Rogue Blades Author: He Himself was in Every One of Them

Friday, July 10th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

The following is an excerpt from Rusty Burke’s essay for Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, an upcoming book from the Rogue Blades Foundation.

Howard changed my life

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

conan #4From the cradle to the grave, Life is one long roleplaying game. Every day presents us with new situations that require us to make choices, and those choices, while opening up new opportunities, will generally close off other possibilities. (Unless certain physicists are right, and each possibility opens a new universe. But that’s another essay altogether.) Of course, in Life the game is enormously complex, because each of us is playing many characters, many roles, often juggling several at once, and each of these roles is very interactive, depending to some degree on how other people respond to the character we are playing, and how we respond to theirs. Fortunately, most of us slide in and out of these roles unconsciously: if we had to actually think about what our role in the scene is and how we should play it, I think we would most likely flub our lines.

We don’t always recognize when we’ve come to a crucial decision point, one which will set the course for our future. Spring 1971: I was in college, in a Religious Studies class, and struck up a conversation with a guy who was doodling some great comics in his notebook. As we talked, I casually remarked that I’d given my comics, baseball cards, and other ‘kid stuff’ to my brother. Next class, Charlie Williams tossed a comic onto my desk and said, “Read that and tell me it’s kid stuff.”

It was Conan the Barbarian #4, “The Tower of the Elephant,” and the first page pulled me in. Not only was it my introduction to the work of Robert E. Howard, but Charlie guided me into the whole world of Marvel Comics, which for some reason I had missed. (I read Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos during a war comics phase when I was about twelve or thirteen, but somehow managed to be unaware that Marvel did superheroes, as well. I was a DC guy, especially Green Lantern and Batman, all the way. Probably poor distribution to the comics racks at the few stores in my community.)

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Rogue Blades Presents: Howard Days 2020

Friday, June 26th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

gateMost readers of Black Gate are probably already aware, but for those who are not, Robert E. Howard Days has been a major annual event for the small town of Cross Plains, Texas, since 1986. The gathering, including an annual dinner and festival and much more, has celebrated the life and writings of Robert E. Howard, the godfather of Sword and Sorcery literature and the creator of such fictional characters as Conan the Cimmerian, King Kull, the boxing sailor Steve Costigan, and many others. Yes, all of this has gone on in June for more than three decades.

Until this year.

As one might expect, because of the Coronavirus, Howard Days did not take place in 2020.

How sad.

But understandable.

Still, I had the great fortune to attend Robert E. Howard Days in 2018. I had planned to visit again in 2020, but … well, we all know what happened.

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Weird Tales Deep Read: October 1934

Sunday, June 14th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

Weird Tales October 1934-small

Cover by Margaret Brundage

This third installment of the Weird Tales deep read covers the eleven stories in the October 1934 issue, including the first Jirel of Joiry story by C. L. Moore. Her flame didn’t burn as long in the Unique Magazine as the Lovecraft-Howard-Smith trinity’s did, but it did burn as brightly. Moore had sixteen stories in Weird Tales between 1933-1939, twelve in an incredible burst of creativity in the years 1934-1936.

This issue had three stories set in the U.S. (27%) and one each in France, Hyperborea, the U. K., Hyboria, Africa, Serbia, Italy, and an unknown locale (9%). Six had a contemporary setting (55%) and five were set in the past (45%). All in all a decent issue, with the stories averaging 2.27, the score being dragged down by some of the shorter pieces, which were largely undistinguished.

Notable authors include Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, with one of his longest and most ambitious stories, the aforementioned C. L. Moore, and fairly reliable veterans Paul Ernst and H. Bedford-Jones, and Manly Wade Wellman. The Ernst and Eadie offerings could be considered science fiction, the rest fantasy.

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Weird Tales Deep Read: March, 1933

Friday, May 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

Weird Tales March 1933-small

Weird Tales, March 1933. Cover by Margaret Brundage

This installment of the deep read of the Unique Magazine examines the nine stories in the March, 1933 issue of Weird Tales. We see some familiar names from the previous column: Seabury Quinn, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Harold Ward, as well as a couple who might be familiar to fans of pulp fiction, Otis Aldebert Kline and Paul Ernst. Kline is probably best known for his imitation Edgar Rice Burroughs planetary adventure novels. He was also Robert E. Howard’s literary agent for awhile, which will no doubt come up for discussion at the appropriate time. Paul Ernst was a rather prolific pulpster, possibly remembered mostly today for writing the Avenger hero pulps, but he was also a frequent contributor to Weird Tales.

Some stats for this issue before we get to the individual stories, then a few comments on some of this issue’s offerings. Locations: US (4/9; 44%), fictional realms (2/9: 22%), Venus, UK, France, Tibet (all 1/9: 11%). Contemporary setting: 6/9; 67%). Past: (2/9; 22%), Future: (1/9; 11%). Four of these stories (44%) are part of a series: Quinn, Howard, Kline, and Smith.

Seabury Quinn [Jules de Grandin] (2) “Thing in the Fog, The” [US, PA, Harrisonville, fictional town; Contemporary] Occultist de Grandin and Dr. Trowbridge literally run into a man on the street being attacked by a werewolf. He’s only injured but his companion is killed by the creature. They soon learn that his future wife was once the werewolf’s fiancee and that he’d initiated into his clan. After the wedding, the bride is again transformed into a wolf by a potion given her anonymously by her werewolf ex, but she attacks him while both are in their canid forms, giving de Grandin the opportunity to deliver a fatal shot. De Grandin then releases her from her curse by using an incantation in the form of a prayer. [Medical doctor. Occultist. Occult being, werewolf. Death by occult being, werewolf. Love triangle. Magic potion. Werewolf transformation by magic potion. Magic incantation, prayer]

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Weird Tales Deep Read: July 1933

Sunday, April 26th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

weird_tales-July-1933-small

Somewhat fanciful Brundage cover for “Hand of Glory”

This is the first in a series of posts I’ve wanted to do for awhile now, a detailed look at a single issue of Weird Tales magazine where I do a short analysis of each story, the famous, the infamous, and the forgotten. Just to make things a little confusing, I rate these stories, unlike movies, on a 1-5 scale, with the lower the number, the better the story. You can look at these ratings as A-B-C-D-F, or Excellent – Good – Mediocre – Below Average – Poor.

I wanted to start with a memorable issue, so I chose the July 1933 entry, one of the best I’ve read so far. I’ll start with a short overview and then get into the specifics of each story.

This issue is at the beginning of the Unique Magazine’s (as it sometimes called itself) Golden Age (roughly the early to late 1930’s) with a total of four of the nine stories penned by what I like to think of as the Holy Trinity of Weird Tales writers, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. The ubiquitous Seabury Quinn is also present with one of his ninety-three Jules de Grandin stories, along with tales by early giants of science fiction Edmond Hamilton and Jack Williamson. Sheridan Le Fanu contributes a classic reprint. The final story is by Harold Ward, a fairly prolific pulp writer noted for complicated plots often bordering on the incoherent.

The Howard story is one of his slightest, but moderately effective. The Smith, set in what is probably the first shared-world universe in science fiction — the Cthulhu Mythos — is also rather slight, but vastly more imaginative. The Lovecraft story under his byline is one of his classic Cthulhu Mythos tales. His second story in this issue appears under the name of Hazel Heald, which requires a bit of explanation.

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John Bullard on Robert E. Howard’s “Beyond the Black River”

Sunday, March 29th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Beyond the Black River-smallKeith West dropped me a note this week to alert me to the publication of an intriguing 3-part article on his blog Adventures Fantastic.

“Beyond the Black River”: Is it Really “Beyond the Brazos River”? was written by Robert E. Howard scholar John Bullard, who’s been editing Howard’s correspondence for the next edition of his collected letters. The article examines Howard’s influences when writing the classic Conan tale “Beyond the Black River,” and particularly how he drew from a famous incident in Texas history to create the ending.

I’m not a Howard scholar myself, and generally leave these debates on Howard’s sources to the experts, but Bullard’s piece weaves together fascinating tidbits from letters to H.P. Lovecraft, Carl Jacobi, and others, plus an interview with Novalyne Price Ellis, to make a compelling case for his theory. Just as interesting to me was the intimate glimpse into Howard’s creative process, and his close friendships with his fellow pulp writers. Here’s a sample:

Robert E. Howard’s Conan story, “Beyond the Black River” is considered to be one of his best stories by his fans. It tells of an attack by Howard’s favorite historical peoples, the Picts, against the encroaching colonization of the Aquilonians on the Picts’ deeply forested land between the Thunder River to the East, and the Black River to the west in his fictional Hyborian world setting…

Howard’s recounting of Texas history and characters enthralled his pen pals, and in several of the surviving letters, they encouraged him to write about this history in his fiction…. Yet, prior to the second half of 1934, Howard was unsure of how to incorporate his knowledge of the settling of the Texas frontier into his stories….

Yet sometime after writing the letter to Jacobi, Howard seems to have had a breakthrough in how to incorporate his knowledge of Texas history into his stories and began writing what is generally considered to be one of his finest stories sometime during the Summer or possibly early Fall of 1934… In a December 1934 letter to Lovecraft, Howard wrote:

“My latest sales to Weird Tales have been a two-part Conan serial: “Beyond the Black River” — a frontier story; …in the Conan story I’ve attempted a new style and setting entirely — abandoned the exotic settings of lost cities, decaying civilizations, golden domes, marble palaces, silk-clad dancing girls, etc., and thrown my story against a background of forests and rivers, log cabins, frontier outposts, buckskin-clad settlers, and painted tribesmen. Some day I’m going to try my hand at a longer yarn of the same style, a serial of four or five parts.”(Lovecraft, Dec. 1934)

We’ve discussed “Beyond the Black River,” and its importance to the modern fantasy canon, previously at Black Gate. Recent coverage includes:

Hither Came Conan: Keith West on “Beyond the Black River”
Discovering Robert E. Howard: Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Re-Read “Beyond the Black River”

Read John Bullard’s complete 3-part article at Adventures Fantastic, starting here.


Rogue Blades author: Robert E. Howard, Conan and Me

Friday, March 20th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

Howard changed my lifeBelow is an excerpt from author John C. Hocking’s essay for the upcoming book, Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, from publisher Rogue Blades Foundation.

I was a precocious reader.  By the time I was seven years old, guided by the taste of my father, I was reading Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, E.R. Burroughs, E.E. Smith, and Lester Dent’s Doc Savage stories.  Around this time my father, an art and history teacher, a martial artist and collector of swords, became a little frustrated that my mother was less than keen to accompany him to see a new, supposedly pretty hardboiled, Western movie called A Fistful of Dollars, so he took me.

In addition to thrusting upon my youthful eyes an unimagined example of cinematic style, the film presented a powerful vision of a highly qualified good and a frighteningly believable evil in stark conflict beyond anything I’d encountered before.  Every aspect of the movie resonated with me, but the depiction of fearsome, believably dangerous villains being faced down by a hero who was actually dangerous enough to confront and destroy them instantly made most of the reading, TV and movies I’d known seem somehow inadequate, even false.

Then, in the summer of 1967, my Dad brought me a copy of Lancer’s Conan the Adventurer.  The Frazetta cover promised much, but I read the first story in that collection, Robert E. Howard’s “The People of the Black Circle,” on a quiet sunny morning and it blew my little mind.

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Rogue Blades Presents: Out There in the Wilds with Robert E. Howard

Friday, February 21st, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

Howard changed my lifePublisher Rogue Blades Foundation recently announced the upcoming release of the book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life. Below is an excerpt from author Joe R. Lansdale’s essay for the book.

You can feel so lonely, out there in the wilds.

Oh, I had my parents’ support. They were great. But it isn’t quite the same. I wanted to know other writers, meet an editor or publisher. As for an agent, I thought they worked for the CIA.

I knew this, though.

I loved books, and I wanted to write them, and I had figured out when I saw names on comic books, Bob Kane and Gardner Fox, that real people came up with this stuff, but I was told, by someone who didn’t know his butt from a hole in the ground, that everyone who wrote comics, or novels, or stories, lived in New York or Los Angeles.

I had never been to either.

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Rogue Blades Presents: What Robert E. Howard Has Meant to Me

Friday, February 7th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

Howard changed my lifeI’m rather proud of the upcoming release of the book, Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, from the Rogue Blades Foundation (RBF), a non-profit publisher with a focus on all things heroic. I happen to be a board member of RBF, so my pride comes natural. However, a book title like that gets one to thinking. I can’t help but ask myself, as a writer and editor of fantasy fiction and as a member of the RBF board, how has Robert E. Howard changed my life? What has he meant to me over the years?

In the upcoming book, plenty of people better known and more experienced than myself will answer such questions, and I have to admit, for me these are not easy questions to answer.

I have an admission to make. Robert E. Howard wasn’t my gateway author into fantasy. He wasn’t even my gateway author into sword and sorcery literature.

I’ve read everything Robert E. Howard wrote, or at least everything that’s available to us today, including the formerly unpublished works and tidbits that have been printed in recent years. Back in the day I read nearly all the Howard-related comics from the 1970s. I’ve seen all the movies, even read the book by Novalyne Price, Howard’s one-time girlfriend. I’ve seen the TV shows, played the video games. I attended Howard Days two years ago and I’m planning another trip there this year.

Still, I feel like a phony, a Robert E. Howard phony. I feel like I can never read him enough, study him enough. It’s as if this man dead nearly a century is my teacher and I can never learn enough from him about the art and science of writing.

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An Ode to Robert E. Howard, from a Rogue Blades author

Friday, January 24th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

Howard changed my lifeThis excerpt from author Cecelia Holland is taken from her essay for the upcoming book, Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, from publisher Rogue Blades Foundation.

You have to understand, being a girl in the 1950s was a complete dead end. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t play Little League or football; I couldn’t even play full court basketball. I couldn’t take shop instead of home ec. I couldn’t ride in the rumble seat of my uncle’s new car because I was too young, although my male cousin who was a week older than I got to ride in it a lot. When I asked for an erector set for Christmas, they laughed and gave me a doll.

I was gently dissuaded from thinking about having a real life when I grew up, since I would of course find some nice man to marry me and take care of me and I would spend my life raising children and washing dishes (and probably drinking like a fish, as all my aunts did, drowning their personal ambitions), so why should I even bother with college?

I did have one aunt (I had many aunts) who did have a career, for which she was broadly pitied.

I escaped. Robert E. Howard helped me escape.

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