Authorship Uncertain?

Or Two More Stories in the Howard Bibliography

In his bio-bibliography of Robert E. Howard, The Last Celt (1976), Glenn Lord included a small “Authorship Uncertain” section, comprising only four stories. Lord indicated that Howard, as the short story writer of the college paper the Yellow Jacket from October 1926 to May 1927, could be the author of these four pieces, which appeared while he was at studying at Howard Payne. Howard’s other contributions were signed, but these four stories were not, hence Lord’s hesitation. These four texts were: “For the Honor of the School” (November 17, 1926), “His War Medals” and “The Rivals” (January 6, 1927), and “From Tea to Tee” (March 17, 1927). Lord indicated that his personal opinion was that “For the Honor of the School” could be Howard, but very much doubted that the other three were. To add some confusion, “The Reformation – A Dream,” which appeared in the April 21, 1927 issue, is listed in The Last Celt as a Howard text, but appeared in the Yellow Jacket without a byline. Why include that one and not the other unsigned pieces?

Two-Gun Raconteur blogger extraordinaire Rob Roehm spent countless hours examining dozens of issues of the Yellow Jacket. Digging deep in those files, he notably unearthed two previously unknown (and early) pieces by Howard, both titled “Letter of a Chinese Student.” Examining the four “authorship uncertain” texts, Rob concluded that “For the Honor of the School” and “The Rivals” are very probably by Howard, while the other two are more than spurious. Since Howard was in charge of the short-story department, Roehm felt that all these tales should be added to the Howard bibliography. But should they?

Reading all these stories, I could only agree with Rob as to what Howard wrote – or not, but I wanted more than a simple gut-feeling; I wanted to prove the point. So I set out to reread all of Howard’s contributions to the Yellow Jacket directly from scans of the original issues, as something had caught my eye while reading “The Rivals.”

It turned out that Howard did more than write his stories for the Yellow Jacket: he also very probably typeset most of these, the exception being the issues in which appeared his first offerings, probably edited by Claude C. Curtis. He was still in Cross Plains when he wrote “Letter of a Chinese Student,” so this is not really surprising.

Over the years, I have made it a specialty to identify and date Howard’s texts by various means, notably by the Texan’s spelling mistakes and idiosyncrasies. In his early years, for instance, Howard had the habit to “forget” his apostrophes. One will find “dont” for “don’t,” “whats” for “what’s,” “its” for “it’s,” etc. His punctuation in lines of dialogues was faulty, but consistent. Among other idiosyncrasies, he would prefer “surprize” to “surprise,” (systematically), or “grey” to “gray” (after August 1926). He would also misspell certain words, sometimes learning the correct form at a precise date (“horrizon,” (up to mid-1931), “similiar,” “futiley,” etc.).

All the stories which appeared in the Yellow Jacket under his byline at the time he was in charge of the short-story department offer countless such examples, proving that Howard wrote and typeset them. (It is extremely unlikely that an editor would have gone to the trouble of typing those stories exactly the way Howard had prepared them, especially so since the editing was quite amateurish, as evidenced by the impressive number of typos.)

Since the four “authorship uncertain” stories also appeared in that same 1926-1927 time frame, there only remained to reread them in the original publication and see if Howard’s peculiarities were present… and it turned out that the textual evidence matches exactly Rob Roehm’s conclusions.

“For the Honor of the School” is pure Howard, absolutely no doubt about it. The general tone of the story is very Howardian, but when we add the story’s “villianous” (typical Howard misspelling), “thats” for “that’s,” “its” for “it’s,” or “whose” for “who’s,” we have very strong evidence that Howard is indeed the author of that tale.

Same goes for “The Rivals.” That story is also very Howardian in theme, and this time the forgotten apostrophes and punctuation mistakes are almost unneeded because of the story’s “unconcious:” Howard only learned to spell the word “conscious” (and all derived forms such as “conscience,” “unconscious,” etc.) in March 1932.

“His War Medals,” appearing in the same issue, next to “The Rivals,” was not prepared by Howard and is almost certainly not by him. A Howard story featuring the hero’s mother is simply inconceivable in 1927, plus the text has three instances of the word “surprise.” Had Howard prepared that text, he would have used the spelling he always used: “surprize.”

“From Tea to Tee” is also certainly not by Howard given the style of the story, the appearance – again – of the hero’s mother, the fact that all apostrophes are present and accounted for, and several occurrences of the word “disappear” correctly spelled.

The only remaining mystery, then, is “The Reformation – A Dream.” The story could be Howard’s, who did write about college friend Carl Macon (in a poem and in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, but the Yellow Jacket appearance offers no real textual evidence. That one is still unsure. Glenn Lord has this as a Howard story, so we may suspect he has some evidence to back this up.

“For the Honor of the School” and “The Rivals” are thus two stories which, as Rob Roehm suspected, NEED be added to Robert E. Howard’s “official” bibliography.