Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni

Europe, in the grip of feudalism, was weaker internally than on her borders. The nations were already taking shadowy shape, but as yet there was no real national spirit. In France there was neither Charlemagne nor Martel – only starving, plague-harried peasantry, warring fiefs, and a land torn by strife between Capet and Norman duke, overlord and rebellious vassal. And France was typical of Europe …

Already long shadows were falling from the east across the Golden Horn. Byzantium was still Christendom’s mightiest bulwark; but westward from Bokhara were moving the horsemen of the steppes destined swiftly to wrest from the Eastern Empire her last Asiatic possession. The Seljuks, blocked on the south by the glittering Indo-Iranian empire of Mahmud of Ghazni, were riding toward the setting sun, not to be halted until their horses’ hoofs splashed the waters of the Mediterranean.

— Robert E. Howard, “Hawks Over Egypt”

Sometimes I think there must have been advantages to writing for the pulps in the nineteen-twenties and thirties. Political correctness was unheard-of, and you could use stereotypes as a kind of characterization shorthand, never mind who might find them offensive. Cruel Arab despots, cunning, fiendish Chinese criminals, brutish stupid (or childlike and dumbly loyal) blacks, tough but funny Irish (never represented as bright, at least not by English authors) avaricious Jews (stock types for dope peddlers and white slavers as well as grasping pawnbrokers) devil-worshipping Yezidees or Mongols – all of it was fine, and if you described a Kurd as “slant-eyed” the readers wouldn’t know or care that Kurds are not.

The stereotypes weren’t limited to contemporary stories, either. They abounded in adventure yarns set in the Middle Ages and Crusades. The crusaders (especially when they were English) were brave and noble. Saracens were wicked (except Saladin), Mongols were beasts, the French were arrogant and impractical, while Jews – were the usual Jews, going back to Isaac of York in Ivanhoe, and before him to Shylock.

Br_8441206719_bWhich brings us to the Byzantines and Venetians who usually appear in these yarns. The standard types were double-dealers who showed a smiling face to the crusaders from Western Europe, gave them ship transport or safe-conduct through their territories, and then betrayed them. This is evident in Robert E. Howard’s stories, very much so, although he was scarcely starry-eyed about the crusaders either. His heroes were hard, disillusioned men like Godric de Villehard, Cormac Fitzgeoffrey and Cahal Ruadh O’Donnel. The occasional pure-hearted idealist who takes the cross and rides east does not usually live long. (Godric refers to the Marquis of Montferrat as “that devious-minded assassin”, to Simon de Montfort as “that black-faced cutthroat”, and tells the eastern princess, Yulita, that the crusade’s leaders “plotted against each other all the way to Venice”.)

This picture was not only given in pulp stories. It prevailed in history textbooks – British Commonwealth ones, anyway, and doubtless in the U.S.A. also. Robert E. Howard lived from 1906 to 1936. This blogger can attest that a quarter-century later, when he was in high school, Australian history classes taught nothing about the Byzantine Empire. Plenty about Henry VIII and the Stuarts, and something about the Roman Empire, but our teachers gave us the impression that it fell in the fifth century, and after that, nothing worth mentioning happened until the Middle Ages began. Anything I heard about the East Roman Empire (not much, as I’ve said) implied a steady, corrupt decline of a thousand years, a dreary procession of gutless emperors, depraved empresses, courtesans, and eunuchs, until the Ottoman Turks took Constantinople in 1453. The only real men in the place where the foreigners of the Varangian Guard – tall blonde lads of Nordic stock. (The original “Varangians” were the Vikings who sailed down the rivers of Russia to found Novgorod and Kiev.)

Cs-jJ1Sk7cSAF42mAASHXF0oaD0924Other writers besides REH give their readers a scornful view of the Byzantines. In Frans Bengtsson’s superb The Long Ships, the Viking Olof Summer-bird (so called for his bright magnificent clothing) says of the Byzantines, “They hold it less evil to blind or mutilate a man than to kill him, by which you may see the sort of people they are.”  The main character’s brother falls victim to a devious, greedy Byzantine official, and loses his eyes, tongue and right hand. Cecelia Holland’s The Belt of Gold deals with the intrigues and power plays of the Empress Irene, a crafty unprincipled bitch who had her own son blinded – and the hero is a stalwart Frankish barbarian, Hagen.  His love interest is a Greek girl of high intelligence, caught up in the intrigues of the Empress and her rival, John Cerulis. Hagen and his brother rescue her from “the wretched Karros, John Cerulis’s bully boy” as the novel opens. The general picture given of Byzantines and their culture is not endearing.

The actual truth is that Charlemagne, Irene’s contemporary, was no charmer either. Ask the pagan Saxons – the ones he left alive. The Franks had a long record as a fierce, treacherous lot who would murder without a qualm. Frankish kings frequently slew their brothers. Queen Fredegund (sixth century CE) was so fiendishly cruel she made Irene look like Minnie Mouse. As for the Vikings and their Christian successors the Normans – it was William the Conqueror, touted to the sky as a hero by many, who while he was Duke of Normandy reacted badly to taunts about his bastard birth from the garrison of a castle he was besieging. When he took it, he had the survivors’ hands and feet cut off. Irish kings were quite in the habit of blinding their rivals, even their own kindred, or anybody else they thought might start trouble for them. Blinding and mutilation were no exclusive practice of the Byzantines.

Read the rest of this entry »

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.

kine4

Viking men and women in Newfoundland with livestock
Illustration by Tom Lovell

noun

1. archaic. plural of cow.

[origin: Middle English kyn, from Old English cyna, genitive pl. of cu]

HOWARD’S USAGE:

Eric Ranesen, the viking, son of the sword and spear,
Swept down the coast of England at the height of his wild career,
Swooped down on many a village with his berserk, wild wolf band,
Raged along the coast like a hurricane with fire and sword in his hand,
Harried the coast of England from Severn to the Forth,
Loaded his ships with plunder, then sailed back to the North.
…..
Lord of the North was Eric, from Salten fiord to Skye,
Lord of the wide, wild northern sea and many a land thereby.
He had vanquished Saxon and Welshman; Swede and Finn and Dane
Fled when they saw the flashing of the sword of the son of Rane.
Only one man defied him from Salten fiord to Forth,
And that was Harald of Norway, a reiver of the North.
…..
Harald was shaped like a sword-blade, slim and somewhat tall,
And he was a gallant chieftain in battle or banquet hall.
He was a foe of Eric, whom he hated with awful hate,
He swore that for the sea-king, he would open heaven’s gate.
He swore that oath at Kirkness upon All Saints day,
And then he leaped in his serpent-ship and he sailed far away.

Sailed toward the isles of sunrise with Hasting, the North-Dane,
Avoided sheltered harbors, plowed through the open Main.
Into the Mediterranean, Harald of Norway came,
Pillaging, burning and slaying, gaining both gold and fame;
People of far off countries heard Harald of Norway’s name.

Last he turned to the Northward, leaving the warm seas behind,
Leaving behind the warm lands rich with gold and with kine.
Back, yes back to the Northland sailed Harald, the viking bold,
With his long ship red with blood and weighted with gems and gold.
To Kirkness-town he sailed and anchored his long ship there,
With his flag, the flag of the cormorant, floating free to the air.

[from “Eric of Norway”; to read the complete poem, see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 536; Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 389; and The Rhyme of Salem Town, p. 76]

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

Old Western Town by B.L. McKinney

July 1933 (early draft)

These pages (CL4.32-44) of an early draft to Howard’s lengthy letter to Lovecraft (CL3.63-91, AMTF 2.591-612) were almost entirely excised from later and final drafts. The most interesting part of this draft might be in reply to Lovecraft’s suggestion that Howard try his hand about the frontier (AMTF 2.578); many of Howard’s letters to Lovecraft contain scenes of pure description and historical action as good as any of the stories he sold to the pulps, and possibly Lovecraft hoped Howard would turn into a regional writer along the lines of August Derleth and his Sac Prairie saga.

Text unique to the draft will be colored red, while text unique to the final letter will be colored blue. Formatting (paragraph breaks, etc.) have been freely distorted to more clearly show were sections of text match up most closely.

2Draft 1

2Draft 2

2Draft 3

Read Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

This entry filed under August Derleth, H. P. Lovecraft.

flanks4

noun

1. the fleshy part of the side between the ribs and the hip; side

[origin: before 12th century; Middle English, from Old French flanc, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German hlanca loin]

HOWARD’S USAGE:

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

Great God, how could they know the lusty zest,
The love of life that made my sinews dance?
Below me now, against my base, inert,
A lousy tramp, a sleeping house-maid rest.
I yearn for that square flask in his old pants.
My fingers burn to feel beneath her skirt.

[from “A Great Man Speaks”; this is the complete poem as it appears in The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 593 and Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 143]

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

zzzpage362

Robert E. Howard’s letters to H. P. Lovecraft represent the bulk of his extant letters, and differ from many of his letters to intimate friends not only in length, but in the breadth and depth of the material covered, including quotations from and citations of various reference works in support of Howard’s arguments. While some of Lovecraft and Howard’s correspondence is obviously spontaneous and brief, particularly the postcards, the longer letters are definitely planned and, in several cases Howard went through one or more drafts before arriving at the final letter. We know this because several of these draft-letters survive, and were published in the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard – Index and Addenda (2015, Robert E. Howard Foundation Press). It may prove interesting, then, to examine where and how Robert E. Howard’s drafts to H. P. Lovecraft differ from his final letters.

There are four surviving drafts, all of which only survive in a partial state, so they will be examined side-by-side with the relevant portions of the final letters to illustrate the changes made. Text unique to the drafts will be colored red, while text unique to the final letters will be colored blue. Formatting (paragraph breaks, etc.) have been freely distorted to more clearly show were sections of text match up most closely.

1 July 1930

The first surviving letter in the Howard-Lovecraft correspondence, a partial draft for this letter survives, consisting entirely of a lengthy discussion of Howard’s theories on the Celts and their migration to the British Isles. Aside from some minor corrections, the main difference between the draft and the final letter is that Howard softened and refined many of his personal theories, adding some additional references and (as the whole work was typed) copying the Greek letters into the bank spaces by hand.

Draft 1

Draft 2

Read the rest of this entry »

This entry filed under H. P. Lovecraft.

bindlestiff

(artist unknown)

noun

1. hobo, especially one who carries his clothes or bedding in a bundle.

[origin: ca. 1897; origin unknown]

HOWARD’S USAGE:

Some day I’m going out on the Road—
I’ll pound the pavements, grab the blind baggage
And ride the brake beams.
I’ll sit in the jungles and talk with ‘boes and their gay cats.
I’ll hobnob with the grifters, the panhandlers and the bundlestiffs [sic];
I’ll get their philosophy on things and then—
I’ll turn out things like Gorky, London and Tully…
Like Hell I will—they’ll haul me off a sand car
With a smashed skull and say, “The brakies are a tough gang
Along this road.”

[from “The Road to Freedom”; this is the complete poem as it appears in The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 357 and A Rhyme of Salem Town, p. 49]

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

MLP_ Conan & Red Sonja

For nearly ten years Michael L. Peters’ fantastic artwork has graced the pages and covers of REH: Two-Gun Raconteur. From his very first appearance in 2006 through today, Michael’s work has been a fan favorite. As far as Michael’s background and experience goes, I’ll let him speak for himself with this blurb from his website:

I’ve drawn Comics for such publishers as Heavy Metal Magazine, Desperado, Caliber, Image, and CFD. I create and sell Prints mostly on mythological and fantasy themes, in pen and ink, watercolor and/or acrylics. A few years ago, I was hired by Ferris State University to create a series of pen and ink portraits of their former presidents. I’ve taught drawing and illustration through a local art gallery, though I don’t have a degree. What I’ve learned about drawing and painting, I’ve learned through my own studies and practice and from following the example of those I respect.

MLP_Valeria

MLP_Solomon Kane

MLP_Conan

MLP_Kings of the Night

MLP_Red Sonya

Michael offers for sale many prints of his art through his website and he does commissioned pieces as well. You can also contact Michael directly here.

Currently Michael is hard at work on the second volume of his Crescent City Magick fantasy graphic novel series set in modern-day New Orleans. The first volume, Crescent City Magick: Welcome to New Orleans is available from Amazon. And keep a lookout for the second volume, Crescent City Magick, Vol 2: Waking the Witch.

This entry filed under Howard Illustrated.

Galliot

The Evening Gun: an English three-decker with sails loosed and a galliot in the foreground (painting by Willem van de Velde, The Younger 1633-1700)

noun

1. small swift galley formerly used in the Mediterranean; a long narrow shallow-draft Dutch merchant sailing ship

[origin: 14th century. 1. Middle English galiot, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin galeota; and Dutch galjoot, from Middle French galiot]

HOWARD’S USAGE:

By the crimson cliffs where the spray is blown
By the silver sands and the rose red stone,
There bides a shadow—alone, all alone—
Waiting the day, waiting the day.
The wind comes out of the East at morn
When the sheen of the sea is green,
The wind comes up from the Matterhorn
And the great red ships careen.
The gulls carved white I the blasting blue,
Their wings are silver and snow;
They hear the great tides thunder through
To beat on the beach below—
They hear waves hammer on sands below,
The clash and the clamor, the flee and the flow,
The magic and wonder of reef riven thunder,
The sands going under the spray white as snow.
The sunset is calling,
The dawn’s on the lea;
The silence is falling
Across the white sea,
And dim through the scorn of a morn on the Horn
The galliots, galleys and galleons flee.
To the ends of the earth
And the roads of the world,
To the ocean’s broad girth
With their banners unfurled—
Will you laugh in the bend of a curse when the shout of the
Trade wind is hurled?

[from “Renunciation”; to read the complete poem, see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 267]

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

Horror5

Brill could speak Spanish himself, and read it, too, but like most Anglo-Saxons he preferred to speak his own language.

– Robert E. Howard, “The Horror from the Mound”

Neither H. P. Lovecraft nor Robert E. Howard were ever fluent in Spanish, though both of them were at least somewhat familiar with it. The evidence for Lovecraft’s knowledge is fairly slight: the two passages in his story “The Mound,” which had been ghostwritten for Zealia Brown Reed Bishop, both of which are largely accurate (the final portion was deliberately designed to appear somewhat crude) and speak of the aid of a dictionary and grammar.

Howard’s knowledge of Spanish was probably more utilitarian. In at least a casual way, Howard had picked up at least a small stock of Spanish and Mexican words—exclamations, terms of address, names of food and drink. Certainly when Spanish-speaking characters appear in his stories their English dialogue tends to be sprinkled with a few choice Spanish terms, although sometimes with some peculiarities of spelling; a common technique when Howard wanted to express something of the rural or uneducated nature of the speaker, though it’s hard to tell exactly sometimes if he’s doing it on purpose or not, as he seems to have relatively quickly dropped this tendency in Spanish. So for example in “Red Shadows” (1928) he writes “Senhor,” in “Winner Take All” (1930) he writes “Senyor,” but in “The Horror from the Mound” (1932) he writes “Señor.

In September 1931, back in Providence after his sojourn in Florida, Lovecraft broached a new subject in his correspondence with Howard:

We have almost no Spanish-speakers in New England, though New York has large Porto-Rican sections. In Southern Florida, Cubans are quite numerous; though they do not seem to present any unusual problems in law-enforcement. Key West is fully half Cuban, and some of the Latins there seemed very prepossessing—infinitely better than the swarms of Italians in the north. Nevertheless, the average Floridian wishes there were less. Just now there is much regret at the way they are trickling into Miami—hitherto all-Nordic. (AMTF1.212)

This prompted a response from Howard:

The main thing I dislike about Mexicans is their refusal to speak English. Most of them can speak our language—at least they can, but they wont. Of course, numbers of Mexicans will answer questions to the best of their ability, but lots of them—and especially when you get south of San Antonio where they swarm—seem to think they are subtly insulting a white man by denying all knowledge of the English language. Ask one of them something and very often he’ll look at you stolidly—”No sabe Englese.” You know he’s lying, but there’s nothing you can do about it. You restrain your impulse to strangle him, and go on. The average Texan knows as little about Spanish as the average Mexican claims to know about English. I guess its the Indian blood in them that makes them so confoundedly stolid and reticent.

I ran onto a white renegade once, though, that made me madder than any Mexican ever did. He was a white-bearded dissolute looking old scoundrel, clad in the slouch hat and boots of a cowboy, and he was apparently living in the Mexican quarter of a little South Texas town, not so very far from the Border. He refused to talk, also, or to answer a simple, civil question, and a fat Mexican woman leaned out of a window, squealing an hilarious string of Spanish, at which the brown-skinned loafers chortled and looked superior. I thought yearningly of San Jacinto, and left. It’s bad enough for a greaser to retire behind a masquerade of ignorance in order to avoid answering a civil question regarding directions, etc., but when a white man sinks so low he consorts with the limpid-eyed heathen and pulls that “no savvy” business, it rouses thoughts of massacre and sudden immolation. (AMTF1.227-228; CL2.268-269)

Lovecraft replied:

The Mexican habit of denying knowledge of English undoubtedly has its roots in an age-old peasant tradition—that of a furtive defensiveness which feigns ignorance and stupidity. It crops out in all well-marked peasant elements, and the peon psychology of the low-grade Mexican no doubt accentuates it to its highest possible degree. I can well imagine that the acme of exasperatingness in this line is reached when a white man “goes native” and adopts the “no sabe” pose himself. (AMTF1.235-236)

This passage illustrates one of the fundamental differences between Howard and Lovecraft’s approach to the same issue. Howard feels it is sufficient to lay the blame on “the Indian blood”—attributing the perceived reticence and incivility as an issue of race. Lovecraft’s response seeks to incorporate the behavior into a wider philosophy, and so blames class as much as race. In any event, something very much like this exchange occurs in Howard’s story “The Horror from the Mound”:

“Lopez,” said Brill lazily, “it ain’t none of my business, but I just wanted to ask you – how come you always go so far around that old Indian mound?”

No sabe,” grunted Lopez shortly.

“You’re a liar,” responded Brill genially. “You savvy all right; you speak English as good as me. What’s the matter – you think that mound’s ha’nted or somethin’?”

Brill could speak Spanish himself, and read it, too, but like most Anglo-Saxons he preferred to speak his own language.

Lopez shrugged his shoulders.

“It’s not a good place, no bueno?” he muttered, avoiding Brill’s eye. “Let hidden things rest.”

The phrase “he preferred to speak his own language” touches on the clash of Spanish and English languages in the Southwest; a part of the collision of cultures in the area, and language acted both as a barrier to communication and an element of shared cultural identity that set one group apart from another—because whatever ancestors an Hispanic person might have, they spoke the same language and partook, in some part, in the cultural heritage of Spain. For example, in “Pilgrims of the Pecos” (1936) there is the following exchange:

“Which camp was they goin’ for first?” I demanded.

“I dunno,” he said. “They talked mostly in Spanish I can’t understand.”

Here, the difference in languages acts as a barrier, helping to set the groups apart and heightening tension, as the plans of the Mexican bandits cannot be known for sure. Take another example, from “Black Vulmea’s Vengeance” (1936):

The presence of the black man was not inexplicable. Negro slaves, fleeing from Spanish masters, frequently took to the jungle and lived with the natives. […] “I came swiftly when I heard the drum,” he said gutturally, in the bastard-Spanish that served as a common speech for the savages of both colors.

Here, Spanish is acts as a convenient lingua franca, if not explicitly the basis for a common identity, than at least the basis for a common understanding. Again, however, there is a class distinction between Castilian and the “bastard-Spanish” spoken by the Cimarrónes, much as Lovecraft felt the need to distinguish between “Oxonian Spanish” and “the patois of the peon of New Spain” in “The Transition of Juan Romero.”

TRANSITIONOFJUANROMEROIf Lovecraft and Howard were not fluent in any Spanish dialect, they were more than conversant in the slurs regarding the Hispanic population. “Greaser” as a derogatory term for Mexicans was common enough for both Howard and Lovecraft, although ironically Howard used it more in his letters and Lovecraft used it more in his fiction, particularly “The Transition of Juan Romero” and “The Electric Executioner.” The harsher “spig” was much less common, and restricted to Howard, who used it exactly once in fiction, in “The Horror from the Mound,” in the thoughts of the casually racist Steve Brill.

Brill is perhaps the best example of the common prejudices expressed by Howard and Lovecraft, and which is given thought and voice in the white characters of their various stories. For Brill in “The Horror from the Mound,” prejudice is so easy and natural to him that it goes almost unnoticed and uncommented upon. He assumes the worst of his Mexican neighbor almost as a matter of course, suspects him immediately, and even when Lopez appears dead his immediate thought is that another Mexican committed the crime, thinking only:

Such crimes were revolting, but common enough, especially among Mexicans, who cherished unguessed feuds.

The reader never sees beyond the end of “The Horror from the Mound,” whether Brill ever comes to terms with the fact that he was wrong about Juan Lopez on all accounts, and that it was only his prejudices that had set in motion the events of the story. We will never know if he would examine his racism, and learn to fight the views that have comes so naturally to him. Perhaps not: Brill’s views were not very different than those held Howard and Lovecraft, and over the six years of their life and correspondence their basic prejudices changed little, though they certainly expanded each other’s knowledge of the Hispanic peoples and culture they had experienced during that time, and their correspondence affected their understanding of Hispanic peoples.

That in itself may be one of the great lost opportunities of their exchange of letters: for while they joked and debated, wove tales and traded facts, weighed each other’s arguments on dozens of points, on this issue neither of them seems to have reexamined their fundamental prejudices regarding Hispanics.

Works Cited

AMTF    A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (2 vols.)
CL        Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard
(3 vols. + Index and Addenda)
SL        Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft (5 vols.)

Art Credits: ‘The Horror from the Mound” by Jim Ordolis, The “Transition of Juan Romero” by David Reuss

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

This entry filed under H. P. Lovecraft, Howard's Fiction.

40968414_293878bd67_b

A Roman statue of Isis holding a sistrum

noun

1. A percussion instrument of ancient Egypt, Sumeria and Rome consisting of metal rods or loops attached to a metal frame.

[origin: Middle English, from Latin sistrum, from Greek seistron, from seiein, to shake]

HOWARD’S USAGE:

Mylitta’s girdle stolen
From Punic lecterns high,
A golden fruit from Atlas
Who once upheld the sky.

Astarte’s silver sistrem [sic]
Fair Ishtar’s virgin zone,
Priapus’ phallic signet,
A gem from pharaoh’s throne

A verse from Capri’s island
Upon a shield of gold
Once decked Troy’s campaniles
By Sappho’s hand enscrolled.

[from “The Road to Babel”; to read the complete poem, see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 305 and Shadows of Dreams, p. 67]

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