Category Archives: Robert E. Howard Foundation

An Open Letter to …?

This is going to be an open letter to two people, neither of whose identity is known to me.  I have a first name for one person (which I will not be revealing).  The other person’s identity I don’t know at all.  This is the person I would like to talk to.

I get most of my mail at a PO box for security reasons.  I want things with financial information safely locked away, not in a mail box on my porch.

Anyway, after lunch today I swung by the post office.  There were a couple of pieces of mail with computer generated addresses, such as an insurance statement, things like that.  On top of these envelopes was a letter-sized envelope with a hand-written address.  The handwriting was unfamiliar.  I glanced at the return address but didn’t look any closer than to see it was in town.   Through the envelope I could see and feel what appeared to be a card.

Wondering who it was from, I took a closer look at the return address.  There was no name, just a PO Box, city, and zip code.  My PO Box. Continue reading

Report on Howard Days, Part 1: Thursday and Friday

HDs2015 Long Banner SmallRobert E. Howard Days 2015 has come to an end.  And while I have enjoyed them all, this has probably been the one I’ve enjoyed the most.  There are a number of things that came together to make this one of the most enjoyable Howard Days for me.  The weather couldn’t have been better.  The high temperatures were in the low 90s, which means it was warm but not really hot, especially since there was a breeze and the humidity wasn’t too bad. Continue reading

Robert E. Howard, Still Influential at 109

reh1Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Howard.  For someone who wrote for the pulps, which were considered by many to be barely above subliterate trash during their heyday, he’s got a remarkable legacy.

His books are still being reprinted, with new ones coming out on a regular basis.  Howard has been the subject of multiple biographies.  A foundation has been formed in his name that gives a scholarship to a graduating senior each year.  His work has been adapted to film.  (Okay, not necessarily adapted well or faithfully, but it at least has been adapted.)  He wrote some of the seminal works in the field of sword and sorcery, works that have been widely imitated for decades.  And his collected letters reveal a young man whose mind and imagination were too big for the narrow confines of his small Texas town.

How many best-sellers from his era can you name beyond the obvious ones of Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Parker, and Hemingway?  How many works of “serious literature” that bravely explore “the human condition” and promote social justice from as little as ten years ago, never mind two or three decades back, are still in print or even remembered?Swords-sm

Howard wrote with a passion, but then there weren’t many things Howard didn’t approach passionately, at least things he chose rather than had thrust on him, such as nonwriting jobs.  His ideas and passions came through in his writing.  That’s part of what makes so much of his work, whether fiction or poetry or correspondence, both fun and deep.  Too many of today’s crusaders for [insert cause du jour here] need to take some time and study Howard’s works and see how it’s done.  Howard communicates things like his views on barbarism, civilization, honor, loyalty, etc., clearly and unambiguously without ever interfering with his narrative or throwing the reader out of his story.  Would that we had more like him writing today.

So take a moment today and remember him.  Raise a glass in his honor.  Spend some time in one of his worlds.  With snow overnight and more expected for the rest of the day, I’ll read some more in Swords of the North myself.  It’s a fitting day to immerse myself in that Northern thing.

Howard Andrew Jones has posted a solid tribute here.

Arriving in Today’s Mail

20150120_203602The index and addenda to The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard arrived today.  It probably won’t be of much interest to the casual reader, but it’s a highly useful tool to the serious (and not so serious) scholar.  In addition to the much needed index, the book also contains 17 letters and drafts that were not known at the time the Collected Letters was published.

Pricing and ordering information are here.  Of course, members of the Robert E. Howard Foundation get a discount.

Kudos to Bobby Derie for putting the index together.  It was a lot of work.

Look What I Got in the Mail Today

20141210_131341My reading plans for the evening have just been changed.

If you’re jealous, you can do something about that here.  My copy was 168 of 200.  I don’t know if the Foundation is shipping high number or low numbers first.

But like I said, my reading plans have just changed.

Robert E. Howard’s Swords of the North Available for Preorder

Swords-smThe Robert E. Howard Foundation announced last week that their next book, Swords of the North, is available for preorder.  I’ve ordered my copy.  Is that not a great cover?  The book ships in December, so it would make an excellent Christmas gift for the REH fan in your life, even if that fan is yourself.  Maybe especially if that fan is yourself.

Here’s what the announcement, lifted from the REH Foundation page:

There is a clear self-consistency among all of Howard’s tales which will readily demonstrate that underlying it all is a coherent vision of a fictional history of the world and mankind, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s term a “secondary” world, internally consistent, full of strangeness and wonder, “free from the domination of observed fact,” yet quite credible, a world rooted in the familiar if populated with the unfamiliar, a world that combines the ordinary with the extraordinary. Just as Tolkien’s “Arda” is our Earth, so too is Howard’s world.

-from Rusty Burke’s introduction

The REH Foundation Press is proud to present Swords of the North, a collection of Robert E. Howard’s Celtic/Viking adventure stories. The book checks in at 540 pages, and will be printed in hardback with dust jacket, in a limited first-print quantity of 200 copies, each individually numbered. Cover art by Aaron Miller and introduction by Rusty Burke. This volume marks the first publication of the fragment that begins with, “Between berserk battle rages,” which features Cormac Mac Art’s partner, Wulfhere Skull-splitter. It also collects for the first time in one volume all of the James Allison stories and fragments, both incomplete drafts of “The Temple of Abomination,” and other rarities. The book is expected to ship in December 2014. Pre-order yours today.

Prices

Swords of the North is $45 for REHF Members, $50 for non-members (all prices in US dollars) plus shipping. (How to become a member? Look here.)

Shipping prices and additional details (such as the contents) can be found at the REH Foundation website.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard: “The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux”

Howard HorrorThe Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard
Del Rey
trade paper $18.00
ebook 12.99 Kindle Nook

This probably isn’t one of Howard’s better known horror stories, and I think in part it’s because it wasn’t published in Weird Tales or any of the other pulps his supernatural tales appeared in. It was published as “The Apparition in the Prize Ring” in the April 1929 issue of the short-lived Ghost Stories.

One of Howard’s life long passions was boxing. He wrote serious and humorous boxing stories, and even in this case, a supernatural boxing story. The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press is currently in the process of publishing Howard’s complete boxing stories in 4 volumes.

This isn’t a particularly scary story, but the ghost angle is central to it. It’s narrated by the manager of boxer Ace Jessel. Jessel is an up and coming fighter, but he doesn’t have the killer instinct to be a great boxer. This is one of Howard’s stories where race is a factor. Jessel is black, as are Tom Molyneaux, the boxer from the previous century he worships, and Mankiller Gomez, the boxer he fights.

There is a clear contrast between the wild Senegalese Gomez (named after the Mexican promoter who first brought him to the ring) and the civilized Jessel. In fact the only use of the N-word is by Jessel in reference to Gomez. To say that Howard engages in the racial stereotypes of his day is to oversimplify his portrayal of race in this work.

Jessel is slated to fight the heavyweight champ when Gomez comes on the scene and takes the title. Soon everyone is trying to get the two men in the ring. Eventually it happens, even though it’s intuitively obvious even to the most casual observer that Jessel doesn’t stand a chance.

Jessel has a life size painting of Molyneaux. The manager comes across Jessel standing before it and asking Molyneaux for help in the upcoming fight. So unbeknownst to Jessel, he takes the painting to the fight. When Jessel is about to go down for the count, he holds it up where Jessel can see it. The painting shakes, and a cold wind blows through the arena, and especially in the ring. Jessel gets up and whips Gomez, winning the title. Only the ref, Jessel, and the manager can see Molyneaux’s ghost.

I know I’ve made the ghost aspect seem trivial and have brushed off the boxing, but I can’t do this story justice in a description. Howard is at the top of his game as he describes the boxing match. The thunder and conflict we see in Howard’s sword and sorcery are all on display. There aren’t a lot of scares in this one, but that’s not the point. The ghost is just the McGuffin that propels the boxing story. This is a different side of Howard many fans haven’t seen. If you’re not familiar with Howard’s boxing stories, this is a good place to start.

Howard Days 2013, Part 2

Today marks the 77th anniversary of Robert E. Howard’s passing.  I’ll be raising a glass later this evening in his memory.

Lansdale and Truman

After lunch, I swung by the post office and picked up some post cards with this year’s commemorative cancellation.  Then it was back to the library for the panels.  The first one featured GoH Tim Truman.  Joe Lansdale interviewed him.  Joe wasn’t on the original schedule but had driven over to see Tim.  They’ve worked together on a number of projects, including a Conan comic, The Songs of the Dead.  As is typical with old friends, their conversation flowed smoothly.  This panel was one of the highlights of the weekend.

I have to say that both of these guys were some of the most open and approachable pros I’ve ever met.  I’ve met Lansdale at a number of conventions, but this was my first time to meet Truman.  They never hesitated to sign something, pose for pictures, or just chat with fans.  They were both gentlemen.  The fact that they’re both fans of Howard helped, I’m sure, but that’s just how these guys are.  I hope they come back.

Rob and Bob Roehm

The next panel was Rob Roehm and his father Bob discussing how they got started traveling around doing research on the places Howard visited in his travels and identifying some of the places in the photos we have of Howard.  They showed the latest results of their research, identifying the bridge on which Howard and one of his friends are posing in a boxing stance.

Afterwards, I hung out at the Pavilion visiting with folks until it was time to go to the Banquet.  The Staghorn Cafe catered chicken fried steak, and it was excellent.  I put in some bids on a few items in the silent auction, winning most of them.  The speaker’s stand is in the photo to the left; the initials are old Conan comics.  There weren’t as many fans this year as in the past few years, but more people from Cross Plains attended.  This is a good thing because it means the community as a whole is getting more involved in continuing Howard’s legacy.

Tim Truman spoke how he discovered the works of Robert E. Howard and the impact that discovery has had on his life.  The REH Foundation Awards were given after dinner.  A complete list of the winners can be found here

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

The last panel of the night was presented by Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, and Jeff Shanks.  “Fists at the Ice House” has been a popular panel for several years.  Started by Finn and Gruber, it takes place at what was once an ice house where Howard boxed in his early 20s.  Because the panel takes place outside, it was moved to an after dark event due to the relentless Texas sun and heat.  With the publication of the first volume of the collected boxing stories, Finn announced that this panel is going to be retired for a while.  I’ve never really gotten into boxing, but after listening to these guys discuss the role boxing played in REH’s life and read from his boxing stories, I’ve really come to appreciate that aspect of Howard’s work and personality.

Saturday was another great day (except for when I discovered the hard way the location of a yellow jacket nest outside the library).  The morning panel was Mark Finn interviewing Tim Truman and Joe Lansdale about working for Dark Horse comics.

Lunch

Lunch was the REH Foundation Legacy Circle luncheon.  The Tex-Mex was good (few people can make rellenos right), the company was great, and the perks were outstanding.  Although this year’s commemorative pin wasn’t ready, there were two newsletters.  The first was the regular newsletter.  The second was a special edition containing drafts of letters Howard wrote to HPL but never sent.  These letters are not included in A Means to Freedom and have not been published anywhere else.  Truly, membership does have its privileges.

After lunch Rusty Burke, Paul Herman, Joe Lansdale, and Mark Finn discussed Howard’s Texas.  The what’s up with REH panel back at the pavilion was pretty short.  No one from Paradox Entertainment, which owns the rights to Howard’s work, was in attendance this year, so there wasn’t any news about film deals.  The Foundation publishing schedule was announced, consisting mostly of boxing and westerns.

Jeff Shanks on Caddo Peak

Dinner that night was the traditional barbeque at Caddo Peak Ranch.  I hadn’t intended to climb the peak this year, but with the temperatures so low, I decided to make the trek.  At least this year there were no snakes. After dinner, picture taking, and watching the sunset, many of us returned to the Pavilion for poetry reading and general socializing.  I stayed until everything started to break up, then headed home.  Howard Days 2013 was over, and it was one of the best.

A special thanks is due to the members of Project Pride:  Arlene and Tom Stephenson , Era Lee Hanke, Diana Miller, Tom and Anne Rone, Larry and Nora Pointer, Betty Sue Adams, Don Clark, Janette Dugger, Kennith and Ann Beeler. Without those folks and their tireless work, Howard Days wouldn’t be what it is.

Photos continue below.

Watch out for the thorns.

The Guests of Honor pose with no one important.

Al Harron strikes a Howardian pose

Gruber and Finn discuss Howard’s works.
Sunset on the ranch

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
Sunset
Bill “Indy” Cavalier reading poetry

Blood and Thunder, Release 2.0

Blood and Thunder
Mark Finn
The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press
$45 REHF members, $50 nonmembers, plus shipping

It’s been a few years since the first edition of this volume was published, and in that time Howard studies have moved forward, with new biographical material coming to light.  In fact, new biographical details  have continued to be unearthed since this edition went to press. That will probably (hopefully) continue for some time.

As he explained in the two part interview posted here last year (part 1, part 2), Mark Finn felt it was time for a second edition.  Rather than rehash his remarks, I’m going to get straight to the point and discuss the book.

Including the endnotes but not the bibliography and index, the book comes in at 426 pages.  It starts slow, giving family background information.  That’s typical in any biography, so please don’t take the previous sentence as negative.  That’s just the way it is.  The book is divided into four sections, same as in the previous edition, with some chapters being heavily rewritten and others hardly touched.  Again, not surprising or in any way atypical of many biographies that have new editions.

The book really took off for me in the second section, with the first chapter, “Authentic Liars”, discussing the oral storytelling tradition in which Howard grew up.  It’s the tradition of the porch raconteur, the spinner of tall tales, the person who mixes enough truth into his words that you’re never really sure at which point he begins pulling your leg.  It’s also a tradition that is vanishing, and in many parts of the country, lost.

This chapter sets the tone for much of what follows.  Finn’s central thesis, or one of them at least, is that to understand Howard, one must understand the Texas in which he grew up.  It’s a valid point, and one which is easy to overlook.  With many of the traditions and values of the time being passed down relatively unchanged, we often forget how much has changed.

While this concept was central to the first edition of the book, Finn has expanded on it.  What’s fairly new, and in my opinion of major importance to future Howard studies, is Finn’s assertion that an understanding of Howard’s humor is required to truly understand the man and his work.  This is in my opinion one of the strengths of the second edition.  I’ve never gotten into Howard’s humor.  After reading the new material on his humorous stories, and reading again about how those stories fit in with the tall lying tradition, I’m going to be seeking them out.  There’s a lot there I’ve been missing.

Finn tries his best to avoid the excesses of arm chair psychoanalysis engaged in by L. Sprague de Camp in Dark Valley Destiny.  In many ways this book was written as a refutation of that biography.  Fans of de Camp, and of DVD in particular, won’t be pleased with what they find here.  While some interpretation of how events in Howard’s life showed up in his work is inevitable in any study of the man, Finn walks a delicate line between projecting his own agenda and biases on his subject and erring on the side of caution too much by not offering any interpretations at all.  For the most part, I think he’s successful.  He tries to delineate what are his opinions and what are facts.

By the time I turned the last page, I had a new understanding of Robert E. Howard the man.  While I had always pictured him as someone who wanted to fit in, some of the details had been filled in.  Hopefully I’m not merely projecting my own experiences growing up in a similar small Texas town nearby onto what I read.  Finn  quotes from Howard’s correspondence (collected in three volumes by the REHF Press), especially his correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft (collected in two volumes by Hippocampus Press).  I’ve got these volumes but haven’t finished reading them.  I will, if for no other reason than I want to understand better the different facets of his personality Howard presented in his correspondence.

Never one to shy away from controversy, Finn has expanded his remarks on Conan.  Rather than get into Conan here, I’ll just say that he thinks “Queen of the Black Coast” isn’t one of Howard’s best Conan tales.  While I’ve not posted anything new in my series on Conan (see links in the sidebar) in a while due to other projects, I’ve not given up on the series and will save my remarks for upcoming installments. 

I do have a few gripes about the book overall, though nothing major.  At the front is a map of West Central Texas during Howard’s time, showing the roads.  Mark told me at ConDFW last weekend that he had pieced the map together from several maps and had removed more than one road that didn’t exist in Howard’s lifetime by hand.  He missed one major highway, though:  Interstate 20.  The interstates weren’t built until a couple of decades after Howard’s death.  This might seem to be a minor thing, but it does call into question the accuracy of the rest of the map.  For what it’s worth, the interstate is near the top in the middle of a number of other highways (I used a magnifying glass to confirm it was there), and thus easy to miss.  I personally don’t think it’s a huge deal.

A map of Cross Plains during Howard’s lifetime would have been nice, though.  Surely it wouldn’t have been too difficult to obtain one.  I was also disappointed in the number of photos.  Each chapter opens with a photo.  There’s no section of photographs, and some of the more famous ones are missing.  Primarily on this point, there’s no photo of Novalyne Price.  I’m not that crazy with the one on the cover, either.  In fairness, I realize that copyright issues probably prevented Finn from including some of the photos most readers might expect.  Also, more pictures of Cross Plains in the 20s and 30s would have been a nice touch.  And I’ve never seen a drawing or map of the Howard property at the time of his death.  Where was the car parked?  Was it outside or in a garage?  Did they even have a garage?  Also, Howard took to wearing a mustache near the end of his life.  Did he still have it when he died?  It’s clearly visible in the last known photo of him (included in the book).

Overall, though, this a major work.  Howard scholarship and fandom are contentious enough that it would be easy to stoop to the level of picking nits (which I’m sure some will say the preceding two paragraphs did).  Finn has set the standard here by which future biographical projects will be measured.  By examining the cultural influences on Howard, Finn has expanded the avenues by which scholars can approach their subject.  I would like to see further analysis of Howard’s humor for example.  Still, this is a volume that belongs in the library of any serious fan of Texas literature, Robert E. Howard, or the pulps.

Publications from the REHF Press tend to be priced out of the range of the casual fan.  The production values make them worth the money, and the limited print runs mean if you want a copy, don’t wait.  While popular titles go through more than one printing, not all of them do.  While I have every expectation this one will see a second printing, they take time.  If you want a copy, grab one now.