Tag Archives: Karl Edward Wagner

Going Gothic

No, I said Gothic, not Goth.  While I tend to wear a lot of black T-shirts, that really not my scene.  I must admit, though, that the young lady in the picture I downloaded at random from the internet is quite fetching. Click to enlarge. 

No, not those Goths, either, although they are much more my scene than the previous goth.

Read my lips.  I said goth-ic.  Goth. ic.

Got it?

You know the novels from the late 1700s and early 1800s, not the romance subgenre popular in the 70s where every book cover had a beautiful young woman with great hair fleeing a creepy edifice in the background, usually one that had a single light in a tower window.  I swear, when I was a kid, you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting one of those books.  Uh,,,not I swung cats or anything.

What I’m talking about is a style of early novel filled with menace, usually something supernatural, and all kinds of trouble for the protagonists.  They were the late Eighteenth Century version of pulps. Continue reading

It’s Frank Frazetta’s Birthday

Frank Frazetta, one of the greatest fantasy artists to ever stride this land, was born on this date (February 9) in 1928.  I’m not even going to try to put the impact his art has had on my life into words, much less that of the fantasy field.  Here are a couple of my favorite works of Frazetta’s.

The image on the left is the promotional poster for a Frazetta exhibit I saw in Austin last spring.  That trip has really been on my mind today, maybe because the weather has been so unseasonably warm.  The image was used on the cover of one of Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane books.  You can read about my trip in this post.

Probably my favorite of the Frazetta Conan covers is the one shown on the right.  It’s  for Conan the Usurper.  I saw this one at the Frazetta exhibit, and let me tell you, none of the reproductions do the images justice.  It was awesome to stand in front of some of those paintings and see close up the detail and the brushwork.  The painting were larger than what you see on a book cover, of course, and the detail really stood out.

I think the thing that has always captured my imagination about this picture is the snake.  I hate snakes.  There’s just something evil about them.  I’m not sure why, but they’ve always given me the willies.

Frazetta is gone now, but his work lives on.  While it might be easy to think that with his popularity, there will always be copies available to enjoy, that’s a dangerous way to think.  Today hot property is too often tomorrow’s has-been, or worse completely forgotten.  So take a moment over the next few days to admire a Frazetta painting, especially if it’s one you’ve not seen before or not seen in a while.

Update:  Here are tributes by David J. West and Woelf Dietrich.  They’re both worth checking out.

A Short Collection by Karl Edward Wagner

Little-Ochre-Book-596x596A Little Ochre Book of Occult Stories
Karl Edward Wagner
Stephen Jones, ed.
Borderlands Press
hardcover, 136 p., $30

I’ve been reading this slim volume this week.  Not that it should have taken me a week, but with the hours I’ve been keeping, a few minutes a night is the best I can do.

It’s been a while since I’ve read Wagner.  This collection reminded me why I like his work.

In addition to an introduction by Stephen Jones, there are four poems, three stories, and a brief, never published article. Continue reading

More Bookstore Closing Acquisitions

I posted recently about one of the local used bookstores (currently there are 4: 2 good, 1 decent, 1 not worth bothering with) closing and some of the titles I picked up.

You know I went back.  The store will be open for a little while yet.  Here’s what I picked up this time.

More AcquisitionsI couldn’t resist the cover of the Howard pastiche by Offutt, even though I doubt I’ll read it.  The People of the Mist is an upgrade of my existing copy.  The Starfollowers of Coramonde is a later edition, but the Darrell K. Sweet cover matches the one on the first novel in the series.

I loved Sean Stewart’s Galveston some years back, but I haven’t read any of his other books.  The Tanith Lee speaks for itself.  The third row contains the first 3 of 4 in Lawrence Watt-Evans Lords of Dus series.

The last row is a reading copy of one of Evangeline Walton’s books that was part of the BAF series.  The Zahn is part of a series that looks like a lot of fun.  And the Paul Preuss because I wanted some solid science fiction in the old style.

But the gem of this little collection is the volume in the upper left of the picture.  It’s Whispers, edited by Stuart David Schiff.  It’s a collection of stories published in his groundbreaking small press magazine of the same title.  I’ve got a copy of this already, but I couldn’t pass this one up.  The contents include “Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner, “The Barrow Troll” by David Drake, “The Dakwa” by Manly Wade Wellman, plus stories by Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, William F. Nolan, Hugh B. Cave, Dennis Etchison, Joseph Payne Brennan, Ramsey Campbell, Richard Christian Matheson, Brian Lumley, and many others.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go reread “Sticks”.

Recent Acquisitions

There are a few used book stores here in town.  Two are pretty good, one is so-so, and I’m not sure the fourth isn’t a front for something else.

Anyway, the one I consider the best is closing.  The owner doesn’t have a lease but owns the storefront.  As a result, he’s not in any hurry to shut his doors.  This is good, because he’s got a pretty thorough inventory.  It’s one of the great second hand stores where there are stacks of books in all the aisles, and a few minutes to see if a particular title is to be had turns into the better part of an afternoon.

Acquisitions 1I passed through the other day and picked up a few things.  At the moment everything is half off.  That percentage will increase as times goes on and the day the store shuts its doors for good draws nigh.  You know I’ll be going back. Continue reading

Blogging Northwest Smith: Nymph of Darkness

Gosh Wow“Nymph of Darkkness”
C. L. Moore

For years, “Nymph of Darkness” was one of the rarest Northwest Smith stories. The reason was because C. L. Moore refused to give permission for the story, first published in 1935, to be reprinted. It wasn’t until the 1981 Worldcon that she relented. The first book reprinting occurred the following year in Gosh! Wow! Sense of Wonder, edited by Forrest J. Ackerman.

Ackerman, it turns out co-wrote the story with Moore, although she retained 75% of the rights, meaning it wouldn’t be reprinted without her permission. A technicality in the copyright for the story actually allowed it to be reprinted once against her wishes.

“Nymph of Darkness” first appeared in Fantasy Magazine in April 1935 and was later reprinted in Weird Tales in the December 1939 issue. It wasn’t included when most of the other stories were published in the 1950s by Gnome Press.

I’m not sure why Moore didn’t allow for its reprinting. The story, in my mind at least, is a good story. It’s not as long as most of the others, but still, it’s solid. Continue reading

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.