Monday 30 January 2012

Hyborian Musings: Aquiromian Holiday, Part Three

Two nobles of Shamar wearing robes reclining on a couch, eating grapes, drinking wine, watching the gladiators in a coliseum, in a comic from the Conan the Savage era. Howard's Conan would probably just let the Kothians raze this decadent cesspit to the ground.

Looking at Part Two, you'd think that there was more than enough evidence to support a Roman interpretation of Aquilonia. But doing so would require ignoring or re-interpreting evidence of a rather later inspiration.*

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Truly a Phyrric Victory

To be frank, I don't know why I decided to enter this particular Topless Robot contest, but something pressed me onward. Some ghostly hand was pushing on my shoulder, and I treated Disqus as a sort of electronic confessional booth. It turns out I got a T-shirt for my troubles!

This may be more of a confessional than an entry, but...

Since July 2010, I've been the site runner for the Conan Movie Blog. I'm also a very devoted Robert E. Howard fan. In November 2009, I read the character sheet and script for the film, and dismissed it as worthless garbage. Why, then, did I take over the site? Because this film was going to be the biggest widespread exposure of Conan in a long time, the first new film in almost 30 years, and already the vast majority of the internet seemed content to believe this was a remake of the 1982 film, blissfully unaware of the franchise's literary pedigree. I felt somebody had to make sure there was a voice in the wilderness spreading the word of Robert E. Howard.

So over the course of 2010 and 2011, I wrote an obscene amount of material on the upcoming film and it's, at times, completely nonexistent relationship with the source material. Every screen cap, every behind-the-scenes photo, every magazine cutting went over with a fine-toothed comb. All for a film that would end up one of the biggest critical and commercial flops of 2011 - and I knew it would be since 2009. It all culminated in a 20,000 word critique of the film written shortly after my initial viewing, though I dread to make a word count of my hundreds of other posts.

The Phyrric victory? I knew that no matter how terrible the film ended up, no matter how poorly received it was, I know that I did my best to promote Robert E. Howard on a wide platform, to educate the masses who thought this was just another '80s remake, and to provide the most information possible. Many news sites linked to my posts, journalists and crew members involved in the film contacted me to clarify reports, I got a press pass to the London premiere, and I made new friends. All for a film I predicted would fail in 2009.

Rob's comment:

Wow. Devoting four years of your life to running a mostly negative website based on film that no one else ever cared about, or will ever care about, and in fact most people have probably already forgotten? That's quite an accomplishment -- and certainly a victory in the sense that you were doing as right as possible for your favorite nerd franchise -- but one that accomplished absolutely nothing. Your hard, meaningless work shall no longer go unrewarded, sir, although I don't believe winning this t-shirt will upgrade your act from "Pyrrhic victory" to "regular victory."

That damned film. Or, rather, that damned me. I was going through all my unfinished posts, of Almuric, gazetteers, filmgoer's guide, barbarians, reviews and whatnot. I wondered how I let everything get so out of hand. Tens of thousands of words on ephemera like Bob Sapp's costume and the CGI matte paintings, yet I still haven't finished the series I started on The Cimmerian. I must've been absolutely mad. So I started working again. I'd been working hard getting Aquiromian Holiday done, as well as working on a few other posts. Then blogger ate a very long post I had started last year* and I quit in a fit of rage. Then I hit a rut with the Encyclopedia. Then I got another cold.

And then (that's enough of "then") I remembered the Don Herron kerfuffle, and a phrase I used in one post is starting to bother me: "this isn't a serious scholarship blog."  I don't know how that can be so, considering I take great pride in the scholarly material I've done on the blog, and that the Robert E. Howard Foundation saw fit to grant me a second-place Cimmerian Award. I started to think that saying this wasn't a serious scholarship blog was disrespectful to everyone who voted for me, and disrespectful to myself by proxy.  I'm glad I've talked things over with Don, and I really hope nobody was offended by that particular phrase.

Aquiromian Holiday has expanded to five parts now, and I think I might just release certain posts in my Almuric and gazetteer series out of sequence rather than let them fester away in Blogger. I was saving "The Lion Passes" for December, but I realised I didn't have anything appropriate for REH's birthday, so bumped it ahead of schedule - I have something else for Conan's birthday. I really don't want to lose my momentum.

*Why does hitting backspace randomly delete everything?  Why does it choose to save the draft RIGHT before I can undo it? And why, oh why, does Blogger not have a draft history function like Wordpress?

Sunday 22 January 2012

The Lion Passes

The wails and cries of the kingdom in mourning shook the towers and spires to their foundations. Men-at-arms, knights and barons wrought their hands and screamed to the heavens in anguish; women of the seraglio and serf alike wept into each other's shoulders as they clenched tightly; children and infants mewled with their families, the entire land united in sorrow. The king and his family had returned to the palace, the hearts of the nation shattered as one.

The king was a popular monarch, one loved by peasant and noble alike for his generosity, his courage, and his dedication. His taxes were the lightest in all the world, his patronage of the arts and trades made the kingdom rich and cultured to a degree hitherto unseen. Yet when war came to the doorstep, the King of Poets and Song would transform into a Devil of War and Death, as his blade sang a grisly dirge through the bodies and souls of those who would dare threaten his people. This was an age of empires, and the king was ever ready to ensure that his land would be vassal to none.

The story of how the king came to rule has been told and retold so often, many a child of the kingdom could recite it by heart. Reams of parchment charting the king's early years as a thief, adventurer, mercenary, pirate, bandit and general comprise an entire wing of the Royal Library; minstrels sing sagas of his wars and quests on street corners, some composed by the king himself; frescos and reliefs of his adventures in far-off climes and long-lost ruins adorn city walls, his greatest accomplishments of strength and heroism rendered in marble and bronze statues, re-enactments of his legend performed in street theatre. More than any king the land had ever seen, the present king, called the Lion by many, was a living legend.

In his palace in the capital, the Lion lay dying.

Friday 13 January 2012

Clark Ashton Smith, The Man Who Brought You Ghost Dinosaurs

To his further disconcertion, he soon found that he had attracted the attention of a huge foggy monster with the rough outlines of a tyrannosaurus. This creature chased him amid the archetypal ferns and clubmosses; and overtaking him after five or six bounds, it proceeded to ingest him with the celerity of any latter-day saurian of the same species. Luckily, the ingestment was not permanent for the tyrannosaurus' body-plasm, though fairly opaque, was more astral than material; and Ralibar Vooz, protesting stoutly against his confinement in its maw, felt the dark walls give way before him and tumbled out on the ground. After its third attempt to devour him, the monster must have decided that he was inedible. It turned and went away with immense leapings in search of comestibles on its own plane of matter. Ralibar Vooz continued his progress through the Cavern of the Archetypes: a progress often delayed by the alimentary designs of crude, misty-stomached allosaurs, pterodactyls, pterandons, stegosaurs, and other carnivora of the prime.
- "The Seven Geases," in which Ralibar Vooz has to contend with ghost dinosaurs. Ghost. Dinosaurs. Also a carnivorous stegosaurus, apparently predating "Red Nails" by a few years.

What I'd really like for Blogger is a widget which allows you to post certain things on certain days which are relevant to the subject of your blog. Like This Day in History, but with specific events, rather than bringing up things like Orlando Bloom's birthday.  That way I won't miss someone's birthday, deathday, publication, or other important events. REH's birthday's on the 22nd of January, and Conan's 80th comes this December.

Today's the 119th birthday of the criminally underexposed third man of the Weird Musketeers, Clark Ashton Smith. Hilobrow, Grognardia, and the Greenbelt all have tributes. Unfortunately, just like last year, I'm just going to have to relink to my Cimmerian tribute, and echo James' desire to reread "The Empire of the Necromancers."  For now, I just wanted to provide my favourite passage from "The Seven Geases," for clearly discernible reasons. Hopefully Clark Ashton Smith was received by the Originals of Mankind in the Cavern of the Archetypes with pomp and circumstance, and didn't run into too many persistent megalosaurs.

Thursday 12 January 2012

On Reviewing, Critiquing, Analysing and So Forth

Mark Finn posted a most intriguing piece on the art of reviewing.  I'm glad I missed the kerfuffle on Good Reads, as it's exactly the sort of thing that would have me spluttering in disbelief and indignation, but Mark uses it as a background to an issue I'd been pondering:

When I was a book seller (for years and years) I was called upon to give my opinion about books on a daily basis. Now, this can be tricky. If I tell someone about a book that I hated, that I think sucked, and I say it's the greatest thing ever, then that's a lie. And if they buy that book based on my lie, and hate the book, then guess what? I've lost all of my credibility.

Over the years, I learned the value of tact. It's perfectly okay to say to someone asking about, say, Henry Miller, that "I'm not the best person to ask for a recommendation. I don't personally care for him. I think he's a little too gimmicky." If they asked for more, I'd tell them what made Miller's writing more of a blog trick than actual prose. But I'd always end with, "But that's just me. Other folks here love Miller and can tell you why he's great." I'm not putting down anyone who likes Miller. I'm just explaining why I don't. See how that works? Let me say this out loud, so there can be no misunderstanding: if you're not capable of doing that every time you hit a movie, or book, or record that you don't like, then you're not going to be an effective critic. You're just going to be another nameless, faceless voice in an already crowded Internet yelling "IT SUCKS" from the other side of the lake.

Take a moment to decide if you're a reviewer, or if you're just a reader. If you want to be a reviewer, then you've got to be brilliant. Or gifted. Or both. But if you just want to be a reader, and just want to be able to say what you think, without all of that other stuff getting in the way, then make the effort to say what you mean and mean what you say. Use your words. You're a reader. You of all people should know the value of written communication.

An issue I'd been wrestling with a bit: am I a reader, or a critic?  I've done a bit of both: I've offered my opinions on things without necessarily critiquing them, and I've also done breakdowns and analyses. But which of the two am I aiming for? In fact, why choose?

Monday 9 January 2012

Hyborian Musings: Aquiromian Holiday, Part Two

"My antipathy for Rome is one of those things I can't explain myself. Certainly it isn't based on any early reading, because some of that consisted of MacCauley's Lays of Ancient Rome from which flag-waving lines I should have drawn some Roman patriotism, it seems. At an early age I memorized most of those verses, but in reciting, changed them to suit myself and substituted Celtic names for the Roman ones, and changed the settings from Italy to the British Isles! Always, when I've dreamed of Rome, or subconsciously thought of the empire, it has seemed to me like a symbol of slavery -- an iron spider, spreading webs of steel all over the world to choke the rivers with dams, fell the forests, strangle the plains with white roads and drive the free people into cage-like houses and towns."
 - Robert E. Howard, letter to HP Lovecraft, ca. February, 1931
Ancient Romans in Feudal Japan? What is this, The Twilight Zone?

An analysis of Conan's armour in "The Phoenix on the Sword," with its references to plumed casques and moveable visors, should indicate that at least Conan's armour would be more Medieval in tone than Classical. That said, arguments could be made that it isn't enough: the ambiguity of "casque" as a phrase and the presence of Roman helms with masks that functioned similarly to moveable visors offer possibilities. However, when taken in conjunction with other clues in the tale, the support for a Romanesque interpretation starts to lose ground.

Nonetheless, it has to be acknowledged that there are Roman or Romanesque elements in the Conan stories.
 "The Phoenix on the Sword" is unusual in that, of all the Aquilonian stories, it contains the most Classical elements. "The Scarlet Citadel," "The Hour of the Dragon" the borderline "Beyond the Black River" and "Wolves Beyond the Border" have practically none outside names. This post will explore and analyse those elements which could be tied to Ancient Rome.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

A Century and a Score

James over at Grognardia already took the obvious path for a title (damn, wish I thought of that) but I figure Tolkien's twelvetieth birthday was a good time to post some musings I had over Middle-earth. I posted this on another forum, but I figure I'd share it here too, after having made some revisions.

A common complaint I've heard made about Middle-earth, and fantasy settings in general, is stagnation. They claim that there simply isn't enough progress: not enough scientific investigation, no new technological innovations, not even major social upheavals, like you see in "real" history. I never had a problem with Middle-earth's technological progression, personally.  It's extremely difficult to progress when, every few millenia (or even centuries), your entire world is torn to pieces in nothing less than cataclysmic events, where countless lives are lost and the very geography of a continent is altered.

Sunday 1 January 2012

The First Scholar Passes

Paul Herman has announced that Glenn Lord has died.
Glenn Lord, the World's #1 Howard Fan and Mentor to so many of us, passed away on December 31, 2011.

That's all the details that are available at this moment (11:30 pm in Northwest Indiana).

When more information comes forth it will certainly be posted everywhere.

Rest in Peace, Glenn, our Great and Gracious Friend. 
Glenn Lord was the most important figure in the legacy of Robert E. Howard.  He provided the source text for almost every surviving manuscript used today.  He amassed the largest collection of Howard documents over his life.  He ensured Howard was published in scores upon scores of volumes and collections.  He battled to promote Howard as more than just the spinner of ripping yarns, that he was a true genius whose work had Real Literary Merit. We Howard fans owe him everything. The Howard Boom of the '70s, Howard Days, the unexpurgiated texts, the wide Conan franchise - Glenn Lord had a hand in everything.

No doubt others will provide more detailed and eloquent tributes, but I feel profoundly saddened that I will never meet him. I shall have to suffice by drinking to his shade.

It's a New Year...

My New Year's Resolution is to contain and stifle the great dragon which has been smothering my creativity: Procrastinatrax pejorative. A lot of the time, I'd be working on something, and just never post it: "it just needs more polishing, more work, more tinkering and tweaking." But no amount of tinkering or tweaking ever fully satisfied me. It's a wonder I post anything at all.

I recently put up a post on the Aquiromians. Originally it was much longer, before I decided to split it into parts. I started working on it in April. April 2010. I had a big post on my thoughts on the upcoming Hobbit film's dwarves. I still have tons of reviews of comics, books and the like that I just wasn't happy posting. Well, no more.

And, of course, there's the Encyclopedia. I've amassed tons and tons of notes over the years, but I keep second-guessing myself, so much of the EH as it is now is written from scratch. The temptation was to just take posts I'd made on the REH Forums, The Cimmerian, Hyborian Age Gazetteers, even Conan: Total War previews, and make them fit. That was the original plan. But every so often, I came across some little detail that I had reconsidered. It might've been a pastiche element that slipped through the cracks (Shamar being a pre-Cataclysmic city was one), or a new take (my view of Corinthia had changed dramatically), or even just some weird thing that didn't work out. So I eventually stopped, and decided to just go back to the stories.

But that's been problematic too. The way my mind works, I take time to remember. I can't just draw it forth like CTRL-F on a file: I have to delve through filing cabinets. So this has slowed things down too. But, again, I'm reconsidering my approach.

Hopefully I'll have at least one post a week up, either Encyclopaedia related, or one of those reviews I haven't finished. In any case, Happy Hogmanay, one and all!