Exedrae

An e-zine dedicated to conversation focused on the life, works, and vision of Robert E. Howard

By Jeffrey D. Elmquist

A Member Journal of the Robert-E-Howard: Electronic Amateur Press Association

2001 Jeffrey D. Elmquist


Exedrae - Volume 1 - Number 2


Welcome to the second issue of Exedrae! The format of this second issue differs somewhat from the first. It was my original intention to include three articles in each issue; one focusing on a topic of an introductory nature, one on a topic of more scholarly interest, and a third commenting on articles in REHeapa journals. You might say my eyes were bigger than my stomach! To do that for each posting of REHeapa, at least with all the other things going on in my life, would be close to impossible. Therefore this issue contains one in depth article of substantial length (the first of a two part series), focusing on a topic which I hope will be of interest to long time REH enthusiasts as well as to those new to Howard and his works.

I would like to thank a number of people, without whom this article would not have been possible: Rusty Burke, Frank Coffman, and Patrice Louinet. When it came to tracking down hard to find articles, poems, fragments, and original manuscripts, the assistance that these three fine REH scholars offered was simply invaluable. Not to mention their willingness to share with me their ideas and opinions. Rusty, Frank, Patrice - thank you!

I have truly enjoyed researching this topic and putting this article together. I hope you will find it a worthwhile read. And as I said in issue number 1, I am open to, desire, and look forward to your comments and constructive criticism. Please take the time to email me and let me know what you think. Enjoy!


Robert E. Howard

and

The Cthulhu Mythos

2001 Jeffrey D. Elmquist

 

Introduction

It seems that a popular belief maintains that while Robert E. Howard wrote only a handful of true Cthulhu Mythos Tales, references to Cthulhoid terms abound within his other works, especially within the Conan stories. Curtis M. Scott has implied that Cthuloid references in the writings of Robert E. Howard are “many . . . hidden like gargoyles within the architecture of the Conan saga.”[1] In his bibliography of the Cthulhu Mythos, Chris Jarocha-Ernst lists some 52 works by Howard, together containing a host of Cthuloid terms.[2] Did Howard truly make abundant use of Cthuloid terms outside of his four Mythos stories? If so, where? From where did Howard acquire these terms? To what extant were Howard’s writings influenced by the Mythos? And finally, what does an examination of Howard’s use of Cthuloid terms tell us about his creative method? These are the questions that this two-part article will explore. The insights to be gained are many, and help to illuminate our understanding not only of Howard’s creative method, but also, in my opinion, of the very origins of the Conan canon.

 

Part One

Gargoyles in the Architecture:

Robert E. Howard’s Use of Cthuloid Terms

In order to determine the extant of Howard’s use of Cthuloid terms, one must first define the limits to be placed on the description “Cthuloid”. A complete exploration of the origin and extent of the Cthulhu Mythos is well beyond the confines of this article. Let it suffice to say that different researchers define the Mythos and “Cthuloid” in a great many ways. Some of these definitions create a small canon of works, limiting the Mythos to only those stories which are very directly and specifically related to previous Mythos stories; those which succeed in building upon ideas or concepts already included in the Mythos. This approach of course, limits the inclusion of terms which may be considered “Cthuloid” to only a handful of terms.

Other researchers take a more liberal stance, including in the Mythos anything and everything which makes even the slightest reference to terms which might be considered Cthuloid. This more liberal interpretation includes within the Mythos, terms and tales which are linked very loosely by mere association. Chris Jarocha-Ernst refers to this in the preface of his bibliography:

This might more properly be called a bibliography of works in the Cthulhu Mythos universe, works I loosely refer to as “stories”. In general, if one “story” mentions something found in a second, accepted Mythos story, and if it treats it as real (i.e. not fictional), then that first story is a Mythos story, and mentions in a third story of things found in the first story make that third story a Mythos story, too.[3]

This method of Inclusion Via Association has padded the list of Cthuloid terms in general, and has also led to the popular belief that REH used a great number of such terms in his works. This is perhaps most vividly apparent in the Conan stories. Some scholars contend that “in the creation of the Hyborian Age, Howard used a portion of the Cthulhu Mythos as background material”.[4] Because of this, many researchers and fans include in the Mythos, by association, every single Conan story or novel ever written; and therefore define as “Cthuloid” terms which the author may or may not have ever actually intended to be associated with the Mythos. Applying this method of Inclusion Via Association may justify the identification of a great number of very loosely associated Cthuloid terms within the works of Robert E. Howard, especially in relation to the greater Cthulhu Mythos universe. However, this method achieves little in helping us understand what Cthuloid terms Howard used, purposely intending them to be recognized and identified as Cthuloid.

It is also popular within some circles to work inclusively with a Conan saga, rather than exclusively with the Conan canon. A Conan saga lumps all Conan stories together, including Conan pastiche written by authors other than Robert E. Howard, as well as the Conan films and comic books. The Conan Canon includes only those Conan stories and fragments written by Howard and left untouched by any editorial hand other than REH’s own. Making use of a Conan Saga when identifying Cthulhoid terms has almost certainly contributed to the popular belief that Howard made extensive use of Cthuloid terms in his writings. A number of stories within the Conan Saga written by such authors as De Camp, Carter, Nyberg, and Offutt contain numerous references to Cthuloid terms. However, in my opinion, research shows that Howard himself made use of these terms quite infrequently.

For the purposes of this article I have employed a much more narrow scope in order to pinpoint REH’s use of terms which may be identified as Cthuloid. Howard certainly invented his own Cthuloid terms (for example Unausssprechlichen Kulten or “Nameless Cults”) in addition to influencing the Cthulhu stories of others. However, I have limited my research only to those terms which were used in tales of the Cthulhu Mythos prior to being used by REH. I have also worked from the standpoint of an REH purist. I have analyzed only stories written by Howard himself. I have ignored versions of Howard stories which were completed by other authors, as well as stories based on Howard’s outlines but completed by others. My quest has been to identify only those previously existing Cthuloid terms that Howard himself made use of; NOT to identify terms found in Howard’s stories which might be associated with the Cthulhu Mythos universe.

What follows is an alphabetical index of all the Cthuloid terms that Howard borrowed or adapted. Included under each term are quotes and pertinent information describing when, where, and how REH used the term.

The system used for dating is as follows: All dates cited for Howard’s works are approximate dates of composition, derived mainly from Rusty Burke’s Fiction and Verse Timeline. In most cases, the dates cited for the work of other authors is the date of the first publication of the story. I have used this method based on the assumption that, generally, Howard would not have had access to another author’s story until it was published and therefore his own writing could not have been influenced by a term until after the date of the original source’s publication.

 

Cthuloid Terms Used by Robert E. Howard

The Black Stone (of England/of Hungary)

There among many strange things I found mention of the Black Stone, that curious sinister monolith that broods among the mountains of Hungary, and about which so many dark legends cluster.[5]

“What are these characters carved on the chain?”, I asked curiously. “I can not say,” Tussman replied. “I had thought perhaps you might know. I find a faint resemblance between them and certain partly defaced hieroglyphics on a monolith known as the Black Stone in the mountains of Hungary.”[6]

In the center of the chamber stood a grim, black altar; it had been rubbed all over with a sort of phosphorus, so that it glowed dully, lending a semi-illumination to the shadowy cavern. Towering behind it on a pedestal of human skulls, lay a cryptic black object, carven with mysterious hieroglyphics. The Black Stone![7]

The Blackness pressed in on all sides, and behind him he could see the entrance to the shaft from which he had just emerged - a black well in the darkness. But in front of him a strange grisly radiance glowed about a grim altar built of human skulls. The source of that light he could not determine, but on the altar lay a sullen night-black object - the Black Stone![8]

The Black Stone, the first Cthuloid term on the list, is quite exemplary of the tangled web one must unravel in order to discover the origins of many of these terms. Who was the first to use to the term in a Cthuloid context? At first, it would appear that REH was the first. Howard’s Black Stone of Hungary appears in his stories “The Black Stone” and “The Thing on the Roof”, both written late in 1930. The term Black Stone also shows up in a story by H.P. Lovecraft; “The Whisperer in Darkness”, first published in the August 1931 issue of Weird Tales. Howard then used the term again, this time for his Black Stone of England, in two more tales: “People of the Dark” and “Worms of the Earth”; Both of which were written toward the end of 1931.

Does this chronology imply mutual borrowing of the term - HPL borrowing the term from REH, and vice versa? No, I don’t believe it can. We know that HPL began writing “Whisperer” in February of 1930 and finished it in September.[9] Therefore, Lovecraft’s “Whisperer” was completed first, before Howard’s “Black Stone” or “Thing on the Roof”. We also know that REH did not read “Whisperer” until it was published in Weird Tales as his letters to HPL in 1930 and 1931 indicate.[10]

Confusing the matter, the Black Stone of Hungary and the Black Stone of England appear be stones of different types. Howard refers to the Black Stone of Hungary as a monolith, while the Black Stone of England is much smaller; small enough to be placed on an altar and for Bran Mak Morn to easily carry. I believe this smaller Black Stone of England is directly inspired by HPL’s Black Stone from “Whisperer”; also a smaller stone (small enough for a man to carry and ship via the US Postal Service) containing hieroglyphics. Like HPL’s Black Stone, which seems to exude a strange power over the evil creatures threatening Henry Akeley, REH’s Black Stone is the talisman which gives Bran power over the Worms of the Earth. The Black Stone of Hungary might be considered Cthuloid in that it figures prominently in two of Howard’s Lovecraft pastiches, but it does not appear that REH borrowed the term until later.

 

Cthulhu

Let them forget the false teachings of Confucius and Buddha, and the gods of Tibet, who had allowed their people to come under the yoke of the white-skinned devils. Let them rise under the leadership of the prophet the Old Ones had sent them and the great Cthulhu would sweep them all to victory.[11]

The great god Cthulhu was of course introduced to the world of weird fiction by H.P. Lovecraft when “The Call of Cthulhu” was published in the February 1928 issue of Weird Tales. Howard used the term in his Mythos tale “The Fire of Ashurbanipal”. He also used the term in “Children of the Night” (as well as the gods Tsathoggua and Yog-Sothoth), however, in that story, the context in which the term is used is that of a conversation in which the characters are speculating, with much doubt, as to whether or not the cults of Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, and Yog-Sothoth actually exist. Howard did use the term Cthulhu in another story, however. That story is “The Black Bear Bites”. And while the individual using the term in that story is only pretending to be a priest associated with the Cult, it is obvious that the characters do recognize that a Cthulhu cult does actually exist.

 

Hyperborea

Another Factor has added to the impetus of Hyborian drift. A tribe of that race has discovered the use of stone in building, and the first Hyborian kingdom has come into being - the rude and barbaric kingdom of Hyperborea, which had its beginning in a crude fortress of boulders heaped to repel tribal attack. . .

There are few more dramatic events in history than the rise of the rude, fierce kingdom of Hyperborea, whose people turned abruptly from their nomadic life to rear dwellings of naked stone, surrounded by cyclopean walls - a race scarcely emerged from the polished stone age, who by a freak of chance, learned the first rude principles of architecture.[12]

Hyperborea has its origin in Greek mythology. For the Greeks, Hyperborea was a continental paradise far to the north; the name Hyperborea apparently having at its root a Greek word meaning “behind the North Wind”.[13] Madame Helena Petrova Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical movement, expounded upon the myth of Hyperborea. She including it in her Secret Doctrine, a fanciful work purporting to be an accurate account of the rise and evolution of the human races.[14]

Clark Ashton Smith was the first to use Hyperborea as a background world for his weird fiction. His first use of the term appears in “The Last Incantation”, published in the June 1930 issue of Weird Tales, in which the wizard Malygris has access to deadly “runes of a lost language of Hyperborea”.[15] Smith then used Hyperborea as the prehistoric setting for his Mythos tale “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros”, first published in the November 1931 issue of Weird Tales. This story is especially memorable as the tale which introduced the Cthuloid god Tsathoggua to the world of weird fiction.

Sometime early in 1932, probably around March or April, Howard composed his fictional essay detailing the history of Conan’s world - “The Hyborian Age”.[16] Whether Howard’s use of Hyperborea was influenced by Greek mythology, Madame Blavatsky, CAS, or a combination of all three is uncertain. I think we can safely assume that Howard would have been at least familiar with the Greek Myth. We can not be sure that Howard read any of Blavatsky’s works. We do know that REH had read articles by Rene Thevenin, containing speculation on Anthropology and Geology; including the lost continent of Lemuria.[17] Whether Thevenin’s articles contained references to Hyperborea is unknown to this researcher as I have not been able to located copies of Thevenin’s articles.

Since we can assume that Howard read most issues of Weird Tales beginning as early as 1924[18] and because he greatly admired Smith’s stories and style[19], it seems much more likely that Howard was inspired by Clark Ashton Smith in his assimilation of Hyperborea into his own Hyborian Age.

Did Howard actually intend a Cthuloid association for his Hyperborea? I think he did. It can hardly be a coincidence that Howard used the word “cyclopean” to describe the architecture of the Hyperboreans. That, of course, being the term that H.P. Lovecraft used again and again throughout his Mythos tales in describing the architecture of his own Cthuloid beings.

 

Nameless Old Ones

Now the mists grew lighter, and he saw that he was in a great, dark corridor that seemed to be cut in solid black stone. It was unlighted, but by some magic he could see plainly. The floor, ceiling, and walls were highly polished and gleamed dully, and they were carved with the figures of ancient heroes and half-forgotten gods. He shuddered to see the vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones, and he knew somehow that mortal feet had not traversed the corridor for centuries.[20]

The term Nameless Old Ones was used first by HPL in “The Dunwich Horror”, published in April of 1929. But can we be certain that Howard’s intention in using this term was to make reference to Lovecraft’s ultra-powerful alien beings? Yes we can. The quote above is from the Conan story “Phoenix on the Sword” and (with the exception of a few commas added by L. Sprague de Camp) is just as it reads in its original publication in Weird Tales. Below is the same passage exactly as it appears in Howard’s original manuscript.

Now the mists faded somewhat, though they still swirled greyly about him, and he saw that he was in a great corridor, that seemed to be cut through solid black rock. The corridor was unlighted, but by some magic he could see plainly. The floor, ceiling and walls were highly polished and gleamed dully in the shadows, and they were carved with the figures of ancient heroes and half-forgotten gods, so that he shuddered to see the vast shadowy outlines of Cthulhu, Tsathogua, Yog-Sothoth, and theNameless Old Ones.[21]

Based on Howard’s original manuscript, there can be no doubt that the term “Nameless Old Ones”, as it appears in this story, is a Cthuloid term, and was intended as such by Howard himself.

In “The Black Bear Bites” Howard used the term “Old Ones” in close association with the god Cthulhu (see quote above under Cthulhu). It seems quite probable that in that instance Howard had in mind the Nameless Old Ones, and intended a Cthuloid association for the term.

 

R’lyeh

Black Gods of R’lyeh, even you would I invoke to the ruin and destruction of those butchers![22]

It may seem odd that Bran Mak Morn, king of the Picts, would mention the alien city R’lyeh, built millions of years before recorded history and sunken beneath the southern Pacific Ocean. However, Howard can not have used the term intending to refer to anything else. The term first appeared in HPL’s story “The Whisperer in Darkness”. Howard was a great fan of that story and counted it among the greatest in weird fiction. As we have already seen, “Whisperer” was first published in the August 1931 issue of Weird Tales. It is no coincidence then that Howard made use of the term in “Worms of the Earth” written just a few months later that same year.

In addition to the terms above, Howard also made use of a number of Cthuloid terms, which he used in contexts quite different than the original author. A list of these terms follows.

 

Dagon

I came to Dagon’s cave to kill Richard Brent.[23]

“Enter, master,” said she, “if you do not fear to share the roof of the witch-woman of Dagon-moor!”[24]

“Go to the mound men call Dagon’s Barrow . . .”[25]

When I lie dying I will remember my first view of Dagon Manor, the accursed.[26]

The first association of Dagon, the ancient Canaanite/Philistine deity, with the Cthulhu Mythos seems to have been made by H.P. Lovecraft in his tale “Dagon” published in 1919. REH, however, does not use the term to refer directly to that ancient deity. It might be possible the Howard’s use of the term was influenced by the writings of Herbert S. Gorman. Howard and Lovecraft discussed Gorman’s writings in their correspondence of December 1930. Gorman’s tale “The Place Called Dagon” does involve a witch-cult.[27] This might indicate a parallel between Gorman’s story and Howard’s witch of Dagon-moor in “Worms of the Earth”. However, we can not be sure that Howard actually read Gorman’s story. Howard may have drawn on his own personal knowledge of ancient history and mythology in using the term. Or, the influence may have been biblical. The ancient god Dagon appears in a narrative about the Ark of the Covenant in 1 Samuel 5:1-7 as well as the story of Samson in Judges 16:23. Howard himself testified that Samson fell into the “snatches here and there” of Biblical history that interested him.[28]

 

Yog

. . . since the beginning of happenings, the demons of the desert have worshipped Yog, the Lord of the Empty Abodes, with fire - fire that devours human victims.”[29]

Did Howard intend the reader of “Shadows in Zamboula” to associate Yog with Lovecraft’s Yog-Sothoth? Some researchers think so. At face value this possibility seems likely. We know that Howard had read Lovecraft's tale "The Dunwich Horror" in which Yog-Sothoth is the god of primary focus, and we also know that Howard greatly admired that tale.[30] Also, as we saw earlier in the case of “Old Ones” and “Nameless Old Ones” it seems that at times Howard did shorten names or terms while keeping the original clearly in mind. The key to the discernment of this passage may be found in the description of Yog as “Lord of the Empty Abodes”. This does not seem to be an epithet previously associated with Yog-Sothoth. However, Yog-Sothoth’s opponent Norden has been described as “Lord of the Great Abyss”[31], an epithet similar to that which Howard ascribes to Yog. While it certainly seems probable that Howard may have been influenced by the Mythos universe in creating the god Yog, it does not appear that he intended Yog to be identified with Yog-Sothoth.

 

Conclusion

This, I believe, concludes the list of Cthuloid terms that Howard borrowed or adapted from others. As you can see, Howard's use of Cthuloid terms outside of his own Mythos stories was rather infrequent, escpecially given the large volume of stories that Howard wrote throughout his career. While the Conan saga may contain numerous Cthuloid references, it is obvious that Cthuloid terms in Howard's Conan stories are extemely sparse; one definite (two if you count "The Hyborian Age" as a being part of the Conan Canon) and one possibility. There are certainly additional terms considered Cthuloid that Howard used, such as Atlantis, Lemuria, Mu, and Serpent-people. However, in these cases, my research shows that their relation to the Cthulhu Mythos has been created via the Inclusion via Association method mentioned above. Therefore, they have been ignored in this study, as it has been my intention to examine Howard’s use of Cthuloid terms first used by others.

It is quite possible that I have overlooked other appearances of Cthuloid terms in Howard's works and have unintentionally omitted them from this essay. As much as I would like to, I can not claim to have read every single thing ever written by REH; and I certainly have not read everything written by the countless others who may have influenced him. I welcome the comments and input of fellow REH and Mythos enthusiasts. If you think there are terms or information not included on this list that should be, please email me and let me know. It is my hope that with the support and approval of REHeapa’s online editor, this list can be updated from time to time as new discoveries are made.

Finally, this research would be pointless if we did not ask some deeper questions. What does all of this tell us about how Howard’s writing was influenced by the Mythos? And, what does all of this tell us about Robert E. Howard’s creative method? These are questions that will be answered in part two of this essay in the next posting of Exedrae.

 

Notes

1. Curtis M. Scott. Gurps Conan: The World of Robert E. Howard's Barbarian Hero. (Austin,TX: Steve Jackson Games, 1989), p. 9.

2. Chris Jarocha-Ernst. A Cthulhu Mythos Bibliography & Concordance. (Seattle, WA: Armitage House, 1999), p. 109-114.

3. Ibid., p. viii.

4. Ben Solon. "Howard's Cthuloid Tales" in The Blade of Conan, L. Sprague de Camp, ed. (New York: Ace, 1982), p. 144-145.

5. Robert E. Howard. "The Black Stone" in Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors. (New York: Baen, 1989), p. 8.

6. Robert E. Howard. "The Thing on the Roof" in Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors, p. 65.

7. Robert E. Howard. "The People in the Dark" in Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors, p. 154.

8. Robert E. Howard. "Worms of the Earth" in Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors, p. 192.

9. J.T. Joshi. Explanatory notes to "The Whisperer in Darkness" in The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, H.P. Lovecraft. (New York: Penguin, 1999), p. 401.

10. See the entry for H.P. Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness" in Rusty Burke, The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf. (REHupa, 1998).

11. Robert E. Howard. "The Black Bear Bites" in Swords of Shahrazar. (New York: Berkely, 1978), p. 155-156.

12. Robert E. Howard. "The Hyborian Age" in Red Nails. (New York: Berkely, 1977), p. 255-256.

13. Lin Carter. "Introduction" in Hyperborea, Clark Ashton Smith. (New York: Ballantine, 1971), p. xi.

14. Ibid., p. xi-xii.

15. Clark Ashton Smith. "The Last Incantation" in Poseidonis. (New York: Ballantine, 1973), p. 13.

16. Patrice Louinet. "The Birth of Conan" in The Dark Man #4, Rusty Burke, ed. (West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press).

17. See the entry for "Thevenin, Rene" in Rusty Burke, The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf.

18. See the entry for "Weird Tales" in Rusty Burke, The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf.

19. See the entry for "Smith, Clark Ashton" in Rusty Burke, The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf.

20. Robert E. Howard. "The Phoenix on the Sword" in Conan the Usurper. (New York: Ace, 1986), p. 188-189.

21. Robert E. Howard. "The Phoenix on the Sword" Draft A, page 14. (Quote provided by Patrice Louinet)

22. Robert E. Howard. "Worms of the Earth" in Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors, p. 174-175.

23. Robert E. Howard. "People in the Dark" in Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors, p. 145.

24. Robert E. Howard. "Worms of the Earth" in Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors, p. 186.

25. Ibid., p. 189.

26. Robert E. Howard. "Dagon Manor" in The New Howard Reader #3. (Omaha, NB: Joe and Mona Marek, 1998), p. 24.

27. See the entry for "Gorman" in Rusty Burke, The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf.

28. See the entry for "The Bible" in Rusty Burke, The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf. For the etymology of the name Dagon see Karel van der Toorn, ed., Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999), p. 216-219.

29. Robert E. Howard. "Shadows in Zamboula" in The Essential Conan. (Science Fiction Bookclub, 1998), p. 504.

30. See the entries for "Lovecraft, H.P." and Lovecraft's "Dunwich Horror" in Rusty Burke, The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf.

31. Daniel Harms. Encyclopedia Cthulhiana. (Oakland, CA: Chaosium, 1994), p. 240.