Monday 25 June 2012

"Conan, And Why You Should Read Him" with Charles Hoffman

Charles Hoffman's Guest of Honour Speech for Howard Days 2012 was, naturally, Conan-centric given this year's theme.


As an aside, noticing Chuck's t-shirt reminded me of something Paul Sammon had said regarding Edgar Allan Poe: he had attended Nevermore: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe, where Jeffrey Combs. Mark Finn shared a video he'd found with a few highlights, and as if Paul's recommendation wasn't enough to get me excited, now I really hope the show comes over to Britain:


Combs is a frighteningly close approximation of Poe, isn't he?

Sunday 24 June 2012

"Conan the Existentialist" with Charles Hoffman

Ben's posted up Charles Hoffman's "Conan the Existentialist" panel from Howard Days 2012. While Rusty Burke introduces and contextualises the panel, Chuck was flying solo with this one for the most part.


While you'll have to track down a copy of "Conan the Existential" in print media (such as The Barbaric Triumph), Chuck has his own blog with many essays regarding Howard here.

Friday 22 June 2012

Roll Up, Roll Up, Come See The Bearded Scotsman!

For those wondering what the bearded Scot who runs this place looks and sounds like in motion, Howard Days documentarian Ben "warriorphotog36" Friberg has uploaded his recording of the "80 Years of Conan"  panel from 10th June 2012. I've updated the Day 2 post to include the video, but I thought I'd highlight it here too, so I can discuss a few things.

While I agree that not everyone is going to like Conan, and that someone of a particularly analytical and scientific mindset may have a harder time, I must respectfully disagree with Mr Finn in his suggestion that Conan was the same sort of guy who would stuff 8-year-old Mark into lockers and take his lunch money.* I can't speak for American experiences with bullying, but that sort of thing sounds a lot more like Postumo of "The God in the Bowl" than Conan to me: the sort of cowardly jackbooting and macho posturing which would get you killed if you tried it in Cimmeria. I tend to think that if Conan was someone you knew at school, he'd be the one sent to juvie for beating up the gym teacher after being browbeaten once too often. And then stealing his car.

The script Paul was referring to seems to be Conan the Conqueror rather than the more famous Crown of Iron, since Conan doesn't become king of Aquilonia in the latter, at least in the script I've read: either that, or he's read a very different version of the script from me, which is entirely possible. Or maybe he liked Crown of Iron better than I did, which is also feasible (it'd be harder to find someone who liked it less than I did!)

I really wish I hadn't brought up that "barbarians didn't burn the Library of Alexandria" comment, since I don't think I was clear about it: what I was trying to say is that there's significant cultural baggage when it comes to the term "barbarian," equating it with destruction, violence, atavism and the like at the exclusion of positive traits. As such, when you say to some that Conan had a great love and respect for art, poetry and song, it comes as a shock to them: isn't Conan the Big Dumb Barbarian who's only interested in lowly carnal pursuits? That's what I was getting at.

Finally, isn't it amusing that a panel ostensibly about Conan talks about Robert E. Howard a lot more, especially the second-to-last question where we talk about what an alternate-universe Howard wrote instead of Conan?

When Ben posts up the rest of the panels, I'll let you know.

*Michal points out that Mark may have been talking about adherents of scientific positivism having that impression of Conan, not that Mark himself held those sentiments: that makes more sense to me. Hopefully Mark'll come by and clarify.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

The de Camp Controversy: Essential Reading For Those Not in the Know

I've noticed a number of inquiries recently regarding L. Sprague de Camp; more specifically, "what's the deal Howard fans have with L. Sprague de Camp?" Well, I think the best and most complete analysis of the sort of thing which many Howard fans take issue with is Morgan Holmes' Hyrkanian Award-winning "The de Camp Controversy."

For the ease of navigation, here are links to all 16 parts of "The de Camp Controversy."

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14
Part 15
Part 16

Of the essay, Holmes says:

“The de Camp Controversy” started out because of some heated debate at the Conan forum regarding L. Sprague de Camp’s legacy. I had originally intended it to be three or four blog posts and that would be it. Once I got into it, there was so much more to cover. I would still like to fill in some blank spots like the shopping of Conan to paperback publishers in 1963 and ’64. A trip to look through de Camp’s papers is in order someday along with some talks with still living players of events from decades gone by. So with some time and effort, an expanded version may see the light of day in the future.

I'd like to reiterate that my personal knowledge and interpretation of de Camp is probably very different from those of long-time Howard fans for the simple reason that I only got into Howard fandom at large years after his death. As such, all I have to go on is history and the word of those who were there at the time, and going on that, my take on him is that he was an extremely intelligent man who simply didn't get Howard - perhaps because he was very scientifically minded as opposed to emotionally minded, his background was just so different, or a simple blind spot - but rather than assume it was something he didn't understand, he presumed it was because there was nothing to get. For decades the idea that Howard was an inferior writer and world-builder whose work had no serious literary merit was, essentially, the status quo, even when you had essays arguing the latter all the way back to 1974 with Hoffman's "Conan the Existentialist." Nowadays, with Howard being considered a Serious Writer With Real Literary Merit more and more, it's important to note just how far we've come since those days.

Monday 18 June 2012

The Agency of Lara Croft

A (long) while back, I talked about Lara Croft, and how I think Crystal Dynamics seem to entirely miss the point as to how to make her more "feminist-friendly," "realistic," "relateable" or whatever they think will make their classic game heroine more profitable in the seventh generation of consoles. And it turns out in addition to changing her physique to something less cartoonish (which wasn't a problem, since the other characters in the games were also cartoonish: you might as well complain about Bruce Timm's characters being unrealistic), they're changing her personality and, indeed, the very concept of her status as a protagonist. I was afraid of something like this, but I didn't expect the spectre of sexual violence - in a trailer, no less - to rise in a game which purports to be an origin story for one of the most uncompromising badasses in video games. Obviously, since this is a younger Lara, the change in her physique at least has an explanation. Even if I disagree with the intentions and reasoning behind it, it's at least understandable. The meddling with her character, however, is not as defensible, and certainly not when her character is threatened with violation.

Most of the internet is aflame - rightly so - with this insulting trope, which has already been applied to far too many heroic female characters, now being tacked onto the already perfectly exciting origin story of Ms Croft. I'm not going to talk about that, though I will link to several articles that do which I vigorously agree with. However, I am going to talk about agency, and why changing Lara from protagonist into protectee is every bit as damaging as what Project M did to Samus Aran in Metroid: Other M, and an example of how sometimes - if they aren't careful - when people are trying not to be sexist, they end up just being even more sexist.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Prometheus and the Art of Narrative Rebellion

 I think a lot of complaints about Prometheus can boil down to this.
Complete with eclectic spelling.

I'd like to take a brief break from "80 Years of Conan" to talk in great detail - you have been warned - about another highly anticipated film, Prometheus. As with The Avengers, this is the fifth film in a franchise (well, seventh if you include the Alien vs Predator series), but this also has the prestige of Ridley Scott and the legendary Alien serving as its greatest strength and weakness. Strength because of both director and film's pedigree, weakness because the film has a lot to live up to. I'm rather disappointed, because what I thought was happening in Prometheus was very different.

Friday 15 June 2012

A Sound of Thunder That Can Never Be Silenced

Coming back home from Scotland after Howard Days is always bittersweet: bitter because it'll be a full year or near enough until I can see all those wonderful people again, but sweet, because my life is immeasurably richer through having been there. Likewise, the death of a great creator - author, artist, director - leaves me feeling bittersweet. Bitter for the loss of life, the silencing of a great voice, the knowledge that there will be no more art from that wondrous mind, the crushing finality of it all; but sweet, for the knowledge, appreciation, admiration, even love, for all the beauty and wonder that the creator gifted unto the world.

So it is this month with the passing of Ray Bradbury, one of the greats of speculative fiction. In his truly enormous oeuvre one can find science fiction, fantasy, horror, drama, romance, history, existentialism, ranging from the touching to the chilling, from the cosmic wondrous to the humble down-to-earth, heartbreaking and heartwarming. And now all the books and plays and tales he's written are all he would ever write. To even summarise all of those magnificent works would be redundant, if not impossible: I have barely read a percentage of his vast literary output. But I can talk about the stories I have read, and they easily rank alongside the best fiction I've had the pleasure to read.

Thursday 14 June 2012

The Third Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains - Aftermath

After the Howard Days festivities, most of the gang was getting ready to leave, though some remained for Breakfast: Matthew, Paul, Barbara, Tim, Ed, Jim, Indy, Cheryl, Jeff, Chris and others. I talked to Tim about Scotland and its lore and Barbara about various subjects. One-by-one, sometimes two-by-two, we bid goodbye to them all. Eventually only me, the sisters, Barbara and Paul were left.

We packed our bags, getting ready for a treat: Paul Sammon invited us to the cinema to watch Prometheus. Originally this was to take place in the evening, but he had to reschedule for the afternoon, so we got ready quickly and head to Brownwood. I'll probably review Prometheus at some point: suffice to say, I liked it for its ideas and intent rather than its execution. We all discussed the film on the drive back, and we all agreed that it was a good film that we couldn't really get a full handle on. Aurelia met up with us in the late afternoon one last time before she head on home to Arizona.

Then we had dinner with Barbara at Dairy Queen, talking about such disparate subjects as dancing, cinemas, Howard fandom, our friends in Arizona, and Scottish colloquialisms. Also, to my absolute shock, I discovered that - at this particular restraunt, at least - you can buy milk at Dairy Queen. I am utterly astounded: either this was a relatively new thing, or somehow, my indignation at being unable to purchase a glass of milk at a place called Dairy Queen has made a difference. Probably the first.  But who knows.  Unfortunately they didn't have chicken caesar, so I made do with what I was told was thousand island (didn't look much like it to me, maybe it's like how gravy over here's different).

We got home and sat in the courtyard of 36 West, talking with Paul about the usual, whilst being eaten alive by bugs bugs bugs, hopefully giving them indigestion in the process. Then we said our goodbyes, and in no time at all we were back at Abilene Airport, then Dallas Fort Worth, then riding a metal bird across the sky.* While America and her people have been good to me, your home's your home, and I started to hum "Loch Lomond" as I recognized the glaikit moors and damp hills of my beloved Scotland.

Now I'll get back to work, as I want to use all the energy I've accumulated in America to get cracking on "80 Years of Conan," the encyclopaedia, and a couple of other secret projects. In the meantime, do go back and check Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, as I've updated them with a few more comments, and photographs. Can't wait for next year!

*I watched two films, Chronicle and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Chronicle was disappointing in that it was a very conventional film that happened to be told via found footage, borrowing liberally from Akira and just about every film that uses superpowers as metaphor for adolescent angst. It's the same issue as Cloverfield: despite the "realism" of the found footage style, the actors are all noticeably of that very American Teen Drama style of acting, and they're all ridiculously handsome. Kind of kills the verisimilitude they're going for when everyone looks like cast members of The OC. The villains of the piece are just preposterously over-the-top, so cartoonish and outlandish, you can't understand how they've survived this long without crossing the wrong person. And, most infuriating of all, they once again apparently live in a world where there are no superheroes. It's bad enough where Zombie movies refuse to use "the Z word," but fercryinoutloud, they have to look up telekineses in a book? I really hate this conceit in films, where by avoiding comparisons to other films in their own genre, they actually make the films more unrealistic in the process.  I refuse to believe that nobody in Cloverfield thought or said the word "monster," and I refuse to believe nobody used the word "superhero" in Chronicle.

Journey 2 was a affront to the work of Jules Verne (I'm as shocked and surprised as you are that the director of Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore was not in fact the second coming of Fleischer), but at least it has the dignity of explaining why it isn't a straight adaptation: like the previous film in the series, this treats the original Verne novels as based on real events, thus making them more like latter-day sequels than adaptations. I won't lie, there are two reasons I chose this over The Iron Lady: one, it had Dwayne Johnson, who I consider to be immensely entertaining when allowed to ad-lib; two, it promised monsters. I tell you one thing, this film had 100% more giant bees than The Iron Lady did, and 50% more monstrous reptiles. Louis Guzman almost ruined it with a truly heinous "comic relief" character, but Vanessa Hudgens provided ample enough distraction during those moments, and Michael Caine proved all those who thought he could sink any lower than Jaws: The Revenge very, very wrong.

Monday 11 June 2012

The Third Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains - Day Three

Apologies for the tardiness of this post, but I'm just having too much fun, and hopefully the detail will make up for its late posting.

Saturday 9 June 2012

The Third Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains - Day 2

Now the fun begins with a new day!

NOTE: Fully updated, hence I'll be putting a break in.

Friday 8 June 2012

The Third Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains: Day One

(Note: I'll still be posting "80 Years of Conan" posts, and I read all comments, but I probably won't get around to replying or posting until after Howard Days.  In the meantime, I'll be typing up quick reports at the end of each day.)

Well, this was a good day.  First off, the weather was fantastic (for me), in that the terrific storms which had rocked Dallas Fort Worth airport blanketed the land in a haze of rain, lasting long enough to cool the ground and air. It was almost like being back home, except rather than chilly and windy, the air itself was warm. Like being in a lukewarm shower. After three weeks in the blazing Arizona heat, I deeply appreciated it.

80 Years of Conan: "The Phoenix on the Sword" - Chapter V

What do I know of cultured ways, the gilt, the craft and the lie?
I, who was born in a naked land and bred in the open sky.
The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs - I was a man before I was a king.
 - The Road of Kings.

Thursday 7 June 2012

80 Years of Conan: "The Phoenix on the Sword" - Chapter IV

When the world was young and men were weak, and the fiends of the night walked free,
I strove with Set by fire and steel and the juice of the upas-tree;
Now that I sleep in the mount's black heart, and the ages take their toll,
Forget ye him who fought with the Snake to save the human soul? 

Wednesday 6 June 2012

80 Years of Conan: "The Phoenix on the Sword" - Chapter III

Under the caverned pyramids great Set coils asleep;
Among the shadows of the tombs his dusky people creep.
I speak the Word from the hidden gulfs that never knew the sun
Send me a servant for my hate, oh scaled and shining One!

Tuesday 5 June 2012

80 Years of Conan: "The Phoenix on the Sword" - Chapter II

When I was a fighting-man, the kettle-drums they beat,
The people scattered gold-dust before my horses feet;
But now I am a great king, the people hound my track
With poison in my wine-cup, and daggers at my back.
                    — The Road of Kings.

Monday 4 June 2012

80 Years of Conan: "The Phoenix on the Sword" - Chapter I

    Over shadowy spires and gleaming towers lay the ghostly darkness and silence that runs before dawn. Into a dim alley, one of a veritable labyrinth of mysterious winding ways, four masked figures came hurriedly from a door which a dusky hand furtively opened. They spoke not but went swiftly into the gloom, cloaks wrapped closely about them; as silently as the ghosts of murdered men they disappeared in the darkness. Behind them a sardonic countenance was framed in the partly opened door; a pair of evil eyes glittered malevolently in the gloom.
    “Go into the night, creatures of the night,” a voice mocked. “Oh, fools, your doom hounds your heels like a blind dog, and you know it not.”
 - "The Phoenix on the Sword"

Saturday 2 June 2012

80 Years of Conan: "The Phoenix on the Sword" - Introduction

“Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars – Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.”
- The Nemedian Chronicles, "The Phoenix on the Sword"

So the legend began in December of 1932. The newspaper kiosks, magazine stands, and newsagent shelves carrying Weird Tales received the latest edition, Volume 20, Number 6, and a new cultural icon strode into the popular consciousness. Not yet the fantasy juggernaut of later decades, Conan the Cimmerian's first appearance in any medium was nonetheless auspicious indeed. Could anyone have any idea of how this issue would change the course of fantasy fiction forever?

Friday 1 June 2012

One Week Remains

Nearly a week until Howard Days. The days are being planned out, the town's getting ready for the influx, and I'm mentally preparing for the Third Scottish Invasion. Everyone have a gander over at REHupa's site for a rundown of the festivities: a tribute to Glenn Lord, of course; Charles Hoffman, Guest of Honor, talks "Conan the Existentialist"; Fists at the Icehouse (surely I can't be the only one who wants to see Gruber & Finn have a little scrap, even a mock one, just to add to the atmosphere?), Streetlamp Poetry... Man, it'll be fun.

... Wait a minute, I just noticed something...

2:30 Panel: Conan’s Birthday! A panel devoted to our favorite Cimmerian in honor of his 80th Birthday! Panelists will include Paul Sammon, Al Harron and others. At the Library.

Yes, I was very graciously invited to join a panel alongside the esteemed and erudite Paul Sammon and others (which others? We'll find out!) to talk about the man whose mirth and melancholy could hardly be described as minuscule. Naturally, discussion will be about the original Conan, but I think there'll be some talk about the wider Conan franchise to an extent, though my moratorium on the film will remain.

I can scarcely believe only three years after first setting foot in Cross Plains, that I would be one of the panelists at such an occassion. Will wonders never cease?