Volume 2, Number 2, September 2002
Produced by Rusty Burke for the Robert-E-Howard Electronic Amateur Press Association. A Celtic Weirdness Production.
© 2002 by Rusty Burke. All rights reserved.
Ancestor Worship Novalyne Price and Mammy talk about Bob's claims to royal ancestry
A Belated Annotation to Robert E. Howard: Selected Letters 1923-1930 O. Henry and the ostrich feather business
Recompense Was Howard's poem a response to another?
The Fighting Race A poem Howard both quoted and parodied
Ghor, Kin-Slayer Brief comment on the round-robin tale
Golnar the Ape Brief comment on a little-known Howard fragment
Dagon Manor as false start for "The Children of the Night"
Regarding Howard's self-denigrating remarks: a quotation from Bob
Character transformations A question
The Maze Where did the "thieves' quarter" in Howard's tales come from?
"The Frost-Giant's Daughter" It's place in Conan's "biography"
Dunsany's Influence on Sword and Sorcery
The deadline has kind of snuck up on me again, here, so all I have to offer this outing is some odds and ends, most of which appeared in Seanchai, my zine for the Robert E. Howard United Press Association, a few years back. Some of this is extracted from "mailing comments" directed toward other members of that group.
Novalyne Price Ellis wrote a book before One Who Walked Alone. In 1983 she self-published In Search of Tomorrow: The Westward Movement of the Landrum Family. Started by her mother and completed by Novalyne, it's the life story of her grandmother, Mary Emmaline Landrum Reed (known in OWWA as "Mammy"), supplemented by a great deal of genealogical and anecdotal information on the family. Re-reading the book, I stumbled upon the following passage, pages 193-194:
While I was teaching in Cross Plains High School, one of my friends was Robert E. Howard, a writer. Bob often talked about how wonderful his mother's ancestors were. His mother traced her ancestors back to the early thirteen hundreds in England. They belonged to the nobility. Royalty. Soon, I began to get enough of that, and so I spoke to Mammy.
"Mammy," I said one weekend when I was home, "how far back do we trace our ancestors?"
She laughed. "Back to Paw in Alabama. That's as far back as I care anything about going. He was a good man, good enough for me."
"That's not enough," I admitted. "Bob Howard says his mother traces her ancestors back to noblemen and noble ladies. Lords and ladies. Where did our people come from?"
"From England, mostly," she said. "They tell me there were rich people back there; they owned a lot of land. I am not sure they brought any of their money to America with them, but back in the old country, they had large holdings of land and a lot of money."
"Good enough," I said. "When Bob comes over Sunday, I'm going to tell him we trace our ancestors back to wealthy land owners in England."
Mammy laughed indulgently, and shook her head. "The truth of the matter is that it's what you are that counts," she said. "You can tell him that. If he's what he ought to be, he doesn't have to tell people; they'll know it. If he's not, all the telling in the world won't make him right."
"I'll tell him all that and more," I said. "I just may happen to mention there were a lot of lords and ladies among that landed bunch of people back in England."
A Belated Annotation to Robert E. Howard: Selected Letters 1923-1930
In a letter to Harold Preece (received 20 October 1928, #16 in Selected Letters 1923-1930, p. 19), REH wrote:
About O. Henry and the ostrich feather business-I can't work up much resentment against a girl who's that childish-too much like the action of a little kid who isn't responsible for her thoughts.
The astute reader will have noted that the annotators (principally Yerz Trooli), who seem to have annotated almost everything else, passed this up. That's because I went through the complete works of O. Henry and couldn't find a bloody thing about ostrich feathers. Perhaps if I'd read a good biography, I might have done so. It chanced that I was at the Library of Congress going through microfilm of the Dallas Morning News and came upon the following item, in the feature section for Sunday, December 27, 1931:
O. Henry One Time Courted Heroine In This Little Book
THE WHITE PLUME OF O. HENRY'S OWN SHORT STORY. By Florence Stratton and Vincent Burke. Beaumont...Szafir Company.
No story about O. Henry is a dud: the fascination of the man who was quiet and calm and rather plump in figure, but lithe and driving in intellect, holds, in the case of "The White Plume" with more than usual [word obscured]. The Beaumont authors, in a slender volume privately published in a limited edition, have made available a charming and true account of Will Porter's sojourn on a LaSalle County ranch and his courtship of a storekeeper's niece still a new story, although it appeared originally in Bunker's Monthly in 1928.
O. Henry Was No Broncho Buster
When Porter came to the Hall ranch in 1883 he was an ailing young man with certain obscure talents which obviously did not include broncho busting and sheep herding and we are grateful to the authors for the first sensible remark printed on this Texas period. They disagree with other writers who have pictured O. Henry throwing himself into the ranch life and at once becoming proficient in all the range arts, a pleasant bit of romanticizing but short of the truth, which was that after the novelty wore off, Porter found the wild West tame, and he one job riding fifteen miles to Fort Ewell once a week for the ranch mail.
M.P. Kerr owned the store. It was Will Porter's habit, after pocketing the mail, to step over to the candy case and buy a nickel's worth of the staple sweets on which he munched as his [word obscured] pony jogged homeward. One day he noticed that the hand which reached into the candy case was not "the kerosene stained hand" of Mr. Kerr, but the soft feminine hand of a girl. The shy Mr. Porter raised his eyes. He gazed into the brown eyes of Miss Clarence Crozier from Brenham, the storekeeper's niece.
A Plume for a Promise
After that the shy Mr. Porter rode to Fort Ewell twice each week. Sometimes Miss Clarence invited him into Aunt Kitty Kerr's parlor and they sang "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" with organ accompaniment. Aunt Kitty, the owner of a great white plume which was in Clarence's eyes the embodiment of queenly elegance, received those evening sallies with pert alarm. How she traded the white plume to Clarence in return for the girl's forgetfulness in regard to Mr. Porter-but never delivered the plume!-is told simply, but with spirit and understanding.
Several illustrations, among them a halftone of a verse which Porter inscribed in Clarence Crozier's album, and the fact that the heroine, now Mrs. R.A. Stuckert, is still living in Brenham, complement the attractiveness of the volume as a collector's item.
I've reproduced this as well as I can from a poor photocopy of a poor microfilm. I think "of" in the title should be "or". It seems apparent that Harold Preece must have read the original article in Bunker's Monthly, and mentioned it to REH in a letter, to which REH's reply was directed.
I recently [note: this was written in 1998] acquired a copy of Lexie Dean Robertson's Red Heels (Dallas: Southwest Press, 1928). Lexie Dean was a poet who lived in Rising Star, Texas, just down the road from Cross Plains. In Selected Letters 1923-1930, p. 36, note 104, we stated that Howard knew Lexie Dean (so said Harold Preece, at least), and that the home of "Mrs. J.F. Robertson" was where Howard most likely met Benjamin Musser, editor of JAPM: The Poetry Weekly and Contemporary Verse. We supposed that Mrs. J.F. was Lexie Dean's mother, but it appears we erred: according to Texas Writers of Today, by Florence Elberta Barns (Dallas: Tardy Publishing, 1935; rept. Ann Arbor: Gryphon Books, 1971), Lexie Dean herself was Mrs. J.F. On pages 152-153 of Dark Valley Destiny, de Camp quotes from Mrs. Robertson's "Boomtown Pictures," included in Red Heels: section 2, "The Booster Club Is Organized," is quoted in entirety ("The tents pop out..." through "But the town grows."), and one (verse? stanza? passage?) from section 3, "Saturday Night."
So anyway, I was reading along in Red Heels and came upon a poem entitled "Recompense." Hmm, thinks I, Bob Howard had a poem of the same title, and something about this poem is ringing bells. Let us have a look. I will here print the poems, Mrs. Robertson's from Red Heels, Bob's from Always Comes Evening (2nd edition):
Now, let's see what Bob Howard did with this theme:
So, I wonder -- is it possible Bob's poem might have been written as a sort of response to Lexie Dean's?
The Fighting Race
There exists one letter from C.L. Moore to REH, dated January 29, 1935. Howard had sent her a copy of the ms. for "The Sword Woman," which she praised lavishly. Then she noted: "Almost every verse-sample you sent reminded me of another good one." And she goes on with quotations from Kipling and Chesterton, with remarks that indicated he'd quoted them as well. Interspersed, though, is the remark: "And that four-line bit from Clarke, about 'Hessian blood on the blade' makes me think of something almost as nice...'" Well, of course, I had to know who Clarke was and what poem the lines came from. A search in Bibliofind turned up a couple of possibilities, and on one of my trips to the Library of Congress, one of these was confirmed.
Joseph I[gnatius] C[onstantine] Clarke (1846-1925) was a journalist and playwright (title page copy refers to him as "Author of 'Robert Emmet, a Tragedy,' 'Malmorda,' 'Lady Godiva,' etc."), born in Ireland but seems to have spent most of his career in New York. His "The Fighting Race," included in his collection, The Fighting Race and Other Poems and Ballads (New York: American News Co., 1911) contains the lines to which Moore referred. For a variety of reasons, not least among them that my own surname features prominently, I am reprinting this poem here.
The Fighting Race
A note at the end of the poem states the date of composition as March 16, 1898: about a month after the sinking of the Maine, and before the declaration of war with Spain (April 11). Several of the poems in the book's first section, "Songs of the Celt," relate to the Spanish-American War (which apparently got Clarke's Irish fighting blood up); there are three more in which Kelly, Burke and Shea figure.
I won't bother with a point-by-point rundown of all the references to major battles and military engagements to which the trio refer in "The Fighting Race," merely note that, in the passage to which Moore evidently referred, Howard would have well known that Vinegar Hill was the decisive battle of the 1798 United Irishmen rising. At the time, Hessians comprised the bulk of Britain's mercenary troops -- as, indeed, they had done in America. Compare these lines from the Irish ballad, "Boulavogue":
We took Camolin and Enniscorthy
And Wexford storming, drove out the foes;
Twas at Slieve Coilte our pikes were reeking
With the crimson streams of the beaten yeos.
At Tubberneering and Ballyellis
Full many a Hessian lay in his gore:
Ah, Father Murphy, had aid come over,
The Green Flag floated from shore to shore.
So anyway, having discovered the poem, and read through a few others, I decided that, if not too expensive, a copy of this book should grace the Burkives, and I was able to order it for about 10 bucks. When it came in I was re-reading the poem, and one line caught my eye: I recognize that phrase, I thinks to myself, thinks I. That's the first line to a parodic verse in one of Howard's letters to Smith. And sure enough,
Robert E. Howard to Tevis Clyde Smith, ca. July 1930:
Salaam, Fear Finn:
Then Stein the peddler with rising joy,
Said: "We were at Brooklyn bridge;
"We worked our grafts at Perth-Amboy
"And up on the Denver ridge.
"Before Fort Wayne, on Racine's plain,
"Chicago, Frisco, Brent,
"From Monterey to the coasts of Maine,
"Wherever a dime was spent.
"We've rooked the Yank from the Hudson's bank
"To the hills of Mexico,
"And there's still a tip for another gypp,
"Cohen and Stein and Moe."
"Well, here's to honest good thieving blood,
"Cohen and Stein and Moe."
We'll never know whether Howard had read Clarke's volume of verses, but it's clear that, wherever he read it, "The Fighting Race" had made an impression on him, since he's quoting a bit of it five years after having composed this little parody.
In my opinion, this story ended after Chapter Three. Howard introduced the character and the basic situation; Karl Wagner introduced the revenge motif, which, in my opinion, would have provided a marvelous framework for a round-robin, with Ghor knocking off a different relative in each chapter; and then Joe Brennan squandered it, in an admittedly quite Howardian frenzy of blood, battle-madness and revenge. The story really ends there.
Despite some fine individual chapters, the story never really goes anywhere from this point on. For the record, I enjoyed Dick Tierney's valiant attempt to salvage something from the shambles in Chapter Four, and Brian Lumley's similar effort in Chapter Eleven. Lumley's chapter can reasonably stand on its own as a sword and sorcery vignette.
Golnar the Ape
"Golnar the Ape" is not particularly a "historical" fantasy. It is set in a seaport town much like Faring Town, called Fenblane. Golnar is apparently some sort of changeling: we're told he was left on the door of a tavern, he grows to be some sort of huge, misshapen, hairy atavism, but tells us that he is a creature caught between two worlds, that of Fenblane and another world of mysterious beings called "lecas," with whom he conversed constantly, as well as "gerbas and monsters, who sometimes drove me shrieking across the moor, and would have dragged me back to that world entirely if they had had power." As the plot begins to unfold, we see that Golnar develops a crush on the beautiful Helene de Say, whose aunt is forcing her into marriage with the evil "Baron" (Golnar knows he's evil because he can see around him "the lurid yellow haze that marks a wicked soul, and which only a creature of the shadow world may see"). At this point, Golnar, who refers to himself as an imbecile no fewer than three times in the short course of this fragment, doesn't know what auntie is pushing Helene into, but we see it plainly. Golnar, trying to puzzle out the meaning of the conversation he's overheard between the two women, goes to visit a witch in her cave, and here the tale endeth.
Obviously, there's an element of the Hunchback of Notre Dame here, and undoubtedly in that bright shining world wherein REH actually finished this story, Golnar ended up ripping the Baron to bloody shreds and feeding the pieces to the gerbas. If this doesn't go under "Various Fantasy Adventures," the only other appropriate category would be "Odds and Ends." It's quite possible that it would have ended up with a strong enough horror element to be placed in that category, but as it stands, it's fantasy.
"Dagon Manor" was obviously a first fumbling attempt at "The Children of the Night." In just 300 words you have Conrad introduced (but Kirowan unnamed), and two characters named Tavarel and Ketric ("I never liked the fellow. There was something about his bare, high skull, his cold light eyes and thin hooded nose which was unpleasantly reminiscent of a vulture or some foul bird of prey."). In "The Children of the Night" we're in Conrad's study, and we find characters named Taveral (or Taverel, which is how it's spelled after its first appearance) and Ketrick. Of the latter, we quickly learn that "to me the man always seemed strangely alien." The only possible conclusion is that "Dagon Manor" was a false start on the story that became "The Children of the Night."
Regarding Howard's self-denigrating remarks:
"Our habit of complimenting our friends, and deprecating ourselves, is merely part of our code of courtesy; the compliments are sincere, but when we deprecate ourselves, it does not mean that we lack self-esteem. Under our politeness generally lurks a keen vanity, and a sometimes dangerous pride."(REH Selected Letters 1931-1936, #64, p. 25, to HPL, 9/22/32).
Interesting point ... about Black Vulmea, in "Swords of the Red Brotherhood," not really being a different character, just Conan under another name. What about in the subsequent stories? Did Vulmea became a character in his own right, or did he remain Conan the buccaneer? Conan himself, of course, sprang at least partially from the salvage heap. Can we really say that the Conan of "The Phoenix on the Sword" is a different character than Kull, or did he only acquire his distinctive personality with subsequent stories?
"He must have been impacted as a younger man by some wild frontier town, because he put a Maze-equivalent in many of his stories."
"I've lived in land boom towns, railroad boom towns, oil boom towns, where life was raw and primitive.... I've seen towns leap into being overnight and become deserted almost as quick.... I've seen whole towns debauched by an oil boom and boys and girls go to the devil wholesale. I've seen promising youths turn from respectable citizens to dope fiends, drunkards, gamblers and gangsters in a matter of months."(REH to HPL, ca. 10/30, REH Selected Letters 1923-1930, #47, p. 71)
"This might offend men in the oil business, but it's the truth that I've seen more young people sent to the Devil through the debauching effects of an oil boom than all the other reasons put together. I know; I was a kid in a boom town myself. The average child of ten or twelve who's lived through a boom or so knows more vileness and bestial sinfulness than a man of thirty should know-whether he, or she, practice what they know or not. Glamor and filth! That's an oil boom. When I was a kid I worked in the tailoring business just as one terrific boom was dwindling out, and harlots used to give me dresses to be cleaned-sometimes they'd be in a mess from the wearer having been drunk and in the gutter. Beautiful silk and lace, delicate of texture and workmanship, but disgustingly soiled-such dresses always symbolized boom days and nights to me-shimmering, tantalizing, alluring things, bright as dreams, but stained with nameless filth."(REH to HPL, ca. 12/30, REH Selected Letters 1923-1930, #49, p. 82)
There, I submit, is your "Maze," "Maul," etc.; not some recreation of medieval Paris that young Bob saw on the screen (as de Camp alleges), but the real thing, a raw, roaring boom town, full of oil-field workers, rough, tough, swaggering, swearing, brawling men, and the booze, broads and gambling that follow them from boom town to boom town, and the cutpurses, footpads, bravos and their brethren who follow the whole sordid mess. During Howard's day Cross Plains had only one paved road, that being the highway that passed by the front of his house, turned up what is now Main Street, and then turned east at what is now Eighth Street and headed for Pioneer and Rising Star. All the other streets and alleys in town were dirt. When this quiet little community of perhaps 2000 suddenly turned into a roistering city of 10,000 or more, is it hard to imagine that those streets filled with refuse? It's not at all hard to imagine the passage you cite (from "Rogues in the House"), describing the "Maze," as describing the back alleys of Cross Plains during the boom.
And while I'm on the subject, let me again state that I think this "boom and bust" cycle of Cross Plains, and other communities in which young Bob had lived (his father apparently being attracted to such places), must have had a decided influence on his idea that civilizations rise and fall, rise and fall. I'm hoping someone will take up this idea and produce a Dark Man article, so I'll keep repeating it at every opportunity until someone does.
"The Frost-Giant's Daughter"
In my not-particularly-humble opinion, "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" is the first story, chronologically, followed by ... "The Tower of the Elephant," "The God in the Bowl," and "Rogues in the House." In his letter to P. Schuyler Miller, Howard said that the Miller/Clark outline followed Conan's career as he imagined it pretty closely. But he was at pains to point out that, after Venarium, Conan returned to the northern Cimmerian homeland of his tribe, and that his first venture beyond the borders of Cimmeria was to the north, where he joined a band of AEsir in fighting against the Vanir and Hyperboreans. Now, it is my belief that the only reason Howard might have for pointing all this out is that he has "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" in mind.
Dunsany's Influence on Sword and Sorcery
I agree that William Morris and E.R. Eddison probably had little impact upon the ["sword and sorcery"] genre: I have never come across a mention of either in any of REH's letters or other works. Dunsany, now, I'm not as sure I agree with you about. Howard had read some Dunsany, and listed him among his favorite poets. There is much in Dunsany that I might not call "sword and sorcery," but certainly wouldn't discount as an influence within the genre.
Take, for instance, "The Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweler," in which a thief sets out to steal a fabulous gem guarded by a spider-idol (!), and in the end must face the spider with his sword:
"He fought and panted and was pushed back slowly along the narrow way, but he wounded Hlo-hlo all the while with terrible long gashes all over his deep, soft body till Mouse was slimy with blood."
(Thangobrind's sword is "called Mouse because it was swift and nimble.") Here's another line I like in the story:
"It was quite dark when he went by the towers of Tor, where archers shoot ivory arrows at strangers lest any foreigner should alter their laws, which are bad, but not to be altered by mere aliens."
(I know, not especially relevant to this discussion, but it makes me smile. I wonder if it's merely coincidence that a baron of Tor is among Conan's nemeses in The Hour of the Dragon?)
A couple of other of my own Dunsany favorites, which be not too far afield from sword and sorcery, are "The Hoard of the Gibbelins" and "The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save For Sacnoth." These stories may or may not have had much influence on Robert E. Howard-there is no evidence he had read them-but I believe they were probably a very big influence on another important innovator in the sword and sorcery genre, Fritz Leiber. Whether Thangobrind's sword "Mouse" later suggested the Mouser (whose original nickname, Leiber tells us, was "Mouse") and his sword Scalpel, I will not venture to say (having not studied The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar with the depth I've studied REH), but certainly there is no mistaking the influence on Leiber's style of telling the tales of the Mouser and his big friend Fafhrd. Had there been no Dunsany, would there have been Lankhmar? I doubt it. And thus I believe you must put Dunsany among the progenitors of the sword and sorcery genre.
The Noble Conan
If "defending the weak" is "taking on a false nobility to the Conan character (among others), which Howard never showed," please explain why Conan put himself at risk to warn the settlers that the Picts were across Black River? In "The Black Stranger," Conan deals treacherously with Zarono and Strom, who deserve it, but at the end, for no particularly good reason, gives the jewels he's managed to salvage to Belesa. Not exactly a "shit-heel" there. In "Teeth of Gwahlur," he rescues Muriela, who has screwed up all his plans, rather than the jewels. In "The Hour of the Dragon," he puts himself in grave peril to rescue the Countess Albiona. These are merely a few examples off the top of my skull which strike me as un-shit-heel-like.