Last week, in part 1 of this interview, Mark Finn discussed his own writing, both biography and fiction. In this installment, he continues sharing his thoughts on other Howard related topics.
AF: Do you think there been any faithful adaptations of Howard to film?
MF: Howard films…I have to tell you a quick story, an anecdote. We managed to get ahold of a copy of Solomon Kane
from a friend who taped a bootleg. My wife Cathy was real excited to sit down and watch it. We were five minutes in, and she said, “Was this Robert E. Howard right here?”
And I said, “No.”
Then she said, “Okay.” And we watch a little bit more. He goes through the things he goes through and he’s killing people left and right, and she says, “This has got to be Howard.”
And I said, “No, this isn’t in any of the Solomon Kane stories.”
I said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll let you know when the Howard stuff shows up ’cause I’ll probably get real excited about it.”
She goes, “Great.”
Thirty minutes go by. She says, “He’s met the family now. Is this Howard?”
“No, this isn’t Howard.”
We get to about ten minutes before the end, and she says, “Honey, is there any Robert E. Howard in this?”
I said, “Well, the guy’s name is Solomon Kane.”
She said, “Honey, that doesn’t count.”
You know, it’s a little sad that the best one of the bunch is still the old “Pigeons From Hell” Thriller episode
. Boris Karloff’s adaptation of “Pigeons From Hell” still stands out as following the storyline. Which is such a novel approach. Why didn’t I think of that? Why not just take something from the books? How simple and how basic. “No, no, no, you don’t understand, Mark, we’ve got to rewrite Conan so that he’s on a quest for vengeance.” Oh, cause that hasn’t been done to death. Yeah, yeah, that makes prefect sense. Yeah, why not, why not? In fact, I got an idea. Why don’t you have a Vikings kill his family. We’ve never seen that
before in a film.
It just makes me crazy that these guys in LA have…I don’t think it’s ignorance. I think it’s a willful self confidence there that feeds an ego that has to be the size of C’thulhu. It’s the only thing that makes sense. If I come to them with a proposal set in a savage land in a distant time about a guy who walks into town out of the wilderness and through strength, cunning, guile, his own wits, he pulls himself up by his bootstraps to become the most famous rogue in town. But because he’s still new in town he hasn’t counted on the forces of civilization rallying around him, and so the story ends when he’s betrayed and has to leave town. And they say, “What’s the name of this piece?” and I say, “Krogan the Mercenary”. They’d be like [snaps fingers], “Awesome, we’ll run with it. It’ll be just like Walter Hill did in Last Man Standing.
Yeah. We won’t give him an origin. No, it makes him mysterious. Perfect! I love it!”
That should be the Conan movie. That should be the Conan movie. But no, noooo, let’s give him a family. Even though Robert E. Howard’s stuff so seldom uses family for anything, much less a motif for vengeance. Usually it’s an excuse to move away.
The Conan movie’s coming out. I’ll show it at the theater. But it’s not gonna be Conan. I mean there may be more stuff in it. We haven’t seen it, so obviously we don’t know what elements got taken out. But I can tell you right now, if the plot involves him going on a quest for vengeance to get the guy that got his parents, that’s not Robert E. Howard. It’s just not. It may be an entertaining movie. There may be some pieces and parts where you go, “Wow, that’s a pretty Conan-esque type of thing that’s going on right there.” Until they figure out that this stuff works because it’s been around this long and people respond to it on a visceral level, until they figure that out, we’re gonna have this problem. I wish it was different. Moreover, I wish they would fly me out to Hollywood for a week. I’ll take a meeting with them. I can fix this. I just know it. Get the executives out the room and let me talk to the scriptwriter, okay? I’ll even put it in the language of film. There’s a hundred film examples of exactly the kind of thing that can be used for this. Most of the executives are thirty-five and don’t watch movies, so what are you going to do with that? What’s the next question?
AF: What one question would you have for Howard if you could ask him anything?
MF: If I had just one question?
AF: Or a series of questions if you prefer.
MF: I thought about this the other day. I was watching a Ben Franklin documentary and realized the five people that you would have breakfast with, you know, would be…one of them would be Robert E. Howard, of course. I think I would ask him, if I had just one question to ask him, it would be, “Do you…” Actually, this is what I would ask him. “How do you see yourself?” I would want to know how he saw himself because I think that would answer a lot. And I know he writes about it in the letters, but I think in the letters he also puts on a lot of different faces depending on who he’s talking to. If I got the chance to look him in the eyes and see what he says, I want to know how he sees himself because we’ll know. And if I could tell him one thing, it would be “It’s gonna get better.” I’d like to pull him aside at the beginning of 1936 and say, “You will get through this.” Would it help? Who knows, I mean when people have made up their minds that they’re gonna do that, especially when people are clinically depressed, decide they’re taking a path… [sighs]
AF: I think that’s the desire of every Robert E. Howard fan, to talk him off the ledge so to speak.
MF: And the thing is, you know the question is, if you talk him off the ledge in 1936, what’s to say he doesn’t get back on that ledge in ’37? The things that he’s dealing with, presuming he would get through the funeral and make it a few months down the road, where does he go? Does he go with his dad? What does he do? There’s this continual grieving process. For a guy who spent most of his life as a caregiver to his mother, as a guy, who, whether he wanted to or not, identified himself as a caregiver to his mother, that piece of his identity is gone. They’ve done studies about this now, and noted that when children take care of parents in a caregiving role for a number of years, you get all sorts of depressed behavior, and suicide becomes a major thing because the one reason why they’re doing what they’re doing has been taken away. So there’s no guarantees that we would have gotten a whole lot of stories from Robert E. Howard. There’s no guarantees he would have made it to World War II. When you’re dealing with someone who’s been that depressed for that long, who’s to say? But I would ask him what he thought of himself. Or optionally, I would ask him why he never talked about his humor because that was the stuff that put food on his table for most of his writing career. And very little is said about it. He’s always more interested in talking about the horror stories or whatever, but the stuff that he came to rely on for a steady paycheck was the funny boxing and the funny westerns.
AF: What do you see as the state of Howard scholarship and where do you think it’s going over the next few years?
MF: I think Howard scholarship is alive and well. I think we’re in a lull right now because a lot of people’s projects are coming to an end. And the may be the end of the second Howard boom’s scholarship push. The internet has helped since we can react to things that are on there now, that’s been useful in keeping things alive, but until all of Robert E. Howard’s fiction is in print in some form or fashion, we won’t have Rusty and Patrice for the big stuff. That’s what they’re doing. That’s the job they’ve set themselves. As a task, as fans, we should be grateful for that. They’ve had eleven Del Rey books come out. And even though it won’t be the funny stuff. The funny stuff is what’s left, and once that’s done, and they take a mental break, I’m sure both of them are gonna dive into the biography. It’s not that they haven’t wanted to work on it, it’s that they haven’t had time. So I think we have one more big push yet to have happen, and I’m not sure yet if it’s going to be during this big push, this third age of Howard scholarship that he won’t join the American literary canon in the way that Lovecraft has and Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler, and all those guys. I think that’s an inevitability, and we’re already moving in that direction anyway. The next five years is when you’re gonna start seeing Rusty and Patrice come out of the cave and start talking about stuff and the biographical debate comes up again. I think it’s around that time, either just before, during, or just after, is when he goes in the Library of the Americas. At that point you’re gonna see a lot of people back off and go “Ahhh. Now I can go read this and enjoy it again.” It tends to be a singular focus when you’re working on this stuff. There’s just one problem you’ve gotta just tackle and tackle until it’s dead and you look up and find another thing. I think of it like that, and I don’t begrudge what anybody is doing. Like I’ve said before, it’s important to have those authoritative texts out. The Foundation has made all the poetry available for the first time ever. Now we’ve got the wonder three volume set of the letters. Essential. So they’re setting up for the next wave. I think that’s what all this is right here. And if the academics continue to come to this, as we’ve seen starting with last year, with a couple of very strong academics, Justin and Diedre, I think they’re going to be instrumental in leading some more academics to Howard. I think that’s when the real interesting stuff will begin.
AF: Last question. What question would you ask that I haven’t if you were conducting this interview?
MF: I would have asked me if I had any regrets about what I’d done in Howard studies. But, I don’t have any regrets, so that’s kind of a boring question. [laughs]. I wish the REH Manifesto
had been a little bit shorter because I wrote it ostensibly to just tell the people: If you going to shoot your mouth off and you’re going to come out with some alleged knowledge, don’t tell me “I’ve read a few Conan stories, and here’s what I found out about Robert E. Howard.” You’re reading the one character that he commercially engineered over any of his other material to be something that he could sell to Weird Tales
. That’s not to say that Howard didn’t enjoy it and that’s not to say he didn’t invest in it, but the elements in the stories that a lot of people had a problem with, if you view Conan as the thing he constructed to try and get Farnsworth Wright’s attention and knew that certain things like women wearing certain things like gossamer silk robes and being whipped by other women, if he knew that stuff like that made it into Weird Tales
and got cover space, which usually was a little bit more money, and became things that Farnsworth Wright featured. And he put that in there, then the Conan stories become the anomaly, not the rule. “Sword Woman”, which was unpublished in Howard’s lifetime, is much more Howardian in tone. It’s not until those early Conan stories, where he’s trying to find his way, which tend to be some of the best ones, and then the later Conan stories, when he’s trying to break away, tend to be some of the best ones. In the middle you’ve got some fairly formula Conan stories, and these were the ones that Wright was featuring; these are the ones that Wright was lapping up. So, was Conan the way he always did things, or was it the exception to the rule. I think Conan was the exception, but then again , I’ve been steeped in this for a decade now. I’ve read the Conans over and over, and I’ve all the other stuff, and I”ve looked at all of this. I don’t expect BobaFett1972 at aol.com to know that. I wrote the manifesto as basically, if say I don’t like him, he’s too bloody for my taste, I’m not a big fan of the subject matter, and I tend to like my fantasy a little more epic and a little less down in the dirt, I can’t say anything bad about that. But if you tell me that Howard clearly had a problem with women, and after reading three Solomon Kane stories it’s clear that he was a virulent racist, I have to put the brakes on that. I wrote the Manifesto to basically tell people think before you type. What they took from that was “God, he doesn’t like it if anybody says anything negative about Robert E. Howard.” Which is not the case. I would love to read a negative critique of Robert E. Howard based on what’s in there. Not what you think is in there, not your mind tells you your mind tells you is in there, not what you remember from your D&D
days as being in there. So far I haven’t seen that critique yet, but maybe one day we’ll get it.
AF: Thank you very much.
MF: You’re welcome.