The Conan and Robert E. Howard Website
This FAQ was created by compiling a mulititude of different messages together from various REH discussion groups. Although the FAQ should probably be "toned down" a bit because of its passionate and sometimes abrassive language, it is nevertheless a generally accurate account of the issues surrounding Robert E. Howard's literature over the last 20 years. Enjoy!
This FAQ is an assembly of past contributions to the REH-Fans Mailing List. Many thanks to all those who contributed.
In the mid 1950's, L. Sprague de Camp was hired by Gnome Press in order to edit the Conan tales. But he didn't just "edit" the stories. He rewrote finished typescripts, censored some others, re-wrote Howard stories featuring entirely different characters and settings into Conan tales, and made ghastly mistakes when he edited what he thought were Howard's mistakes.
If you don't count the Howard stories which were grossly re-written into Conan stories, then I think the most edited Conan story would be "The Black Stranger" AKA "The Treasure of Tranicos". In this story, de Camp "only" re-writes about 40% of the story. That's not much is it? I mean, it's not like he wrote an entirely new Conan story and then said it was written by Howard, is it? Oh! Wait a minute, maybe it is. Bah! What? What did de Camp do? He "only" replaced the supernatural poison gas in the cave with a demon from hell. He added Thoth Amon into the story, who then controlled the black stranger. He changed the ending of the story so that Conan was rescued by Aquilonian nobles who want him to lead a revolution in Aquilonia...? I mean, how plausible is THAT? Why did these nobles want Conan, who was up until then just an unknown soldier in the far away border lands of Gunderland and the Pictish Wilderness? The re-writing did serious harm to Howard's conception of his character, Conan, and his stories, but I won't go into that. Get James Van Hise's "FANTASTIC WORLDS OF ROBERT E. HOWARD" if you're interested in some of the really nasty editing that de Camp has authored. It's currently on the market and waiting to be ordered by you!
A small example of de Camp's unwarranted editing can be found by taking just one of the sentences from the unedited version and comparing it with the Lancer/Ace version of "The Frost Giant's Daughter":
Howard wrote, "Her maddening laughter floated back to him, and foam flew from the barbarian's lips."
De Camp re-wrote: "Foam flew from the barbarian's lips as her maddening laughter floated back to him."
Do you sense a different impact between the two sentences? Which sentence seems more powerful? Which one evokes a greater image? It's obvious, Howard's phrasing is superior.
Now, I admit that the essential meaning is still retained, but why did de Camp change it in the first place? In many other places de Camp actually adds text, and still others he deletes it. Read THE FANTASTIC WORLDS OF REH I'm telling you!!! You'll learn a lot! Further, read THE DARK BARBARIAN or "Conan Vs Conanics" by Don Herron, or Rusty Burke's DARK MAN journals published by Neconomicon Press. Your eyes will be opened and you shall see my son! ;-)
So even in the stories not so heavily rewritten, the intrusion of a great many commas, changes in hyphenation, etc., seem designed not so much to improve clarity for the general reader -- de Camp admits that Howard made very few actual errors -- as to simply give de Camp a bigger stake in the final product.
But even in instances where a change seems "minor," there can be damage to the original author's conception. A specific example from "Beyond the Black River" that comes to mind is a passage in which Conan is describing his career to Balthus, and says, "...--hell, I've been everything except a king, and I may be that, before I die." De Camp adds, after "king", "of a civilized country," because in some story or another he'd made Conan a king of one of the "uncivilized" countries, I guess - I can't remember if this was from a Howard fragment or synopsis, or one of the ones de Camp just made up out of whole cloth, no doubt some pastiche-lover can correct me here -- and to de Camp it was IMPORTANT that the whole thing be a SAGA, and be logical and consistent.
Howard, in the letter to P. Schuyler Miller that appears in the Lancer/Ace CONAN, wrote:
"In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him." What he doesn't say here, but is worth pondering, is that the average adventurer is more than half a liar (as REH said of Sir Richard Francis Burton, to Ed Price), so expecting internal consistency in these stories is asking a lot.
Overall, the editorial changes made to turn what Howard conceived as a series of random adventures into a coherent "saga" end up giving people a wrong idea about Howard, and his character.
Some say de Camp helped draw the threads of Howard's world together and helped give them a cohesion they lacked. That's a good thing, right?
You are right in saying that they lacked cohesion, so what he gave the story was a cohesion he - Sprague - introduced for spurious reasons. When I pay for a Robert E. Howard book, I don't want to see inside the interpolations, stupid interpretations and bogus cohesion of a second-string writer, even though a first-rate businessman.
De Camp also took four stories Howard wrote about very different characters and turned them into Conan stories. And before anyone jumps in with "But all of Howard's characters were basically the same," don't even start with me, it is simply not true. Those four stories have absolutely no place in the Conan series.
And the stories that de Camp and Carter and Nyberg just made up -- well, what the heck are those doing being included in the series with Howard's own? Those don't have any more to do with Conan than a story that I make up would.
As for fragments -- well, Howard himself doesn't seem to have considered them a part of the series. From all appearances, if he did not actually finish and submit the story, he did not consider it a part of Conan's history.
Robert E. Howard seems to have been perfectly able to conceive of Conan all by himself, and to write, with no help from anyone else, some really great stories that no one else has ever been able to truly imitate. So why am I supposed to thank de Camp for coming along over 15 years later and "fixing" what wasn't broken in the first place? The article in Van Hise demonstrates that Howard's grammar and spelling and punctuation are, in the main, just fine -- even de Camp himself admits that. So why did de Camp feel compelled to rewrite?
One word: money.
As long as de Camp promotes these re-written, re-arranged, and edited stories AS IF they were what Howard intended for his Conan character, de Camp is guilty as charged. Guilty of rape against Howard's work and committing grave violence against the artist's good name.
2. WHAT'S THE PROBLEM WITH "OFFICIAL" CONAN?
Conan Properties, Inc. (CPI) is the corporation which owns the character of Conan. This corporation is controlled by L. Sprague de Camp who has 1/3rd of the of the voting seats on CPI's Board of Directors plus the 1/3rd vote of CPI's President who is reported to always vote with de Camp. CPI states that the "official version" of Conan is the corporate version of the character, as determined by de Camp.
When de Camp re-wrote and finished the Howard stories he did not mark what was Howard's text and what was his, presumably in the hopes that people would assume that the story and plot were essentially written completely by Howard and not de Camp. So then he sells these edited stories AS IF they were written by Howard but only slightly edited or by de Camp.
Further, de Camp also arranged and placed the stories in a flawed, cohesive chronology and story framework of his own design, thus distorting or obscuring Howard's concept of his characters life, and basically putting a hardly believable straight jacket on the character that, with the advent of over 50 new imitation Conan novels, is bursting at the seams.
CPI approves new novels of generally mediocre or low-quality to be written by different authors. Without exception, these new stories distort and alter Howard's conception of his character and stories by presenting a necessarily different interpretation of Conan, his world, and Howard's work. Every new story must, by CPI policy, be placed somewhere within the chronological timeline approved by de Camp. This not only builds a timeline so packed full of epic adventures as to be completely unbelievable, but it also greatly limits the creativity of authors who may want to try their hand at a different interpretation of an event previously written in another novel. De Camp actually stated that his decision to put the stories in an iron clad chronology may have been a mistake, but for some reason he didn't state, he said he would not change it.
These altered Howard stories, the arbitrary chronology, and the new pastiche Conan stories when taken in total is what de Camp calls "official" or "official Conan", implying that this is the one, true Conan... meaning Howard's Conan. This is the problem. CPI seems to be systematically re- writing Howard's Conan, and destroying Howard's conceptions and artwork in the process. De Camp is attempting to supplant his Conan in place of Howard's, and the bold assertion that de Camp's version of Conan is the only true version, the only official version, ignores all together that FACT that Robert E. Howard created Conan, and that this original Conan can be the only true Conan. Anything else is imitation, and SHOULD BE TREATED AS SUCH. Instead, de Camp gives these altered and imitation stories equal footing with Howard's stories, and in many cases a greater standing. This demonstrates complete disrespect for Howard's work and artistry, and smears Howard's good name.
3. WHY DID DE CAMP EDIT, ALTER, RE-WRITE AND ABUSE THE CONAN STORIES?
Pure, selfish monetary gain. De Camp saw a good thing in Conan, and decided to weasel in on the action.
Everyone should understand that de Camp, after the Gnome series in the fifties, thought he would be through with Conan. This comes from the horse's mouth. Time and Chance: An Autobiography by L. Sprague de Camp, Donald M. Grant, 1997. We can all interpret what de Camp says in his autobiography but I have no reason to doubt most of his statements.
De Camp claims that "In the winter of 1951-1952, I rewrote the three stories [Frost Giant's Daughter, God in the Bowl, Black Stranger] , which Wright for good reasons had rejected." He further states "I edited with a heavy hand, changing names of characters and deleting what seemed useless verbiage." As for the Black Stranger he says "I added interpolation to make it fit [the Conan saga]" In 1952 when he gave Greenberg the intro to King Conan he believed he'd be finished with Conan. Oscar Friend sold these stories and Lester del Rey further edited The Black Stranger, restoring its title for magazine publication. With even further editing by de Camp, Greenberg used these modified versions.
Apparently Oscar J. Friend, the agent, was discussing continuing the series with Doctor Kuykendall at this time. They could not agree on a price for Friend to buy the rights from the heir but they did agree to find someone to write pastiches, as de Camp states " stories openly imitating those of an earlier writer in characters, setting, and tone, without trying to deceive the reader." He cites pastiching as an ancient art, referring to Virgils Aeneid based on Homer, and Ruth Thompson's continuation of Baum's Oz stories. All correct but a pastiche is a pastiche, and a rewritten tale is an abortion.
They approached Leigh Brackett (Mrs. Edmond Hamilton). She wrote The Sword of Rhiannon in the Ace 1953 D-36 double novel, the other side of which was a reprint of the Gnome Conan the Conqueror. Her novel is more like Burroughs Martian series, De Camp knew her and admits she was more barbarian minded than he was, and would most likely have captured Howard's spirit better than he.
She declined Greenberg, knowing he was a late payer. So, in 1953, Friend turned back to de Camp proposing he rewrite several unpublished non-Conan tales resulting in Tales of Conan. De Camp was thinking he's finished this time. Not so. Nyberg submitted his pastiche to Greenberg in 1957, called The Return of Conan. Greenberg proposed de Camp rewrite this to correct non-English constructions and it was published in late 1957. I don't have a problem with Nyberg's tale. It is a complete pastiche and a great effort considering he was a fan and not a writer when he did it.
In Rusty Burke's article in "Fantastic Worlds of REH" I found part of a letter by L.S.De Camp on page 52. In this interesting letter De Camp states that he did the Conan editing out of pure greed.
It's interesting to note on the same page that Sprague says in SSC N0. 56 Sept 80 " Since litigation with Gnome Press was still pending, de Camp's legal advisors urged him to add more stories to the saga to strengthen the legal position of the heirs and himself ".
Gnome's position seems clear. Sprague worked-for-hire in producing the pastiches for that series so he had no right in reselling them until Gnome were compensated. Sprague would have to buy out the Gnome copyright which is eventually what happened. Sprague states in several places that he got little out of doing the Gnome series.
Just to clarify matters here, when Sprague said he had been advised to write pastiches "to strengthen the legal position" of the heirs and himself, he refers to the litigation between himself and Martin Greenberg, the Gnome Press publisher. This was well before the formation of CPI. De Camp was attempting to sell the Conan package to Lancer Books without including Greenberg in the deal, which was nuts. Of course he ended up having to pay Greenberg off. So, as originally stated (and as I have stated many times), the only reason de Camp wrote new pastiches was pure self-interest and greed.
5. WHAT EXACTLY ARE THE DYNAMICS WHICH PREVENT ROBERT E. HOWARD'S ORIGINAL, UN-EDITED CONAN STORIES FROM BEING REPRINTED?
I'll see if I can give a short answer to this. Perhaps the primary problem is that the owners of Robert E. Howard's work (currently Jack and Barbara Baum) do not actually control the rights to Conan. Years ago, when Hollywood was trying to get a Conan movie going, they found that there were two warring factions to deal with. Glenn Lord, who was the agent for the Howard heirs at the time, was attempting, following the demise of Lancer Books, to get Howard's Conan published without the pastiches etc. of de Camp et al. De Camp, on the other hand, didn't want the series published without his work, since he felt that he had been "responsible" for the success of Conan (I TOTALLY disagree, but that is not the issue here) and deserved to reap financial rewards which would only come to him if the Lancer books were published; he would get no cut at all from pure Howard. Glenn and Sprague's relationship wasn't much better than that of the two characters in "The Man on the Ground." So when the movie people wanted to get going, they faced the possibility of lawsuits from one side or the other, or both. So they said they wanted to have just one entity to deal with. Thus was Conan Properties Inc. born, and this corporation now controls all rights to the character.
Following the formation of CPI, a deal was made with Ace Books to publish the Lancer series, plus the book CONAN OF AQUILONIA, which was unpublished at the time Lancer went bankrupt. So many of us refer to this as the "Lancer/Ace" series. (Prior to the formation of CPI, Glenn Lord had arranged with Karl Edward Wagner and Berkley Books to publish the "pure" Howard Conan. Three volumes were published, which included stories that were in the public domain [another story altogether, short version being that, during the transition from Oscar Friend to Glenn as agent, someone dropped the ball on renewing copyrights]; the plan was to eventually do all the Howard stories. The formation of CPI squelched that deal, and Berkley chose to abandon plans for the rest of the series. Much later, I don't know exactly when, Berkley acquired Ace Books, and thus the rights to publish the Lancer/Ace Conan. When that deal came up for renewal, Berkley chose not do do so, and the rights reverted to Conan Properties. So when the Baums refer to the "Berkley" series they mean the Lancer/Ace, because it was Berkley Books that reverted the rights to CPI, while when the rest of us say "Berkley" we mean the Karl Wagner edited books from ca. 1977. Confusing enough?)
The Baums and de Camps are 50-50 partners in CPI; however, the stories are covered under a separate part of the CPI Agreement, and the partners do not share equally in them: For Howard-de Camp-Carter stories, the heirs get 50%, de Camp gets 44%, and Carter (his heirs, not sure who they might be) gets 6%. For the pastiches that were included in the Lancer/Ace series, the heirs get 10%, de Camp 57.33%, Carter 28.67%, Nyberg 4%. For Howard stories, including the Berkley series, the heirs get 90%, de Camp 8%, Carter 1.75% and Nyberg .25%. For the Lancer/Ace series, there were differing percentages for different books -- but bear in mind that these only pertained to the "existing" contract, and that now that the contract no longer exists, these percentages would probably end up being renegotiated even if a contract to republish that series was done.
But for that contract, the figures were: for CONAN, CONAN OF CIMMERIA, CONAN THE WANDERER, CONAN THE FREEBOOTER, CONAN THE ADVENTURER, and CONAN THE USURPER, the heirs got 47%, de Camp 32.5%, Carter 16.5%, Nyberg 4%; for CONAN THE CONQUEROR and CONAN THE WARRIOR, the heirs got 10%, de Camp 57.33%, Carter 28.67% and Nyberg 4% (don't EVEN ask me why the heirs got such a puny cut on those books! It seems insane)-- and these same percentages obtained for CONAN THE AVENGER, CONAN OF AQUILONIA, CONAN THE BUCCANEER, and CONAN OF THE ISLES. There are somewhat different percentages for foreign publications, etc. But you can see, from this, that de Camp would have an interest in having this series continued, rather than seeing "pure" REH.
CPI is currently talking to publishers -- after all, they have a vested interest in SOME version of the character being on the bookshelves. It remains to be seen just what will come about.
6. BUT L. SPRAGUE DE CAMP WAS THE PERSON WHO MADE CONAN SO SUCCESSFUL, WASN'T HE? SHOULDN'T WE GIVE HIM SOME CREDIT FOR MAKING HOWARD'S STORIES POPULAR?
I would choose 10,000 copies editions of pure Howard work to "successful" 1,000,000 copies edited and butchered by de Camp. I can't make any kind of equation between "literary value" and "number of copies sold", sorry. Do you think Stephen King - or John Grisham or Tom Wolfe - are great writers BECAUSE they sell million of copies of their books ?
Howard's work is ART and not product (or rather in addition to product).
This raises the question... How important is selling books anyway? Most of us who found Howard's stories through the Lancer/Ace Conan paperbacks have a sense of gratitude to those who published, packaged, and got the Conan books to our book stores. We are grateful that someone, somewhere allowed us to find the Conan books in our stores and thus give us a great gift... the pleasure of reading Howard's stories. We think that if these people had not sold as many books and made the books as popular as they were that we would not have had the opportunity to read Howard. So we think that we are in their debt.
When we are older, and more experienced, we begin to realize that there are differences between some of the stories in the Lancer/Ace books. Why we're not sure, but the difference is there. Then, we find out that that the difference is because some of the stories were severely edited or re-written. Other stories, we find out, were not even written by our favorite author. Others were unfinished Howard fragments that were completed by other authors. And still other stories were originally Howard tales of different characters that were blatantly re-written into Conan stories! But that's not the worst of it... Then we find out that the one person who we think of as loving Howard's stories enough to spur him to promote them and re-write them (L. Sprague de Camp) has done so not out of love but out of pure selfish monetary gain. Further, we find his editing to be invasive and aggressive, subverting the artistry of the work written by the true author of the stories, Robert E. Howard. But now we have a dilemma. Who do we thank for our love of the stories? Where do we place our gratitude? Do we thank the messenger or do we thank the author?
MARKETING and WRITING are two completely different things. Marketing deals with making a work popular. Writing deals with creating the work in the first place.
When you think of de Camp, you're thinking of marketing. You are grateful that de Camp sold you a book. So the issue here is, were the methods used by de Camp to sell the books worthy of praise? Could de Camp have maintained the integrity of the artist's stories and still be successful in selling the books? More importantly, think about only one question... If de Camp did not re-write Howard's stories and left them in their original state, but did everything else the same, would the books have sold?
If your answer is, "Yes, they would have sold", then the editing done by de Camp was unwarranted and should not be defended. If you admire de Camp, you may wish to separate the man from the act. In which case, you may defend the man, but you cannot defend the act if you also stand for the integrity of an artist's work. I've found this is really the only issue here. Was de Camp's editing appropriate? Should it have been done?
Some would say that an authors' work is great because they sold millions of copies, while others would say the reverse-- authors sold millions of copies because they're great writers.
Tricky subject. You really have to look at the particulars to determine which is true. In popular culture, do movies sell because they are fine works or art or because they are packaged well? I think you'll agree the the majority of "popular" movies made are trash. In fact, it's rare that a really fine movie is made regardless of its popularity! They are just few and far between. But in any case, Howard's stories were masterpieces and would have become popular because of Howard, not de camp. Glen Lord would have done it if de Camp hadn't got in the way, and Glen would have respected Howard's work!
The stage was set to receive Howard's work in the 1960's as it did Tolkien's. Anyone could have sold Howard and succeeded. That's why de Camp attached himself to the Conan tales, rather than sell his own original work. He knew a money maker when he saw one.
This is still a live issue. Some of you think that this was all done in the past, and we should let it lie. Well, what about the next time the Conan stories are published? And there will be a next time. The issue is very much alive and well and pertains to the future. We should not cry over spilt milk, but we should insist that the stories are treated with the respect they are due! And we should keep insisting! We should expose the injustices and wrongs of the past so that they do not repeat themselves! Make our voices heard! Educate others so that our voice grows! Make CPI hear us!
7. DE CAMP DID NOT RUIN HOWARD'S REPUTATION, HOWARD DID THAT HIMSELF BY COMMITTING SUICIDE, RIGHT?
Is Hemmingway's reputation ruined? How about Jack London's? They both committed suicide, along with hundreds of other great writers and poets. Why is Howard's reputation ruined by his suicide when the other writers' reputations are not? The answer is that Howard's suicide is a foil, a facade that misleads people into thinking that Howard's work sucks just because he committed suicide. And since Howard's work sucks, then it's ok to screw around with it. It's just escapist trash written by a hack after all, right? In fact, let's just get rid of Howard's stories all together! Let's destroy them and all copies of them, so that all we have left are the Bantam and Tor Conan novels! THAT would solve the problem, wouldn't it? ;-)
Then again, the reputation of the man himself, Robert E. Howard, has probably been strengthened by his suicide. It lends him an interesting air of the "tragic artist", and in a way validates him as a real, serious artist. HE was a man who felt passionately and took his craft seriously. Thus, his stories are an object of serious endeavor.
A more careful read of Howard's stories will reveal an underlying current that stirs certain parts of the psyche. Barely discernible, but there none-the-less. Writing was Howard's life. It was his only means of expression, and Howard was saying something with his stories as much as he wanted his stories to sell. He put a part of himself in those stories, and that is what is serious. Not that fact that he intended to sell the stories to an audience. It is a mixture.
Some say that if it wasn't for de Camp, Robert E. Howard would be only slightly more well-known to the modern reader than Nictzin Dyalhis, or some other relatively unknown author.
Let's face it, if it wasn't for Lancer Books Conan wouldn't be popular. No, I mean Gnome Press. No, I mean Glen Lord. No, I mean Frank Frazetta. No, I mean the friggin' heirs to Howard's estate. After all, it is they who hired de Camp, they were the master minds behind it all, shouldn't they get all the credit? What drivel! De Camp did nothing but ride on the shirt-tails of a brilliant writer! He went along for the ride, that's all. What did he do that made Howard's stories popular? What? Tell me!! What??!! Why the loyalty toward de Camp in the first place? What did he do for you? Are you related? What??
8. I'VE HEARD THAT HOWARD'S CHARACTERS ARE ALL THE SAME. IS THAT TRUE?
L. Sprague de Camp made this assertion in an effort to justify his re-writing of four non-Conan tales into Conan stories. Howard's characters are all the same so why not re-write them, right?
Bah! Take a closer look and read the sentences that open up the depths of each of Howard's characters who were all fully fleshed, 3 dimensional characters! These sentences are not numerous to be sure, but they are there! After all Howard emphasized ACTION and EVENTS, over thoughts or feelings. He was writing action adventures not explorations of a character's psyche, but he did not omit the other aspects of a character's personality, he only did not focus on them. Read deeper, my friend.
For example, take this line from a Solomon Kane story, :Blades of the Brotherhood"...
"I am thinking of her, offal of Purgatory" said Kane somberly. "there be many fires, scum, some hotter than others - " how deadly blue the blades shimmered in the lantern light! - "but save the fires of hell - all fires - may be quenched - by - blood!"
Most people would not think that Solomon Kane was a serious, brooding man of somber character... not too much different from Howard's other heroes. However this line found in "Blades of the Brotherhood" shows that Kane had a sense of humor ("offal of Purgatory") and shows that the chase and retribution quenched an internal fire within him, which also gave him his reason for being...
There are many more examples that show Kane as an exceedingly compassionate individual. This fact conflicts with the more common view that Kane was a blood-thirsty, hard-nosed, uncaring fanatic, but it only goes to show you how complex the character of Kane really was... how well Howard had fleshed out Kane's personality. The fact that Howard does not write much about his character's personalities does not mean the characters didn't have one. Whenever I read a Howard story, I am struck with the amazing way in which Howard's heroes react to their environment. It is so real, and seems to follow a cohesive line of action or thought, as if we were reading about a real person. Howard did his homework.
9. HOWARD DESERVES NO RESPECT BECAUSE HE WAS A MAMMA'S BOY, RIGHT?
Not true. De Camp in his book, Dark Valley Destiny, seems to dwell on that topic in an amateurish, psychological orientation based on nothing less than ignorance! And frankly, it's drivel! Howard was not a "mamma's boy" no matter what de Camp says. He's wrong. He wasn't there, and all outsiders saw was a "devotion" to Robert's mother. Is it possible that Howard was devoted to his mother out of principle and not some weird Freudian Oedipus complex? Howard's father was a doctor whose obligation it was to care for the sick. Couldn't Howard have adopted this moral obligation as well? There is no doubt that his mother's slow death (and you better believe he knew that her illness was killing her) gave Howard considerable pain. Wouldn't it anybody? How would you like to watch your mother slowly die from illness before your eyes... and not be able to do a friggin' thing about it except try to make her a little more comfortable? Would not making the last years of a loved one a little more bearable be a noble cause, and one worth dedicating a few years of your life to? Howard was not a mamma's boy. Instead he was a man of honor and moral principle. He could not, WOULD not desert his mother for his own selfish gain, and his mother's illness required constant attention. TB is a nasty disease! Remember, this was during the Great Depression, and the Howard's were not rich. There is a letter written by Howard begging Weird Tales to give him the money they owed him because his mother's illness had depleted his family's financial reserves. Robert was living in a very difficult time, in very difficult circumstances. There is much evidence that points to the fact that Howard made up his mind to commit suicide years before his mother finally died. The only thing that kept Howard around, that stopped him from carrying out his plan, was the moral duty to his mother that he held. When she was gone, there wasn't anything to hold him back.
For your information, the group that has the largest percentage of suicide is artists. Poets are number one, writers second, artists third, and so forth. There is a connection between artists and suicide. If you'd like more information about this, check out Kay Redfield Jamison's book, "Touched with Fire: The artistic temperament and manic-depression".
In any case, the idea that Howard was a mamma's boy, or that he was a complete lunatic is absolute nonsense and should not reflect on his work! Howard had problems, but he was not weak and he was not insane. He was in control of his actions and KNEW what he was doing. He was an artist.
10. THE PURPOSE OF HOWARD'S STORIES ARE ONLY TO ENTERTAIN, RIGHT?
How do you determine what its purpose was? The fact is that stories can contain pearls of wisdom and new insights into life without having an explicit intention to make the philosophical content the entire subject of the story. A story can be both entertaining and deep. I can write a story to sell to a market that enjoys escapism, and write for myself by including insights into life and such. There is no mutual-exclusivity here.
Was Howard trying to send some imporant message? He was trying to do three things: 1) make a living 2) write enjoyable stories...
AND 3) express himself. Make a point. Write something he feels is meaningful. Many times someone writes something with one intention, and ends up with a story that says something very different than what he intended. I might start out to write fluff, but end up with an insightful commentary on life. Even though there might be philosophical content, the story can still be enjoyable! There's no conflict.
Bob Howard tried to make his stories entertaining, it is true, but he also had something to say. How can you read "Beyond the Black River," with what is very clearly a MORAL at the end, and think he wrote this thing purely for entertainment, with no message in mind? In his letters, and in the conversations recorded by Novalyne Price Ellis in ONE WHO WALKED ALONE, Howard makes it clear that, while some of his stories were just make-a-living-hackwork, he put more into others. You want stories with no message, nothing to recommend them other than pure entertainment? Try Seabury Quinn. The sad thing is, HE thought he was an artist!
"Don't look for philosophical puzzles, there are none", sez John D. Clark.
Actually, there are many philosophical issues in Howard's stories, but like I said before, Howard emphasized the adventure and the action. He did not omit serious subject matter.
There are quite a few little philosophical puzzles. Some of the more obvious, since Howard pointed them out in the stories, are the philosophical notions of reincarnation, racial memory, and the idea that barbarism is the natural state of mankind and society. But there are other things that a discerning reader can see. The focus on individual freedom. The conflict between one's thoughts and one's actions, and the proposed way to deal with that conflict is intrinsic to Howard's stories. Howard, or Conan, chose action. Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead! The ideal presented in the Conan stories is to live life to the fullest, drinking wine, beer, wenching, and violence is what makes life worth living. Then there is the metaphorical analysis of Howard's writing... which I won't get into here. Suffice it to say that Howard was a poet, and poets work in metaphors and similes. One of my greatest discoveries about Howard's stories is how heavily he draws from poetry, its structure and style. After I had read a book of his poems, I re-read a Conan story and I was shocked at how similar the story was to the poems! Not in content, but in style! That's what really turned me on to the fact that Howard was a great artist, and not just an everyday fantasy hack. His prose sings because it is poetry in a very real sense.
11. "GREAT" IS A RELATIVE TERM ANYWAY--IT ALL DEPENDS ON YOUR TASTE! LITTLE KIDS CONSIDER R.L. STINE A "GREAT" WRITER. HOW CAN YOU SAY HOWARD IS A GREAT AUTHOR?
You're making the mistake of confusing greatness with likability. There are many "great" works of art which I despise! The cubist rubbish for one example! However, I acknowledge their greatness because the work did break beyond pre-conceived borders and brought something new and valuable to the culture. "Greatness" is an objective judgment, but usually it can only be made after a long period of time. Howard's work is great. Because of his popularity in the Weird Tales and pulp magazines of the 1930's, Howard nearly single-handedly created a new sub-genre, Sword and Sorcery. Howard's stories were far more popular that Tolkien's at the time (Tolkien hadn't even written his first stories yet), and a horde of writers quickly followed in Howard's footsteps to take up the S&S banner. The mere skill of Howard's prose should be enough to prove his worth, however if you wish to dig deeper and look for real substance, it is there. Just as it is in every great work of art! Howard was indeed a GREAT artist.
A CALL TO ARMS...
It's not that de Camp should be despised, but that Howard's text should be restored and respected. Most Conan fans, including purists, admire de Camp. Not for screwing with Howard's stories, but for other reasons.
I believe you understand the injustice in altering an author's work without his permission, so I won't go into that... But yes, it's easy to sweep the issue under the rug and ignore it. But that's your right. It's much easier to simply enjoy what is given you, especially when the stories are relatively enjoyable.
However, it is the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. The louder and more forceful people are about maintaining the integrity of Howard's work, the better the chances that the powers that be will consider treating his writings with respect. Short of having a few hundred million dollars to buy out CPI, what strategy would you recommend to get their attention? If enough people make a fuss about it, it will change. I know this for a fact. Those of us who have taken up the charge to preserve Howard's work have made a very positive impact on REHPI (Robert E. Howard Properties, LLC.), who owns all of Howard's non-Conan stories. That's one major ally in our fight to get Howard more respect and preserve his writings. It is not a lost cause. It may take a few years, but it will happen. Mark my words!
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