A Witch Shall Be Bought

This rare Howard typescript for “A Witch Shall Be Born” recently sold at auction for $22,500. This is not the final version, as the description from the Heritage Auctions website (shown below) states, but rather the first draft of this famous Conan story.

A Complete Robert E. Howard Typescript of One of His Most Famous Conan Stories

Robert E. Howard. Original Typed Manuscript, Ribbon Copy, for the Conan Story, “A Witch Shall Be Born.” Forty-five pages (rectos only) on 8.5 x 11 inch typing paper. Originally published in Weird Tales in December, 1934 and later collected in the 1954 Gnome Press publication of Conan the Barbarian. Howard has inscribed and signed in pencil at the top of the first page of the typescript, “Best Regards, / Robert E. Howard.”

“A Witch Shall Be Born” is perhaps the best known Conan story of Howard’s career, particularly for the scene in which the mighty Cimmerian, after being beaten, tortured, crucified and left for dead, bites his way through the neck of an impatient vulture. Additionally, on the verso of fifteen pages of the manuscript, Howard re-used the paper to write another story, this one a western-themed thriller later published as “Knife River Prodigal” in the July, 1937 issue of Cowboy Stories. The pages are numbered sequentially 1-14, with an extra page 8, comprising fifteen pages of typescript.

The manuscript is quite clean, with errors corrected by erasure and retyping. Minor toning to the paper, with a few scattered, very occasional instances of thumb-soiling or spotting. Marginal perforations vertically along the left edge, likely as preparation for binding by its previous owner, and Lovecraft associate, Robert H. Barlow. A fine and unique Conan manuscript comprising two full Howard stories, with an inscription from the author on the first page (Howard signatures are quite rare in their own right), and likely the only time in a generation or two that one will be able to acquire such a treasure.

Accompanying the manuscript are several pages of provenance, comprised of the following: a four-page handwritten letter in pencil, presumably unsent, from Barlow to Robert E. Howard’s father, expressing his condolences on the author’s “shocking death”; a one-page handwritten copy (in Barlow’s hand) of a letter sent from Howard to Barlow, transmitting ownership of this very manuscript from the former to the latter (a photocopy of Howard’s original typed letter signed to Barlow is also included); photocopies of two other typed letters signed sent from Howard to Barlow; and a photocopy of a letter from Glenn Lord identifying the western story as “Knife River Prodigal.” From the John McLaughlin/Book Sail Collection.

McLaughlin was a world-renowned book collection who passed away in 2005. Fantasy author David C. Smith did a nice tribute to him here.

Some lucky Howard collector has added a magnificent item to his collection this month, but it cost him a whole passel of pazoors!