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Southwestern Discomfit: An Analysis of Gary Romeo’s Controversial Article on Robert E. Howard and Racism

Posted by Damon Sasser on 20th December 2011

by Mark Finn

Author’s Note: I am indebted to fellow scholars Jess Nevins, Rob Roehm, and Barbara Barrett for their comments and also in the sharing of their research with me in the rewriting of this paper. MF

Introduction

REHupa #173 was a watershed mailing, way back in February 2002, for a number of reasons. Significantly, it was the mailing that featured Gary Romeo’s article, “Southern Discomfort.” As I read the article, I immediately noticed that Gary, in constructing his argument, was so interested in trawling the bottom that he willfully overlooked so much better stuff closer to the surface. It made me angry, and it made me instantly defensive. What I wanted to do was first ask Gary: what was your point in writing the article? Who is the target audience for it? And then I wanted to take it apart, piece by piece in my next mailing.

But I didn’t. I was new, and I didn’t want to rock the boat, or make any enemies right away. So I held my tongue. Besides, I wondered, I had no idea what my fellow REHupans thought about any of this. Maybe they agreed with Gary.

As it turned out, they did not. In the subsequent mailings, several of the older and more experienced REHupa members took Gary to task, and took a number of calculated swings at his essay, his methodology, and even his intent. I felt a lot better about my involvement in REHupa, but I regretted never having a chance to tee off on the topic.

When the REHupa website started up, it was determined that more recent, more approachable articles could also be listed on the site, if any member so wanted. Gary was one of the few people who stepped up to the plate and actually handed out articles to post. Along with his other Pro-de Camp essays was “Southern Discomfort.” I watched it go up, go live, and bit my tongue. After all, I thought, who was I to say that Gary could list all the rest of his articles, except that one? That’s when I got the idea of first doing a counterpoint article, just to balance out Gary’s essay, especially now that it was devoid of its context within the REHupa mailings and commentary structure. But at the time, I was working on what would become Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, and so, I thought, I had bigger fish to fry.

Now it’s 2011. I’ve been a member in REHupa for nearly ten years now. And it’s high time I took a whacking stick to “Southern Discomfort” publicly. It has needed it for a long time, particularly since it’s one of the most popular things accessed on the REHupa website. The number of links to it from external blogs, websites, and citations used to indicate that yes, Robert E. Howard was indeed a racist, because look, right here, this guy says so on the experts’ website, are too numerous to count. That’s the problem with Internet research: it’s grab and go, and no effort is made to fact-check it.

Well, you may consider this the official fact-check. This article assumes that someone has already read “Southern Discomfort” and want to know more about whether or not Robert E. Howard was a racist or not. If you would like the background to “Southern Discomfort,” you can go here [1] and read all about it. You can also read the initial reactions to Gary’s piece here.[2]

 Deconstructing “Southern Discomfort”

The single biggest problem with Gary’s article is that it’s unfocused and attempts to cover so much ground that his argument is spread rather thin. He uses letter quotes, biographical sources (both recounted private conversations and reminiscences), and quotes from Howard’s fiction to say that Howard was a racist, and then goes into a lengthy comparison of one of Howard’s horror stories—the most racially charged story Howard ever wrote—as if this was the sort of thing that Howard wrote all of the time. Moreover, he compares Howard’s short story, which first appeared in the pulp magazine Weird Tales (and was written with that audience in mind), with the fourth novel of a man known for his sympathetic views towards African-Americans in the forties and fifties.

It’s a set-up, from start to finish. Gary made no attempt to level the playing field by comparing Howard to other pulp authors. In his haste to make his argument that Howard was a racist, he ignored or downplayed all of the instances where Howard cast ethnic characters in a favorable or sympathetic light. The amount of material that Gary never talked about in his essay is astonishing. As a result, his argument is too narrowly framed to be of any real use to anyone, by virtue of his myriad of omissions.

Comparing Erskine Caldwell to Robert E. Howard as any kind of racial barometer is a ridiculously unfair juxtaposition. Gary says the comparison is apt, but he’s just wrong. Yes, they were both writers, and lived in the south (or southwest), but there the similarities end. Wayne Mixon, of Augusta State University, said about Caldwell’s writing, “Caldwell’s focus on the issues of class and race was more intense than that of any other white southern writer of his generation.” Those things were only of tangential and historical interest to Howard, thematically speaking. Caldwell made those the central focus in his work (and was pilloried by his community for decades because of it). Howard focused more on the elemental conflict between two warring factions, and most frequently members of different ethnic groups or “races.” Caldwell wrote novels and stories for high end magazines. Howard wrote mostly short stories for the pulps, and in a variety of genres. Excepting Howard’s own singular idea of “realism” in his fiction, he is known as the Father of Sword and Sorcery as we currently define it. There’s no real common ground between the two authors. By setting up criteria that inherently favors Caldwell, and not countering the argument with any positive race portrayals by Howard, Gary’s ringer automatically wins.

Gary begins his essay with a simplified explanation of the Hyborian Age and Conan’s world. This is followed by a couple of examples of racially-charged language, cited from an L. Sprague de Camp article on how he personally chose to edit the Conan stories. Finally, Gary begrudgingly states that the stereotyping language utilized in the Conan stories could be dismissed as standard conventions of the pulps and pulp writers in general. I would add that such stereotyping was, in fact, in wide practice throughout all of popular culture at this time—radio, the movies, magazines, newspapers, the theater…and it was universal, particularly for comedians and humor writers. When you consider that roughly one third of Howard’s professional work could be categorized as humorous, that fact is crucial. Gary then states: “But Howard has grown popular, and with increased popularity, comes increased scrutiny.” On this point, I do agree with Gary completely, and we have certainly seen increased scrutiny in Howard’s work over this past decade.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Howard's Writing, Influences, L. Sprague de Camp, Popular Culture, Pulps, Weird Tales |

REH Word of the Week: caballero

Posted by Jeff Shanks on 5th September 2011

noun

1. a Spanish gentleman; a cavalier
2. a man who is skilled in riding and managing horses; a horseman.

[from Spanish: gentleman, horseman, from Late Latin caballārius rider, horse groom, from caballus horse]

HOWARD’S USAGE:

Then Steve yelped in exultation as his pick rang on a bit of metal. He snatched it up and held it close to his eyes, straining in the waning, light. It was caked and corroded with rust, worn almost paper-thin, but he knew it for what it was–a spur-rowel, unmistakably Spanish with its long cruel points. And he halted, completely bewildered. No Spaniard ever reared this mound, with its undeniable marks of aboriginal workmanship. Yet how came that relic of Spanish caballeros hidden deep in the packed soil?

[From “The Horror from the Mound,” originally published in Weird Tales May 1932; to read the complete story see The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard (Del Rey 2008), pp. 185-199.]

Posted in History, Howard's Writing, Weird Tales, Word of the Week |

The Singer in the Mist – New Book of REH’s Weird Tales Poetry

Posted by Damon Sasser on 16th April 2010

Copies of this new collection of all of Howard’s poetry that appeared in Weird  Tales are currently listed on eBay by bookseller Realms of Fantasy Books.  The book is a UK publication from Stanza Press. Here are the details:

When the history of fantasy and horror fiction is being discussed, the pulp magazine Weird Tales is inevitably mentioned. Published on low-grade “pulp” paper, Weird Tales was the first newsstand magazine devoted exclusively to weird and fantastic fiction. It ran for 279 issues, from March 1923 to September 1954.

The three most important and influential writers to have their work published in the title were Rhode Island horror writer H.P. Lovecraft; the Texan creator of Conan the Cimmerian, Robert E. Howard; and the California poet, short story writer, illustrator and sculptor, Clark Ashton Smith.

“The Complete Poems from Weird Tales” series collects their verse in the order that it originally appeared in the pages of “The Unique Magazine”.

THE SINGER IN THE MIST & Others by ROBERT E. HOWARD

“ROBERT E. HOWARD (1906-1936) is best known for his series of stories about Conan the Barbarian. However, Howard was also a prolific writer of fantasy, horror, historical adventure, Westerns, detective, sports stories, true confessions and other genre fiction, including poetry.”
-Stephen Jones

CONTENTS

The Song of the Bats
The Ride of Falume
The Riders of Babylon
Remembrance
The Gates of Nineveh
The Harp of Alfred
Easter Island
Crete
Moon Mockery
Forbidden Magic
The Moor Ghost
Dead Man’s Hate
A Song Out of Midian
Shadows on the Road
Black Chant Imperial
The Song of a Mad Minstrel
The Last Day
Arkham
An Open Window
Autumn
The Soul-Eater
The Dream and the Shadow
Which Will Scarcely Be Understood
Futility
Fragment
Haunting Columns
The Poets
The Singer in the Mist
The Last Hour
Ships
Lines Written in the Realization That I Must Die
Recompense
The Ghost Kings
The King and the Oak
Desert Dawn

Introduction by Stephen Jones

Cover Art by Gary Gianni

47 Pages

300 Copies

Posted in Howard's Writing, news, Weird Tales |

Howard Scholarship – The Real Deal

Posted by indy on 17th September 2009

To say that Howard Scholarship has come a long way in the last 12 years borders on hyperbole, but in the interest of REH getting his just due, check out these Calls for Papers from Justin Everett. (Note that there are two separate calls for proposals):

CALL FOR PROPOSALS FOR A PROPOSED SESSION ON HEROISM AND VILLAINY IN WEIRD FICTION, 1925-1945

SW/TX PCA/ACA CONFERENCE, FEBRUARY 10-13, 2010

Science Fiction/Fantasy Area 

Between 1925 and 1945, “pulp” magazines were the primary means of distribution for “weird fiction” which would quickly evolve into the semi-separate categories of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.  Though film and radio had begun to make an impact, the mass market paperback industry was in its infancy, and television was still years away.  In the particularly tumultuous years between the stock market crash of 1929 and the end of the Second World War, the pulps provided much more than a means of escape—they were a conduit for coming to grips with the rapid acceleration of technology, the theory of evolution, particle physics and other scientific revolutions.  Beyond this, they allowed the formative writers of the new literatures places (topoi) to debate the virtues and vices of the newly modern world.

The proposed session will consist of four presentations that discuss the roles of heroism and villainy, broadly conceived, as manifest in the pages of Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, and other pulps.  Proposed papers may address, but are not limited to, the following themes:

  • The impact of editors on the evolution of weird fiction (such as Farnsworth Wright’s influence on Weird Tales)
  • Feminism in the early pulps (C. L. Moore’s Jiril of Jiory and others)
  • Robert E. Howard’s concept of the barbarian hero (Kull, Conan, Bran Mak Morn, and variations of the barbarian—Francis X. Gordon, Solomon Kane)
  • H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos
  • The impact of the Lovecraft Circle:  Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derlath and others
  • The violence of Nature in Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Moore, Howard, and others
  • Clark Ashton Smith and the theme of necromancy
  • The ‘new’ Lovecraft Circle:  The Cthulhu Mythos in recent fiction
  • Lovecraft and Howard on film
  • Pulps in MMORPGs such as Age of Conan:  Hyborian Adventures

Please submit 250 word abstracts of proposed papers to:  j.everet@usp.edu.

Submission Deadline:  October 15, 2009

 

CALL FOR PROPOSALS FOR A PROPOSED SESSION ON ROBERT E. HOWARD

AT THE PCA/ACA CONFERENCE, MARCH 31-APRIL 3, 2010

Science Fiction/Fantasy Area

Robert E. Howard is arguably one of the most influential writers to contribute to the early evolution of American fantasy, but he continues to be one of the least-studied contributors to early pulp magazines.  His contemporaries H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber and others have received more critical attention though Howard almost single-handedly created the sword-and-sorcery genre that was imitated by C. L. Moore and Fritz Leiber, and continues to influence contemporary writers.  Though a number of biographies have chronicled the pulpster’s brief and tragic life, very little analysis of his work has appeared.  The recent publication of The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard by the Robert E. Howard Foundation in three volumes, and the upcoming A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E . Howard, have set the stage for invigorating Howard scholarship.

The proposed session will consist of four presentations that discuss Howard’s contributions to the development of the genre of sword-and-sorcery, and may address, but are not limited to, the following themes:

  • The evolution of the genre through specific “series,” including Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Kull, the Gaelic heroes, and Conan.
  • The development of themes in particular series:  moral justice in Solomon Kane; racial degradation in Bran Mak Morn; the immorality of civilization in Kull’s Valusia; the barbarism/civilization debate as manifest in the Conan tales.
  • The evolution of Howard’s idealized barbarian hero across different series or within a particular character (Kull’s evolution from Am-ra to Kull; Brule and the Picts; Bran Mak Morn and the degenerate Picts; Conan’s manifestations as youth, pirate, and eventually king).
  • Elements of sword-and-sorcery in Howard’s historical tales and horror tales.
  • Howard’s theory of race and its contribution to the development of the barbarian hero.
  • Howardian influences in other writers such as Leiber’s Lankhmar series and Moore’s Jiril of Jiory.
  • Evolutionary themes in Howard’s work.
  • Howard’s epistolary relationships with other writers.
  • Howard’s influence on later writers such as Robert Jordan.

Please submit 100-250 word abstracts of proposed papers to:  j.everet@usp.edu.

Submission Deadline:  October 15, 2009

 I’m sure Mr. Everett can answer any questions.

Justin Everett, Ph.D., Interim Director of Writing Programs, Mayes College of Healthcare Business and Policy, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, 600 S. 43rd St., Philadelphia, PA  19104, 215-596-8736.

Posted in Conventions, Howard's Writing, news, Popular Culture, Weird Tales |

Edmond Hamilton Day

Posted by morgan on 27th July 2009

hamilton-cardSaturday, July 18 was the day for the first Edmond Hamilton Day held in Kinsman, Ohio. Edmond Hamilton (1904-1977) was a colleague of Robert E. Howard, appearing in Weird Tales from 1936-1948 with 76 stories. There were six multi-part novellas and novels such as “The Lake of Life,” “The Time Raider,” “Outside the Universe,” “Across Space,” “Crashing Suns,” and “The Fire Princess.” Hamilton was the mainstay of science-fiction within “The Unique Magazine.” Hamilton married Leigh Brackett, someone unabashed in her admiration of Robert E. Howard in 1947. They spent their summers in Kinsman, Ohio and winters in southern California.

     Kinsman is 64 miles from my house. It took me about an hour and 15 minutes of driving to get there through the lush, green countryside due to the coolest July on record and plentiful rain this year. I would guess Kinsman to be around 1,000 inhabitants or less. It may be the same size as Cross Plains or a little smaller. Don Sutton of the Kinsman Historical Society sponsered the event at his general store right on the town square. I have to say that the soda bar there serves up about as fine of a milk-shake as I have had anywhere. A few Ohio pulps fans including Dave Scroggs made it there. Steve Haffner of Haffner Press debuted three volumes in the Collected Edmond Hamilton series: The Metal Giants and Others, The Star Stealers: The Complete Tales of the Interstellar Patrol and The Collected Captain Future Volume One. Haffner Press books are nice sized tomes reprinting tons of never before reprinted science fiction on archival quality paper and excellent binding. Don’t let these get away!

     Kay Alderdice and her husband took me over to the Hamilton House outside of town and also to the grave yard at the Presbyterian Church. A number of the locals bought Haffner Press books as many knew the Hamiltons. The slide show and presentation by Don Sutton at the Presbyterian Church was well attended with a display of Hamilton books. I had a chance to talk to Chuck Fenn who used to mow the lawn for the Hamiltons in his younger days. I learned quite a bit about the personalities of both Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett including what cars they drove. The 1964 Corvette for example was Brackett’s and not Hamiltons. She also did the driving. Chuck also brought a painted map of Brackett’s Mars that someone had painted for her.

     After the slide show of Hamilton and Brackett pictures, the group walked to the gravesite of Ed Hamilton and Leigh Brackett and gave a libation. This was a good start for what will be hopefully an annual event. Nice to have something like Howard Days within easy driving distance.

july18kinsmanoh-012

Posted in Popular Culture, Weird Tales |