IMG_0001When I was no bigger than an Innsmouth tadpole I thought Weird Tales was the magazine for high literary thrills.  I haunted used bookstores, undoubtedly making a pest of myself, seeking any anthology containing yarns from “The Unique Magazine.”

Sure, in the reading of these precious books I stumbled upon some writing that was pretty awful, but I thought what the hell, it couldn’t be bad; it was published in Weird Tales right?  As my reading tastes grew a little more discerning I realized that this old pulp, great as it had been, had a few things wrong with it.

Some of the writers were just plain hacks, leagues away in literary ability from Howard, Lovecraft, or Clark Ashton Smith.  I figured editor Farnsworth Wright had probably gotten his head stuck in his nether regions when he refused to publish such classics as “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter.”  And, of course, when he took magazine space for a reprinting of Frankenstein—something any reader of Weird Tales probably already had in his or her library, I thought Wright was just plain wrong.  Some of the artwork was pretty sad also, resembling grade school chalk drawings by wild-eyed children.

But, one of the best things the pulp ever did, and this is comparable to the publishing of Howard and Lovecraft, is when Wright introduced Finlay to the readership.

Now, on the 100th anniversary of Finlay’s birth, I’m sure he’ll be honored all across the Internet, and that’s a fine thing.  My humble little post can’t begin to do justice to a talent as great as Finlay’s but I couldn’t let the day go by without some sort of recognition on my part.  The beauty, and grace, of great illustration is evident in almost every piece Finlay produced, from bold, colorful magazine covers to a drawing for Howard’s “Skull-Face”, shown above.  In a class all by himself, his work was always, always,  of high quality, and frequently—very frequently—better than the story he was illustrating.

IMGWeird Tales was a great pulp, because, in spite of some of the egregious mistakes Wright was known to make, the old mag had a pretty good stable of talent, and some of the best horror/fantasy stories ever written first appeared inside the covers.   Damn near 100 years old itself Weird Tales continues to have a wide following and devotees of fantasy still meet to argue the merits of the Windy City Grab-Bag, as HPL once satirically referred to it.  It was like catching lightning in a bottle, and what a jolt Virgil Finlay gave the magazine, issue after issue. So take time to remember Mr. Finlay today—an artist whose imagination, and talent, places him as one of the greatest illustrators to ever put pen to paper.

The other Finlay displayed in this post is an example of his astrological drawings, and is part of my personal collection; something I purchased from his daughter a few years back.  Certainly not one of his greatest works, I still think it’s beautiful and it won’t be leaving my library without a fight.

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Between 900 and 1150 CE, Chaco Canyon was home to an accomplished and highly organized people. It lies in north-western New Mexico, not far south of Farmington. In our day it’s a national historical park because of the archaeological remains to be found there. Jared Diamond gives a chapter of his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, to the Chaco Canyon culture.

Now Diamond is an impressive bloke, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction and twice winner of the Science Book Prize. He might not think much of my mining his work for tie-ins to a pulp writer’s fantasy story, but just the same, Chaco Canyon is part of REH’s fabulous southwest and its history. It’s also hard to resist as a place of origin for that mysterious person Ghost Man (“Old Garfield’s Heart”). Whether alive or dead as normal people understand the terms, Ghost Man was around the southwest for hundreds of years. He knew the conquistador Francisco Coronado in the mid-sixteenth century, and made an appearance in the Texas oil boom days of the twentieth, to take back the borrowed heart of an ancient god. He may have been far older than that.

Suppose that while he was mortal flesh and blood, he belonged to what we call the Anasazi culture. To quote Diamond, “The Anasazi did manage to construct in stone the largest and tallest buildings erected in North America until the Chicago steel girder skyscrapers of the 1880s.”  Their heyday began around 600 CE and lasted – perhaps – until 1200. They passed at about the time Genghis Khan was conquering Asia.

PII_housingThe first farmers to inhabit Chaco Canyon lived in underground pit houses. After a hundred years they were – independently – developing architecture in stone. They had the numbers, the social organization and the techniques finally to create stone buildings five or six stories high, with hundreds of rooms. The roof supports were made of logs five yards long and weighing as much as seven hundred pounds. The living apartments were built around open plazas and large underground chambers called kivas, which seem to have developed from the primitive pit houses and to have been used for worship and magical ceremonies. They may be circular or square. Usual features are a bench around the wall, a central fireplace, a vent in the wall, and a small hole (“shipap”) in the floor. The shipap to the Pueblo peoples is a symbol of the passage through which the first human beings left the Underworld and reached the upper earth.

The greater kivas in Chaco Canyon were built between 1000 and 1100 CE – the latter date roughly the time of the First Crusade in Europe.  Besides having considerable accomplishments in architecture, the people of Chaco Canyon observed the movements of celestial bodies and kept records of them. In the center of the canyon, on Fajada Butte, they carved a “Sun Dagger” on which a band of sunlight passing between two slabs fell precisely at the time of the Winter Solstice. The Summer Solstice is marked by a groove in the wall of the Great Kiva. The Anasazi of Chaco Canyon also recorded the unique occurrence of a supernova in the year 1054 CE. The light of that colossal conflagration had been travelling through space for four thousand years before it reached the Earth. It first became visible on July 10th, 1054, and its radiance was so bright – even after dispersing so widely — that it could be seen with the naked eye at midday, six times brighter than Venus. It stayed visible for 23 days. The remains of that exploding star are known to us today as the Crab Nebula, in the constellation Taurus. If it had been a hundred light-years away from us instead of four thousand, earthly life would have been devastated. Probably no human beings would have survived.

Below the West Mesa of Chaco Canyon, the Anasazi left what appears a definite record of the supernova, a panel containing three large symbols – a large star, a crescent moon, and a handprint. Just below these symbols, in a separate panel, is a depiction of what appears to be a comet – three concentric circles, with great red flames trailing from it. That very probably records an appearance of Halley’s Comet, since there was one, only a few years after the supernova.

Gonar from "Kings of the Night" by Michael L. PetersI’m assuming that Ghost Man lived then and was the foremost priest-magician of his people. His supernatural and natural knowledge would have included movements of the heavenly bodies. Perhaps it was even Ghost Man who painted the depictions of the supernova and comet on the rocks below West Mesa. Perhaps he even performed the ceremonies that allowed him to evade the ordinary human limitations of life, death and time while the supernova blazed in the sky. He doesn’t seem unlike the Pictish wizard Gonar, the white-bearded ancient who aided Bran Mak Morn against the Romans. Bran says with only partial irony to the Gaelic prince Cormac of Connacht (“Kings of the Night”) “He claims direct descent from that Gonar who was a wizard in the days of Brule the Spear-slayer who was the first of my line. No man knows how old he is–sometimes I think he is the original Gonar himself!”

If he really was, then he’d have survived tens of thousands of years and two world-wide cataclysms, the one that destroyed Atlantis and Lemuria, and the one that ended the Hyborian Age. Ghost man’s eight or nine hundred years would have been picayune compared with that. His powers and knowledge might have been comparable with Gonar’s, though – and he certainly was sufficiently close to the red man’s ancient gods to have been able to borrow the heart of one on request.

If Ghost Man was originally a priest of the Anasazi, in Chaco Canyon, then his culture passed away circa 1200 CE. What caused its decline is a bit outside the topic of these posts, but it appears to have suffered from environmental problems combined with the usual unfair distribution that always arises when a society turns into an empire. Chaco Canyon became the centre of a mini-empire, not a huge one like Rome’s, but its problems of transport and communication were comparable after a while. Warfare, rivalry over water sources, even cannibalism, occurred before the end. Ghost Man presumably left before then, seeing the writing on the wall, and took his wisdom to less advanced peoples.

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

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In a lengthy letter to H.P. Lovecraft dated December 5, 1935, Howard details a trip he took with his parents to the Texas Panhandle. It was likely the final family vacation the Howards took. Howard mentions in the letter it was a 400 mile drive from Cross Plains to Amarillo. While it was a long drive, Howard stretched it out a bit — the distance was closer to 300 miles using highways existing in 1935. The trip actually happened in late July 1935 and one of the goals of the drive was to see if the higher altitudes of the Panhandle would improve Hester’s health.

I think I sent you some pictures of the Panhandle. My parents and I went to Amarillo in the latter part of July. None of us had ever been to that city, and I wanted to see if the high altitude, 4500 feet, might help a persistent cough that had been bothering my mother. Those upland plains are monotonous to look at, but the atmosphere whips fresh blood and new life through the veins; at least it always did with me. We ate our dinner at the little town of Post, a few miles this side the Cap Rock.

PostTexasAlgeritaHotel1916TOPtbThe town where the Howard family stopped for dinner, Post, Texas, was the utopian vision of breakfast cereal baron and troubled genius C.W. Post. Post purchased 200,000 acres of ranchland to establish his ideal city in 1907. Originally named “Post City,” it sits on the fringe of the caprock escarpment of the Llano Estacado, the southeastern edge of the Great Plains. C.W. Post founded The Double U Company to develop the town. Double U built a number of quaint houses and other structures, which included the Algerita Hotel, a gin, and a textile plant. He hoped to create an oasis in the beautiful High Plains of Texas. But two issues wrecked havoc with his plans — lack of water and the dry, hot weather. As the old real estate saying goes, “location, location, location” and Post picked a less than ideal location to build his town. Still he did not give up, going so far as to use dynamite to summon rain — with no luck.

Every street in Post was lined with trees and landscaping and both liquor and brothels were prohibited. The settlers had the option of renting or buying houses and farms from Double U. Post had a post office, which began in a tent during the year of Post City’s founding. By 1909, the town had a school, a bank and a newspaper. The city continued to grow and prosper when the railroad reached the town in 1910. “City” was dropped from the name of Post City when it was incorporated in 1914, the same year C. W. Post passed away. When it was incorporated, Post had a population of 1,000, ten retail businesses, a dentist, a physician, a sanitarium, an apartment building and a number of churches, including Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian houses of worship. Over the years the town has flourished and is a thriving community of 5,300 people today.

Isaac, Hester and Robert continued their trip north to Lubbock and Plainview. Once they passed Lubbock, they were farther north than they had been before.

IMG_0001Robert E. Howard was very familiar with the story of the 1836 kidnapping of Cynthia Ann Parker by Comanche tribesmen, and this book, The Searchers: The Making of An American Legend by Glenn Frankel, is a must read for anyone who wishes to learn more about this bloody era in Texas history, and how it was adapted into one of the greatest western movies of all time.

In his  letters to August Derleth and H. P. Lovecraft,  Howard mentions the particulars of this horrifying abduction, but in one of these missives he uncharacteristically makes a historical mistake when he writes that “Colonel Parker”, Cynthia’s father, spent quite a few years trying to find his daughter, and failed.  In May 1836, just a few months after the fall of the Alamo, Parker’s Fort was raided by a band of Comanche warriors and Silas Parker, Cynthia’s father, was evidently one of the first casualties.

There has been such a great amount of information, and misinformation, written about this tragic day it’s probably easily seen where Howard might have erred on this point.  Indeed, a quick check of the Cynthia Parker entry on Wikipedia displays the same error, even now, when that writer repeats the myth that father Silas set out on a protracted search, looking for his lost daughter, who had been possibly nine years old when snatched away from family and friends.

Author Glenn Frankel, in his meticulously researched book, tells that, in reality, it was James Parker, Cynthia’s uncle, who, after searching for his niece for about fifteen years, finally gave it up in 1851.

While most histories of this terrible day revolve around Cynthia Ann it should be remembered that there were four other people taken at that time, one of them being Rachel Plummer, James’ own daughter, who was pregnant.  Her story is especially sad and illustrates quite well some of the atrocities being committed—on both sides, it should be emphasized—during this period in Texas.  Giving birth a few months after the raid she was allowed to care for her baby until it started to interfere with her chores.  Taking the baby from her arms some of the braves held it by the throat until it turned blue and then commenced tossing it into the air, laughing as it slammed into the ground.  Thinking it was dead they returned it to Rachel.  When they noticed that, somehow, it was still alive they tossed a noose around the baby’s neck and dragged it in the dirt until life finally had fled.

James Parker, the long-searching uncle, was also more than willing to commit a few diabolical acts of his own.  At a trading station he met an Indian wearing a vest that Parker thought had been one belonging to him during his time living at the Fort.   Mounting his horse he leveled his rifle and fired, stating later that he was placing a “new button hole”in what he believed to be his former article of clothing, with no further proof evidently needed.

Frankel, in the first third of his history, describes with great detail the abduction of Cynthia Ann, and the legacy left by her famed son Quanah Parker.  The searching of James Parker for his niece has assumed mythic proportions, perhaps comparable to Ulysses’ ten-year long quest for his besieged wife Penelope and his beloved homeland of Ithaca.  James had no Homer to chronicle his wanderings, but his story was given masterful treatment in a novel written by a writer who was very familiar to Robert E. Howard and readers of Adventure, and Frankel, in the second part of his book, covers this also in informative fashion.

IMG_0002Alan LeMay’s The Searchers, first serialized in the Saturday Evening Post was published in novel form in 1954.  A literary success, it was picked up by Reader’s Digest and the movie rights were sold to C. V. Whitney, who had formed his own film company, hiring Merian C. Cooper (of King Kong fame) as his executive partner.  Cooper in turn, was a business colleague and friend to famed cinematic director John Ford and, after reading LeMay’s book, Mr. Ford thought The Searchers might make a pretty good movie.

This last section of Frankel’s book is my favorite, as I’ve long been an admirer of The Searchers, believing it to be John Wayne’s greatest acting performance.  The story of the making of this monumental movie is extremely interesting, and Frankel provides facts that were new to me.  Frankel tells us that “Buddy Holly and his drummer, Jerry Allison, saw The Searchers when it first opened” and after leaving the theater wrote “That’ll Be the Day”, a phrase that, to those who have seen the movie, will be recalled as one of Wayne’s best lines.  More movie trivia—the role of Martin Pauley went to Jeffrey Hunter, but Robert Wagner, John Agar and Fess Parker all approached Ford hoping to be picked instead.  Fess Parker, Disney’s Davy Crockett, might have won the honors but Walt Disney “refused to lend him out.”  Ken Curtis, known to all of us as Festus from Gunsmoke, plays Charlie McCorry in the movie, and, while Curtis does his usual fine job of acting, it probably didn’t hurt that he was married to Ford’s daughter, Barbara.

There is a ton of information contained within the pages of this book—I haven’t even touched on Quanah Parker, or the so-called rescue of Cynthia Ann in 1860, but it’s all here, presented entertainingly by author Frankel.  It’ll make you want to watch the movie again, and if you haven’t seen this American classic, get yourself a copy, now.

This entry filed under August Derleth, H. P. Lovecraft, Howard's Texas.

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Robert E. Howard was nothing if not versatile. He wrote boxing stories, oriental adventure, detective stories, horror, westerns, pioneered heroic fantasy – and the weird western genre.  “The Horror From the Mound,” “The Dead Remember,” “The Man on the Ground” and “The Valley of the Lost” are examples. And there is the current springboard, “Old Garfield’s Heart,” firmly in the weird western genre and rooted in REH’s much-loved southwest, Texas particularly. Its background includes the Comanche Wars, Ewen Cameron and Jack Hays’ exploits, San Jacinto, the Lipan tribe, and Coronado’s expedition.

The “Old Garfield” of the title is a tough Texas pioneer, “the first white man to settle” in the narrator’s part of the country. He’s inexplicably – by natural means – long-lived and vital, despite his great age. The narrator’s grandfather had arrived in 1870, and according to him Jim Garfield had been living in his log cabin then, and has not perceptibly aged since. (The story was published in 1933. It mentions “a bootleg joint” so it is clearly set during Prohibition, the Roaring Twenties or early ‘thirties.)

Battle of San JacintoGarfield claims to have fought at the Battle of San Jacinto (1836) and been with Ewen Cameron on the ill-fated Mier Expedition (1842), which ended with the captured Texans being forced to hold a death lottery, drawing from a pot of mixed black and white beans. Cameron drew a white one and should have been spared, but in Garfield’s words, “The Mexicans shot him. Damn ‘em!”  He rode with Texas Ranger captain John Coffee “Jack” Hays (REH spells it “Hayes”), probably against the Comanches and almost certainly in the Mexican-American war of 1846-48. Garfield might also have been at the Battle of Plum Creek in 1840. That was actually more of a running fight, with Comanches under Chief Buffalo Hump trying to get back to their West Texas home ground with an immense amount of plunder they were reluctant to leave behind – the reason they were overtaken.

Garfield turns out to be long-lived and notably hard to kill because of the assistance of a mysterious Lipan Indian known as Ghost Man. Garfield tells the local medico that Ghost Man was, or is, “the Lipan priest of the Gods of Night” and also refers to him as a “witch-doctor.” He adds that the Lipans “dwelt in this country before the Comanches came down from the Staked Plains and drove ‘em south across the Rio Grande. I was a friend to ‘em.”

The narrator’s grandfather verifies part of that account. He assures his grandson that in the early 1870s, he and Garfield were in a fight against a raiding party of Comanches, and Garfield took a thrust from a lance that ripped through his chest and split his heart. “Nobody could live after a wound like that.”

OldAn old Indian suddenly appeared, making the peace sign, and for some reason none of them could explain, the white men didn’t shoot him, even though their blood was hot and raging after the fight. The Indian – Ghost Man – asserted that he was an old friend of Garfield’s and wanted to help him. Although that seemed well beyond possibility, they allowed him to try, and in the morning “Jim Garfield came walkin’ out of the mesquite, pale and haggard, but alive.”  His terrible wound had closed and begun to heal. And like the narrator’s grandfather, the local doctor, whose next birthday will be his fiftieth, says that he has known Garfield all his life, and “he hasn’t aged a bit.”

Garfield explains that he first met Ghost Man on the Rio Grande, when he (Garfield) was riding with Ewen Cameron. He had saved Ghost Man’s life from the Mexicans once. Whether that was really the case, or whether Ghost Man was truly alive – or dead – as ordinary human beings understand the terms, is uncertain. Still it appears he had cause to be grateful to Garfield, and came when Garfield needed him.

It doesn’t seem certain that Ghost Man was really a Lipan, either. My post “Silver and Steel: Bowie’s Mine” discusses the Lipans, and just as REH’s weird western story says, the Lipans were driven from the southern Great Plains by the Comanches. They played a considerable part in Texas history during the 18th century, when the area was ruled by Spain. The Lipans were briefly allied with the Spanish against their Comanche enemies, but that relationship soon fell apart.

It’s interesting that Garfield mentions the Pueblos. The Native American Pueblo culture covered the area where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado join. Part of the original Lipans’ home was in New Mexico. The Pueblo culture was ancient. And Ghost Man was far older than even Garfield, as the story makes clear. Garfield says, knowing he won’t be believed, “I’ll tell you this much – Ghost Man knew Coronado.”

coro4Francisco Vázquez de Coronado was a conquistador who led an expedition in 1540-42 from Mexico through (what are now the states of) Arizona, New Mexico and northern Texas into Kansas. If Ghost Man knew Coronado, then he was at least three hundred years old when Jim Garfield first met him. At least. Not surprisingly, the doctor reacts with a testy, “Crazy as a loon!”

Coronado’s expedition was a landmark in the history of the southwest. It began as a search for the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. Coronado, governor of the province of new Galicia, had sent Friar Marcos de Niza on an expedition from Compostela. Niza came back excitedly telling stories of a fabulous golden city atop a high hill, apparently as large as the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had been, and wealthy beyond belief.

Wealthy, eh?  Gold, eh?  Ahhhhhh . . .

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

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At Howard Days this year, Dennis McHaney brought along a copy of Skull-Face and Others and the Howard-signed Christmas card posted above, both of which had once belonged to Lenore Preece. There aren’t any markings on the reverse of the card, no postmark or address, so it was probably included with a letter or submission to the Junto, circa December 1929. Perhaps later. These items were on loan to McHaney thanks to a former neighbor of Lenore’s, Brian Clifford. He wrote the following:

STATEMENT FROM BRIAN CLIFFORD, FRIEND OF LENORE PREECE—JUNE 12, 2014

I met Honey Lenore Preece in the spring of 1994, when she was living on Avenue F in Hyde Park in Austin.

I’m a native Texan, but I’ve spent a lot of my life traveling in other states and countries, and during one return home, I was staying with a neighbor of Lenore’s. She caught my attention one afternoon as she was puttering around her porch. Something about her intrigued me. Not the least of which was that some of her neighbors called her The Cat Lady, and I have a soft spot for animal lovers, eccentrics, and elderly people who live on their own and who seem to be just fine with that.  I walked over, and we struck up a conversation. That conversation quickly evolved into a very close friendship that would continue over the next four years, until she died on December 7, 1998.

Lenore and I had a great rapport, that’s the only way I can describe it. During my visits back to Austin, where I had spent important chunks of my youth, we would pass the afternoons together talking about old Austin, old Texas, and the way society had changed since she was a girl. She was particularly pleased to show me her books and ephemera collections, and I often went to the grocery store or ran errands for her; I also brought her back small tokens from my vagabonding. The entire time I knew Lenore, she rarely mentioned family, and to my knowledge, she never had family members check on her. This always worried me and it saddened me greatly.

One particularly special encounter with Lenore was in 1996, after I had finished fixing up my fire-engine-red  ’67 GTO. When I rumbled into her driveway, she came to her front door, admiring the car. I asked if she’d like to take a drive out to Lake Travis. Surprisingly, she agreed. This was only one of a handful of times I saw Lenore leave her house. She piled in, and we took off to Travis. When I asked her when she’d last been to the lake, she thought for a moment and said, “Oh, sometime right after World War II …”  50 years! On the way back to town, she asked that we try to find the old Preece Family Cemetery off 2222, but we never could. (I found it after she died—it’s on Vaught Ranch Road.) On another occasion, I convinced Lenore to venture out to the Omelettry off Burnet Road. We had a great time.

During the years I knew Lenore, I fretted over her health; I thought of her frequently while I was on my travels. I sent her post cards, and she occasionally wrote me in care of my mother in Houston.  Whenever I hit Austin, she was always the first person I would go see.

The last few times I saw my friend, I’d become increasingly concerned about her physical health, her mobility. On one of those occasions when I returned to visit, I found her house empty. I learned from the police that she’d fallen and broken her hip and had been taken to a nursing facility in Northwest Austin. I managed to locate her. I went to see her several times before she died, which sadly happened when I was in Europe in late 1998. She was buried at a pauper’s cemetery in Austin, instead of at the family cemetery. This fact has always perplexed me, because I assumed that someone in her family would have been notified.  More than that, it haunted me, and it still does. I’d like to see her laid to rest in her proper place, somehow.

Over these past 16 years, I’ve held the memory of this exceptional Texas poet very close to my heart.  I still think of her often, and I have lugged from city to city and country to country many of the items Lenore gave me during our four-year friendship—cards, books, little mementos from her house, her life. Over the time we were friends, she frequently gave me items that she treasured and didn’t want to see tossed when she passed away. I still have some beautiful antique lace handkerchiefs, some hand-embroidered linens and table throws, some vintage crockery and china serving platters, several antique and collectible books, and her scrapbook, which I retrieved from the abandoned house after she died. What remained in her home on Avenue F was put out on the curb or thrown away.

So, whatever Howard letters or issues of The Junto which might have remained with Lenore, if any, are in a land-fill in Travis County. We are lucky, however, that Mr. Clifford was able to retrieve Lenore’s scrapbook: It is there that the Christmas card was found. Also this photo of Lenore’s brother, Harold Preece:

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This is no doubt the same photo that Harold sent to Robert E. Howard, who, in a letter postmarked March 24, 1930, said “Thanks for the picture.” Also, in an early April letter, this: “I don’t know if I thanked you for the picture in my last letter. If I didn’t you can take it that I do now. It’s a good likeness of you.”

Many thanks to Mr. Clifford for sharing these items with us, and for being a friend to Ms. Preece at the end.

This entry filed under Harold Preece, Howard Biography, Howard Fandom.

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He had thought of the South as a sunny, lazy land washed by soft breezes laden with spice and warm blossoms, where life ran tranquilly to the rhythm of black folk singing in sun-bathed cottonfields. But now he had discovered another, unsuspected side – a dark, brooding, fear-haunted side…

– “Pigeons from Hell,” The Horror Stories of Robert E Howard, p. 430

In his writing, Robert E. Howard made frequent use of subjects from history and folklore, especially — in keeping with his Southern heritage and Texas upbringing — that of both the American Southwest, and the Deep South. This includes elements from the African-American folk magic practices popularly known as conjure (or hoodoo) and voodoo, which turn up to create fear and atmosphere in various tales of horror and “weird mystery,” most famously in “Black Canaan” and “Pigeons from Hell.”

Where “voodoo,” a ceremonial religion involving a group of people with a defined hierarchy, has a place in the popular imagination, many people tend to be less familiar with “hoodoo.” Even the name isn’t agreed upon: the most famous collection of folklore on the subject is called Hoodoo – Conjuration – Rootwork – Magic, and those are all equivalent synonyms. Someone who practices “hoodoo” can be called a root doctor, a root worker, a trick doctor, a spiritual worker, a two-headed doctor, or a conjure-man or -woman. We’ll primarily be using “conjure,” in honor of Howard’s atmospheric essay “Kelly the Conjure-Man.”

mojo_rootworkUnlike voodoo, traditional conjure is not organized in any way, but is a loose collection of magico-spiritual practices used by individuals as they see fit. Familiar props include candles, herbs, graveyard dirt, and the “mojo bag,” which is usually made of red flannel, and contains various objects, from coins to literal roots. Conjure can be practiced as part of everyday life, but often workers are professionals, who charge for their services, and who sometimes – like Howard’s conjure men — generate actual supernatural awe.

While voodoo and conjure have many differences, there have always been practitioners who mix up elements from both types of magical practice. New Orleans, in particular, is known for a spiritual heritage that partakes of both, with practical conjure techniques (such as spells including red pepper, red brick dust, salt, and honey, which are all conjure-derived) that are dressed up with voodoo theatricality. Even in groups that perform communal drumming, and/or veneration of snakes (traditions associated with formal voodoo), a lot of their actual magic activities, especially if done privately, without a direct ritual element, can still be more accurately described as conjure.

Some contemporary practitioners display frustration with the common confusion of terminology, viewing the different practices as substantially different, but the labels have always been used loosely by people in the community. When African-American writer Rudolph Fisher wrote The Conjure-Man Dies, frequently cited as the first black detective novel, in 1932, the “Conjure-Man” was an African who performed spiritualist séances for mostly white clients. So in a story like “Black Canaan” (1933), where Howard depicts voodoo-like ceremonies led by a character referred to as a “conjer man,” his usage of the term seems entirely in line with his contemporaries.

Historically, most conjure folk were either knowledgeable about traditional herbal medicines, or were perpetuating folk traditions based on remembered African spiritual lore, or both, and much of what they practiced was benign. There is evidence, though, from slave narratives and other historical sources, that some conjure men and women, reputed or real, did indeed use their magical reputations to gain power and intimidate others — both fellow slaves and white authority figures. For example, in his authoritative book Conjure in African-American Society, scholar Jeffrey Anderson states that “The power of hoodoo translated into enormous influence within black society for successful conjurers … fear of conjure had a profound effect on individual blacks,” and “the fear of hoodoo was present in a significant portion of white southerners.” (p. 79, 86, 78)

4f29e60f0c317d34cc98e8bb508b0f24To some extent, therefore, the “sinister figure” of folklore described in Howard’s brief “Kelly the Conjure-Man” essay doesn’t seem particularly exaggerated, although Conan fans will note that he’s is  both “a fine figure of barbaric manhood” and “supple like a great black panther,” (p. 377)  physical descriptions which echo those of his more famous specimen of barbaric manhood.

Kelly, “son of a Congo ju-ju man” and “born a slave” (p. 376), develops a reputation as a healer, and gains power over others by frightening them with his reputed abilities, ultimately becoming more feared than respected. All of which sounds like a perfectly plausible career for a local conjure practitioner of his age. Howard steeps the tale in mysterious atmosphere and speculation, but much of the material in the essay –  such as how “the black folk came to him to have spells lifted from their souls where enemies had placed them by curses and incantations” (Horror Stories, p. 377) — would be right at home in any collection of folklore on African-American conjure.

That some people “obsessed by the horrible belief that their stomachs were full of living snakes” (p. 378) is also a well-known phenomenon in the history of conjure. In Yvonne Chireau’s overview Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition, referring to interviews with former slaves and other first-person accounts, she says that “African Americans described Conjure sickness as an intrusion of entities within the body…physical affliction is portrayed as a state in which the body becomes a living menagerie” (p. 104). She quotes a source as saying “My wife Hattie had a spell put on her for three long years with a nest of rattlesnakes inside her.” (p. 104)

Blog REH CanaanKelly, the non-fiction character, fairly obviously inspired the fictional Saul Stark of “Black Canaan,” another “giant,” intimidating magical practitioner. In this story, interconnected rural communities of former slaves and slave owners are threatened by the activities of a Conjure Man who performs voodoo-type ceremonies in the swamp. His goal is an uprising that would kill all the white people, although he’s equally willing to kill (or perform horrible magic on) any of the black members of the community who don’t bow down to his power. And his greatest weapon is the threat to “put (them) in de swamp,” (Horror Stories, p. 386) an act which transforms them into “mindless, soulless semi-human dweller(s) in the water” with elongated legs, webbed hands, and expressions “no more human than that of a great fish.” (p. 408)

More famous than “Black Canaan” is “Pigeons from Hell,” another of Howard’s stories that makes use of elements and ambience from African-American folk magic. After a bizarre murder, the investigators research the crumbling old Southern mansion where the crime took place, and end up at the hut of Jacob, a now-elderly one-time “voodoo man.”

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The REHupa Barbarian Horde

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

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

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

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

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EPSON MFP image

A third of the 200 copy print run of new issue of The Definitive Howard Journal sold in the five days since its publication this past Friday. Issue number 17, with its stellar line-up of rare Howard fiction, essays, articles, reviews and artwork is quickly being snapped up by hungry Robert E. Howard fans. So don’t procrastinate and be left on the field of battle with an empty scabbard, order your copy today!

REH: Two Gun Raconteur No. 17 Contents:

Front Cover: “…a fierce exultation swept her as she felt the edge cleave solid flesh and mortal bone.” From “Red Nails” by Michael L. Peters

Inside Front and Back Covers: Scenes From “Spears of Clontarf” by Stephen Fabian

Back Cover: Skull-Face by Terry Pavlet

“The Stones of Destiny” by Robert E. Howard, illustrated by Nathan Furman

“The Diabolical Blonde” by Rob Roehm, illustrated by Clayton Hinkle

“What the Thak?: Anthropological Oddities in Howard’s Works” by Jeffrey Shanks, illustrated by Clayton Hinkle

“Non Sequiturs Inside the Academy Gates” by Don Herron

“Robert E. Howard’s Heroes of the Desert: A Portfolio” by Bob Covington

“Robert E. Howard and Past Lives: Reincarnation, Dreams and Race Memories” by Barbara Barrett, illustrated by Richard Pace

“Apocalypse on the Liffey” by David Hardy, illustrated by Robert Sankner

“Ernest Hemingway, Robert E. Howard and Battling Siki: Typewriters and Fists” by Brian Leno, illustrated by Bill Cavalier

Price: $25.00, US postage paid.

To Order by Mail and Pay with Check or Money Order,
Send Your Order To:

Damon C. Sasser
6402 Gardenspring Brook Lane
Spring, TX 77379

(Please make checks or money orders payable to Damon C. Sasser.)

Order and Pay Via PayPal:

Patrice Louinet Getting The Black Circle Award

Well, it’s mid-afternoon in Cross Plains and the REHF Foundation Awards have already been presented to the winners.  Originally the awards were known as The Cimmerian Awards and the black skulls on marble bases were handed out at the Pavilion after the Friday night banquet. When the awards became the REHF Foundation Awards, the wooden plaques were given out at the Community Center immediately after the banquet and it was a somewhat rushed affair, with Howard fans wanting to go to the Pavilion and the locals bolting for the door, not having much interest in the awards. So it was decided to make the awards a bigger deal by having a less rushed and more formal ceremony on Friday afternoon at 2:30.

So without further waiting, here are the winners:

The HyrkanianOutstanding Achievement Print Essay:

SHANKS, JEFFREY – “History, Horror, and Heroic Fantasy: Robert E. Howard and the Creation of the Sword and Sorcery Subgenre,” Critical Insights: Pulp Fiction of the 1920s and 1930s.

The AquilonianOutstanding Achievement, Periodical:

THE REH FOUNDATION NEWSLETTER – Bill Cavalier, Rob Roehm, Paul Herman.

The StygianOutstanding Achievement, Website:

LENO, BRIAN, PATRICE LOUINET, ROB ROEHM, DAMON SASSER, KEITH TAYLOR- REH: Two-Gun Raconteur (Website and Blog).

The CimmerianOutstanding Achievement for Online Essay:

ROEHM, ROB – “The Business” REH: Two-Gun Raconteur (13 parts).

The Venarium AwardEmerging Scholar:

Patrick Burger

The Black River AwardSpecial Achievement (The following nominees have produced something special that doesn’t fit into any other category: scholarly presentations, biographical discoveries, etc.):

FRIBERG, BEN – For filming the panels at Howard Days, editing them, and making them available on YouTube.

The Rankin AwardArtistic achievement in the depiction of REH’s life and/or work (Art must have made its first public published appearance in the previous calendar year.):

GIANNI, TOM: Cover art for Pirate Adventures (REHFP), cover art for Fists of Iron, Round One (REHFP), cover art for Robert E. Howard’s Western Tales.

The Black Circle AwardLifetime Achievement:

Patrice Louinet

Next Year’s Black Circle Award Nominee:

Karl Edward Wagner

The Crom Award—Board of Directors Choice:

Paul Herman

Congratulations to the winners and remember, it is not too late for you to step up and find your name on the list next year!