Archive for September, 2010

I have to say that I was somewhat surprised to find a comic book in Robert E. Howard’s library.  Okay, it wasn’t really a comic book, but it’s certainly no stretch to call Lynd Ward’s Gods’ Man a graphic novel.  The book is described as a “novel in woodcuts” and that’s precisely what it is—Ward himself referred to his work as a “pictorial narrative.”  No words, no page numbers, just a series of woodcuts that tell a very frightening story.  Most readers of Ward’s novels will tell you that because of the lack of words in Gods’ Man the story is open to everyone’s own interpretation, and while that is necessarily true, there are some things in the book that are very clearly represented. 

It begins with an artist arriving in the big city—a metropolis that, if you’ve read the Gormenghast novels, might remind you of Mervyn Peake’s magnificent creation.  He doesn’t seem to be a very good painter, as when he tries to pay for his meal with one of his canvases the proprietor laughs and refuses.  A mysterious black-masked stranger appears and treats the artist to the meal and then presents the painter with a ‘magic’ brush only after our hero signs his name on a contract.  After this Faustian presentation we’re shown various images of many well known artists throughout the centuries and in each woodcut panel all the painters are holding either this same brush or one exactly like it.  Once gifted with this instrument the protagonist becomes famous, and his paintings are much sought after.  However, as in most Faustian themed books, life starts to turn horribly wrong for him, and his mistress, who is not what she seems to be, turns her back upon him, and then to add to this indignity he is beaten and tossed into jail.   Upon leaving the prison he is set upon by angry townspeople who chase him from their city.  Banished to the country, he is found by a beautiful maiden and the two soon have a child and life is once again worth living, and that is when the contract between the mysterious stranger and our artist is brought back into the picture.  I won’t spoil the ending but the last panel in Gods’ Man, depicting death/the devil is, while frightening, beautifully etched. 

Released in 1929, just when the New York Stock Market was crashing, it sold 20,000 copies in four years.  A surprising number of reviewers list the novel as God’s Man, mistakenly moving the apostrophe, and this is an error that should be noted, and always corrected.  I found reports of people being very troubled by this work, even that some misguided person committed suicide soon after ‘reading’ it.  It has been banned and burned and that’s a shame, and stupid. 

Thankfully the Library of America has just released a very attractive slip-cased set of six of Lynd Ward’s woodcut books, and these works of art are introduced by Art Spiegelman, whose Maus: A Survivor’s Tale is an absolutely brilliant and unforgettable book. 

Final thoughts lead me to wonder how Robert E. Howard came to have this book in his library.  The Faustian theme is certainly one that would have appealed to him, but did he purchase it or did a friend or family member give it to him as a gift?  I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that he did own such a landmark volume, because as all Howard fans know, our man from Texas had quite a library.  Every time I dig a little into his reading habits I come away amazed at his eclectic selections and how interesting and informative it would have been to listen to him talk.  Thank goodness that we have his letters.

This entry filed under Howard Scholarship, News.

In my last post I gave reasons why I believe we should add several stories to the list of Howard’s works. In that discussion I mentioned “From Tea to Tee,” but did not say much about it. That particular story presents a challenge, and warrants a discussion all its own. To wit:

The October 27, 1926 issue of Howard Payne College’s student paper, the Yellow Jacket, contains a short article entitled “Jacket to Have Short Story Writer.” The article states that Robert E. Howard “has consented to furnish the Jacket with stories from time to time.” As promised, that very issue has not one, but two Howard yarns.

The next issue, November 3, has another Howard story; this was under the title “Weekly Short Story.” Despite this information being absent from the article of the week before, this story’s title makes it pretty clear that readers could expect a new story by Howard every week. There is no short story the following week, but the week after that, November 17, has the unsigned “For the Honor of the School.” Anyone paying attention would expect the story’s author to be Bob Howard, even though it is presented without a byline or any other indication of authorship.

Any ambiguity about who wrote what was solved in the December 8, 1926 edition. Besides the editorial staff, the Staff Box on page two was expanded to include feature and special writers, including what column or feature those writers were responsible for. Bob Howard appears on that list, followed by “Short Stories.” Ironically, there are no short stories in that issue. He gets the same billing in the December 16 issue, probably the last issue before the winter break, but again there is no short story.

That pattern is broken with the first issue of the new year, January 6, 1927, which has two stories, both without a byline; however, Howard gets credit in the Staff Box for “Short Stories,” so like most of the other features in the paper, it doesn’t need a byline; the authors are listed in the Staff Box. There were probably two stories in this issue because none had appeared in the previous issues, thus creating a backlog.

Howard does appear weekly—in the Staff Box at least—from December 8, 1926 to March 10, 1927, though the last story during this run appeared a month before, on February 10th.

A curious thing occurs in the March 17 edition: the Staff Box reverts to its original, abbreviated state with only the editorial staff listed and no writers. Of course there would be a short story in this issue, an unsigned one, “From Tea to Tee.” So, who wrote it? I say Robert E. Howard.

There are any number of reasons for his name not appearing in the issue. In fact, this same thing had already happened back in November. Perhaps the Staff List was shrunk at the last minute because extra space was needed. Perhaps the paste up team didn’t notice that there was no byline. Who knows what happened. The real evidence is this: All of the regular columns appear as usual, with or without bylines, just as the readers have become accustomed. Someone picking up this issue of the Yellow Jacket would have no reason to think anything was different: If there’s a short story, it’s by Bob Howard.

Upon reading the tale, the intuition would be confirmed. It’s a light romance about a guy who would rather play golf than go to tea with his mother. There’s nothing in the story that says it couldn’t be by Howard, and there is plenty to suggest that it is. The humor is more understated than in previous Yellow Jacket offerings, but it fits in with the other stories. In some of his earlier tales from The Tattler, Howard poked fun at the upper classes; here, with names like “Mrs. J. Edward Vanderfellow-Heatherlegh,” that tradition continues.

Perhaps it’s coincidence, but according to Post Oaks and Sand Roughs Howard contracted the measles right around this time. Here are the opening lines of “From Tea to Tee”:

If anybody was ever sick, J. Edward Heatherlegh, Jr., was that. He didn’t have the measles, he was too well bred for that, nor did he have the croup, he was too old. He was not sick at the stomach—he was sick of being “towed around like a kid to all this society rot.” Not an afternoon nor an evening for the last three weeks had he had to himself. Mrs. J. Edward Vanderfellow-Heatherlegh, Senior had taken, rather led him to lawn teas, dinners, dinner-dances, theaters, balls and what have you until he was almost tired even of her; if a twenty-one year old man may be allowed to grow tired of his mother.

Yes, Howard was 21 at this time. And, if Lindsey Tyson’s memories were correct, Howard was having a tiff with his folks about this time. They wanted to take him home from Brownwood to avoid his catching the measles during the epidemic; he wanted to stay.

Anyway, all the evidence for the story’s inclusion is circumstantial, but I believe the editorial practices of the Yellow Jacket were consistent enough at this time that if the story were written by someone other than Howard, there would have been a byline proclaiming that it was, in fact, someone else’s work. The story is a bit off, but there are plenty of places where it sounds like Howard. Finally, some of the content eerily reflects some of the things we know about Howard at this time.

Finally, my feeling is that if we are already including “The Reformation: A Dream” in the list of Howard’s works—a story for which we have no byline or mention in the Staff Box—there’s no reason we shouldn’t include “From Tea to Tee” too.

Just as I predicted last year, another crackpot has popped up spouting mindless drivel about Robert E. Howard.

It is fairly easy to throw punches at someone who has been dead for nearly 75 years and can’t mount a defense against hateful and malicious accusations.  By now many of you are aware of this post made by author Jason Sanford, which seems oddly out of place in our new, more tolerant post-racial society shepherded in by our first bi-racial president.

Despite what he says, I doubt Mr. Sanford read much past Gary Romeo’s “Southern Discomfort” and “Black Canaan” — he certainly didn’t read over 200 Howard stories before making his conclusion, which is what a serious researcher would have done.

Were there elements of racism in some of Howard’s stories? Why yes there were.  But the vast majority of his writings  don’t have a racist element in them.  There were a number of other pulp writers who catered to the racist crowd – Howard was not one of them. And as he matured, he softened his views which were formulated by his environment.  Despite Mr. Sanford’s contention that environment has nothing to do with it, I say it has everything to do with it. The part of Texas where Howard was born and raised was just 40 years removed from the time when Comanches killed and scalped settlers. So yeah, there was some animosity there toward American Indians. But remember, it was a vastly different world than the one we live in today. 

Friend of TGR, Al Harron, defended Howard brilliantly on his blog, which includes a comment from Charles Saunders wherein he agrees with Al’s take on the racism question. I respect the opinions of both Al and Charles who have probably have forgotten more about Howard and his writings than Mr. Sanford will ever know or understand.

Sorry Mr. Sanford, but I can’t take anyone seriously who panhandles online.  And I say this with all sincerity — you are wrong in your conclusions and are doing a great disservice to Howard and the important place he holds in American literature. Thank God no one with an IQ above 60 will take you seriously.

“’He was violent for a few days,’ said the guard. ‘We had to keep him in a straight-jacket. He thought he was fighting some fellow for the championship, but he’s all right today.  I give him a little strap with a buckle on it and told him it was the belt he’d won.’ The guard smiled. ‘A fellow has to use his head with these nuts.’”  The above quote is from The Bruiser, the great boxing novel by Jim Tully, and while the guy being talked about is called Jerry Wayne, it’s really a description of Ad Wolgast, the former lightweight champion of the world.

The story of Wolgast is not a pretty one, and while his tale shows us a young man becoming the talk of the town and a World Champion, it also displays how brutal the sport of boxing can be.  On February 22nd, 1910, at Port Richmond, close to San Francisco, Battling Nelson defended his title against challenger Wolgast and it became one of the greatest fistic matchups ever.

In the book, Ten—and Out!, a volume owned by Robert E. Howard, author Alexander Johnston sets the scene.  “When Referee Eddie Smith of Oakland called them to the center of the ring for instructions, they agreed that they were to protect themselves at all times and that the ordinary rules covering fouls were to be thrown out.  The referee was to call a foul only if one fighter actually incapacitated the other by a palpably foul blow.”  It was scheduled for forty-five rounds, but I don’t think any observer actually felt it would go the distance.  In the twenty-second round Nelson, one of Howard’s “iron men”, dropped Wolgast with a terrific blow to the chin and Ad dropped, seemingly dead to the world and out.  Reports tell that all present thought the battle was over, but Wolgast was up and ready to fight before the referee had even started his count.  From here on it was pretty much all Wolgast as he battered Nelson, the “Durable Dane”, without pity.  Nelson, as befits an iron man, never hit the canvas, but by the fortieth round he had pretty much just become a human punching bag and at the end of the round the referee mercifully stopped the fight, and Ad had achieved his dream.  Fabled boxing personality Tex Rickard stated that “it was like two wild animals fighting to survive, with one forced to die.”

Howard in his essay, “Men of Iron”, does not include Wolgast in his listing of iron men, but Wolgast certainly was that, and Alexander Johnston does take time to point that out in his book.

One of the sad facts relating to the story of “The Michigan Wildcat” is that Ad not only proved his toughness inside the ring, but outside as well.  Wolgast was declared incompetent and placed in a sanitarium a few years after his historic victory, but he soon escaped only to be recaptured not too long after.  Somehow, in spite of his evident problems, a judge ruled that Ad was able to handle his own affairs and that’s when Jack Doyle, a man famous on the California boxing scene, decided that he would take care of Wolgast.  He allowed the Michigan Wildcat to train in his gym, and he pacified his fighter by telling him that he had a bout lined up for him on the very next day.  So Ad would punch the bag diligently, probably skip rope and shadow box, getting himself ready for tomorrow’s fight.  He’d go to bed undoubtedly exhausted and when he got up the next morning Doyle would tell him once again that, yes, tomorrow was fight day and Ad would start training again.  Of course tomorrow never came and it breaks your heart to think of this once great fighting machine reduced to being punch drunk and penniless, and probably insane.

When this charade could continue no longer Ad was placed in a mental institute and his problems did not yet end.  Two attendants, saying that they’d heard that Ad was “tough” gave him a savage beating.  Wolgast, still in the asylum, died in 1955.  Ad was “tough” and I’m willing to bet that when those two bastards were beating on him that at first he was giving as good as he got, and that even when their superior numbers and weight were getting the better of him he never asked for any quarter.  He was an Iron Man, and iron men don’t know how to surrender.

The below photo, a bit blurry as most of these old fight pictures can be, shows Wolgast in his corner, getting ready to fight.

This entry filed under Howard the Pugilist.

In The Last Celt, under “Authorship Uncertain,” Glenn Lord lists four stories: “For the Honor of the School,” “Rivals,” “His War Medals,” and “From Tea to Tee.” All of these stories are from Howard Payne’s student newspaper, The Yellow Jacket, and the reason Lord suggests them is, as he says, “Howard was the short story writer” for the paper during that period. Of the four, Mr. Lord suggests that the first “could be by Howard”; the rest, well. . .  Ever since coming across that list, back in the ’80s, I’ve wanted to have a look at those stories. There are also a few references to the Yellow Jacket in Howard’s correspondence that I’ve wanted to investigate. Recently, I had my chance.

Before there was The Yellow Jacket, there was The Prism. From the fall of 1915 to the spring of 1923, The Prism was responsible for bringing the students at Howard Payne College news from the school, the community, and the world. Early in the 1923-24 school year, a couple of recent graduates from Brownwood High were elected editor-in-chief and associate editor of the Howard Payne paper. Fresh from their stint on The Tattler, where they held those same positions, Claude C. Curtis and C. S. Boyles, Jr., took over the student paper at HP, changing its name to The Yellow Jacket. [Note: Boyles later wrote fiction as Will C. Brown.]

Boyles had graduated from Cross Plains High School in May 1922, but, as most of you know, the Cross Plains school only went to the 10th grade and, to be eligible for college, another year of schooling was necessary. Boyles went to Brownwood High to get that extra year. He landed a job there on the school paper and, starting in December of 1922, he and Editor Curtis published a stream of fiction by another of their classmates from Cross Plains, Robert E. Howard.

Curtis and Boyles knew a good thing when they had it. Shortly after starting work on the paper at Howard Payne, Boyles asked Howard to continue his submissions. In his September 9, 1923 letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, then a junior at Brownwood High, Howard says, “C.S. Boyles is going to Howard Payne and is associate editor of the Howard Payne paper. He asked me to write for it.” But a month later, October 5, 1923, Howard tells Smith “I haven’t sent anything to the Yellow Jacket yet.” That wouldn’t be true for very long.

As reported in The Progress, the student paper of Cross Plains High School, both Curtis and Boyles visited Cross Plains late in January of 1924. Shortly after that visit, March 7, 1924, “Letter of a Chinese Student” appeared in the HP paper. Another “Letter” appeared early that May.

Members of the Robert E. Howard Foundation who receive the Newsletter are even now reading these two “new” items from The Yellow Jacket archives, both entitled “Letter of a Chinese Student,” and both apparently “lost” until now. I imagine these yarns escaped the notice of Howard scholars for a couple of reasons: first, they were published during the 1923-24 school year, the year before Howard enrolled in HP’s commercial school for the first time; and, second, both are unsigned. The only reason they were identified as Howard’s is a short notice appearing at the end of the second “Letter”:

The author, Robert Howard, is a 1923 graduate of Brownwood High School who lives in Cross Plains. This, and a similar letter previously printed, were contributed on account of the personal friendship toward certain members on the staff.

Those “certain members” were no doubt Curtis and Boyles.

As the 1923-24 school year ended, big changes were in store for the Yellow Jacket. C. S. Boyles moved away to Sweetwater, Texas, and was married before the next summer appeared. Curtis, however, was reelected to the top spot on the paper and was happy to continue publishing Robert E. Howard’s work, made that much easier due to Howard’s enrollment in Howard Payne’s commercial school. Early in the new year, September 24, 1924, “Halt! Who Goes There?” appeared. This, however, is the only story to appear during the 1924-25 school year. The October 23, 1924 issue carried the news that “Editor Curtis Resigns From Yellow Jacket.” What effect this might have had on Howard’s submissions is unknown, but Howard himself “resigned” from the commercial school some time in the winter of 1924-25; he was probably thinking that he didn’t need to continue as Weird Tales had just purchased “Spear Fang” – his writing career had begun.

Of course, after a year and a half of very sluggish sales, Howard was back at the commercial school for the 1926-27 school year. “After the Game” and “Sleeping Beauty” appear in the October 27, 1926 issue; both tales appear to have been inspired by the “special train” to Waco that Howard had ridden to watch a football game. “Weekly Short Story” appears in the next issue, November 3, 1926; there is no short story in the November 10 edition.

The November 17, 1926 issue contains “For the Honor of the School” and, as mentioned above, Glenn Lord thinks this “could be” one of Howard’s. After reading the story, I’m convinced that it is. And there’s more: while preparing Sentiment: An Olio of Rarer Works for the REH Foundation Press, the untitled fragment that begins “the honor of Beffum” was discovered in Glenn Lord’s papers. This transcription was published in a Newsletter and included in Sentiment. Turns out, it’s a small part of “For the Honor of the School.” No wonder all we have is Glenn’s transcription and not a Howard typescript, Glenn must have typed it up from a copy of the Yellow Jacket.

Despite there being no short stories in the December 8th and 16th issues, “Bob Howard, Short Stories” appears at the end of an expanded Staff Box under “Feature Writers.” This adds to the argument that “For the Honor of the School” is, in fact, a Howard yarn. Besides the content and style of the yarn being very similar to other of Howard’s stories from the Yellow Jacket, the notice in the Staff Box seems to make up for the story having no byline when published in the paper.

And there’s still more. The January 6, 1927 issue has Howard’s name in the Staff Box – “Bob Howard, Short Stories” – and this time there are two stories: “His War Medals” and “The Rivals” (Note: it is not “Rivals” as listed in The Last Celt). Both of the stories are presented without a byline, but then so is most of the other material in the paper; who did what is explained in the Staff Box. “The Rivals” is the same as the Glenn Lord transcription that appeared in a Foundation Newsletter and, later, in Sentiment; Glenn probably typed up all of these stories at some point. I have no trouble believing “The Rivals” was written by Howard. And, after reading “His War Medals,” which appears to be missing a line or two at the end, I don’t think it “sounds” particularly like REH; however, since Howard is credited in the Staff Box, I think it should be added to the list of his works as well.

From the January 13, 1927 issue, which contains “The Thessalians” and “Private Magrath of the A.E.F,” to the issue for March 10, Howard’s name appears in the Staff Box. Only the January 20 (“Ye College Days”) and February 10 (“Cupid Vs. Pollux”) issues actually have a story. By March 17, his name is gone from the list. Howard is probably gone, too—home with the measles, if Post Oaks and Sand Roughs can be trusted. He doesn’t return to the Yellow Jacket until the April 21, 1927 issue which contains “The Reformation: A Dream.”  Of all the stories from the Yellow Jacket, this is the one I’m curious about. It has no byline, and Howard’s name is not mentioned in the Staff Box: Why has it been included in all the bibliographic listings when the other stories mentioned above have not? At any rate, this was Howard’s last submission. He graduated August 3, 1927 and returned to Cross Plains.

This book has been kicking around since 2006, the year it was slated to appear.  Publication has been on again and off again to the point most folks have given up on it ever seeing in print.  However, luckily for us this collection of Howardian essays is at last coming to fruition.  Editor Darrell Schweitzer posted over at the de Camp Yahoo group that publication of The Robert E. Howard Reader is imminent.  The ordering page at Amazon.com should be updated soon, and you can also order it from the Wildside Press website – just be patient and check in at one of those two places over the next several days.

It has been several years since a collection like this was published, the last one being Two-Gun Bob: A Centennial Study of Robert E. Howard in 2006. While the quality of some of the essays in Two-Gun Bob are below par, it is tough for these collections to live up to the likes of Don Herron’s The Dark Barbarian and The Barbaric Triumph anthologies of first-class Howard lit crit.

Here are the contents:

Introduction by Darrell Schweitzer

“Robert E. Howard: A Texan Master” by Michael Moorcock

“The Everlasting Barbarian” by Leo Grin

“Robert E. Howard’s Fiction” by L. Sprague de Camp

“The Art of Robert Ervin Howard” by Poul Anderson

“Howard’s Style” by Fritz Leiber

“What He Wrote and How They Said It” by Robert Weinberg

“Barbarism vs. Civilization” by S.T. Joshi

“Crash Go the Civilizations” by Mark Hall

“Return to Xuthal” by Charles Hoffman

“Howard’s Oriental Stories” by Don D’Ammassa

“King Kull as a Prototype of Conan” by Darrell Schweitzer

“How Pure a Puritan Was Solomon Kane?” by Robert M. Price

“Balthus of Cross Plains” by George H. Scithers

“Fictionalizing Howard” by Gary Romeo

“A Journey to Cross Plains” by Howard Waldrop

“Weird Tales and the Great Depression” by Scott Connors

“After Aquilonia and Having Left Lankhmar: Sword & Sorcery Since the 1980s” by Steve Tompkins

Looks like Darrell has something for everyone, running the gamut from de Camp to Grin.  I am looking forward to re-reading Steve Tompkins’ essay (it was  previously posted on The Cimmerian blog) – I really miss him and his thoughts and opinions.

Paul  Herman has announced November 13th as the date of a birthday party for Glenn Lord. This follows the success of last year’s birthday bash held in Houston at Tampico Seafood & Cocina Mexican. The event will be a warm-up to the big 80th birthday Glenn will be celebrating next year. More details are to come from Paul, which will be posted here and on the Glenn Lord Birthday Bash 2010 tread at the REH Forums.

About 20 people showed up for last year’s event, including Patrice Louinet and Fabrice Tortey, who made the pilgrimage all the way from France.  So if those guys can make it, so can you! However, if you just can’t attend, be sure and mail Glenn your birthday wishes to P.O. Box 775, Pasadena, TX 77501.

And wonder of wonders, Glenn has found his way onto Facebook; so that’s another option to send your birthday greetings.

UPDATE: The event will be held at the Monument Inn in Baytown, Texas. The celebration begins at 12:30 pm on Saturday, November 13th.  Please e-mail Paul Herman if you plan to attend so he can make enough reservations.

This entry filed under Glenn Lord, Howard Fandom, News.

Most fans of TGR are familiar with a piece I did back in 2006 about the corruption of the text of “Three-Bladed Doom” (short version) by fanzine editor Byron Roark.  In the mid-1970s, Roark and his partner Arnie Fenner published a handful of previously unpublished Howard stories — “Sword Woman” was one of these stories. As was the case with “Three-Bladed Doom,” I’ve discovered while comparing Howard’s typescript to the version published in REH: Lone Star Fictioneer#2, that Roark could not leave Howard’s text well enough alone – he managed to mangle “Sword Woman” to the extent it is almost a crime.

“Sword Woman,” chronologically the first Dark Agnes story, appeared in print for the first time in LSF #2, which was published in the summer of 1975.  The story next appeared about a year later in The Second Book of Robert E. Howard.  Finally, in May 1977, the Sword Woman paperback collecting all the Dark Agnes tales appeared in book stores. The story last saw print in 1986, but is returning to print next January in Del Rey’s Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures.

So unlike the case of the short version of “Three-Bladed Doom,” which languished in only Roark’s corrupted version for 33 years before finally seeing print as Howard had written it in the Del Rey paperback El Borak and Other Desert Adventures, the flawed version of “Sword Woman” was only around for a year before the true and accurate text appeared in print.

That being said, the changes Roark made to the “Sword Woman” text are far more sweeping in scope than those made to the short version of “Three-Bladed Doom.”   In that case he re-wrote the beginning and the ending of the El Borak yarn and made right at 100 changes to the text in the body of the 24,000 word story.

For “Sword Woman” Roark made more than 400 changes to Howard’s original 15,000 word text, to the extent that virtually every paragraph has at least one word changed or added, and in a lot of cases, whole sentences added, deleted or drastically changed.

The changes are so numerous I would literally have to post both versions, side by side for you to see all the differences. The following two paragraphs feature samples of the type of changes made.  First up is Howard’s original text.

Howard’s Version

I must have been senseless for some time — long enough for my father to drag me through the forest and into the village by the hair of my head. Regaining consciousness after a beating was no new experience, but I was sick and weak and dizzy, and my limbs ached from the rough ground over which he had dragged me. I was lying in our wretched hut, and when I staggered up into a sitting position, I found that my plain woolen tunic had been taken from me, and I was decked in wedding finery. By Saint Denis, the feel of it was more loathsome than the slimy touch of a serpent, and a quick panic assailed me, so I would have torn it from me; but then a giddiness and a sickness overcame me, and I sank back with a groan. And blackness deeper than that of a bruised brain sank over me, in which I saw myself caught in a trap in which I struggled in vain. All strength flowed out of me, and I would have wept if I could. But I never could weep; and now I was too crushed to curse, and I lay staring dumbly at the rat-gnawed beams of the hut.

Then I was aware that some one had entered the room. From without sounded a noise of talking and laughter, as the people gathered. The one who had come into the hut was my sister Ysabel, bearing her youngest child on her hip. She looked down at me, and I noted how bent and stooped she was, and how gnarled from toil her hands, and how lined her features from weariness and pain. The holiday garments she wore seemed to bring these things out; I had not noticed them when she wore her usual peasant woman’s attire.

Now here is the text after it was worked over by Roark — his changes are shown in red.

Roark’s Version

I must have been senseless for some time — long enough for my father to drag me through the forest and into the village by the hair of my head. Regaining consciousness after a beating was no new experience for me, but I was sick, weak, and dizzy -- my limbs ached from the rough ground over which he had dragged me. I was lying on the floor of our wretched hut, and when I staggered up into a sitting position, I found that my plain woolen tunic had been taken from me, and that I was decked out in wedding finery. By Saint Denis, the feel of it was more loathsome than the slimy touch of a serpent. A quick panic assailed me, so that I would have torn the foul garments away; but then a giddiness and violent sickness overcame me, reluctantly I sank back with a groan. And blackness deeper than that of a bruised brain sank over me, in which I saw myself caught in a trap in which I struggled in vain to free myself.  All strength flowed from me, and I would have wept if I could. But as ever, I could not cry; and now I was too crushed to curse, and I lay dumbly staring up at the rat-gnawed beams of the hut.

Then I was aware that some one had entered the room. From without sounded a noise of talking and laughter, as the people gathered. The one who had come into the hut was my sister Ysabel, bearing her youngest squalling brat on her hip. She looked down at me, and I noted how bent and stooped she was, and how gnarled from toil were her hands how lined her features from weariness and pain. The holiday garments she wore seemed to bring these traits to the surface; I had not noticed them when she was clothed in her usual everyday garb.

Also, in his haste to re-engineer the text, Roark proceeds to horribly confuse things, creating a number of continuity issues.  I can’t recall if I noticed all of Roark’s screw ups when I read his version of “Sword Woman” (at the time I thought it was 100% Howard), but is just a shame what he did to this wonderful Howard story. 

It seems ludicrous to me that Roark felt the need to make such wholesale changes to Howard’s text — cavalier changes that are totally unnecessary.  I have no problem with an editor correcting misspellings, making punctuation changes or even replacing a word to clarify a sentence. But damn it, don’t rewrite the story and pass it off as being “pure Howard.” In closing, let me give you one more example of Roark’s butchery:

Howard’s Version

Presently I came upon a road which wound through the forest and was glad of it, because my wedding shoon, being shoddy things, were mostly worn out.  I was accustomed to going barefoot, but even so, the briars and twigs of the forest hurt my feet.

Roark’s Version

Presently, I came upon a road which wound through the forest, and I was proud of it; because my wedding gown, being shoddy things, were all but tattered rags, and completely worn out.  I was accustomed to going barefoot, but even so, the briars and twigs hurt my feet.

Apparently our incompetent editor was unaware that “shoon” is a term that refers to shoes, specfically a pair of shoes, and is not a wedding gown; thus his revised paragraph makes no sense whatsoever.

Since Roark has seemingly fallen off the face of the Earth, I can’t ask him: “what the hell were you thinking?”  But I suspect I already know the answer – he wasn’t.

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

When I started to read The Riddle of the Frozen Flame (1920) my primary instinct was to grab my nose and head outside for some fresh air.  I thought I had encountered a real stinker from the library of Robert E. Howard, and, at first, I was right.  We’re treated, at the very beginning of the novel, to a discussion between Scotland Yard Superintendant Maverick Narkom and Hamilton Cleek that is absolutely awful.  “Dash it all” declares Narkom a number of times, and he insists on calling Cleek “my old chap” so much that I automatically went into gag reflex.  Cleek, for his part, declares that this case is a baffling one—“As pretty a kettle of fish” as he has ever come across. 

So I suffered along but gradually I found myself actually getting into what was occurring in this Sherlock Holmes-like book.  There are strange lights burning by Merriton Towers on the moor, and when people set out to discover the source of these “frozen flames” they mysteriously disappear.  All that is left to mark their passing is the odd fact that a new light shines forth, joining those already burning.  Hamilton Cleek is called in to solve the case, and of course he does, and we discover that there was nothing supernatural about the lights at all, which is always a letdown for me. 

Still, as I was reading this book, I was intrigued by the character of Cleek, who was once known as “the Vanishing Cracksman” when he was a super criminal who continually baffled Scotland Yard, making them look terribly stupid and inept.  He’s an interesting, very pulpish figure. 

In Cleek: The Man of the Forty Faces (1912), a book not listed as being in REH’s library, we’re told something amazing about this Scotland Yard detective—he’s a master of disguise because his face can be molded into whatever form he wants it to be.  It would seem that when Cleek’s mother was pregnant she “used to play with one of those curious little rubber faces which you can pinch up into all sorts of distorted countenances…she would sit for hours screaming with laughter over the droll shapes into which she squeezed the thing.  Afterward, when her little son was born, he inherited the trick of that rubber face as a birthright.”  While I think this is pretty cool, it does show that his mother was just a bit spooky and must have had all sorts of problems. 

The author of this series was Thomas W. Hanshew (1857-1914), and I can really find out very little about him, but I’ll admit I didn’t go into intensive investigation mode.  The ‘Cleek’ books had to have been pretty popular in their time, as my e-book copy of Cleek of Scotland Yard (1914) is illustrated with photographs from the movie, “courtesy of Thomas A. Edison, Inc.”  When he died in 1914 his wife Mary E. Hanshew took up the challenge and kept the series going.  Up to 1914 the Cleek books are only written by Thomas, but with Mary at the helm she always gave part credit to her husband—perhaps out of respect for her deceased man or because at his death he left unfinished story outlines, I wasn’t able to discover.  Evidently Hanshew and his wife are just a couple more authors that have all but disappeared to the world of readers, and it’s sad, because I do think Cleek has much to offer. 

Howard owned another Hanshew book, The Riddle of the Mysterious Light (1921), which I’ll report on when I get around to reading it.  So if you happen to have a lazy Sunday afternoon where you don’t want to think too hard, pick up one of these Cleek mysteries and enjoy yourself.  Dash it all old chap, it’s a bloody good way to spend a day!

This entry filed under Howard Scholarship.

Mark Finn has taken some time out from his busy schedule to let me ask him a few questions about the new El Borak comic story he is working on for Dark Horse Comics’ Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword. Over the past decade, Mark has been one of those leading the charge to bring a new awareness of Howard as an important American author and poet.  He is currently updating and revising his 2006 biography of Howard for publication next year by the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press.

Damon:  Is the book going to be a regular monthly or bi-monthly publication or simply have a limited edition run?

Mark: The plan right now is that it will be, I think, a quarterly. The goal is to get some of the other REH characters that haven’t had comic treatments into view of the fans. So, each issue will be a little anthology of stuff.

Damon: Who is the interior artist? Cover artist?

Mark: I have no idea who the cover artist is, but the guy working on my story is some newcomer named Tim Bradstreet. I’ve seen his stuff. He’s pretty good. Maybe one day he’ll be in the big leagues. (laughs) I mean how cool is that, that I have the guy who did the Del Rey illustrations working on El Borak? I’m pretty stoked. I’ve been a fan of Tim’s for years.

Damon: This is the first effort to get Gordon into a graphic story format.  Are there any challenges you see as far as how the character will look? 

Mark: (sighs) You know, this is one of those things…for me, I absolutely adore what Jim and Ruth (Keegan) did with their El Borak concept piece. If I had had my druthers, I would want that to be the comic book El Borak look. No disrespect to Tim, because, you know, as a fan, I like his work and Thomas Jane, too. But it’s not my call. Those decisions are out of my hands. In my script, I’ve got Gordon tricked out like in the REH stories. And it’s set within the El Borak timeline. Tim uses a lot of Photo-reference, and so, unless something really weird happens, if you liked the illustrations in the Del Rey book, you’ll like his work on the comic.

Damon: Most Howard fans are used to seeing Howard’s more exotic heroes (Conan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, and Solomon Kane) in graphic form.  Gordon is a straight adventure guy with no sorcerers or monsters menacing him.  Do you foresee any issues with him being accepted by the fans in a comic book?

Mark: I don’t really, because there’s even a little wiggle room, if we allow the Ghuls (and they have said those are fair game). No, that’s the good thing about comics. My friend Bill Williams often says that they have an unlimited special effects budget, so a twentieth century swashbuckler is no problem for that crowd. The fact that he is so straightforward is what makes him a good leading character, I think.

Damon: I understand you are writing an original story for the first issue – can you share any details?

Mark: Well, I don’t want to give anything away, because it’s only 8 pages. But this was my charge: show the readers what makes El Borak such a bad-ass. I can tell you it’s about six and a half pages of El Borak doing what he does best: sword-fighting, shooting, riding, and in general taking care of business. In terms of the later Gordon stories, there’s only a handful to make Canon: the range of what El Borak does and can do is more implied than stated in those stories. So, I tried to do another twist on exactly the kinds of things El Borak would do in the course of his adventures. You know, it’s not El Borak making a bid for tribal warlord, or anything like that. I cleaved very closely to the REH stories. But, since it’s a comic book, too, I dropped in something that could be picked up for later, if necessary. I can tell you that this takes place about six months or so after “Hawks of the Hills.”

Now, just watch. When the book comes out, someone, probably someone we both know, will lambast me on the Conan forums: “El Borak would NEVER do those things, or talk like that!” (Laughs)

Damon: Howard wrote quite a few Gordon yarns.  Are there plans to adapt Howard’s stories?

Mark: Don’t know for sure. I think that, if Dark Horse finds a positive response to a given character from this line, that they will look at a monthly title, or a mini-series, and maybe then there will be an adaptation or two. If any of the fans like what they see, or want to see different stuff, I would encourage them to let Dark Horse know about it.

Damon: Will the book feature Jim & Ruth Keegan’s “Two-Gun Bob” strips?

Mark: Yes! And I really hope that Jim and Ruth can do a larger story with this new book. Not that I don’t want the Two-Gun Bob strips, but it’s time for them to break out a Howard adaptation of their own. You know they can do it. I’d trust them with just about anything.

Damon:  Any word on the Dark Horse’s Steve Costigan project that has been kicking around for a while?

Mark: No firm word. It’s on the list, to be developed, and they know (oh God do they all know) how much I want to do it. Me and John Lucas (who, by the way, is going to be inking the new Roy Thomas Conan book) are ready to roll. It’s just a matter of when.

 Damon: Since this is your first foray into comic writing, anything you’d care to add about this new adventure you are on?

Mark: Well, technically, it’s not. I’ve done comics before, a long, long time ago, in the early 90s. It’s been forever. So, any of those old comics you come across that I did, they are worth zillions of bucks! (laughs) Seriously, though, it’s a separate set of muscles from doing, say, prose or fiction. Comics, for all of their freedom, have a lot more structure to them, and a fairly different set of rules. So, my muscles are a little stiff from inactivity, but once I got my layouts drawn for the script, I was back in the zone. It’s been fun. I’m excited to do more work for Dark Horse in this capacity.

Damon: Thank you for your time, Mark.  I know everyone in Howardom wishes you the best with the new comic and your other projects.  Be sure and keep us posted on the book’s progress.

Mark: Thank you and I will.