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Archive for the 'Marginalia' Category

You’re So Vain or How to Become a World Renown Author in Five Easy Steps

Posted by Damon Sasser on 10th January 2010


First, collect 16 Public Domain stories by some of the world’s most famous fantasy and horror authors, including Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft.

Second, mix in some of your own inferior fanboy fiction that Mommy helped you write.

Third, stir in insipid introductions, sprinkle on a ridiculous title (one from of your own stories, natch) and add an odd-looking cover illustration you found on the internet that has nothing to do with the book.

Fourth, half-bake content, print copies through a vanity publisher and serve up on a dung garnished dish to the public.

Fifth, pass yourself off as an equal to these great authors to gain instant credibility and get lots of hot chicks (you know, the sexy librarian and schoolgirl types).

One Barry “Who the Hell is He?” Gillis has successfully followed this recipe for disaster with his ghastly volume titled The Day They Hanged My Best Friend Jimmy… And 21 Other Weird Tales.  You can read the mind-numbing, jaw-dropping title story here.

Needless to say, all the authors who have been posthumously dragged into this nightmare are spinning in their graves. I’d hate to be this guy in the afterlife when he meets some or all of these writers because he is in for one heck of a buttkickin’.

It seems every wingnut in the world wants to get in on the literary action and modern technology makes all so very easy. First DiPietro, then Van Ostrand, and now Barry J. Gillis. I think my head is going to explode all over again.

Posted in Marginalia, news |

The Ship From Atlantis

Posted by morgan on 9th September 2009

I have lately been rereading some favorite past novels. One that I have been meaning to return to for years was H. Warner Munn’s King of the World’s Edge. Munn was one of those solid second stringers for Weird Tales magazine. He had a total of eleven stories in WT including one 3 part serial and one 4 part serial.  He was not prolific but generally more than competent. King of the World’s Edge was Munn’s last contribution to Weird Tales running September to December 1939 catching the very end of the Farnsworth Wright era. A quasi-sword and sorcery novel concerning survivors of the Battle of Camlann and King Arthur’s death. Merlin leads survivors on a ship across the Atlantic to build a sanctuary from the Saxons. Adventure upon adventure ensues as the Roman-Britons lead a revolt against a Mayan colony who are the mound builders of the American Mid-West.

Ship from AtlantisThe novel was later reprinted by Ace Books in the 1960s. Munn returned with a sequel entitled The Ship from Atlantis (1967). Merlin sends the son of Ventidius Varro in a ship to find out what has happened in Britain. Gwalchmai finds a survivor from Atlantis in suspended animation. When she awakens, she tells her tale and Valusia and Cimmeria pop up.  Robert E. Howard name checking goes back to H. P. Lovecraft’s mention of Crom-Ya, a Cimmerian chieftain in “The Shadow Out of Time.” Leigh Brackett did it with her Conan in “Lorelei of the Red Mists” and her mention of Cimmeria in “Lord of the Earthquake” and Crom the space vampire fighting barbarian in “The Cube From Space.” Gardner Fox did the same thing using Lovecraft names in his pulp stories in the 1940s. Eventually, four Weird Tales alumni– H. Warner Munn, Frank Belknap Long, Manly Wade Wellman, and Joseph Payne Brennan all contributed to the round robin novel, Ghor Kin-Slayer along with fellow contemporary pulpster, A. E. van Vogt.

You never know where Robert E. Howard, his legacy, or one of his creations is going to turn up.

Posted in Marginalia |

The Issue at Hand

Posted by morgan on 31st January 2009

There is no accounting for taste but I am still surprised by reviews and critical essays. I recently bought The Issue at Hand and More Issues at Hand by James Blish. Both of these books are collections of reviews-critical essays written under the pseudonym “William Atheling, Jr.” One essay called “Negative Judgement: Swashbungling, Series and Second-Guessing” ran in two fanzines in late 1953-early 1954. The target of the essay itself is a Poul Anderson story, “The Immortal Game,” (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Feb. 1954). Blish as Atheling has this to say about Poul Anderson:

     “Over this mechanical performance broods the spirit of Anderson the Barbarian, Thane of Minneapolis, Bard of Scandinavianism–the side of the writer’s pesonality, in short, which emerged during his long apprenticeship to Planet Stories. Nobody should need to be reminded that Anderson can write well, but this is seldom evident while is in his Scand avatar, when he seems invariably to be writing in his sleep. Boucher and McComas may see in all these romantic names and flourishes of battleaxes a ‘tragic epic’ with ‘incomparable romantic sweep,’ but what the average reader is more likely to see is the style of a romanticist-manque, and he is more likely to compare it to Branch Cabell than to Matthew Arnold.”

I am 180 degrees out of sync with James Blish, I always thought Poul Anderson’s fiction went up a notch or two in personality when he added the “Northern Thing” to it. Blish is probably referring to Anderson yarns in Planet Stories such as “Witch of the Demon Seas,” “Swordsman of Lost Terra,” and “The Virgin of Valkarion.” Even “Starship” has some sword-slinging going on. I happen to love those stories. They are full of testosterone and adventure. They also display a heavy Robert E. Howard influence. This review came out before Anderson’s greatest novel, The Broken Sword. I can imagine what Blish would have thought about that.

In another essay called “Exit Ephues: The Monstrosities of Merritt,” Blish deconstructs A. Merritt delineating between fantasies such as The Metal Monster and more hard-boiled fare such as Seven Footprints to Satan. Blish makes a swipe at H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith along the way denouncing them– “have a marked tendency to tell them (stories) though their noses.” Going through some of his reviews-essays, I notice that Blish had no use for mixing fantasy and science fiction into “science-fantasy.”

I have not found anything by Blish on Robert E. Howard which is unusual considering he had commented on HPL and CAS but I am still looking.

Posted in Marginalia |

Robot Chicken asks: “Conan, what is best in life?”

Posted by admin on 7th November 2008

Great to be back amongst the Rehupan Brethern. Virtually anyway.

Here’s a video that’s somehow missed posting so far, I put it on my webspace at work cause its a bit weighty:


BreckenRich Jervis

ps: this is a test, feel free to ignore

Posted in Marginalia, Movies, REH Days, Reviews |

Adventures in Library Book Sales

Posted by morgan on 15th June 2008

Last Sunday started the annual Great American Book Sale by the Erie County Library. I have been going the past 15 years always on the first day. For some reason, it is always the first really hot day of the summer and this was no exception with 90 degree weather. To make it worse, the gymnasium where the sale is held is cramped and not especially well ventilated. I jostle my way in always amazed at people with baby strollers on one hand and those completely unprepared having no bags on the other. I have my handy Windy City Pulp Show bag with me + plastic bags as backup.

I always make my way immediately to the science fiction section which is also combined with mystery. There is maybe 10% science fiction, fantasy, horror and 90% mystery. Those surrounding the table are a study in contrast. You have the blue haired women grabbing up their year’s worth of books for reading. You are afraid if one gets touched, they will go down and break a hip. The other group is the geek squad. Generally bespectacled fish belly white people wearing T-shirts several sizes too short speaking their strange language. I was amazed to see one female of this type all a twitter at finding some Gor novels. I thought those were supposed to be aimed at teenage boys.

In years past I have had some good luck procuring Harold Lamb’s The Curved Saber and also the Gnome Press edition of Conan the Conqueror with dust wrapper for $1.00. A few years back I got a stack of Centaur paperbacks including the rare Werewolf of Ponkert (H. Warner Munn). So you never know what may show up. This year had a set of the Popular Library editions of Jules de Grandin stories by Seabury Quinn. Those came out in the late 1970s with Vincent DiFate covers. Robert Weinberg edited the series which contained six books. There are supposed to be Steve Fabian illustrations and I am not sure if the drawings of de Grandin and Trowbridge is Virgil Finlay from Weird Tales or Steve Fabian imitating Virgil Finlay. There are introductions by Lin Carter, Robert A. W. Lowndes, and Manly Wade Wellman and afterwords by Robert Weinberg. This series was a good way to pick up the best stories in the longest running series in Weird Tales. Lovecraft hated Jules de Grandin and L. Sprague de Camp was pretty hard on the series in his Lovecraft biography. But, the series proved popular enough with readers of Weird Tales to run from the 1920 to the 1940s. If you read the stories intermittlently, they are not too bad. I would not recommend reading all these books back to back. So, it wasn’t too bad of a library book sale this year.

Posted in Marginalia |

The Winds of Zarr

Posted by morgan on 7th January 2008


The Winds of Zarr by Richard L. Tierney is a novel that combines H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, time travel, and the Bible all in one. It is one of those kitchen sink novels that succeds beyond any others I have read. Far better than Brian Lumley novels such as Spawn of the Winds which also combines Lovecraft with Howard.

The Winds of Zarr was originally published by the Silver Scarab Press in 1975. I found out a few months ago the publisher still has copies. If you are interested in getting this fine novel, you can get it for $15.00 post paid. Send a check to Harry Morris, 502 Elm St, Albuquerque, NM. 87102-3925.

Posted in Marginalia |

Meet Cap’n Kidd

Posted by Rusty Burke on 17th October 2007

In The Cross Plains Review for May 5, 1922, I ran across the following article about a “Spanish Jack” (a donkey) that exhibited some personality characteristics similar to those Howard would later ascribe to Breck Elkins’ horse, Cap’n Kidd. The story apparently originally appeared in the Baird Star.

(Baird Star)

H.A. McWhorter, whose ranch is on the Bayou, twenty miles south of Baird, had a thrilling set-to with a Spanish Jack, turned Bolshevik, last Monday, which, but for Mr. McWhorter’s facile presence of mind and quick action, might have resulted fatally.

He rode out to a pasture, where the Jack was grazing, with the purpose of moving the animal to higher ground, lest the creature bog itself in the softening sod. As he trotted up the Jack, with a savage snarl, blazing eyes and bared teeth, rushed upon Mr. McWhorter, seized him by the leg, dragged him from the saddle and rearing high attempted to crush his helpless victim into the ground with his sharp hoofs.

Mr. McWhorter, however, realizing his peril, threw his arm about the Jack’s fore legs as the animal reared and clung to them with desperate strength. In vain the maddened animal strove to break his master’s hold that he might crush the latter’s body beneath his sharp hoofs.

Up and down and backward and forward they struggled, until, watching his opportunity, Mr. McWhorter loosened his hold on the Jack’s legs and leaping back, ran to his horse, sprang into the saddle, and galloped to a place of safety.

The Jack’s teeth did not cut the flesh of Mr. McWhorter’s leg, but the deep dented imprint of them shows plainly and the skin has turned green. For some time hereafter Mr. McWhorter will “favor” that leg when he walks. This is the first time the Jack has ever gone on the warpath.

Posted in Marginalia |

Gibbets I have known

Posted by Rusty Burke on 17th September 2007


Leo Grin, over at The Cimmerian, has been running a regular feature which I heartily applaud, the “REH Word of the Week,” featuring a word that may be unfamiliar to many modern readers. (Those of us who have spent the better part of our lives enrapt in the sort of 19th and early 20th century adventure fiction that fired the imagination of Bob Howard are perhaps likelier to know these words, though I confess that the sea-faring terms and “patter o’ the flash coves” that Jeffery Farnol is throwing at me in Black Bartlemy’s Treasure [etext] are taxing not only my vocabulary, but my extensive reference shelf.)

Last week’ s entry was “gibbet,” a type of gallows with a projecting arm from which executed prisoners were hung suspended, usually by chains and often in a type of cage, and left exposed, presumably as a warning to those who might be considering emulating their nefarious activities. The example Leo used was from “Black Vulmea’s Vengeance.”

Steve Tompkins, in a follow-up piece, opines that “the most unforgettable modern appearance of the word ‘gibbet’” is in the tenth chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers, the second volume in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Unforgettability, though, lies in the memory of the unforgetter, and not all of us are as Tolkien-struck as Steve. In the days of my wayward youth, before ever I discovered the joys of REH and the shorter, faster-paced form of story-telling, I must have burned through Tolkien’s trilogy at least a dozen times, and more recently re-read it as a refresher prior to seeing the cinematic versions, and I confess that his use of the word “gibbet” failed to make any impression on me whatsoever.

To my memory, though, instantly sprang other memorable uses of the word by REH, besides the one in “Vulmea.” First to mind, I think, was the poem “Song at Midnight” (alternately titled “Man, the Master”), with its opening stanza:

I heard an old gibbet that crowned a bare hill
Creaking a song in the midnight chill;
And I shivered to hear that grisly refrain
That moaned in the night through the fog and the rain.

The poem is a marvelous, if grisly, enunciation of a central theme in Howard’s work, as the worm at the foot of the gallows declares:

“The winds and the rain they worked their will,
“The kites and the ravens have had their fill,
“But last of all when the chains broke free,
“The fruit of the gallows came to me.
“Men and their works, so swiftly past,
“Come to a feast for the worms at last.
“Here I have gnawed on this marrow good,
“Where now I gnaw on this crumbling wood.
“For men and their works are a feast for me—
“The bones, and the noose, and the gallows tree.”

Solomon Kane fans will, of course, recall the first lines of “The One Black Stain”:

They carried him out on the barren sand where the rebel captains died;
Where the grim grey rotting gibbets stand as Magellan reared them on the strand,
And the gulls that haunt the lonesome land wail to the lonely tide.

And who, having read it, can forget “Dead Man’s Hate,” in which Adam Brand spits in the face of his hanged enemy, John Farrell, believing that “a hempen noose is stronger than man’s hate”:

Yet never a word the people spake, in fear and wild surprise —
For the grisly corpse raised up its head and stared with sightless eyes,

And with strange motions, slow and stiff, pointed at Adam Brand
And clambered down the gibbet tree, the noose within its hand.

Thus demonstrating that “stronger than death or hempen noose are the fires of a dead man’s hate.”

A search of Howard’s poetry finds several others in which the word “gibbet” is used, including “Ambition,” “The Moor Ghost,” and “The Song of the Gallows Tree.” (I believe surely some of these poems must have been written at about the time of the Solomon Kane stories: “The Moor Ghost” strikes me as similar to “Skulls in the Stars,” while “Dead Man’s Hate” is very reminiscent of “The Right Hand of Doom.”)

For a memorable use of the term in his fiction, again Solomon Kane came to mind, this time the story fragment, “The Castle of the Devil”: when Kane informs his newly met companion, John Silent, that he “came upon a wretch who hung on a gallows and cut him down ere his breath had passed from him,” Silent, aghast, exclaims, “What! You cut down a man from Baron von Staler’s gibbet? Name of the Devil, you will have both of our necks in a noose!” The word is used again just four paragraphs on: “That is the keep of Baron von Staler, whose gibbet you robbed….”

[And while we're on the subject of memorable words, this fragment has a couple of my favorite lines from the Kane series: "It has fallen upon me, now and again in my sojourns through the world, to ease various evil men of their lives." And: "Your speech is wild and Godless... but I begin to like you."]

Black Bartlemy’s Treasure offers a description of an encounter with a gibbet that would, I think, have struck a responsive chord in the breast of the young Bob Howard. Here Martin Conisby, having escaped the slavery on a Spanish galleass to which an enemy had sent him, has returned to seek vengeance:

And now, as I stood amid that howling darkness, my back propped by the bank, my face lifted to the tempest, I was aware of a strange sound, very shrill and fitful, that reached me ‘twixt the booming wind-gusts, a sound that came and went, now loud and clear, anon faint and remote, and I wondered what it might be. Then the rushing dark was split asunder by a jagged lightning-flash, and I saw. Stark against the glare rose black shaft and crossbeam, wherefrom swung a creaking shape of rusty chains and iron bands that held together something shrivelled and black and wet with rain, a grisly thing that leapt on the buffeting wind, that strove and jerked as it would fain break free and hurl itself down upon me.

Now hearkening to the dismal creak of this chained thing, I fell to meditation. This awful shape (thought I) had been a man once, hale and strong,–even as I, but this man had contravened the law (even as I purposed to do) and he had died a rogue’s death and so hung, rotting, in his chains, even as this my own body might do some day. And, hearkening to the shrill wail of his fetters, my flesh crept with loathing and I shivered. But the fit passed, and in my vain pride I smote my staff into the mud at my feet and vowed within myself that nought should baulk me of my just vengeance, come what might; as my father had suffered death untimely and hard, so should die the enemy of my race; for the anguish he had made me endure so should he know anguish. I bethought me how long and deadly had been this feud of ours, handed down from one generation to another, a dark, blood-smirched record of bitter wrongs bitterly avenged. ‘To hate like a Brandon and revenge like a Conisby!’ This had been a saying in our south country upon a time; and now–he was the last of his race as I was the last of mine, and I had come back out of hell that this saying might be fulfilled. Soon–ha, yes, in a few short hours the feud should be ended once and for all and the house of Conisby avenged to the uttermost. Thinking thus, I heeded no more the raving tempest around me until, roused by the plunge and rattle of the gibbet-chains, I raised my head and shaking my staff up at that black and shrivelled thing, I laughed loud and fierce, and, even as I did so, there leapt a great blaze of crackling flame and thereafter a thunder-clap that seemed to shake the very earth and smite the roaring wind to awed silence….

Posted in Marginalia |

A Reprint of Interest

Posted by morgan on 19th May 2007


There is a reprint of a book that may be of interest to fans of Robert E. Howard. Last year, Dover Publications brought out an inexpensive edition of The Prose Edda: Tales from Norse Mythology by Snorri Sturluson. What makes this book of interest is the translator: Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur, PhD. Who the hell is Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur you ask? Brodeur (1888-1971) was an instructor in English Philology in the University of California. He wrote books such as The Art of Beowulf, Arthur: Dux Bellorum, and The Pageant of Civilization. Brodeur also wrote fiction for two magazines: Adventure and Argosy-All Story Weekly. In those magazines he wrote a number of stories set in Medieval and even ancient times such as “In the Grip of the Minotaur” (Proto-Vikings vs. Minoan Crete) and “He Rules Who Can” (Harald Hardrede in the Varangian Guard). Brodeur is a kind of proto-Tolkien being a philologist turned fiction writer. Brodeur even turned the Finn & Hengist story from the Germanic folkwandering period into a story for Adventure (“The Honor of a King”). Tolkien later tinkered with that fragment. Brodeur even joins the ranks of proto-sword and sorcery writers as his retelling of the Volsung Saga (“Vengeance”) has Odin making an appearance, probably the first and last time that happened in the pages of Adventure.

The Robert E. Howard bookshelf lists two issues of Adventure containing Brodeur stories: the March 10, 1922 issues contains “Red Night,” and May 20, 1922 contains “For the Crown.” The circumstantial evidence is familiarity with Brodeur though he is never mentioned in any letter by Howard. It is hard to imagine Howard not reading Brodeur as he wrote stories about the Vikings, Normans in Sicily, and a series about a troubadour swordsman in 12th Century southern France. Brodeur’s medieval Aquitaine and Provence remind me a lot of Howard’s Aquilonia.

Brodeur’s translation of the Prose Edda goes back to 1916 for the American-Scandinavian Foundation. There were several printings, I have the fourth from 1946. For years this would have been the translation available to people including REH. There is no mention by him of reading the Eddas, though he does mention Norse sagas to H. P. Lovecraft in a letter from 1931. If he had read the Eddas, it would have been Brodeur’s translation. So for only $8.95 you can have a nice edition of an important book and Dover ( has a special deal if you order this book with their edition of the translation of The Poetic Edda.

Rusty adds: REH mentions Sturlason’s Heimskringla to Lovecraft in a 1935 letter. See the entry for Sturlason in the Bookshelf.

Posted in Marginalia |

“In the quiet churchyard by the sea”

Posted by Rusty Burke on 8th May 2007


I’ve recently been interested in the “internal chronology” of the Solomon Kane stories, and one of the repeated assumptions I keep bumping up against is the notion that the poem “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming” should be dated to 1610, based on the fact that Elizabeth I, “Good Queen Bess,” died in 1603. There are a couple of very good reasons to challenge this assumption.

The poem appears to record a visit by Kane to a tavern in his native Devon at some time after most of his recorded adventures: the seventh and eighth stanzas of the first-published version (Fanciful Tales, Fall 1936) seem to allude to “The Moon of Skulls,” “The Hills of the Dead,” “Wings in the Night,” and possibly “The Footfalls Within.” And stanzas three and four specifically refer to Sir Richard Grenville’s last fight aboard the Revenge, which we know to have taken place the evening of August 31 through the dawn of September 1, 1591. “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming,” then, must take place after this date.

But what has the death of Queen Elizabeth to do with any of this?

"Where is Bess?" said Solomon Kane.
     "Woe that I caused her tears."
"In the quiet churchyard by the sea
     she has slept these seven years."
The sea-wind moaned at the window-pane,
     and Solomon bowed his head.
"Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,
     and the fairest fade," he said.

Elizabeth I was called “Good Queen Bess,” it is true, but “Bess” was at the time probably the most common diminutive form of “Elizabeth.” (It is still used, but less commonly now than others such as “Liz” or “Betsy.”) There were at least two well-known contemporaries of Elizabeth I who were also known as “Bess”: Elizabeth Hardwick or “Bess of Hardwick” and Elizabeth Throckmorton “Bess” Raleigh, the wife of Sir Walter. Undoubtedly there were thousands more, including any number of nice Puritan girls and bawdy tavern wenches.

As I say, there are two good reasons for believing that the Queen was not the “Bess” to whom Kane referred.

In “Hawk of Basti,” Jeremy Hawk asks Kane if “good Queen Bess” still rules, and then, detecting a shortness to Kane’s reply, says “You never loved the Tudors, eh, Solomon?” “Her sister harried my people like beasts of prey,” Kane replies. “She herself has lied to and betrayed the folk of my faith….” This does not sound like a man who is speaking of one whom he left in tears (unless it were tears of rage, in which case it hardly seems likely he would later feel regret).

An even stronger reason, though, is in the poem itself: “In the quiet churchyard by the sea she has slept these seven years.” The resting place of Elizabeth I is in Westminster Abbey — in a vault inside the abbey, not even in the churchyard, never mind that London is not “by the sea.”

So “Bess” must remain an unidentified woman, probably of Devon, who loved Solomon Kane but could not compete with his lust for adventure. And “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming” must be assigned a date after September 1591, but otherwise indeterminate.

Posted in Marginalia |