By Jeffrey D. Elmquist
A Member Journal of the Robert-E-Howard: Electronic Amateur Press Association
© 2001 Jeffrey D. Elmquist
Exedrae - Volume 1 - Number 1
Welcome to the first issue of Exedrae! In ancient Greece and Rome, an exedra was a semi-circular room with seats, which was used mainly for the purpose of conversation; a "chat room". It is my hope that this e-zine will be a conduit through which many thought provoking conversations about Robert E. Howard, his life, works, and vision may flow.
The purpose and mission of this e-zine is threefold. First, to promote Robert E. Howard and his works to the general public through articles of an introductory nature. These are intended more for those unfamiliar with REH, but will hopefully be enjoyed by all. The goal being to generate wider interest in REH and his works, and perhaps, a greater readership of his writings.
Second, to present scholarly articles on REH, his life and works, of a more advanced nature. These are intended more for the REH veteran and scholar. The goal being to further REH scholarship in general, and to deepen my own personal knowledge and understanding of REH, his art and artistry.
Third, to comment on the works presented in the other journals of REHEAPA, with the hope of fostering intelligent and edifying conversation with the fellow members of REHEAPA. Being a beginner myself, I truly look forward to this conversation, for I hope to learn from you. Please email comments, suggestions, and constructive criticism.
And, perhaps most importantly, I just want to have fun!
Fun discussing and exploring the life and writings of this artist who's
stories I truly love! May this e-zine stay true to its purpose, and may
you all well enjoy it, by Crom!
The White Hot Flame
Lily Damita: REH's Favorite "Hard Baby"
REH had a great love for the movies and especially the women in the movies. REH appreciated many of the stars of the silent era, but Lily Damita was his favorite. Late in 1929 he wrote to Harold Preece:
Then if they have to have a heroine, throw in some hard baby with a poker face and a heavyweight punch, that can take it on the chin and hand out punishment, too: Evelyn Brent; Fay Wray; Lilian Tashman; Florence Vidor; Louise Brooks; Baclanova; Lili Damita -- boy, go no further! When that blonde French whirlwind goes into action, all others take a back seat. It's time to batten down the hatches, reef all sails, and stand by to cut the masts if necessary. Once I saw her -- once. The Bridge of San Luis -- let me tell you, confidentially, that's why the bridge fell. Get me. Yes! She walked across and scorched the damned ropes. (REH to Harold Preece, late 1929, Robert Ervin Howard Goes to the Movies)
Earlier in March of 1929 he wrote to Tevis Clyde Smith:
I saw Lily Damita for the first time yesterday in a show at Cisco - Thornton Wilder's muck put in movies. Delores Del Rio and Lupe Velez can't hold a candle to her when it comes to frenzy. Lupe is prettier and Delores is a better all around actor, but my God, this Damita girl is a white hot flame. She dances like a fanflare of sunfire blown before the wind - no, like a burning flame of moon-mist under the stars - Hell - see her for yourself. Some things can't be described. They have to be seen. (REH to Tevis Clyde Smith, March 1929, Robert Ervin Howard Goes to the Movies)
Unfortunately, Damita's film The Bridge of San Luis Rey is not available on home video and there is only one known film print in existence. It's in the Eastman Collection at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. So, most of us will probably never be able to have the pleasure of watching the film that flashed that "fanflare of sunfire" before REH's eyes. However, with the internet and the modern format of REHEAPA, we can follow ol' Bob's advice and see her for ourselves. Once you do I think you'll understand his enthusiasm.
I present to you a Lily Damita photo Gallery. Enjoy!
For more details on REH's passion for the movies check out Rusty Burke's article Robert Ervin Howard Goes to the Movies. For many more photos of Lily Damita, REH's other favorite actresses, and hundreds more silent film stars, go to Silent Ladies & Gents.
Burke, Rusty. Robert Ervin Howard Goes to the Movies.
(The Robert E. Howard United Press Association,
The Faith of Solomon Kane
A Look at Robert E. Howard's Messianic Figure
© 2001 Jeffrey D. Elmquist
Many of Robert E. Howard's characters may be considered religious, believing in or even worshiping demons and deities; gods with a little "g". Howard's 16th century Puritan adventurer Solomon Kane, however, has the distinction of being REH's most sincerely devout character. A Christian man of faith, Solomon Kane lives his life in a continuing effort to seek out, and accomplish the will of God; God with a capital "G". This leads Kane to awesome feats of judgment and destruction as well as deliverance and salvation. Solomon Kane is Howard's messianic figure.
The concept of messiah is predominant in the Christian and Jewish faiths. The English word messiah finds its roots in a Hebrew word meaning "the anointed one" and a Greek word meaning "Christ". The Hebrew concept of messiah centered around God's anointed servant who would exercise God's judgment, hold the unrighteous accountable to God's laws, and save the just and the righteous from the evil which surrounded and threatened them. Christians, while highlighting more of a spiritual reality to the concept, believe that Jesus of Nazareth is this Messiah.
The modern-day secular conceptualization of messiah is found in the vigilante. Superheroes such as Batman and Superman embody the messiah concept; upholding truth, justice and the American Way, while rescuing the helpless and the downtrodden from the evils of the day. The gun slinging hero of the Old West represents another modern-day messiah. Characters such as Shane and The-Man-With No-Name play the role of the messianic vigilante, dealing out justice and salvation through the smoking barrel of a six-shooter. Many of these messianic vigilantes are highlighted in film, television, and comic books by biblical references and religious symbolism. This links them even more overtly with the biblical concept of messiah. In this way, Solomon Kane is a vigilante who very strongly and openly functions as a messianic figure in the writings of Robert E. Howard.
Of Solomon Kane, REH wrote:
All his life he had roamed about the world aiding the weak and fighting oppression; he neither knew nor questioned why. That was his obsession, his driving force of life. Cruelty and tyranny to the weak sent a red blaze of fury, fierce and lasting, through his soul. When the full flame of his hatred was wakened and loosed, there was no rest for him until his vengeance had been fulfilled to the uttermost. If he thought of it at all, he considered himself a fulfiller of God's judgement, a vessel of wrath to be emptied upon the souls of the unrighteous. (Howard, "Red Shadows" in Solomon Kane, p. 38-39.)
In this passage from the first Solomon Kane story, probably written in the fall of 1927 (Burke, Robert E. Howard Fiction and Verse Timeline), the first step was taken toward making Kane more than just a run-of-the-mill cavalier. Howard made it clear that Kane's motivation for "aiding the weak and fighting oppression" was not simply chivalry, but faith in his own calling as "a fulfiller of God's judgement". At this early stage in the creation of Solomon Kane, Howard tempered the religious overtones of the passage to a softer intensity by inferring that Kane may not have solidified his messianic role in his own mind with any concrete thought. None-the-less, as "fulfiller of God's judgement" Solomon Kane, REH's messianic figure, was born.
By the time of "Blades of the Brotherhood", at the earliest written during the first half of 1929 (Toogood, "A Solomon Kane Chronology" in Van Hise, ed., The Fantastic Worlds of Robert E. Howard, p. 116), Kane's messianic status had obviously been solidified:
I go wherever the Lord doth guide my feet. I seek - my soul's salvation, mayhap. I came following the trail of vengeance. . . I work the will of God. While evil flourishes and wrongs grow rank, while men are persecuted and women wronged, while weak things, human or animal, are maltreated there is no rest for me beneath the skies, nor peace at any board or bed." (Howard, "Blades of the Brotherhood" in Solomon Kane, p. 175).
No longer is the messianic tone of the passage tempered. Kane speaks these words himself, fully acknowledging that the motive behind is vigilantism is a commitment to "work the will of God". The messianic tone is further increased by extending, beyond mere men and women, the salvation that Kane's vengeance accomplishes . In this passage, Kane is dedicated to righting the wrongs which are committed against animals as well as humans. This is significant because Christian theology maintains that, upon his return, the messiah will redeem all life on earth, human and animal.
Sometime between writing "Red Shadows" and "Blades of the Brotherhood", Howard wrote the Solomon Kane story "The Moon of Skulls". It is this story which contains the most overt biblical references which clearly demonstrate the messianic nature of Kane's character and faith.
"Alone I am a weak creature, having no strength or might in me; yet in times past hath God made me a great vessel of wrath and a sword of deliverance. And, I trust, shall do so again. . . Evil flourishes and rules in the cities of men and the waste places of the world, but anon the great giant that is God rises and smites for the righteous, and they lay faith on him." (Howard, "The Moon of Skulls" in Solomon Kane, p. 138)
With those words in chapter seven, "The Faith of Solomon", Howard plainly spelled out the faith of his Puritan hero: 1) that left to himself, Kane is a weak and helpless individual; 2) that God used Kane in the past to exercise the vengeance of the Lord and bring about the deliverance of the weak and helpless; and 3) that God will continue to use Kane in this same manner in the future. Howard did not specifically use the word messiah in refering to Solomon Kane, nor does Kane use the word in reference to himself. However, the faith which Howard instilled within Kane, clearly demonstrates that the character not only fulfills the characteristics of a messiah, but that Kane himself recognized and believed in his own messianic calling.
Interestingly, Howard closes the story "The Moon of Skulls" with Solomon Kane quoting four verses from the prophet Isaiah - 24:18, 25:2, 29:5 and 29:9. The use of these verses of scripture does much more than simply reinforce the messianic characteristics of Solomon Kane. Howard's use of these verses of scripture puts the icing on the cake, and brings Kane's rise to messiahship to a climax.
After defeating the evil queen Nakari and bringing about the destruction of the lost city of Negari, REH has Solomon Kane quote almost verbatim from the King James Version of the Bible:
And it shall come to pass, that he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit; and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare; for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake. [Isaiah 24:18]
For thou has made of a city an heap; of a defended city a ruin; a palace of strangers to be no city; it shall never be built. [Isaiah 25:2]
Moreover the multitude of thy strangers shall be like small dust and the multitude of the terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth suddenly away; yea it shall be at an instant suddenly. [Isaiah 29:5]
Stay yourselves and wonder; cry ye out and cry; they are dunken but not with wine; they stagger but not with strong drink [Isaiah 29:9]
"Verily Marylin", said Kane with a sigh, "with mine own eyes have I seen the prophecies of Isaiah come to pass." (Howard, "The Moon of Skulls" in Solomon Kane, p. 139).
These verses from Isaiah refer to God bringing his judgment to bear on the wicked peoples of the earth, especially those who stand against the Lord. This theme of judgment is central to the theology of the prophet Isaiah. For Isaiah, it is the Messiah, God's anointed, who will carry out the judgment of the Lord and redeem the faithful. For Isaiah, it the Messiah who will cause the wicked who oppose God to fall into the pit and to be caught up in the snare. It is the Messiah who will destroy the city which stands against the Lord. It is the Messiah who will make dust of the strangers, and chaff of the terrible ones; the strangers and terrible ones who perform evil in God's sight.
For REH, it is Solomon Kane who performs the role of the Messiah. Kane takes a much more active role in the handing down of judgment than to simply witness Isaiah's prophecies come to pass. It is Kane himself who, by destroying the god of the skull, executes God's judgment and brings about the destruction of the evil city and its wicked inhabitants. To the condemned people of Negari, and to the faithful yet helpless Marylin, Kane becomes a messiah who actively brings about the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies; a messiah who exercises God's wrath and deliverance. Without question, Solomon Kane is REH's most prominent messianic figure.
For me, it is interesting to consider how Solomon Kane as messianic figure and REH's overt use of biblical references in "Moon of Skulls" might inform our biographical knowledge of Robert E. Howard. It seems unlikely to me that Howard simply picked some biblical passages at random to use in the story simply to add a supernatural dimension. I believe REH was very familiar with the passages from Isaiah which figure so prominently in the story. It also seems apparent that he was very knowledgeable concerning the messiah concept. If so, these two insights may help shed some light on REH's own religious background, belief, and/or faith. Being a newbie to REH scholarship however, I am not qualified at this time to offer much speculation on these matters. They are questions which will have to wait for future research and/or more qualified Howard scholars . . .
* * * * * * *
Burke, Rusty. Robert E. Howard Fiction and Verse Timeline. (The Robert E. Howard United Press Association, 1998).
Clements, R.E. The New Century Bible Commentary: Isaiah 1-39. (London: Marshal, Morgan & Scott, 1980).
Ellis, Judy Yates. "Messiah/Messianism" in Watson E. Mills, ed., Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1990).
Farmer, Ron. "Messiah/Christ" in Watson E. Mills, ed., Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1990).
Howard, Robert E. Solomon Kane. (Riverdale, NY: Baen, 1995).
Newsome Jr., James D. The Hebrew Prophets (Atlanta: John Knox, 1984).
Toogood, Richard. "A Solomon Kane Chronology" in James
Van Hise, ed., The Fantastic Worlds of Robert E. Howard. (Yucca
Valley, CA: James Van Hise, 2001).
Comments on Rusty Burke's
"Without Effort On My Part"
in The Iron Harp, March 2001
© 2001 Jeffrey D. Elmquist
I was truly fascinated by Mr. Burke's article which revealed a truer picture of Howard's "effortless" creation of the characters and stories of Conan and Kull. As he points out in the introduction, like most Howard enthusiasts, I too was familiar with REH's letter to Clark Ashton Smith. I had always conjured up a mental image of Howard typing furiously, pounding out the Conan and Kull stories, while their ghosts hovered in the background, dictating the chronicles of their lives. A sort of "divine inspiration" giving birth to terrific tales, which REH simply recorded on paper.
I agree with Mr. Burke's conclusion. Clearly, the creation of Conan and Kull, as well as the composition of their tales, was not as effortless as Howard would have had Smith and Lovecraft believe. The question of why REH exagerated this effortlessness logically follows on the heels of Burke's conclusion; a question that Mr. Burke has left open. I'd like to share my theory with you. I actually have two theories. Either one of which, or even a combination of both, might be an answer to this riddle.
First, it is possible that Howard exaggerated the effortless creation of these stories in an attempt to impress Smith and Lovecraft. Howard held Lovecraft in greater esteem than any other writer. In a letter to Farnsworth Wright in July of 1930, Howard wrote:
I have long looked forward to reading Mr. Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls" and it certainly comes up to all expectations. I was amazed by the sweep of his imagination . . . because of the strange and unthinkable bypath into which he has wandered in this tale. There, assuredly, he has taken a road never before traversed, or even dreamed of, by any writer or thinker, ancient or modern . . . The Climax of the story alone puts Mr. Lovecraft in a class by himself; undoubtedly he must have the most unusual and wonderfully constructed brain of any man in the world. He alone can paint pictures in shadows and make them terrifically real. (REH to Farnsworth Wright, ca. July 1930, Selected Letters 1923-1930, p. 48)
In August of 1930, Howard wrote to Lovecraft himself:
I am indeed highly honored to have received a personal letter from one whose works I so highly admire. I have been reading your stories for years, and I say, in all sincerity, that no writer, past or modern, has equaled you in the realm of bizarre fiction . . . after a close study of Poe's technique, I am forced to give as my personal opinion that his horror tales have been surpassed by Arthur Machen, and that neither of them ever reached the heights of cosmic horror or opened such new, strange paths of imagination as you have done . . . (REH to H.P. Lovecraft, 9 August 1930, Selected Letters 1923-1930, p. 49)
This is extremely high praise! Obviously, Howard considered Lovecraft to be in a class all of his own; a writer greater than any other, including Howard himself. It seems obvious that Lovecraft was an inspiration to REH; a writer who Howard beheld with awe and respect. Certainly, given human nature, it would only be natural for Howard to want to impress Lovecraft. In Cross Plains, Howard may have been the "big dog" among writers. But in the wider world of bizarre fiction, Howard ascribed that honor to Lovecraft. Perhaps he exaggerated his tales of effortless creativity to show off a little, to win a little of Lovecraft's admiration.
The fact that Howard continually insisted that he wrote solely for monetary gain does not make a difference. I do not believe that Howard's tales of effortless creativity were meant to emphasize any artistic achievement of the final product, but rather, an ease with which the final product was realized. Even if Howard's work could never have been of the same artistic caliber as Lovecraft's, he could at least make the claim that his works were produced easily, without the slightest bit of effort on his part.
The motive behind Howard's embellishment of the effortless creativity in his letters to Clark Ashton Smith could have been much the same. While it seems that Howard did not hold Smith in the same light of admiration as he did Lovecraft, he certainly looked up to Smith as a writer greater than himself as his letter to Smith in October 1933 would seem to reveal:
I envy your knack of making the fantastic seem real. I particularly remember your remarkable "Return of the Sorceror" in Strange Tales. That was no story for one with weak nerves. The horror you evoked was almost unbearable. I have read and written weird stuff for many more years than I like to remember, and it takes a regular literary earthquake to touch my callous soul. But it is the honest truth that my hair stood up when I read that story. Poe never wrote anything that congealed my blood like that did. (REH to Clark Ashton Smith, circa October 1933, Selected Letters 1931-1936, p. 57)
As I have continued to research the biographical scholarship on REH, a second possiblity for his embellished tales of "effortless" creativity has come to light. Rusty Burke as well as Joe Marek have both alluded to the possibility that Howard suffered from depression, perhaps manic depression. Burke has stated:
All the indications suggest that he may have had a bipolar disorder, commonly referred to as manic depression, a condition that all too often results in suicide when the sufferer feels he or she cannot bear another of the black drepressions that descend upon them. Recent research suggests a connection between this disorder and the artistic temperament. . . (Burke, "A Short Biography of Robert E. Howard", in Howard, The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, p. A13.) [see note below]
If I'm not mistaken, the individual who suffers from manic depression is subject to a cycle of phases; a manic phase followed by a depressive phase, followed by a manic phase, etc. We know that Howard had "dry" or depressive phases when he couldn't write anything. He wrote of these phases in letters to friends. We also know that he had manic phases when he found himself in a fury of writing. If this was the result of a bipolar condition, than it would certainly be probable that Howard created characters such as Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, etc., during his manic phases. If that was the case, than quite possibly Howard perceived the creation of these characters as "effortless" and actually believed that this was so. In a manic phase of depression, the creation of these characters and the composition of their stories might have actually felt "effortless" in spite of the fact that he wrote numerous drafts.
In conclusion, it seems possible that Howard embellished and exaggerated his stories of effortless creativity in an effort to endear himself in the eyes of fellow writers who he admired, respected, and considered to be greater writers than himself; writers who Howard might have wanted to impress. After reading REH's letters to Lovecraft however, I don't think that such an interpretation holds out. As time went by, REH seems to have been more and more bold in his letters to Lovecraft, writing to him as if on equal footing. Personally, I find myself leaning more and more to the second hypothesis, that Howard, creating the Conan stories in a manic phase of depression, honestly felt and believed that the creative process was truly "effortless". Of course, most of this is my own personal speculation. I invite you to share your own thoughts, theories and speculations on this.
Note: Rusty Burke no longer adheres to this view, believing now that there is insufficient evidence of any particular mental or emotional disorder. However, at this time, this author's speculation on this matter remains unchanged. For more information see the updated version of Rusty's biography Robert Ervin Howard.
* * * * * * *
Burke, Rusty. "A Short Biography of Robert E. Howard", in Robert E. Howard, The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane. (London: Wandering Star, 1998).
Burke, Rusty. "Without Effort on My Part", in The Iron Harp, Volume 1; Number 1. (REHEAPA: March 2001).
Howard, Robert E. Selected Letters 1923-1930. Edited by Glenn Lord. (West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press, 1989).
Howard, Robert E. Selected Letters 1931-1936. Edited by Glenn Lord. (West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press, 1991).
Marek, Joe. Literary Criticism. (Joe Marek's
Robert E. Howard Page)