REH Splashes the “Spicys” — Part III

Writing to his agent, Otis Adelbert Kline, on January 8, 1936, Howard mentions the status of three spicy yarns:

Hope “Guns of Khartum” clicks. I’m enclosing another Spicy Adventure herewith. I’d intended also enclosing a Breck Elkins yarn, but after writing it I was dissatisfied with it, deciding that it didn’t have enough action and plot complication, so I’m re-writing it. I’ll probably get it to you early next week. Yes, I can re-write “Daughters of Feud” from the carbon, but I hope the ms. shows up. I’d like to read the criticism included in the letter from the editor, so as to be guided in future stories. If any criticism accompanied “Ship in Mutiny” please have it forwarded to me also.

Concerning Thrilling Adventures, my yarn, “The Trail of the Blood-Stained God” recently rejected by Margulies was an effort to write one on the order of “Gold From Tartary”. I seem unable to sell him more than one story to each magazine. And most of his magazines haven’t bought the one yet. However, I’ll rewrite “Ship in Mutiny” with Thrilling Adventures in mind.

As you can see from the above excerpt, Howard had failed to sell “Daughters of Feud” and “Guns of Khartum” was soon rejected as well. The reason for the rejections was the same as for “Ship in Mutiny” — Howard strayed too far away from the spicy formula.

“Daughters of Feud” was written and submitted in December 1935. Howard later reflected that this tale was “too hot for them to handle,” and it was probably the strong sadomasochistic strain that runs throughout the story that again proved too much for Editor Armer. This yarn is also markedly different than Howard’s other spicy stories. 

The protagonist in this spicy yarn is Thomas Braxton Brent, the new schoolteacher in the rural backwater town of Whiskey Run in some unnamed southern state (Howard refers to the location as being Kentucky in a February 1936 letter to Novalyne). Brent teaches in a one-room schoolhouse which children all ages attend — from tots to teenagers. Among his students are two nineteen-year old daughters of rival feuding families who seek to tear each other to pieces in a catfight during class. The two girls, Ann, a brunette and Joan, a blonde, really go at it, tearing blouses, etc. uncovering eye-popping views of fresh young flesh and shapely thighs. The new teacher breaks up the wrestling match, and to show the other students that he is in charge, he has to administer corporal punishment to the unruly pair. Each girl is taken to the woodshed after school, which really stirs up both feuding families. Brent’s situation gets worse when he falls hard for the beautiful Joan.

Of course, feuds between rival clans or families were among Howard’s favorite topics of discussion and feud themes were also incorporated into some of his stories, namely “The Feud Buster,” “The Valley of the Lost,” and the granddaddy of them all, “Red Nails.” For “Daughters,” he decided to use this theme for his new spicy non-Clanton story. Again, as was the case with “Desert Blood,” a school teacher plays a key role in the story. We really don’t know if the school teacher/schoolhouse angle is a harmless plot device or Howard – with their relationship on the ropes – subtly sending a message to Novalyne Price

However, Howard goes over the deep end with the spanking and self-flagellation, and crafts a story that would please the most jaded of fetishists. The hot and heavy sex between Brent and Joan, coupled with the detailed description of the whipping of Ann with a leather strap and Joan’s own self abuse with a switch, not to mention threats of castration and gang rape, proved to be way too much for Editor Armer who rejected the story.

Clearly, Howard had more than a passing knowledge of sadomasochism and in this excerpt from his “Blood Lust: Robert E. Howard’s Spicy Adventures” essay (The Cimmerian, V2N5), Charles Hoffman reflects on Howard’s interest in the rough and kinky stuff:

The instances of whipping and self-flagellation in this story are no mere matter of happenstance. Howard’s personal library included such volumes as Experiences of Flagellation, A History of the Rod, and Curiosa of Flagellants and History of Flagellation. He also wrote poetry like “Limericks to Spank By” and “Good Mistress Brown,” the latter concerning the spanking of an adult woman. This does seem to indicate that Howard’s sexual interests extended beyond a simple taste for vanilla. These particular interests, however, are by no means rare. The spanking of a grown woman is often part of a “taming of the shrew” scenario in books and movies. Those who share the interest are titillated, with the rest of the audience none the wiser. In the movie McLintock! John Wayne spanks Maureen O’Hara –clad in soaking wet undergarments– in front of the whole town. The film is considered wholesome family entertainment.

Well, “Daughters” was far from wholesome family entertainment and, as Armer discovered, far from appropriate for his audience. After its rejection, Howard never did revise it and it languished in fiction purgatory until Jonathan Bacon published it in Fantasy Crossroads #8 (May 1976).

“Guns of Khartum” did not click with the Spicy-Adventure Stories editor either. With  “Guns,” Howard continues to experiment with the spicy formula, seeking to blend a spicy yarn with a historical adventure. The story takes place in the Sudan in 1885, during the fall of the besieged city of Khartum after a ten-month siege. The attackers were Islamic militants, led by a religious figure called the Madhi, who were seeking to overthrow British rule. One of Britain’s greatest military heroes, Chinese Gordon was killed in a fight to the death with Islamic extremists when Khartum finally fell.

The hero of this yarn is one Emmett Corcoran, a muscular soldier of fortune who finds himself hunting for ivory in the Sudan when the rebellion breaks out. Making his way through the carnage, Corcoran hears a scream, looks through a window and sees a rebellious Somali slave named Zelda about to stab a blonde Englishwoman named Ruth Brenton between “[her] quivering ivory mounds.” Of course has to intervene, punching out Zelda to save the blonde. The Somali slave is promptly kicked out of the room and after some small talk, our hero makes his carnal move on Ruth.

During their conversation, Ruth tells Corcoran that she came to Khartum with her uncle, a merchant, who was killed in the early days of the fighting. She further reveals that a Frenchman, Gerard Latour, who has allied himself with the Mahdi, has been stalking her.

Soon Corcoran’s sixth sense kicks in and he tells Ruth to get dressed. Sure enough, the rebels had broken through the city walls en masse and a group of them were pounding on the door lead by that crazy Frenchman lusting for Ruth’s body (it seems everyone in this story is lusting after poor Ruth). The bloodthirsty Islamists break through the door and flood the room.

The American attempts to get Ruth out of harm’s way, but he is too late as a rush of fighters corner him as he seeks to fight them off and protect the girl. While Corcoran fights valiantly, he is felled by a pistol shot from Gerard Latour as he comes rushing into the fray and then quickly moves in to claim his prize:

Laughing at the revealing whirl of white limbs as she struggled vainly, the renegade lifted her in his arms and strode toward the open gate. Though she fought like a wild thing, she hardly felt his lustful hands on her naked thighs, her bare breasts. She scarcely heard the brutal laughter of the warriors, mocking her nudity. Staring over her captor’s shoulder, her dilated eyes were fixed in frenzied despair on the figure that lay limply in the angle of the wall, amidst a litter of mangled black figures.

When Corcoran regains consciousness from the flesh wound to his head, he realizes the sleazy Frenchman has stolen Ruth and that he must get her back. Zelda comes slinking back and far from being mad at Corcoran for slugging her on the jaw, she seems turned on (go figure!). Even though he is repulsed by her, the American holds his nose and has sex with her.

After some skullduggery and getting sidetracked for five months, Corcoran finally comes to rescue Ruth in a climax of betrayal, flashing swords, and flight through the desert, culminating with Ruth in the arms of our hero being caressed and fondled.

What undoubtedly put this yarn in the rejection stack was the unrelenting physical and emotional violence and very strong sexual content. In addition to an entire city of Anglos being murdered by black Islamic extremists, the “good girl” of the story is enslaved for five months in a harem under the control of a whip-wielding sadist. And with no “jauntiness” in sight, the editor gave it the old heave-ho.

“Guns of Khartum” remained unpublished until 1975 when it appeared in REH: Lone Star Fictioneer #3 as “Guns of Khartoum” (modern spelling).

After these two failures, it was time to toss out the experimentation for good and give Editor Armer what he wanted, namely the formula yarns based on the Spicy line’s guidelines. Soon Howard had two more Clanton stories, “The Dragon of Kao Tsu” and “Murderer’s Grog,” accepted by Spicy-Adventure Stories and he was back on the right track again.

It is interesting that, as originally written, all of Howard’s Clanton stories were far spicier than the versions that appeared in Spicy-Adventure Stories, and consequently in The She Devil (Ace, 1983). Editor Armer had to tone them down considerably in order to publish them. Apparently Howard’s three spicy failures were so far outside of the guidelines Armer could not easily clean them up for publication. Howard knew his readers wanted “red meat” and lots of it and he was more than capable of giving it to them.

To be continued…

Spice up your life with some Spicy Adventures

The REH Foundation Press has already sold half the print-run of Spicy Adventures. The book is due out the end of September with a print run of 200 copies. This 211 page volume collects all of Howard’s “spicys” and is the first time many of these stories have appeared in hardback. In addition to all of the complete tales, this volume contains a large miscellanea section with drafts and synopsizes that allow readers to glimpse Howard’s creative process. A standout cover by Jim and Ruth Keegan completes the package. Pre-orders are now being accepted at the Foundation’s website.

Read: Part I / Part II / Part IV / Part V