Saturday 24 April 2010

Triangulation: Roy Thomas, Blood & Thunder, and A Personal Note

There were two pretty big pieces of news this week.

First off, Roy Thomas is returning to Conan. While I have many, many problems with Thomas' myriad adaptations, there are a number of considerations which make me cut him some slack, in comparison to the likes of Busiek and Truman. For one, Thomas was wrestling with the Comics Code Authority, the draconian institution dedicated to making comics safe for tiddlypeeps, and as a result, perpetuating the "comics are for kids" fallacy. (No medium can be restricted to a demographic, people.) He also had the De Camp juggernaut to contend with, where he pretty much had to use De Camp's existing pastiches for many stories, including the maligned "The Hand of Nergal" and "The Treasure of Tranicos."

However, even dealing with the CCA, that led to some really brilliant artistic moments. In the preceding issue to "Rogues in the House," for instance, Conan decapitates the priest-cum-fence: this was portrayed by having the priest's face and chest displayed along the bottom of the panel, but just a bit too far apart from each other, hinting that his head was no longer on the body. Such discretion shots are often far more powerful than outright showing the gore (as was the case with "Queen of the Black Coast" in the execution of the judge) and it really adds a lot to the comic in many ways.

Nowadays, comics are largely free from some of the more ludicrous red tape, and can draw pretty much whatever they like. However, that leads to its own problems, as it now means that the sex & gore can be ramped up to 11, reducing its impact. The death of Thespius in "Black Colossus" is an example, showing his melting face in grisly close-up. In contrast, Howard was fairly brief in his description, concentrating on the larger scale of the ruin, rather than zooming in on the named character... but then, let's not make this a rant on Dark Horse's "Black Colossus."


The second scoop, and far more relevant to Howard fandom in general, is Mark Finn's announcement on Blood & Thunder v2.0. I'm excited, and will definitely buy a new hardcover version. However, I am concerned regarding certain things. For one, Finn's opinions on Conan are frank and not entirely complimentary. I've previously alluded to the lightbulb switching on in Howard's brain in searching for the "Weird Tales formula":

(E + W = F) + (G + L = B) = P

E = Established series character
W = Weird Element
F = Farnsworth Wright is sold
G = Scantily Clad Girls
L = Lesbian-tinted scene (possibly involving whipping)
B = Margaret Brundage will do the cover
P = Profit!

Note: the above is not real maths and shouldn't be taken as an example of an actual formula

This is why the awesome "The Black Stranger" didn't sell, while the mediocre-for-Howard "Xuthal of the Dusk" did. Of course, there are exceptions ("Beyond the Black River" sold but "The Vale of Lost Women" did), but looking at the number of sapphic overtones in the Conan stories surely shows the little grey cells working in Howard's head. Mark has mentioned this before, and the stories with those elements do not fare well in his assessment.

I therefore have the distinct impression that part of the reason Mark didn't put in more about Conan was that - well, people might not like what he has to say. However, I definitely think it has to be said. The best Conan stories rank with the best Howard stories, no question: at the same time, however, the lesser Conan stories show the most unpalatable elements. This is why Conan occupies such a problematic place in Howard's legacy: it's Howard at his worst and his best. So many look at the likes of "The Man-Eaters of Zamboula," "Iron Shadows in the Moon" and "The Pool of the Black One," and wrongly assume that all the Conan stories are about titillation and gore. It is, of course, stupid, but it's based on a misrepresentation, not an outright fallacy.


Finally, I'm going to end this on a personal note. When I started up The Blog That Time Forgot, I had resolved not to make it an online diary with which to vent about my various problems and experiences in life, at least when they don't directly correlate with Howard, Tolkien, Conan, or whatever. The blogosphere has enough of that already. However, this past week has been pretty tough on me, and I'm going to make an exception.

On Thursday I attended the funeral of my cousin. She was eighteen years old. When Lorne was born, various complications of birth led to her spending her first days in an incubator. She was blind, she could never walk, and she could never speak. For a while, it was assumed that she would be an unresponsive vegetable for all her life. Until she smiled. Ever since, she showed clear signs of reaction: she turned her head when someone she knew was speaking, her facial expressions grew, she even "spoke" in a way. Sometimes, she would even sing. She was communicating.

Being a West Coast of Scotland family, our cousins are practically like our siblings, and we spent much time together. Though I always appreciated Lorne being different, I was of an age where it didn't really matter. Indeed, my only fear of her was a more existential sort of fear, that it could happen to me. But in time, even this subsided. Even with all her problems, Lorne was imbued with a certain something. Everyone was happy around her. It was a sort of infectious charisma, so to speak, that meant people were amazingly relaxed and cheerful around her. It wasn't a performance, it was genuine. Every time Lorne smiled, it seemed like the entire world smiled in return.

Most of the family knew that Lorne wouldn't be around long. Some thought that she wouldn't last to the double digits. Yet for me, it was something of a shock to hear of her slipping away. Lorne was always there. And now she wasn't. The memorial service was the first time in ages that my eyes started to water, and it infuriated me that I couldn't just bawl my eyes out. Surely if there was a time, it would be now. Yet somehow, all that sorrow faded away as I remembered her. At least now, she's off this plane of existence, and her shade has passed to whatever world beyond worlds lies beyond the veil of this mortal life, and she left behind many wonderful memories.

I'd often wondered how I would react if I learned that, were I to father a child, he or she would be born with such disabilities. Having seen the trials born by Lorne's mother, brother and sister, I've no doubt it would be hard - but with someone as wonderful as Lorne, it would be a trial worth the hardship. Despite never being able to take a step, utter a word, or see, she was one of the happiest people I've ever known, and one that could spread that happiness wherever she went.

I'm glad I knew Lorne, and my heart is broken knowing that she's gone. It tears my heart out knowing that I never got to say goodbye. Still, I feel blessed to have so many memories of a girl who subverted the tragedy of her existence with brightness, joy and cheer. Heaven is a sunnier place than ever.


  1. Al, I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. She must have been a wonderful person who will live on in the memories of those who knew her.

  2. Thank you, Gabriele. It's kind of amazing how a girl who never spoke a single word could have such an effect on so many people. The funeral service was packed, and even though there was much weeping - very rare in my experience, we Scots are painfully reserved in our mourning - I've never seen such happiness at a wake. Laughing, joking, reminiscing. Her cheerfulness crossed the grave itself.

  3. Hi Al, I was on vacation last week but felt compelled to comment, albeit late.

    Sorry for the loss of Lorne, she sounded like an absolutely wonderful person. Hold her memories in your heart, man.

  4. Beautifully expressed, Al. I'm very sorry for your loss.