Meanwhile, over in the World of Robert E. Howard Studies (or at least one encampment where skin-clad knuckle-draggers sit around and devour the latest issue of the Conan comic book in cannabalistic fashion — yum-yum, eat-em-up):
Oh noes, Don Herron is disparaging the faithful Lost Souls! Good sir, I respect your pre-eminent authority in Howard scholarship, but this slight shall not go unanswered. They may be skin-clad knuckle-dragging cannibals, but by thunder, they're my skin-clad knuckle-dragging cannibals!
I see that Al Harron has tossed together a response to my previous Lightin’ Al post — if you follow this sort of thing, hop over to this bit and make sure to read the comments, too, they’re priceless. Got to love the commentator who suggests I lurked in egomaniacal fashion on Al’s site for month after month waiting for him to reply to an even earlier post — now there is someone who has no idea how this new-fangled Internet works. Al does explain about contraptions like Google Alert, and even reveals that he has his name programmed into Google Alert so he knows instantly every time his name pops up anywhere. Wow. Does that make Al an egomaniac — or is that just what almost everyone does these days?
I bet he’s an egomaniac. Come on, Al, really — you have to know every time your name graces some website?
It may be a shock to Mr Herron, but I'm not really, you know, that famous. Sure, I run the Conan Movie Blog (blatant cross-promotion!), but I'm hardly that much of a public figure that putting my name into Google Alert would result in me being bombarded with scores of results for my name. In fact, I can recall that my name has only turned up in Google Alerts a shocking half dozen times in the past year, and in each instance, I felt obligated to respond, mostly because they bore responding to: one was actively calling me out on my alleged plagiarism of the news of Frazetta's death (as if you can plagiarise news), another few were from James Maliszewski regarding posts I had made on this blog, and the last two were from Don Herron, so here we are. If I am indeed an egomaniac, then my poor fragile ego must be utterly devastated by the dearth of websites singing my glorious name.
But again, two points of clarification: I don’t actually read Al’s blog, because it’s about stuff like the Conan comic books that I don’t care about one way or the other (during Howard Days one year they were giving away comp copies when you checked in, and I didn’t take any — honest, I don’t need to read that stuff). I’m not on Google Alert, and only heard about the Al posts because Damon Sasser told me about the first one and Brian Leno spotted the next one. They’re more dedicated to patrolling the Howardian Web than I’ll ever be.
Damon, Brian, thanks! I'm glad you passed this along to Don. Even though it seems Don isn't a regular or even casual reader, I choose to take the fact that Don Herron is aware that I've recently been talking about the upcoming Becky Cloonan/Brian Wood "Queen of the Black Coast" series (even though this is one of maybe a score of posts I've actually discussed the Conan comics, maximum, certainly one of the handful I've talked about them in a wholly positive light) as being evidence that he's at least done a bit of cursory browsing. Don Herron has browsed my blog!
And Al is correct that I don’t think he’ll ever become a major critic, certainly not with his laid-back If I Inspire Even One New Fan style (Golly Gee, I helped a new guy discover REH, and now he’s reading the comic books!). Yeah, one new guy every now and then, that’ll really set Howard on the road to literary acclaim — if you live longggggggg enough.
Well, at least he thought I was correct in something. Still, I feel I need to defend my style: yes, I prefer to take the approach I tend to describe as "good cop." I just talk about how great I find REH, and I generally like to be positive because I'd just spent a good 10 years being an angry young man, and I was sick of it.
But that isn't always the case. Sometimes, someone really riles me up, and that's when I get angry. I don't like me when I get angry. But sometimes, I feel it's necessary: be it when some random blogger decries REH fans for daring to not like the 1982 film, a silly journalist on The Guardian makes judgements on Conan while admitting she hasn't read all the stories, Daily Mail columnists who'd rather delete criticism than deal with it, film journalists who clearly haven't read any Howard, discussions on how Howard's racism/sexism precludes him from consideration as "worth preserving," or just about anything you read under my "Confounded Imbeciles" label.
Sure, I'm a kitten next to the likes of a Dennis McHaney or Leo Grin or, well, Don Herron when they get going, but I don't think you could call my responses to those articles or posts particularly laid-back. The difference is, I tend to save my ire for the DeCampistas and Maggies V.O.s of the web, especially of late. Could I go nuts on every stupid thing some journalist or reviewer says? Sure, I could. But building up negativity isn't something I enjoy doing. Could I bring up good pieces of Howard news more often? I guess - but other Howard websites are dedicated to this sort of thing, so I'd just be following in their stead, and couldn't really add anything to proceedings.
Still, I think the Good Cop approach can do wonders. Recently I hit upon an idea: using the Good Cop approach to address criticism. My Back to the Future-inspired post would be an example of that, highlighting how a phrase or idea can be so daft, the only reasonable explanation is some sort of anomaly in the space-time continuum which made it so. And believe me, there's more than enough fodder for that kind of ridicule. In fact, here's one from that esteemed organ The Grauniad, one which I might roast in a future post:
But it's not all sorcery and swordplay. Along the way, Conan finds brief moments of respite, whether it be arm-wrestling his brawny buddy into chuckling submission or carousing with the sort of nubile slave girls who look as if they were abducted on their way to a swimwear photo-shoot. In this regard, the Conan upgrade is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the original pulp novels and comic-book spin-offs – all of which shone a similarly inquisitive light on those learned genre tenets of gore-porn and what scholars refer to as "teen-masturbatory erotica".
In the comments, Justin Geoffreys (presumably no relation of that Justin Geoffrey) comments:
I can't believe the ignorance of this review.
...the Conan upgrade is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the original pulp novels and comic-book spin-offs – all of which shone a similarly inquisitive light on those learned genre tenets of gore-porn and what scholars refer to as "teen-masturbatory erotica"Which scholars exactly? Can we have references? Well, probably not because Robert E Howard wrote but one Conan "novel" and the rest of the tales were short stories and certainly not "teen-masturbatory erotica" or erotica of any description (is there such a thing as non-masturbatory erotica, btw?)
And Mr Xan Brooks responds:
I may be mistaken, but it looks like Brooks is asserting that Robert E. Howard scholars do not exist. He certainly doesn't seem to have redacted his assertion that Howard's work is little more than "teen-masturbatory erotica." Truly, the timeline is in worse shape than I thought!
Sadly, the comments section is now closed (Lightin' Al's done it again, I guess), so I can't address some of the breathtakingly stupid comments directly, but hey, it might make for a fun post all the same.
Anyway, back to Don.
Al is confusing being a general REH fan booster with being a critic. You want to review new Conan comic books for the people who read them, knock yourself out. Have fun. Keep up with movies and video games.
You want to lift Howard higher in critical regard in the wider world, you’ve got to do more than that to have any impact.
There's a reason I haven't been doing a lot of serious REH criticism on my blog - this isn't a serious REH criticism blog. This isn't Two-Gun Raconteur, The Cimmerian, REHupa, or anything like that: it's a personal blog, a daft, whimsical little corner of the 'net that occassionally delves into something more heady, usually by accident. Don obviously knows this, but I may have given him the impression that I don't know this. Do I engage in some criticism? Sure: I'd like to think that series like The Filmgoer's Guide to Conan the Barbarian is, while certainly nothing new to the REH reader, another resource that prospective new REH readers can draw upon. But what I write here is not, nor is it meant to be, my true foray into Howard scholarship, any more than I suspect Don's own blog is meant to represent his most recent scholarly essays.
Something that had been festering in me since the last post was the fact that Don, at my age, had already written "Conan vs Conantics" and was duking it out with de Camp. The thing is... this was 30 years ago. Think about how much has been written in those thirty years, when "Conan vs Conantics" was considered a bold, new idea instead of this . Think about how different it was when there were no pure REH texts being published, how De Camp still had a stranglehold on everything, a time before vast reams of information were available at the touch of a button. Don was living in a world that cried out for a revolution, and he was one of the spearheads of that revolution.
Now? The war is won. Paradox has been publishing pure, unexpurgated Howard texts for the past decade or so. The boxing stories, westerns, detective yarns and spicies are back from a long limbo. Robert E. Howard's name is starting to be taken seriously in academic circles. Rather than being the domain of a rabid few, Howard purism is considered to be practically the party line. Howard's work is even being printed in the Library of America and Penguin Classics, fercryinoutloud! Perhaps there hasn't been an equivalent of "Conan vs Conantics" in recent years because they're no longer possible. The new generation of Howard scholars don't have a great foe to assail, one who belittles and dismisses their ideas, who considers the author who made him rich to be merely a decent pulp writer who made one good creation. Is it any wonder there hasn't been a new "Conan vs Conantics"?
Lest it sound like I'm complaining about how it's so much harder for new REH scholars, I'm certainly not trying to downplay the importance of Don's work, nor imply that he had an easier job of it: far from it. What I'm trying to say is that new Howard scholars might be feeling a profound sense of redundancy. Take the case of my good pal, Jeff Shanks, who wrote a piece for The Cimmerian blog where he suggests that 1933's King Kong may have been an influence on "Cupid of Bear Creek": he was later mortified to learn that Brian Leno had discussed this exact correlation in an issue of The Cimmerian journal. I know I've had the feeling where some observation I was positive had never been brought up turned out to be anything but. It can be disheartening to know that people have already made this discovery, and you start to feel a bit irrelevant.
Still, this isn't an excuse. Saying there's nothing left to discuss with Howard is doing a disservice to his genius: the new Howard fans just need to keep digging. Paradox and CPI have made it easier than ever to delve through the extant Howard manuscripts, and the internet has allowed Howard fans, scholars and critics to contact each other directly with greater ease. It just so happens that Don Herron and his ilk have done most of the work already.
EDIT: And here's Don's reply.