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I was digging through some old REHupa mailings the other day and noticed something that might be of interest. Back in 2010, one of the side trips I took on the way to Howard Days was a little excursion to Marlin, in Falls County, Texas. Robert E. Howard spent lots of time in Marlin on multiple occasions. His May 9, 1931 letter to Clyde Smith is addressed from Marlin, as is the earliest letter we have of Howard’s. At the end of that June 8, 1923 letter, Howard tells Smith, “A letter addressed Robert E. Howard, 508 Coleman Street, Marlin will reach me or should, also one addressed Ali Akbar, 508 Coleman Street Marlin, Texas, should reach me.”

The big draw back then was the town’s natural hot springs. What could be better for Hester Howard’s tuberculosis than the healing waters at Marlin? The Howards were apparently such frequent visitors at the Torbett Sanatorium (above) that Bob became friends with Doctor Torbett’s nephew, Thurston. Thurston’s mother even wrote a letter to Strange Tales’ editor Harry Bates praising Howard’s work. Anyway, my main goal in 2010 was to find out about this 508 Coleman address. I had heard that it was the address for the Torbett Sanatorium, but that turned out not to be the case.

Just past the downtown area, on the north side of Coleman Street, are some pretty old houses—two-story affairs, most in need of some paint, and all with impressive trees and shrubbery growing in abundance. This is an old neighborhood. The homes on the south side are equally old and shaded by greenery, but these houses are much smaller, boxy little bungalows. The one pictured below has 508 above the door. [CORRECTION: A previous version of this post said “208” here. That was a typo. It’s 508.]

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That certainly isn’t the Torbett Sanatorium. But what would the Howard’s be doing in a little place like that? Just down the street, back toward town, the “Marlin Health Spa Apartments” provided the answer.

Modern visitors rent those apartments on the cheap to be near family members in the nearby hospital. They are more “homey” than a hotel room and come with small kitchens and laundry facilities. This is no doubt what 508 Coleman Street was in 1923: a convenient rental for families wanting to spend time in the healing waters.

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After my trip, I found a bunch of postcards for Marlin somewhere online. One of them was for the “Buie Clinic and Marlin Sanatarium Bath House.” The postcard was stamped on July 17, 1929. The inscription on the back reads as follows:

Dear Birdie and Family,
We left Houston last Friday morning at 6 a.m. arrived here 1 p.m. I like this place fine. John drinks lots of the water and is taking the baths every day. We came here in our car and the country here is beautiful. Our address is Mrs. [Something], 508 Coleman, Marlin, Tex.

That’s right, 508 Coleman. This appears to confirm that back in the 1920s, 508 Coleman was a place for short stays in Marlin, and provides another touchstone for the obsessed Robert E. Howard fan.

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Based on previous years, the twelve weeks until Howard Days are going to literally fly by. So if you are considering going, now is the time to make your arraingments.

In addition to this year’s Guest of Honor, Mark Schultz, there will be an emphasis on the friendship and correspondence between Howard and Lovecraft to mark the 125th anniversary of the Old Gent’s birth.

Of course there will be the usual popular panels and events again this year, plus a bus trip to Howard’s gravesite in the Greenleaf Cemetery located in Brownwood and a REH Trivia Contest with prizes for the winners.

Additionally, for you gamers, Patrice Louinet will be attending and will have all the details and news on the successful Kickstarter campaign for the new Conan board game coming out this Fall.

Here is the short version of this year’s Howard Days’ schedule:

Summary Schedule of Events and Activities

Thursday, June 11th:

2:00 – 4:00 pm: The Robert E. Howard House open to the public. No docents on duty. Pavilion and Gift Shop will be open.

The Cross Plains Barbarian Festival will conduct a Parade on Main Street at 6:00 pm and there will be a Fish Dinner at the Cross Plains Senior Center (proceeds benefit the Center). Howard Days attendees are encouraged to partake.

Friday, June 12th:

8:30 am until gone: Coffee and donuts at the Pavilion.

9:00 am – 4:00 pm: Robert E. Howard House Museum open to the public.

9:00 am – 4:00 pm: REH Postal Cancellation at Cross Plains Post Office. 9:00 am – 11:00 am: Bus Tour of Cross Plains and Surrounding Areas, leaving from the Pavilion.

10:00 am – 5:00 pm: Cross Plains Public Library open, REH manuscripts available for viewing.

10:00 am – 5:00 pm: Pavilion available for REH Swap Meet.

11:00 am: PANEL: “Conan vs. Cthulhu” at the Library.

Noon: Lunch hosted by Project Pride at the Pavilion.

1:30 pm: PANEL: “The Mark Schultz Hour” at the Library.

2:30 pm: PANEL: Presentation of the REH Foundation 2014 Awards, at the Library. (30 minutes)

3:15 pm to 5:15 pm: Bus Tour to Howard’s grave in the Greenleaf Cemetery in Brownwood; meet at Pavilion.

5:30 pm – 6:30 pm: Silent Auction items available for viewing and bidding at Banquet site.

6:30 pm: Robert E. Howard Celebration Banquet and Silent Auction at the Cross Plains Community Center.

9:00 pm: PANEL: “Fists at the Ice House” (behind the Texas Taxidermy building on Main Street).

Afterward there will be Howard Fellowship at the Pavilion and some extemporaneous REH Poetry Reading from the front porch of the House.

Saturday, June 13th:

9:00 am – 4:00 pm: Robert E. Howard House Museum open to the public.

9:00 am – 4:00 pm: The Barbarian Festival at Treadway Park, 3 blocks west of REH House.

10:00 am – 3:00 pm: Cross Plains Public Library open, REH manuscripts available for viewing.

10:30 am: PANEL: “A Means to Freedom: Letters of REH and HPL” at the Library.

10:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm: Pavilion available for REH items Swap Meet.

Lunch and Barbarian Festival activities at your leisure during the day.

1:30 pm: PANEL: “Robert E. Howard and Fantasy Gaming” at the Library.

2:30 pm: PANEL: “What’s Happening with Bob Howard?” at the Library. (30 minutes)

5:00 pm: Sunset BBQ at the Caddo Peak Ranch. Meet at Pavilion at 4:30 pm and caravan to Ranch.

Afterward there will be Howard Fellowship at the Pavilion and some extemporaneous REH Poetry Reading from the front porch of the House.

(All panels at REH Days last about one hour and are held at the Library unless noted.)

For more information, including the detailed schedule, where to stay, eat, etc. visit the REHupa 2015 Howard Days webpage.

Also, be sure and pre-register for the Banquet and Barbeque. The cost is only $15 per person. Please send your name(s) and address with a check or money order or register via PayPal: ProjPride@yahoo.com. The address for mail-in payments is Project Pride, Attn: REH Days 2015 Pre-registration, PO Box 534, Cross Plains, TX 76443. Please pre-register before June 6, 2015.

As the old saying goes, “be there or be square.”

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More than ever I sensed a deep and sinister wisdom behind the author’s incredible assertions as I read of the unseen worlds of unholy dimensions which Von Junzt maintains press, horrific and dimly guessed, on our universe, and of the blasphemous inhabitants of those Outer Worlds, which he maintains at times burst terribly through the Veil at the bidding of evil sorcerers, to blast the brains and feast on the blood of men.

— Robert E. Howard, “The Hoofed Thing

After he studied the Necronomicon in Paris, Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt’s preoccupation with eldritch cults deepened into obsession. Between the ages of 28 and 30, he travelled in Austria, Hungary and the Balkans. He halted in Prague for a time, a city which had been a centre of science and alchemy in the late 16th century. Ludwig Prinn, author of Mysteries of the Worm, had lived there for a decade. The famous English alchemist, astrologer and mathematician (and royal spymaster) John Dee also spent years there in the 1580s, at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II.

Further, in Prague, Junzt encountered Simon Orne, former close associate of the warlock, Joseph Curwen. Orne, perhaps maliciously, wrote Friedrich a letter of introduction to John Grimlan, then living in Providence. Orne was also familiar with Herrmann Mülder.

Von Junzt briefly looked upon the Black Stone, that evil monolith near the mountain village of Stregoicavar in south-western Hungary. He wrote of the Hungarian pillar as one of the “Keys”, and remarked that to believe it was a monument raised by Attila the Hun – as Otto Dostmann had – was “as logical as assuming that William the Conqueror reared Stonehenge” (REH, “The Black Stone”).

Von Junzt gave little space to the Hungarian “Black Stone” in his writings, however. It appears from this that the German scholar never suspected the Black Stone was actually the topmost “spire on a cyclopean black castle,” or he would surely have sought to dig beneath it.

VonJunzt2.jpgReturning from Eastern Europe, Friedrich set sail for North America, taking his trusted friend, Alexis Ladeau, with him. The pair landed in Nova Scotia early in 1825, went on to Quebec and thence south into Maine. Afterwards they stayed for two months in Boston. Then, in Providence, Junzt met John Grimlan, the most amazing and evil person he was ever to know – perhaps excepting Hermann Mülder.

Grimlan had been born in Suffolk in 1630. He became a sorcerer of considerable power. At the age of fifty, somewhere in the Levant, Grimlan contracted with a monstrous Being for a further two and a half centuries of life. The price was his soul and body once that span ended. The Entity with whom he bargained presented Itself as Malik Tous, the Peacock Sultan, identified by orthodox Muslims with Shaitan. Grimlan knew there was only one “Black Master” though variously named as Erlik, or Ahriman, or Malik Tous – or Nyarlathotep.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGrimlan took Friedrich into his confidence, to a degree, once he knew the German had read the Necronomicon and was an initiate of the Black Goat. Grimlan had been one of the many strange visitors who came by night to Joseph Curwen’s Pawtuxet farm, before Curwen was killed in 1771, by a party of more than a hundred men in a night attack (Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward). Curwen, like Grimlan, had been unnaturally long-lived and given to terrible traffic with nonhuman beings, Yog-Sothoth among them.

The Englishman revealed much to Junzt concerning the darker secrets of the East. In particular, Grimlan spoke of the Zurim, the Hidden Ones, “a pre-Canaanitish race who lived in Syria before the coming of the Semitic tribes … given to heathenish worship and … all kinds of black magic and human sacrifice”(REH, “Three-Bladed Doom”). In their great days the Zurim were the power behind the Assassins, and branches of the cult included Druses, Yezidees and Thugees. He also told Junzt of the “buried cities of the Zurim.” Judging from the veiled accounts given in Nameless Cults, Grimlan may have been referring to the underground complexes of Anatolia.

Grimlan hinted to Friedrich that the origins of the Zurim could be traced back to Yalgahn and the last days of the Hyborian Age. He also spoke darkly of the “brazen towers” which linked the Sinjar Mountains with Mongolia. Like Herrmann Mülder before him, Grimlan chuckled at Junzt’s superficial knowledge concerning the deeper secrets of the Far East.

5-cthulhu-bayou211Wearied of and disgusted with Grimlan’s mocking half-truths and obfuscations, Friedrich and Alexis set out for New Orleans. It was there that unique sources of occult lore were available to Ladeau. The ancient, wealthy and influential de Marignys of Louisiana were his distant cousins.

The two Europeans were warmly welcomed. The de Marigny family had a long history of interest in the occult going back to medieval France. They were able to provide a great deal of assistance to Junzt in regard to voodoo practices in the region.

It was in Louisiana that Friedrich and Alexis encountered the actual cult of Cthulhu. The cult was based in the swamp and lagoon country south of the city, a region of “traditionally evil repute” where there were “legends of a hidden lake … in which dwelt a huge, formless white polypous thing with luminous eyes; and squatters whispered that bat-winged devils flew up out of caverns in inner earth to worship it at midnight” (Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”).

Friedrich and his compatriots barely made it out alive. Ladeau was injured and, in the bargain, contracted malaria. Junzt, obsessed and driven as always, decided to press on. Ladeau’s recovery and care was given into the capable and compassionate hands of the de Marigny family. That convalescence would bear eldritch fruit a century later.

5-lafitte1Through the de Marignys, the Friedrich made contact with Jean Lafitte (Lafitte’s reported demise being, as Twain would say, greatly exaggerated). Lafitte liked Junzt. Both had seen bloody combat, as well as eldritch horrors. However, for various reasons, Lafitte referred Friedrich to a Cuban mulatto, Enrique. Enrique, who claimed to be named for Henry the Navigator, was captain of a Bermuda sloop. In Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Junzt would refer to him simply as “der Navigator.”

With Enrique at the helm, Junzt visited many of the islands of the Caribbean. As a result, he was the first occult researcher to publish an account concerning the deeper secrets of Haitian Vodou. The German savant is our initial and primary source regarding the “black drink” ceremony and “zuvembies.” It was during this segment of his journey that Friedrich learned of the primordial “Zemba” and Gol-goroth cults. He also discovered the location, by way of a Taino mestizo shaman, of the Temple of the Toad.

The Temple of the Toad lay in the jungles of what is now Honduras.  Junzt went in search of the temple, landing on the north coast at Tela. Seventy miles inland, in a remote valley near the Rio Sulaco, he found it.

Von Junzt’s passage in the Black Book concerning the temple is one of his most explicit references to “keys”. He entered the site, certainly, and found the desiccated ancient corpse of the last high priest, with a red jewel in the form of a toad hanging around its neck on a copper chain. Using the pendant, Friedrich explored the inner sanctum of the temple. Apparently, he was a bit wiser in doing so than the treasure-hunter, Tussmann, who followed in the German’s footsteps decades later.

After leaving the temple, Junzt traveled in Guatemala and Yucatan. He nearly died of yellow fever, but came through and recovered in Belize. His convalescence, typically for the disease, was a long one, but his constitution was strong. In 1830 Junzt departed from Acapulco on a voyage across the Pacific.

5moai-easter1The vessel on which he bought passage was the Joshua, a whaler from Sydney, Australia, under the command of a tough, brutal captain, Davey Arkright. From Mexico, Friedrich headed south to the coasts of Peru, a popular whaling ground, and thence to a brief stop at Easter Island. Junzt went ashore to examine the renowned statues of the island. He concluded that, as Herrmann Mülder had once told him, Easter Island was a former south-eastern extremity of Mu, the lost continent of the Pacific.

Upon leaving the island, the German savant paid Arkright well to search for “Karath the Shining City” of Mu, which REH mentions in his fragment “The Isle of the Eons”. Junzt had heard of it from Mülder, who in turn had read of it in the Ghorl Nigral. The search proved fruitless… and perhaps that is for the best.

Upon reaching Sydney, Friedrich jumped ship, made his way to the Dutch East Indies, and thence to the Philippines. He sailed for the Caroline Islands, where he investigated the massive stone ruins of Nan Madol. Junzt concluded that these were probably of “late Lemurian”  origin, remnants of the semi-barbaric Lemurian pelagic regime which ruled the Pacific after the inundation of Mu.

(Junzt’s mentions of “Lemuria/Lemurian” would seem to antedate any other modern reference, anticipating Haeckel and Blavatsky by decades. Friedrich arrived at his own conclusions and should not suffer for the misapprehensions of later scholars.)

Sailing south, the German savant disembarked in Malacca. While there, he gathered hints of ancient Naacal/proto-Stygian survivals. As was his wont, Junzt infiltrated local cults. It was in the jungles north of Malacca that he first encountered the Tcho-tchos and the tainted ecstasies of the black lotus. The antediluvian drug opened Friedrich’s mind to dream-realms and dimensions he had, heretofore, only guessed at. He staggered back to Malacca and set sail for Zanzibar.

Abdul_AlhazredVon Junzt’s obsession with ancient mysteries impelled him towards Africa and Arabia. His investigations concerning the “Zemba” cult, as well as those regarding Cthulhu, Ghatanothoa and Dagon, drove him there. From his youth, Friedrich had dreamed of visiting Yemen, home of the mad poet Abdul Alhazred who had written the Necronomicon. That grimoire referred to a “city in the wastes.”  Junzt made plans to find that city.

During 1832, Friedrich von Junzt halted for a time in the Zanzibar Islands, then under the rule of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman. There, in the slave-pens, Junzt found — and freed — an nganga (Bantu shaman) from the interior. From that shaman, he learned of Cthulhu worship in “Great Zembabwei.” Also, Junzt was tutored in the lore of what the nganga referred to as “very old, old Zembabwei.” Friedrich concluded that the shaman was referring to the Hyborian Age kingdom of Zembabwei, whose ancient northern borders lay just across the Zanzibar Channel. In addition, the German savant gathered information pertaining to the cults of Zemba and Gol-goroth further south and inland.

Boarding a British frigate, Friedrich set sail for the city of Sana’a in Yemen, the ancient birthplace of Alhazred. His attempts to visit the Rub’ al-Khali (and locate an Arabic manuscript of Al Azif) were less than successful. He barely escaped with his life. The Arabian peninsula, since the days of the Prophet, has only welcomed the Faithful.

AVon Junzt was pleased at gaining permission to travel in Egypt. Its ancient history had long fascinated him. In one of the plainest, most unambiguous passages in Nameless Cults, Junzt asserted he had seen the Labyrinth of Kish which Nephren-Ka created beneath the hidden valley of Hadoth. His accounts of ghouls and caverns below the Gizeh plateau were more circumspect.

Friedrich returned to Europe by way of Turkey. He was now thirty-eight. He began correlating his vast mass of notes and organizing the material into the basis for a book. He worked intensely on the manuscript which he would call Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten and which would be titled Nameless Cults in the (Bridewall) English translation.

Von Junzt arranged his magnum opus in chapters which followed, in close outline, his actual travels in chronological order. Friedrich frequently rambled in the text, though, and in other places was deliberately obscure or ambiguous. In some passages he wrote as though close to hysteria. The book contains many flat assertions of a bizarre nature, without argument or evidence to support them. These genuine flaws gave many conventional publishers the excuse they greatly desired –considering Friedrich’s social status — for rejecting it.

Von Junzt offered it first to Konigsberg University. The authorities there denounced it, nor was it received any better elsewhere in Germany or France. Spanish scholarly presses refused to even consider it. The cosmology, and presentation of a universe in which there was no supreme moral order and human beings were insignificant, was deemed outrageous. Moreover, the hideous practices of the various cults described, and Junzt’s acquaintance with them, brought much personal vituperation on the German savant.

A10UKVon Junzt eventually had Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten printed at his own expense, privately, with an initial run of one hundred copies. Even then there were difficulties. One printer deliberately sabotaged the presses and burned the copy from which he was setting the type; a second killed himself. Eventually, in 1839, Friedrich turned in desperation to Herrmann Mülder’s cousin, Gottfried, who had hand-bound the translated codex of the Ghorl Nigral.

While engaged in this struggle, Junzt carried out further researches. He had long contemplated a journey to Mongolia for other reasons; to learn the inner secrets of the cult of Erlik, the death-lord, for one. Friedrich’s conversations with Herrmann Mülder had hardened his resolve beyond reasoning. He was determined to plumb the deepest secrets of Inner Asia.

He set out in 1836.

Images by Bryan “Zarono” Reagan, Chris Schweizer and Others.

Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Six

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Mary Ervin, aka “Maxine,” the youngest of her Ervin clan, was born at Big Spring, Texas, on October 12, 1906, to William Vinson Ervin, Sr. (Hester Howard’s brother) and Ida (Ezzell) Ervin (the sister of Hester Howard’s former heart-throb, Frank Ezzell). In January 1908, the Ervin family played host to William’s sister, Hester, her husband, Dr. I. M. Howard, and their baby boy, Robert E. The Howards stayed a few weeks “due to illness” and then made their way to Seminole, up in Gaines County.

The 1910 US Census for Howard County, Texas, lists W. V. Ervin, age 48, as “Editor” for a “Paper” in Big Spring, with wife, Ida, 38; two sons, Vinson, 15, and Jessie, 13; and two daughters, Lesta, 8, and Maxine, 3. By the time of the 1920 Census, Jessie had flown the coop, W. V. was upgraded to “Publisher,” and everyone was 10 years older.

In 1921, Maxine participated in at least two declamation contests for the Big Spring high school, winning first place at one of them. She was on the Seventh Grade Exercises program with a “Reading” (sister Lesta performed a piano solo).

There is little evidence of the Ervins in the Big Spring High School yearbooks, the El Rodeo: only the senior photo of Lesta from 1919 and the “Irven” in the “Public Speaking Club” from 1922 that heads this post. My guess is that’s Maxine. She bears a striking resemblance to her Aunt Hester, if you ask me.

In the early 1920s, W. V. Ervin appears to have been starting newspapers in several small Texas towns, including Gail, Westbrook, and Putnam, all practically ghost towns today (yes, I’ve been to all of them). This caused him to be away from the family much of the time, but items in the newspapers show that he visited home frequently, and that his daughters often returned the favor—when they had a break from school. While working on the paper at Putnam, in Callahan County, the Ervins visited the Howards in Cross Plains:

The Misses Maxine and Lesta Erving, of Big Springs were visiting their uncle, Dr. Howard and family, last week. They formerly were in the newspaper business, and for a time the two girls published a paper at Putnam, doing all the work themselves. They stated that they thought Cross Plains was a splendid town, and their visit here was a pleasant one (Cross Plains Review – Oct. 5, 1923).

In a letter dated the same day as the paper, Robert E. Howard told Tevis Clyde Smith a little more about the visit: “I’ve had two cousins visiting me, whom I hadn’t seen for fifteen years. They’d read the International Adventure Library and from what they said, Dracula is a hum-dinger. I’m going to order the set right away.”

In 1924, Maxine ran an ad in the Big Spring paper: “I am prepared to take a few pupils in expression. Maxine Ervin.” Also in 1924, sister Lesta moved to the big city and landed a job with the Dallas News; by 1927, Maxine had joined her as both appear in that year’s Dallas City Directory at 2515 Maple Avenue. Early in 1927, Lesta switched from the newspaper game to Etna Insurance. In November, their father William died.

In his essay, “The Last Celt,” Harold Preece reports on Maxine’s activities at the time: “During 1927, while I was enrolled at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, I was introduced by a fellow student to a visiting Dallas girl named Maxine Ervin. Maxine was employed as a clerk by a Dallas newspaper, though she shared my then very incipient literary ambitions. She was a remarkably intelligent woman, and a friendship of some years would follow.”

1927 Texicoma Yearbook p09 - group photo - web

In another of Preece’s essays, “Robert’s Lady Cousin,” he describes Maxine as handsome and conservative, and says that she once described her cousin Robert as “a Tristan” from Celtic legendry. That essay also describes a 1927 Lone Scout convention that gave rise to a group called The Junto. Maxine was responsible for a photo of those Lone Scouts that appeared in the paper (an alternate shot appears above), was mentioned in the 1927 Texicoma Yearbook (click image below), and ended up being a member of The Junto, as well, but not many of her contributions have surfaced.

1927 Texicoma Yearbook p07

In 1928, Maxine is listed as a “journalist” with her sister at 4933 Victor Street in the city directory, but she wasn’t in Dallas for the whole year; on September 21, 1928, the Big Spring Herald reported the following: “Miss Maxine Ervin arrived from Dallas to accept a position with the West Texan, the new weekly publication, which is to make its advent here in the near future.” By 1929, Maxine appears to have moved back to Dallas. Both she and Lesta are at 2505 Maple in the city directory. Maxine again listed as “journalist.”

In March 1928, The Junto began its circulation. The first contribution by Maxine that survives is a comment on a previous issue that appeared in the October 1928 mailing:

Good Lord! What are we, cut throats? Have we lost sight of our treasured philosophy, our staunch independence, etc., etc? Did somebody accidentally drop a bomb that wasn’t a dud? I feel like I’d just been in a volcano or something after all this. The Junto is very good. Who is A.M.Y.? No fair hiding behind an alias. Anyway, what he or she said about Truett isn’t quite fair. As for “Our Beloved Barbarian” he can take care of himself.

Her only contribution to the December 1928 issue is this short comment about the November issue: “Not as good as usual.”

Around this time, Junto editor Booth Mooney was asking for biographies of the members. Robert E. Howard was less than enthusiastic about this, telling Clyde Smith in a letter that “I’ve decided I don’t care to have mine appear in the Junto. There are several reasons, the main one being that as several of my cousins receive it, my mother would be pretty near bound to hear about it and there are a good many things in my life that I don’t want her to know about.”

By July 1929, Maxine was back in Big Spring again; on The Junto’s mailing list for that month, Maxine had crossed out the Maple Avenue address and written “Box 1224, Big Spring, Texas.” She also had this comment about the mailing: “The best issue we have had in a long time, and it still has plenty of room for improvement.”

The August 1929 Junto contains a rather sexist piece on women by Harold Preece. Maxine wrote the following on the mailing list: “This issue is very good. I agree with Schultze that Harold is all off about women. Fact is, all men are.” She followed this short comment up with a longer one in the September mailing:

More about Mr. Preece
by Maxine Ervin

I may be putting my foot into it, but I feel like Harold has rather flung a challenge at some of “us girls” and that it should be taken up.
Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not defending womanhood against any mere male’s implications, accusations, attacks, satires, or what not for the simple reason that it isn’t necessary and it isn’t needed. Woman stands alone. She doesn’t give two “whoops and a holler” (quoting hill slang) what the world thinks of her; not if she is all genuine woman, she doesn’t; she may pretend she does, but deep down in her heart, she knows it isn’t so, and that she is going to go her own sweet way and enjoy herself.

The trouble is that women are just now beginning to find themselves. They have been so hampered and fettered by these generations past of strong men that they haven’t had the time nor the opportunity to find out what they really and truly do want. They are just now beginning to understand what life is all about and the vital part that they can play in it. They are learning that they have rights and the power to assert those same rights.

Pistols and horse whips have played a large part in woman’s emancipation, for she has learned that she, too, can meet brute force with brute force when it becomes necessary. If more women would shoot and horse-whip men who insult them and try this cave-man stuff, there’d be less of it, believe it or not.

The fact of the business is that men don’t like to see their chattels, toys, buffoons, slaves and what-not getting on an equal footing with them, economically, socially, or otherwise. It doesn’t suit his male desire for supremacy, for bullying, and brow-beating. He is denied having a meek, helpless something on which to vent the rage and other emotions that he is not man enough to control.

Oh, be fair. I think that all of this double-standard business is the most asinine, insane, and idiotic rot that ever was. I also think the same thing about this constant war of the sexes. We are human; we have human desires, aspirations, and hopes; we have our peculiarities, but first, last, and all the time we are HUMAN. Why can’t we behave as such and live and let live? Of course, there are some men who are unspeakable and some women who are unspeakable, but there are so many, many times their number who are real that I think it is silly to think of the few misfits and rotters when there are so many wonderful ones to think about.

Perhaps women haven’t yet become artists and musicians to rank with their brothers, but give them time. There never has been anything yet that women haven’t been able to attain once they set themselves to it. Anything within reason and that can be accomplished without a great deal of force as wars, for instance.

This is the way I feel about the subject. But I agree with Schultze that Harold should study his subject more. I am inclined to think that for some reason Harold is prejudiced and has not yet been able to re-assume an open minded attitude on the subject. Yet he swears he’s a genuine socialist!

This was the last of Maxine’s contributions to The Junto, as far as we know. The mailing list for the February 1930 issue has her address as “Maxine Ervin, c/o Beaumont Enterprise, Beaumont.” The US Census for that year has her there with her sister Lesta B., lodgers in the hotel of William Martin; Maxine’s occupation is listed as “newspaper work.”

Ervin-Yew

By 1934 she’d moved to Longview, where she appears in the city directory with her mother and brother, William Vinson, Jr. In 1935 she had a short story, “They Die by Night,” published in Murder Mysteries. She appears to have spent some time writing radio scripts in Texas and California after this. In the fall of 1938, her first novel appeared, Death in the Yew Alley. I found a copy of this and can’t recommend it, nor another of her works, If I Die, It’s Murder (1945). An October 30, 1938 article in the Wichita Daily Times (below) has Maxine living in Wichita Falls, but the 1940 Census has her back in Longview, working as a reporter, with two years of college under her belt. Her mother Ida died in November of that year; the obituary reports Maxine’s address as Houston. On August 14, 1945, Maxine was the “informant” on sister Lesta’s death certificate. Her residence is reported as Fort Worth, profession is “writer.”

1938 10-30 Wichita Daily Times

On July 27, 1948, the Breckenridge American had this: “Mary Ervin has come up from Mineral Wells to help out with society a while, telephone her your news.” Two days later, they ran a follow up:

Miss Mary Ervin has come as a relief worker on society to the Breckenridge American. She is away from California about three years. We asked today to give us her first impression of Breckenridge. She wrote:

“A gradual descent extending over more than three years has taken me from San Francisco’s forty-five degree hills to Mineral Wells’ not-so-steep hills, to the smooth, level prairie that is Breckenridge. My notion was Breckenridge leaned more to hills and woodlands than to prairie, so I had a surprise. It is all one piece of that long West Texas stretch which reaches from Fort Worth to El Paso. Breckenridge is a nice place to be in and part of, even if it hasn’t an up and down side to it.”

This didn’t last long though. The August 10 issue has this: “Miss Mary Ervin, who has been helping out in American office, in hospital in Mineral Wells—Society news will be printed as sent in until successor arrives.”

The early 1950s has Mary working the Society column for the Liberty Vindicator, out of Liberty, Texas. An introductory piece, “Mary Ervin New Editor of Page,” appeared on August 30, 1951. Her pieces appeared until at least mid-1952.

On July 25, 1963, Mary “Maxine” Ervin died of heart failure at the Wichita Falls State Hospital. Her residence at the time was the Jerome Hotel in Mineral Wells. Her profession was recorded as “reporter.” She is buried in Wichita Falls.

This entry filed under Harold Preece, Howard Biography.

EPSON MFP image

“You dog,” said the emir, “there is war in the wind and the Archduke has need of your sword.”

“Devil eat the Archduke,” answered Gombuk; “Zapolya is a dog because he stood aside at Mohacz and let us, his comrades, be cut to pieces, but Ferdinand is a dog too. When I am penniless I sell him my sword. Now I have two hundred ducats and these robes which I can sell to any Jew for a handful of silver, and may the devil bite me if I draw sword for any man while I have a penny left. I’m for the nearest Christian tavern, and you and the Archduke may go to the devil.”

Then the emir cursed him with many great curses, and Gombuk rode away laughing, huh! huh! huh! and singing a song about a cockroach named –

— Robert E. Howard, “The Shadow of the Vulture”

Sometimes Gottfried von Kalmbach was carefree to the point of irresponsibility, and sometimes he brooded. The summer of 1527 found him brooding. His plunder from the sack of Rome had gone, and staunch old von Frundsberg, the best man at that spree of city-wide burglary (which he had tried vainly to prevent) was wounded and destitute. While he entered a decline, traitors like John Zapolya and tyrants like the Sultan of Turkey flourished. The devil ruled.

Von Kalmbach rode east from Germany into Austria again. Little as he cared for the Archduke Ferdinand, he was now penniless, and as he said, in those circumstances he sold Ferdinand his sword. The Archduke was now lord of the western third of Hungary, since its young king had perished. There was ample fighting to be done if that was to be saved from falling to the Ottomans like the rest. After the Battle of Mohacs in 1526, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent had taken Buda and Pesth, and removed many of its people to Istanbul as slaves, but not reduced it to a Turkish vassal city permanently; not then. Probably he did not judge that the time was right, and left lasting conquest for later.

sackWhile von Kalmbach had been merrily taking part in the sack of Rome, the treacherous voivode of Transylvania, John Zapolya, who had left the Hungarians in the lurch at the battle of Mohacs, had been tussling with his rival Ferdinand for the rule of Hungary. In September 1527 they fought the Battle of Tarcal, which the Austrians won, forcing Zapolya to retreat into Transylvania. He had betrayed the Hungarians at Mohacs instead of supporting them as promised, in order to gain the Turkish Sultan’s favor and become vassal king of Hungary. Suleiman’s diplomats had been all honey at the time, but this failure of Zapolya’s made the Ottoman lord doubtful of his value. Desperate to prove his worth to Suleiman, the voivode raised a new army of about 15,000 men, nearly all Transylvanians, Poles and Serbs, and advanced into Hungary again in 1528.

During this time a new diplomatic player had entered the game, one who appears to have been Zapolya’s equal in two-faced treachery. He was Hieronymus Jaroslaw Laski, whom REH mentions early in “Shadow of the Vulture” as “Jerome Lasczky, the Polish count palatine”. Laski had indeed been Palatine of Inowroclaw and Seradia, but after Mohacs he decided he could do better for himself than that. He ignored the policies of his own king, Sigismund I of Poland, an ally of Austria, and carried out a diplomatic mission for Zapolya. He raised a considerable sum in gold from France, but by the time he returned with it, Zapolya had been beaten at Tarcal.

489px-Szapolyai_János_VUEarly in 1528, Laski went as an envoy to Istanbul for Zapolya. In REH’s words Laski “like a suppliant, asked on his bended knees” for the crown of Hungary, and was given “honor, gold and promises of patronage, for which he had paid with pledges abhorrent even to his avaricious soul – selling his ally’s subjects into slavery, and opening the road through the subject territory to the very heart of Christendom.”

Laski had the effrontery to negotiate a ten years’ truce between his old master King Sigismund and the Sultan while he was about it – which he had no more authority to do than to offer the Sultan Spain and England. Shortly afterwards, Zapolya advanced into Hungary with his mixed army, and an army of Ferdinand’s, made up of Austrians, Germans and Hungarians, met it under the command of Count Bálint Török and the Slovenian, Johann Katzianer.

Bálint Török is one of the many colorful characters of the period that REH did not mention in “Shadow of the Vulture.” He couldn’t have mentioned, let alone done justice, to all of them, of course, or the story would never have moved forward. He wasn’t writing in the days of Victor Hugo or Charles Dickens. However, in spite of belonging to the royal party of Hungary originally, and fighting ferociously against Zapolya on this and other occasions, Török went over to Zapolya’s side later. He was fabulously rich, so perhaps he saw that as his best chance of keeping his fortune and lands. He fell from Turkish favor in the end, and ended his life a prisoner in the Seven Towers of Istanbul in 1551.

Map of HunGottfried von Kalmbach was with Török and Katzianer in 1528, taking much satisfaction in this chance to strike back at the detested Zapolya. The voivode had meant to march upon the Hungarian capital, Buda, but was intercepted near Košice and could not carry out his intention. Then the Serbian and Polish mercenaries in Zapolya’s force turned against each other, wrecking his plans completely. Ferdinand’s army trounced the traitor. Gottfried waded in blood like a happy tiger, though he was disappointed in his hopes to kill Zapolya personally. The voivode fled for shelter to Poland, and King Sigismund granted him refuge, but refused to take hostile action against Austria. As it happened, Jerome Laski had already gained the support of the Sultan for Zapolya, so that was no immense setback.

Unaware of this, Archduke Ferdinand resolved to send an embassy of his own to the Sublime Porte. Its purpose was to negotiate the disposal of the Hungarian crown. He chose, as we read in “Shadow of the Vulture,” a blunt old war-horse of a general named Habordansky to lead it.

Gottfried, a man with a heroic if turbulent and undisciplined past, pleaded to be part of the embassy. He did not think it very likely to succeed, but he remembered the charge of the thirty-two knights at Mohacs and their attempt to kill the Sultan Suleiman. He was the lone survivor of the charge. He promised the ghosts of his friend Albert Marczali and thirty others that he would amend that failure if possible. Perhaps, if he came into the Sultan’s presence … he could not kill Suleiman and survive, but then he had not volunteered for the death-charge with Marczali in order to survive. Suleiman the Magnificent threatened all Christian Europe.

Habordansky accepted him. The blunt old warrior found Gottfried a man to his taste. He had no idea what was in the Bavarian’s mind.

s10-suleyman1Gottfried did not wear the arms of his family to Istanbul with Ferdinand’s envoys. He was sure the Sultan would remember the one man in Marczali’s suicide charge who came close enough to wound him!  The von Kalmbach arms had shown proudly on his shield and coat, even through the dirt of battle, the day he had almost killed the Sultan, and he knew Suleiman would not forget that silver and purple division with the device of a bear. For that matter, he had seen Gottfried’s face, the German’s helmet having been hacked from his head, but only briefly, in the confusion of battle. Besides, there had been blood obscuring his visage. He supposed he was safe enough from recognition.

He underestimated Suleiman’s concern for detail. His spies had informed him there had been thirty-two knights in Marczali’s death charge. Their heads had been piled before Suleiman’s tent after Mohacs, and by counting them he had ascertained there were only thirty-one. It did not follow that the missing man survived, of course; so many hacked and butchered corpses are piled on a battlefield that they cannot all be accounted for. But Suleiman remembered.

As it happened, the whole embassy was soon in trouble, not von Kalmbach alone. At the first audience in the purple-domed royal chamber he saw there was no chance to assassinate the Sultan here. Not even if a man was willing to die immediately afterwards. It was literally impossible. He was unarmed, and between him and Suleiman’s throne-dais stood twenty Solaks, picked armored warriors of the Sultan’s guard. In addition, Gottfried and the others, General Habordansky included, entered the Sultan’s presence with two powerful janissaries gripping the arms of each. “Thus were foreign envoys presented to the sultans,” REH informs us, “ever since that red day by Kossova when Milosh Kabilovitch, knight of slaughtered Serbia, had slain the conqueror Murad with a hidden dagger.”

I’m with REH. Good for Milosh. Who invited Murad to make a butcher’s yard out of Serbia?

Castle_of_Seven_Towers_IstanbulHabordansky seems to have been insufficiently humble for the Sultan’s liking. Jerome Laski had come first and been well received. Habordansky, too late and too blunt, found himself and the Archduke’s other envoys tossed into durance in “the grim Castle of the Seven Towers that overlooks the Sea of Marmora,” the same prison in which Bálint Török was to end his life twenty-two years later. Habordansky, Gottfried and the rest sweated over their fates for nine months before being released and brought before the Sultan again.

Suleiman was about to continue his campaign against Christian Europe. His next objective was Austria; he considered that Archduke Ferdinand had tried his patience long enough. He scornfully presented each of the envoys with rich Turkish robes and two hundred ducats, and charged Habordansky with a curt message for his master the Archduke: “I now make ready to visit him in his own lands, and … if he fails to meet me at Mohacs or at Pesth, I will meet him beneath the walls of Vienna.”

RhodesThen, according to Howard’s story, the Sultan noticed Gottfried von Kalmbach and spoke to him, finding something about him familiar. He assured the German that he had seen his face, though he could not recall where. Gottfried, sweating inside his unfamiliar robes, no doubt, and thinking this was the end, answered that he had been at the siege of Rhodes, to which the Sultan snapped that many men had been there. Gottfried agreed. “De l’Isle Adam was there.”  That might have been his finish – the Grand Master of the Knights of St. John had cost the Turk sixty thousand men in his defense of Rhodes – but REH tells us the Sultan decided von Kalmbach wasn’t subtle enough to be planting a barb, and let it pass. The embassy left Istanbul and began its return to Vienna.

It was after von Kalmbach had left his city that the Sultan finally remembered where he had seen him before. He said as much to his vizier, Ibrahim, who was as close to him as a brother. “I could not mistake those blue eyes … the knight that wounded me at Mohacz was this German, Gottfried von Kalmbach … I love brave men, but our blood is not so common that an unbeliever may with impunity spill it on the ground for the dogs to lap up. See ye to it.”

Ibrahim did proceed to see to it. He sent a company of Tatars to bring von Kalmbach to Istanbul again. As Howard has him say cynically, “The persons of envoys are sacred, but this matter is not official.” The Tatars failed, however, because Gottfried had parted from the embassy in disgust, with the words quoted at the head of this post. He rode hard afterwards, to get out of Turkish reach, because the Sultan’s recollection of his face made him uneasy. He wanted to be far away very quickly in case Suleiman the Magnificent remembered the specific instance – as of course he had.

Ibrahim decided that catching von Kalmbach was not a task for an ordinary man. He sent for Mikhal Oglu. That is his name as rendered in “The Shadow of the Vulture,” and in Fairfax Downey’s The Grande Turke, from which REH got much of his background for “TSotV.” (I believe he was actually known in the Sultan’s army as “Ahmad Mikhaloglu.”) I’d never have known but for the incomparable Patrice Louinet, and a tip o’ the hat for that favor, bejabers. As Patrice says, “Mikhal Oglu” means “son or descendant of Mikhal,” and that appears to refer to Michael of the Peaked Beard, a Greek potentate who ruled Khirenkia in Phrygia in the days of Othman I, the founder of Ottoman greatness, and became Othman’s most loyal henchman.

Józef_Brandt_-_Potyczka_Kozaków_z_TataramiHis sixteenth-century descendant was the leader of the Sultan’s Akinji corps. Germans called them the “Sackmen.” The French referred to them as “Faucheurs” and “Ecorcheurs” – the “Mowers” and “Flayers.” They were irregular light cavalry, neither paid nor maintained. They had to support themselves from enemy country and live by pillage. Their function was to ride ahead of the main army on a campaign, fan out far beyond the general line of march, and spread terror by arson, massacre and enslavement. Mikhal Oglu was their commander. In REH’s words, his “very name was a shuddering watchword of horror to all western Asia.”

His by-name was the Vulture. He wore vulture feathers on his jeweled helmet and a pair of vulture’s wings attached to the back of his “gilded chain-mail hauberk”. They spread wide in the wind when he rode. He wasn’t alone in that; other commanders and horsemen in the Ottoman cavalry affected that device, and certain Christian heavy cavalry like the Polish Winged Hussars did the same. But Mikhal Oglu was outstanding for merciless slaughter even in the sixteenth century. He wasn’t so much an irregular cavalry leader as the hard-riding personification of death.

This was the person Grand Vizier Ibrahim sent to bring back Gottfried von Kalmbach’s head.

Images by Rafael Kayanan, Józef Brandt and Others

Read Part One, Part TwoPart Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven

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

1919 Lesta

Last winter my dad and I drove to Texas for the gazillionth time. One of our stops was at Coke County, where the Howard family lived in 1908-09 in the little town of Bronte. Besides hunting for the Howards, I was also looking for Ervins—Hester Howard’s brother, William Vinson Ervin, to be specific. So we spent some time at the county seat, a town named Robert Lee.

W. V. Ervin is perhaps best known, when he is remembered at all, as the father of Robert Howard’s cousins Maxine and Lesta (image above from the 1919 El Rodeo, the Big Spring High School yearbook). W. V. appears to have been a big shot in the town of Big Spring, over in Howard County, where he located with his family in 1898 and where the Howards visited in 1908. But before Ervin settled there, he was all over the place: Albany, Ferris, Lampasas, and—of all places—Robert Lee in Coke County.

I already knew that our man had lived in the county because of a transcription I’d found on a genealogy website. According to the transcript, a “W. V. Ervin” was named as claimant on a “Tabulor Statement of Indebtedness” ($45) dated February 8, 1892, claim #84 in Minutes of Accounts Allowed, Volume 1. Also transcribed were parts of Marriage Book 1, 1890-1900 which has Ervin marrying Miss Ida Ezzell, though no date is mentioned (but based on the dates before and after, the marriage should have been late in 1891). So, as long as we were going to the Robert Lee courthouse, a little extra digging for Ervins wouldn’t hurt.

And, if you’ve been paying attention to this here blog, you may recall a series of posts by Patrice Louinet entitled “Long Road to Dark Valley.” In part 4 of that series, Patrice added a few nuggets to my knowledge and a name to my list of inquiries: Ezzell. Here’s the relevant passage:

On December 8, 1891, [Hester’s] younger brother William Vinson married Ida Ezzell in Coke County. She was the daughter of Samuel R. Ezzell (1834-1910), a preacher and newspaper publisher. Relocating to Ferris, Ellis County, William V. launched his own career as a publisher, buying the local newspaper, the Ferris Sentinel, in 1893. He sold his share in 1898 to move to Big Spring, Howard County, where he began publication of the Big Spring Enterprise. He would remain a newspaperman until his death in 1927.

This information is background to Patrice’s primary aim in that post, the revelation that W. V.’s business partner in Ferris, the son of Samuel Ezzell, was most likely the man that Hester Howard was in love with and wished she had married instead of Dr. Howard (this according to Cross Cut native Annie Newton Davis’s 1978 interview with de Camp). So, while in Coke I should probably look for Ezzells, too.

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While there is not much left of Robert Lee, it does have a Ford dealership (or maybe it was Chevrolet), a tiny library, and a café—and the county courthouse, of course. We spent some time at all of those places. First stop was the library. As is typical of most of the small town libraries I’ve been to in Texas, the librarian was very friendly and wanted to be helpful; unfortunately, my area of interest is pretty narrow. After quickly exhausting the scant genealogical materials she had, we looked into the county histories. One of them, in an essay about the county newspaper, added a bit of information:

The first issues were called The Coke County Democrat, of tabloid size, four columns and consisted of four pages. Warren and Edgar were the first publishers followed by Warren and Matthews. A short time later, it was Brady and Shores, then J. S. Brady bought Shores’ interest. The paper changed publishers and editors often in the early years. Brady moved the plant to Robert Lee when the county seat was moved from Hayrick and the paper was renamed The Coke County Rustler. The dateline was May 9, 1891 with Brady and W. V. Ervin as proprietors.

That nugget, from a book simply entitled Coke County and put together by the Coke County Book Committee in 1984, led us to another book, From the Top of Old Hayrick: A Narrative History of Coke County, compiled and written by Jewell G Pritchett (which we found later at the Midland library), and which added an Ezzell wrinkle:

The first paper was called The Democrat, but it was soon changed to Coke County Rustler. The Coke County Rustler was a predecessor to the Robert Lee Observer, and the issue of April 4, 1891, was published with Hayrick, Texas, as dateline, S. R. Ezell [sic.], Editor and Publisher. One month later, May 9, 1891, it was published with Robert Lee, Texas dateline, with J. S. Brady and W. V. Ervin as publishers.

So W. V. “launched” his newspaper career a bit earlier than we had thought. And over at the courthouse, we learned that W. V. had also tried to make money the way his father had, with land.

1891 Marriage 1

Besides Doc Howard’s medical registration, I also got copies of W. V. Ervin’s marriage record (click above) and several land deals, all in the town of Robert Lee. S. R. Ezzell made a couple of land purchases in Coke County, too (March 18 and December 17, 1891), but I didn’t pull the records. Anyway, in chronological order, here’s what I’ve got for W. V. Ervin in Coke County:

1891 May 9, publisher of Robert Lee Observer.
1891 Dec. 8, marriage to Ida Ezzell recorded.
1892 Jan. 30, purchased lot 5 in block 73, town of Robert Lee, for $75.
1892 Feb. 8, named as claimant on a “Tabulor Statement of Indebtedness,” $45.
1892 Dec. 13, sold lot 5 in block 73 for $25.
1893 Oct. 12, purchases the Ferris Sentinel, presumably he has left Coke County.
1894 June 16, R.T. Ervin (W. V.’s brother), of Wharton Co., sells W.V. Ervin, of Lampasas, for $500, lot 13 in town of Robert Lee, Coke Co. (filed for record July 14).
1894 Sept. 15, W. V., of Ellis Co., sells Samary Ezzell, of Lampasas Co., lot 7 in block 13 of town of Robert Lee, Coke Co., for $500. (filed for record Sept. 24).
1896 Feb. 7, Samary Ezzell of McLennan Co. sells W. V. Ervin of Ellis Co. lot 7 in block 13, town of Robert Lee, Coke Co., for $500.
1896 April 7, W. V. of Ellis Co. sells Mrs. G. E. Webb of Coke Co. lot 7 in block 13, town of Robert Lee, Coke Co. for $125.

In a May 1, 1897 announcement in the Ferris Wheel (formerly the Ferris Sentinel) readers learned that “the partnership heretofore existing between the undersigned has been dissolved, Frank Ezzell having bought the interest of W. V. Ervin and will continue the publication of the paper,” though “Ervin & Ezzell, proprietors” continued to appear in the paper for months afterwards.

By March 1898, he had set up a new publishing venture in Shackelford County, the Albany Enterprise. This endeavor, however, didn’t last the year. On September 16, 1898, The Albany News reported that “W. V. Ervin packed the Enterprise plant and left last Friday morning for ‘greener’ fields.” On September 30, the News reported the first issue of the Enterprise out of Big Spring. The November 12, 1898 Ferris Wheel ran the following:

1898 11-12 Ferris Wheel

The December 3, 1898 edition of the Ferris Wheel has this item: “The Cake [sic.] County Rustler has this to say about our former partner and his paper: ‘Col. W. V. Ervin, once owner of this paper, [publishes] one the best weeklies on the Texas & Pacific.’”

Now settled in Big Spring, the Ervins had three more children: daughters Lesta (1902) and Maxine (1906), and a son, Frank Wynton (1903), who only lived two and a half years. And it is there in Big Spring that W. V. Ervin would live out the rest of his days, perhaps.

search_cimmeria_16

In a letter to Harold Preece, written in August of 1928, shortly after Preece had taken up residence in Waco, Howard mentions one of his sources for books:

Waco’s a Hell of a town, isn’t it? Likely you’ve discovered Von Blon’s bookstore already. The Prussian has some good books sometimes.

The photo above was taken by Gary Romeo for his excellent essay “In Search of Cimmeria.” Romeo travelled Texas in Howard’s footsteps some years back and had this to say about Von Blon’s:

Waco was also the home of a popular area bookstore, Von Blon’s. REH is known to have purchased several books there. The store was located at 416 Franklin Street.  Today a music store fills the building. There was a devastating tornado that hit Waco in 1953. Several of the downtown area businesses were destroyed. Franklin Street was relatively unscathed; and of course, the Alico Building survived, although it swayed as much as 6 feet during the tornado.

Back in Howard’s day, the Von Blon Bookstore was an important place in the college town of Waco. Both public school and Baylor College students, along with facility members, depended on von Blon’s as a source for school books and research materials. The bookstore sold new, used and rare books, along with school supplies such as Crayons, paper, pencils, etc. Additionally, von Blon, was quite skilled at tracking down rare books requested by his customers. In those days, Texas did not provide any textbooks to schools, so all students had to provide their own. Of course, more traditional books and periodicals of interest to the general public could be found at Von Blon’s as well.

provdtThe original Von Blon’s operated from 1916 to 1938. His first bookstore was in the basement of the old Provident Building, which was previously known as the Peerless Building. Then he moved to 413 Franklin and operated there for a period of time. Next von Blon moved his business across the street to 416 Franklin, and later moved the bookstore a couple of doors down to 408 Franklin. Von Blon always wanted to open his store on Austin Avenue (the main drag in Waco in those days), but it was just too costly for him to do so.

Avery Festus von Blon, Sr. was born in Upper Sandusky, Ohio on November 8, 1888. Around 1914, von Blon moved from Ohio to San Antonio. He was working as a switchman for a railroad when he met his wife to be, Lena Janek. The two married in 1916 and after a short honeymoon, the pair moved to Waco where von Blon began his career as a bookseller.

Prior to marrying von Blon, Lena lived with and worked for the Moos family, who owned and operated the H. A. Moos bookstore on Commerce Street in San Antonio. The Moos, gave the von Blons some books to get them started and they brought the merchandise with them to Waco.

In the early days of the bookstore, von Blon needed extra income and worked as a switchman for the Katy Railroad and later for the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad. Von Blon and his wife ran the bookstore themselves, occasionally hiring someone to help out during busy seasons.

The couple soon started a family, with Lena giving birth to three sons. Their first son, Avery Festus von Blon, Jr. was born on September 15, 1918, followed by Henry Moss, born on April 25, 1920 and John Herman, born on June 26, 1923. Sadly, Henry, the middle son was born with an autoimmune disease and died on February 15, 1924.

$(KGrHqN,!qcFBp69RQWSBQpUtB4CO!~~60_57

Von Blon’s bookstore was not the only bookstore in Waco. During the early to mid-thirties the city had a larger population than Austin. His competitors included Norman H. Smith who operated a store located on Austin Avenue that stocked mainly stationary and office supplies, but also carried textbooks, Ida Rand ran a bookshop on South Fourth Street, the Hill Printing and Stationery Company operated a rental library and there were other bookstores in town as well.

As was the case with everyone else in the country, The Great Depression took its toll on the von Blon family business. In 1938 he filed for bankruptcy and closed the bookstore, which was then back in the Provident Building, its original 1916 location. Reportedly, von Blon took the loss of his bookstore pretty hard.

Von Blon and his wife returned to the book business in the  early 1940s, moving to San Antonio and operating a used bookshop at several locations, first on La Salle Street and later moving to St. Mary’s Street.

On September 30, 1953 von Blon succumbed to aplastic anemia. He was 64 years old. His wife Lena moved back to Waco around 1957 and lived there until 1996 when she passed away at age 103. The von Blons are buried side by side in Waco’s Rosemound Cemetery.

Von Blon

This entry filed under Harold Preece, Howard's Texas, Howard's Travels.

4-1zarono-primalghorlnigral

…indeed, a glance at the hieroglyphs by any reader of von Junzt’s horrible Nameless Cults would have established a linkage of unmistakable significance. At this period, however, the readers of that monstrous blasphemy were exceedingly few; copies having been incredibly scarce in the interval between the suppression of the original Düsseldorf edition (1839) and of the Bridewell translation (1845) and the publication of the expurgated reprint by the Golden Goblin Press in 1909.

– H.P. Lovecraft, “Out of the Aeons”

Alexis Ladeau had remained in France while his friend, the Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt, went to England and Scotland. Early in 1821, Junzt rejoined Ladeau in Paris, where he studied the mad Yemeni poet Alhazred’s Necronomicon further. Afterwards Friedrich resumed his travels, accompanied by the Frenchman. Junzt not only had the title Freiherr, but with it a fortune which allowed him to do much as he pleased. Obsessed by his discoveries, Junzt would travel the world seeking evidence – or disproof – of the dreadful things he had learned.

Prinn’s De Vermis Mysteriis and the Comte d’Erlette’s Cultes Des Goules were among the first forbidden occult books Junzt read. His friend Ladeau referred him to these volumes when they were students. Neither book approached the Necronomicon in dreadful content, but they were shocking enough.

4-2zarono-gn1Soon after, Junzt met an older German contemporary, Herrmann Mülder (Lovecraft and Conover, Lovecraft at Last). Mülder was the source of indisputably unique material for the Dusseldorf scholar’s “Black Book.” Mülder revealed to von Junzt a tome far, far rarer than those of Prinn or d’Erlette, rarer even than the Greek text of the Necronomicon – the fabled Ghorl Nigral.

Some, if not most, occult scholars doubt the Ghorl Nigral even exists. Very few have ever seen it, even in its singular and unique Deutsch translation, let alone the Naacal original. The Muvian codex is perhaps the oldest extant book on this planet.

Some traditions aver that the Crawling Chaos and Mighty Messenger of Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, presented the book to the sorcerers of Mu. The legend arose for a number of reasons. The Ghorl Nigral was certainly a product of highly advanced and unknown (to twentieth-century men) science. Its pages are leaves of unidentifiable, well-nigh indestructible pliant metal, its covers, plates of an equally unknown greenish mineral. Nyarlathotep may indeed have contributed to its content in some way. He was (and has been) known to instruct human beings in the making of strange, subtle mechanisms whose effect, in the end, is destructive. The Ghorl Nigral holds formulae for the latter – and, it appears from the practices of the monks of Yahlgan, certain hellish medical and surgical techniques (REH, “The Black Hound of Death”).

The continent of Mu is provably a part of the Howard Mythos (and, by extension, the Cthulhu Mythos). In “The Shadow Kingdom” Kull says, “The hills of Atlantis and Mu were isles of the sea when Valusia was young,” and in “A Song of the Race” a girl sings to Bran Mak Morn, “Mu is a myth of the western sea, Through halls of Atlantis the white sharks glide.” And Mu, it can be strongly inferred, was destroyed long before the Lemurian Archipelago and Atlantis foundered. Lovecraft and Smith referred to Mu regularly within their own weird tales.

4-3Prussian_hussarsHow Mülder obtained the Ghorl Nigral, came to show it to the Baron von Junzt, and what became of it – and him – afterwards, is a complex, obscure story. To begin with Mülder, he was born in Heidelberg, son of a minor Junker family. Unlike von Junzt, he was a soldier and fighter by nature, a cavalry lieutenant in 1795 (Prittwitz’s Death’s Head Hussars, the 5th Regiment) and an excellent swordsman even by hussar standards. He served against Napoleon’s forces in the early 1800s.

Mülder’s family name has humble origins, if traced back far enough. Mülder is the German, literally, for “moulder,” a shaper of wooden bowls. Like Baker, Carter and Taylor in English, it derives from a plebeian trade. In the Prussian officer corps, surrounded by men of more ancient lineage named “von this” and “von that,” Mülder might well have been regarded as an upstart and treated with scorn.

4-4zarono-gn2Mülder would not have taken kindly to that. I picture him as looking as distinguished as any of his fellow officers – tall, blond, arrogant and ruthless, the archetypal Prussian warrior. His answer to gibes and condescension would have been to outdo his fellows in ferocious courage and cruelty. Mülder succeeded, won their respect, and even became a member of the secret (and aristocratic) Order of Wotan, which revered the ancient Germanic war-god and observed pagan rites. The Order was rumoured to offer its deity human sacrifices as the ancient Germans had done, by hanging and spearing, for victory in battle – the ultimate Prussian death-cult.

Mülder was disgusted by the state of the Prussian army at the time. Its humiliating defeats by the French in 1806 confirmed his view. He resigned his commission and – with the intense German respect for erudition – set about gaining a doctorate from Heidelberg. While student sabre duels were not yet the craze they later became, Herrmann Mülder carried scars from duels fought as a hussar, alongside those from wartime charges and melees. A ritual scar also crossed one eye, part of his initiation into the Order of Wotan.

Mülder, like von Junzt, read Prinn’s De Vermis Mysteriis, and followed Prinn’s example by travelling east to Turkey. He was wholly aware that the Ottoman Empire had decayed from the splendour and conquests of Prinn’s day. Mülder found it soft and corrupt – and he also found a cult of Erlik in Istanbul. In pagan Turkic and Mongolian myth, Erlik is the god of evil, darkness, death and the underworld.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA number of Robert E. Howard’s yarns feature devotees of Erlik doing dark deeds, and Erlik has much in common with REH’s take on Odin, a “fiendish spirit of ice and frost and darkness” (TCotH). As Mülder was a member of Odin/Wotan’s death cult already, and familiar with the Turkish language, he would have found small difficulty gaining entry to the cult of Erlik. He also learned in Istanbul of Mount Erlik Khan and the city of Yolgan, situated in the Black Kirghiz country beyond Afghanistan. Howard describes it as “not like any other city in Asia … built long ago by a cult of devil worshippers … driven from their distant homeland … ” (REH, “The Daughter of Erlik Khan”).

The cultists of Mount Erlik Khan were without doubt more dreadful and primordial than their pale imitators in Istanbul. Mülder, a dreadful man himself, came to their hidden city and entered their cult. The monks of the ruling caste were “tall, shaven-headed men with Mongolian features.” (“The Daughter of Erlik Khan”).

The ancient “homeland” from which they had been driven – probably by power struggles within the order — was Inner Mongolia. Among its “black mountains” brooded an Erlikite citadel called Yahlgan. Yahlgan was incomparably more ancient than its offshoot, Yolgan. Its denizens were directly descended from the Naacal, proto-Stygian enslavers of the Lemurian refugees after the Great Cataclysm.

The Naacal monks were racially proud to an extreme degree. They and their Stygian cousins were slave-masters for millenia, as were their more distant kindred, the Imperial Atlanteans of Negari. The Erlikite priesthood of Yahlgan excluded any Lemurian/Hyrkanian admixture, even after so many eons. Yahlgan was a “last redoubt” which had withstood the millennia, and mingling with their former slaves would be the final admission of defeat. The irony was that — through the tutelage of Yahlgan — the proto-Stygian deity, “Nyarlak” (Nyarlathotep), had become “Erlik,” the war-god of the Hyrkanian (and later, Altaic) nomads who had long ago thrown off the Naacal yoke.

In REH’s “The Black Hound of Death”, Erlikite monks transform their victim into something like a werewolf. The narrator says, “What unguessed masters of nameless science dwell in the black towers of Yahlgan I dare not dream, but surely black sorcery from the pits of Hell went into the remolding of that countenance.” That ancient order, devoted to death, corruption and evil, kept the original Ghorl Nigral, written on indestructible leaves of flexible metal, in their hidden citadel. They combined perverted surgical and biological science with sorcery.

Mulder _NEWDespite some uncertainties regarding details, Herrmann Mülder achieved, beyond any doubt, an astounding feat. He found Yahlgan, probably in the igneous Greater Khingan Range of Inner Mongolia. He became one of that hideous order – the first modern European to do so – stole the Ghorl Nigral from the citadel, and escaped with it. A priestess of Erlik (perhaps even the true “Daughter of Erlik” herself) assisted him in the remarkable theft. Mülder evidently seduced her and made her part of his scheme. However, far from being a mere dupe of his, she craved the power the Ghorl Nigral could give, and hoped to share it with Mülder — or betray him and have the book entirely to herself, free of the confines of Yahlgan.

In any event, the double-cross was Mülder’s. During their flight, he used her as a decoy to throw off pursuit, and then abandoned her. Later, still followed by the vengeful priests of Erlik, and knowing the penalties they would exact if they caught him, he came across a band of Turkomen tribesmen with a captive – a Zaporozhian Cossack. Mülder, desperate, attacked the band alone, and after shooting three, he slaughtered the rest with his sabre. He had not been one of the best blades in the Totenkopf Hussars for nothing.

Mulder had rescued the Cossack with a purpose in mind. The two rode hundreds of miles as only Cossacks and hussars ride, watching each other’s backs. The priests of Erlik followed them, relentlessly dogging their trail.

At last, almost overtaken near the Aral Sea, Mülder turned on his pursuers. According to Ladeau’s diary, Herrmann would never reveal to von Junzt just how he escaped the Erlikite priests. In Gottfried Fvindvuf Mülder’s The Secret Mysteries of Asia, Herrmann’s cousin theorized that the Prussian sacrificed the Cossack in a ritual taken from the accursed pages of the Ghorl Nigral.

4-7MulderGhorlNigralTranslation_new4A_zps362bcd85By devious routes Herrmann Mulder returned at last to Germany with his prize. He met von Junzt in the early 1820s, after the younger man’s visit to the British Isles. Mülder was then a few years past forty. Herrmann’s distant cousin, Gottfried (who later published Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten), made the introductions. Herrmann showed von Junzt the Ghorl Nigral.

The stolen codex was written in the same hieroglyphs as the scroll in the Cabot Museum (HPL,”Out of the Aeons“). The Ghorl Nigral was the most ancient book on Earth, as well as the most dreadful. Mülder learned to read it in Yahlgan, making him the only westerner of his day able to do so. He translated it into German, but jealously guarded both the original and his translation, letting neither out of his sight.

Von Junzt, however, played upon Herrmann’s monstrous ego and was allowed to examine the original codex. The result was the “Ghatanathoa Passage” in Unaussprechlichen Kulten, which not only recounted T’yog’s ascent of Yaddith-Gho, but also included many Muvian “ideographs.” That knowledge would be vital to Junzt during his later Pacific voyage.

Mülder hoped he would be safe in Prussia, where he was a war hero, well born, and where Oriental strangers would be conspicuous. The latter fact did save his life again. When certain priests of Erlik appeared in Heidelberg, he was warned, and promptly fled to the U.S.A. with the Ghorl Nigral. Upon reaching Massachusetts, he left his translated copy in Arkham — for reasons unknown — and disappeared from the pages of history.

Images by Bryan “Zarono” Reagan and Others.

Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Five, Part Six

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I was a Robert E. Howard fan for about a year when I first came across Stephen Fabian’s work in one of the first hardcover collection of Howard’s stories I ever purchased. That book was The Vultures, published in 1973 by Fictioneer Press. I was totally blown away by Fabian’s art and immediately was on the lookout for more of his stuff. I soon found it in Cross Plains, REH: Lone Star Fictioneer, Fantasy Crossroads and The Howard Review, to name but a few. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a bad Fabian illustration. As far as I’m concerned, his unique style and quality are unsurpassed.

imageStephen Emil Fabian, Sr. was born in Garfield, New Jersey on January 3, 1930. He grew up in Passaic, New Jersey, graduating High School in 1949. At that time there was a mandatory draft going on in preparation for the anticipated Korean war and since Fabian did not want to go into the Army, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, signing up for 4 years. After basic training in Texas, Fabian attended the Radio and Radar Schools at Scott Air Force Base, Belleville, Illinois, completing both the general and the advanced radio and radar courses, he stayed on as an instructor.

In the early 1950s Fabian was 21 years old and teaching electronics courses in the U.S. Air Force. At that time he began buying and reading Amazing Stories, Galaxy and other science fiction magazines, being attracted to them by the beautiful Virgil Finlay covers and the wonderful story illustrations of Edd Cartier and others. He was also a huge fan of Hannes Bok. Fabian recalls thinking at the time, “I wish I could do that.”

Returning to civilian life in 1953, Fabian went to work for Dumont Television in East Paterson, New Jersey. In 1955 he got married and shortly thereafter, two sons, Andy and Stephen, Jr., were born. Soon Fabian established a lifelong friendship with Gerry de La Ree, fantasy bookseller and publisher:

Gerry de La Ree was the first person I met who was an insider in the science fiction and fantasy field. That was back in 1955 when he lived in River Edge, New Jersey and had a mail-order book and used magazine business and my first visit to his home was to buy some back issues of Fantastic Novels and Famous Fantastic Mysteries. Those issues featured the artwork of Virgil Finlay, Lawrence Sterne Stevens, and Hannes Bok, and I just had to have them; I was just starting to collect SF books and magazines. When I entered his home that first time it was like going from black and white to color and stepping into the Magical Land of Oz. All those beautiful paintings and all those wonderful books, all over the house, and all science fiction and fantasy! My sense of wonder was overflowing, and I could tell that Gerry could see it in my face, by the smile he had on his face. At that time I had just gotten married and was working as an electronic technician at the Dumont Television Lab in East Paterson, New Jersey, and if you told me then that one day I would become a munchkin in that Land of Oz, I would have laughed and said, “I wish!” Well, would you believe it, 20 years later, I actually did become a munchkin, turning out illustrations and cover paintings for science fiction books; magazines, fanzines, and I’ve been doing it for many years, in the Magical Land of Oz!

In 1958 Fabian went to work for the Curtiss Wright Electronics Division, also in East Paterson, which lasted for 5 years and in 1963 he was hired by Simmonds Precision Products, working in their Research and Development department. Most of the work at Simmonds involved military and aerospace contracts. When they moved to Vermont in 1965, Fabian and his family went with them. In 1974 things got so bad in those industries that his department was eliminated and Fabian lost his job. Not long after, Simmonds Precision was gone.

imageIn the mid-1960s when he had dreams of becoming a professional science fiction illustrator, Fabian was teaching himself to draw and paint. He purchased 5 art instruction books by the great illustrator, Andrew Loomis: Fun With a Pencil, Drawing the Head and Hands, Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth, 3-Dimensional Drawing and Creative Illustration. As practice, Fabian copied Loomis’ “Mermaid” painting from Creative Illustration and made lots of changes in order to be a little “creative” about it.

Steve’s first published artwork appeared in 1967 in the fanzine Twilight Zine, published by the MIT Science Fiction Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The editors placed an ad in a SF magazine that Fabian read soliciting artwork for their fanzine. He quickly worked up the courage to create a drawing and mail it to them. Fabian soon received a copy in the mail of Twilight Zine No.24, saw his drawing on the cover and was overjoyed. It was his first small step toward fulfilling his wish to become a professional SF illustrator.

Fabian kept refining his craft until his artwork gained widespread attention in the publishing world:

In 1974, I became free of the burden of having to “work for a living,” From the very first day that I lost my job at Simmonds Precision Products and came home to find two letters in the mail from professional magazines asking me to contribute artwork, I have never had to go out and solicit assignments from anyone. Every week, for years and years, I received phone calls or letters from paying fan magazine editors or professional publishers offering me work. I don’t know why this “miracle” happened to me, but it did.

On discovering Robert E. Howard, Fabian comments:

As I continued to work at my new career and art fans began to contact me wanting to buy my original artwork I soon learned that certain subjects were sure sellers; any drawing or painting I did that featured a well-endowed female or a unicorn, were sure sellers. There came a time when I thought, “Gee, why don’t I just draw and paint women and horses with horns, I can make a living just doing that!” And then along came the discovery of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories and he also became a “sure-seller” for me. Dozens of fanzine publishers asked me to do Conan drawings for them. I have enjoyed reading Howard’s “original” stories, and for giving me that enjoyment, I forgive him for hating Lincoln.

Around this time Fabian did a lot of work for a California publisher named George Hamilton. First his art was featured in Hamilton’s Howard fanzine Cross Plains, followed by artwork done for a number of REH chapbooks, including Blades for France, Isle of Pirate’s Doom, Shadow of the Hun, among others.

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Fabian does not have one favorite Howard piece, but believes he did some of his best Howard artwork on the “Queen of the Black Coast” portfolio published by Bortner & Kruse in 1976. I have to agree; the portfolio is stunning and true to the story.

In 1977 when Zebra Books was ready to publish a collection of Howard’s Dark Agnes de Chastillon yarns titled The Sword Woman, Fabian was commissioned to do the cover and a number of interior illustrations:

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When I received the manuscript for this job I was asked by the editor to do some preliminary sketches and bring them to their New York office. A few days later, when I got there, the editor introduced me to her very young assistant who led me to a small room and directed me to a table. On the table were paperback covers that had been removed from their books and laid out neatly in rows; there must have been about 30 or more of them, from various publishers other than Zebra. He pointed to them and said, “I don’t want anything that looks like this junk, I want you to do me artwork that will make a browser’s eyes in a bookstore pop out when he sees your cover and reach out and grab it!” I leaned over to get a closer look at the artwork on some of the covers and I recognized a couple of Jeff Jones covers, another by Frazetta, one by Kelly Freas, and it occurred to me that this table was filled with paperback covers painted by the best artists in the field! Before I responded, I reminded myself that I was in the Land of Oz now, I was not back in Vermont at my old job in the Research and Development department at Simmonds Precision Products trying to convince my boss that resistors R25 and R28 in the Torque Indicator square-wave circuit need to be .5% wire-wound precision resistors in order to make the indicator meet specs. Like many of the characters I read about in science fiction stories over the years, I had taken a step…into another world.

When I returned and showed my preliminary sketches to the assistant editor, he was shocked to see the “sword woman” wearing a wide-brimmed feathered hat, dressed in pantaloons and swinging an épée. “No, No, No” he uttered, “We want her in a steel helmet, wearing armor, and swinging a broadsword, like Conan the Conqueror! This is Robert E. Howard here, not the Three Musketeers!” “But,” I answered, “This is Howard’s version of the Musketeers, all the characters in the story use fencing swords and wear clothes like them. It is the time and place of the Musketeers.” He ran out of the room and came back a few minutes later. “We don’t care,” he said, “we want all the characters looking like barbarians; we want the book to attract the Conan readers.” So that’s what I did, and there you are, anyone who reads this book no doubt thinks that I did not, since my drawings are all wrong in the details! In a way though, I did try to put a hint of the Musketeer look into the pictures.

Also, the editor was not concerned with the cover artwork being faithful to the story, she wanted the book to attract “Conan readers,” and insisted I make my artwork reflect Howard’s barbarian age stories, and suggested the scene that appears on the cover. When I brought the finished painting to the office, the editor thought the sword woman’s breasts were a bit too small so I took it home and made them larger. This time they were a bit too large. I got them “perfect” the third time around. As I rode back home on the bus watching the city streets go by, my thoughts turned to Vermont, my old job, and how much I missed all those “problems” I had to deal with in the lab, the drafting department, the assembly department, the machine shop. Geez, I was thinking of them as “the good old days!”

Fabian would eventually find a use for those preliminary “Sword Woman” sketches. Years later he finished the drawings and sold them to art collectors whenever they phoned to ask if him if he had some Howard artwork for sale.

Fabian also did a great deal of artwork for Cryptic Publications. Most of their chapbooks featured Howard stories:

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Editor and publisher Robert Price had a lot of fun coming up with titles for his fan publications. During the 1980s he probably produced nearly 100 titles before he stopped doing them. They were priced from $3.00 to $4.50. each with print runs of perhaps 500 copies. Now, they show up on eBay occasionally, with starting prices at $175 and higher. And to think that Bob not only paid me for the cover art, he gave me 5 complimentary copies of each title, which I gladly turned around and handed out to my friends with my compliments. So let’s see…if I had held onto those free copies I would have over 100 of them, and if I put them on eBay…. Oh well, when I was a kid I also gave away my copies of the first issue of Action Comics, Batman, Superman, I had them all! What I did not have was the smarts to know that someday they would be worth thousands of dollars, each! I know, you’re going to tell me that after all the intervening years I’m still smart-less, giving away all those Robert Price fanzines.

Some more recent work done by Fabian was for the covers of Wildside’s ten volume collection, The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard, which brought his artwork into the computer age, as he explains:

The computer allows me to do something unique now with my artwork; I can take a part of one picture, combine it with another, change the colors, the sizes, play with the composition and create a whole new painting. Sometimes I use a painting that I did just as a palate to start a new painting, the former painting gets completely obliterated after a while as the new painting begins to take shape. The computer monitor is now my art palette, my old paintings are my tubes of paint, and the mouse is my stock of brushes.

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Fabian is well respected in his field and has fans all over the world. In 2006 he was a recipient of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement. Fabian was also twice nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist (1970 and 1971), and is a seven-time nominee for the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist (1975-1981).

He is still going strong at age 85, creating new masterworks of fantasy illustration, making new fans and awing a new generation with his immense talent.

Visit Stephen Fabian’s website for hundreds of examples of his art and the story behind each illustration. You can also purchase a number of signed portfolios of his artwork directly from him at reasonable prices.

 Artwork appearing on this page is © Copyright by Stephen Fabian. All rights reserved.
“Mermaid” painting by Andrew Loomis.

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“Red Sonya from Rogatino – that’s all we know. Marches and fights like a man – God knows why. Swears she’s sister to Roxelana, the Soldan’s favorite. If the Tatars who grabbed Roxelana that night had got Sonya, by Saint Piotr!  Suleyman would have had a handful!  Let her alone, sir brother; she’s a wildcat. Come and have a tankard of ale.”

— Robert E. Howard, “The Shadow of the Vulture”

While Gottfried von Kalmbach engaged in adventures (and misadventures) from Hungary to Italy, the woman he was to meet at the siege of Vienna had been characteristically active herself. Red Sonya was born in Rogatino, or Rohatyn, a town in the western Ukraine. (It may derive from the Slavic word “rogatyna,” a heavy, broad-headed spear.)

The region was then known as Ruthenia and lay under the influence of Poland-Lithuania. If indeed she was a sister of the Sultan’s favorite Roxelana, she must have been born in the early sixteenth century. Estimates of Roxelana’s birth date vary from 1502 to 1506. I assume Sonya told the truth, and whether older or younger than her sister, was born in 1504 – the same year as that other red-haired sword woman of REH’s, Agnes de Chastillon of La Fere in Normandy.

hamilton-bladesforfranceRuthenia was plagued by slave raids carried out by the Crimean Tatars. Their khanate was an Ottoman vassal state, and one of its greatest slave trading depots. They raided constantly, on a huge scale, into Ruthenia and Russia. The descent upon Rogatino that saw Sonya’s sister captured was merely one case. I estimate that it took place in 1521, when Sonya was seventeen. If correct, that would mean that both Sonya in the east and Agnes de la Fere in Normandy experienced a violent turning point in their lives at the same age – Agnes when she rebelled against a forced marriage, killed her detestable bridegroom and fled, Sonya when her sister was captured and her town burned.

(Gottfried von Kalmbach was twenty-three at the time, by my estimate. He had been a Knight of St. John since his teens, and become a seasoned fighting man on land and sea. The siege of Rhodes was one year away.)

Sonya and Roxelana’s father was apparently an orthodox priest, though little is known of the childhood of either. The red-haired sister must have been wild and aggressive from an early age, to judge by her later career. Possibly she learned to ride, and use a saber and lance, from a servant in her father’s house who had once been a soldier. He may even have been an aged and retired Cossack. In a region so subject to raiding by Tatars – not to mention Cossacks – the skills were all too likely to be needed.

Sonya’s dislike of her sister, which she was to express vehemently on the walls of Vienna, probably dated from those days also. It doesn’t seem likely that she would want to blow Roxelana to Hades with a cannon merely because she had risen to become the Sultan’s favorite. She, like Sonya, may have shown her essential qualities young, and in later life, as Haseki Sultan, she caused Suleiman to believe his son Mustafa wanted to usurp his throne, resulting in Mustafa’s execution, because she wanted her own son to succeed. She also caused the Sultan’s trusted vizier Ibrahim, whom he loved as a brother, to be executed on false charges, even though Suleiman had sworn to Ibrahim he would never award him a bowstring. Roxelana’s name for ruthless treachery is not mere mythic vilification. She covered those traits with charm and vivacity; her Turkish name was Khurrem, the Laughing One or the Joyous. Perhaps, as a girl, she was never more joyous than when causing painful trouble for Sonya.

maxresdefaultFollowing the Tatar attack on Rogatino, I feel sure that Sonya turned wilder than ever and rode with the Zaporozhian Cossacks. They had emerged in the fifteenth century as bandits, runaway serfs, deserting soldiers and other outlaws formed their own communities in the wild places. They became known by the Polish word kozaki – free men. Details can be found in my series, “If Wishes Were Horses” Parts 5(A) and 5(B), “Scalplock and Sabre” and “The Wolf-Brothers.” REH was fascinated by the Cossacks; it seems hardly thinkable that Sonya never made one of their fellowship. Such a brawling macho bunch would have required very tough tests of a woman, even if she had been recommended by the (hypothetical) old Cossack who taught her to ride and wield a sword in the first place. Sonya must have passed them, however.

The Zaporozhian Sech, on the lower Dneiper, lay in a debatable region between Poland-Lithuania and Muscovy. The free and violent life appealed to Sonya; so did the Cossacks’ frequent battles with the Crimean Tatars, whom they plundered as the Tatars plundered others. Sonya had a debt to collect from them. She pursued it, riding as hard and cutting as deep as any of the male Cossacks. As a landsknecht said to Gottfried years later, “Cut – slash – death to you, dog-soul!  There’s her way.”

The Polish-Lithuanian state (then a Grand Duchy) saw possibilities in these fierce horsemen, who had formed a disciplined, united community in spite of their anarchic beginnings. A state council of 1524 gave official consideration to the idea of recruiting Cossack companies for border service. Nothing came of it because the nobles and magnates were unwilling to vote the funds for putting it into effect. Red Sonya, then, had been with the Cossacks three years, and this blogger believes she had become the adopted daughter of a hetman. When he was killed fighting, some who disapproved of a woman riding and fighting among them talked louder, and one bawcock who considered himself quite a lad tried to ravage her. Outweighed by a good three stone, Sonya still killed him, and perhaps, like Valeria in “Red Nails,” hurled his severed head out of sight. The Cossack chiefs still banished her from the Sech. Alternately weeping and grinding her teeth, Sonya rode for the horizon. She took the amazing stunt horsemanship and endurance of the Cossack life with her.

cms pcf 1171109It would be interesting to know when and how she learned that her abducted sister had been selected for the Sultan’s harem and become his favorite. “Roxelana” means simply “the Russian girl” and was probably not her original name, any more than “Khurrem” – The Laughing One. I’ve read that she had been Alexandra Anastasia Lisowska before the Tatars seized her. Perhaps Sonya learned that somehow. One also wonders if Roxelana ever knew that her sister was the warrior girl Red Sonya, the woman who along with Gottfried von Kalmbach sent her husband defiance and Mikhal Oglu’s head.

The year 1524 saw Gottfried riding east into Lithuania, and later into Russia. Oddly enough, Sonya chose the same time to travel west. She wanted to see Italy, and did; the 1521-26 phase of the Italian Wars was in full swing, and Sonya, typically, soon plunged into the action. Essentially it was France against the German Empire and Spain (ruled by the same monarch), with the soil of Italy as their battlefield. The French lost Milan in 1521 and were beaten again at Bicocca in 1522. Not being French, German or Spanish, Sonya felt free to fight on any side she pleased, and went to Milan, which – now that the French had been kicked out – was ruled again by Duke Francesco Sforza. Sonya drew the attention of Milan’s court with dramatic demonstrations of Cossack horsemanship and fighting tricks. She hoped to become the Duke’s cavalry leader, with her experience against the Tatars, if she could overcome the taken-for-granted bias against female captains of war. An uphill struggle, but Sonya was never daunted by an uphill struggle.

Then the unexpected impinged on Sonya’s fate. Charles Duke of Bourbon, former Constable of France, had broken with King Francis the year before and gone over to the Imperial side. He had been swindled out of his inheritance and titles; King Francis I’s mother, Louise of Savoy, who hated Charles, had tried to have him murdered. (REH’s story “Blades for France,” featuring Dark Agnes, gives an account of the events.)  Her tool had been the king’s mistress, Frances de Foix. Frances had been wholly unwilling, but dared not defy Louise. Now she gained knowledge of a new plan on the vindictive Louise’s part to have Charles of Bourbon killed. This time there was no need for complex, hidden machinations like working through bands of bravos and pirate crews. Charles was considered a traitor to France. It could be argued with some validity that Louise and his ungrateful king had driven him to it, but Charles nevertheless had no standing in France any longer, and Louise could send assassins after him without fear of political consequences.

She did.

1747_La_Feuille_Map_of_Provence,_France_-_Geographicus_-_Provence-ratelband-1747They could not reach Charles at once. He had invaded Provence at the head of an Imperial army, but was driven back towards Italy, and King Francis pursued him, personally leading a French host. His mistress de Foix, as she had in 1521, decided to take action to prevent Charles’s murder, for Charles loved her and she had a distinctly soft spot for him; she was the king’s mistress by secret order of Louise. She needed to conceal her actions from her dreaded puppet master, but Louise was too concerned just then for her son’s fate to watch Frances closely. Louise knew that Germans allied with the English were advancing against Francis from the north, and begged him to return, writing, “Our good angel has abandoned us. Your horoscope foretells disaster!”

Charles of Bourbon arrived in Milan in 1525. So, unknown to him but well known to Frances de Foix, had Louise’s paid assassins, ranking high in their homicidal trade. So did Frances herself, under an assumed name, pretending to be a rich young abbess on pilgrimage. Meanwhile, Red Sonya had caused a stir in the city by fighting a duel with a young noble who had decided to put her in her place, and soundly beaten him. Frances naturally assumed this was Agnes de Chastillon; how many red-haired mistresses of the blade could there be in Western Europe?  And Agnes had been bound for Italy with Etienne Villiers when Frances met them.

She discovered her mistake, but prevailed on Sonya to aid her, for a price, and Sonya struck the bargain. Complex skullduggery and crossed blades in the night ensued, but in the end, Sonya finished the assassins. The landsknecht who told Gottfried, “Cut – slash – death to you, dog-soul!  There’s her way,” did not misinform him. As for Frances, she said in a daze, handing over Sonya’s fee, “Mon Dieu, I did not think there could be another like Agnes,” to which Sonya shot back, “By the blessed saints, I had not thought there could be another like me!”

I don’t think they ever did actually meet. It was probably as well. Two of a kind might not have agreed.

King Francis met the disaster his stars had foretold. Defeated and wounded at the Battle of Pavia, he was held prisoner in Spain until January 1526, the conditions for his release amounting to the dismemberment of his kingdom. He signed the Treaty of Madrid at last, but repudiated it once free. He had, however, contracted both syphilis and a head abscess. Neither his health nor his personality, or his mental acuteness, were the same afterwards.

Hans_Bocksberger_(I)_-_Emperor_Ferdinand_I_-_WGA02326Sonya decided she had had enough of Italy. She realized she would never be anything but a curiosity at the Milanese court, like a dwarf or a Brazilian dancer, and belike at any other Italian court also. Then, Italy was extremely Catholic, and Sonya was Russian Orthodox so far as she had strong religious leanings. She preferred not to risk interrogation for heresy. She decamped to the north – first Switzerland, then France, then England, which she had to leave in haste, though the part of her legend which avers she attracted the lustful notice of Henry VIII and did not want to become his mistress is doubtless just that, legend. It’s much more likely that she killed someone. She escaped from England by way of York, on a Dutch trading ship bound for the Baltic, and went ashore in Gdansk. After that she travelled south through Poland-Lithuania. Probably she was involved in the private fights of feuding nobles and other upheavals along the way. She was neither at the Battle of Mohacs nor the sack of Rome, but she knew as well as anybody that the Grand Turk would not stop with Mohacs and that Vienna would be next. Sonya gathered about her a heterogeneous force of Poles, Moravians, Bohemians and Styrians, hardened fighters and expert horsemen all, half a thousand strong, and offered her services to the Archduke of Austria.

Perhaps it was then she discovered that the Sultan’s new favorite was none other than her sister.

Ferdinand also knew what was coming. He accepted her irregular band. Until the Ottomans actually marched against Vienna, their main work was scouting and reconnaissance far into conquered Hungary. They performed it well. Then, as the dreaded Akinji outriders came ahead of the main Turkish host, Sonya and her rogues took their places behind the walls of Vienna to await the onslaught.

Gottfried von Kalmbach appeared not long after, with Mikhal Oglu the Vulture hot on his trail, hunting his head for the Turkish Sultan.

Inshallah . . .

Images by Stephen Fabian, Donato Giancola and Others.

Read Part One, Part TwoPart Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.