from the Weatherford Weekly Herald for October 19, 1905: 1905-10-19-peaster-items-weatherfordweeklyheraldp5

All three doctors appear in the 1906 edition of Polk’s, which has the population of Peaster pegged at 240. (A July 8, 1921 article in the Cross Plains Review announced Blackwell’s arrival in the area and says that he “comes well recommended for his work. He is an old time friend of Dr. I. M. Howard of this place, and a former partner with him in the practice of medicine.”) All of which begs the question: Why was it Williams and not IMH’s partner, Blackwell, who recorded Robert E. Howard’s birth?  If you’ve read this far, you probably already know the story. The Howards celebrated REH’s birthday on January 22, 1906, but, probably due to a delay in filing, Williams reported the birth as January 24. He filed the document on February 1st.

The last known sighting of the Howards in Peaster is a notice from the February 19 column, “Peaster Pencilings,” which appeared in the February 22, 1906 edition of the Weatherford Weekly Herald: “Dr. Howard is boasting of the only boy baby of Peaster in 1906.” After that, the trail is cold until a May 31, 1906 “Report of Birth” places him back in Graford, which is probably only where he received mail, since he was no doubt living in Dark Valley at the time.

All of the above makes the following paragraph from Dark Valley Destiny a bit shaky:

Robert Ervin Howard was born on January 24, 1906, in Peaster, Texas, a village in Parker County, ten miles northwest of Weatherford and thirty-five miles due west of Fort Worth. The Howards at that time lived in Dark Valley, a community of some fifty souls in Palo Pinto County, near the Parker County border; but Dr. Howard had taken his wife to Peaster, a larger settlement in the adjacent county, as her confinement drew near. He wished, presumably, to insure adequate medical facilities for her lying-in, as well as the services of Dr. J. A. Williams, the physician who attended Mrs. Howard at the birth of her only child. [pg. 18]

Patrice Lounet pointed out the biggest problem with this a few years ago: “If Dr. Howard wanted to ‘ensure adequate medical facilities’ for his wife, Peaster would not have been his first choice, but more likely the much larger Weatherford. Or even halfway from there, Mineral Wells, where physicians would be numerous.” [4] But if not for medical attention, then why?

In a 1977 interview with L. Sprague de Camp, Wallace Howard explained it this way: “The Howards are a moving people.” [5] And I can’t do much better than that. IMH seems to have been constantly on the look for greener pastures, and he never shied away from a dramatic move. Being a doctor himself, and having a partnership with another doctor (even though his partnerships never lasted for long), makes the “adequate medical facilities” argument seem a bit thin. I’m more inclined to believe that IMH saw an opportunity there that just didn’t pan out.

I’m fairly confident that one of the reasons IMH came to the Palo Pinto-Parker region in the first place was the railroad: “The Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwestern completed twenty-five miles from Weatherford to Mineral Wells in 1891. That year the company owned two locomotives and ninety cars. In 1895 it earned $15,561 in passenger revenue and $38,070 in freight revenue. The line was bought by the Texas and Pacific Railway Company in 1902,” the same year that IMH arrived. [6] And once the mainline was complete, the competition for spurs off of that line began, with rumors and speculation being reported in area newspapers every week; there was even some wild talk of turning the road into “a great transcontinental line” [7]. Of course, nothing quite so grand happened; however, “Construction of an extension of the line to the city of Oran was completed in 1907, and on to Graford the following January.” [8]

weatherford-mineral-wells-northeastern-web[Map courtesy of Abandoned Rails]

It may have been these rumors and speculation that encouraged IMH to begin purchasing land in Palo Pinto County. On October 11, 1905, while living in Peaster, Dr. Howard purchased part of lot 1, block 7 in the town of Oran for $50. This must have been a simple investment since, as we have seen, after leaving Peaster the Howards settled in Dark Valley. IMH listed his residence as Graford on birth and death notices from May 31, 1906 until at least May 5, 1907. But he may have been planning a move even before then.

On January 19, 1907, he purchased Lot 6 in Block 54 of the town of Oran for $45. Then, on May 25, 1907, he spent $200 for lots 7 and 8 in Block 7. A few weeks later, June 14, 1907, IMH and wife Hester sold “the North East one fourth (1/4) of Block Seven (7)” for $300. Sounds like a pretty good deal for the Howards. Not long after that, if not before, the family was living in Oran. From August to December 20, 1907, IMH lists his address as Oran. The week before Christmas, he re-filed his credentials in Palo Pinto County to correct a transcription error in his initials from “S. M.” to the correct “I. M.” Two weeks later, he was in Big Spring, way over in Howard County. The West Texas adventure had begun.

 

NOTES

1: Handbook of Texas Online, D. Clayton Brown, “Medical Education,” accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/sfm02.

2: De Camp, L. Sprague:  “Notes on Interview with Wallace C. Howard in Mart, Texas, 7/22/77,” unpublished, housed at HRC.

3: De Camp, L. Sprague: “Notes from  interview with Mrs. Green and visit to Dark Valley with Mr. John Dean McClure,” unpublished, housed at HRC.

4: Louinet, Patrice: “The Long Road to Dark Valley—Introduction,” accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.rehtwogunraconteur.com/the-long-road-to-dark-valley-introduction/

5: De Camp, L. Sprague:  “Notes on Interview with Wallace C. Howard in Mart, Texas, 7/22/77,” unpublished, housed at HRC.

6: Handbook of Texas Online, Chris Cravens, “Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwestern Railway,” accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/eqw08.

7: “Doing Our Best,” The Daily Herald. (Weatherford, Tex.), Vol. 7, No. 218, Ed. 1 Monday, September 24, 1906.

8: The Weatherford, Mineral Wells, Northwestern Railroad Depot, photograph, 1990?; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth29853/: accessed September 11, 2016), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boyce Ditto Pub

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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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helenPirate-Queen-Teuta-Of-Illyria

The dandy of the longboat stood before me. Faith, he was smaller than I had thought, though supple and lithe. Boots of fine Spanish leather he wore on his trim legs, and above them tight breeches of doeskin. A fine crimson sash with tassels and rings to the ends was round his slim waist, and from it jutted the silver butts of two pistols. A blue coat with flaring tails and gold buttons gaped open to disclose the frilled and laced shirt beneath.

[…]

Now I looked for the first time at the face. It was a delicate oval with red lips that curled in mockery, large grey eyes that danced, and only then did I realize that I was looking at a woman and not a man.

— Robert E. Howard, “The Isle of Pirates’ Doom”

The year was 1669. Port Royal, the buccaneer’s haven in Jamaica, buzzed with gossip about Roger O’Farrel’s adopted daughter. On a voyage with Captain Hilton, one of the most ruthless men afloat, she had shown she took after the redoubtable O’Farrel, and at the end she had departed quickly, for she did not trust Hilton an inch and thought he might give her to the English governor.  This displeased Hilton, of course, as her giving him the slip made him look something of a jackass. Henry Morgan roared with laughter over the tale, though he would have handed Helen and O’Farrel both to his friend Governor Modyford without hesitation, could he lay hands on them. “Bog-trotting rebel in bed with the double damned Dons,” Morgan had said alliteratively of O’Farrel.

O’Farrel had left Havana after a quarrel with its crooked Captain General, and settled in Santiago on the southern coast, a city with a Captain General no less peccant. The two officials loathed each other, but Santiago’s administrator for the sake of appearances had to send back the ship with which O’Farrel had absconded and assure his rival the impudent Irish pirate would be arrested and chastised, then returned to Havana to answer charges. These assurances cost only the breath behind them.

blackbeard-in-smoke-and-flames-frank-schoonover-1922O’Farrel was quick to acquire more pirate craft, beginning with a couple of cedar piraguas able to carry half a hundred men each, and then a fast sloop like Hilton’s Wyvern. Helen worked with her beloved foster father as he smuggled, dealt with ranchers inland in southern Cuba, and engaged in other sorts of illicit trading, but he had largely abandoned piracy, and perhaps Helen saw him as getting older and wishing to settle down; he was nearing fifty. Youthful, wild as the sea and restless, Helen sailed with other captains besides O’Farrel – “Hilton, Hansen and le Ban between times,” as she said to Harmer later, and added, “Gower is the first captain to offer me insult.”  I imagine Captain (Arnaud?) le Ban as a gaudy, extravagant stallion from Provence, in a crimson coat with silver slashes, lace and a splendid cocked hat, with a ready cutlass. His preferred haunt would have been Tortuga, his preferred ship, a heavily armed square-rigger. As for Hansen – Troels Hansen, perhaps – he could have been Danish, a moody, hard-drinking rogue who favored akvavit distilled with amber and caraway over rum, hard as the former would have been to get in the Caribbean. Nor was he subtle. I suspect he hacked down his victims with an axe or blew them in half with a blunderbuss.

“Sots, murderers, thieves, gallows birds,” Helen said of them to Stephen Harmer, “all save Captain Roger O’Farrel.”

Besides the above rovers, and historically known ones like Roche Brasiliano and Henry Morgan, there were other fictional pirates of REH’s  apparently looting in that decade. Black Terence Vulmea is due a series of his own, but I deduce he was about 22 years old in 1669 and had but recently turned pirate, after a couple of voyages to the Slave Coast in West Africa. Actually, I believe he was then sailing with the Dutch sea-robber Laurens de Graaf. Another Dutch pirate mentioned by Vulmea and Wentyard in “Black Vulmea’s Vengeance” was van Raven, “a bird of passage.” There were also Harston of Bristol, and “Tranicos.” (L. Sprague de Camp brought a “Bloody Tranicos” into “The Black Stranger” when he rewrote it for the Conan series, as “The Treasure of Tranicos,” but that was the sort of recycling REH often did himself.)  I assume the “Tranicos” referred to in “BVV” was a Greek who first saw daylight by the bay of Piraeus, Gregor Tranicos, and before reaching the Caribbean he had served in the Ottoman navy during the reign of Sultan Mehmed IV (“the Hunter”). In 1669 he was nearing thirty-five. Guillaume Villiers appears in “Swords of the Red Brotherhood,” which comes chronologically (I think) about four years before “BVV.” But Villiers was not yet a pirate in 1669. I surmise he was a junior officer in the French navy.

Dick Harston of Bristol, the same age as Vulmea, was a young pirate, with years to go before he rose to captain, and may have sailed with Hilton, le Ban or Hansen on one of the same cruises as Helen. There were the brothers John and Tobias Gower, brutal even among the buccaneers, who had been with l’Ollonais on his last voyage, but deserted before the final disaster. Pierre le Picard had done likewise. Another French buccaneer, de Romber, whose name appears in “The Isle of Pirates’ Doom” may still have been on the scene in the West Indies, or he may have perished.

Surely it was while mixing with such men, and O’Farrel’s rovers too, that Helen first heard the legend of Mogar. It’s a curious name that sounds unlike any Carib or Arawak word, and may be a corruption that became current among the pirates, but as Helen says, “… when the Spaniards first sailed the main, they found an island whereon was a decaying empire … The Dons destroyed these natives …”  Naturally the story of a vast treasure arose, the sort of tale fortune-hunters always want to believe. John Gower eventually came to the island and searched for it, in “TIoPD”.

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This entry filed under Howard's Fiction, L. Sprague de Camp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look_Figure 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look_Figure 2

Look_Figure 3

Look_Figure 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books Gnomes

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

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

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

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

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

Conan the Adventuer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books 2a

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

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

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

Books 3

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

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

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

Books 4

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

Books 5

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

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

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

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

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

But Joe Rogan was right. Those were books!

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Hester Jane Ervin Howard with Robert’s dog Patch outside the Howard home in Cross Plains, Texas, ca. 1924.

1. The Shadow of Tuberculosis

Hester Jane Ervin Howard’s death certificate states she died of tuberculosis on June 12, 1936. A puzzling diagnosis and difficult to understand when TB is never referred to in any of the letters written by either her son, Robert E. Howard or her husband, Dr. Isaac M. Howard.

To understand why it is not mentioned by REH and his father, it’s essential to know about tuberculosis, its history, causes, symptoms, pain and suffering and especially the stigma and fear that surrounded it.

A Short History of TB

The girl sits propped up on pillows. Her face has become almost transparent. She turns towards the window. Cold winter sunlight streams in. Faint dashes hint rather than depict her eyes; yet the wistful gaze is miraculously caught. Her orange hair glows against the white linen of the bedclothes. A green curtain billows into the room. Next to her the mother’s head is sunk on her chest, hardly more than a shadow. It is the image of inexpressible grief…This is the picture of Sophie Munch, aged fourteen…a few months before her death from tuberculosis. [Two years later Munch’s mother also succumbed to the same disease.] Painted by her brother Edvard, it is one of the graven images of what was for millions a personal experience. (Dormandy Introduction)

girl

A Sick Child by Edvard Munch, who also painted The Scream

A thousand million people died of tuberculosis in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (Ryan 3) Nor was it a new disease. Paleontological records tell us symptoms of tuberculosis appeared in a Neolithic grave near Heidelberg dated at 5,000 BC during the Stone Age, as well as in the spines of Egyptian mummies. (4) The disease was already established in mainland Europe by 2,500-1,500 BC and it is likely it came to England about a thousand years later. (6) TB even predates Columbus in the new world where it has shown up in the skeletons of Native Americans and Peruvian mummies as well as in the bones found in countries around the world, including Japan. (8) In fact, “Dr. John Stanford, who has spent his life studying TB, believes that the tuberculosis germ is very ancient, and may well have fought for its survival in the primeval mud of the earth at the very beginnings of time.” (Ryan 6)

Tuberculosis was called by many names: phthisis, consumption, wasting disease, weakness of the lungs, graveyard cough. (Dormandy 22) During the late nineteenth century there was a growing fear the disease might destroy European civilization. (Ryan 8)

It is a remarkably enduring disease. Once it arrives in a community, it stays. (6) By mid-seventeenth century, one in five deaths was due to consumption, which is an older and rather more descriptive name for the pulmonary form of TB. As a result, it became known as the “White Plague of Europe.” (7) Although the death rate had been declining since the 1840’s in the year 1900, the world’s death rate from tuberculosis was about seven million people a year with fifty million more openly infected and at least half the world population had come into contact with it. (Ryan 8)

There were popular misconceptions about tuberculosis, even as late as the 1970s and 80s. According to L. Sprague de Camp, a Robert E. Howard biographer and author of Dark Valley Destiny,

Tuberculosis is a strange disease. Relatively rare today, in 1900 it was second only to pneumonia as a major cause of death. Whenever people move about a lot, whenever there is crowding, unhygienic living conditions, poverty, or privation, tuberculosis becomes epidemic. (de Camp 32)

De Camp’s statement that TB was second to pneumonia as a cause of death is incorrect. In the early 1900s, it was the primary cause in the USA for many years. (CDC “Leading Causes of Death”) He was also wrong that it was an epidemic.

Unlike most epidemic diseases, TB did not sweep through a city or region and then disappear for several years. TB was endemic – it was a debilitating constitutional illness to which people succumbed slowly over a period of years, infecting and being re-infected, leaving the afflicted compelled to stop work, enter hospitals or sanitariums, and lie and dissemble for self protection. (Ott 6)

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Above is a depiction of TB statistics in Kentucky during WWII. Below are two examples of the Christmas Seals campaign for fighting TB. Both of these were probably familiar to the Howards in Cross Plains.

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1924 Christmas Seals Campaign

 

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Christmas Seals Campaign, ca. 1935

Tuberculosis Infection

Dr. Frank Ryan in The Forgotten Plague: How the Battle Against Tuberculosis was Won and Lost, explains how the body reacts to TB and how some survived while others did not.

We are infected by the germ that causes tuberculosis in two ways, either by inhaling it in the air we breathe, or by swallowing it food or drink. Inhalation is the commonest way in which it gets into our bodies, taking in bacteria which are suspended in dried dust or in tiny droplets. If a tiny colony on a culture plate contains in excess of a billion tuberculosis germs, consider the numbers of germs flung into the air by the single cough of an infected patient. Unlike AIDS, which is spread only by sexual penetration or by intravenous injection of blood products, tuberculosis is contracted simply by the act of breathing. Everybody is therefore susceptible. (Ryan 17-18)

But it is the pulmonary form of the disease which is by far the commonest and it was in this form that tuberculosis blighted the lives of billions of people. What happens is basically simple if dreadful. The bacteria inhaled in water droplets settle in the periphery of the lung and grow very slowly until they form a small local collection, like a cheesy boil. From this boil, the continuing infection spills over into nearby small airways and forms more of these tiny boils. It was the appearance of these small cheesy collections (like little tubers) which, in the early nineteenth century gave rise to the modern name, the disease in which you find tubercles in the lung or tuberculosis. This replaced the much older and more descriptive name, consumption…From this primary infection in the lungs, several things may happen. (Ryan 19)

In many, the first infection is fought off by the body. The white cells mop up the bacteria and the abscess is walled off from the rest of the lung by a fibrous shell. But our white cells have difficulty disposing of these ingested bacteria. That waxy shell can be as impervious to the digesting chemicals of our white cells as it is to acid, and tuberculosis has the horrifying ability to eat our white cells themselves from the inside and to grow and multiply while actually within the cells. In order to contain the disease, our body decides to accept stalemate and just wall it off. If we succeed, we lull ourselves into a false sense of security: we tell ourselves that we are cured. But tuberculosis remains alive within the fibrous shell and can burst out into life-threatening virulence at any time in the infected person’s subsequent life. (Ryan 19-20)

Where tuberculosis is common, most of the population will encounter germs when they are children. Yet here we discover another of its mysteries: the majority wall it off when it is still just a spot on the lungs and they never know they were infected. But if the body fails to contain it, which is the case in about ten percent of people, the disease continues to invade the lung tissue about it. (Ryan 21)

How tuberculosis infects the body is shown in the following chart:

diagram

Tuberculosis Symptoms

A cough that refuses to go away; perhaps a sudden agonizing pain on breathing that marks the beginning of pleurisy; exhaustion, an unrelievable breathlessness, the appearance of bright red arterial blood in the persistent foul sputum. In others, death arrives in one fell moment; for example when an abscess in the lung or intestine erodes into a major artery. (Ryan 22)

Tuberculosis patients lost weight, were overwhelmingly tired, at times felt overwhelmingly irrational and exuberantly gay, and were anemic. (Dormandy 220)

Tuberculosis could not only be transmitted to another person, it could easily infect other parts of the body. It wasn’t a simple disease that affected everyone in the same way. Almost no organ or tissue in the body was immune.

TB starting in one area of the body could be transmitted to other areas. Once the TB patients began coughing up the TB bacteria, they became contagious and had to be isolated from other non-tubercular persons. As the germ was coughed up, it often lodged in the throat, causing TB laryngitis, which in its last stages reduced speech to a hoarse, agonizing whisper…If the TB germ was swallowed, it could cause overwhelming nausea, almost impossible to alleviate. The patient’s breath often became foul smelling. Abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea would be added to the already suffering patient…If the infected material went in the opposite direction, it could impinge on the pleura and start TB pleurisy. This was one of the most feared complications. Not only coughing but the taking of every breath became painful…Disturbed nights turned into nightmares: no pain-killer, not even laudanum or later, morphine, could entirely cope with the pain. The spread of the disease in this way could lead to the dreaded tuberculosis meningitis. (Dormandy 221)

One of the most lethal complications occurs when pus spills into the blood stream and quickly spreads to every organ in the body. Or, it spreads from the lungs or bowel and causes great pain and suffering elsewhere. In the skin and soft tissues it causes disfiguring sores and abscesses; in the internal organs such as the bladder and kidneys it causes an agonizing inflammation…In bones it settles into a protracted and gnawing destructive cavitation and the pus eventually finds its way through the soft tissue to the skin. Tuberculosis has the capacity to infect every internal organ from liver to brain, from the fingertips to the delicate structures of our eyes. (Ryan 23)

Even today, without effective treatment, sixty percent of sufferers will be dead within five years of the onset, their bodies wasted to skeletal proportions, their minds lucidly aware of the life that is being taken from them [emphasis mine]. (Ryan 23-4)

A look at the various types of tuberculosis and how they infect the body.

diagram2

According to Dormandy, pulmonary tuberculosis was the most common form. (22) The Medical Dictionary definition states:

[P]ulmonary tuberculosis is TB that affects the lungs. Its initial symptoms are easily confused with those of other diseases. An infected person may at first feel vaguely unwell or develop a cough blamed on smoking or a cold. A small amount of greenish or yellow sputum may be coughed up when the person gets up in the morning. In time, more sputum is produced that is streaked with blood. Persons with pulmonary TB do not run a high fever but they often have a low-grade one. They may wake up at night drenched with cold sweat when the fever breaks. The patient often loses interest in food and may lose weight. Chest pain is sometimes present. If the infection allows air to escape from the lungs into the chest cavity (pneumothorax) or if fluid collects in the plural space (pleural effusion) the patient may have difficulty breathing.

The symptoms for pulmonary TB according to The White Death also included “A harsh cough, hoarseness or loss of control of the voice, an audible wheezing, shortness of breath on exertion and coughing up of blood.”… Dormandy then adds “In 80 percent of the cases this form of tuberculosis was fatal in five to fifteen years[emphasis mine]. (22)

Hester Jane Ervin Howard’s Symptoms

REH’s letters do not indicate any symptoms of wheezing, shortness of breath or coughing up of blood. However, comparing the excerpts from his letters describing his mother’s symptoms against those of tuberculosis, the list is impressive.

Night sweats. On May 13, 1936, REH wrote to H. P. Lovecraft:

She started sweating in January and it’s just the last few days that there has been any appreciable lessening of it. Many a night she had to be changed six or seven times, and that many times a day—sometimes more. Woman after woman we hired and they quit, either worn out by their work, or unwilling to do it, though my father and I did most of it. (Roehm REH Letters 3-460)

Pleurisy—one of the most feared complications was mentioned earlier in the same letter.

She seemed to be improving a little when she had an attack of acute pleurisy on her right side, which until then hadn’t been affected. My father handled that, and she was definitely on the mend, although the sweats never ceased, when in the early part of April we had the worst dust storm I ever saw in my life, and she developed pneumonia.” (3-459)

Also present was the characteristic weight loss.

She is very weak and weighs only 109 pounds—150 pounds is her normal weight and very few kinds of food agree with her; (3-459)

The signature cough was mentioned in the December 5, 1935 letter to HPL.

My parents and I went to Amarillo in the latter part of July. None of us had ever been to that city, and I wanted to see if the high altitude, 4500 feet, might help a persistent cough that had been bothering my mother. (3-382)

From these descriptions plus the aspiration treatments she underwent, (Part 2 “Tuberculosis Operations”) it is probable Hester Jane Ervin Howard contracted pulmonary tuberculosis—a type of TB that “was chronic and even intermittent, with seemingly miraculous remissions and startling improvements followed by terrible relapses.” (Dormandy 22)

The bacterial cause of tuberculosis was discovered by Robert Koch in 1882 who found that it grew and divided much slower than normal bacteria. (Ryan 16) Koch had shown that the tubercle bacillus was a strict aerobe: it could survive but not grow and multiply without a generous supply of oxygen. (Dormandy 221)

After Koch’s discovery the “diagnosis now depended on the presence of the tubercule bacillus in the sputum, not the hollowness of the cough or the loss of weight.” (Rothman 17)

Hester’s diagnosis would have been confirmed by medical tests. No records of any such tests have been discovered. The only written confirmation of her diagnosis is in her death certificate (See right hand column about half way down.) It reads: “chronic ulcerative tuberculosis anemia”

DC

Note: that the term “senility” on her death certificate was used in that era to designate old age rather than lucidity. It appeared often on death certificates of elder persons.

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When Isaac Howard decided to study medicine, he was following a family precedent. His uncle J. T. Henry, a great favorite of Isaac’s mother, Eliza Howard, was a distinguished physician who was graduated from the University of Nashville in Tennessee in 1883. In practice near the Arkansas-Missouri line, Dr. Henry became a role model for his nephew Isaac, who doubtless sought Dr. Henry’s advice and may have studied under him.

Physicians of that day often welcomed their kin as medical students. Such associations with older physicians afforded young would-be doctors opportunities for observation, access to medical books, and such didactic sessions as the preceptor thought necessary in exchange for the apprentice’s help in maintaining the dispensary, cleaning the office, and tending the horse and buggy if there was one. After a few years, when the older man deemed his candidate worthy, he would issue him a certificate to practice medicine. For an ethical man with strong family ties, the certification by a kinsman would be a real throwing of the torch.

Polk’s Medical and Surgical Register gives its first listing of “I. Howard” in 1896 as practicing in Forsyth, Missouri, in Taney County, just over the Missouri line, a short distance from his uncle’s home in Bentonville, Arkansas. It is unclear whether Isaac Howard apprenticed himself to his uncle or whether Dr. Henry had passed him on to another doctor in Forsyth. The dates suggest the former. If Isaac Howard had left Texas in the early nineties, when he turned twenty-one, he could have finished his training and been ready to set up his own practice by 1896.

The young physician did not long remain in Missouri. Perhaps he was homesick. Whatever his reasons, on April 19, 1899, Isaac M. Howard of Limestone County, Texas, was examined by the State Board of Medical Examiners in Texarkana, Texas, and awarded a certificate of qualification to practice medicine. Then he went home.

—L. Sprague de Camp, Dark Valley Destiny

Readers of the Two-Gun blog might remember my post from 2012, “Isaac M. Howard in the 1800s,” wherein I discovered that the “I. Howard” mentioned above couldn’t have been our Isaac Howard because that doctor also appeared in the 1886 edition of Polk’s, which is much too early for our Isaac to be practicing medicine. This removes the only piece of evidence that might place Isaac near his Uncle J. T. Henry at that time; though it’s still possible he received his training there.  This has pretty much become an accepted part of the biography. To wit:

By 1891, Isaac Howard had decided that he was not cut out to be a farmer. He left the family farm, sold his share in the property to his brother, and decided to practice frontier medicine.

Isaac’s medical education, a combination of on-the-job training, apprenticeship to his uncle, himself a doctor, and attendance at a variety of schools, lectures, and courses, would spread out over the next four decades. His initial training took four or five years, and allowed him to practice medicine as early as 1896. From that time on, Dr. Isaac Howard moved frequently from place to place, venturing as far out as Missouri and back to the family farm in Limestone County again.

—Mark Finn, Blood and Thunder

That J. T. Henry was a doctor is well established; that Isaac M. Howard apprenticed under him, not so much. While I am not a fan of speculation, I recently ran across not one but two doctors who, in my opinion, make more sense as possible trainers of Dr. Howard. So, as long as there’s no proof either way, I’ll throw my speculations out there too.

WBH2-web

Robert E. Howard said that his family moved to Texas in 1885. The earliest I can place them there is 1889. According to a “Widow’s Application for Pension” filled out by Isaac’s mother in 1910, Isaac’s father, William B., died “near Mt. Calm, Texas, on 3rd day of August in year of 1889.” While William’s death in Texas contradicts de Camp’s version, it agrees with Robert E. Howard’s account in an October 1930 letter to Lovecraft:

My branch of the Howards came to America with Oglethorpe 1733 and lived in various parts of Georgia for over a hundred years. In ’49 three brothers started for California. On the Arkansas River they split up, one went on to California where he lived the rest of his life, one went back to Georgia and one, William Benjamin Howard, went to Mississippi where he became an overseer on the plantations of Squire James Harrison Henry, whose daughter he married. In 1858 he moved, with the Henry’s, to southwestern Arkansas where he lived until 1885, when he moved to Texas. He was my grandfather.

There is a document dated 1885, but it wasn’t recorded until 1898, so I’m a tad skeptical. The document is basically a contract between Isaac Howard and his brother David Terrell Howard of Prairie Hill, Texas, in Limestone County. Dave agrees to purchase Isaac’s land in the county and has ten years to pay for it, starting in 1885. How a 13-year-old Isaac managed to possess that land is a mystery. De Camp speculates that it was Grandpa James Henry’s originally, and James did die in 1884, a fairly prosperous guy, so that’s reasonable, but there’s no mention of Texas land in his Arkansas will.

On November 6, 1893, Isaac’s sister Willie married William Oscar McClung in Limestone County. They moved to Indian Territory shortly thereafter, but probably not before attending brother Dave’s wedding on November 12 (or possibly December 12). This is where things get interesting.

Fannie-web

Dave’s bride was Fannie Elizabeth Wortham (seen above quite some time after her marriage). From 1894 to 1919, the couple would produce 12 children. This isn’t so unusual when you figure that Dave had eight siblings and Fannie had seven. We’ll get back to one of Fannie’s siblings in a minute, but first, let’s look at her dad, Mortier (or Mortimer) LaFayette Wortham.

Born in Tennessee in 1822, Wortham moved to Texas while in his early 20s. He shows up on an 1846 tax list in Harrison County, east Texas. He appears to have hooked up with an unknown lady and had at least one child, John, before she died or left. The 1850 Census has an “L. M. Wortham” who is farming with the Martin family in Harrison County. He has with him “J. Wortham,” who is 2 years old. No wife is mentioned.

The 1860 Census of Anderson County has the now 12-year-old John, with father “L. Wortham,” joined by wife “E. Wortham” (the former Elizabeth Chaffin). The senior Wortham’s profession is listed as “Doctor.” On a pension application, Elizabeth says that she married Mortier in 1855. Her family had been in Texas since at least 1843, in Anderson County, which is two counties east of Limestone, with Freestone County in-between.

On March 6, 1862, “M. L. Wortham,” of Palestine, Anderson County, reported for infantry duty in the Confederate Army, Company K, 22nd Regiment, under Colonel R. B. Hubbard. It looks like he served all over the place, doing some time in Louisiana and Arkansas, before returning to Anderson County. He shows up on an 1868 voter registration list there.

“M. L. Wortham” appears on the Anderson County tax rolls for 1861, 1865, 1867, 1869, and 1870. While there are several Worthams on the lists throughout the 1880s, our guy doesn’t appear; this is probably because he had moved to Limestone County, where he and the family appear on the 1880 Census. His profession there is listed as “Farming.” The 1890 Census was mostly destroyed by fire, but in 1891 Mortier is back on the tax lists in Anderson County, appearing as “Dr. M. L. Wortham.” So, Dave Howard’s soon-to-be father-in-law went back to medicine just before his daughter’s marriage. How convenient for Dave’s younger brother, who just happened to be interested in the medical profession.

[A quick, non-chronological note: On Fannie Wortham Howard’s 1960 death certificate, her father is identified as “Dr. W. M. Wortham”; on another daughter’s 1932 death certificate, he is identified simply as “Dr. Wortham.”]

And there’s more. When the Howards arrived in Texas they settled in around Mount Calm, which is in Hill County, but right on the line with Limestone County. They soon spread into Limestone, in the little community of Delia, which is close to Prairie Hill. The 1900 Census has Dave Howard’s growing clan listed with the Prairie Hill inhabitants. One of those was John C. Clark, who was married to another of Mortier Wortham’s daughters and happened to be, you guessed it, a doctor.

1890Polk

Born in 1847 in Jamaica to English parents, Clark was living in Texas by the end of the Civil War. He married Louisa E. Wortham in 1877 and was living in rural Limestone County at the time of the 1880 Census, where he is listed as a “Physician.” The 1890 edition of Polk’s Medical and Surgical Registry has him as the only doctor in Prairie Hill, with no report received in answer to their inquiry regarding his graduation from medical school. This probably means that he didn’t attend a school, but was trained by another doctor . . . perhaps his father-in-law?

So, in the early 1890s we’ve got a young Isaac Howard, purportedly not interested in the family business of farming. He’s got a doctor uncle in far-off Arkansas who seems to be doing pretty well for himself, and his older brother Dave marries into a family with at least two doctors, one of whom is practicing in the very town in which they live, the other in a nearby county. [I say “at least two” because one of Mortier’s sons, James Franklin Wortham, is identified as a doctor on an ancestry.com family tree, but there is no documentation provided to support that claim and I haven’t looked into it yet.] And right around this time, the mid-1890s, Dave is paying for Isaac’s land. Hmm, I wonder what Isaac was doing with the cash?

Meanwhile, brother Dave purchased some more land in 1897 from Gussbaum and Morris, whoever they were. Then, the 1885 document was filed for record on January 15, 1898, and on February 12, 1898, Isaac Howard filed a quit claim, closing the land deal with his brother. The next time Isaac M. Howard appears on paper it is as a doctor. As de Camp said, a year later, “on April 19, 1899, Isaac M. Howard of Limestone County, Texas, was examined by the State Board of Medical Examiners in Texarkana, Texas, and awarded a certificate of qualification to practice medicine. Then he went home.”

The first place he appears is Freestone County, where he registered his new credentials on July 20, 1899. Right next door to Limestone, this makes sense, but, as long as I’m speculating, let me go a step further. On a recent trip to Groesbeck, the county seat of Limestone, I asked about their Medical Register—the book that lists the doctors who had registered their credentials in the county. Isaac M. Howard was not listed in that book, but the book only went back to 1907. Turns out the older records were destroyed by fire. So I’ll bet Isaac did indeed go home—right back to Limestone County, then to Freestone. But again, that’s just speculation.

Dr. Howard next appears up north near Indian Territory in Montague County, where his uncle, George Walser, was living. I have no idea if the two had any contact at this time, though I would think it odd if they didn’t. Dr. Howard registered in the county on May 30, 1901. This appears to be just before Isaac started practicing in Petersburg, just across the Red River in Indian Territory, and not far from where his sister Willie had moved after marrying Oscar McClung. The doctor couldn’t have spent too much time in Indian Territory, though, he had a date with destiny back in Texas, Palo Pinto County, where a certain lady named Hester was spending time with her siblings in Mineral Wells.

2014 06-08 p002

In Dark Valley Destiny, L. Sprague de Camp says, “Early in 1929 a professional colleague had told Isaac Howard of a cotton boom in sparsely-inhabited Dickens County.” And, after a description of the area, this:

Dr. Howard learned that many new people would be coming into the region to grow cotton by irrigation. Undoubtedly they would have need of a physician. Thinking this a chance to make some quick cash, Isaac Howard went to Spur, a town of moderate size in Dickens County, 112 miles northwest of Cross Plains.

On May 4, 1929, he took out his license to practice medicine in Dickens County. He transferred his letter of membership in the First Baptist Church of Cross Plains, which he had joined in 1924, to the Baptist Church in Spur. He evidently meant to stay for some time in Spur, one of those places on the fringe of things to which he had always been drawn. We can only guess what part was played in Isaac’s move by his discomfiture over his wife’s royal pretensions, his son’s animosity, and the necessity of sharing his small house with a roomer.

While the dates of Isaac’s moves are uncertain, it appears that his sojourn in Spur lasted at least half a year. He must have come back often to Cross Plains to visit his family, for the townsfolk of Cross Plains seem to have been unaware of his absences. In mid-1929 he probably returned home to stay for at least half a year, because of Robert Howard’s absence during this time. We do not know whether the doctor returned to Spur during the first half of 1930; in any event he transferred his church membership back to Cross Plains on August 28, 1930.

The last sentence ends with the following footnote: “Interview with J. Scott, 21 Feb. 1980; letter from Rev. T. Irwin, 25 Aug. 1977.” De Camp’s notes on his talk with Jack Scott say, “The reason for IMH’s stay in Spur was a cotton boom in that region, which he thought would give him a chance to make some money.” I haven’t seen the letter from Rev. Irwin, but I assume that is where the information regarding church membership comes from.

That all sounds pretty squishy, and I’ve never been a fan of speculation. Here are the few nuggets regarding Dr. Howard’s trip to Spur that I’ve seen. First up is Norris Chambers’ July 7, 1978 letter to de Camp:

Received your letter asking about Dr. Howard’s trip to Spur. I heard a little about this, but all I knew then (I was pretty young in 1929), was that he was thinking of moving his practice out there. I remember he talked some in later years about the country out there, but I never really knew that he went out there with the intention of “taking out.” However, this could easily have been the case. He often spoke of moving to various parts of the country, but we had heard this talk so much that we just listened to it and figured that nothing would come of it. The Dr. talked of doing many things that he never did. Sometimes he would start on something, but usually got other interests or changed his mind before he went very far with the actual act.

Besides de Camp’s notes on the 1980 Jack Scott interview, there’s also an earlier, August 31, 1978, letter to de Camp’s partner, Jane W. Griffin, which has this:

I was in college in 1929 at the time you say Dr. I. M. Howard moved to Spur and opened temporary practice. Consequently, I have no knowledge of that. Neither am I familiar with any unhappiness in his marital life.

And there are these items:

Cross Plains Review – May 3, 1929 (page 8)

1929 05-03 CPR p8 IMH to Spur

Cross Plains Review – June 7, 1929 (page 8)

1929 06-07 CPR p8

Cross Plains Review – July 5, 1929 (page 1)

1929 07-05 CPR p1

Cross Plains Review – July 5, 1929 (page 8)

1929 07-05 CPR p8 IMH ad

So, de Camp’s “at least half a year” looks more like two months, though I can’t explain the late membership renewal at church. I suppose it’s possible Dr. Howard went back to Spur, but I think it’s more likely he just didn’t get around to renewing. Speculation—yuck. During a recent trip to the area, my folks and I stopped in Dickens County and visited the courthouse in the town of Dickens. There are no land records for Dr. Howard, but I did get a copy of his medical registration. I also talked to local historian Erick Swenson. He told me that the cotton boom was over by 1929 and couldn’t think of anything special that would bring someone to town at the time.

Just a tad south of Dickens, we also visited Spur itself. I learned that the local newspaper, The Texas Spur, has been in business practically since the town was created due to the cotton boom in 1909. All of its holdings are archived at Texas Tech; unfortunately, it appears that no issues from 1929 survive. The town has a small museum, but other than a few old photographs of Spur, I didn’t find much of interest.

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The REHupa Barbarian Horde

Howard Days 2014 was another great success. Temperatures were quite moderate, though there was a hailstorm around Abilene that seriously damaged Chris Gruber’s car. There were many new faces there this year, evidently because of increased promotion on social media sites spearheaded by Jeff Shanks.

IMG_2928dThe theme this year was Howard History: Texas and Beyond. During the first panel, “In the Guise of Fiction,” Shanks and Al Harron discussed REH’s use of early history. Shanks said that Howard’s stories utilized the anthropological theory favored at the time, involving racial templates now known to pseudoscientific. REH was also inspired by Haggard and Burroughs, who were popular then. Harron opined that the Picts were Howard’s greatest creation, appearing in more different types of stories, both fantastic and historical, than any other of his creations. Historical fiction, e.g. by Mundy and Lamb, was quite popular. REH loved it and wrote as much as would sell, but he put a gritty, bloody spin on it that was more colorful and realistic than that of other authors. Shanks mentioned that Howard employed Wells’s The Outline of History and as many other authoritative references as he had access to. His first goal was to get into the adventure pulps, but he often had to add a weird element to sell his stories; this practice peaked with his submissions to Oriental Tales and Weird Tales. Harron said Conan incorporated historical and fantastic elements. Cormac Fitzgeoffrey is Harron’s favorite Crusades character. Shanks said that REH pioneered a dark, cynical, violent interpretation of history, which has made the stories age well and resonate with today’s readers, unlike a lot of other writers such as Doyle. But historical fiction requires a lot of research, so he set Kull and Conan in an earlier, hypothetical Hyborian Age that freed up Howard to write his own kind of fiction. Harron stated that “Shadow of the Vulture” starring Red Sonya was another groundbreaking character, being a strong female protagonist and warrior, with no romantic links to other characters. It was also anchored in historical characters and settings. Harron’s favorite female character is Dark Agnes, especially in “Sword Woman.” She is unique in having an origin story, though REH only able to get Red Sonya published. He and C. L. Moore conceived of their strong heroines independently. Shanks said that Howard was influenced in his historical fiction by Arthur Macon’s dark stories about fairies portrayed as malevolent little people. He said that REH did a lot of anthropological world-building, incorporating migrations which turned out to be very important historically, as we know now. Howard was also doing westerns, historical and weird, near the end. An audience member added that REH admired Jack London and may have just been emulating London’s racial theories, though these were somewhat behind anthropological theory of the time, however popular they were then. Another person pointed out how the race Howard regarded as superior changed with time and publishing venue.

10453434_10204295624973680_482758632251404194_nIn an interview by Rusty Burke, Guest of Honor Patrice Louinet said that he first got interested in REH through French translations of Marvel comics. He was the first to do pre-doctoral and doctoral theses based on Howard. He visited the U.S. to do the associated research, joined REHupa, and met legendary Howard scholar and collector Glenn Lord, who got him interested in examining REH’s typescripts of stories and letters. He found he could date transcripts from typewriter artifacts and REH’s idiosyncratic spellings. Burke also led him into looking at the Conan typescripts and recommended him to be editor of the Wandering Star Conan pure-text editions. The time-ordering of Howard’s stories is critical to understanding him as a writer, which is also why reading the Conan tales in the order they were written (as in the WS books) is so revelatory. Dating the transcripts was essential to determining which were the most authoritative versions to use in the pure-text books. Thus, there would be no de Campian Conan saga. REH used Conan as a catalyst to the plot and to tell the kind of story he wanted to tell. Louinet’s first professional publication was “The Birth of Conan” in The Dark Man. Reading Howard in English made him realize how bad the existing French translations were, so he started translating the stories himself. He thinks that Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright’s suggestions often improved REH’s stories. Louinet is now working on a documentary on REH and is a consultant on a Howard-related board game. He has done many interviews about REH, including ones on television. He won a Special Award from France’s Imaginales (Imaginary World) Convention for his Howard work. He has published 10 REH books in France and has another one coming out. In France, Howard was a cult figure in the ‘80s, was forgotten in the ‘90s, and is now popular and recognized as a pioneer fantasist. Lovecraft started becoming mainstream there in the ‘60s and has been helped by a Cthulhu video game. Clark Ashton Smith is unknown. The French do not like westerns. Working as a translator gave Louinet the most insight into REH’s maturation as a writer. Howard’s earlier work is bursting with ideas, but he later learned how to control that without losing anything. “The Dark Man” and “Kings of the Night” of 1930 are about when he became a mature writer. Louinet plans to do another doctoral dissertation on REH.

rsz_dscn0324The Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards were given to: (1) Jeff Shanks for the Outstanding Print Essay “History, Horror, and Heroic Fantasy: Robert E. Howard and the Creation of the Sword and Sorcery Subgenre”; (2) Bill Cavalier, Rob Roehm, and Paul Herman for the Outstanding Periodical The REH Foundation Newsletter; (3) Brian Leno, Patrice Louinet, Rob Roehm, Damon Sasser, and Keith Taylor for the Outstanding Web Site REH: Two-Gun Raconteur; (4) Rob Roehm for the Outstanding Online Essay “The Business”; (5) Patrick Burger as Emerging Scholar; (6) Ben Friberg for the Outstanding Achievement of filming REH Days panels, as he was doing for this event and selling DVDs of last year’s; (7) Tom Gianni for Artistic Achievement; (8) Patrice Louinet for Lifetime Achievement; and (9) Paul Herman for Outstanding Service. Karl Edward Wagner is next year’s nominee for Lifetime Achievement.

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