The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: By Crom – Are Conan Pastiches Official?
Today’s post is actually about Robert E. Howard’s Conan, but (in a stunning surprise) it’s got some Sherlock Holmes at the foundation. No, Conan never met the great detective…
Hopefully you’ve been checking in on our summer series, Discovering Robert E. Howard. There are plenty more posts coming, so stay tuned. While I very much like Howard and his works, I came late to his stories and I’m certainly no expert.
There is one area I’ve found…curious, which relates to the “official” status that seems to be accorded to the authorized pastiches written since Howard’s death. It’s quite different in the Holmes world.
There are sixty official Sherlock Holmes tales. Period. Fifty-six short stories and four novels (more novellas, really), all penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and published during his lifetime. There are two Holmes short-shorts, “How Watson Learned the Trick” and “The Field Bazaar” and there is no disputing that they were written by Doyle. But they are not included (by anyone, I believe) in the official count.
You, oh enlightened one, know that the Doyle Estate tried to include a sixty-first story, found among ACD’s papers by a researcher, but it turned out to have been written by Arthur Whitaker.
To quote myself, from my first Solar Pons post here at Black Gate:
Parodies are stories that poke fun at Holmes. But the more serious Holmes tales, those that attempt to portray Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective to varying levels, are called pastiches. Just about the earliest ‘serious’ attempt at a Holmes copy was by Vincent Starrett, who wrote “The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet” in 1920.
Doyle’s son Adrian, sitting at his father’s very desk, produced The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes (half of the stories were co-written with John Dickson Carr, who would quit mid-project).
But other than the Doyle family itself, no one every argued that these tales should have expanded the Canon. Holmes fans can enjoy uncounted tales by other authors and the Solar Pons stories by August Derleth, but barring an extremely unlikely discovery (a real one, not like this), the official count stands at sixty.
Basil Copper was authorized by the Derleth Estate to write more Solar Pons tales after Derleth passed away. And they are widely approved of by Pons fans, but they’re supplemental to, not part of, the Pontine Canon.
A similar situation exists with Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout’s corpulent detective. Robert Goldsborough has written ten novels of Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, with the Stout Estate’s full permission. But they certainly aren’t considered official Corpus (the term for Stout’s original stories).
Ok: there’s the groundwork. Yet in the case of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, the most famous sword slinging barbarian of them all, we find that the official pastiches, written by a variety of authors, are accorded equal stature to Howard’s originals.
P. Schuyler Miller and John D. Clark created a timeline of Conan’s life which Howard himself said was pretty much correct only a few months before he killed himself in 1936. That chronology, of course, only dealt with the stories, written by Howard, published up to that time.
The Miller/Clark timeline would be revised and later expanded by L. Sprague de Camp (what didn’t he revise?) and Lin Carter. It would incorporate Howard stories published after his death as well as pastiches.
Wheel of Time’s Robert Jordan would produce a chronology, with pastiches, including his own. William Galen Gray’s chronology includes all the original Howard stories and all pastiches through the entire Tor series (more on those in a bit).
The point (finally, a point!) is that the chronologies can be viewed as providing a foundation for those who hold the pastiches equal to Howard, and also for those who eschew these later stories by other authors and discard them.
I’m not going to get into the history of pastiches from different publishers (Lancer/Ace, Bantam, et al) and authors (Karl Edward Wagner, Andrew Offutt, etc). That’s a multi-post effort right there.
I’ll over simplify a bit and say that L. Sprague de Camp, by controlling the Lancer/Ace and Bantam books from Conan (#1) through Conan the Liberator (#14) mixed stories written by de Camp, by de Camp and Lin Carter, by one or both from fragments written by Robert E. Howard (and with a couple late additions by Byron Nyberg) with Howard’s originals (“edited” by de Camp) and put all of them on a par. Huh: that wasn’t a simple sentence, was it?
He put them in his revised chronological order and inserted short intros to each, linking them to the prior story. I rather like these short links. While I myself hold all non-Howard originals to be pastiches and not authoritative Conan tales, I think the general perceived baseline among non-purists is that the stories in the Lancer/Ace series are the ‘official’ Conan tales.
Stop yelling: I think that assertion can at least be argued to be valid, though it’s certainly not conclusive. But going a step further, the powers that be which control the Conan copyright would seem to have us also include the Tor Originals as “official.” And I think that’s ludicrous.
From 1982 through 2003, eight authors (though primarily four) cranked out 43 new Conan novels for Tor. At two per year, the quality varied wildly, as you can imagine. John M. Roberts’ Conan the Rogue is an homage to Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and one of my favorite Conan books. Steve Perry’s Conan the Indomitable is one of the worst fantasy books I’ve ever read (even though it is a direct sequel to Perry’s Conan the Defiant, which I liked).
But I cannot remotely conceive of validly including this Tor series with Howard’s originals in any kind of ‘Conan Canon.’ A similar attempt in the Sherlockian world would lead to deerstalker-wearing Sherlockians storming the publisher’s headquarters, smashing windows with magnifying glasses.
I was introduced to Conan through the first volume of the Lancer/Ace series and have most of it, though it was Del Rey’s The Coming of Conan that really started me on the path to Conan fandom.
I don’t think de Camp or Carter wrote Conan as well as Howard by any measure, but I enjoy a significant number of their stories; and as I already mentioned, the linking pieces. And since we can now read Howard’s originals without changes made by others (prominently, de Camp), which wasn’t always the case, I don’t mind much that de Camp tinkered with the creator’s works.
De Camp took a Howard fragment and fleshed it out into the short story, “The Hall of the Dead.” Both men have co-author credit and it’s not a bad story. But there is none of Howard’s fast paced, wordsmithing in the tale. Yet it’s right there as the third Conan story in that first Lancer volume (right behind Howard’s The Tower of the Elephant).
Among Doyle’s papers was found the plot outline for a never-written story. In 1947, Robert Cutter expanded it into “The Adventure of the Tall Man.” I don’t believe ANYONE has ever counted this an official part of the Canon. I would venture to say it’s a small number of Holmes fans that have ever even heard of it, let alone read it.
The Conan copyright is tightly held these days (you’ve already read about the Holmes copyright situation, naturally) and if the voice of Crom decrees that the Tor tales are official, then they are official. But while I enjoy some pastiches more than others, I consider none of them Conanonical (I made up a new term!). Only Howard’s original stories are official Conan.
As I said, I’m far from expert in this topic and I’d appreciate comments that help tell the story better.
While this is a ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes post, it’s just one of more than a dozen coming in Black Gate‘s ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series this summer! Here are the ones so far:
REH Goes Hard Boiled by Bob Byrne
The Fists of Robert E. Howard by Paul Bishop
2015 Howard Days by Damon Sasser
Solomon Kane by Frank Schindiler
REH in the Comics – Beyond Barbarians by Bobby Derie
Rogues in the House by Wally Conger
You can read Bob Byrne’s ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column here at Black Gate every Monday morning.
He founded www.SolarPons.com, the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’ and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
His “The Adventure of the Parson’s Son” is included in the largest collection of new Sherlock Holmes stories ever published.
I think those paperbacks that Del Rey put out with the original material have gone a long way to push those Lancer/Ace paperbacks back to pastiche level.
I’m a relatively new fan to Robert E Howard and when i was looking for his stories my googled searches pointed me in the direction of those books and not the old paperbacks.
How long have those L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter books been out of print? As time goes on those books will slowly be forgotten in favor of Howards original material.
It gets a little more complicated than even the picture you’ve drawn, Bob. Along with the out-and-out pastiches – original stories using Conan – you also have a large number of Howard stories that were re-written with Conan as a protagonist, and the innumerable number of Solar Pons-esque stories that were Conan-in-all-but-name.
That’s not counting the “posthumous collaborations” where an author finished or built a story around one of Howard’s fragments, though the practice gets less critical attention than when August Derleth made a habit of it with Lovecraft’s writing.
As with Lovecraft and Doyle, the complicated relationship of Howard’s creations (particularly Conan) to the work created after Howard’s death usually causes latter-day authors to focus on Howard’s original fiction as the set “canon” that they all refer to, rather than try to build off of or refer to each other.
As far as I can tell, when DeCamp passed away and Paradox gained complete control, the pastiches were clearly ejected from any semblance of acceptance by the rights holders in deference to the “purist” groundswell of the past twenty years. While you can get the pastiches as ebooks, I haven’t seen a new Conan pastiche for sale in print since Turtledove’s Conan of Venarium. I kind of enjoy the pastiches like “Conan the Rogue,” but most of the ones written by DeCamp and Carter are quite poorly written. And yes, I own the “better” pastiches like Road of Kings and Conan and the Emerald Lotus as well as the old lancer editions.
I was introduced to the character of Conan through the Conan the Barbarian movie, so de Camp is directly responsible for getting me into Conan. I’m currently working my way through the entire Gray Chrono and I’ll agree that there are a number of terrible Tor novels, Perry being the worse. Even better writers like Jordan have very formulaic stories. I’ve heard good things about Conan and the Emerald Lotus, but haven’t gotten that far in the Chrono. But so far besides the de Camp and Carter short stories, like Legions of the Dead and The Thing in the Crypt, the best pastiche writer I’ve read was Andrew Offutt.
I’m not much of a Conan or Robert E. Howard fan, but this posting caught my eye.
Offhand, I’d argue that one key to the question of “canonical” status would be whether or not the originating author sanctioned contributions by other authors. So far as I remember from my reading of Howard, he never considered, let alone approved, let alone formally and officially attested to, the idea of other authors writing stories about his characters. Therefore I’d say a Conan story by L. Sprague de Camp has no more “canonicity” than if I should write one.
I would say further that only the texts of the stories as seen in surviving final manuscripts, or as published in Howard’s lifetime. A Conan story by Howard not published in his lifetime might be a debatable item. Was the evidence there that he wanted it published as it was? Or did he decide to hold it back? If the latter, should it be considered canonical?
Just some thoughts.
I count Lin Carter’s works as part of the Conan canon.
The thing is, not every writer can pull off Conan. What I didn’t like about all the later Conan stories is that they weren’t Conan or they were a bit off. I suspect that they were sword and sorcery stories with different characters that were passed off and remade as Conan stories. No offense to one of my favorite writers, Harry Turtledove, but his Conan of Venarium was weak. He and John Roberts Maddox did their best work in their own worlds. I thought Robert Jordan’s Conan tales were awful. Seriously–bad, but he is a fantastic writer in the Wheel of Time series.
Lin Carter and Sean Moore could pull it off. I loved their tales and as far as I’m concerned they are part of the Conan tales that I consider canon.
There’s something wrong when someone can copyright characters from stories that are in the public domain.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Conan big time – but – Conan himself is REH’s “Pastiche” using lots of “King Kull” plots.
King Kull came first – but it was too intellectual and not “Brundage Fodder”. So REH just set Conan in a later era and used some of his loose plot threads and filled it full of sex, lesbian whipping scenes, etc.
IMO if REH had lived he’d have years later once he’d piled up enough money to not give a —- he’d have written “The Chronicles of King Kull” that would have short term cost him fans and had publishers going “What are you doing to us!?” but had been his lasting legacy.
IMO we need some real Conan pastiches again – BUT – these should be independant – ever notice those cheap Chinese printed books of Wikisource/Project Gutenburng texts in the bargain bin of bookstores? Conan is public domain – as long as no “Finished/published” later, no Marvel/Dark Horse stuff is used. Imagine good writers putting together an independant work with no need to OK through a bunch of faceless censors permission on just how and where he can swing his sword?
@GreenGestalt—-I’d like to see some more Conan or Kull stories. I’d also like to see some down to earth sword and sorcery like those days. I think you are right about Howard. He would have come back to Kull. Kull fits his barbarism versus civilization argument to the T. That is what made Kull so cool.
I can’t of course speak for all REH fans. I became a Howard fan late in my life because I admired his awesome ability with words. In fact, I compiled “The Wordbook: An Index Guide to the Poetry of Robert E. Howard.” Most of my life I’ve been particular (in fact very fussy) about reading well written novels stories/novels and I hunted constantly for authors that I could enjoy. I thought I found the ultimate wordsmith in Dorothy L. Sayer’s “Gaudy Night.” That is until I discovered REH. His combination of poetic prose, passion and action made me a die-hard fan. I am an unapologetic Howard purist. Conan has a different persona when written by Howard and I prefer the original and the original author. PS I’m an even bigger fan of his poetry.
As far as writing more stories about Kull and Solomon Kane, who was another favorite of mine, Howard said that when these characters no longer *spoke to him,* he couldn’t write about them any more. Maybe that’s why so much of his work is fresh. He created a variety of heroes in an incredible variety of genres. He wrote almost 800 poems and over 700 short stories in about 12 years. As a writer wannabe, I just wish I had his talent with words.
To Wild Ape – It’d be a neat project! I’d imagine it as a “Writer’s Collective” – in that the writers would pitch in $ to fund printing and distribution (and get $ back if it makes $ based on it) – and we’d have a KickStarter. There would be rewards for contributions, pdf files, printouts, the book, stuff like tin badges… Hopefully this could start towards the end of next years.
There’d be a few rules-
1. ONLY stuff from WikiSource, stuff clearly public domain. There’s a neat paper by a lawyer who likes REH on what’s public domain. So no “Bone Woman”, no “Living Tarim”, no helmet with two horns forward, no Red Sonja, no Waarrlll Devourer of Souls and a necklace of three painted metal disks, etc.
2. I won’t go into this here but I’d also put a paper on “The REH method” – in a way it’s like giving out MY source code – but one of the reasons I’m writing my own stuff is I’m PO’d and angry at all the PC Sludge being excreted. All the “I wanna be the next Tolkien/wait Martin” and pages of needless descriptions and worlds/settings heavily influenced by well known fantasy world RPG random generators…but for a phone book thick trilogy the story is surface only… The “Blood and Thunder”/”Thud and Blunder” Poul Anderson essay is only about avoiding stupid obvious mistakes in sloppy writing – storytelling is more than just researching petty details, Gnorts could weild a 50lb wet noodle if the writing is good enough.
3. Non-PC. No apologies. (1)
In short – anti PC or beyond PC. Not necessarily a -“ist” message but beyond it dealing with conflict, contrast not pathetic pandering appeasement.
A lot of fun could be had with this. And what PO’s me about how P.C. types bash early pulps is that for all the stock cliche stereotypes they used most pulp writers and characters were actually progressive for their time.
It’d be a pretty neat collective project – I thought of a title the other night – “Conan Unchained” but they seem to be using it on the online game. It’d be neat to make it – perhaps a kickstarter goal of having it printed in the USA also… Perhaps someone here could help with info on the costs/contacts to get it into the bookstores in printed version?
1 – No more P.C. It’s time to ram that through. Political Correctness is like being on an ocean liner and going below deck you find out they are welding shut the valve on the boiler because someone complained they couldn’t stand the noise, not to mention the ship’s running on the backup engine with it’s two real engines dead ‘cos the investors would panic if even one fiscal quarter they showed a slight dip in profits…
To Barbara – I’m amazed at REH too. How much he put out, the variety, etc.
I’m making 2 characters/story cycles in the 1700s – and one is inspired by Solomon Kane – though they’d look similar on the surface they’d be at odds if they met. I conceived it in a fit of rage after seeing the movie.
I don’t think Conan is public domain.
You’re right Bob, Conan is not public domain. The REH intellectual property rights are currently held by Fred Malmberg’s Cabinet Entertainment.
GreenGestalt. If you want to want to write about the *Conan* stories that are inside you. Just change the character’s name and his description. With a little imagination, you can make your own character, in your own unique setting and submit the manuscript to a publisher. Your metaphor for PC is a bit bizarre (people=machines?) but if you’re writing about your own characters that might not be an issue for some publishers. This would apply to any REH IP characters.
To Bob and Barbara – how in the world is Conan NOT public domain now? I mean, sure stuff Marvel, Dark Horse, the films, etc. But Conan was published long ago and that original character the story is open. So, how in the world, how in G-d’s name is it illegal to use Conan as a character in new fictions, save using ‘official’ elements not yet public domain?
Case in point – look up on Amazon.com for “Conan the Barbarian – The Original, Unabridged Adventures of the World’s Greatest Fantasy Hero ” A printed book that I saw in Barnes and Noble years ago and I doubt licensed by the REH holders. Not to mention tons of Kindle collections. Openly sold for profit – using stuff that again WikiSource shows as public domain. Simple Cntrl+C, Cntrl+V into an epub text IMO – I’ve made my own personal collections so no need to buy, and for the record I eagerly bought the recent reprints of Conan adventures, having read my paperbacks Ace/DelRey bought decades ago into powder.
Why haven’t the REH property holders sued or used DMCA to get this stuff taken down? Likewise, similar epub/online/posting of John Carter of Mars all ERB’s early Mars and Tarzan classics- and that’s Disney, king of CopyWRONG extensions to keep anyone from doing to Mickey Mouse what Walt did to the Brothers Grimm… Why not attack? Simple, they don’t have half a legal leg to stand on and if they tried to CopyWrong bully and lost it’d be bad news…
On that note, do all those “Lovecraft/Chtulhu” items all over have to pay Arkham house anything? Didn’t see any note on “Doom that came to Atlantic City” kickstarter – heh. Or those Action figures of Lovecraft in a 70s Sears Catalog format.
Shall we start on Sherlock Holmes? Recently mentioned here, and easily google searchable – the Supreme court ruled against those claiming he’s under Copyright.
Now, more to Barbara – I’ve got plenty of original ideas – and while I’m quite influenced in many ways by “Two Gun Bob” I’m quite capable of writing on my own and with today’s online markets going to the consumer directly. It’d simply be a neat experiment and “Back to Childhood” – oh, some of my first comics/writings done in grade school were Conan, but little better than cliché Savage Sword stuff. I’d like to approach as a mature adult writer. And to create an experimental environment for other writers. And yes, we’d try to make some $ off the project if we (me and other writers) commit the time and money to it.
Imagine say John Fultz or Darrel Schweitzer taking on REH’s Conan? And using the settings as long as no later still copyright material being used, other takes. Like how about Charles Saunders having either a new character or through non-canonical time warp have Imaro go to Zamboula and get the “Slaves” to do a big revolt? (and change their dietary habits) Bet he’d really have fun unleashing “ire and brimstone” there;-) The Non-PC (Political Correctness) could be explored – perhaps a Jewish writer could go on the stereotypical portrayal of “Men of Shem” – even though it was set like 1000 years before Abraham so yes they -and all mankind after the flood but before known history – were still quite “Wicked in the Earth”. While we couldn’t use Red Sonja, how about a woman writer’s take on Valeria?
I should have been more precise when I posted earlier. I believe Conan is under trademark by Paradox (now Cabinet Entertainment) and in some cases, also copyrighted. I’m not an IP attorney but I believe trademarks do not have an expiration date. Perhaps prior Conan books were authorized by CPI.
I’ve found it hard to get a clear picture of the Conan copyright over the years. Here’s a 2003 post from the REHUPA forums:
Well, you’re mostly correct. I’m not going to write too much, but the short of it is that REH’s copyrights transferred to his father, Dr. Isaac M. Howard, upon Robert’s death in 1936. His father willed all of his property, including REH’s copyrights, to a friend, Dr. Kuykendall, who let him move in and work, in a fashion, during the last year or two of Dr. Howard’s life which ended in 1944. Dr. Kuykendall died in the late 1950s, the Robert E. Howard properties passed on to his wife, Alla Ray, and his daughter, Alla Ray Morris. Mrs. Kuykendall passed away in the mid-1980s, Mrs. Morris in the mid ’90s. When Mrs. Morris died, she made her good friend (and a relative by marriage) Zora Mae Bryant executrix of her will, and left her estate — or at least the Robert E. Howard related properties — to Mrs. Bryant and her children, who had been her closest family for many years. Mrs. Bryant’s son, Jack Baum, now administers the Howard properties which has been incorporated as Robert E. Howard Properties, LLC.
Wandering Star Publishers does not “own” the rights to Howard’s work, but rather have licensed the rights from the Howard’s heirs. They have also licensed the rights to the copyrights of the original Conan tales.
Now, there are some more coplex details to consider… namely, the fact that many of Howard’s literary characters have been incorporated as seperate corporations who each own the rights to that character and anything related to it. Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, Red Sonja, and Howard Properties. Conan Properties, Inc. was created in 1979 I think, to settle conflicts of ownership (de Camp claimed he had an ownership stake and threatened to sue unless he was given a cut of the upcoming Conan movie), and the corporation was subsequently controlled by L. Sprague de Camp and his attorney, Arthur Lieberman. The other properties were controlled primarily by the Howard heirs. In 2002 Conan Properties, Inc. was apparently sold and formed into a company named Conan Sales Corporation, which is in turn owned, to the best of my knowledge, by Paradox Entertainment — a corporation based in Sweden.
The stories (and original characters and events) contained in the last collection, The Casebook of SH, are still under copyright in the US. Everything else (including Holmes and Watson) is public domain.
The most recent tiff was because the Doyle Estate argued that since Holmes and Watson continued to ‘grow and evolve’ (something like that) in the Casebook, they were also under copyright. The Court said ‘flummery’ and threw that out, returning things to the status quo.
So I can (and have) write Holmes stories, but I can’t write a sequel to The Sussex Vampire or use Baron Gruner in a story.
“google searchable”? It’s Black Gate searchable! https://www.blackgate.com/2014/07/21/the-public-life-of-sherlock-holmes-the-case-of-the-copyrighted-detective/
Oooh…..Here’s a new essay related to Andrea Plunkett’s copyright claim regarding Sherlock Holmes.
I’m a little fuzzy on the details now, but she had me write an essay for her on the history of The Hound of the Baskervilles once. That was before I knew she claimed to own Holmes.
To Bob – thank you for the response and info – I did remember reading that article and searched for it – not able to find it – it was getting late so I pointed to the major news on it.
Again, if people can go and publish public domain Conan stuff clearly independent of REH’s estate and for profit, why not make NEW Conan stories just careful to avoid stuff added later by Marvel, Dark Horse, etc.?
Look up the title I mentioned on Amazon, it was on the shelves in Barnes and Noble for years – and all the Kindle ones for $1 etc. Big CONAN labels, just carefully a generic Font, not Marvel lettering… And Conan is trademarked? Then why can they publish it?
GreenGestalt – I don’t know the answer to your questions.
Here’s an essay I was referred to (haven’t had a chance to read it yet).
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