This was a bombshell from Mikey C (of Necronomania):
You are going to love this one, comrades-in-arms. All the standard DeCampisms, plus a gratuitous link between REH and Charlie Manson of all people!
Maybe you can't really expect much from a book which solemnly recounts on page 3 the old urban myth that Manson was auditioned for the Monkees (which would have been extremely difficult as he was in prison at the time!) and then goes on to repeat just about every shaggy dog story from the period that your acid casualty friends have ever told you. But Dedalus is a highly respected publisher in receipt, I believe, of Arts Council funding.
It really puzzles me why Lachman thinks that Robert E. Howard is of such significance to the "Age of Aquarius". The Manson connection is entirely spurious - I have recently read three books about the Manson Family, and watched several documentaries, and I can assure you there is absolutely no similarity or link between any his rantings and Howard's ideas!
Anyway - here are the scans of the offending article.
More knowledgeable readers might be able to spot a source for this piece. I have just read a section of the book about Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood's exploits in California. Feeling a sense of deja vu, I picked up another book I recently read called Madame Blavatsky's Baboon by Peter Washington. Well, I'm no lawyer, but the "p" word immediately sprang to mind.
It gives me no pleasure to attack, Mr Lachman's work, btw. For a time in the 70s he went by the name of "Gary Valentine" and was an original member of Blondie. He actually wrote one of my favourite ever songs: "I'm always touched by your presence, dear".
I have no knowledge of Lachman's work, though I do have a little soft spot for Blondie: that won't save him from my searing gaze.
Like Lovecraft, Howard was pinned to a particular spot on the map. Unlike Lovecraft, this wasn't due to a love of his home town bordering on obsession, but because of an obsession of another kind: his mother.
Not a great start. Again, Lachman totally misinterprets the Howards' situation in a way that's almost comical: Howard didn't stay with his mother because he had some weird obsession with her, he stayed with her because she had tuberculosis. They lived in the middle of Texas, during the Great Depression. Doctor Howard was away for weeks at a time. There wasn't anyone available to look after her, and they couldn't exactly pay anyone considering the financial state of the entire country. Howard himself stepped up to the plate to be her caregiver.
In what possible universe does caring for your sick mother when nobody else could mean an unnatural obsession?
When word came to him that she had fallen into a coma from which she was not expected to recover, he shot himself in the head with a pistol he had often brandished on imaginary pursuers. There was a strong paranoid streak in Howard that the few literary friends who visited him noticed.
Lachman later makes mention of Howard's depressive tendencies, but as with so many other commentators, he treats Hester's coma as a cause for Howard's suicide: not that Hester was the only thing keeping Howard going, which I believe is the prevailing view among Howardists today. This paragraph also gives the distinct impression that Howard's literary friends are the only people who visited him, doesn't it?
Nearly six foot tall and a muscular 200 lbs - he built himself up after being bullied as a child - the man who created the greatest sword-and-sorcery character of all time couldn't face the world without his mother.
Yeah, we all know that isn't true. The way Lachman writes the sentence, it quite clearly goes into the dramaturgical role people tend to do with Howard. "Wow, the creator of Conan was a mama's boy who was too skeered to live without her! How ironic!" (note especially the misuse of the term irony) It's almost as if people who write stories of mighty warriors and grand deeds aren't allowed to be anything other than sheltered, unhappy, pathetic human beings. It happens with Burroughs, it happens with Tolkien, and it happens with Howard (and all three are equally undeserving of such caricatures, really). Indeed, the explanation of Howard building himself up after being bullied is almost assuredly calling up ideas of Conan being a pitiful reaction against his tormentors. "I'll show you! I'll create a fictional character that'd totally beat you up! That'll teach you!"
His sexual relations were minimal, and it is possible he died a virgin.
Yet another "poor pathetic Howard" statement that does little serve to give the impression the creator of Conan was really a sad little wretch, completely ignoring the fact that Cross Plains - or any small town of under a thousand people - wasn't exactly the ideal place to find a mate. Hell, it was difficult enough finding like-minded men: in an age where women were still considered physically and psychologically incapable of intellectual pursuits, who the hell was Howard meant to hook up with? There is a possibility he did die a virgin, yes; there's an equal possibility he visited the local brothel, where the scurrilous gossiping and asinine chitter of the average young woman would not prove such a barrier to Howard's romantic intents. The mere fact that Lachman points this out is designed to show the dichotomy of mighty Conan against his supposedly pathetic creator. In any case, we all know about his relationship with Novalyne: she was the only woman who remotely "got" Howard.
Howard didn't spawn the literary progeny that Lovecraft did with the Cthulhu Mythos
What in blazes!?! Now this is just insane. Howard didn't spawn literary progeny? The man galvanized the Sword-and-Sorcery genre. Just about every Sword-and-Sorcery author after the '30s owes him a debt. Howard's influence easily equals - maybe even exceeds - Lovecraft's. Unless, of course, he's making that infuriating distinction between "literature" and "not literature," using "literature" to describe works of high cultural merit - completely warping the very meaning of the word. It wouldn't surprise me.
But it doesn't take much to enjoy one of Howard's ripping yarns about Conan and his exploits in the Hyborian Age, which Howard places about 12,000 years ago, in between the sinking of Atlantis and the beginning of recorded history.
As we all know, Howard never dated the Hyborian age to 12,000 years ago (or 10,000 BC). This is another creation of De Camp which has been incorrectly attributed to Howard. Just another example of shoddy, facile research. Sadly, it isn't the last.
For better or worse Howard was an autodidact
What does that even mean? Autodidactism is the only way Howard could've educated himself considering his financial or geographic situation. Or does this idiot expect college education to be easily attainable in 1930s Dustbowl Texas, especially when you're looking after your terminally ill mother? If Howard wasn't an autodidact, he probably wouldn't have been an author at all. "Better or Worse"? Crom on his mountain.
... part of his self-education included variants on the kind of Aryan-pseudo history that Pauwels and Bergier's occult Nazis revelled in. Throughout his work there are embarassing references to "the Sons of Aryas" and singing paragraphs about 'golden-haired, blue-eyed barbarians, descendants of blond northern savages'.
Oh, wow. Embarassing is right: embarrassing on how wrong this stupid man is. "The Sons of Aryas" are almost certainly a reference to the Aryans, but a reference to the actual Aryans, the group now referred to as the Indo-Europeans, before they were hijacked by the Nazis as justification for their twisting of Norse ideals. Sure, there are singing paragraphs about golden-haired, blue-eyed barbarians, but so are there singing paragraphs about the dark-eyed, dark-haired, dark-skinned Picts. Look at Bran Mak Morn. Hell, look at "Echoes from an Iron Anvil." It's clear the fool's never read these, or doesn't care.
In his essay 'The Hyborian Age,' a guide to the historical, political, racial and geographic backdrop of the Conan tales, there's even a character, Arus, who tries to bring civilization to the untrustworthy Picts, a dark, savage race, most likely modelled on the Celts.
Wow, he just didn't get it, did he? Of all Howard's themes, the barbarism-civilization dynamic is his most famous. Some even erroneously state that Howard romanticised barbarism over evil, corrupt civilization, so glowingly does he speak of his barbarians. Yet here, he tries to portray Arus as a heroic figure trying to bring civilization to the Picts, when the point isn't that the Picts are evil and Arus is good, but that Arus was naive and the Picts were cunning. Not to mention I seriously doubt Howard intended to make a connection between Arus and the Aryans, given that this is long before the Nordic Nemedians.
I also love that "Celts" remark, apparently completely clueless about Conan's own heritage and celtophilia, and the ethnicity of the Picts to boot. Is he insinuating that Howard praised the Aryans over the Celts? If so, the man knows nothing of Howard.
Like Lovecraft, Howard had a dubious fascination with race; their correspondence is peppered with reflections on the subtle differences between the Semitic and Mongolian Jew. But also, like Lovecraft, Howard's racism is more born of ignorance than true racial hatred. Like Lovecraft, Howard had little experience of the wold and other people. All his short life was spent in small towns in a remote part of Texas. He had even less contact with other writers than Lovecraft, and to the people around him he was decidedly different. Given he had no encouragement to write, practically no access to philosophical or literary discussion, and a proneness to depression that eventually killed him, it is a miracle he managed to create as vital and imaginative fiction as he did, and actually make a living at it.
This is spectacular.
"Little experience of the world"? I'd wager Howard's experience of the world vastly outstrips that of the average ivory-tower writer. He only left Texas on a few occasions, including trips to New Orleans, Santa Fe and Carlsbad*, but... Texas alone is a freaking huge place. He went to San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth, Galveston, Rio Grande Valley. That's a huge amount of ground to cover. He didn't get on with people, true, but neither was he some shut-in: he knew plenty of people. He just didn't like most of them.
"No encouragement to write"? Balderdash: his mother encouraged him to write. It was Hester who instilled Howard with his love of poetry, and Isaac was well-read himself. Howard was so "discouraged" he had to give Isaac an ultimatum in order to pursue a writing career: if he couldn't make money within a year, he'd pursue another line of work. Howard spoke much of his love of writing, how if he found a market for historical fiction, he wouldn't write anything else: I can't imagine where Lachman gets this idea that he wrote for the pure sake of money.
"No access to philosophical or literary discussion"? What about his intellectual friends like Tevis Clyde Smith & Harold Preece, not to mention Novalyne?
This man knows nothing.
Frustrated with his stunted life in Cross Plains, Howard dreamed of a glorious golden age of barbaric adventure and uninhibited excess, rather as the Nazi Thules dreamed of a return to Hyperborea. It isn't surprising that he wrote stories full of violence, sadism and strange sexual under and overtones, or that an air of Spenglerian decay forms the backdrop to the Hyborian Age.
28 stories, fragments and poems which only amounted to 5% of his entire literary output. Even accounting for his other fantasy - 14 Solomon Kanes, 12 Kulls, 10 Bran Mak Morns, 8 James Allisons, 6 Turlogh Dubhs, and 14 others - that comes to 96 out of 600. Thus, Howard's collected fantasy makes up only 16 percent of his output! Heck, let's add the horrors - 18 horrors, 12 Weird Menaces, 11 Weird Westerns, 11 Cthulhu Mythos tales, 11 Steve Harrisons, 5 Kirowans, 3 Faring Towns, 3 De Montours - 74 in all - gives us 170 speculative fiction stories, and 30 percent. Less than one third of all Howard's fiction was weird.
So, it's kind of missing the point to make any judgment on Howard's psychology from such a narrow selection of his fiction.
Aside from Hyperborea, other occult references turn up in Howard's work. Another mythical country in Howard's Hyborian Age is Turan. According to the esoteric philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the reductionist, materialistic logic of the modern West has its roots in the Turanian peoples, the fourth sub-race of the Atlanteans. Western materialist science for Steiner is a manifestation of Ahriman, one of the two negative spiritual intelligences that seek to lure mankind away from its proper evolution (the other is Lucifer, about whom we shall be hearing quite a bit).
Turan, Lachman fails to note, is also a historical entity. But of course, it can't have been history Howard got it from, it must have been esoterica (despite Steiner being absent from the REH library, and not the only occult writer Lachman attempts to assert Howard read despite no solid evidence on his part).
In Howard's only Conan novel, Conan the Conqueror (1967), the resurrected black magician Xaltotum nearly defeats the barbarian king through the use of a powerful magical talisman, the Heart of Ahriman (Ahriman is of course the evil adversary of Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrianism).
I don't need to point out that it's Xaltotun, not Xaltotum, but that's nitpicking. What isn't is that Xaltotum (tum-tum-tum-TUMS!) does not in fact use the Heart of Ahriman to (nearly) defeat Conan - it's actually the reverse! That's like saying Sauron used the One Ring to nearly destroy Minas Tirith. No doubt Lachman's getting himself confused with that weird globe of light he used to incapacitate Conan. While the Heart was used to resurrect Xaltotun, Xaltotun himself never actually used it. I'd also note that The Hour of the Dragon was serialized in 1936, but really, how's this fool supposed to know that when he doesn't even bother to spellcheck?
Conan's recognized arch-enemy - although he only appears in one story - is the Stygian sorcerer Thoth-Amon, Thoth being the Egyptian god of magic and writing, who was later linked to Hermes by the Greeks, and hence to things hermetic (Crowley would call his treatise on the tarot The Book of Thoth)
This is just bad. Thoth's status as Conan's arch-enemy is only a thing of the pastiches and later comics. Yes, he only appeared in "The Phoenix on the Sword," but if you're only talking about Howard, why bother to bring up his arch-enemy status from the comics? Ludicrous.
But even more than the obvious occult influences, Howard's philosophy of barbarism has uncanny resonances with the ethos of total liberation that rose up in the mystic sities and produced relatively harmless phenomena like free love, and more dangerous manifestations like Charles Manson. The thought of primal, unchecked savagery excited Howard's creative imagination. He wrote to Lovecraft, '... when I begin a tale of old times, I alwals find myself instinctively arrayed on the side of the barbarian, against the powers of organized civilization'. In "Beyond the Black River', one of the best Conan tales, one character delivers his creator's philosophy in no uncertain terms: 'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. it is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.' Unfortunately, Howard blew his brains out before he could see how close history came to proving his thesis.
This entire paragraph astonishes me. Not least because Howard's thesis has been proven throughout history. Civilizations have risen and fallen, and barbarians are always there to tear down the walls. Incidentally, Howard wasn't stating that barbarism triumphing was necessarily a good thing - he just felt that it was natural. And history has shown that when civilizations crumble, barbarians aren't far away.
The thought of tying Manson to Howard is... well, it's insane. Then again, I know very little about the Manson case, so I can't really comment.
I don't need to tell you what I think of that "blew his brains out" remark.
By 1936 Hitler was well in power, and other sons of Aryas
No. No, no no. The Sons of Aryas = Indo-Europeans. Not the sons of the Third Reich. Howard hated Hitler and the Nazis. Don't you dare make that association.
Don't believe me, Lachman? Let's have a look at what Robert E. Howard thought of contemporary Germany:
I might also point out that no one has ever been hanged in Texas for a witch, and that we have never persecuted any class or race because of its religious beliefs or chance of birth, nor have we ever banned or burned any books, as the "civilized" Nazis are now doing in "civilized" Germany.
- Letter to H. P. Lovecraft, July 1933
I know it is the fad now to sneer at Democracy; but Democracy is not to blame for the troubles of the world. The men who are most to blame are the very men who now would “save” the country under the new name of Nazis, or Fascists.
Considering it again, I am not so sure that even cultural and artistic things will not suffer as civilization “advances” along its present lines. You seem to take it for granted that Fascism would guarantee absolute freedom of thought and mental research. I wonder if this faith is justified. I don’t notice any hilarious renaissance emanating from Germany or Italy or Austria resulting from the exhilarating freedom of dictatorship.
- Letter to H. P. Lovecraft, January 1934
You are right economics will have to revolutionized entirely if the nation is to continue, and the choice seems to lie between fascism and communism – both of which I utterly detest.
- Letter to H. P. Lovecraft, December 1930
You accuse me of “hating human development” because I mistrust Fascism. Well, there can’t be much tolerance about a system whose advocates denounce as “enemies of humanity” anyone who disagrees with them. According to that, you consider as “enemies of humanity” every man and woman in the world who is not a Fascist.
Of course, you say that the type of Fascism you advocate is without despotism and persecution of intellectual freedom; you might as well say you advocate a cobra without its venom, a skunk without its stench, or a leper without his scabs.
- Letter to H. P. Lovecraft, December 1934
If Hitler and his cronies were "Sons of Aryas," Robert E. Howard's Aryas would disown them.
Like Lovecraft, Howard had read Spengler.
Are you familiar with the old Wikipedia phrase, "Citation Needed?" I can find no references to Spengler at the REH bookshelf, nor in any of the letters, nor stories. I'm not saying he didn't, but unlike everything else, there's no citation.
For the final stretch, Lachman does something bewildering: he actually makes a pretty nice little appraisal of the Kull stories. He talks of the tales' strange, dream-like qualities, the existentialism, and the weird philosophizing. It's almost as if it's by a different author, and while it isn't anything that hasn't already been covered plenty of times before, it shows that he isn't totally FUBARED (fuddled up beyond all recognition). A shame everything that came before is complete nonsense.
I was initially going to cut him some slack: I assumed this was written and published a while ago, say, the 1980s or 1990s, given the subject matter. This book was published in 2001. The age of the internet.
But wait, there's more:
This episode features an interview with occult author and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Gary Lachman. We discuss the history of the Western occult tradition and how it became a major influence on the counterculture of the ’60s. Gary also shares a few stories from his days with Blondie and discusses the future of the occult movements. Turn off your mind, this week on Disinformation: The Podcast.
This podcast is dated to last year. Anyone brave enough to see if Mr Lachman's a bit more enlightened these days, or has he taken the advice of his book?
* Thanks to Charles R. Rutledge for the tip on Howard's trip to New Mexico. For a "shut-in," Howard sure got around.