The de Camp Controversy Part 4

L. Sprague de Camp’s gamble with Lancer Books proved to be highly successful. A combination of Howard’s prose coupled with the now iconic Frazetta paintings created something new and very exciting. Other factors in the success include having a series of books that ended up topping out at 12. Having that number built some momentum so that even the later pastiche novels sold well. Distribution for Lancer must have been good at this time. Let us not forget that the layout was good for these books. The print type and size made for pleasurable reading. You can’t quibble with this kind of success, or can you?

In a letter to REHupa dated August 19, 1993 de Camp said: “When in 1966 Lancer published Conan the Adventurer, Frazetta gave Conan hair cut straight across his forehead but hanging halfway to his waist elsewhere. I objected but was overruled. At this time the great youth revolt of the 1960s was gathering stream, and long hair on men had rather suddenly become fashionable among rebellious youth as a symbol of revolt against the hated Establishment. Conan’s artists have been following Frazetta’s example¬† ever since.”

I dare anyone to deny the importance of Frazetta’s artwork on the Lancer Conan paperbacks. De Camp damn near screwed the pooch on this one. What if Larry Shaw had said “O.K, you can have Gray Morrow do the covers for the Conan paperbacks instead?” There may have been far fewer adolescents attracted to those books on the wire racks in the fall of 1966. De Camp failed to see the revolutionary nature of the art and instead of being excited he tried to stop it. He remained adamant on the issue decades later.

L. Sprague de Camp was able to pad out some of the paperbacks, add two novels, and have two more in the offing with the aid of Lin Carter. I intend on devoting a separate part to Carter and de Camp’s writing. Let’s just say for the time being that L. Sprague de Camp would not have gotten those new Conan stories without Lin Carter’s assistance. This partnership had strains after time. The gruesome twosome started what would eventually become Conan the Liberator in 1974 but reading between the lines, it looks that Lin Carter walked away. A friend of mine who knew Carter told me that when Liberator came out, he badmouthed the book saying it was an awful book. Carter also said all he did was flesh out de Camp’s outline after which de Camp would do the final touches. The novel does read mostly like an L. Sprague de Camp novel with little to no Carter personality contained therein. The Bantam collection, Conan the Swordsman contains three stories written by both de Camp and Carter. One story, “The Gem in the Tower,” was originally a Thongor story (“Black Moonlight,” Fantastic Nov. 1976). Two stories attributed to Carter & de Camp according to Loay Hall, a friend of de Camp’s, were actually L. Sprague and Catherine de Camp (“The Ivory Goddess” and “Moon of Blood”). Contractual obligations are supposedly responsible for the Carter & de Camp bylines for those two stories. De Camp told me in a letter that Lin Carter was supposed to help write the novelization for the movie Conan the Barbarian. Carter blew off the job and Catherine de Camp is the cowriter for the novelization. Lin Carter though collected half of the writing proceeds. De Camp seemed angry about that years later.

In the early ’90s, criticism of Lin Carter was really picking up speed, at least within the pages of REHupa mailings. In a letter February 16, 1995 to REHupa, de Camp stated “I thought my biggest mistake in reviving Conan was taking on Lin Carter as a collaborator without first trying to lure Leigh Brackett into the job.” In an earlier letter dated Jan 26, 1992 he said “I chose Carter because his natural style differed from REH’s in one direction while mine differed in just the opposite; so I thought a collaboration might produce something close to the model…Carter had many virtues and was a very likable fellow, but such faults as cocksureness and irresponsibility largely nullified them. He never grew up.”

L. Sprague de Camp’s gamble with Lancer fell apart when the company declared bankruptcy. The publisher that had supposedly sold “millions” of Conan paperback had magically gone under. Glenn Lord has told me that he was never allowed to audit the books and check royalty statements on de Camp’s deal with Lancer. While the Lancer series was in bankruptcy limbo, Lord himself went on to make a deal with Berkley Medallion to put out Conan this time with no pastiche stories. Three paperbacks came out in the fall of 1977 with interesting forewords and afterwords by Karl Edward Wagner. The plan was for six paperbacks. This was not to be. Hollywood was interested in making a Conan movie and wanted one entity to deal with. The two factions were united as Conan Properties, Inc. in 1978. Part of the deal included killing the Berkley Conan series and resurrection of the Lancer series.¬† Karl Edward Wagner was embittered about that turn of events. Someone needs to interview Kirby McCauley, the agent, had connections with both factions about details of the deal.

The Lancer version of Conan would live on for more than a decade. Ace eventually let the series go out of print in the late 1980s as sales dwindled and interest faded. CPI was more interested in pushing a new generation of pastiches from Tor starting with Robert Jordan. Robert E. Howard faded away as a new Tor Conan novel came out every few months for over a decade. The majority of these novels are held in poor regard by aficionados of sword and sorcery fiction. Worse–Baen Books wanted to reprint the Robert E. Howard Conan stories with no pastiche stories inserted. L. Sprague de Camp vetoed that idea. He kept Robert E. Howard out of print for a decade by his actions. This may be the single biggest reason that L. Sprague de Camp is viewed negatively by some today. I have to say when I was told of this back in the mid-90s, my opinion changed drastically negative.