Category Archives: Margaret Brundage

It’s Margaret Brundage’s Birthday

I wrote a post last year on Margaret Brundage.  I don’t really have anything to add.  But given all the brouhaha about art lately (see Daughter of Naked Slave Girls, Illustrated Edition as an example of what I’m talking about), I thought I would put up a few scans of some of her work to mark the occasion.

Note to those who are uptight or only want other people to enjoy/like/appreciate the same things they like:  Brundage’s work is about as politically incorrect as you can get and often features nubile young women wearing little to no clothing and being threatened or bound (or both) in some manner.  If this might offend you, then rather than clicking the READ MORE link, do us both a favor and go somewhere else.

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Happy Birthday, Margaret Brundage

Brundage WT Bat GirlMargaret Brundage was born on this date in 1900.  Brundage gain fame, some would say infamy, illustrating covers for Weird Tales in the 1930s.  She was born Margaret Hedda Johnson and was married briefly married to “Slim” Brundage, a painter with radical politics.  The had one son.  I guess that means the rumor I heard that she used her daughters for models isn’t true.

The best way to honor Brundage is to show examples of her work.  Since the illustrations won’t be to everyone’s taste, and some folks get offended waayy too easily these days, the illustrations will be after the “Continue Reading” break.  What follows may not be approriate for youonger readers and the uptight.  There’s a reason she’s been called “Margaret Bondage.” Continue reading

A Look at Weird Tales #361

Weird Tales #361
PDF $2.99

Before we get started, I’d like to thank Doug Draa for the review copy.  Doug, who blogs at Uncle Doug’s Bunker of Vintage Horror Paperbacks, is a new contributing editor at Weird Tales, and we wish him a successful run in that capacity. 

Weird Tales has adopted the policy of giving each issue a theme.  The previous issue was Cthulhu Returns, and according to the ad in the present issue, the next issue’s theme is the Undead.  There are rumors of a sword and sorcery issue in the works as well.  In addition to having stories around a specific theme, each issue will also have unthemed stories.  As you can see from the cover, the present issue has the theme of Fairy Tales.

Fairy Tales as a theme is pretty broad.  That can encompass retellings or deconstructions of established fairy tales, new stories which read like fairy tales in they way they are structured and/or the themes they address, and stories in which (often contemporary) characters interact with the realm of fairy.  All of those and more are included here.

I also need to say a few words about personal taste.  One of the things I try to do, although I’m not sure how successful I am, is to distinguish between what I consider flaws in a work I’m reviewing and what simply isn’t to my taste.  There’s quite a bit of fiction in this issue, and I’ll try to distinguish between what doesn’t work for me and what I think isn’t very good by more objective standards.  I have to admit that I’ve never cared much for the elves/fairies/fae in the modern world type of story (unless the author has the last name of de Lint).  I prefer my fairy tale oriented fiction to be either variations on established tales or stories with fairy tale sensibilities, like the Beagle story herein.  I especially like them if they are dark, have a strong element of horror, and/or don’t always end happily.  Think the Datlow/Windling original anthologies from the 90s, and you’ll have a good idea of where my tastes run. 

By far the standout of the issue is the lead tale by Peter S. Beagle, “The Queen Who Could Not Walk”, in which a queen learns the meaning of sacrifice and forgiveness along with a lesson about love.  This one clearly falls into the new fairy tale category, like so much of Beagle’s work does.  In the last decade, give or take a few years, Beagle has been one of the top practitioners of the short story form in the field.  This story is an excellent example of why that is.

Tanith Lee follows Beagle with a twist on an old fairy tale with “Magpied”  Close scrutiny of the title should give you a clue as to which tale she’s dealing with.  Many of the old fairy tales are fairly short, and this one was no exception.  The story she works with is one of my favorites, and Lee does an excellent job with it.

One of the longer stories is “Fae for a Day” by Teel James Glenn.  It’s a modern-human-encounters-the-fae-in-a-bar-and-proceeds-to-have-adventures kind of story.  This one was well written, and people who like this subgenre will probably like it.  I’ve seen the cop wounded in the line of duty, discharged from the force, and crawls into a bottle scenario enough that I had a hard time warming to this one.  It didn’t help that much of the attempted humor fell flat for me, such as referring to Titania as Titty.  Still, there’s a good audience out there for this type of thing, and I’m sure a number of readers will like it.  As for me, while I wasn’t crazy about it, I didn’t think it was the worst story of the lot, either.

“I am Moonflower” by Nicole Cushing and “Blind Alley” by Morgan Llewellyn are both short.  Of the two, I think I prefer the Cushing, which concerns the life of bees and flowers.  That may not sound appealing, but I liked the ending.  Llewellyn’s tale describes how the world will end.

The next story was “Suri and Sirin” by Court Merrigan.  It’s a story within a story, in which a father tells a tale to his children on a Christmas eve.  It’s a variation of a folk tale from Thailand, and as such had a different rhythm to it from the European folk tales I’m more familiar with.  Even though the twist at the end was no great surprise, it was a nice, sweet story, and I liked it.

J. R. Restrick’s “The Flowers of Tir-na-nOg” takes us into Dunsany territory.  A young man wanders through the lands of the fae hoping to find the girl who jilted him.  It’s a bittersweet story reminiscent of an earlier era and provided a good contrast to most of the other stories.

The one story I absolutely hated was Caitlin Campbell’s “The Miracles of La Guardia Airport (Delta Terminal).”  In this one a guardian angel seduces a man so that she won’t be promoted to a more important assignment.  I found it distasteful on more than one level.

“A Gnomish Gift” by Alex Shvartsman is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin from Rumpelstiltskin’s point of view.  While this one was neither dark nor horrifying, I really liked the way Shvartsman’s interpretation of the story placed a positive spin on things.

Jane Yolen gives us “Enough” insight into a sect of Judaism that is both educational and entertaining.

Lauren Liebowitz provides a sequel to Rumpelstiltskin with “Gold” that is completely incompatible with the interpretation in “A Gnomish Gift”.  This maintains the tragic air of the original and carries it one step further.  Short, sharp, and to the point. 

We’re back to longer works with “The Brown Man of Glen Gardens” by Frank Aversa.  A biologist revisits his childhood home and discovers something about one of the homeless people he feared as a kid.  This one didn’t end up the way I expected it to.

The next group in the Fairy Tale section were pretty short.  I liked Mark Bilgrey’s “The King’s Enemies” and found it to be a good example of a new fairy tale, although the ending was a little weak.  “The Crimson Cloak” by Zach Shephard had some good ideas, but the twist wasn’t very surprising.  Dick Baldwin’s “The Lute Player and the Mask” had a nice punch, although you could see it coming as well.  “Payment”  by Alfred J. Vickers III was flash fiction, dealing with a fairy tale we’d seen in an earlier story.

“Out of Time” by Manny Fishberg closes out the fairy tale section.  It’s a longer story, and offers a chilling twist on what a mother would do for her dying daughter.  It was one of the stronger stories in the issue.

There were two nonthemed selections.  Both were disappointing.  “As Fleas” by John Koons is a preachy little vignette that hits you over the head with the message.  Coming in a what would probably be considered short story length is “Black Poppy” by David W. Amendola.  Set in the 1920s or thereabouts, it concerns a brilliant professor of history who gets his hands on some dried and ground black poppy and tries to recreate a series of experiments described in one of his grimoires.  Of course he comes to a bad end.  Although competently written, there was nothing here that we haven’t seen multiple times before and certainly nothing original.  The most interesting character to me was the shop keeper who procured the poppy for the professor.

Additional features included some mini-interviews about fairy tales with Ramsey Campbell, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Elizabeth Bear, and Orrin Grey, full interviews with Tessa Farmer and J. David Spurlock (this one concerning Margaret Brundage), and poetry by Carole Bugge`, Jill Bauman, Andrew J. Wilson, and Arinn Dembo.  I enjoyed the poetry, but because the poems were all short, I won’t comment on them individually.  There was an editorial, a book review column, a look at how the cover design for this issue evolved (a feature that should be kept), and a brief history of the magazine by Darrell Schweitzer that probably won’t appeal to fans of Ann Vandermeer.  Many of the stories were illustrated, by a variety of artists.  The only complaint I had about the illustrations was I couldn’t resize the font on my ereader without it freezing up when I came to an illustration, forcing me to read on a backlit screen.

So how do I rate this issue of Weird Tales overall?  It’s certainly worth reading, even if I did find aspects of it disappointing.  I expect Peter Beagle’s story to be included in some of next year’s Year’s Best anthologies.  The nonfiction and poetry are good and should be kept, but they aren’t why most people read the magazine.  With that in mind, please indulge me the liberty to make a few comments in general.

Weird Tales # 360

First, I preferred the previous issue to this one.  A large part of that is a matter of personal taste.  Not all of the fairy tale treatments were my cup of tea, although there was only one I completely disliked.  I also thought a couple of them stretched the definition of fairy tale a bit, but that’s a minor quibble.  I realize that any fiction publication has to appeal to a broad base of readers, and as a consequence needs to have a diverse selection of fiction.  I consider an editor to have done his/her job if that’s the case regardless of how many stories I personally like.  For the most part I think that’s the case here.

However, I hope the high number of short-shorts and flash fiction is a function of the fairy tale theme rather than an indication of the direction Weird Tales is going.  This many in one place, they start to feel gimicky.  I thought most of the stronger stories were the longer ones.

Second, while I like the idea of each issue having a theme as well as containing unthemed stories, it’s a pretty tricky tightrope act to pull off.  On the one side, a particular theme may cause someone to buy the magazine who wouldn’t otherwise.  On the other, the editor risks alienating some potential readers if the theme isn’t to their tastes, especially if this is the case for more than one issue.  This is where a strong selection of unthemed stories comes in, to provide that balance.  I don’t think this issue succeeds in the balance.  There were only two items in the unthemed section, and really, only one of them was an actual story with things like characters.  In my opinion, for what little it’s worth, the number of stories that relate to the theme and those that don’t should be about equal.  That way if a particular theme doesn’t appeal to some readers, they will still feel they are getting their money’s worth.  The same for those who are drawn to a particular theme but aren’t fond of some of the unthemed tales. 

I think the fantasy field needs a publication like Weird Tales. The magazine has always defined itself as the place where fiction that couldn’t find a home anywhere else could be published.  Some people have accused it of straying from that to publish the type of fiction it published during its heydey while ignoring some of the more innovative work being done now.  I submit that while there is some truth in accusation, there aren’t many major markets carrying on the tradition begun in the classic issues of Weird Tales.  There’s room for stories in the vein of Lovecraft, Howard, Smith, and Quinn, and there’s room for new and innovative weird fiction as well.  The key, as I said earlier, is balance.

I haven’t agreed with every decision Marvin Kaye has made since taking the editorial reigns, but I still support the magazine.  I want it to survive and prosper and thrive.  To that end, I will speak up when I think it isn’t up to the level it should be.  As I will when I think it is. This issue falls in the middle.  By and large, I think the magazine is heading in the right direction with its theme approach.  Hopefully the business side of things will improve to the point that we’ll be able to read it more often.

Happy Birthday, Conan.

I’m a little late getting this post up, but this month marks the 80th anniversary of the first appearance of Conan, the man from Cimmeria.  Conan first appeared in “The Phoenix on the Sword”, a rewrite of an unsold Kull story, “By This Axe I Rule!”  I blogged about both pieces here.  That’s the cover of the issue, December 1932, there on the right.  And, no, Conan wasn’t featured on the cover.  But he soon would be.

It’s been a while since I last wrote a piece dedicated solely to Conan.  No, don’t go looking it up; all you’ll do is embarrass people, namely me.  I’m going to look at three more Conan stories, maybe more.  The stories I’ll definitely look at are “Rogues in the House”, “Queen of the Black Coast”, and “Red Nails.”  There are a few other Conan tales I will try to get to, but those three are, in my mind at least, major stories that every Howard fan should read.

Howard wrote that Conan seemed to spring into his mind as a fully fleshed character.  There’s good evidence that wasn’t literally the case.  Still, Conan is arguably the most fully fleshed out character Howard put to paper.  The world he inhabits is by far the most complex and detailed of any Howard created.  Mark Finn argues in his biography, Blood and Thunder (reviewed here), that Conan was the most commercial of Howard’s Weird Tales creations.  He makes a good case.  Whether or not Finn is correct, it was Conan and the classic tales in which he appeared that gave us those gorgeous Margaret Brundage covers.

Conan was the first Howard I read.  As a result, he holds a special place in my heart.  I was a freshman in college when I started reading Conan, in the Ace reprints of the de Camp and Carter edited Lancers.  I soaked it all in.  When I think of sword and sorcery, Conan is usually what comes to mind.  A loner who lives by his own code in an exotic world filled with danger, monsters, and magic.  Along with a few scantily clad females.

A lot of the appeal for me of the Conan stories are the fact that they are stand-alones.  Yes, there are some that obviously take place later in Conan’s life, but for the most part they can be read in any order.  Whether you read a whole volume at once or only a single tale, these stories still take me to a land of adventure. 

This is the mental template I have for a sword and sorcery character or series.  Self contained adventures full of the exotic and wonderful with a dash of horror, where the swords are fast, the magic is dark, and the heroes are both larger than life and flawed.  And anything is possible.

These are the qualities I look for in sword and sorcery.  Fortunately those qualities are still around.  So happy 80th, Conan.  Here’s wishing you many more.

Report on Howard Days 2012

The Robert E. Howard House

This had to be the best Howard Days I’ve attended, and from what others said, the best ever as far as the weather went.  Because of the recent rain, Friday I don’t think the temperature got out of the low 80s, and I’m not sure it got that high.  It felt more like April than June.  Saturday I think the high was in the low 90s, which is still April temperatures for this part of the world.  Today I came home to triple digits.  Welcome back to summer.

The theme this year was Conan’s 80th birthday.  Like many people, Conan was my gateway drug to Howard.  While I like all aspects of Howard’s work, Conan is still my favorite.  My wife had been sick the day before with the stomach bug from Mordor, so I waited until I was sure she was back on her feet before I took off Friday morning, running a few errands for her and going to the store.  I didn’t get there until after lunch, so I missed the tours and the morning panel, which was a tribute to the late Glenn Lord.  Here’s my take on what I was there for.

The first panel of Friday afternoon was Guest of Honor Charles Hoffman’s presentation of Conan the Existentialist.  This was followed by Paul Sammon, Al Harron, and Mark Finn discussing Conan’s Birthday.  When the panels were over, I hit the post office and picked up some postcards with this year’s cancellation.  Afterwards, I went back to the pavillion and hung out, visiting with friends until time for the dinner and silent auction.  There were fewer people in attendance this year.  Some of the regulars had various life issues, most of a medical nature, that prevented them from attending.  They were missed.  On the other hand, there were a number of new faces who will hopefully be returning.  The general attitude was it was an up year for that reason alone. 
l to r, Jeff Shanks, Mark Finn, Indy Cavalier, Al Harron trying to get out of the picture, Jay ?

Dinner was catered by The Staghorn Cafe, which makes some of the best chicken fried steak on the planet.  Amazingly, I won most of the items I bid on in the silent auction.  They were all low ticket items, cash being tight this year, but I still walked out with ten books, a comic, and a DVD for less than $30.  I stepped into the parking lot after dinner, got caught in a conversation, and missed some of the Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards. For that reason, I’ll not discuss them in depth.

An item that has become one of the most popular panels is “Fists at the Ice House”.  Started by Mark Finn and Chris Gruber, this year the panel was held after the awards.  The ice house was just what it sounds like, an ice house.  This was how ice was kept in the early twentieth century, and delivery carts went around every day.  You could buy ice and put it in your ice box, where the ice would keep perishable food cold.  Some older folks (your grandparents and great grandparents) may still refer to the refrigerator as the ice box, and that’s where the term comes from.  Ice houses also sold cold beverages, alcoholic and otherwise.  In Cross Plains, there was one ice house in the 1920s where young men would meet for beer and boxing.

Fists at the Ice House:  (l to r) Shanks, Finn, Gruber

Robert E. Howard was one of those men.  Mark Finn makes an excellent point:  If you want to understand Robert E. Howard the man, you need to understand his relationship with boxing.  Some of the first and last stories he sold were boxing stories, and he wrote them throughout his entire career.  Mark, Jeff, and Chris discussed this and read from Howard’s boxing works.  It was rather late when this panel broke up.  As much as I would have like to hung around, I had an hour drive to where I was staying, so I took off.

After buying a thank-you gift ofr my wife for letting me attend, I toured the house the next morning.  There are some new additions.  For one thing, a number of books from Howard’s personal library are on permanent loan from Howard Payne University.  Several of them are inscribed to Howard from his friends, including one from Edmund Hamilton.  I’ll put pictures at the end of this post.

The morning panels (held at the library) consisted of Shanks, Hoffman, and Finn discussing efforts to get academia to take Howard seriously and laying out a strategy for this to happen, and afternoon panels featured Paul Sammon giving a slide show on The Illustrated Conan.  As well as being a writer, Paul works in Hollywood, having been a key person on a number of movies such as Conan, Blade Runner, and Starship Troopers.  If you ever meet him, talk to him. He seems to know or have known everybody and tells some wonderful stories.  The final panel was What’s Happening with REH?, and discussed mostly forthcoming books (lots of boxing stories) and some information about movies (nothing major, at least that can be announced).  Then I viewed the collection of books, manuscripts, and pulps, many Weird Tales with Margaret Brundage covers.

Look what’s coming to dinner.

This year I got to go to the Legacy Circle members lunch hosted by the REH Foundation.  We nearly took over the Mexican restaurant.  The food was excellent.  So was the barbeque out at Caddo Peak Ranch that evening.  We did have a couple of uninvited guests, or as Paul McNamee called them in response to my tweeting, Set cultists everywhere.  I’m referring, of course, to the snakes.  The first was a copperhead which was only a few meters from the tables.  The other was a rattlesnake the coiled up beside the trail on the hike down from Caddo Peak.  I got a picture of both, but the rattler is hard to see in the picture.  It was coiled, about three feet long, and they can strike two thirds of their body length away.  My telephoto on the camera only does so much, and I wasn’t getting any closer.  Here’s the copperhead, though.

After eating delicious meal and watching the sunset, I went back to the pavilion.  Barabara Barrett organized an impromptu poetry reading on the steps of the house.  We took turns reading from the poetry books we had.  No one had the complete poems, so I didn’t get to read “A Song of the Naked Lands”, my favorite.  Dave Hardy had some homemade mead again, which was good, as always.  I visited a while, then hit the road, later than the night before.  It was one of the most enjoyable Howard Days I’ve been to.

What follows are photos I took this year, some with captions.  I’ll try to identify everyone I know; if I leave someone’s name off or get it wrong, I apologize.  No slight is intended.

Jeff Shanks with award
Bob’s Room (window view is painting; additional room to right was added later)

Bob’s Room (Mrs. Howard’s window is on left)
Volumes from Bob’s library
The library’s collection of original manuscripts

I love Margaret Brundage covers
View of East Caddo Peak from West Caddo Peak
More Margaret Brundage

A portion of the dinner party

Current and former REHupans
Bill “Indy” Cavalier reading poetry

Blogging Conan: A Witch Shall be Born

It’s been hectic the last few weeks.  I just finished two back to back conferences at which I made presentations and will fly home tomorrow.  As a result, I’ve not posted much other than a review at Futures Past and Present of a Jack Vance novel I read on the plane.  Things should start to pick back up.

“A Witch Shall be Born”, although not without flaws,  inspired the Margaret Brundage cover seen on the left.  This is one of my favorite Conan stories, even with the flaws.  Some of the strongest imagery in the whole series can be found in this story.  Also some of the most unbelievable protrayals of women.
The story opens as Taramis, the queen of the small city state Khauran, is awakened during the night.  She had a twin sister at birth, Salome, who was left to die in the desert.  A curse lies on the royal family of Khauran, so that every century a child is born with a cresecent shaped birthmark on her chest.  The child will become a witch and do much damage to the kingdom.  When Taramis and Salome were born, Salome had the mirthmark and was left in the desert to die.  Found by an eastern sorcerer returning home from a visit to Stygia, she was raised to become a powerful sorceress.  Now she’s come back to take what she claims is her birthright. 

How she can speak the language without any accent is never addressed, which was something of a stumbling block for me.
With Salome is a mercenary captain named Constantius.  He had entered the city a few days ahead of Salome and had publicly proposed marriage to Taramis.  She of course rejected his proposal.  Constantius joins Salome.  After a brief discussion, in which Salome reveals that she intends to take Taramis’ place, she goes to declare herself queen, leaving Taramis to be raped by Constantius.
She orders all the soldiers to assemble in the city’s central square unarmed.  They all do, except for the Queen’s guard, who are led by a certain Cimmerian.  They show up armed.  Conan doesn’t fall for the trap.  Instead he declares Salome an imposter.  The Queen’s guard are butchered, and Conan is crucified by Constantius outside the city gates.
One of the guard escapes, a young man named Valerius, whose devotion to the queen comes across as though he’s in love with her.  His lover Ivga tolerates this.  Why, I don’t know.  He clearly cares more for the queen than he does for her.  Ivga comes across as child-like, the way Muriela did in “The Servants of Bit-Yakin”.  This was the other portrayal I thought was unrealistic.
Still, this is a better than average story.  One of the things that Howard does is to tell the story from the viewpoints of Taramis, Salome, and Valerius as much as from Conan’s viewpoint, if not more.  In fact, we don’t actually get a passage from Conan’s viewpoint until the crucifixion scene.  A variation of this scene, by the way, was in Conan the Barbarian, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  While this approach does lend itself to some infodumps, it has the advantage of defining Conan’s character through the eyes of others.  One thing I thought interesting was how Conan treated Taramis.  I’ll not elaborate on that, at least not in this post, since I’m trying not to give too many spoilers away.
There’s plenty of action and intrigue, with touches of the civilization vs. barbarism theme Howard included in many of the Conan works.  The crucifixions are especially well done, and the images I Howard’s words formed in my mind the first time I read this story are still with me, a quarter of a century later.  This one is worth checking out.

The Frost King, The Frost-Giant, and Their Daughters

It’s been bitterly cold here on the South Plains of Texas for much of the last week.  Temperatures were near record lows for several days.  Just when it looked like things were going to warm up again, we got more snow Sunday.  And that made me think of “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter”, which made me think of “The Frost King’s Daughter”.  And I knew what the next post on this blog would be.

The tale (or tales, if you prefer) concerns the lone survivor of a battle in the frozen north.  Having just killed the only member of the opposing army left standing, he sees a beautiful young woman wearing only a gossamer veil walking among the dead.  She taunts him with her body, and he pursues hers.  Of course, this is a trap.  After a time, she calls her brothers forth, two ice giants, to kill the man.  Instead, he defeats them, captures the girl, and is about to ravish her when she calls on her father, Ymir.  The girls is transported into the sky in a blaze of blinding light that leaves the hero unconscious.  He is awakened by a band of his allies who were delayed by an ambush.  After he tells his story, one of the older men in the group tells the warrior he saw Ymir’s daughter Atali, who haunts battlefields and lures survivors to their deaths so that she might present their hearts to her father.  The old man claims to have seen her as a youth when he was too wounded to follow her.  Everyone thinks the old man had his brains addled by a sword stroke until the hero unclenches his fist to find a veil.

This pair of stories are essentially the same, only the names have changed.  “The Frost King’s Daughter” concerns Amra of Akbitana, while the “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” is an early Conan story that was rejected by Farnsworth Wright (more on that later) and wasn’t published until the August 1953 issue of Fantasy Fiction.  Unfortunately, that version was rewritten by L. Sprague de Camp.  It wasn’t until 1976 that Howard’s version saw print in Donald M. Grant’s Rogues in the House.  This was a hardback collectible volume, not a mass market edition.  “The Frost King’s Daughter”, on the other hand, was published in the March 1934 issue of The Fantasy Fan.  You probably couldn’t afford an original copy of that little fan publication, provided you could find one.  Fortunately, the entire run has been reprinted in facsimile (details on how to order are here.)

The first mass market publication of Howard’s original version of “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” wasn’t available until 1989, when both stories were printed side-by-side in Karl Edward Wagner’s Echoes of Valor II.  If you aren’t familiar with the series, it ran to three volumes (as far as I know; if there was a fourth I missed it).  Wagner, a fan and writer of sword and sorcery who deserves to be better remembered, compiled collections of rare heroic fiction.  While many of the stories Wagner selected have been reprinted in recent years, especially the Robert E. Howard and C. L. Moore pieces, there are still some tales that haven’t seen the light of day since and make the volumes worth seeking out.

In his introduction, Wagner states that Howard wrote “The Frost King’s Daughter” first and that the Conan version, “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” was the rewrite.  How he knows this to be true, Wagner doesn’t exactly say.  He supports his case by saying that “The Phoenix on the Sword” was a rewrite of the Kull story “By This Axe I Rule” (documentably true), and that “Frost-Giant” was a rewrite of “Frost King”.  We know Howard would recycle stories if they didn’t sell, at times changing the names of major characters, and we also know that sometimes the details of his stories would change from one draft to the next.  Furthermore, there is evidence that Howard was still developing the character of Conan as well as the Hyborian Age for the first several Conan stories.  Patrice Louinet, in his essay “Hyborian Genesis” (The Coming of Conan), does a thorough job of showing this development.

And here we encounter a small problem.  Louinet suggests that Howard changed the title of the story and Conan’s name to Amra when he sent the story to The Fantasy Fan.  His evidence seems to be the publication date of “Frost King” as well as an unreferenced letter from Howard to Charles D. Hornig, editor of The Fantasy Fan.  Patrice Louinet is one of the leaders in the field of contemporary Howard scholarship.  Wagner was one of the foremost authorities of his day.  So who is correct?  Was “Frost King” the rewrite, or was “Frost-Giant”?

As far as their respective texts are concerned the stories are almost identical.  I compared them, and there was only one significant deviation I found.  This one:

“Far have I wandered, from Zingara to the Sea of Vilayet, in Stygia and Kush and the country of the Hyrkanians; but a woman like you I have never seen.”

So who do you think said this, Conan or Amra?  Based on the place names, which are the settings of other Conan stories, you would probably think Conan, right?

Well, you would be wrong.  Amra said this.  In the Conan version of the story (Frost-Giant), the wording is “Far have I wandered, but a woman like you I have never seen.”  Conan’s wanderings and the Hyborian geography are never mentioned.  The only reason that I can think of for Howard to add place names from the Conan stories to a rewrite of a Conan story in which he changes the name and nationality of the viewpoint character is to clue readers in that Amra is really Conan.  And since it had been established by the time “Gods of the North” AKA “The Frost King’s Daughter” was published in The Fantasy Fan that Amra was one of the names Conan was known by, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that this was Howard’s motivation.  But why would he do this?  The only explanation I can come up with was that because Conan was a Weird Tales character, either Howard had an agreement with Farnsworth Wright not to try to sell a Conan story to another market (I’m unaware of any such agreement) or he felt that do sell a Conan story to another market would, in a sense, be dishonorable.  It was standard practice in the pulp days for an author’s character(s) to only appear in one magazine.Howard may have been abiding by that practice.

On the other hand, it could be that “Frost-Giant” is the rewrite.  The passage quoted above, the one with the place names, tends to disrupt the flow of the story.  Certainly, its prose is more purple than the same passage without the travelogue.  It could very well be, since as far as I know the exact composition date of either version of the story is unknown, that Howard was already working out the geography of the Hyborian kingdoms and simply hadn’t settled on a final name and nationality of his principle character.  I will be the first to admit that the evidence isn’t conclusive either way, but this is the interpretation I favor.  I’m sure if there’s information I’ve overlooked, Howard fandom will let me know about it.  Quickly.

There’s one other thing I want to address.  Wagner says Wright rejected “Frost-Giant” because it was too racy.  Considering the sexual imagery in some of C. L. Moore’s Northwest Smith stories (another topic for another day), not to mention the sex implicit in some of the other Conan tales, I’m not sure I buy this line.  If Wright was that uptight, why did he publish some of those Margaret Brundage covers?  (I know, I know, racy covers on pulps had nothing to do with the contents.)  Wagner says Wright’s view of Conan was of “a noble barbarian out to perform deeds of chivalrous heroism.”  Again, Wagner doesn’t provide details to back this position up.  In fact, Wright’s rejection of the story, which Wagner quotes, simply says Wright didn’t care for the story and gives no reasons as to why he didn’t care for it.  The general consensus I’ve heard for years on this point was that Wright didn’t like the hero attempting to commit rape.

But is this what Conan/Amra really does?  In the interest of stirring up trouble taking a deeper interpretation of the story, let’s look closely at what happens, shall we?  Atali taunts Conan.  “Spreading her arms wide, she swayed before him, her golden head lolling sensuously, her scintillant eyes half shadowed beneath their long silken lashes.  ‘Am I not beautiful, oh man?’ ”  Sounds to me she’s trying to entice him to pursue her.  This is born out at the end of the story, when the old man Gorm tells Conan Atali lures men to their deaths.  Gorm also describes her as beautiful and naked.  Atali continues to taunt Conan, essentially daring him to follow her.  Conan’s reaction is described as a madness that sweeps away his pain and fatigue.  Howard makes the pursuit sound as though Conan were possessed.

Rather than trying to commit rape, I read the story as Conan being put under a spell of desire by Atali.  Only Conan is stronger than she bargains for.  When he kills her brothers, she realizes she can’t control him nor reverse the spell.  Otherwise, why would she have to call on Ymir for help?  Am I saying Atali was asking for it?  You bet.  Even a casual reading of the story would tend to show that was the case.  What I’m NOT saying is that every (or even any) attempted rape victim was asking for it, so please don’t read that into my remarks.  I don’t consider what Conan/Amra does here to be attempted rape because I don’t interpret his actions as being of his own free will.  This is a fictional story, a fantasy, in which an evil woman’s spell goes wrong and she can’t control the desires she has deliberately cultivated in a man, with the outcome being other than what she intended.  I don’t for a minute think that’s how the real world works, and in spite of some of Howard’s detractors, I don’t think Bob meant that here either.  I think he was telling an entertaining story in the best way he could with a character whose personality he was still developing and exploring.  And in that, he succeeded.

So, to sum up.  I think “Frost-Giant” is probably a rewrite of “Frost King”, and furthermore Conan has gotten a bad rap these many years, accused by some critics of attempting a crime of his own free will when in truth he had no choice about.  Those are my thoughts on this cold winter night.