Thursday, March 8, 2018

Robert E. Howard on the Llano Estacado and the Collection at Texas Tech University’s Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library by Rob King

Texas Tech University's Southwest
Collections/Special Collections Library

No Howard scholar need be lectured on the wealth of Texan perspective found in the letters of Robert E. Howard to H.P. Lovecraft as collected in A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. One could hardly thumb through thirty pages without landing on a reference. Widely exaggerated and held in a reverence all his own, Howard’s history of Texas requires each reader to approach it with a zeal and skepticism alike. If there is a goal to this brief article, it is to begin to focus on a portion however brief—a portion of his letters and a portion of Texas. The author of this article is a librarian at Texas Tech University’s Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library who has attended three of Cross Plains’ Robert E. Howard Days over the past four years and was responsible for digitalization and metadata for the majority of the Cross Plains Review. It is with that background that interest in Howard’s letter from October 1930 began. The letter runs fifteen pages long, barring reference notes. In that packed page count, the topics vary from appreciation of publications to genealogy to the Llano Estacado, etcetera. In the letter, Howard claims to have “but recently returned” from the Llano Estacado landscape. For the purposes of this study, the focus will be on the month of October of 1930 to give context to Howard’s communicated experiences traveling on the Llano Estacado and then look at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections as uniquely positioned to study the author and his assertions.

At the time of this letter’s composition, one immediately learns that H.P. Lovecraft’s novella “The Whisper in the Darkness” has just been accepted for publication. For comparison, it is noted by letter’s end that Howard has also just sold Weird Tales his short story “The Children of the Night,” wherein he has firmly embraced his Bran-cult along with all of Lovecraft’s Elder Gods and Necronomicon. The attention needed here, though, looks to the last paragraph appearing on page ninety of A Means to Freedom. It allows for examination of Howard’s statements on Texas as he states “And it must indeed be said, that though most native Texans are of Southern blood, there is a great difference between them and natives of the Old South. I notice it every time I go to Lousiana [sic] or Arkansaw. [sic] We think of ourselves, and really are, not Southerners nor Westerners, but Southwesterners. Our accent is more like the South than the North or the Middle West, but it differs greatly from the true Southern accent.”[1] This is largely true and speaks somewhat to the idea of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library’s scope and purpose. As Howard speaks to this distinction, the question almost always becomes “where does West Texas begin?” Many would say it begins west of I-20, near Fort Worth—this is Howard’s position—while those born further into the region might claim it begins west of Abilene up into the Panhandle. For context against this particular letter, I’ll look at digitized newspapers for Lubbock and Slaton to get a clearer picture of the environment Howard would have been referencing for Lovecraft in the following passages.

I have but recently returned from a trip to the great northwest plain which, beginning about the 33rd parallel run on up into Oklahoma and Kansas. Texas is really, especially in the western part, a series of plateaus, like a flight of steps, sloping from 4000 feet in the Panhandle to sea-level. You travel for a hundred or so miles across level plains, then come to a very broken belt of hills and canyons, then passing through them you come on to another wide strip of level country at a lower or higher elevation according to the direction in which you are travelling-and so on, clear to the Gulf. I was on the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains, so called from the fact that Spanish priests, crossing the plains long ago, marked the way with buffalo skulls stuck on stakes. Twenty years ago most of that country was cattle-range; now the great majority is in cultivation. The Llano Estacado is the last stand for the big-scale Texas farmer. Farms of a thousands [sic] acres, every inch under cultivation are not uncommon. A farm of that size requires a tractor and a veritable herd of work horses to cultivate it properly. During busy seasons the work goes on day and night; they work by shifts and labor from sunrise to sunrise. The average elevation is better than 3000 feet and the country is perfectly flat. You can see for miles in every direction; there are no trees except such as have been planted. Its a great, raw, open new country with mighty possibilities,
but I'd go dippy living there. I was born and mainly raised in the Central Texas hill country and I have to have hills and trees!

The Llano Estacado is largely in the hands of native Texans of old American stock. You see, its really a pioneer country. The European scum sticks to the lowlands and the Gulf coast, waiting for the Old Americans to open the country up and get it going-and paying. THEN they'll swarm in and take it over.[2]

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Possible New Photo of Tevis Clyde Smith from the Herbert Klatt Photo Album by Todd B. Vick

Back on April 9, 2017, I posted an article/interview about contacting a family member of Herbert C. Klatt, one of Robert E. Howard's friends, regarding Klatt’s personal photo album. The album was a collection of pictures from various friends around the country who were members of the organization the Lone Scouts of America (LSA). All the photos (except two) in the album were labeled, either on the back of the photo or underneath the photo in the album. One of the photos that was unlabeled was on a page with another friend of Klatt’s and Howard’s—Truett Vinson. The Truett Vinson picture was labeled underneath the picture (with a date on the back), but the unidentified picture, the label had come off or had been removed over the years.

The unlabeled photo next to one of Truett Vinson’s picture had no writing on the back. In fact, the backside had what looked like a label removed from it, or something removed from the back that was perhaps glued there. So, there is no label indicating that this picture is of Tevis Clyde Smith. That being the case, what clues are there that this might be a photograph of Smith? Before I answer, let’s take a very brief look at the history of Herbert Klatt’s eventual meeting of Truett Vinson, Tevis Clyde Smith, and Robert E. Howard.

 Without going too far back (I recommend reading Rob Roehm’s Lone Scout of Letters for a more in-depth look into Klatt’s life), let’s begin where Klatt joined the LSA. The LSA made its debut in 1915 for boys in rural areas that did not necessarily have access to a Boy Scouts of America branch near them. Shortly after the beginning of the LSA, the organization created a magazine called Lone Scout. Just like most other magazines, Lone Scout had a section for their readers who wanted to message or correspond with other Lone Scouts (readers) across the country, some in quite isolated areas. This section was called "Lone Scout Messenger Department," and "Herbert Klatt made his debut in this department in the July 10, 1920 issue."[1] It was through the "Lone Scout Message Department" that Klatt began collecting names of boys with whom to correspond, and by March of 1923, Klatt began corresponding with Truett Vinson. It was through Vinson that Klatt became acquainted with Tevis Clyde Smith, who eventually asked Klatt to contribute to his April edition of the All-Around Magazine Smith and Vinson created while at Brownwood High School. And then, of course, through Vinson and Smith, Klatt met Robert E. Howard.

Over the years, as Klatt corresponded with the various boys he met through the Lone Scout Messenger Department, he exchanged photographs with a few and collected them in a photo album. And thus, we get to our mystery photograph.

In an attempt to possibly find out if Smith mentions a photo that he intends to send Klatt in one of their letters, I read Rob Roehm’s book, Lone Scout of Letters, but found nothing. So, back to the initial question: What clues do we have that this might be a photograph of Smith?

First, the person in the picture looks like Tevis Clyde Smith (at a mid-teenaged year). The facial features, ears, lips, and dimpled (cleft) chin are all similar facial features of Smith seen in other photos.

Photo from Smith's book,
Images Out of the Sky
The "mystery" photo from Klatt's album

Second, the placement of the picture in the photo album, on the same page as one of the pictures of Truett Vinson. The Vinson picture (which will be published in my upcoming biography about Robert E. Howard) is dated December 28, 1924. My guess is the mystery picture is dated sometime that same year (or maybe even earlier), or possibly sometime in 1925.

Third, some of the people in the photo album sent Klatt two photos of themselves in various settings and poses, making it easy (despite their being labeled) to see that these are the same people (e.g. same facial features, etc.). There is no one else from any of the other pictures that look like the person in the mystery photo. And while that’s not a definitive factor, it is something to consider.

With no hard and fast evidence, I can’t say definitively that this is Tevis Clyde Smith, but it does seem highly probable. Moreover, the fact that the picture is in Klatt’s personal photo album is certainly strong provenance that it could be Smith. All these factors tend to make me think that this is, in fact, a picture of Tevis Clyde Smith.

[1] Roehm, Rob. "Introduction: Herbert C. Klatt." In Lone Scout of Letters, x. Lancaster, CA: Roehm's Room Press, 2011.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

First Fans: Robert E. Howard and Emil Petaja by Bobby Derie

I was born in Milltown, Montana, a very small but pleasant village in western Montana near Missoula. Date, April 12, 1915. The town is located in a wide valley between forested mountains, at the fork of two rivers. Our old house was on the bank of the Hellgate, which the valley itself was called in the old days because of the bloody Indian battles fought there between the Blackfeet and the Eastern tribes. My parents emigrated here early in the century. Both came from farming Finns, my father from a rather well-to-do landowner family. Petaja is a well known family name in Finland. [...] There were so many Finns (besides other Scandinavian ethnic groups) in Milltown that at that time it was often called Finntown. Like most everybody else, I worked at the local sawmill, but only long enough to earn enough to go to Montana State University, where I also worked part-time while attending. We spoke Finnish at home and the ancient stories and legends of my mother country, Kalevala, Land of Heroes, and others, were infused in me early in my childhood. (ADAS i, cf. OFF 205)

Emil Petaja
Emil Petaja first appears on the scene in a letter to Weird Tales (June 1932). The sixteen year old reader of science fiction and fantasy soon fell into the gravitational pull of fandom, becoming a subscriber to The Fantasy Fan; his first letter appeared in the Dec 1933 issue, on the opposite page from letters by Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft; he was soon an active contributor with the article series “Famous Fantasy Fiction” (Feb, Jul, Aug 1934), which consisted of brief descriptions of volumes of weird and fantastic fiction, such as:

Lord Dunsany’s two delightful books, “A Dreamer’s Tales” and “Book of Wonder” can now be had in the Modern Library list. After reading the dark tales of Lovecraft, Howard, etc., these are a refreshing change. (FF Aug 1934, 180)

In late December 1934, Petaja wrote to both H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, sharing with each a poem the 19-year-old had written, dedicated to them—“Lost Dream” to Lovecraft, and “Echo from the Ebon Isles” to Howard. (ASDS 67-68, cf. CL 3.259)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Lost Weird Anthology, 1931-1933 by Bobby Derie

History is littered with unrealized literary projects—books that were never written, anthologies that were never published. While the primary market of writers like Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith was the pulp magazines, they continued efforts to see their fiction published in book form—efforts which, for Lovecraft and Howard, amounted to relatively little during their lifetimes, besides a handful of placements in the British “Not At Night” anthologies, as well as Dashiell Hammett’s Creeps by Night (1931) collection and a few small-press or self-publishing efforts on the part of Lovecraft.

One of the most interesting of these failed projects is also one of the most elusive, as little correspondence from the main players has survived. However, thanks to the pulp gossip mill that was Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft, we can trace something of the development of what would have been a classic weird anthology. The trail begins in the summer of 1931:

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Happy 112th, Robert E. Howard

Today, January 22nd, is Robert E. Howard's 112th birthday. 

The general tradition in Howard fandom is to read a story by Howard and while doing so, imbibe your favorite beverage!

So . . . Here's to the first of all dog brothers . . . Cheers!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Fan Mail: Bloch vs. Conan by Bobby Derie

Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian wandered into the pages of Weird Tales with “The Phoenix on the Sword” (Dec 1932), and was followed by “The Scarlet Citadel” (Jan 1933), “The Tower of the Elephant” (Mar), “Black Colossus” (Jun), “The Slithering Shadow” (Sep), “The Pool of the Black One” (Oct), "Rogues in the House" (Jan 1934), "Shadows in the Moonlight" (Apr), "Queen of the Black Coast" (May), "The Haunter of the Ring" (Jun), "The Devil in Iron" (Aug), and the serial "The People of the Black Circle" (Sep-Oct-Nov). Much of the response in “The Eyrie,” the letters-column of Weird Tales, was positive...but in the November 1934 issue there was a letter aimed at the popular series character:

A Crack At Conan
Conan is rapidly becoming a stereotyped hero, but I was greatly pleased with Francis Flagg, a real writer, with something to say. I am awfully tired of poor old Conan the Cluck, who for the past fifteen issues has every month slain a new wizard, tackled a new monster, come to a violent sudden end that was averted (incredibly enough!) in just the nick of time, and won a new girlfriend, each of whose penchant for nudism won her a place of honor, either on the cover or on the inner illustration. Such has been Conan’s history, and from the realms of the Kushites to the lands of Aquilonia, from the shores of the Shemites to the palaces of Dyme-Novell-Bolonia, I cry: “Enough of this brute and his iron-thewed sword-thrusts-may he be sent to Valhalla to cut out paper dolls.” I would like to see the above tirade in print—I feel sure that many of your other readers would support me—at least there is good material there for an arguement. [Sharpen your axes, you loyal supporters of the Conan tales, for soon we shall publish a short story by Mr. Bloch, the author of the above letter. It is entitled The Secret in the Tomb.—The Editor.]

Robert Bloch
The writer was Robert Bloch, a teenaged fan who was, by coincidence, just about to make his professional debut in Weird Tales. Bloch had begun corresponding with H. P. Lovecraft in 1933 (LRB 9), and as was quite natural for Lovecraft, he shared his thoughts on Robert E. Howard:

Robert E. Howard is a most unusual character—the son of a physician in the wild & woolly, rip-roaring West Texas country, which is actually much more like the sanguinary West of chap fiction than we commonly realise. Howard is 27, & is probably the greatest living authority on the history & traditions of the Southwest, & the lives of America’s noted outlaws. He is a burly, athletic chap fonder of fighting than of literature, & possessed of the curious belief that primitive barbarism is a more desirable sort of social organisation than civilisation. His letters have a greater literary value than his tales. (LRB 23)

You are also right in assuming that Robert E. Howard has never been to Britain. So far as I know, he has never been east of New Orleans—but his imagination is limitless, & he closely identified himself with his Celtic & Norse ancestors. As for his incessant swordplay—which Clark Ashton Smith calls “monotonous manslaughter”—that is undoubtedly an outgrowth of the same frontier psychology which makes him so fond of barbaric life. It is a part of his personality, & I don’t suppose it could be eradicated without upsetting the whole emotional arrangement which makes him a literary creator. He has a very vivid sense of incredible antiquity, & finely suggests the existence of unhallowed elder worlds & forgotten reaches of time. (LRB 28)

Although Lovecraft credited Smith with describing the Conan tales as “monotonous manslaughter,” the phrase is not apparent in Smith’s published letters and may have arisen from Lovecraft himself. Bloch was generally appreciative of Howard’s fiction, a letter to “The Eyrie” published in the April 1934 issue praised “The Valley of the Worm,” though he derided Conan, writing:

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Fan Mail: Prohibition in “The Souk” by Bobby Derie

Then in the early spring of 1403 there came to him, in an inner court of his pleasure-palace at Brusa, where he lolled guzzling the forbidden wine and watching the antics of naked dancing girls, certain of his emirs, bringing a tall Frank whose grim scarred visage was darkened by the suns of far deserts.
—Robert E. Howard, “Lord of Samarcand” in Oriental Stories (Spring 1932)

Farnsworth Wright
In 1930, Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright struck out with a new pulp: Oriental Stories, tales of historical adventure and Orientalist fancy, set in an “Exotic East” of the imagination—of the sort popularized by the likes of Harold Lamb and Sax Rohmer, shades of Yellow Peril and the Crusades. This was a risky venture in many respects, due to the state of the Popular Fiction Company’s finances and the Great Depression, and the decision was made for Weird Tales and Oriental Stories to shift to quarterly publication for a period—to the dismay of many Weird Tales regulars. (For more on which, see Scott Connor’s “Weird Tales and the Great Depression” in The Robert E. Howard Reader). Wright had considerable talent to draw on, including Weird Tales regulars and enthusiasts of the Orient like Otis Adelbert Kline and E. Hoffmann Price.

Robert E. Howard landed a novelette in the first issue, “The Voice of El-Lil” (Nov 1930), and followed it with others: “The Blood of Belshazzar” (Autumn 1931), “Red Blades of Black Cathay” (with Tevis Clyde Smith, Feb-Mar 1931), “Hawks of Outremer” (Apr-May-Jun 1931), and “The Sowers of the Thunder” (Winter 1932). The latter was a story of Baibars the Panther, written at Wright’s own request, inspired by the editor’s reading of Harold Lamb’s The Crusades: The Flame of Islam (1931). Wright followed up the purchase of “The Sowers of Thunder” by “hinting Tamerlane as a fit subject for an Oriental Story story.” (CL2.196, 222) Howard obliged by writing “Lord of Samarcand” which appeared in the Spring 1932 issue.