A Little More “Graveyard Rats”

One of the nice things about editing collections of Robert E. Howard material is that I get to see what previous editors have done. Steve Harrison’s Casebook was no exception.

I usually begin with electronic text (e-text) that has been generated using a published appearance of the item I’m working on. With “Graveyard Rats,” I started with clean copies of its appearance in Thrilling Mystery and scanned the tale using Optical Character Recognition software (that is, software that creates editable etext from an image of that text). It would save a lot of time and effort if I could just start with Howard’s typescript pages, but OCR programs have a much easier time recognizing the text on a printed page than on a photocopy of a faded typescript, and Howard’s practice of using both sides of a sheet of paper really confuses things. Anyway, once I’ve got useable etext, I restore the text to exactly what Howard wrote on his typescript, when one is available. This is where I find out what previous editors have done.

Sure, usually there’s not much difference between Howard’s typescript and the printed appearance: a comma added here, a typo corrected there. But every once in a while some neat little things pop up. For example, on page two of the “Graveyard Rats” typescript, the paragraph that begins “Crouching against the wall,” there’s an extra phrase that doesn’t appear in any published version: “cursing the patter of the scurrying rat.”

It’s not much, I know, but it makes preparing text a lot more fun. And there were quite a few things like this in “Graveyard Rats.” Another example is toward the end of Chapter 3. In published versions, it’s at the end of the small paragraph, “Demons, the Negroes called them [the rats], and in that moment Harrison was ready to agree.” The paragraph in the typescript has the additional line, “ghoulish grey demons, mad with cannibalistic hunger.”

None of these extra phrases adds much to the story, in my opinion, but it’s exciting to find them, just the same. I’m sure Howard was only trying to bump up the word count—and his pay check—in most cases. At any rate, all of the omitted phrases have been restored for the yarn’s appearance in the upcoming REH Foundation Press release.

And speaking of word counts, the final version of “Graveyard Rats” has 9,373 words. The draft version which will appear for the very first time in Steve Harrison’s Casebook has 11,204 words—and that number doesn’t even include the first and last pages of the draft, which are missing and presumed lost. The draft has several interesting divergences from the final version, not like the observations above. There’s nothing like having more “Graveyard Rats,” hopefully just in time for Christmas.