What’s in a Name?

2018 09-24 Dead Remember

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted October 25, 2007, at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

The process by which Robert E. Howard named his settings and characters has been a topic of discussion since H. P. Lovecraft chided him for using thinly disguised historical names in his fantasies. L. Sprague de Camp disapproved of this practice as well and, in Dark Valley Destiny, added, “Because of his linguistic naiveté, or perhaps because he simply refused to take the time and trouble, [Howard] tends to give his characters names that are often unpleasing and confusingly similar.” Modern scholars give Howard a bit more credit, saying that he was purposeful in selecting vaguely historic names for the connotations they would convey. I’ll leave this discussion to the Big Brains, but I do have some fuel for the fire.

Back in “Curly Elkins of Bear-Tooth Creek” (The Cimmerian V3n4), I discussed the differences between “A Elkins Never Surrenders,” a Breckinridge Elkins tale, and its rewritten form, “A Elston to the Rescue” (aka “The Curly Wolf of Sawtooth,” Star Western, September 1936), starring one Bearfield Elston. The changes went beyond simple Elkins to Elston switches, affecting the characterization of the main character. A simple curiosity, or so I thought.

Recently, I had the opportunity to examine some early drafts of various Howard stories; one of them being “The Dead Remember” (Argosy, August 15, 1936). I received two different typescripts for the story: one was an early draft, the other, stamped “copy,” was almost identical to the published version. Amidst various punctuation changes and minor word alterations was an interesting name switch—Elkins to Elston.

Now, maybe I’m the only Howard-head who finds these little items interesting—probably not, but the discovery that “John Elkins,” the trail boss in the early draft of “The Dead Remember,” had been changed to “John Elston” in the later version was quite intriguing. Was Howard working on “A Elkins Never Surrenders” at the same time as “The Dead Remember”? Did he change “John Elkins” to “Elston” to avoid confusion? What? I guess we’ll never know.

Good Ol’ Boys

2018 09-24 Chambers0McCowan
[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted September 9, 2007 at thecimmerian.com.]

The fans who participated in the bus tour at Howard Days 2007 received a special treat. Not only did they get to hear some great stories by the tour guide, long-time Cross Plains resident Don Clark, they also heard some great color-commentary by Alton McCowen (above at right) and Norris Chambers (at left), a man who actually knew the Howards. Those of us who were seated near the front of the bus even got to eavesdrop while these three chatted between tour stops. The trio seemed to know everything about the local area and quickly assimilated each other’s knowledge. One would say, “Did you know so-and-so?” and all the relevant details would follow from one of the others. “Didn’t so-and-so live there?” and so on.

As we passed the little-used dirt roads in the Cross Cut vicinity, Mr. Chambers said, “Boy, I went down that lane a lot.” And another conversation ensued. I tried my best to stay out of their chat, but couldn’t resist a few questions. Alton McCowen told me that he knew someone who had helped build the road from Cross Plains to Brownwood, and that he’d been paid .56 cents an hour for his work. Mr. Chambers piped in, “They built this big road after the war. It wasn’t paved then, and was awful muddy.”

At the bridge into Burkett, the bus stopped. Under the bridge is the Pecan Bayou—covered with shrubs and trees, all green from the heavy spring rains. Don Clark told us all that there used to be carnivals and dances in the Bayou. “After the fair stopped coming,” he said, “there was a lot of parkin’ and sparkin’ down there.”

At one of the stops—a no-foolin’ Texas ranch, complete with Longhorns—I cornered Misters Chambers and McCowen for a longer conversation, while the rest of the crowd went to get a close-up look at the steers. Mr. Chambers told me that Doc Howard wasn’t the best driver around: “Once we were driving to Brownwood and he’s got the car stuck in 2nd gear. I told him, ‘You might want to put it in high.’” He also told me about taking Robert’s Chevy “down to get the bullet hole fixed” after the suicide, and that Doc Howard used that car for a good while after.

Mr. McCowen answered my questions about Cross Plains, telling me where the movie theater was located (“Next to the tax office by the library”) and that there was no radio station in town; the closest was in Brownwood.

While not the best of drivers, Mr. Chambers had no doubts about Doc Howard’s medical skills. He told me about a minor car accident that he was involved in, saying that one of the girls passed out. He took her straight to Doc Howard to get “patched up.”

About this time, Mr. Chambers’ wife ambled up and listened as her husband said, “When we were first married, we lived with my folks in Cross Cut. Doc Howard would come by sometimes.”

This brought a chuckle from his wife who said that Doc Howard was always hungry. When he came calling, “We had to start the fire in the old stove and cook things—from scratch!” When she didn’t feel like cooking, she told me, she’d just whip up some scrambled eggs.

We started to discuss Dark Valley Destiny as the rest of the crowd returned. Mr. Chambers remembered talking with de Camp and that “He said he would give us a copy, but he never did. We had to buy one.” And then the tour was back on the road and I had to content myself with eavesdropping once again.

Back to School

BHS 1920s

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted August 18, 2007, at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

The school district that I work for has been fiddling with the calendar for a couple of years now—the end result has arrived: gone are the post-Labor Day start-ups of a traditional school year; they have been replaced with a mid-August return to books and homework and lunch lines. I won’t comment on the wisdom of sending kids (and teachers) back to school in the middle of August—the hottest month of the year in California’s High Desert. The “pre-game” meetings and scheduling, the lesson planning and room organizing have kept me away from the blog for a few weeks now, but my return to school got me thinking . . .

Robert E. Howard’s opinion of school is no secret to the fans who have studied his correspondence. In one of his most often published letters, Howard told Wilfred Blanch Talman (ca. September 1931):

I got through high school by the skin of my teeth. I always hated school, and as I look back on my school days now, I still hate them with a deep and abiding hatred. Outside of mathematics—at which I was a terrible mug—I didn’t particularly mind the studies, but I hated being confined indoors—having to keep regular hours—having to think up stupid answers for equally irritating questions asked me by people who considered themselves in authority over me.

I have often wondered what teaching practices were like in the 1920s, when Howard attended Cross Plains High School, and later Brownwood High—I’m sure that things were much stricter than they are now—but what could have caused Howard’s intense dislike for school? Was it as simple as what he told Talman? More than a year after his spring 1923 graduation from Brownwood High, Howard still had a bad taste in his mouth, as evidenced by a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, dated January 30, 1925: “I see you are still as madly, passionately devoted to school, as blindly loyal to the faculty as ever. Ah, yes, I wish I were back in good old Bnwd. High—with a couple of bombs.”

Part of the reason, I’m sure, that Howard disliked school was the shenanigans of his schoolmates. I’ve seen for myself the ridicule that can be heaped on bright students by their less scholastically inclined brethren, but Howard doesn’t have much to say about bullying in his correspondence. He does, however, have a few things to say about students in general. In a circa January 1931 letter he explains to Lovecraft:

Take the average high school. Ten, or perhaps fifteen percent of the pupils go in for the grinding grill of competitive athletics; the rest do nothing in the way of building their bodies, or dissipating their natural animal spirits in wholesome ways. No wonder drunkenness and immorality are so prevalent among students. To the average boy or girl the accumulation of knowledge isn’t enough to spend their energy on—they can learn only so much, anyhow, and the Devil himself couldn’t teach the average pupil, with his undoubtedly limited capacity, very much, anyway. They must have a physical outlet, and since systematic sport denies this to all but a chosen few, the rest naturally turn to amusements less wholesome. This seems to be the trend of modern life, to me.

While Howard is largely silent on the subject of his classmates, he does, however, have something to say about his instructors. In a letter to H. P. Lovecraft, September 22, 1932, Howard describes his walk to school on a snowy winter morning. After having walked some distance in the snow, which caused his shoes and socks to be soaked, he hoped to warm himself by the stove, but such was not to be:

When I got to school, the teacher, who was enveloped in a fur coat, wouldn’t let us go to the stove to warm, because we generally got into a fight if we did. I sat there until noon, at the back of the room where the heat couldn’t reach, and I want to say that it was about as lousy a morning as I ever spent, viewed from a purely physical standpoint. It’s a wonder my feet hadn’t been frost-bitten.

Earlier that same year, May 24, 1932, Howard described another instance of teacher indifference to Lovecraft:

One day the teachers came out of the school-house to watch us play—a rare event. I happened to be wrestling with a friend of mine, and they stopped to watch us. I wished to make an impression on them—to show off, in other words. I wished for a worthier opponent—since I had thrown this particular friend forty or fifty times. And while I was wishing, suddenly and stunningly I found myself thrown! It never happened before, and it never happened again—at least, with that boy. I was shocked, humiliated, well-nigh maddened. I urged a renewal of the strife, but the teachers laughed mockingly and withdrew into their sanctum. I withdrew from public view, and broodingly contemplated my shameful defeat.

But the teachers weren’t the only thing about school that Howard disliked; the content of his courses also left a little something to be desired. In an August 21, 1926 letter to Clyde Smith, Howard berates the reading selections made for him by a nameless English teacher: “when one considers the confounded balderdash handed out to us as students, in grammar school, under the name of poetry! Shades of the creator of Mother Goose. I’ve about decided that the only American poets worth much are Sidney Lanier, Poe and Viereck; they are equal to any England ever produced.” One can only assume that these names did not appear on Howard’s course syllabus.

One thing that we know did appear was The Vicar of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith. Howard’s book report on this title has been published, and it’s clear that he wasn’t fond of the novel. He remembered the book, and his school experience with it, to Lovecraft in a letter dated November 2, 1932:

I read this abomination [The Vicar of Wakefield] as a part of my high-school work, and in writing my report, I let myself go the only time I ever did in school, and gave my own honest opinion in my own honest words, allowing myself the freedom of frothing at the mouth. I expected to flunk the course, so many teachers being slaves of the established, but that particular teacher was a black-headed Irish woman who evidently entertained similar ideas on the subject to mine, and she gave me a good grade instead of the tongue-lashing I expected.

Despite his attitude toward school and his teachers, Howard did what was necessary to receive passing marks. He told Lovecraft, circa January 1934, “In high school I showed something of a knack for biology; certainly my science grades were infinitely higher than my English and literature grades. I have reason to believe that I had more capacity for biology than I have for literature. My teacher—who detested me as a human being but seemed to appreciate my laboratory work—suggested that I take up biology as a career.” But Howard wasn’t interested in Biology, he wanted the freedom that a literary career would provide.

In a letter received by Harold Preece—who was attending Texas Christian University in Fort Worth—on October 20, 1928, Howard said, “How is the university? Frankly, I know very little about the school and the little I do know is bad. But I’m prejudiced against all colleges—to Hell with them.”

Despite this early opinion of higher learning, Howard would later agree that some college courses might have helped him in his chosen field. He told Farnsworth Wright, ca. June-July 1931, “I have only a high school education, and not a particularly elaborate one at that” and Wilfred Blanch Talman, ca. September 1931, “A literary course in some college would doubtless have been a help to me, but I never felt I could afford it, bedsides, college is too much like school to interest me much” and Lovecraft, March 6, 1933, “A literary college education probably would have helped me immensely. That’s neither here nor there; I didn’t feel that I could afford it, and that’s all there was to it.”

While his admission that college might have helped him is a bit surprising, considering his overall opinion of schooling, Howard’s resentments from his early schooling held strong. In the same letter to Lovecraft in which he makes the admission, he blasts his early experiences:

I might have liked college, but I hated grammar and high school with a vindictiveness that has not softened in later years. I didn’t spend too much time there, anyway; I didn’t start to school until I was eight, and I graduated at seventeen. No record broken there, but no time lost, either. I hated school as I hate the memory of school. It wasn’t the work I minded; I had no trouble learning the tripe they dished out in the way of lessons — except arithmetic, and I might have learned that if I’d gone to the trouble of studying it. I wasn’t at the head of my classes — except in history — but I wasn’t at the foot either. I generally did just enough work to keep from flunking the courses, and I don’t regret the loafing I did. But what I hated was the confinement — the clock-like regularity of everything; the regulation of my speech and actions; most of all the idea that someone considered himself or herself in authority over me, with the right to question my actions and interfere with my thoughts. Some of my teachers I liked, and those liked me; most didn’t. I complied with the rules of the school as well as I could, got up my lessons at least as well as most of the others, and was careful to cause the teachers no unnecessary trouble; beyond that I lived my own life, and fiercely resented any interference or regulation.

Howard continued to express his dislike of school to Lovecraft in July 1933:

Our feelings in school, again, differ. I hated school, not because any particular tyranny was practiced on me—I wouldn’t have stood for it, anyway—but simply because the whole system irked me. Sitting still in one place for hours at time got on my nerves. Having to go and come at certain times irked me; I hated for my actions to be controlled by the ringing of a bell. The fact that these things were necessary had nothing to do with it. School, any way it is looked at, was a restriction of my freedom. I accepted it as a necessary evil, and got through with it as quickly as possible, and I’ll never forget the wild and passionate feeling of relief that surged through me as I bounded out of the building where the graduation exercizes had been held, with my diploma in my hand, and halting on the lawn, expressed my pleasure at being through with school, and my opinion of the whole works in language more picturesque than choice. The passing of ten years has not dimmed that feeling in the slightest. Yet there was a good deal of comedy in my last year in high school; I look back on it, not with any pleasure, but with some amusement. I attended Brownwood High, and it was overcrowded—fairly flowing over with students. Next year they built a Junior High and took care of the surplus, but that year it was like a sardine can. We had to gang up, two or three to a seat in the main study hall. The Senior class was given separate study halls, but they were eventually abolished, because the students didn’t keep order any too well. Some of them were mean as the devil, but most were just exuberant kids, overflowing with a superabundance of vigor and animal spirits. My biology class was the biggest in the school, and all the unruly spirits that could got in there. The teacher was a poor misfit who didn’t know his stuff; that is, he was a good biologist, but he couldn’t handle students. They gave him hell. The very last day of school, for instance, while he was trying to lecture to the class, certain unregenerate spirits kept galloping past the door, firing various objects at him, such as old shirts wadded up and soaked with water, to the hilarious enjoyment of the class. At last he shut the door, and then they locked it from the outside and he had to telephone down to the janitor to come and open it. I had no part in harassing the poor devil; but he never gave me a square deal if he could help it, so I didn’t much give a damn what they did to him. The class in which I graduated was the biggest that had ever graduated from a Texas High School, up to that time.

I was much amused and interested by your account of your tilt with the English teacher concerning your astronomical essay. It was in truth a dramatic situation, and one I wish I’d had a chance to duplicate at some time or other. But the only place my stuff was appearing when I was in school was in the school paper—and some of it was barred from print by the teacher-censors on account of a certain Rabelaisian tang that would creep in in spite of myself.

I had a hell of a time with mathematics. I blundered through algebra, geometry and trigonometry without learning a blamed thing about any of them. The only reason I passed my last year’s math was a combination of luck and a teacher’s laziness. The final exam was split in half, part to be taken one day and part the next, the results to be added on the basis of 100; thus, if a scholar made 100 on the first exam, he was given 50, etc. the results of both exams to be added. I made 60 on the first exam, and came in the next day to take the rest of it. The teacher was there alone, to my surprize, leaning back with his feet on a desk. I told him I was there to take my exam. He asked me what I made; I told him; he said then my grade was really 30, and asked me if I could improve that in another exam. “Hell, no,” quoth I; “I worked the only problem in the book I could work, yesterday.” He then asked me what grades I made in other subjects—they ran something like this: English 80, science 100, economics 85. He allowed that we’d let it go and say nothing; and call my mathematics grade 60, which would pass me.

I never studied Latin much, and disliked it intensely; my old antipathy for anything Roman. The only reason I ever took it up was because I knew it would help me in Spanish; but I never got a chance to study Spanish. I had a short course in agriculture once, which interested me immensely, and I made very high grades in it, as well as in its various branching, such as the grafting of trees, etc.. But I was unable to continue it, and I’ve long ago forgotten all I learned. I’ve also forgotten what elementary science I learned, as well as the business English, commercial law and business arithmetic I learned in the business college. I generally made my highest grades in history and science, though I found the latter of scant interest, as a general thing.

If Howard’s recollections of his scores are accurate, and if he wasn’t bending the truth by saying that he didn’t apply himself to his coursework, he might have made an excellent college student, where he could pick and choose the courses he wanted to take and make his own schedule, which, I’m sure, would not have included a math class. Imagine that for a moment, a college educated Robert E. Howard. Without the benefit of a “literary college education” Howard created works of fiction that have stood the test of time, that have been translated into numerous languages, and that have been increasingly studied for their literary achievement. Would a college education have hurt his accomplishments or helped him to even greater fame? I guess we’ll never know.

Aw hell, I’ve got papers to grade.

Voodoo and Bat Wing

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted March 4, 2007, at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

I have definitely abandoned the detective field, where I never had any success anyway, and which represents a type of story I actively detest. I can scarcely endure to read one, much less write one.

— Robert E. Howard to H.P. Lovecraft: May 13, 1936

Many fans of Robert E. Howard’s work who wish to follow in his literary footsteps have taken to acquiring and reading the books that Howard once read. One of Howard’s favorite authors was Sax Rohmer. This master of the “Oriental Menace” story is best-known for his many tales of Fu-Manchu, the Asian mastermind bent on world domination. Howard had several of the Fu-Manchu books on his shelf; their influence is most clearly seen in Howard’s novella “Skull-Face.”

Besides the Fu-Manchu books, Howard also owned several other titles by Rohmer, including Bat Wing. This novel was first published in 1921 by Doubleday and was reprinted in 1925 and again in 1930. A Victorian murder-mystery, it tips its hat several times to the genre’s creator, Edgar Allan Poe, with the main character’s repeated references to Poe’s pioneering sleuth Auguste Dupin, as well as a character in the novel who resembles Poe himself. Despite Howard’s claim that “I actively detest” this type of story, there were plenty of works belonging to the genre on his shelf, including works by Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle. Indeed, despite its numerous Poe references, Bat Wing seems more derivative of Conan Doyle than Poe.

The story centers on Paul Harley, a connected Londoner with ties to Scotland Yard. With his faithful companion Mr. Knox, Harley travels to Cray’s Folly, a country estate, at the request of Colonel Menendez, who has spent considerable time in Voodoo-haunted Cuba. Harley has been summoned to prevent the murder of Menendez himself, which will, of course, take place on the night of the next full moon. Menendez tells Harley of the Obeah curse laid upon him, in the form of a bat wing nailed to his door. I don’t want to ruin it for future readers, but rest assured, the novel is full of dead-end leads, false assumptions, and characters which have become stereotypical of the genre: a bumbling police detective, a pipe-smoking amateur, and the clueless side-kick.

The most striking similarities between Bat Wing and Howard’s work come with the short story “The Hand of Obeah.” According to Rusty Burke’s Robert E. Howard Fiction and Verse Timeline, “The Hand of Obeah” was submitted to Adventure in 1925; upon reading the tale, it’s easy to see why it was not accepted: while entertaining, it is clearly not Howard’s best.

The story centers around a teenager (I assume) named Steve and his young friends Skinny and Chub. After some tom-foolery with a black worker, Steve and Skinny follow him and observe a Voodoo ritual. This is followed with murder, intrigue, and mistaken identities. The story itself is quite different than Rohmer’s Bat Wing, but there are many similarities:

Both have a Chinese servant: Rohmer’s “Ah Tsong” and Howard’s “Tong.”

Both have Spanish mulattoes: Rohmer’s “Ysola de Valera” and Howard’s villain whose real name is not revealed, but who is disguised as “Lopez da Vasca.”

While the Voodoo meeting and location are background material in Rohmer’s novel, they take center stage in Howard’s story. Both, however, are described similarly:

Rohmer: In the neighborhood of the hacienda [. . .] there was a belt of low-lying pest country [. . .] which was a hot-bed of poisonous diseases. It followed the winding course of a nearly stagnant creek. From the earliest times the Black Belt—it was so called—had been avoided by European inhabitants, and indeed by the colored population as well. Apart from the malaria of the swampy ground it was infested with reptiles and with poisonous insects of a greater variety and of a more venomous character than I have ever known in any part of the world. [. . .]

On the following evening, suitably equipped, [we] set out, leaving by a side door and striking into the woods at a point east of the hacienda, where, according to his information, a footpath existed, which would lead us to the clearing we desired to visit.

Howard: The Haunted Brakes are kind of freakish, in a way. They’re about a half square mile of cane brakes, surrounded on all sides except one by a narrow strip of swamp. The swamp just swarms with snakes and that’s where it gets its name [Moccasin Swamp]. A long time ago they found a strange Negro there with no head onto him. And no Negro would go near that swamp afterwards [. . .] nobody cared to be around there after dark.

The swamp and the brakes lie about five miles south and a little east of the town, with about a quarter-mile of marshy swamp-ground between the brakes and the river. But on that side a strip of solid high ground runs from the brakes clear to the river bank. Some say there was an old road there once.

The narrators of both stories reach similar clearings in the Black Belt/Haunted Brakes where they observe similar Voodoo rituals:

Rohmer: [W]e saw the light of many torches amid the trees ahead of us [. . .] in which naked figures danced wildly, uttering animal cries. [. . .] This was a meeting-place of Devil-worshippers, or devotees of the cult of Voodoo! One man only could I see clearly so as to remember him [. . .] He seemed to be a sort of high priest or president of the orgies.

Howard: [T]he cane had been cleared away for a large space and at the center a large fire was blazing. All around the fire were seated Negroes [. . .]. Most of all the ones we knew and about a hundred we’d never heard of.

And standing by the fire, waving his arms and talking, was ‘Lisha!

The stories diverge significantly after these Voodoo rituals take place. Rohmer’s evolves into a finely crafted murder-mystery with a decent, though fairly obvious, twist at the end. Howard’s, well, he was trying hard.

Bat Wing is available here, or the other usual places.

“The Hand of Obeah” can be found in Sentiment: An Olio of Rarer Works, put out by the Robert E. Howard Foundation, or one of the publications mentioned here.

Honoring The Howard Collector


Howard Days 2006 027e

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted February 27, 2007 at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

Robert E. Howard died in June of 1936, but his work lived on. He may have lived long enough to see “Black Canaan” in the June issue of Weird Tales replaced by “Red Nails” in the July issue if, as in current practice, magazines appeared a month in advance of their cover date. The fact that Howard was dead and gone in no way slowed his publication; he had stories in Argosy, Action Stories, Weird Tales, and others throughout the rest of 1936. Action Stories’ January ’37 issue contained a Howard yarn; Golden Fleece published “Black Vulmea’s Vengeance” in their November ’38 issue and “Gates of Empire” in the January ’39 number; Weird Tales continued a fairly steady stream of Howard’s poetry and prose until August of 1939. And then things went quiet—for a while.

The very early 1940s saw little Robert E. Howard. Fight Stories continued the practice they’d begun in 1937 of reprinting Howard’s stories once or twice a year using the “Mark Adam” byline; their last reprint appeared in the Fall 1942 issue. Spicy Adventure Stories reprinted three of Howard’s yarns, also in 1942, but again, his name was absent. From late ’39 all the way through 1943, none of Howard’s fantasy or horror tales appeared in any mainstream publication; it seemed that Robert E. Howard had finally gone west. But then “Texas John Alden” appeared in Masked Rider Magazine for May of ’44, and August Derleth included “The Black Stone” in the anthology Sleep No More. In 1945, Crawford Publications brought out their eponymous The Garden of Fear booklet. Things were looking up.

In 1946, Arkham House got the ball rolling. Skull-Face and Others, despite reportedly sluggish sales, got Howard back on the radar. Throughout the late ’40s and into the early ’50s, Howard’s work appeared in the top fantasy magazines of the day: Avon Fantasy Reader, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Fantasy Fiction Magazine. The early ’50s saw several of Howard’s westerns also reprinted. Meanwhile, the folks over at Gnome Press were busy making sure that Howard’s most famous creation wouldn’t be trapped in the pages of crumbling pulp magazines; Conan the Conqueror, the first of seven Conan volumes, appeared in 1950, with new volumes appearing fairly often until 1957. That same year Glenn Lord made his first big splash in Howard publishing by issuing Always Comes Evening, the first major collection of Howard’s verse. But then things slowed down again.

The late ’50s saw very little Howard publishing. The well-known fan endeavor, Amra, began, but had next to nothing to do with any of Howard’s works besides Conan. Donald Wollheim included “The Cairn on the Headland” in his The Macabre Reader. And then—nothing.

Fortunately, Glenn Lord was far from finished.


After compiling Always Comes Evening, Lord began his search for other obscure Howard items. In a recent letter, Mr. Lord told me, “I began buying large runs of Action Stories and Fight Stories as I knew they ran a lot of Howard’s work. Fortunately, at the time, pulps were cheap — I paid $1 each for them from Midtown Magazine Service in New York City.” He also got in touch with Lenore Preece, who sent him copies of The Junto and Howard’s letters to her brother, Harold. George Haas provided copies of letters to Clark Ashton Smith. And, through a series of contacts beginning with E. Hoffmann Price, Lord was able to track down the legendary “Trunk” of Howard’s unsold manuscripts and other assorted items.

The items slowly trickled in and Lord began work on a preliminary bibliography. As that work progressed, he told me, “I began thinking of putting this data and material in a fanzine. I named it The Howard Collector after Ray Zorn’s The Lovecraft Collector.” And thus, in the summer of 1961, smack dab in the middle of a severe Howard drought, appeared The Howard Collector #1. In his “Editorial Notes” for that issue, Lord states that THC “is dedicated to the memory of Robert E. Howard and will contain material by and about him. Frequency of publication, or continuation, will depend upon reader response.” No worries there.

That first issue provided a model that has been followed by nearly every Howard fan publication since: a little biography, “Facts of Biography” and “Letter: Dr. I. M. Howard to Frank Torbett”; a little commentary, E.H. Price’s “Robert Ervin Howard”; a little bibliography, “Verse Index”; some Howard fiction and verse, “Midnight,” “With a Set of Rattlesnake Rattles,” “The Sands of Time,” and “Sonora to Del Rio.” And Lord was just getting started. He published a total of 18 issues of THC, from that groundbreaking first issue in the summer of 1961 to the final edition, a 52-page extravaganza, in the autumn of 1973.

Anyone who has ventured into the publishing arena has some stories to tell; it’s not as easy as some might think. Lord started having problems fairly early on: “Alvin Fick printed the first issue; he did nice printing but could not continue to print for me,” said Lord. And he needed a printer; of the 150 copies of THC #1 that were prepared, most had sold. When THC #2 appeared, in the spring of ’62, Lord’s “Editorial Notes” stated, “Response to the first issue of The Howard Collector has been favorable. A few copies still remain for those interested.” Luckily, Donald Grant stepped in, but he would not be the last printer, as Lord reveals:

Donald Grant printed several issues, until he finally got so busy that he could no longer do so. With THC #9, I found out that 150 copies were no longer enough, so I reprinted that one and upped the print run to 300 copies. After Grant quit printing THC, I managed to borrow an IBM Executive typewriter, with a Bold Face No. 2 typeface — the same one used by Grant at the time — from a secretary at my workplace, and typed out the next two or three issues, sending the prepared Text to a print shop in Missouri that I was told about. And then I managed to purchase a reconditioned IBM typewriter, same typeface, of my own and I used that for the remainder of the issues.

While advanced in its day, the IBM typewriter was worlds away from modern desktop publishing:

The IBM Executive spaced the letters so that you could justify the right margins. You had to do a first typing, then add or delete spaces in the second typing, so that it all came out at the right evenly. And certain letters took up more space — an “i” for instance was one space, an “a” was two, a “w” was three, if I recall correctly.

Despite the printing problems, Lord managed to present to salivating Howard-heads everywhere some truly unique and original material, coupled with extremely rare (at the time) items that had appeared in publications as diverse as they were limited: The Tattler, The Poet’s Scroll, The Yellow Jacket, and so on. In 1979 Lord collected the best of the material from his Journal and sent it off to Ace Publications, where it saw print in the volume aptly entitled The Howard Collector. This is still the best place to find the nuggets of Howardia that were published within those fragile pages. Other publishers have reprinted many of the items included in the journal, but some still remain locked in its pages, especially the non-Howard items, like a letter from Chandler Whipple to Glenn Lord, reviews by Fritz Leiber and Fred Blosser, poetry by Tevis Clyde Smith, Manly Wellman, de Camp, and others, articles by E.H. Price, Lin Carter, and so on.

With Amra doing its thing in the Conan world, The Howard Collector was an important voice for Robert E. Howard during this time—Amra even helped, as Lord recalls: “I got notices in Amra and ran ads in Bibby’s Fantasy Collector, possibly one or two others, for subscribers but quite a few probably found out by word of mouth from other subscribers.”

And what a list of subscribers it was. The first fans were lucky enough to be in contact with people who had actually known Howard, as well as some of the pioneers in the field. Lord remembers a few of those important readers: “Larry McMurtry subscribed, at the time he was running a used book store in Houston. The Preeces were also subscribers—Louise Preece, Lenore Preece, Harold Preece, Kathering (Preece) Luparello. Clyde Smith bought five copies of each issue.”

During his time publishing THC, Lord acquired “The Trunk” and became agent for Howard’s literary rights. Business was soon booming, fed in part by the growing popularity of the Lancer Conan volumes, which began their historic rise in 1966. As Lord reports in the final THC, “This will be the final issue of this magazine. This is its twelfth year of publication and while I dislike having to terminate it, there are a number of factors that dictate that policy, not the least of which is lack of time.” Lord explained further in a recent letter: “I cut it off when my agenting business got so busy that I had little free time—I was still working at my regular job also.”

So, at the dawn of the Howard Boom, The Howard Collector closed up shop. But it had done its job; it had kept the name of Robert E. Howard alive and well when Conan had threatened to eclipse him. For a complete listing of all items that appeared within the pages of that first Howard ‘zine, have a look here. I’ll let Glenn Lord sign off: “And I guess that is all for THC. It did run to more issues than I anticipated, after all.”

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“Uncle Gus”: A Footnote

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(Photo found here.)

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted February 4, 2007 at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

Superbowl Sunday: halftime.

Among the obscure references found in Robert E. Howard’s correspondence is the following, from a letter to H.P. Lovecraft, dated October 3, 1935:

Here are some clippings which might interest you. The one about “Uncle Gus” and the one about the generous plutocrat who gave the boy a dime for returning a $39,000 check were on the same page of the same paper, and I was struck by the contrast of human natures, and of the methods of the old-time frontier people with modern go-getting business men. There were plenty of “Uncle Gus’s” [sic.] in the past generations of Texas, though not many were financially as able to exercise their quiet philanthropy as he. But there’s damn few “Uncle Gus’s” [sic.] being produced by this highly-advanced age, anywhere.

References like the above never fail to intrigue: who was “Uncle Gus”? What did his “quiet philanthropy” consist of? Where did Howard read about him?

I’ve been unable to find a newspaper with stories about Uncle Gus and a “generous plutocrat” on the same page, but I have found the following, from The Galveston Daily News, Thursday, October 3, 1935:

McKinney Buries Man Who Gave Away Fortune to Deserving Poor

McKinney, Tex, Oct. 2.—AP—Simply, Collin County buried its 91-year-old farmer-philanthropist today.

In the coffin and under the tombstone he selected and paid for ten years ago rested A. M. (Uncle Gus) Wilson, distributor of an $800,000 fortune among deserving farm folk.

Elder R. C. Horn, himself an octogenarian and a Christian minister for 60 years, said last rites for his old friend. The same simplicity of Wilson’s life marked the funeral service.

He was buried in the family plot, just a few paces from the log cabin in which he lived 86 years. The burial ground and home were remnants of a huge fortune, dissipated by philanthropic deeds.

Uncle Gus erected churches, regardless of denomination; built schools and homes for teachers; underwrote teachers’ salaries when doors of the schoolhouse were threatened with closing because of lack of funds; gave youth a financial boost when the cause seemed worthy.

Natives recalled his many deeds of kindness. They remembered the day he walked along a lane, stopped to watch a farm boy hoeing cotton. The boy did not look up at Uncle Gus. He hoed down the row. Uncle Gus gave the lad $1000 in stocks because he worked—did not stop to talk.

The wealthy landowner, who chose the dress of the farmer and lived the same life, held many mortgages, but it didn’t make much difference. A farm couple who toiled long each day to pay off a debt on their farm to Uncle Gus, lifted their supper plates one night and found the heavy balance marked “paid in full.”

He took a group of Boy Scouts on an extended trip across the continent; had new automobiles waiting in the garages of newly-married couples when they returned from honeymoons and gave rich farming land to men of the soil who struck him as being industrious and appreciative.

Uncle Gus never missed a world’s fair until the Chicago century of progress. Ill health kept him away.

He was unmarried and lived alone with a faithful dog who died a few years ago. He buried the dog on his grounds and erected a handsome tombstone.

He lies within a few paces of his dog.

There’s not much information about “Uncle Gus” Wilson on the web, if any. All I’ve been able to find is that at the 84th annual meeting of the Texas Folklore Society, in April 2000, “Pioneer Angel: Uncle Gus Wilson” was a session topic.

Well, Prince has finished singing; time for kickoff. Go Colts!


Addendum: “Uncle Gus” Mystery Solved
Posted February 8, 2007
by Rob Roehm

Thanks to a couple of Cimmerian Blog readers, the “Uncle Gus” mystery has been solved. After reading the initial post, Rusty Burke contacted me:

“Good work on the ‘Uncle Gus’ story [. . .] This certainly helps narrow down the date for the ‘Uncle Gus’ story. I’ll wager that the Dallas News is where Bob saw it; I’m pretty sure that’s the Dallas paper that was available as a dual subscription with the [Cross Plains] Review.”

Later that same day, I received the following from Cimmerian Award nominee David Hardy:

“Rusty sent me an e-mail about your Blog entry on the Cimmerian. I did a bit of checking and found the stories in the Dallas Morning News.”

So, the clippings that REH sent HPL were from the front page of the Dallas Morning News, October 2, 1935. Besides a very similar “Uncle Gus” clipping, the News also ran the following story about the “generous plutocrat”:

Return of $39,000 Check Wins Dime Reward for Boy

First Offer Was Nickel, but Donor Thought That Hardly Enough

ST. LOUIS, Mo. Oct. 1 (AP)—For returning a $39,000 bank check he had found, Woody Robinson, 18-year-old messenger boy, received a dime reward Tuesday.

As the youth was crossing the street he noticed a slip of paper covered with tire marks. It was a Mississippi Valley Trust Company check for $39,000, indorsed David E. Woods, 12 Garrswold Park.

“The man seemed awfully happy to get the check back,” Woody said. “He dug down in his pocket and pulled out a nickel. Then he told me he thought it was worth more than that and handed me a dime. I hardly knew what to say.”

Woods declined to comment.

Well, that’s one mystery solved . . .

A Tale of Two Letters

2018 09-24 REH to Archer

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted August 11, 2006, at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

So I’m going through The Last Celt the other day, looking through the letters section in the back, and I see the letter to “Managing Editor Denis Archer Publisher” dated May 20, 1934. This letter briefly explains the genesis of Howard’s one and only Conan novel, and ends by stating “Under separate cover I am sending you a 75,000 word novel, entitled ‘The Hour of the Dragon’ . . .” Fine, I think, Howard sends the letter to the publisher in advance, and later, when he gets around to it, packages and sends the typescript. This gets me thinking, though, and I pull out a copy of Glenn Lord’s Ultima Thule to read the rest of the letters in this series.

On June 15, 1933, Howard sent a letter to Hugh G. Schonfield at the Denis Archer publishing house, enquiring about a collection of his short stories. On January 9, 1934, he got the famous response about there being a “prejudice that is very strong . . . against collections of short stories” in England at the time and a recommendation that he “produce a full-length novel of about 70000-75000 words.” Apparently Howard took that advice; he was ready to send The Hour of the Dragon off to England in late May of that year. We all know that Denis Archer never published the story, however, but that it appeared in Weird Tales, instead.

But I’m getting off my subject. A couple of years ago I found a copy of the May 20 letter on the internet, I forget where; I think it was the Necronomicon Press website. Wherever it was, they had a nice scan of the letter on their page, and I downloaded and saved it. More recently, Glenn Lord sent me a few photocopies of letters when I was preparing to reprint Ultima Thule. Just for kicks, I pulled out the photocopies and leafed through them. When I came across the letter to Denis Archer, something wasn’t right: it was dated May 22.

2018 09-24 REH to Archer 2

That can’t be right, I thought. So I pulled out Ultima Thule and checked the letter: May 20. That’s right, sports fans, Howard wrote two letters to the publisher, but don’t get too excited. Besides the different dates, the only difference in the letters is the beginning of the second paragraph. The May 20 letter starts “Under separate cover I am sending,” and the May 22 letter starts “Enclosed I am sending.” No big deal, I guess.

But I wish I knew how these two letters came about. Did Howard send the one on the 20th and include the other with the typescript on the 22nd? Did he change his mind and decide to send both the letter and the story in the same package instead of separately? Maybe he was just too lazy to go to the post office on the 20th? Who knows?

And people say I’m obsessed.