Tuesday 23 November 2010

What Lupoff Said (Updated)

The third part of what has turned out to be a trilogy of posts, we can finally see what Lupoff actually said in the introduction to The Last Heiroglyph, thanks to Mikey_C of the Robert E. Howard Forums.

With regard to REH, Lupoff alludes to the Big Three not having led a so-called "standard model" American lifestyle of wife, kids, suburban etc, then includes a paragraph as follows:

Howard never married. He reportedly bragged of his sexual exploits but his claims were at best unsubstantiated. The details of Howard's suicide are well known. The reason or reasons may be more complicated than the following bald statement: His mother lay dying, her nurse told him that the end was near, he took a gun and put a bullet through his brain. Chronic depression, financial stress, a failed relationship, and what I am informed is now known as "Caregiver Stress Syndrome" may all have contributed to his act of self destruction.
As I said in the Forums... That's it? That's what we're supposed to have a fit about?

Let's have a breakdown:

 - I don't recall anything about Howard "bragging about his sexual exploits."

 - The wording of the bald statement is cunningly wrought: it clearly states the facts, but by omission of circumstances, presents the facts of Howard's suicide in the "cause and effect" manner so criticized today.  Thus, the statement is true - but by neglecting to mention Howard's previous suicidal thoughts and dark moods, puts the events in another light. I can only imagine this may have been one of the revised portions.

 - Chronic depression is unproven and largely unprovable when it comes to historical figures, but there is definite evidence pointing to Howard experiencing depression throughout his life.

 - Financial stress may also have been a factor. Weird Tales owed Howard a lot of money, to the point where Howard had to send letters to Wright imploring with him to hurry up.  The price of healthcare for Hester was rising, her condition deteriorating.  *However, this is not to say that the financial situation was dire, in fact Howard was quite well off at the time of his death: the fact that Weird Tales wasn't paying in itself, plus the mere fact that Hester's healthcare was becoming more expensive, would have been a source of stress anyway.

 - Novalyne's breakup with Howard may well have been devastating.  How couldn't it be?  Girls like Novalyne were few and far between.  There can't have been any like her in Cross Plains, or within hundreds of miles. For Howard to lose Novalyne would have been an incredible blow.
 - I don't know enough about Caregiver Stress Syndrome to comment, but it's a damn sight better than Oedipus Complex, and one could certainly find support in the letters.

Overall, it's not good.  I have serious misgivings with Lupoff claiming Howard's alleged Casanova pretentions, and the wording of the "bald statement" was insensitive.  I'm also disappointed to see the lack of discussion of Howard's better qualities, considering Smith had some good things to say about him.  However, it's nowhere near as terrible as I was fearing.  I was expecting something de Campista Award-worthy: this'd barely scrape honourable mentions.  The way ED were going on, I thought we were looking at Lupoffgate.

EDIT: James Maliszewski  kindly noted that the entire introduction is available to read online at Amazon.com, so I have taken the time to read it. I've also been told that Lupoff had some disagreeable things to say about Howard in a recent issue of Locus, and it would've been nice if the source had actually told people rather than sit on it, but that's for another time. For now, let's concentrate on The Last Heiroglyph.

There are a few more discussions of Howard within the introduction:

Howard's tales were the most varied of the three, ranging from boxing yarns to sea stories to westerns, but most of all to tales of barbarian combat. Imbued with overwhelming violence and drenched in gore, they found a special niche and inspired a whole school of imitators.

I'm very appreciative that Lupoff notes Howard's broader horizons beyond science fiction, horror and fantasy, something he does have over Lovecraft and Smith. Still, "sea stories"? Is that in reference to Steve Costigan, whose yarns are more accurately described as boxing yarns? Assuming "tales of barbarian combat" applies to his fantasy stories, that hardly makes up "most" of his writings: boxing yarns, westerns and historicals make up greater percentages of Howard's work than his fantasy stories.

However, it's unfair for me to neglect the statements made against Howard's epistolary friend Lovecraft:

Lovecraft's father went mad, was hospitalized, and died. Then Lovecraft's mother went mad, was hospitalized, and died. Raised by a pair of doting aunts, Lovecraft married a woman seven years his senior. After a couple of years he decided that marriage was not for him and returned to the quasi-maternal nest for the rest of his days.

What Lupoff neglects to mention is that following his father's death, Lovecraft was initially raised by his mother, aunts and grandfather, the five living in the same house. Mr Lovecraft died when HPL was three: Mrs Lovecraft died when HPL was in his twenties, and from complications of surgery unrelated to her "madness." Lupoff also neglects to mention that "the rest of his days" after HPL's amicable separation only amounted to a few years, when he died of intestinal cancer. As with Howard, omission of certain facts gives a skewed impression of the situation.

Nonetheless, I'm pleased to note that Lupoff does give credit where it's due:

Of the many great names of those who wrote for Weird Tales, "The Unique Magazine," three stand above all... Still, one returns inevitable to the three titans of Weird Tales: H.P. Lovecraft, "The Old Gentleman of Providence," Robert E. Howard, "Two Gun Bob," and Clark Ashton Smith, "The Emperor of Dreams."

In any case, I will not attempt to duplicate, in miniature form, the treatment that all three have been justly accorded. But I will point out that despite their great differences there were remarkable parallels among them.

Three brilliantly talented men, each of them a stranger in a world he never made nor lived in happily or comfortably.

Each turned to creating fiction for the pulp magazines of the day - most notably, in all three cases, Weird Tales, a periodical that paid poorly even by the low standards of the pulps, but that welcomed offbeat and alienated world-views like those of the three tortured geniuses.

Just so, the collected works of Clark Ashton Smith will make their way into the memory of our own lettered public. They will stand on a plain with the best prose and poetry of Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Robert Ervin Howard. He was their equal; I am tempted to say more than that but will not. Each has his merits.

I have to give special mention of the many fantastic things he says about Clark Ashton Smith. He gives props to Donald Sidney-Fryer's "splendid "bio-bibliography, Emperor of Dreams," which he considers "as close to a full-scale biography of Smith as has yet been achieved." It isn't all great - Lupoff seems to consider Smith's settings as "largely interchangeable," which has me scratching my head - and he gets terribly ostentatious talking about what type of music would be ideal accompaniment to a Clark Ashton Smith reading session, but the enthusiasm is rather infectious. I'm sure many will find the introduction the height of pretentiousness, but once I got used to the style that gives Brian Sewell a run for his money, I found more than a few lovely things.

I'll leave you with this excerpt, because I think it's quite sweet:

As you read this book or any collection of Smith's wonderous gems, do not hasten to the next story, the next scene, or even the next paragraph. Turn the clock to the wall. Put your wristwatch in a drawer. Disconnect the telephone and shut off your cell phone. Draw the blinds. Make yourself comfortable with the book in your lap, and perhaps with a glass of some fine, rare vintage at your elbow. Wade into the warm, scented sea of words. Give yourself over to the experience. Do not worry about emerging.

So Lupoff says Howard bragged about unsubstantiated conquests, and was a tad unsensitive in dealing with the suicide, in addition to getting more than a few basic facts wrong. He also called Howard, Lovecraft and Smith "brilliantly talented," "geniuses," "titans," and "great names who wrote for Weird Tales" who "stand over all" - some of those great names including the likes of Hamilton, Williamson, Moore, Williams, Heinlein, MacDonald and others. Yes, the introduction is marred by imprecise and lackluster research, with more than a few unkind things to say about Howard and Lovecraft, and arguably even Smith, in describing the three as "tortured geniuses." However, at the same time, Lupoff does have good things to say. Hopefully readers picking up The Last Heiroglyph will take note of them.


  1. Well, he was not flat broke. He had around $2,000 in the bank. Doc Howard had money as well. While Hester's medical costs did put a strain on their finances, they were far from destitute. I think the Weird Tales situation was more of mental stress than financial. He did the work, but wasn't paid. In his book and just about anyone else’s, that is just wrong.

  2. You're right, I should've clarified that the *mental* stress was what was affecting Howard, not that he or the family were living hand-to-mouth. In addition, the fact that Hester's medical cost was mountain would've been unpleasant just for the sheer fact that it's increasing.

  3. I don't yet have my copy of Volume 5 of the CAS stories, so maybe someone can fill me in: why is Howard even mentioned at all in the intro, let alone mentioned in this fashion? I don't really see how it's germane.

  4. I don't either, James: I'm just going by what Mikey said. I'm guessing it's just in reference to his Weird Tales brethren.

    Now I'm wondering how Lovecraft comes off...

  5. I am at a loss as to how Lupoff wants to have REH's sexual encounters substantiated. Did he want Clyde Smith to hide in the closet to get a few snapshots as proof? Besides, REH did not have the market cornered on exaggerating his prowess.

  6. Who knows, Two-Gun: maybe that's exactly what Lupoff wants! I can't recall any specific mention of REH's bragging, come to think of it.

  7. Hmmm. Lupoff slams Howard, then praises him.

    So what he's saying, in essence, is that for a fat girl she sure don't sweat much.

    Smells like deCamp Spirit to me. In other words, it stinks.

    Think I'll wait for a library sale to get this book for what the intro makes it worth--50¢.

    (who doesn't reward publishers who should know better)

  8. Sea stories...those in which Faring town was the setting perhaps.

  9. It was better than what I was fearing. I was expecting no positives from him.

    What concerns me, though, is that this is apparently the "edited" version: I can only wonder what Scott had to alter/snip to get it printed.

  10. It could well be a Faring Town reference, Cromsblood - but then, they're horror stories as much as they are "sea stories." Quite a conundrum.

  11. I'm not sure why they even got Lupoff to do an introduction for a CAS book when there are so many Weird Tales experts around. I've always thought of him as the ERB guy. My copy of the book awaits me at my local comic shop, and while I'm glad to have the set completed, I'll probably just skip the intro with its slap dash research and its 'unsubstantiated claims.'

  12. I certainly don't think this is a deal-breaker for me. I've held off on getting the CAS collections since I have most of the stories in various books, but I always wanted to have them anyway. I still will: I'll just skip a few pages.

  13. Right, You need the books. They are great. The annotations and such are fantastic, and the stories themselves have been restored to as close to their original formats as possible. By no means let this one bit of foolishness keep you from getting them. I've really enjoyed the series.