Saturday 31 December 2011

Hyborian Musings: Aquiromian Holiday, Part One

"When I dream of Rome, I am always pitted against her, hating her with a ferocity that in my younger days persisted in my waking hours, so that I still remember, with some wonder, the savage pleasure with which I read, at the age of nine, the destruction of Rome by the Germanic barbarians. At the same time, reading of the conquest of Britain by those same races filled me with resentment. Somehow, I have never been able to conceive fully of a Latinized civilization in Britain; to me that struggle has always seemed mainly a war of British barbarians against Germanic barbarians, with my sympathies wholly with the Britons."
 - Robert E. Howard, Letter to Lovecraft, ca. January 1931...
A wild Aquiromian appears!

One of my pet Hyborian peeves is the meme which dictates Aquilonia is modelled after the Roman Empire. If you've seen any representation of an Aquilonian in a visual medium, that individual is very likely to resemble a classical Roman. It's endemic in illustration, Marvel and Dark Horse comics, role playing games, video games, board games, even action figures. Aquilonian centurions, Aquilonian legionaries, Aquilonian senators, Aquilonian gladiators... All over the place. When King Conan is illustrated, he's often clad in highly Romanesque attire, be it - again - in books, comics, games, action figures, even films. The implication of Conan wearing Roman attire as king, then, supports the Aquilonia=Roman theme.

The problem is twofold: first, the Aquilonians are not described like Ancient Romans, and second, Robert E. Howard absolutely despised the Romans.

So why is this so prevalent, and why is it such a problem?

Sunday 25 December 2011

Another classic ruined by Al

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc'd in their heads,
And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a steel battlesleigh, and eight giant reindeer,
Whose great grizzled driver stretched his neck with a crick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call'd them by name:
"Now! Thrasher, now! Crasher, now! Cancer and Hakon,
"On! Plummet, on! Cesspit, on! Thunder and Blacken;
"To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
"Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of death — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The thunder and rumbling of each monstrous hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress'd all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish'd with ashes and soot;
A bundle of blades was flung on his back,
Axes and crossbows and swords in his sack:
His eyes burned with balefire, his teeth gleamed like ice,
His thews wrought of iron, his bones hewn from gneiss;
His great savage grin was taut, tight as a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a grim face, and a great barrel chest
That shook when he laugh'd at some grim pagan jest:
He was massive and strong, a vision from Hell,
And I scream'd when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had reason to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill'd all the stockings; then turn'd with a jerk,
And clutching me by the crook of the throat,
He leapt up the chimney like a great mountain goat.
He sprung to his sleigh, and shot into the sky,
And dropped me to earth, to scream ere I die:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

(With profuse apologies to Clement Clark Moore.  I was compelled to put something up for Christmas, so here's another classic ruined by shameless editing. As ever, I wish all my readers and Howard fans a marvellous Mitramas, a super Set Sacrificial Festival, a solemn, cheerless Cromhain, and of course, a merry Christmas!)

Wednesday 21 December 2011

I truly wish I could enjoy this...

See, I loved The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring when it came out. I was just so blown away to see an adaptation that actually stuck to the books to a degree most supposed adaptations dismiss as "unnecessary," "unfilmable" or otherwise "undesireable," that I ranted and raved about it for ages. Then The Two Towers came out, and I started to pick at the threads.  I started to become bothered by the changes. By the time of The Return of the King, most of my enthusiasm for the franchise was replaced with a nagging preoccupation with a little voice saying "no, this isn't the best possible adaptation of The Lord of the Rings we could hope for." Best we could get given Hollywood's boundless stupidity and soulless money-oriented goals?  Perhaps.  Best we could hope for, though?

So the trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Two Parter hit the 'net, and the Tolkien fandom rejoiced.  And why not?  Everything I saw in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy was plain in evidence, in all the good and bad it entails.  Lots of gorgeous scenery, astounding attention to detail in the costuming, props and sets, sweeping catchy orchestral score, the occasional direct quote from Tolkien that gets me grinning madly, tempered by maudlin melodrama like Galadriel brushing away Gandalf's hair, lots of cod-Bergman staring-into-the-middle-distance, and needless tie-ins to the previous films.

I just feel like such a Grinch, you know? So many people are looking forward to this, and I'm almost positive that those people are not going to be disappointed. Everything from the Jackson trilogy is probably going to be in this, and while everyone dismisses the stupid alterations and redundant additions as "necessary to the process of adaptation" while they enjoy themselves, I'm just going to be stuck in a huff.  There are few upcoming films I wish I could be excited about.  I wish I could watch a trailer for The freaking Hobbit and feel the same convulsions of joy I did on seeing, say, the trailer for Jurassic Park. But I can't.

To be frank, I'm feeling something of a malaise.  I haven't seen a single trailer that engenders any degree of enthusiasm or excitement in me for any upcoming film, be it anticipated blockbusters like The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises, appeals to my Scottish sensibilities like Brave, or pleasant surprises like The Wicker Tree. Even the initial "that doesn't actually look that bad" optimism from John Carter and Wrath of the Titans (I'm surprised as you are) is dampened by cynicism.  Have I truly become a cynical old grump at last? Did Conan the Barbarian break something in my brain, shorting the Optimism fuse for ever?  Or will the anticipated Prometheus trailer restore some sense of excitement?

Oh well.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Hyborian Musings: Mappa Mundi

A quickly-rendered composite utilizing the two maps included in Del Rey's Conan collections

The subject of maps for the Encyclopaedia.  On the one hand, I'd really like to have a big grand map of the Hyborian Age just to show the breadth and depth of Howard's creation, based upon the best suggestions, ideas and hypotheses.  On the other, it seems contradictory to try to separate pastiche from Howard, only to introduce my own theories in the process, muddying the waters.

From a strict "REH-only, nowt but" perspective, the only satisfying answer would be to just use Howard's own maps.  The problem is... well, they aren't very detailed, or photogenic.  They weren't intended to be either.  Howard's maps were his own sketches, drawn in his own time, so he could get a feel for the Hyborian Kingdoms' geopolitical structure while writing the stories.  In this, they obviously succeeded - but they weren't intended for publication by Howard himself, since they're just a series of lines overlaid on a map of Europe.  Many landmarks, cities, rivers, mountains, and other features are missing, and a good portion of the landmass is left off in the south and east.

Part of me wants to honour Howard's desire to keep the Black Kingdoms and the Blue East vague, mysterious and unknown to the reader.  However, another part feels that any future pasticheurs may feel that the lack of a map, even a speculative one, of any given area gives them carte blanche to do whatever they like. So in leaving out any depictions of Vendhya, Hyrkania, Zembabwei, Khemu and beyond, a future comic or book author might get the impression "well, that means I can just stick in a super-advanced kingdom the size of Aquilonia ruled by dragonfly-riding people in the middle of the Black Kingdoms - after all, there's nothing to say there couldn't be such a place, right?"

Thus the dilemma.

I think the best solution is to do both: provide a map based only on Howard's documents, and an expanded map based on current theories - and make sure it's delineated as such.  The map based on REH's map is described as being based on REH's map, and thus set in stone, as it were.  The map based on various theories, such as the outstanding work by Dale Rippke in the Blue East and Black Kingdoms, however, has a bit of leeway, within reason, and is defined as theoretical.  I might have fun with the literary agent hypothesis here.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Hyborian Musings: The Conan Calendar

I've been wrestling with dates in regards to the Encyclopedia. "Three thousand years before the time of Conan," "nine hundred years before Conan's time," and whatnot.  While correct enough, it also seemed a bit clumsy and redundant.  But what could replace it?  Initially I was wanting to knock out a hard timeline, where every major event of the Hyborian Age was listed and put in context, like this one for the Cthulhu Mythos, or this for Tolkien's mythos.  My initial thought for the reckoning was using the Cataclysm: after all, what more profound and earth-shattering event could one choose for the timeline than the one which rocked the foundations of the earth?  Unfortunately, "The Hyborian Age" has proven immensely difficult to work with due to later stories' contradictions.  Published stories take precedents over private notes, true, but so much Hyborian history is found in the essay, one wonders what to do with it.

Then it hit me: I was using the wrong reckoning.  Instead of using the cataclysm, why not use the one element which is most constantly used as a marker between events of the Hyborian past and present?

My proposal is to organise everything around Conan.  Of course, I thought, it's so simple!  We could even include the traditional B.C. to serve as the "ancient time," and the succeeding period starting with A:

B.C. = Before Conan
A.C. = After Conan

The next question is shrinking it down: what time in Conan's life should serve as the reckoning?  The traditional Gregorian calendar immediately made me think of using Conan's birth, but many cultures use the start of a ruler's reign.  Conan is clearly one of the most important historical figures of the Hyborian Age, if not quite the religious figure Jesus turned out to be, but in any case, it's the perfect marriage of accessibility and simplicity.  So perhaps...

B.C. =  Before (the reign of) Conan
A.C. = Age of Conan

Using this system, we can then say (for example):

  • 10,000 BC Birth of Akivasha
  • 3,000 BC   Fall of Acheron
                      Fall of Kuthchemes
                      Foundation of Khorshemish
  • 1,500 BC   Death of Epemitreus the Sage
  • 1,000 BC   Bossonian Marches first established
  • 900 BC      Death of Epeus of Aquilonia
                      Gazali migrate from Koth
  • 500 BC      First of five-hundred-year period of intermittent war between Aquilonia and Nemedia
  • 300 BC      Yara captures and enslaves Yogah
  • 100 BC      Bloody Tranicos disappears
  • 40 BC        Birth of Conan
  • 26 BC        Battle of Venarium
  • 23 BC        Disappearance of Yara and destruction of the Elephant's Tower
  • 10 BC        War of the Barons in Aquilonia
  • 0 AC          Age of Conan begins
  • 5 AC          Aquilonian-Nemedian War
  • 500 AC      Pictish Empire destroys Aquilonia

By Crom, I think this could work.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Comparing "Queen of the Black Coast" Adaptations

Charles over at Singular Points wanted to compare and contrast Clood's take on "Queen of the Black Coast" by posting Buscomas' version, while JainkhulTamhair at the Robert E. Howard Forums provided the Savage Sword incarnation (also Buscomas, but in black & white).

Well, I figure I may as well up the ante by providing Petri Hiltunen's marvellous adaptation too, with an English translation provided by Cromsblood, with REH for reference, and Google translate to assist.*

Monday 5 December 2011

Mark Finn's gearing up: "Southwestern Discomfit" and Blood & Thunder 2.0

A couple of Mark Finn-related links I wanted to share.

First is something I find to be of tremendous importance: "Southwestern Discomfit," a response to Gary Romeo's "Southern Discomfort."  The interests of impartiality on the REHupa website have meant that the latter essay, despite a few considerable issues (which Mark discusses), is widely available to anyone who comes on the site. Unfortunately, the lack of any counterpoint to the essay means that some have taken this as the Party Line on REH and race, which is certainly not the case.

Bothered by this phenomenon in recent times, Mark decided to offer that counterpoint:

REHupa #173 was a watershed mailing, way back in February 2002, for a number of reasons. Significantly, it was the mailing that featured Gary Romeo's article, "Southern Discomfort." As I read the article, I immediately noticed that Gary, in constructing his argument, was so interested in trawling the bottom that he willfully overlooked so much better stuff closer to the surface.  It made me angry, and it made me instantly defensive.  What I wanted to do was first ask Gary: what was your point in writing the article? Who is the target audience for it? And then I wanted to take it apart, piece by piece in my next mailing.

But I didn't. I was new, and I didn't want to rock the boat, or make any enemies right away. So I held my tongue. Besides, I wondered, I had no idea what my fellow REHupans thought about any of this. Maybe they agreed with Gary.

As it turned out, they did not. In the subsequent mailings, several of the older and more experienced REHupa members took Gary to task, and took a number of calculated swings at his essay, his methodology, and even his intent. I felt a lot better about my involvement in REHupa, but I regretted never having a chance to tee off on the topic.

When the REHupa website started up, it was determined that more recent, more approachable articles could also be listed on the site, if any member so wanted. Gary was one of the few people who stepped up to the plate and actually handed out articles to post. Along with his other Pro-de Camp essays was "Southern Discomfort." I watched it go up, go live, and bit my tongue. After all, I thought, who was I to say that Gary could list all the rest of his articles, except that one? That's when I got the idea of first doing a counterpoint article, just to balance out Gary's essay, especially now that it was devoid of its context within the REHupa mailings and commentary structure. But at the time, I was working on what would become Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, and so, I thought, I had bigger fish to fry.

Now it's 2011. I've been a member in REHupa for nearly ten years now. And it's high time I took a whacking stick to "Southern Discomfort" publically. It has needed it for a long time, particularly since it's one of the most popular things accessed on the REHupa website. The number of links to it from external blogs, websites, and citations used to indicate that yes, Robert E. Howard was indeed a racist, because look, right here, this guy says so on the experts' website, are too numerous to count. That's the problem with Internet research: it's grab and go, and no effort is made to fact-check it.

Well, you may consider this the official fact-check. This article assumes that someone has already read "Southern Discomfort" and want to know more about whether or not Robert E. Howard was a racist or not.

I don't doubt that the issue of Howard and race is something that will be a subject of discussion for as long as Howard himself is, but the more approaches we have to the argument, the more fulfilling and satisfying those discussions may be.

The second piece of news is on the new edition of Mark's outstanding Blood & Thunder: The Life And Art of Robert E. Howard. He made a tantalizing mention that an announcement will be made on Monday, but to tide us over, he revealed the cover for B&T 2.0, courtesy of the indefatigably talented Keegan duo:

I liked the cover for B&T 1.0, but I like this a lot better. Why? Because it has Robert E. Howard on it! That's always good. Plus, while the previous cover had the requisite sanguinary & brontological elements, Conan hacking lumps out of a giant snake isn't representative of Howard's vast library - something Mark himself keenly notes frequently - so rather than pick one aspect of Howard's work, why not pick a quintessential image of Howard which tells you everything you need to know about the man in a single shot?  Better than the studio photo, certainly.

Friday 2 December 2011

Hyborian Musings: Yes, We Have No Dragons

Yes, I've been playing Skyrim.  No, it hasn't conquered my life, though it isn't for want of trying: I just don't really have the energy or interest for marathon gaming sessions any more. The quests have been dull and lifeless compared to the best stories in Morrowind and Oblivion, the glitches are bad even for Bethesda, and I cannot understand why they don't go the Bioware/Obsidian approach to character animation - but I don't care, because the realm of Skyrim itself, the game world, makes up for it in every way.  The scenery, by Crom! The creatures!  The dungeons, mountains, forests, skies!  I spend most of my time in Skyrim simply wandering about the lovely landscape, watching the sabertooths prowl after elk, giants herding mammoths, the occasional dragon soar overhead, waiting for the Northern Lights to ripple across the night sky, Tamriel's twin moons looming above.  But in a way, it helps, since so much of Skyrim is influenced by the "Northern Thing" as Tolkien liked to call it, which naturally led me to consider those elements in REH, and so, the Encyclopedia.  Thinking about the dragons in the game led me to ponder dragons in Conan.

Dragons in Howard are a wide subject that warrants further study, but dragons of the Hyborian Age are naturally something I've been delving into for the Encyclopedia. While dragons rarely make an on-stage appearance in the Conan stories - only "The Scarlet Citadel" and "Red Nails" have living, breathing ones drop by - thematic and symbolic dragons are all over the place, be they dragons in heraldry, or colourful metaphors for characters. Nowhere is this more evident than in the singular Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon.

It has been remarked upon that P.S. Miller changing The Hour of the Dragon to Conan the Conqueror for the tale's single-volume publication debut was, in diplomatic terms, a blasted stupid idea. Like the esteemed Mr Rippke, I think The Hour of the Dragon is a strong, poetic, evocative title heaving with mythic resonance and symbolism. Conan the Conqueror may have alliteration on its side, but it's painfully dull in comparison - not to mention misleading in itself, since Conan doesn't conquer so much as regain what was already his. The reason behind  this change, of course, was that the man thought the title was misleading due to the lack of dragons in the text.

Confucius, he say: Whaaaaa?

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Hyborian Musings: Of Iberians and Cloods

I've decided I'm going to periodically share a few random musings in regards to the Encyclopedia, both as a form of soundboard, and to let you all know that yes, I am still typing away and tearing my hair out (that list of Cimmerian names is driving me berserkamad), though hopefully some of my theories won't sound quite so insane as they might in my head.

One valuable resource I've been utilizing is de Camp's "Hyborian Names," which appeared in Conan the Swordsman: lest you think I've gone soft on the Spraguester, I find myself disagreeing as often as agreeing when it comes to derivations that aren't crystal-clear like Khorshemish.  A perfect example is in regards to the etymology of Belesa. Here's what de Camp thinks:

Belesa, Beloso Respectively, the Zingaran heroine of TT and a Zingaran man-at-arms in CC. Origin uncertain; remote possibilities are Belesis, a Babylonian priest of -VII mentioned by Ktesias; a Belesa River in Ethiopia; and Berosos (or Berossus, &c.), a Hellenized Babylonian priest and writer of early -III.

It's been remarked upon that de Camp was an extremely intelligent, erudite and well-informed man who has a curious habit of utterly failing to see the simplest of things. As such, while de Camp was struggling to draw comparisons between a fantastical-Spanish noblewoman and Babylonian priests, I think there's a far simpler origin for Belesa.

Thursday 24 November 2011

A message!

First, a sincere apology for the lack of updates.  A series of events behind-the-scenes have been mounting, particularly one situation which started in August (not what you think) but didn't really escalate until a few months ago.  It's a deeply personal family matter, so I won't get all morose or maudlin, but suffice to say I've been in a somewhat erratic and unpleasant state of mind.  I had hoped to keep this off the blog, but it spilled out in some unpredictable ways: again, I can only apologise.
Secondly, and more pleasantly, I have a renewed sense of purpose.  This is going to be the final post I make regarding the film for the foreseeable future.  I've said before that I felt a tremendous sense of futility when the film came out: all that time analysing screen captures, set photos, cast documents, script pages and magazine interviews.  Thousands of words of analysis and conjecture based on every morsel of detail I could get.  I must've written something like a hundred thousand words at the end of it all.  All for a film that I personally considered barely a Conan film at all.

I was distraught. Actually, it was worse than that: I felt destroyed. I felt like I had wasted over a year of my time on something that didn't deserve all that effort.  Look at all the things that fell by the wayside: my look at Almuric, the Hyborian Age Gazetteers, Barbarians of Middle-Earth, Frazetta & Howard, the Newcomer's Guide - how much more work could I have done in those series?  The Encyclopedia didn't suffer as badly since I was determined to work bit by bit on that every spare moment, but I certainly would've spent more time on it without the film.  All those posts, articles, essays, drawings and projects took a back seat to The Wrath of Zym.

If I found the film good enough on its own merits, that may have helped; if it was at least a box office success, I could take solace in the fact that many more potential Howard fans may use it as a gateway.  But it was a disaster critically and commercially.  It didn't matter that Howard fans and scholars whose opinions I respected enjoyed it, found it an enjoyable enough film, even found it better than the 1982 film - I didn't enjoy it.  I didn't see what they're seeing.  For all the good it did in being freer from the 1982 film's influence than the series or films before it, and for Jason Momoa being closer to Howard's creation than Arnold could ever be, I couldn't help but think: just how many people are going to go out and buy a Howard collection?

It may be that I'm being unfair on the film. The filmmakers seemed to be happy enough with the product despite the problems in the production.  I don't doubt that they thought they were making the best film they could.  Yet, well, the numbers speak for themselves.  If there's anything good I can glean from the experience, it's the knowledge that I felt I did my best.  I sought to mention or bring up Robert E. Howard as often as possible, explaining the divergences and similarities to his work, and bringing up all the books and essays I could.  I met a lot of new Howard and Conan fans, and I feel I must've done some good being one of the few blogs reporting on the film from a different point of view from the Remake Brigade.

But, as they say, onwards and upwards.  There isn't any upcoming news apart from the Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital release.  If a sequel's coming out, it won't be for a long time - and I honestly don't know if I'll be covering it if it does.  Solomon Kane fooled me once.  Conan fooled me twice.  I have serious concerns about Kull and Bran Mak Morn (if the latter's still coming).  And I'm absolutely terrified by what Christophe Gans might have in store for Sword Woman.  I just don't think I could muster the enthusiasm, knowing that any or all of those films could be at best as "good" as Solomon Kane, and at worst as bad as Conan.

But that's in the future.  For now, I have more time to dedicate to the Encyclopaedia, and I'm going to use the blog as the central news network: previews, sketches, queries, the works.  I may do cross-posts on other sites to maximise saturation and get the most possible feedback.  Since I'm kicking the Encyclopedia into overdrive, however, this means that the Blog may not be updated as often: I'll endeavour to keep you all informed, but if you don't see new posts for long stretches, know that this is because I'm hard at work on the Encyclopedia behind the scenes.

I may be knocked for six, but I'm not licked yet.  Conan didn't kill me, and it isn't going to kill the Encyclopaedia.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

8-Year-Old Reviews: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

As we wait for the Beeb to respond, here are my thoughts on my most recent trip to the cinema, which again can only be expressed through the medium of 8-year-old.

Saturday 5 November 2011

S.H.I.E.L.D.W.A.L.L. Operation Auntie




The Review Show does a drive-by on Howard

After all that heavy emotional lifting Germaine does, it's time to send you into the weekend on a slightly lighter note. Here's comedian Stewart Lee with a selection of his favourite books, most of which appear to be out of print - should that tell us something?
 - Kirsty Wark's condescending lead-in to Stewart Lee's discussion of Robert E. Howard, Arthur Machen and Nina Hamnett on The Review Show, and yes, it should tell us that The Review Show needs to learn how to use %&$@ing Google

The more I think things are getting better, that people are finally starting to let go of the old myths, the more angry I get when something like this comes up.  Mike Chivers of Necronomania sent me this, and I simply have to discuss it.

Warning: I am seriously ticked off by this.

Monday 31 October 2011

Dark Ideas

"Daddy, I had a bad dream."
You blink your eyes and pull up on your elbows. Your clock glows red in the darkness—it's 3:23.
"Do you want to climb into bed and tell me about it?"
"No, Daddy."
The oddness of the situation wakes you up more fully. You can barely make out your daughter's pale form in the darkness of your room. "Why not, sweetie?"
"Because in my dream, when I told you about the dream, the thing wearing Mommy's skin sat up."
For a moment, you feel paralysed; you can't take your eyes off of your daughter. Then the covers behind you begin to shift…
- Bad Dream

There seems to be a subtle difference between terror and horror.  There are lots of horror stories, films, games and comics out there, rightly considered to be finely-tuned and crafted pieces of work.  But I can deal with horror.  The concept of werewolves, vampires, zombies, and the like can provide certain amounts of scares, for sure.  I loved the horror tales of Poe, Lovecraft, Machen, and the films of Carpenter, Dante, Miller and more.  But they don't always stay with me in quite the way others do.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Back again, Mr Herron?

Hee hee, this is fun.
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!

Wednesday 26 October 2011

So what did you all think?

I really haven't been keeping up to date with my replies to comments, but hopefully this post will provide one I can't ignore: what did you think of Conan the Barbarian 2011?

I've already expressed my thoughts at ridiculous length, and frankly, I don't think they've changed much from my initial reaction. What little that was good in the film was swamped and consumed by everything that wasn't as good, and the infuriating thing is, it's easy to see why it went wrong.  Well, easy for this armchair analyst who really has no business talking about why a film flopped, but maybe a few shots in the dark will actually hit their target.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Video Interview with Clood

Oh, boy: Geeks of Doom put up a video interview with Becky Cloonan and Brian Wood.  While -ood has discussed some of his plans and ideas, Cloo- has been a bit quiet: it's good to hear from her.  In particular, she states her plans for Conan: he's going to be "sexier" and "prettier" than previous interpretations, with a particular aim at getting more female fans into the fold.

The more I see of Brian & Becky, the more excited I am about what they're up to... and the more apprehensive.  It's just... I've been burned so many times before, you know?

In any case, I suspect a few alarm bells might be ringing for some when Becky explains how her Conan will be prettier for the ladies.  Now, while I've explained why I don't think Conan should ever be thin, I don't have any objections to Conan being handsome.  There really is little to go on in the text regarding Conan's facial features beyond eye colour: all we really know is he has a "low, broad brow," "black brows," "thin lips," and a "scarred, almost sinister face."  In my estimation, Conan could be a neanderthalic brute or a Tall Dark Stranger.  My own interpretation of Conan has a lot of Sean Connery and Oliver Reed in him - definitely not Rudolph Valentino, but not Wallace Beery or Louis Wolheim either.

Just as long as we don't end up with Bishie Conan.  We don't want that.

Monday 24 October 2011

Margaret Atwood talks Conan!?!

I meant to post this a while ago, but I prefer to stagger my posts so there's at most one or two a day.  In any case, I'm absolutely stunned by this: not only does Margaret Atwood have something to say about Conan... but that something is good.  Taran of One Last Sketch sent this interview along, and I'm quite impressed.  I'll try and get a transcript up and running, but be forewarned it's two minutes or so of Conan after a half-hour of other subjects, so don't expect this to be a Conan lecture: even so, I found the entire podcast very interesting.

Sunday 23 October 2011

More from Clood on Conan

Io9 has an interview with Clood on "Queen of the Black Coast."  They certainly don't seem intimidated by fans, for they make a couple of pretty bold statements.  Do I agree or disagree?  Only one way to find out!

Saturday 22 October 2011

The Lost Conan Adventures: "Queen of the Black Coast," Part 4

But That's Another Story
Every Conan story leaves a few loose ends before the end.  Sometimes they're obvious, like Olgerd Vladislav in "A Witch Shall Be Born": the last time we see him is his ominous ride into the desert.  Others are more subtle: the fate of Altaro, Orastes' acolyte in The Hour of the Dragon, is never explicated.  The roots of future adventures are ripe for exploitation, as Olgerd and Conan crossing paths once again could form the core of an entire story, while Altaro could be biding his time and consolidating his power for future malevolence.  Sometimes, it's as simple as wondering what happened when the story ended: what did Murillo get up to after "Rogues in the House"? Did Conan and Muriela go to Punt to continue their little con game after "The Servants of Bit-Yakin"?  Where did Conan take the Wastrel after "The Pool of the Black One"?

Friday 21 October 2011

I'm still somewhat astonished that Don Herron has read my blog...

I deliberated over waiting to post this until February, so as to keep up my newly-appointed nickname "Lightin' Al," but I figure it'd be more fair to address things now than to let them fester.

I’m getting the distinct impression that good old Al Harron, over in the World of Robert E. Howard Studies, isn’t the fastest blade out of the scabbard. Back on February 11 I addressed some concerns he had raised about where I stood in the Howardian action, and I see that on October 17 he suddenly discovered that he had been answered.
If this had been a debate, people would have died of boredom in the interval.

Just as well this isn't a debate!  Then again, if I wasn't the fastest tortoise out of the scrub (hey, I can make my own metaphors), then Conan Movie Blog would be in a bit of a sorry state, only now bringing us the news of Jason Momoa's casting and shooting beginning in Bulgaria.  But then, that isn't really Robert E. Howard studies related.

But in answer to a couple of Al’s “points” — the idea that we couldn’t possibly be related in any way because our last names are spelled Herron vs. Harron indicates someone who isn’t familiar with names or how inconsistent they have been historically. While I don’t have the time or interest to explore the issue today, within my own family my father was one of eight siblings — half of those brothers and sisters spelled the last name “Herron” and the rest spelled it “Herren,” and I met some cousins once who spelled it “Herrin.” I have some Scots roots (Al is over in Scotland), so don’t regard his statement as in any way definitive.

Evidently my light-hearted quotation from The Simpsons went over like a lead balloon, and was taken to be an definitive statement on my belief on genealogy.  That's what I get for not sourcing my attempted cartoon references.

Al’s only 27 years of age at this point, so he hasn’t been around the block much as yet (though by that age I had written “Conan vs. Conantics” already and duked it out with L. Sprague de Camp in the letter column of Two-Gun Raconteur, so I probably expect more out of potential Howard critics than most people).

My block perambulation deficiencies are more pronounced considering I hadn't begun studying Howard seriously until around 2007, having only discovered REH in earnest in the late 2000s after an adolescence dominated by science fiction.  So if I haven't created a defining piece like Conan vs Conantics, well, I can happily say it's because I'm not Don Herron, and I dare say few people ever will be Don Herron.  I can only assume that what I have written on The Cimmerian and here has left Mr Herron wanting in terms of Howard criticism.  Ah well, not much I can do about that except try harder. That said, it's kind of hard for me to duke it out with de Camp on account of him currently being indisposed, and there isn't really a comparable figure with whom to duke in current Howardom.  Leaves me in a bit of a spot.

Then there’s the idea that Al doesn’t get that I get it. It might be the American vernacular throwing him, but who in Western Civilization doesn’t understand the concept of What Have You Done For Me Lately???
I guess we can put Al on that list. . . .

Oh dear, another failure of communication on my part.  What I was trying to say, in my roundabout way, was that I couldn't understand how Don could interpret my bemoaning his absence as a criticism, that I felt some sense of betrayal or defection from the Shieldwall, when in fact I felt nothing of the sort.  Thus, my lack of understanding of "What Have You Done For Me Lately???" isn't in reference to the phrase itself, but the application.  I get that he gets it, I just don't get how he got it from this instance.

And somewhere in those long months I do recall Al taking the side of Professor Frank Coffman in a little dust-up I had with him — my only advice, Al, is that no one who really knows Howard Studies would ever side with Frank over me about anything. Honest.

I can't really talk about the background of the kerfuffle, but suffice to say, I place more stock in making up my own mind and being proven wrong, than taking someone's word for it and being right by proxy.  That said, I've disagreed with Frank and I've disagreed with Don on various myriad details and sticking points, and I'm likely to continue to do so.  I don't particularly want to be on anyone's side: if there's anything reading the Lion's Den has taught me, it's that I'm not interested in making enemies among Howardom, when Howard studies has enough to contend with - far less than in previous decades, for sure, but no reason to be complacent.

Nonetheless, I do have rapturous news, for Don actually compliments me on a post I made!  Me!  Al Harron!  Oh fraptious day, calloo, callay!

But I must compliment Al on another recent post he did — very funny, and spot on — concerning the upcoming book of essays Conan Meets the Academy, where the initial blurb says flat-out that it is the first scholarly investigation of Conan. The only way you could suggest that it is “first” would be if you consider the idea that the essays are written by academics (including Professor Frank) and that only professors can do litcrit (some people apparently believe that — the poor saps, the poor deluded saps). To me, it just looks as if the profs are cribbing the pattern that L. Sprague de Camp used in books such as The Conan Reader, The Blade of Conan, and The Sword of Conan — sorry, academics, but it’s been done, decades ago.

Seriously, I'm thrilled to bits.  It might be hard for Don to understand, but being a young Howard fan, I still hold his generation of Howard scholars to a somewhat mythical pedestal.  Going to Cross Plains and meeting individuals like Rusty Burke, Mark Finn, Damon Sasser, Dennis McHaney, Bill Cavalier, Rob Roehm, Frank Coffman and more felt - if you'll indulge in a bit of hyperbole - a bit like I was Jason appearing on the playing board of the Olympians in Jason and the Argonauts.  All I could do was look up in wide-eyed wonder at these people that seemed so tall and huge to me - literally in Rusty Burke's case - and I felt like, "what am I doing here?"

Since that first Scottish invasion of Cross Plains, the veil of mystery and awe surrounding those scholars has dissipated, but like the wizard beyond the Great and Powerful Oz, the humans behind the gods are no less intelligent and wise: I felt less like a lowly mortal, and more like an aspiring champion.  But Don's taking me to task reminds me not to rest on my laurels: I still have a long way to go.

The Lost Conan Adventures: "Queen of the Black Coast," Part 3

Weaving a Tapestry
Just as any one story can inspire future adventures, sometimes a story can be tied into earlier or later tales in Conan's life. Howard would develop the reference to Conan's adventures as Amra of the Black Corsairs in "The Scarlet Citadel" into an entire story, "Queen of the Black Coast."  "The Phoenix on the Sword" has references to Conan's thieving in Zamora, fighting with the Æsir, and as a mercenary soldier would be expanded into "The Tower of the Elephant," "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," and "Black Colossus."  Other examples are more abstract: Conan's reference to having seen "death strike a king in the midst of thousands" may technically apply to a previous story, or it could be an original adventure.

Thursday 20 October 2011

The Lost Conan Adventures: "Queen of the Black Coast," Part 2

Stories Within The Story
Howard's economy of writing meant that a great deal could be described in a few words, but there are times when one could imagine any number of things happening. Sometimes, it's a few months condensed into a paragraph, as frequently happened in The Hour of the Dragon; others, entire years go by between chapters, most famously in "Queen of the Black Coast." Other possibilities include what happens to other characters over the course of a tale, explanations for seemingly incongruous anomalies or plot holes, reconciliations with other stories - anything.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

The Lost Conan Adventures: "Queen of the Black Coast," Part 1

The Tigress ranged the sea, and the black villages shuddered. Tom-toms beat in the night, with a tale that the she-devil of the sea had found a mate, an iron man whose wrath was as that of a wounded lion. And survivors of butchered Stygian ships named Bêlit with curse, and a white warrior with fierce blue eyes; so the Stygian princes remembered this man long and long, and their memory was a bitter tree which bore crimson fruit in the years to come.
But heedless as a vagrant wind, the Tigress cruised the southern coasts, until she anchored at the mouth of a broad sullen river, whose banks were jungle-clouded walls of mystery.
 - "Queen of the Black Coast," The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, p129

Perhaps more than any other Conan tale, "Queen of the Black Coast" is the one most ripe for expansion.  In a way, it's actually two tales in one: the story of Conan's first meeting with Bêlit, and the story of their last adventure.  An entire saga could be spun between the first chapter and the rest of the yarn, and Conan's time among the corsairs is one of the most commonly referenced periods in other Conan stories.  It seems clear that Conan's time with Bêlit was a significant and lengthy period of his youth, and there are copious clues which could be teased into the legend of Amra and the She-Devil.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

The Lost Conan Adventures: Introduction

This is part of yet another new series I'd been working on in the background, but the announcement that Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan would be working on "Queen of the Black Coast" galvanized me into action. While Wood emphasises that most of the 25 issues will be used to fill out the 2 years between "Queen of the Black Coast"'s "bookends," he shouldn't forget that Howard provided enough inspiration to fill an entire saga within the tale itself.  I guess I'm just hoping that if either Wood or Cloonan are reading what the rabid REH fanboys are writing about their comic, then they'll either take some of the ideas I bring up here into the comic, or that they've already come up with them.  Some elements might have been already used by Roy Thomas in either the past Marvel comics, or even in the recent Road of Kings arc: some might not be used at all.  All I can do is get my thoughts out there, so I can say that I did.

So, here's my latest Toad-of-Toad-Hall Mania.  I'd already done a lot of these in-between the Encyclopedia, but I figure it would be a good time to bump up this particular entry.

Monday 17 October 2011

Eh, some people aren't cut out for detective work.

Better late than never: glib, but necessary, I think.

Remember a while back I talked about how great Don Herron was, how I felt his work was fantastic, and that it was a major influence on my paddling into the deeper waters of Howardom?  And I even made a little Where on Earth is Don Herron cartoon, to complement Damon Sasser's Where in the World is Don Herron?*  Well, I don't know how I didn't notice this the first time around, but the man himself formed a response. I'm not entirely sure how to feel about it.

 “Where on Earth is Don  Herron?” asked Al Harron (no relation, or none that I know of — I have been remiss in my geneaological studies the last few years) on his blog just last month.

I don't think so sir, we pronounce and spell our names differently.  Sorry, tangent.  Anyway...

Damon dealt with my physical whereabouts and activities, but Al was more concerned with seeing — or not seeing —my name specifically in connection with Robert E. Howard Studies. Yeah, What Have You Done for Me Lately? I get it.
The way I look at it, if I never do another word about the creator of Conan, my rep in that arena is secure. The Dark Barbarian. The Barbaric Triumph. “Conan vs. Conantics.” To name only a few. Maybe Al is experiencing withdrawal symptoms after the excellent REH magazine The Cimmerian closed up shop — I appeared in those pages almost every issue.

"I get it?"  Well that makes one of us... If I gave any impression that I was resentful or even vaguely irritated by the lack of new Don Herron material, then I apologise, because it was surely not my intent.  I just think it would be, you know, cool to see him back, like how I think it would be cool to see Leo and others back.  They don't have to come back, and I don't feel they have some sort of obligation to Howardom.  It would just be cool.

At the moment, you don’t see any activity in Howard studies equal to the run of The Cimmerian, but for what action there is I think I’m keeping my gunhand in. Last summer I did a review (a pretty funny review) for Damon’s annual issue of Two-Gun Raconteur, and have another long review (also funny) coming up this summer.  I’ve got two pieces being prepped for a couple of other Howard-related projects. And if I am not recognised enough for all the work I do on the side with advice and so on, let me at least inform Al that last year I made no less than two excursions up to Sacramento to drink Jack Daniels with J. Dan Price, the only begotten son of pulp great E. Hoffmann Price, because Rob Roehm wanted to get permission to use some of Ed Price’s letters in a volume he is working on about Doc Howard. 

Cool.  I'm really glad to know that.  Even though I'm only discovering it 10 months later due to me being, shall we say, extremely inconsistent in my thoroughness.

And I don’t know how a Robert E. Howard fan could miss them, but I also stepped in to introduce the two volumes of Two-Gun’s pulp detective and weird menace tales just published by The Robert E. Howard Foundation. My copies rolled in a couple of days ago. 150 copy print runs for each, sold out by publication, but second printings are in the pipeline. I toss in some nice remarks about Hammett, track down an influence that got me on the road to writing books-about-books — my usual. And the intros are in hardcover editions of Robert E. Howard.

Honest, I don’t think my presence is that hard to detect in Howard studies, if you’ve got any detective skills at all.
Hey, I never claimed to be a gumshoe, mack!  I have a hard enough time with Cluedo and choose-your-own-adventure books!

Don has a point, though: how did I miss his presence in Steve Harrison's Casebook and Weird Menace?  Mostly because I don't have them.  I'd like to think I'm a Robert E. Howard fan, certainly, but there are various factors that are too preposterous and silly to recount in detail, mostly financial and quite a few technological, which mean that I haven't bought an awful lot from the Foundation.  Most of my purchases have been in person, where I physically handed over currency and bundled the books into my suitcase.  Combined with not exactly having a disposable budget, I simply don't have enough money to splash out on even fairly affordable hardbacks like those, especially when shipping costs come into play.

For this reason, I actively shied away from reading much about those two volumes after the initial announcement specifically because I didn't want to torment myself more.  I'd already torn my heart out on missing Collected Poetry due to my monetary and mechanical gremlins, and I really didn't want to torture myself over being unable to read the restored(ish) version of "Black John's Vengeance."  All I knew at the time, and for quite a long time after that, was the story contents, and that's all I was willing to know at that point.

However, I did learn later, probably in the lead up to Howard Days, about Don's introductions - and at Howard Days, I found his contribution to Dreams in the Fire. I was pleasantly surprised to see his name, and frankly, it was as if he never left.  Mostly because, as he stated above, he never really did.  But even with my absent-mindedness, it was nice to see his name in print hot off the press, however late I was in recognizing it. Again, better late than never.

And do you know what? It was cool.

*If you don't get it, I equated Damon's original post Where in the World is Don Herron with Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego: naturally, I felt compelled to make my own version, by utilizing the Saturday morning cartoon spinoff Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego as inspiration for my own spinoff.  Not to mention the logo.  So any connection to Damon's post is completely intentional.

Sunday 16 October 2011

Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan take on "Queen of the Black Coast"

Hey, at least it isn't *technically* "What is best in life?"

Oh, gigantic happenings are afoot.  The new team for "Queen of the Black Coast" will be Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan (hitherto referred to as Clood) working together with a 25-issue story arc!

If you never thought of picking up and reading Conan because it just wasn’t your style, then think again!
Dark Horse Comics is proud to announce a new era of Conan. Conan the Barbarian is a perfect jumping-on point for new readers—a bold, fresh take on the Cimmerian from the visionary creative team of writer Brian Wood (DMZNorthlanders) and artist Becky Cloonan (DemoPixu)!
Wood and Cloonan will have Conan breaking hearts . . . and breaking faces!
In this sweeping adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “Queen of the Black Coast,” the most-requested Conan adaptation, Conan turns his back on the civilized world and takes to the high seas alongside the pirate queen Bêlit, setting the stage for an epic of romance, terror, and swashbuckling. This is Conan as you’ve never seen him, and with the combination of one of Robert E. Howard’s greatest tales and the most dynamic creative team in comics, there has never been a better time to start reading!
Conan the Barbarian is on sale February 8, 2012.

This is pretty big news for a number of reasons. First of all, 25 issues is the longest arc I can recall Dark Horse's Conan ever undertaking, and likely to stretch across multiple trades.  Secondly, Clood are Indy darlings: both are famed for their work in decidedly offbeat comics, not like Busiek's Astro City or Truman's other work.

I'm incredibly nervous. "Queen of the Black Coast" is, in my opinion, one of the five big Conan stories: that is, stories that are most valuable in getting an insight into the mind of Conan, the tone of the Hyborian Age, and Howard's own psyche.  It's incredibly important to get it right, and if you're going to commit to a 25-issue run, you'd better make sure they have the right people for the job.

Have Dark Horse chosen wisely?

Saturday 15 October 2011

Friday 14 October 2011

On Red Sonja, Power Girl and good sexy female characters

I don't tend to talk that much about sexuality on the blog, though I have spoken on gender issues in the past. In the recent craziness regarding Starfire's new look, history and personality in the rebooted DC universe, I was thinking about how many Conan fans might have felt marginalized when Red Sonja went from this:

To this:

Man, imagine if this happened nowadays.  Contemplate the outrage roaring across the internet!

Of course, things have changed substantially since the 1970s, and neither Red Sonja nor her mail byrnie were nearly as long-lived or established as Starfire and her character, but I wonder if there are some who saw Barry Smith's Sonja, thought "Wow, a female warrior that wears armour and is treated as Conan's equal, I can't wait to see more of her!" only to be treated to "Day of the Sword," where it's revealed that Sonja only got her powers through divine pity after she was raped by bandits, and she traded in her byrnie for a metal bikini.  Maroto's bikini was considered one of the elements which kick-started Sonja's rise to stardom, with a lot of enthusiasm from the young males crowd, but I can't help but wonder how different history would've been if Thomas decided to just stick to the byrnie.  Would Sonja have become as obscure as other Marvel Conan creations, or would her unique personality and status as a female comics character who wears upper body armour be enough?  Does it really matter what she wears if she still has the same origin story?  Who knows.

Anyway, the furore has resulted in many comics writers commentating on the whole "sex and women in comics" situation...

Wednesday 12 October 2011

"It's your scholarship, Bobbie! Something's got to be done about your scholarship!"

With The Evolutionary Heroes of Robert E. Howard still on the horizon and more and more academically-minded folks recognizing Howard's scholarly virtues, it's with great enthusiasm that I announce the latest of the Shieldwall's assaults against the ivory towers of Academia who yet deny the Man from Cross Plains' merits as a Real Author of Real Literature - Conan Meets the Academy: Multidisciplinary Essays on the Enduring Barbarian. The press release is excellent, as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek, cheerful explanation of Howard's Conan being more than just a dimwitted brute:

Conan Meets the Academy
Multidisciplinary Essays on the Enduring Barbarian

Edited by Jonas Prida

Print ISBN: 978-0-7864-6152-3
EBook ISBN: 978-0-7864-8989-3
5 maps, 2 photos, tables, notes, bibliography, index
softcover (6 x 9) 2012

Buy Now!

Price: $35.00
Not Yet Published, Available Spring/Summer 2012 About the Book
In 1932, Robert E. Howard penned a series of fantasy stories featuring Conan, a hulking Cimmerian warrior who roamed the mythical Hyborian Age landscape engaging in heroic adventures. More than the quirky manifestation of Depression-era magazines, Conan the Barbarian has endured as a cultural mainstay for over 70 years. This multidisciplinary collection offers the first scholarly investigation of Conan, from Howard’s early stories, through mid-century novels and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic films, to the 2011 cinematic remake of Conan the Barbarian. Drawing on disciplines such as stylometry, archeology, cultural studies, folklore studies, and literary history, the essays examine statistical analyses of Conan texts, the literary genesis of Conan, later-day parodies, Conan video games, and much more. By displaying the wide range of academic interest in Conan, this volume reveals the hidden scholarly depth of this seemingly unsophisticated fictional character.
About the Author
Jonas Prida is an assistant professor of English and head of the English Department at the College of St. Joseph, in Rutland, Vermont.

Looks great!  Can't wait for its release, and to find out more about its contents. But there's something bothering me that I can't quite put my finger on... Wait...

This multidisciplinary collection offers the first scholarly investigation of Conan

What the...

"Aly!  You've got to come back with me - back to the future!

Whoa there, Doc, you want 8-year-old Aly, I'll just get him:


"Doc, I got my older self's Robert E. Howard Foundation award here, I was just going to try out my new victory pose!"

"Well, bring it along, it concerns it too!"

"What do you mean?  What happens?  Does something happen to Robert E. Howard?  Does he get erased from existence?"

"No, you and Robert E. Howard turn out fine: it's the scholarship, Aly!  Something's gotta be done about the scholarship!"

"According to my theory, someone interfered with Glenn Lord's discovery of Howard's work. If Glenn doesn't read it, he won't read any more Howard, he won't start The Howard Collector and he won't open the gates to Robert E. Howard scholarship - no Dark Barbarian, no Blood & Thunder, no Echos de Cimmerie, no Evolutionary Heroes, not even The Robert E. Howard Reader! That's why your copy of The Barbaric Triumph's disappearing from that photograph. The fanzines will follow, and unless you repair the damage, your Foundation Award'll be next!"

"Sounds pretty heavy, Doc!"

"Weight has nothing to do with it."

"You're right, I don't know why I used a popular idiom to illustrate my feelings to an absent-minded professor. To the Delorean!"

*I should point out that just after I posted this, Agent Theagenes posted this on the REH Forums:

I brought up that problematic sentence with Jonas this morning after I saw it and there is some discussion underway right now about changing it. His intent was not to diss all of the previous REH scholarship, but to point out that this is the first study of Conan as an over-all pop culture figure---not just Howard's Conan. But the sentence is poorly worded---hopefully it won't be much of a problem to get it changed.

So that's cleared up, but dammit, I just watched Back to the Future with my cousin and infant second-cousin for the first time (theirs, not mine) and I'm still buzzing from the fun of it.

** I should also point out that this was also partially inspired by my recognition of Glenn Lord's impending 80th birthday.  I truly hope to meet him someday, though due to his health and age and my wet-behind-the-ears level of experience in Texas, time is running out.  Unfortunately, I don't have a Delorean.

*** Damon Sasser alerted me to another rupture in the space-time continuum, as Doc and 8-year-old Aly inadvertently created a universe where Glenn Lord's journal was called The Howard Reader rather than The Howard Collecter. Luckily the original timeline has been restored, or my name isn't Al Rudiger Cunningham.

Friday 7 October 2011

Vindication is hollow indeed

So it turns out that not only is Real Steel getting more than a few great reviews, but Richard Matheson himself liked it.

IGN Movies: What have you seen of Real Steel so far? Have they shown you the entire picture?

Richard Matheson: Yeah, they brought over a copy of the film here. It's a wonderful piece of work. [Director] Shawn Levy did a really outstanding job.

GN: Would you say that you're satisfied with it as an overall adaptation of your story?

Matheson: Yeah. As is the case of I Am Legend, they never followed my stories precisely, but they do a decent job of adaptation. I don't mind that. In this case, they did such a wonderful job. Shawn Levy did such an amazing job. I was very pleased.

IGN: How did you feel about some of the changes made, such as the introduction of the relationship between the father and son? That's not in the other versions.

Matheson: No, that's not in my story at all. My son and I, we've just adapted a novel of mine that came out some years ago called Journal of the Gun Years, and because it was too long, it would make a six-hour film. We had to truncate it, which we did, and it doesn't bother us to do it as long as we hold onto the flavor of the original.

IGN: And you feel that Real Steel captures that essence?

Matheson: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

IGN: I ask because I was curious if you felt concerned that by introducing a father/son relationship it might detract from Hugh Jackman's character's relationship with the robot.

Matheson: No, I believe it was well done. I can't really cavil with it.

Matheson also talks about past adaptations of his work, particularly his long-documented dislike of What Dreams May Come and The Omega Man, as well as discussing the genesis of "Steel."

This is the point where I think "there, now can we PLEASE stop calling this Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie, people," but then the horrible truth dawns on me: they will never stop calling this Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie.  They won't.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Why is it the parodies are better than the real thing?

Normally I shy away from simply posting links, but this was simply too transcendent to ignore. It is, essentially, one of the most well-produced metal music videos I have seen. Full of sorcery, monsters, mighty armies clashing, exotic harems hareming, and absolutely brilliant animation.

It's also a Merry Melodies short.

It's like Korgoth of Barbaria and the time South Park had Cthulhu guest starring: sometimes, parodies manage to capture the soul of their lampoon target more than supposed "straight" adaptations. This short manages to encapsulate the hyperbolic majesty of high-magic settings in animation previously only achieved by Fire and Ice and Heavy Metal, just as "Coon & Friends" was a more faithful depiction of the Lovecraft Mythos than all the professionally-made Lovecraft adaptations out there, and Korgoth of Barbaria managed to be more authentically Howardian than every supposed Howard adaptation combined, squared and multiplied.

Maybe that's the way to get things done: claim something's a parody or affectionate homage.

Hey, this is an excellent opportunity to post Korgoth, isn't it?

It amazes me this show wasn't picked up.

Monday 26 September 2011

Science Fiction vs Fantasy, or, Optimism vs Nostalgia

It's a common argument that I see: science fiction is intellectual, productive, inspirational, innovative, optimistic, and emphasises everything good and worthwhile about humanity.  Fantasy, however, is superstitious, nostalgic, stagnant, and emphasises the glorification of the past over hope for the future.  It's one I utterly disagree with - what of dystopian science fiction, for example, and those fantasy stories which open up realms of insight and supposition normally the domain of science fiction - but the dichotomy usually favours science fiction as being "good" and fantasy being "bad."  It's a dangerous stereotype, and one you'd think the supposedly higher-minded SF fans would recognize and avoid.

Well, I think I've found the ultimate example of that argument. Enter Science Fiction vs Fantasy by Ryan Somma.

Friday 23 September 2011

If you like flashes of brilliance hidden amidst filth and smut, we recommend

WARNING: DO NOT CLICK ANY OF THE LINKS IN THIS PAGE UNLESS YOU HAVE NO ISSUES WITH NUDITY, SEX, GORE, PROFANITY, FILTH, OR ACERBIC WIT. I'M BEING VERY SERIOUS. THIS MEANS YOU, GRAN.* is a webcomic which features some genuinely brilliant humour, but it's definitely not for the faint of heart. Full of frank depictions of nudity, sexual acts, gore, profanity and mild peril, it's still a webcomic I brave every so often.  Sometimes you get something truly inspired, like the tale of Kronar's son, which takes the idea of a gay Conan (the very idea of which was a reason for De Camp's strict control over pastiches) and runs with it, even though Kronar still ends up being pretty masculine in the process. No doubt the silly people who accuse Conan and Howard of homoeroticism will feel vindicated, but I find it fun to just think their misplaced jibes are projecting things that aren't there. But, as was the case with Your Highness, I guess I'm just too much of a prude to have much stomach for this sort of thing on a regular basis.  Ah well.

A recent(ish) comic, "The Weird Woman," features a pastiche on Howard's "Worms of the Earth," making it one of the most perceptive examples of Howard humour out there, considering most attempts at it tend to be repetitive jabs at the 1982 film or the fact Conan shares his name with a popular talk show host.  And best/worst of all, we get an endorsement/backhanded compliment if you move the mouse over the image: "If you like high fantasy or xenophobic jerks, we recommend "Worms of the Earth" by Robert E. Howard."

It's difficult to tell whether they're referring to Bran Man Morn as the xenophobic jerk - frankly, I think he's well within his rights to have a problem with the Romans who are invading his lands, torturing his people and threatening to conquer his home - or Howard, but either irk me.  Something tells me it's not meant to be taken too seriously, but given how long Howard fans have been railing against the popular conception of Howard, it smarts even in jest.  The sad thing is, it does seem like the sort of thing a DeCampista would write.  Still, I get the distinct impression that the folk of are entirely irreverent, and no-one is sacred to them, so I shouldn't expect any special treatment in regards to Howard. Or perhaps I'm misreading the thing.  Who knows.

*You can, however, look at some of the safe for work comics which show off the sort of delightful humour I love about the comic: Magic Fish, Fountain of Death, Skulls!, Wolf!, King-Shaped, Princess, A Very Deep Chasm, Northerner, Human Women, Labyrinth, Sharks vs Jets, Changeling, Frog 3, Blanket, Use Item, The Huntsman, Scheherazade, Weeping Woods, Kindly Hunter, Gorek the Magnanimous, and the above Fountain of Doubt. For those who don't mind a bit of nudity, there's Ulric the Just, which might be my favourite on the whole site. JUST DON'T CLICK NEXT/PREVIOUS/HOME if you know what's good for ya!

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Something of the glamour of a crusade...

One of the more contentious aspects of The Blog That Time Forgot (well, me) is my propensity to go on crusades to enlighten, correct or otherwise address people that get things wrong.  In the past, I've been criticized for it - "The Blog That Does Nothing But Whine" being a zinger that still zings a bit to this day - but I've been doing my best to bite my tongue unless I find something that has to be dealt with.

Luckily, I'm not alone in this. Damon Sasser of Two-Gun Raconteur has regularly commented on these situations on the 'Net, and my Cimmerian Blog compatriot Brian Murphy goes for the jugular when it comes to J.R.R. Tolkien, as evidenced by two recent posts, one addressing a Class 3 Camper, another barely containing his irritation at Evangeline Lilly's latest comments.  I must admit, I tend to grit my teeth whenever I see Evangeline Lilly at the best of times, so I can sympathise. However, there's been something of a backlog building up with People Who Are Wrong On The Internet, and rather than dedicate a number of posts to any one of them, perhaps it would be better to deal with them in one place.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

The Blog That Time Forgot: Bite-Sized: Exploitation and Shock Value

Since I'm still on the mend, but feeling awfully guilty about not keeping up to date, I'm trying out a new concept: little quick posts where I keep you all up to date on what I'm doing.  (I swear, one of these days, I'll comment!  I mean it!)

So, I watched Children of Men. How's this for a contentious, blanket statement: Children of Men is an absolutely beautifully directed film with masterful technical directions and magnificent visual design, which is regrettably bogged down by some of the most exploitative, blatant, backbreakingly unsubtle political pretensions I've seen in a film. There's a fascinating science fiction story at its core about a world where humanity has become infertile, and indeed it does dwell on some of those great questions. It also has some strong ideas. Unfortunately, it's also one of those films that just doesn't know how to do subtlety. From the choice of songs (want something to be poignant? Why, pick a melancholy tune to accompany it! Want an ambiguous and politically motivated ending? Go with John Lennon!) to the dialogue, it's a film that holds your hand all the way through, not daring to allow the viewer to make up their own mind.*

It's also one of the most galling exploitation films I've seen in a while.  People die in brutal and matter-of-fact ways, rows of shrouded bodies are seen, crying innocents are packed into what are obviously concentration camps, surrendering protesters are gunned down whilst waving white flags. This seems to be a thing for Mexican** filmmakers: Cuaron's compatriot Guillermo Del Toro did the same in Pan's Labyrinth, where he had no qualms in showing acts of brutality which make it difficult not to hate those enacting them - it's just unfortunate it's done in such a cartoonish and obviously exploitative manner.

It's like having your villain kick a puppy or shoot a kitten: you're obviously going to hate him by default, unless you have a particular aversion to kittens.  Thus it's easy to make a villain hateful when he does something so monstrous.  It's the same thing which bothers me about A Serbian Film: it's just so easy to shock people with profoundly shocking images, but it doesn't make you think about the characters, film or themes, you just can't help but think about the image. Or, more succinctly, it's like the jump scare. Surprising someone is easy, you just say boo and make a scary face, but that doesn't make you a grandmaster of horror - in the same way, showing a man committing unspeakable acts doesn't make the man despicable, just the act.

Speaking of which, it's not the violence which I found the most exploitative (though it was very exploitative).  No, what was worse was the politixploitation.  As surely as sexploitation is filled with scenes of carnality and blaxploitation is suffused with black stereotyping, this film is full of pandering to a particular viewpoint .  The British government is shown as the most odious caricature liberal Britons think of the goose-stepping conservative Middle Englanders: the police are brutal and aggressive thugs; the news is the sleaziest this side of Fox News.  In contrast, the heroes are composed of long-haired ganja aficionados, New Age holistic midwife, and a young black woman who is the Saviour Of Our People.  Not a single one of them felt like a character, so much as a proxy for a designated political argument.  Michael Caine is defined by his love of marijuana and little else; Pam Ferris is a caricature of alternative medicine adherents. Only Clare-Hope Ashity had anything resembling depth, and even then, her accent was barely tolerable.

Now, I'm not getting into the politics of this, but this film was so obtuse about its political leanings, and particularly its duality (one side is wrong and the other side is right), that I felt insulted by it.  Half the dialogue was clumsy exposition, the other half political filibusters.  It's frustrating, because even ignoring the nauseating political "subtext" (or, rather, supertext), Children of Men is a really good film.  I just wish the script was handled as well as the direction.

*I'm going to get into spoiler territory here, so you might want to watch out here: the film just doesn't understand the idea that viewers might be able to get things for themselves without redundant clarifications.  For one thing, there's a certain revelation which turns the film's narrative upside down, and the ramifications of said revelation are right there. Here it is:

All through the film, the heavy handed commentary on immigration is hard to miss, so when it's discovered that one such refugee is pregnant, the most obvious irony is clear: the key to humanity's salvation lies in a woman who would normally be rejected entry into the last functioning society.  It's so obvious that you'd think it speaks for itself - but no, because the writers assume viewers are idiots, they actually have one of the characters point out that very irony in dialogue.  It was effective as an unspoken idea, but having a character outright say "isn't it ironic that the first person to be pregnant in 20 years would be a refugee?" removes all the eloquence and power, pushing it right into preachy, pretentious melodrama.  It's like "did you get it audience?  Do you see what we did there?  Oh, my stars, aren't we clever clogs!"

**Kike kindly points out that Cuaron & Del Toro are in fact Mexican, not Spanish.  I have no excuse, but I have an explanation of sorts.  My train of thought was mixed up, since Pan's Labyrinth was set in Spain and Y Tu Mama Tambien had Spanish characters: ergo, because I tend to make leaps like that, I mistakenly "remembered" that both directors were Spanish.  I knew it was one of the two, I swear!