HOWARDIANA

 

Volume I, Number 2, December 2001

Robert E. Howard Electronic Amateur Press Association

E-journal by Josep Parache

"My empire is of the imagination", H. R. Haggard

 

 

 

 

© 2001 by Josep Parache. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

PREFACE

 

 

 

Welcome to the second issue of the e-journal Howardiana. Our original intention was to present an essay on Howard‚s horror stories. However, due to some logistic problems the aforementioned essay will appear in Howardiana #3. Instead of that now two different essays not originally intended for REHEAPA are presented here. The first one, "Robert E. Howard: Master of Fiction", was submitted to the Spanish fanzine Weird Tales de Lhork. It adopts a merely informative approach, but it could lay the foundations for a following-up essay on The Tower of the Elephant. The fanzine Weird Tales de Lhork, edited by Eugenio Fraile, is mainly focused on all Weird Tales writers and on other fantasy authors. Almost in every issue we can find translations of works by Robert E. Howard and essays on his life and works. The Robert E. Howard fan could be interested in tracking down this fanzine. The fanzine‚s website can be visited at http://www.iespana.es/lhork/webs/lhork.htm.

After that we are pleased to present what is probably the very first translation into English of the work by Spanish Robert E. Howard scholar Javier Martín Lalanda. Dr. Lalanda wrote a book on Howard‚s heroic fantasy titled The Singing of the Swords in 1983 (see a long analysis in Howardiana #1) and some years later he translated the Solomon Kane cycle into Spanish and completed the unfinished stories. His essay "Conan the Barbarian or the Savage Exaltation of Heroic Fantasy" appeared in the first issue of the Spanish edition of The Savage Sword of Conan in the early 80‚s. Some ideas that were presented there were fully developed in his book. Lalanda expressed an opinion that has been in vogue for many years now, mainly that Conan would be the apex of Howard‚s literary career. It is hoped that this essay will have some interest for the English speaking Howard fan. The original version in Spanish can be found at the following website: http://www.campbell.faithweb.com. It seems that other essays on Robert E. Howard will appear there in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROBERT E. HOWARD: MASTER OF FICTION

By Josep Parache

 

 

 

 

© 2001 by Josep Parache. All rights reserved.

 

 

Early this year British publishing house Millennium issued the second and last volume of the Conan stories by Robert E. Howard. The intention of the editor, Stephen Jones, was to compile all those stories as the Texan author wrote them in the 30‚s. That is to say, the "posthumous collaborations" carried out by de Camp and Lin Carter have been removed. Even though the textual purity of this edition is not complete, since they did not always use the texts as they were published in Weird Tales, the fact that they dispensed with de Camp‚s unnecessary changes and additions is maybe the first indication that from now on Howard‚s writings will have more respectful editions. One fact that seems to confirm this is Wandering Star‚s announcement to publish the first volume of a new edition of the Conan sagaųthis time completely restored in its pristine purityųin early 2002.

These are news that both the Howard fan and the general reader of fantasy have been waiting for. Any author has the right to a carefully edited publication of his work; the readers, in turn, not only deserve to have proper editions at their disposal, but also to have some security that, to put it colloquially, they are not going to buy a pig in a poke. The texts in these new editions can also be used by the heroic fantasy scholar. De Camp‚s editions represented an important problem when it came to correctly assess the value of the Howardian imaginative world as it is obvious that no would-be serious critical work can use texts that were manipulated without their author‚s approval.

However, these new editions are of paramount importance mainly because they allow the reader to enjoy and see Howard‚s storyteller achievements and narrative art in all their glory. To spin a good yarn was something that Howard could certainly do. Indeed his tales are not flawless Ųinsufficient characterization, too much use of coincidence and so forth, to mention only some of his more blatant shortcomings--, but his narrative skills are impressive enough in order to satisfy the majority of heroic fantasy fans. Robert Weinberg, in his book devoted to Howard‚s sword and sorcery tales, says that the difference between him and his imitators is precisely the difference between the barbarian and civilized men. De Camp and Carter‚s stories are perhaps better planned, but it is obvious they lack that overwhelming and instinctive force of Howard‚s genius that, like the furious swell, inevitably sweeps the reader out to the high seas of adventure.

Take, for example, The Tower of the Elephant, doubtless one of the best stories by the creator of Conan. From the shadows and the smell of cheap wine in the first scenes in the Maul area down to the horrors and the mysteries in the final part in the bejewelled tower of the sorcerer Yara, the story develops with a rapid but smooth pace thanks to a whole series of elements and situations tightly intertwined. Howard abandons himself to the events he is telling, but he never slackens his grip on a story that is very self-contained. Howard skillfully highlights the barbarian in a civilized environment throughout the narrative. In the inn we see how Conan and the men from civilized lands have greatly different ideas of what politeness is; while Taurus of Nemedia, cunning and calculating, has been planning the theft of the gem for months, Conan reacts instinctively, without any previously thought-out plan; in addition the stifling and claustrophobic atmosphere in the tower of the elephant, with its gold and ebony doors, its hidden windows and its rooms where jewels more gleaming and colder than the very stars are scattered, contrasts with the purity of the barbarian. Yagkosha says about Conan: "You are not of Yara‚s race of devils. The clean, lean fierceness of the wastelands marks you". The plot is quite simple, and it basically boils down to the topic, so many times used before, of the search for a treasure. However, the story is sprinkled with fascinating details: the lions that do not roar in the night, a rope woven with the tresses of dead maidens, the spine-chilling end of the wizard in the crimson bubble, and so on. The descriptions of the tower and of the gardens that girdle it are superb. Yagkosha‚s story, explained by him, perfectly fits into the narration. And a young Conan, combining naiveté and savagery in equal parts, is the perfect hero.

The two volumes published by Millennium compile the stories that created a genre. It is hoped that some Spanish publishing house will follow its example and will decide to publish a translation of these new editions, more respectful to the work of Robert E. Howard, that great master of fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONAN THE BARBARIAN OR THE SAVAGE EXALTATION OF HEROIC FANTASY

By Javier Martí n Lalanda

 

 

 

© 2001 by Javier Martín Lalanda. All rights reserved.

English translation copyright © 2001 by Josep Parache. All rights reserved.

(This article was originally published in La Espada Salvaje de Conan #1 and appears here with the author's kind permission)

 

 

 

The sword is the soul of the warrior (samurai proverb)

 

December 1932. At his house, in Cross Plains, Texas, Robert E. Howard has just received the current issue of the magazine Weird Tales, with one of his stories appearing on the coverųThe Phoenix on the Sword. This fact in itself is not significant for someone who, at twenty-six, has published about fifty tales and as many as poems, and is in possession of an important award: the 1931 second prize of the O‚Henry Memorial, which was awarded to him for his story The Children of the Night; but the stare of his clear eyes, which, on finding his story, lights up on his bronzed face and seems to transcend the limits of his room, is meaningful, since the most famous barbarian ever in fiction has just made his first appearanceųConan the Cimmerian.

When he saw that he was unable to adapt himself to any job, Bob Howard devoted himself completely to literature. His very open and unconventional nature, fond of savage life, rather rebellious and tremendously dreamy, like the Celt he thought he was, is projected on his characters‚: Kull the Atlantean, king of the fabled Valusia, in the years when Atlantis still existed; Stephen Costigan, the sailor that foiled the schemes of the sorcerer Kathulos in the long story Skull-Face; Solomon Kane, the English Puritan in never-ending struggle against evil; Cormac Fitzgeoffrey, an Irishman exiled in Palestine during the third crusade; Turlogh "Dubh" O‚Brien, another Irishman expelled from his clan who lives only to wipe out the Nordic pirates, or Bran Mak Morn, the Pictish chieftain that witnesses the extinction of his race due to the advance of Rome.

However, Conan was the hero where the characteristics of all these heroes were combined: king like Kull, desert traveler like Cormac, ruthless pursuer like Kane, inn haunter like Costiganųto the extent that he was the character that inspired his author most: twenty-one stories, besides the imaginative essay "The Hyborian Age", which functioned as the framework for his adventures.

Howard did not follow a chronological order, instead of that, as Rudyard Kipling did before, he used to write in an automatic way, as his daimon dictated. It is possible that the stifling world of 20th century Texas that surrounded him, inhabited by descendants of black people, Indians, Anglo-Saxons, Mexicans and Spaniards, a land that had suffered from wars and uprisings, was reflected in the Hyborian countries as they present an undeniable "frontier spirit". Bearing this in mind, we could find something meaningful in his stories, something that could be traced in Red Nails, the last adventure in which the Cimmerian is the main character. It was published some days after Howard committed suicide, in June 1936. In Red Nails Tolkemec‚s weapon reminds one of the automatic gun with which Howard killed himself.

Conan was all but forgotten for about thirty years, until Ace, an American publishing house, under the supervision of Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, published his adventures, adding to the original ones written by Howard not only versions of other stories featuring other main characters but also new tales written by the writers fashionable at that time. This "boom" phenomenon has been maintained to date, having now reached 31 volumes, compiled in three collections, sprung from the pen of eleven authors, without obviously taking Howard into account.

Following on the success of Conan there came that of Kull and Kane, although on a smaller scale. We should not forget either the success that his horror stories and his collections of poems got, as it was foreseeable for somebody that corresponded incessantly with two masters of both genres: Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, with whom he shared the honour of writing for Weird Tales. A similar phenomenon to that observed in literature happened in comic. In 1974 Marvel Comics Group began to publish The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian, a black and white magazine that continued along the same lines as the previous Savage Tales. This magazine also accommodated other Howardian heroes and, unlike Conan the Barbarian, which presented the adventures of Conan in full colour and according to a chronological criterion, it was focused on several moments of Conan‚s life similarly to the stories written by Howard. Thus at the hands of comic artists such as Barry Windsor Smith, Neal Adams, Gil Kane, John Buscema and others, led by writers such as Roy Thomas or Bruce Jones who were able to grasp the essence of the Texan author, practically all the original Conan stories were adapted into comics such as Red Nails, Shadows in the Moonlight, The Tower of the Elephant or The People of the Black Circle; not to mention the adaptations of poems, horror stories and adventures which featured other heroes about whom we have already spoken, such as Kull or Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn and James Allison. In some cases and indeed in an unfair manner, these other adventure stories have not been appreciated for what they are worth by the fans / readers, who seem not to be able to shake off Conan‚s magnetism. The Cimmerian‚s words tell whoever wants to listen about the gestation of that character, inside Howard‚s mind, taking other previous characters as a starting point: "I was born in the Cimmerian hills where the people are all barbarians. I have been a mercenary soldier, a corsair, a kozak, and a hundred other things. What king has roamed the countries, fought the battles, loved the women, and won the plunder that I have?" (From The People of the Black Circle).