The De Camp Controversy Part 2

One of the stories that L. Sprague de Camp told was how he fell into getting involved with Conan. He paraphrased the story several times including the first version, “Conan’s Ghost” in The Conan Reader (Mirage Press, 1968). De Camp’s story is that after reading Conan the Conqueror, he quickly tracked down and read the other Conan stories. He contacted Donald Wollheim noting “The Witch From Hell’s Kitchen” by Howard had recently appeared in The Avon Fantasy Reader. Wollheim put de Camp in touch with Oscar J. Friend. De Camp makes it sound like Oscar J. Friend had a box of Howard manuscripts and had no idea what was in them. It was then de Camp who discovered “The Frost Giant’s Daughter,” “The God in the Bowl,” and “The Black Stranger.” As de Camp put it, “I revised them all for publication.” This is the only version of this story told. There is a fly in the ointment here. If Oscar J. Friend was so oblivious to what he had – how is it he sold “The House of Arabu” to Donald Wollheim as “The Witch From Hell’s Kitchen” for The Avon Fantasy Reader before de Camp ever contacted Friend? How is it Friend could find one story in the box but not the three Conan stories? Something isn’t fitting together here.

L. Sprague de Camp wrote another review of a Conan book during the 1950s for a science fiction magazine. Science Fiction Quarterly in 1955 was still a pulp for at least another year. That was the year that Planet Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Startling Stories all died. SFQ may have been technically the last science fiction pulp. Anyway, de Camp reviewed the Gnome Press edition of Conan the Barbarian for the August 1955 issue. I checked with Scotty Henderson and John D. Clark edited Conan the Barbarian, not de Camp. You at least don’t have a case of an editor reviewing his own book though a case of conflict of interest could be made. What is interesting is de Camp publically airs his problems with Martin Greenberg, publisher of Gnome Press. Greenberg today has a horrible reputation, he didn’t pay authors and often demanded royalty money claiming copyright when a later paperback would come out. A friend of mine who has edited some mass market books once told me that all too often there are those in the small press who will publish your work for nothing and act like they are doing you a favor. David Kyle was at Pulp-Con in 1999. David Gentzel and I talked to him and tried to get some information about Gnome Press. He would talk a little about designing endpapers and maps but that was it. He wouldn’t discuss the business side of Gnome Press.

De Camp in the review complains about some paragraphs of the Conan biography being messed up and one paragraph being dropped. “This kind of slapdash editorial carelessness that has long tempted me to make a waxen image of Martin Greenberg, and stick pins in it.” Strong words from someone renowned for keeping his cool in public.

De Camp also reviewed The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien in the same magazine issue. He describes a Hobbit as “a cross between an English white-collar worker and a rabbit.” He also comments on the New York Times review, “I found too found Tolkien’s ‘dear, silly old hobbits’ too dreadfully sweet for my drier tastes at times. But the irony of Prescott’s criticism is that Prescott himself himself is as responsible as any one man for the literary fashion of ‘little people.’ For fourteen years my eminent colleague has been harping in his column on character. Few novels have a profound enough study of character to suit him. His idea of a perfect novel seems to be one of those subjective studies of an average adolescent girl, growing up in a very dull family, in some obscure small town where nothing ever happens.”

By 1954 L. Sprague de Camp was straining at the leash with Oscar J. Friend and by 1955 with Martin Greenberg of Gnome Press. More to follow.