Sunday, 31 October 2010

Io9's Eclectic Top 10 Monster Fighters

In lieu of a proper Samhain post, I'm just going to point to this Top Ten monster fighters from Io9.  Considering how many different characters could be considered "monster fighters," this was always going to be a somewhat arbitrary list.  They have the Winchesters, but wouldn't Mulder & Scully be equally appropriate?  They have room for Sheriff Eben and Van Helsing (who, while awesome, is not the Vampire Hunter later fiction depicts him being) but not Solomon Kane or freaking Beowulf?  Ah well.

I think I'm ready to leave a hint about The Secret Thing: I have ten months left in which to complete it.

Happy Hallowe'en, folks!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Arnold Might Return

LOS ANGELES (BNO NEWS) -- California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday hinted on a possible return to the big screen after recently meeting with the director of the "Terminator."

Schwarzenegger, 63, will be leaving office next week as he is unable to seek re-election for a third term as governor. On Tuesday, Schwarzenegger wrote on Twitter that he recently met with award-winning movie director and writer James Cameron.

Last week, Schwarzenegger was asked if he would return to the big screen after leaving office. "It depends," he said. "If someone comes with a great script, with a great idea. Will I still have the patience to sit on the set and do a movie for three months? I don't know," said Schwarzenegger, who has also expressed interest in writing a book.

My response to the inevitable "He Should Totally Make King Conan: Crown of Iron" rumours

This is not about revenge-


-this is about saving the future of Conan!

"Al, let Arnold return to the damn role!"

I will not sacrifice a true Conan film. We've made too many compromises already, too many concessions. They make Conan the Destroyer, and we fall back. They make Conan the Adventurer, and we fall back.

And I will make them pay for what they've done to Conan!

(Disclaimer: if you can't see the humour in the above post, then I can't help you)

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Somebody call Scott Oden!

He'll know what to do.

Orcs Orcs Orcs are battle ready, ugly, peeved and pouring out of the mountain to wreak havoc and destruction on outdoor enthusiasts and eventually all of mankind. Our collective fates lie in the hands of our hero trio; a couple of bumbling but well-meaning park rangers and Katie, a hot and feisty, over-the-top environmentalist.

So, a film called Orcs! Which has an exclamation mark at the end.  For emphasis, no doubt.

This is either right up Scott's alley, or his worst nightmare.

(Also, an update: you may have noticed I've been a bit less frequent in my postings.  This is due to work on the Newcomer's Guide, as well as The Secret Thing, and half a dozen other items and articles.  Truly I have created a monster...)

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Newcomer's Guide to REH: Preview

Remember how I said I was doing something about the New Manifesto? Well, here's a preview. About the same time that Mark Finn was writing his New Manifesto, I'd been creating my own attempt at forming an introduction to newcomers of Robert E. Howard and his work. This will always be a work in progress, as there's always a new discovery, perspective or explanation for the mysteries and intricacies of the Man from Cross Plains' life and art. It's basically taking some of the elements of the Manifesto and adding my own thoughts and expansions, and footnotes/annotations/citations will be added when I can track them down. Since the article's quite long, I'm going to try and figure out hyperlinks like on a wiki too.

The Newcomer's Guide will also be less confrontational than the New Manifesto for a very specific reason: covering all bases. Some people will be convinced to reassert their beliefs through reevaluation in the face of righteous indignation, while others will simply write off the New Manifesto as the rantings of a sensitive fanboy. Therefore, I think it important to have two approaches. I don't disagree with Mark on any of his assertions, but that doesn't mean Mark, or any one man, can speak for all of REH Fandom, who have opinions, beliefs and interpretations as varied as any fandom could have. As the great Rusty Burke said, getting Howard fans to agree on something "is like herding cats. Big nasty saber-tooth cats."

Think of Mark Finn's New Manifesto as the bad cop, and Newcomer's Guide as the good cop.

Remember, this is still quite incomplete: I just want to give everyone an idea of what the finished article would be like.  There are some glaring omissions I'm having trouble with (particularly the "hot topics" like racism, sexism, alleged Oedipus Complex, homoeroticism and whatnot) but most of the big stuff is there.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Well, we all knew this would happen.

As for love of Truth, it never occurred to me to doubt that you were motivated by a desire to establish truth. I supposed it was a fact that everybody took for granted, that the aim of every intelligent man was Truth. I knew it was your aim, and it did not occur to me to make the formal statement that my aims were similar. I did not suppose it was necessary.
- Robert E. Howard, letter to H.P. Lovecraft, January 1935

Mark Finn's New Manifesto was bound to rankle some folks, but the net had been unusually quiet.

But fear not, for James Nicoll has come to the rescue with a post called "By Crom, they seem thin-skinned." If you met some of us in person, you'd find that very little about a substantial subset of Howard fans can be called "thin." But I kid.

We get the usual sort of gems, like mistaking what the Manifesto was about (that apparently Mark is rallying against literary criticism when it's quite clear that he's rallying against bad literary criticism), a deCampista leaping to the Spraguester's defense (in the form of James Enge, who wrote a review of Almuric that utterly beggars belief in some respects), and the pop culture reference posing as gag (Leave Brit Robert Alone! please (sob)).

It's a shame most of the criticism of Mark's piece is essentially a misunderstanding of what it was all about.  As is clear in the article, Mark is not against new ideas on Howard's writing and their approach to sex, gender, race, class and whatnot.  What he is against is the silly nonsense based on absolutely no concrete foundations that somehow get touted as fact.  It isn't about being unable to cope with criticism of REH as a man and an author - it's about not putting up with inaccuracy and shoddy or non-existent research.

The New Manifesto is not just about defending REH from those meanies who throw silly insults his way, or come up with crazy ideas about his work: it's about establishing the truth.  Even if you don't know, like or care about Robert E. Howard and his work, surely one can sympathise with the desire to lift the obfuscating veil of rumour and groundless speculation to reveal the light of knowledge and truth?

But then, failing - or even refusing - to understand things is the hallmark of the deCampista.

There seems to be a conviction among modems that anything which seems to fall outside the narrow lines of their personal experience is impossible. They are like colorblind men who deny the existence of colors because they are unable to detect them. Like you, I prefer an open mind. I do not think that I have such a grasp on cosmic truth that a thing is necessarily false because I fail to understand the reason of it; I am willing to believe that things very possibly may exist outside my limited range of comprehension.
- Robert E. Howard, Letter to Clark Ashton Smith, 14th December, 1933

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

I get a mention on Topless Robot


Why? Well one of my childhood creations was considered among the Nerdiest by editor Rob Bricken.

Now I remember why I don't do as many story/memory/recollection-based contests as I used to. It's because they're pure agony for me to decide a winner. Seriously, out of 375 comments -- many of which were just people replying to each other -- I had 75 Honorable Mentions my first go-through, and that's while I was trying to be selective. It's not inaccurate to say that I thought 80% of the entries were good enough to be HMs, so please, if your entry doesn't appear in the 30 I managed to winnow it down to, please know that chances are I loved it anyways.

Here's the entry, which was in reply to a chap calling himself Dr Shoggoth.

Dr. Shoggoth said:
When I was a kid, I drew dinosaurs. So do a lot of kids. But hundreds of my dinosaurs were fictional. Inspired perhaps by the book "The New Dinosaurs", I invented a huge world where dinosaurs didn't go extinct, and my character was the daring boy naturalist who could travel to this world and catalog them all. My fake dinosaurs had natural enemies, predator/prey relationships, favored habitats and ecologies. But the kicker? Each species also had a correctly conjugated, accurate Latin name.
Al Harron replied to Dr. Shoggoth:
My brother... I must embrace you, for I did exactly the same thing. Complete with latin names, ecosystem, predator-prey relationships etc. I think I was also inspired by Dougal Dixon. Man, I have to go track down my pictures. Most of them were sauropods, 'cause I love sauropods. Especially diplodocids, because I felt they were underrepresented in The New Dinosaurs (stupid Titanosaurs...)
Babbletrish replied to Al Harron:
I, too, had a whole imaginary ecosystem that lived in my algebra notebooks, and it's largely Dougal Dixon's fault. The again, his deeply strange speculative biology books *did* get me interested in creature design. Good to see there are other fans of these books out there.

Making up Latin classification names for made-up dinosaurs? You guys are my heroes.

Whee, I'm all aflush with nerd pride.

Well, one of these days I'll get around to my fantasy dinosaur species on TBTTF. What's more astonishing to me is that no new dinosaur discovered since my preciocious childhood has actually used one of the names I made up. I don't know whether that's good or bad, but considering some of the names of new dinosaurs are just cringe-enducing (Dracorex hogwartsia anyone?) perhaps that's for the best. Still, there's always hope they find a new sauropod and finally call it Brontorex.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

HPLHS's The Whisperer in Darkness

This is seriously awesome stuff.  That Mi-Go is unlike any others I've seen, and it's great.  The acting's pretty solid across the board, too.  It looks like a most worthy successor to Call of Cthulhu.

The only thing working against it is that the team seems to love their CGI Mi-Go so much that it's in danger of being over-exposed.  Lovecraftian horrors work best with suggestion, where you never really get a good look at them: glimpses of Things That Should Not Be.  Think of how effective the supernatural menace of Night of the Demon was (assuming you walked into the theatre five minutes late and thus didn't have the film spoiled by the early reveal), or the xenomorph in Alien, specifically because so little of them was shown.  As such, I hope the Mi-Go aren't seen quite as often as the trailer suggests.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Robert E. Howard: A New Manifesto

(The following is a special message from none other than Mark Finn.  It will be proliferated on various websites as a measure to increase awareness on Howard, Howard scholarship and newcomers to the world of Robert E. Howard.  I encourage all who read this to forward it to anyone and everyone who needs to read it. Click on "But Wait, There's More" for more details on the Manifesto from Mark.)

Why a New Manifesto?
In the past twelve months, I've seen several rounds of speculation from various bloggers lately, two of which were the equivalent of Internet train wreaks that ended rather badly, despite everyone’s avowed intentions. In the interest of using the Internet as an actual research tool, I have written this manifesto on behalf of the fans and interested parties in the life and works of Robert E. Howard, as a guide to the person or persons who are new to Howard studies, or perhaps would like to write an article, essay, or blog post about him. If you’d like to delve deeper into the history and current state of Howard studies, and get some advice for participating in the debate, click on the link at the end of this Manifesto.

A New Robert E. Howard Manifesto
I am a fan of Robert E. Howard, the Texas author who created a multitude of unique characters, wrote original and inventive fiction, defined the genre of epic fantasy as we understand it, and inspired me to become a professional writer. There are tens of thousands of other fans just like myself. As fans of Robert E. Howard and his works, we are interested in reading more about our favorite author. We are interested in sharing and exchanging new ideas about his life and work, and we actively seek out these new ideas online, in print, and elsewhere.

What we do not want to see are semi-uninformed retreads of the same discussions that were in vogue circa 1984. The field of Howard Studies is alive and well, with new discoveries and voices appearing all the time.  Interest in the author is high and remains so. If you have a thought or an opinion, even a controversial or untested one, and want to share it with the world at large, we encourage that you do so.

We expect responsibility and accountability on your part. We are not interested in your grand pronouncement on a subject which has yet to be settled by people who have spent decades studying the issue at hand. We expect you to do your homework. There are a number of websites and literally stacks of new books that likely cover or answer most of your questions regarding Robert E. Howard. To not utilize those sources when doing your research smacks of willful ignorance and will not be tolerated by the fans of Robert E. Howard. 

If you want to write a review about how much you didn’t like Kull: Exile of Atlantis, have at it. Take it apart for any and all textual reasons you choose to invoke. We may not agree because Howard’s work isn’t for everyone, and we understand that. But the minute you start bringing Robert E. Howard’s life story into your Kull review, it will garner a much more careful reading, and if you don’t have your facts straight, or your opinions backed up by same, then we will call you on it.

The online Robert E. Howard fanbase calls itself the “Shield Wall.” Some writers who have been on the business end of the Shield Wall’s attacks have accused us of being bullies and overly-obsessed for the protective stance we take. While it is not our intention to bully anyone, and while we may get a little carried away on occasion, let me be very clear here as to why this is so: Robert E. Howard has not had a voice for 75 years now. For four decades after his death, he had very few advocates who would defend him against the libel and slander of those who stood to profit from his work. He has been misunderstood and misrepresented for years. The Shield Wall’s goal has been to stop in its entirety the kind of character assassination employed by L. Sprague de Camp and others who would adopt his methodology. 

Consider this a challenge to survey the amount of work that has been done in Howard Studies in the last ten years alone and then try to come up with your own take on a topic or angle of discussion that has not been beaten to death. Do not make the mistake that so many others have made; just because Robert E. Howard isn’t considered a “classic” author by the literary establishment that you can beat his literary reputation (or his personal life) like a rented mule and you will not get kicked for your efforts.

We expect you to accord Robert E. Howard the same respect as any other 20th century American author with continued and perennial popularity. No more back handed compliments. No more snide insinuations. No more rampant and irresponsible speculation with no basis of fact or evidence to bolster it. And for God’s Sake, no more “oedipal complex” crap, either. Those theories are thirty years out of date, and we are sick and tired of seeing it. Give us something new, or keep your parochial and backwards thinking to yourself. 

Mark Finn
Author of Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard
And Commander of the Texas Shield Wall

Roy Thomas on the history of Conan in comics

Way back when Thomas' return to Conan was announced, I had certain thoughts on the matter.  In retrospect, I'm a bit more appreciative of Thomas returning when we have blasted Jones to contend with, but even so, there's the worry of whether Thomas can gel with the current Dark Horse Conan.

So we get an interview where Thomas briefly recounts the history of Conan in the comics.  It's a very good read, with some very interesting morsels to ruminate over.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

"Never mind that $£!% - Here Comes Tubœuf!"

Apparently, horse punching (known as horse breaking) was common enough in Vienna that they started making statues of the occurence.

This post on Swords and Dorkery puts forward a possible origin for the infamous camel slugging scene in Conan the Barbarian.  As you're all no doubt sick of hearing, I really don't like that scene for many reasons, but the idea of there being a historical context intrigues me nonetheless.  After all, there are plenty of historical references and allusions in Conan the Barbarian, perhaps there's something to it.

Well, apart from Blazing Saddles.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

"Historically Crazy" and Conan games

Earlier this week, I considered writing about the Conan games that have come out over the years. The problem with that is they were all by and large horrible games, and two publishers released better Conan games the games actually based on the Conan stories. I'm sure the historically crazy Robert E. Howard wouldn't have wanted his hallucinations converted into horrible video games, but alas, they were.

From 8-Bit Animal's post on the Conan games.  I have to wonder exactly what "historically crazy" actually means.  Is it used in the same way as "legendarily crazy"?  Does he mean that the historical person was crazy, as opposed to the popular mythic figure?  Does he mean that he would be considered crazy through the lens of history?  What a strange thing to say.  The reference to "hallucinations" makes me suspect that 8-Bit Animal has only seen "Conan Unchained," with the infamous interview with Milius, where he claims that Howard really believed that the ghost of Conan came to him at night, and he had to write them down.  It's a cool idea for a horror-dark fantasy story, but it ain't true.

For posterity, here's my response:

By the use of the term "hallucinations" I'm guessing you've seen "Conan Unchained," where Howard was presented as a paranoid barely-functioning nutcase who believed Conan's ghost was coming to him late at night to dictate his stories to him. That's a massive misinterpretation of what he actually said in his letters, where he was using similes to describe how writing Conan was so natural it was "as IF" his ghost was present. There's no evidence of Howard actually having hallucinations of a long-dead warrior king.

I'd suggest you read Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, or at least Rusty Burke's "Short Biography of Robert E. Howard." Howard studies has made leaps and bounds over the last few decades, and commonly held "facts" have been soundly debunked. Howard was eccentric, true - what writer isn't? - but he's hardly "historically crazy." 

Anyway, it got me to wondering about Conan in videogames in general.  Perhaps I'll do a review of them some time down the line, or at least an overview.  The long-lived (by internet standards) and very cool site Conan the Digital has information about all the Conan games, though I don't think all of them are easy to attain, and some are quite infamously bad. Conan: Mysteries of Time is even considered one of the worst games of all time. That's frightening.

Of the games, I've only played two: 2004's Conan: The Dark Axe and 2007's Conan.  Both were rather substandard games, the latter better in terms of gameplay, but a lot shorter and far less satisfying an experience.  Both wrought havoc on Robert E. Howard's creation in different ways, though both are (marginally) closer to Howard than Conan the Barbarian or any of the television series.  It's been a while since I played both, though.  Another playthrough may be in order.

However, now that I have a shiny new laptop (4 GB RAM, 2.27GHZ processor, 450 GB Hard Drive) I might - might - be able to run the big one.  Yes... Age of Conan.  All I need to do is get my internet worked out, and Taranaich of Cimmeria may make his first encursion into this strange universe...

Friday, 15 October 2010

Conan Continuity Conundrum

The above graphic shows all the different continuities within Transformers fiction.  As you can see, it's a mite complicated: there are quite literally dozens of different universes all coalescing, coexisting and frequently conflicting with each other.

This got me to consider the state of Conan.  As we all know, there are dozens of Conan continuities out there, with many relations and conflicts with each other.  Depending on which continuity you're talking, Conan's parents are either alive or dead (or turned to stone) and the age of Conan at the time of their deaths can be different.  Even their names can be multiple choice.

Thus, I feel it might be helpful to create a "Conan Multiverse" system for future reference.

So far, I think I have the following.

Robert E. Howard Stories
Lancer/Ace Pastiches
Bantam Pastiches (includes REH/Lancer/Ace)
Tor Pastiches (includes REH/Lancer/Ace)

Conan the Barbarian Comics
"What If" (each comic occupies its own universe)
Savage Sword of Conan Comics
Conan Newspaper Comics
Conan the Adventurer
Conan (1996)
Conan the Savage
Conan the Barbarian Movie Special
Conan Dark Horse Comics

Cinema & Television
Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Destroyer (because CtD is often ignored, and would be ignored by Milius for King Conan, I feel it might be considered a "branching" continuity from Conan the Barbarian)
Red Sonja (assuming that Kalidor is in fact an assumed name for Conan, just for fun)
Conan the Adventurer - Animated
Conan & the Young Warriors
Conan the Adventurer - Live Action

Video Games
Conan: Hall of Volta
Conan: The Mysteries of Time
Conan the Cimmerian
Conan: The Dark Axe
Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures

There are some things I'm unclear on, such as the Marvel graphic novels, the Conan the Barbarian miniseries, and Giant-Sized Conan - do they occupy their own universes, or should they be considered extension of the existing Marvel comics? There's also the matter of a universe drawing on two disparate ones: Conan the Adventurer, for instance, draws upon the comics and the films.

If any of the chaps with more knowledge of the lesser-known Conan universe, let me know!

How wrong can one reporter be?

I generally try to get the word of Conan and Howard out there. Having a blog is great, but it can quickly become preaching to the choir.  You guys all know my grievances, and I sometimes feel like I'm repeating myself.  So, whenever I feel it worthwhile, I make a point of clarifying errors and mistakes wherever I see them.  Most people are fairly appreciative, while others are just silent.  Yet occassionally I run into... others.  Such as one Martyn Conterio.

Now, I have provided two versions of the article.  This is the article as it appears on the site now:

Marcus Nispel has spent a good majority of this year working on his Conan The Barbarian reboot out in sunny Bulgaria. There’s been plenty of stills knocking around these past few months but none like the ones here, which show off the beautiful lighting, art direction and costume design.
Conan will be released worldwide in 2011 and Nispel’s $90 million dollars sword, sorcery and sandals epic could be a great slice of b-movie heaven… we hope. Television actor Jason Momoa won the role of the Cimmerian blacksmith’s lad forced into human bondage after his village is wiped out by some mean bastards.
Filling out the cast alongside Momoa is Stephen Lang as villain Khalar Zym, Ron Perlman, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan and Saïd Taghmaoui.
Conan The Barbarian is based upon fantasy writer Robert E. Howard’s 1930s series and in the 1980s launched Arnold Schwarzenegger on the road to stardom in John Milius’s 1982 epic. Arnie followed up the original with Conan The Destroyer in 1984.
You may recall Rose McGowan was much touted to play the flame-haired lady warrior in a reboot by Robert Rodriguez, but the project is currently languishing in development with other lost movie souls. In Nispel’s film she plays the character Tamara.
Conan The Barbarian is undergoing 3D cosmetic surgery. Shame that. 

Now here's the article as it originally appeared, with my corrections.

Marcus Nispel has spent a good majority of this year working on his Conan The Barbarian reboot out in sunny Bulgaria. There’s been plenty of stills knocking around these past few months but none like the ones here, which show off the beautiful lighting, art direction and costume design.

Conan will be released worldwide in 2011 and Nispel’s $90 million dollars sword, sorcery and sandals epic could be a great slice of b-movie heaven… we hope. Television actor Jason Momoa won the role of the Cimmerian prince forced into human bondage after his village is wiped out by some mean bastards.
Filling out the cast alongside Momoa is Stephen Lang as villain Khalar Zym, Ron Perlman, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan and Saïd Taghmaoui.

Conan The Barbarian is based upon fantasy writer Robert E. Howard’s 1930s series and in the 1980s launched Arnold Schwarzenegger on the road to stardom in John Milius’s 1982 epic. Arnie followed up the original with Conan The Destroyer in 1984, which introduced the character of Red Sonja to proceedings.

You may recall Rose McGowan was much touted to play the flame-haired lady warrior in a reboot by Robert Rodriguez, but the project is currently languishing in development with other lost movie souls. In Nispel’s film she plays the character Tamara.

Conan The Barbarian is undergoing 3D cosmetic surgery. Shame that.

Notice the differences?  Now, I had responded to the article in its original form, and - in my own placid, unconfrontational style - corrected Martyn on those points. I also noted that it was Rachel Nichols who plays Tamara, not Rose McGowan, who plays Marique.  Happily, Martyn appears to have taken these suggestions aboard.  Unhappily, not only was my comment not published, but...

Now that's just a bit rude, isn't it?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Sideshow Collectibles' Conan:The Prize

When Sideshow got the Conan license I thought it was for the MOVIES. You know, Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer.
But since the first release with that great portrait of Arnold, we've had everything BUT products from the movie.
I mean the dioramas are nice but isn't there a wealth of source material from Conan the Barbarian alone?
I'm much more interested in future PFs of Arnold in various other poses or even some of the villains. 
What's the problem? Do they think it won't sell?
- DFChang on Statue Forum. His tagline: "Artificial Intelligence usually beats real stupidity." Ain't that the truth?

Conan statues are a mixed bunch.  There are some really nice ones - the Frazetta ones, for instance, are pretty top notch, but it's pretty hard to mess up Frazetta - and there are some that I don't particularly care for. I don't actually own any Conan statues, mostly since none have really made enough of an impression on me to think "I must possess this depiction of Robert E. Howard's creation."

Mostly because many of them... well, they're interpretations of interpretations. Statues of Frazetta's Conan, Buscema's Conan, Arnold's Conan - very few seem to depict Howard's Conan without being viewed through the lense of an illustrator or adaptation. This bothers me: surely a completely new interpretation of Howard's character, free from the influence of other visions, would be pretty cool?

It seemed Sideshow Collectibles felt the same, hence Conan: The Prize.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Metal Barbarian Dinosaur Comics #1: Dream That Impossible Dream

Well, my first comic - well, not my first, but the first with any degree of professionalism, and certainly the first I like enough to put on the internet - is online, along with work from my fellows, at the Greenock Comics Book page!  Be sure to check out 'The Gun,' the worst - by which I mean best - superhero ever.

But however will you know what it is, when you don't click?

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Andrew Marr on Blogging

This isn't really to do with any of the usual fare of TBTTF, but since it regards the very nature of blogging, I feel it worth discussing.

A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting. They are very angry people. 

What young men has Andy been hanging around with, if he categorizes them as "bald" and "cauliflower-nosed"?  What does social competence, complexion, relationship status and housing have to do with their arguments anyway?  Hell, what does baldness have to do with it?  Doesn't seem to cause Andy any problems.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Thomas Ellison Is Not Well: Robert E. Howard and Norman Bates

So, we've had Howard compared to Tweedledum, Al Capone, and now Norman Bates.

Of course!  How could I not see it before!

Oh, that's right...

Robert Bloch was inspired to write Psycho after reading about Ed Gein’s exploits but I contend parts of the novel were inspired by Robert E. Howard’s last days as chief caregiver for his sick mother.  In Chapter Nine, Norman Bates realizes he will always be mommy’s little boy.  The only time Norman feels like a somebody is when he’s lost in a book.  Robert E. Howard could never escape being mommy’s little boy, either.  When he was writing for pulp mags or letters to friends, Howard was Two-Gun Bob, Terror of Cross Plains.  Howard had fans, admirers, and editors who wanted to publish his stories.  But in the end, Howard was just Hester Howard’s frightened little boy.  On June 11 1936, Robert E. Howard shot himself moments after he learned his mother would never awaken from a coma.  Why did the creator of Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, and many other characters end his life when he was so close to being free from the burden that had crippled his writing for so long?  Maybe Norman Bates is right  when he says “I think perhaps all of us go a little crazy at times.”

Lovely.  I don't see this ending up badly at all.  That said, I can see how someone could make the Bates-Howard connection if one bases it on Bloch's misconception of Howard the Oedipal, but it's clear that Thomas Ellison is saying that Bloch was basing it on fact, not misconception.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Keeping up with the Grinses

I miss Leo quite a bit.  I remember clicking on The Cimmerian, eager to read his latest news from the world of Howardom, or Tolkienalia, or Dunsanya.  I've been reading his essays in The Cimmerian journal, and I'm really rather saddened that he hasn't been around for such a while.

Luckily, though, Leo hasn't completely skipped planets, as he can be found at Big Hollywood.  Leo never made the connection between his work at TC with his work at BH, and for good reason: Big Hollywood is a site for conservative movie lovers.  Given how powerfully divisive politics can be in America - as circumstantially portrayed at TC itself, where John J. Miller, a writer and Howard fan who just happened to be a proud conservative, had his books "one-star bombed" at for the simple reason that his politics are not the same as another group's politics - this was unquestionably a choice for the better.  I would've hated for TC to be the recipient of such childish, petty antics, regardless of what I think of an author's political stance.

But this blog isn't TC, and I since I'm not an American, my opinions on the American political spectrum hopefully won't attract too much attention.  Not that I'm going to comment on them, of course: this blog is a politics-free zone.  There are enough things to disagree about within the realms of fiction without hauling deeply-set fundamental beliefs into it.

Anyway, reading up on Big Hollywood has allowed me a way of keeping up with Leo, and reminding me that he hasn't stalked off into the wilderness to hunt and forage.  So I come to my latest linkage and thinkage, as Leo discusses something that had been bothering me for a while: the treatment of vampires and other supernatural horrors linked with Christianity in cinema and television in recent years.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Fritz Leiber reads Clark Ashton Smith!

OK, this is the last link post for this week, I'd try to have something more substantial tomorrow.

Saturday night, October 29, 1977 at the World Fantasy Convention, in the Music Room of the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, following the 10:00 p.m. slot with Harlan Ellison performing his, “The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge,” was a hard act to follow, but as the years, and decades have gone by, Fritz Leiber’s far more mellow reading of Clark Ashton Smith’s, “A Night in Malnéant,” has become an absolute treasure to hear again and again.
Having the legendary Fritz Leiber, reading Clark Ashton Smith at the World Fantasy Convention dedicated to him, in the middle of so many Lovecraftians, and beautifully capturing the audio to share now for the first time in 33 years is amazing!
I hope this recording means as much to those who download it, as finding it, still in great shape, after all these years, means to me.
I’m so very glad to be able to finally hand out this treasure:
Fritz Leiber Reading Clark Ashton Smith’s A Night in Malnéant at the World Fantasy Con III in 29-Oct-1977 Biltmore Hotel Music Room Los Angeles
Please take a few minutes to look through the many new (248!) Fritz Leiber related images in the newly opened Fritz Leiber CthulhuWho1 Flickr Collection at:
And if you’ll move on to the next post, you’ll find Fritz Leiber’s comments from the HPL Panel in Phoenix now available as a separate file…

This is so cool.  Speaking of Leiber on the HPL panel...

This is part of a series on Leiber audio files.  I'm not really as big a fan of Leiber's Sword-and-Sorcery as others - for some reason he seemed a little too light for my liking - but his horror was top notch.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


Once again in lieu of a real post, I present another link. Courtesy of Huge Ruined Pile (of what?  Rags?  Books?  People?  THE PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW) I've been introduced to this delightful little blog, a catalogue of Lovecraftian beasties.  My favourites are the artist's interpretation of the Voonith, Elder Thing, Yekubian, the other Whately brother, and what I believe to be the dreaded Anthropornis megalbus, though they're all really cool.

One of these days I'll be filling this blog with my scratchings: pictures, sketches, whatnot.  There's this "sketch-a-day" phenomenon on DeviantArt where a bored artist would draw pictures of a character every day for a period of time.  I might do that, get drawing again.  I have to at least catch up to One Last Sketch's Lurking Humour.  But then, I'll have to think up a name for my comic series...

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

H.P. Lovecraft's The Silver Key

OK, seriously, how many Lovecraft fan films have we been blessed with?  Quite a lot, I'd wager.  And they're good, real good.

Us Howard fans really have to catch up.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Guy's Lit Wire on Howard

A while back, Will Ludwigsen wrote a very good review of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian on Guy's Lit Wire.  His fellow blogger Alex Bledsoe has decided to add his own.

It's... problematic. Between the factual inaccuracies (like how Howard apparently never traveled out of his "own back yard") and the not very complimentary statements like this:

So what's my point? Simply this--he did the best he could, and with nothing but drive and imagination he created a whole new genre. And those are tools anyone reading this blog has to some degree. We often talk about what the books reviewed here mean to boys, and whether or not boys would like them; in this case, I want to use The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian as a challenge to cultivate your own drive and imagination, and apply it to creating something new. If an isolated young man in the middle of the Texas oil fields can create sword and sorcery, then what might you create?

It basically comes across like he's saying anyone reading this blog might do something better than REH.  It's the old "REH's work was immature, imagine what he could've done when he was older" thing.

I think Mr Bledsoe needs to give the books another read, myself.  With lines like these:

Yet it's also clearly the work of a young man. Most characters other than Conan are defined by a single quality, and are either good or evil, with little middle ground. In The Phoenix on the Sword and The Scarlet Citadel, Conan is the middle-aged king of Aquilonia, but none of the wounds and injuries he suffers as a younger man tell on him. There's no mention of any aches or pains, and the scars are simply marks of past adventures. Only an inexperienced young man in his twenties would imagine this as middle age. And his women, while not exactly shrinking violets (the pirate queen Belit trysts with Conan on deck, in full view of her crew), are also nothing like actual human beings, being once again defined by two simplistic qualities: how beautiful they are, and how quickly Conan gets them. Had Howard lived, I imagine his Conan stories would have grown in sophistication and depth to reflect his own life experience.

I have to wonder if he's reading the same stories I am.   Did he somehow miss how the villains of "The Phoenix on the Sword" all had independent, understandable motivations beyond "they're evil because they're evil"? If Conan was feeling aches and pains, he would be distracted and vulnerable - and dead.  Luckily, Conan's made of sterner stuff than the average soft-bellied middle-aged civilized man.  Gotta love Howard's women being "nothing like human beings": in fairness, he has clearly not read "Red Nails," "The People of the Black Circle," "The Black Stranger," The Hour of the Dragon or the other Conan stories with the best women, but at the same time, even in TCoCtC, women do not exist for Conan to "get them."

It all seems to smack of back-handed compliments.  Yet early in the article, Bledsoe says "Much as Tolkein did for epic fantasy, Howard set the initial bar so high that few have equalled, let alone surpassed what he accomplished."  Yet if few have equalled Howard, how could you possibly expect the readers of the blog to approach it?  Confusing.

I appreciate the good things Bledsoe says about Howard, but the inaccurate information and facile readings (seriously, not all middle-aged men who've been in the wars have nagging injuries, and it's quite clear Conan's a barbarian with pretty impressive healing qualities of his own) undermine it.  Hopefully he'll go back and pore over the stories with a more discerning eye, and read the other two Del Reys.  Maybe then he'll see just how much Howard has to offer beyond musing on "what could have been."

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Ironclad's looking pretty grim

Yes, it does.

I'm looking forward to Ironclad a lot more than I was looking forward to Robin Hood.  Why?  Brian Cox. This guy is awesome.  Plus James Purefoy, of who I am now quite a fan, Derek Jacobi, Vladimir Goddamn Kulich!  That's in addition to setting it during a Medieval conflict that's not about the Crusades or Robin Hood, which is a plus.

Now, there are a few things I'm a bit iffy about: I really hope Kate Mara - sadly not Kate O'Mara, as I mistakenly thought - the requisite Action Chick is fairly believable (i.e. not an 80lb soaking wet waif), Purefoy is really far too young to play Marshall at this point in time, and I'm not sure about those giant double-bitted axes the besiegers were wielding.  Plus that tagline on the poster is a bit... well, it's a bit something.


Ah well.  I still want to see it.  There's been a dearth of really good medieval films, especially given the tremendous disappointments of Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Swords Against the Outer Dark interviews Andrea Bonazzi

There's something about this chap that seems starkly familiar...
but I can't quite put my finger on it...

I dig Andrea Bonazzi's work. Those of you who've read my old Cimmerian entries might remember "The Letter of Glen Schuyler Hoffman," a fun little Weird Tales jaunt that recasts Lovecraft, Howard and Smith as paranormal investigators.  This was directly inspired by Bonazzi's photographs, where he digitally juxtaposes photographs of famous authors alongside sculptures inspired by their stories: most notably, the Weird Tales Troika.  Not just the Weird Musketeers: Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Edgar Allan Poe and even Tolkien receive the Bonazzi treatment.  You could make a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from them!  Well, Swords Against the Outer Dark has an interview up with the very clever chap.

I simply can't overstate how phenomenally cool his work is.  Lovecraft beside an unearthed Elder Thing tablet, Smith next to a blasphemous idol, Howard beside an uncanny statue! There's even a picture of the Weird Musketeers together, which ignited ideas of an alternate universe where they leave fiction aside to become Cthulhubusters, defending the earth from the machinations of the Black Ring, the Church of Starry Wisdom and the Brothers of the Yellow Sign.  They travel the world, sometimes teaming up with the Inklings, their British compatriots.  Sometimes they go off-world, to Almuric, Cykranosh, Yag, Yekub, Yuggoth and beyond, or to other dimensions of space and time - the Dreamlands, Zothique, the Outer Dark.

Plus the man made a Cthulhu pipe.  A Cthulhu pipe.

Ce n'est pas une pipe.
C'est glorieuse.

I must possess one.

Now, if only he could do some stuff with C.L. Moore, A. Merrit and Arthur Conan Doyle...

Friday, 1 October 2010

"I don't belong here.... I guess everybody says that, don't they? "

Mikey C of the Robert E. Howard Forums and Necronomania has alerted me to the passing of Tony Curtis, and I drink to the shade of another cinematic legend who has passed into the dark worlds unknown of man.