Apologies for the tardiness of this post, but I'm just having too much fun, and hopefully the detail will make up for its late posting.
Day started off fine, took a ride with Chris Gruber to the library. I really can't say much more about him than I haven't already said: the man's a gentleman, a scholar, and above all, a wonderful man. He's very assertive and forthright, and although I'm sure some might find him intimidating (that's just his style, I think), I found him engaging and utterly sincere. I like the chap, 'sall.
I caught Mark Finn, Jeffrey Shanks and Chuck Hoffman's panel, "REH at the Gates of Academia. Very good, and while obviously there's a lot of enthusiasm for Howard gaining ground in academic circles, there was also an air of caution. Howard fans have a reputation for raising their heckles at the drop of a hat, and they were very adamant on noting that opening Howard up to academia means that some academics could tackle things we Howard fans don't like.
I must disagree with my esteemed colleague Mr Shank's belief that the Shieldwall be "disbanded," since Howard is being accepted, and we need to be less argumentative and confrontational. On the one hand, he's absolutely right: e have the pure texts out there, we have tons of sites and forums with knowledgeable fans and scholars that are easily accessible, and there are some very exciting developments in bringing Conan into "real academia." Howard doesn't need to be accepted by the hoity toity types, but it would be nice, all the same. Just like a good Howard adaptation or comic, it isn't essential, it would just be cool.
My belief, on the other hand, is more that the Shieldwall needs to be redeployed. In the old days, when Howard's stories were being actively suppressed in favour of hackwork pastiches, the company line was perpetuating myths and misconception about his life and work's literary merits, and people were more likely to think of Conan as a comic or movie character, the Shieldwall was out on the battlefield. Nowadays, I think the Shieldwall's role is that of a guard: always present at the hill-fort, keeping watch, always ready to mobilize when necessary. As much as we have all these wonderful things from Paradox, CPI and the REH Foundation, with willing and helpful scholars who are just an email away, and more and more people are accepting the new discoveries, the old ways always creep through. We need to be vigilant, and it's not just because these myths damage Howard's reputation, but because misconceptions and fallacies are - practically by definition - damaging to truth, science and history.
However - and I cannot stress this enough - this is not about getting the torches & pitchforks when someone has an opinion about Howard and his work that we don't like. That's not what it's about: the Shieldwall, as I see it, is there to combat myths and misconceptions. If someone doesn't think Howard's worthy of consideration among the greats of speculative literature ("They are, one might say, beers to the wines"), we'll grouse, for sure, but opinions are opinions, and not everyone will like Howard. If someone posts a review that perpetuates the old fallacies ("For a guy who never traveled far from his home in Cross Plains, Texas...") however, they need to be corrected. Likewise, if someone does a scholarly exploration of - say - homosexual elements in Howard's work, but with the benefit of research (preferably a background in gender studies) and an honest desire to explore those ideas, then that's fine. But if someone is merely trying to provoke, belittle or insult by using a contentious subject as ammunition without the merest modicum of context or research ("To say that many of Robert E. Howard's stories have a homoerotic subtext is like saying that The Village People's magnum opus Can't Stop the Music has a homoerotic subtext" and "the stories are dictionary-definition homoerotic"*) then that's not just unfair on Howard, it's unfair to use gender issues in such an inconsiderate fashion.
In other words, "you're not entitled to an opinion, you're entitled to an informed opinion." Thanks, Harlan.
Afterwards, I hitched a ride with Jeff to the REH Foundation Legacy Luncheon, my first since officially signing up late last year. About twenty or even more attended, and most were familiar faces to me. I sat opposite Charles Hoffman, where I talked about "Escape from Eden" and some of the things I'll be discussing in "80 Years of Conan: Queen of the Black Coast." I had good conversations with the rest of the table, catching up with Dave Hardy, Matthew Webb, and others. Since they didn't serve chicken caesar salad, I had enchiladas. They were tasty.
Being the Legacy Luncheon, we also received our copies of the REH Foundation Newsletter, and good gravy did we get a treat - scans of the second draft of "The God in the Bowl." I'll have to read it in closer detail to appreciate the changes as Howard developed the story, but it'll be great for when I get to "The God in the Bowl" in "80 Years of Conan." We also got our sweet REHF pins: I'm going to have to get my old Scout Sash and bring it and all my pins next year!
Since it was a little while until Paul Sammon's "The Illustrated Conan," Jeff & I went over to the pavillion for a mosey. Mark Finn was there, and I truly wish I could replicate the squeal of delight at the sight of the draft of "The God in the Bowl" ellicited from a man who resembles nothing so much as a mighty shaved gorilla. There he and I discussed the relative merits of Peter Jackson's King Kong, the unmade Merian C. Cooper sequel The War Eagles, and other such simian matters, until we realised we were running late for Paul's panel.
I can't say enough complimentary things about Paul Sammon: he's such a gentleman, so calm and easygoing, so knowledgeable, and yet never shies from speaking his mind. While his panel repeated a couple of stories from years past (which was no problem, since the stories are great fun and he tells them well), there were a few I didn't hear before. I chimed in with a question on his opinion of Wood's "Queen of the Black Coast," though plenty of people had queries, and Paul was only too happy to oblige. He must be an absolute dream to interview: he's never boring, and he always has a story to tell, and most important of all - especially for someone in the film industry - he's absolutely humble and gracious about it. It's all well and good having good stories and being eager to tell them, but it wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable if you didn't know what a good soul he is. And Paul is a good soul.
Jeff and I raced back to the Pavillion for "What's Up with REH?" with Paul Herman, Rusty Burke and Jay Zetterberg. There were updates on things like Solomon Kane (they're still working on a theatrical release, and while that sounds bad, The Cabin in the Woods took years for a release too), the four-volume Boxing Stories collection, Age of Conan, and the rights situation of the Conan film license. Of particular interest to me are the new (to me) upcoming collections: a Pirate story collection, a Celtic-Viking story collection, and a James Allison collection. Gosh Yes, Heck Yes, and Good Golly Yes. The Allison collection is most interesting to me as it would be fantastic to have them all in one book - the Allison tales are Hyborian, and so will be used as a reference in the Encyclopaedia - but unfortunately I have to wait until it's released. Argh.
On to Caddo Ranch. I caught a ride with Aurelia, and we chatted, along with... (Oh crumbs, mental block, I KNEW I'd forget someone's name! Right on the tip of my tongue, I can see his face! ARGH) Unfortunately I think a mixture of nervous exhaustion from the panel, being out in the sun far too long, and general exertion from being at Howard Days resulted in me choosing to stay at the barbecue rather than climb Caddo Peak. As several people mentioned, there are plenty of hills Caddo Peak's size in Scotland - which is true, heck, I live on one, you see me at the top on my profile photo on The Cimmerian - but as I responded, we don't have that kind of heat in Scotland. I really wanted to, since Paul, Keith, Chris, Aurelia and others went along, but I figured it would be better to save my energy for the long night. One day, I'll bring that Lawrence of Arabia getup...
With most of the hikers being folk I talked to at length elsewhen, I ambled about with old and new. There was a lovely new lady by the name of Lorelei, which automatically put me in mind of Lorelei of the Red Mists. She's a Howard widow dragged along with her husband, but she seemed to be making the best of it. I also met Mark and Jen, two first-timers, and more. I also had a very interesting (and somewhat startling) conversation with Paul Herman. Interesting because he gave me a lot in insight into the publishing business and whatnot. Startling because... well, I wouldn't want to spoil it. Let's just say that part of that talk kicked work on the Encyclopaedia into overdrive.
But a particularly special conversation I had was with Lou Ann Lord. She was, like what I've heard of Glenn, very down-to-earth, but accomodating and generous. She frankly admitted she knew little about Howard and his work, but she deeply appreciated what Glenn meant to everyone, and that Glenn was just as appreciative. I couldn't think of anything that didn't sound utterly redundant, but closed by noting that even if you know nothing about Howard, anyone who sees the sheer dedication, erudition and generosity of Glenn simply cannot help but be impressed.
After the hikers came back, dinner was served. The line was pretty substantial, but since I talked with Ethan Nahte and Paul Herman, it flew by. I chatted with newcomers Ron and Todd Vick, Matthew, Barbara and Indy. Indy showed me a great big binder with newspaper clippings, with young Charles Gramlich, Steve Tompkins, and Jim Keegan among the photos. I talked with Jay Zetterberg, too: he, like Fred, was very courteous and genial. Before we left, I got a picture with Aurelia as the sun set.**
I also took part in the inaugural Robert E. Howard Role-Playing Session, where I took a character which I create for all the games I play. Part of the issue of RPGs is that it seems a bit unimaginative to create, say, Conan or Legolas or the Grey Mouser when you're playing an Elder Scrolls or Dungeons & Dragons game. (I create Conan in every game, of course, explaining his presence on other worlds as sorcery or whatnot.)
My character is named Matylda, and whenever possible, I try to make her character resemble these basic archetypes: tall, muscular, redheaded. In those games with more freedom, I try to make her gigantic and extremely muscular; one arm and side of her face are burned and branded in arcane symbols, so her flesh resembles a Pictish stone; her left eye is clear like glass, and normally blind, except in the dark, where she sees things. She has no memory of her childhood: indeed, she has her doubts as to whether she was ever a child at all. She has knowledge of all the necessities of survival, is an accomplished and almost natural fighter, and a basic knowledge of language - but no idea how she gained that knowledge.
As such, all those mysterious aspects are tied into the story of the game. In Morrowind, her scars are Daedric in origin, as it emerges she was an experimental new type of Atronach - which went awry. In Skyrim, however, she's an attempt to resurrect a great Nord sorceress queen using ancient Nordic magic - which, again, went awry. In Fallout 3, in-vitrio experimentation to develop a human that could withstand radiation and FEV. And so on.
I'll be back to finish the post, but for now...
UPDATE: The now is now!
I forgot to mention the second Poetry Throwdown, this time taking place at the Howard house porch. Here, Indy reclaimed his annual tradition by reciting "Cimmeria" at the beginning before opening up the floor - but with the disclaimer that it should be a little bit quieter this time, since the gentleman across the street had a rough day. So while sometimes some of us got a bit carried away (Tim's rendition of "A Hairy Chested Idealist Sings" probably can't be done in an indoor voice anyway), the reduced volume didn't mean reduced enthusiasm. Once again, Barbara, Derek, Chris, Ed, Aurelia, and myself engaged in some amateur bardery, and this night we were joined by Indy and Cheryl too.
One of my fondest memories of Howard Days this year followed the throwdown, as Barbara Baum came up to me and was very kind and complimentary to my reading of "The King and the Oak." It's the sort of thing I keep going back to Howard Days for: that little connection between people from all across the world through the art of a remarkable individual who died 76 years ago.
So, back to the game. It appeared to be a very stripped down, bare-bones sort of affair (though not quite as stripped down as, say, Munchkin or other card-based RPGs) where the main thrust of the game is not statistics, but storytelling. This is the sort of gameplay I like the most, and my ideal type of RPG would be one where there are no stats at all: just a few folk sitting around, thinking about what the best course of action should be, the only limitations being their own imaginations and the power of narrative itself. Of course, you can only really do something like that with people you can trust not to make things stupid (what is known as a "high trust game"), and I'm sure Mark, Jen and the others were concerned as to whether Finn, Jeff and myself were going to make things very, very silly.
And while Mark (Finn) continued in his quest to murder me through the power of laughter at times, with a partner-in-crime in Mark (Carroll's) pal Seth - and Mark C himself nearly tore my guts out with his mad minstrel, I was pleased to find that the story started to take a rather dramatic, cosmic turn. Especially since my character ended up being central to it, in exactly the sort of way I tend to do in my RPGs. While Mark C was a magnificent DM, the story was very much a creation of all the players' contributions. I wish I took a note of all the characters' names and the intricacies of the story, it was really very fun: without spoiling anything, Mark C's science-fiction bias added a lot of awesome to the story.
After the tale, few were left. I had a good talk with Dave Hardy and Chuck Hoffman, saw Jeff and the gang, bade Aurelia good night, and whatnot. Eventually only Chris, Dennis, Ed and Tim were left, and I left them at the Howard porch while they discussed most erudite and intellectual subjects.
Howard Days was over, but the Scottish Invasion had a little time yet...
*I notice, by the way, that many of the charges of the supposed homoeroticism in Howard, including these two examples (which are also rife with silliness: in the second article, "Conan has tigerish muscles - always tigerish, never leopardish or bobcattish" - there's exactly one reference to Conan's "tigerish suppleness of limb" across all three Del Reys, and nothing about "tigerish muscles"), are from women. I'd suggest perhaps either these women were projecting things that weren't there, or that Howard's complete lack of discomfort in describing the male form is so uncommon that any work which does describe the male physique in detail is automatically considered homoerotic. Or maybe it's just wishful thinking, like how some men see lesbian subtext in works with female bonding. It amuses me greatly.
Also, that second link is an absolute riot. Such a load of complete and utter nonsense that's disprovable by simply reading the stories, but frankly, it's the sort of thing I've shot apart a dozen times before. You know, "there isn't a woman he can't ravish" - apart from the ones he, you know, doesn't - "there isn't a man he can't defeat" - apart from the men who do, you know, defeat him - "he doesn't care about delicate emotions" - presumably apart from the time he talked to his bro friend about how A BARD SINGING FOR HIM nearly ripped his heart out... Just read it, you'll see what I mean.
**For those wondering about what's going on with Aurelia and myself, the short answer is nothing. She has a lovely boyfriend back home in Arizona, and I'm absolutely ecstatic for her. I'm a man of honour, she's a woman of honour: I love her deeply, but I love her enough to let her go. I truly hope she and her man have a wonderful life together, and that I can find a girl like her that I can be with in that way.