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.
Day started off fine, took a ride with Chris Gruber to the library. I really can't say much more about him than I haven't already said: the man's a gentleman, a scholar, and above all, a wonderful man. He's very assertive and forthright, and although I'm sure some might find him intimidating (that's just his style, I think), I found him engaging and utterly sincere. I like the chap, 'sall.
I caught Mark Finn, Jeffrey Shanks and Chuck Hoffman's panel, "REH at the Gates of Academia. Very good, and while obviously there's a lot of enthusiasm for Howard gaining ground in academic circles, there was also an air of caution. Howard fans have a reputation for raising their heckles at the drop of a hat, and they were very adamant on noting that opening Howard up to academia means that some academics could tackle things we Howard fans don't like.
I must disagree with my esteemed colleague Mr Shank's belief that the Shieldwall be "disbanded," since Howard is being accepted, and we need to be less argumentative and confrontational. On the one hand, he's absolutely right: e have the pure texts out there, we have tons of sites and forums with knowledgeable fans and scholars that are easily accessible, and there are some very exciting developments in bringing Conan into "real academia." Howard doesn't need to be accepted by the hoity toity types, but it would be nice, all the same. Just like a good Howard adaptation or comic, it isn't essential, it would just be cool.
My belief, on the other hand, is more that the Shieldwall needs to be redeployed. In the old days, when Howard's stories were being actively suppressed in favour of hackwork pastiches, the company line was perpetuating myths and misconception about his life and work's literary merits, and people were more likely to think of Conan as a comic or movie character, the Shieldwall was out on the battlefield. Nowadays, I think the Shieldwall's role is that of a guard: always present at the hill-fort, keeping watch, always ready to mobilize when necessary. As much as we have all these wonderful things from Paradox, CPI and the REH Foundation, with willing and helpful scholars who are just an email away, and more and more people are accepting the new discoveries, the old ways always creep through. We need to be vigilant, and it's not just because these myths damage Howard's reputation, but because misconceptions and fallacies are - practically by definition - damaging to truth, science and history.
However - and I cannot stress this enough - this is not about getting the torches & pitchforks when someone has an opinion about Howard and his work that we don't like. That's not what it's about: the Shieldwall, as I see it, is there to combat myths and misconceptions. If someone doesn't think Howard's worthy of consideration among the greats of speculative literature ("They are, one might say, beers to the wines"), we'll grouse, for sure, but opinions are opinions, and not everyone will like Howard. If someone posts a review that perpetuates the old fallacies ("For a guy who never traveled far from his home in Cross Plains, Texas...") however, they need to be corrected. Likewise, if someone does a scholarly exploration of - say - homosexual elements in Howard's work, but with the benefit of research (preferably a background in gender studies) and an honest desire to explore those ideas, then that's fine. But if someone is merely trying to provoke, belittle or insult by using a contentious subject as ammunition without the merest modicum of context or research ("To say that many of Robert E. Howard's stories have a homoerotic subtext is like saying that The Village People's magnum opus Can't Stop the Music has a homoerotic subtext" and "the stories are dictionary-definition homoerotic"*) then that's not just unfair on Howard, it's unfair to use gender issues in such an inconsiderate fashion.
In other words, "you're not entitled to an opinion, you're entitled to an informed opinion." Thanks, Harlan.
Afterwards, I hitched a ride with Jeff to the REH Foundation Legacy Luncheon, my first since officially signing up late last year. About twenty or even more attended, and most were familiar faces to me. I sat opposite Charles Hoffman, where I talked about "Escape from Eden" and some of the things I'll be discussing in "80 Years of Conan: Queen of the Black Coast." I had good conversations with the rest of the table, catching up with Dave Hardy, Matthew Webb, and others. Since they didn't serve chicken caesar salad, I had enchiladas. They were tasty.
Being the Legacy Luncheon, we also received our copies of the REH Foundation Newsletter, and good gravy did we get a treat - scans of the second draft of "The God in the Bowl." I'll have to read it in closer detail to appreciate the changes as Howard developed the story, but it'll be great for when I get to "The God in the Bowl" in "80 Years of Conan." We also got our sweet REHF pins: I'm going to have to get my old Scout Sash and bring it and all my pins next year!
Since it was a little while until Paul Sammon's "The Illustrated Conan," Jeff & I went over to the pavillion for a mosey. Mark Finn was there, and I truly wish I could replicate the squeal of delight at the sight of the draft of "The God in the Bowl" ellicited from a man who resembles nothing so much as a mighty shaved gorilla. There he and I discussed the relative merits of Peter Jackson's King Kong, the unmade Merian C. Cooper sequel The War Eagles, and other such simian matters, until we realised we were running late for Paul's panel.
I can't say enough complimentary things about Paul Sammon: he's such a gentleman, so calm and easygoing, so knowledgeable, and yet never shies from speaking his mind. While his panel repeated a couple of stories from years past (which was no problem, since the stories are great fun and he tells them well), there were a few I didn't hear before. I chimed in with a question on his opinion of Wood's "Queen of the Black Coast," though plenty of people had queries, and Paul was only too happy to oblige. He must be an absolute dream to interview: he's never boring, and he always has a story to tell, and most important of all - especially for someone in the film industry - he's absolutely humble and gracious about it. It's all well and good having good stories and being eager to tell them, but it wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable if you didn't know what a good soul he is. And Paul is a good soul.
Jeff and I raced back to the Pavillion for "What's Up with REH?" with Paul Herman, Rusty Burke and Jay Zetterberg. There were updates on things like Solomon Kane (they're still working on a theatrical release, and while that sounds bad, The Cabin in the Woods took years for a release too), the four-volume Boxing Stories collection, Age of Conan, and the rights situation of the Conan film license. Of particular interest to me are the new (to me) upcoming collections: a Pirate story collection, a Celtic-Viking story collection, and a James Allison collection. Gosh Yes, Heck Yes, and Good Golly Yes. The Allison collection is most interesting to me as it would be fantastic to have them all in one book - the Allison tales are Hyborian, and so will be used as a reference in the Encyclopaedia - but unfortunately I have to wait until it's released. Argh.
On to Caddo Ranch. I caught a ride with Aurelia, and we chatted, along with... (Oh crumbs, mental block, I KNEW I'd forget someone's name! Right on the tip of my tongue, I can see his face! ARGH) Unfortunately I think a mixture of nervous exhaustion from the panel, being out in the sun far too long, and general exertion from being at Howard Days resulted in me choosing to stay at the barbecue rather than climb Caddo Peak. As several people mentioned, there are plenty of hills Caddo Peak's size in Scotland - which is true, heck, I live on one, you see me at the top on my profile photo on The Cimmerian - but as I responded, we don't have that kind of heat in Scotland. I really wanted to, since Paul, Keith, Chris, Aurelia and others went along, but I figured it would be better to save my energy for the long night. One day, I'll bring that Lawrence of Arabia getup...
With most of the hikers being folk I talked to at length elsewhen, I ambled about with old and new. There was a lovely new lady by the name of Lorelei, which automatically put me in mind of Lorelei of the Red Mists. She's a Howard widow dragged along with her husband, but she seemed to be making the best of it. I also met Mark and Jen, two first-timers, and more. I also had a very interesting (and somewhat startling) conversation with Paul Herman. Interesting because he gave me a lot in insight into the publishing business and whatnot. Startling because... well, I wouldn't want to spoil it. Let's just say that part of that talk kicked work on the Encyclopaedia into overdrive.
But a particularly special conversation I had was with Lou Ann Lord. She was, like what I've heard of Glenn, very down-to-earth, but accomodating and generous. She frankly admitted she knew little about Howard and his work, but she deeply appreciated what Glenn meant to everyone, and that Glenn was just as appreciative. I couldn't think of anything that didn't sound utterly redundant, but closed by noting that even if you know nothing about Howard, anyone who sees the sheer dedication, erudition and generosity of Glenn simply cannot help but be impressed.
After the hikers came back, dinner was served. The line was pretty substantial, but since I talked with Ethan Nahte and Paul Herman, it flew by. I chatted with newcomers Ron and Todd Vick, Matthew, Barbara and Indy. Indy showed me a great big binder with newspaper clippings, with young Charles Gramlich, Steve Tompkins, and Jim Keegan among the photos. I talked with Jay Zetterberg, too: he, like Fred, was very courteous and genial. Before we left, I got a picture with Aurelia as the sun set.**
I also took part in the inaugural Robert E. Howard Role-Playing Session, where I took a character which I create for all the games I play. Part of the issue of RPGs is that it seems a bit unimaginative to create, say, Conan or Legolas or the Grey Mouser when you're playing an Elder Scrolls or Dungeons & Dragons game. (I create Conan in every game, of course, explaining his presence on other worlds as sorcery or whatnot.)
My character is named Matylda, and whenever possible, I try to make her character resemble these basic archetypes: tall, muscular, redheaded. In those games with more freedom, I try to make her gigantic and extremely muscular; one arm and side of her face are burned and branded in arcane symbols, so her flesh resembles a Pictish stone; her left eye is clear like glass, and normally blind, except in the dark, where she sees things. She has no memory of her childhood: indeed, she has her doubts as to whether she was ever a child at all. She has knowledge of all the necessities of survival, is an accomplished and almost natural fighter, and a basic knowledge of language - but no idea how she gained that knowledge.
As such, all those mysterious aspects are tied into the story of the game. In Morrowind, her scars are Daedric in origin, as it emerges she was an experimental new type of Atronach - which went awry. In Skyrim, however, she's an attempt to resurrect a great Nord sorceress queen using ancient Nordic magic - which, again, went awry. In Fallout 3, in-vitrio experimentation to develop a human that could withstand radiation and FEV. And so on.
I'll be back to finish the post, but for now...
UPDATE: The now is now!
I forgot to mention the second Poetry Throwdown, this time taking place at the Howard house porch. Here, Indy reclaimed his annual tradition by reciting "Cimmeria" at the beginning before opening up the floor - but with the disclaimer that it should be a little bit quieter this time, since the gentleman across the street had a rough day. So while sometimes some of us got a bit carried away (Tim's rendition of "A Hairy Chested Idealist Sings" probably can't be done in an indoor voice anyway), the reduced volume didn't mean reduced enthusiasm. Once again, Barbara, Derek, Chris, Ed, Aurelia, and myself engaged in some amateur bardery, and this night we were joined by Indy and Cheryl too.
One of my fondest memories of Howard Days this year followed the throwdown, as Barbara Baum came up to me and was very kind and complimentary to my reading of "The King and the Oak." It's the sort of thing I keep going back to Howard Days for: that little connection between people from all across the world through the art of a remarkable individual who died 76 years ago.
So, back to the game. It appeared to be a very stripped down, bare-bones sort of affair (though not quite as stripped down as, say, Munchkin or other card-based RPGs) where the main thrust of the game is not statistics, but storytelling. This is the sort of gameplay I like the most, and my ideal type of RPG would be one where there are no stats at all: just a few folk sitting around, thinking about what the best course of action should be, the only limitations being their own imaginations and the power of narrative itself. Of course, you can only really do something like that with people you can trust not to make things stupid (what is known as a "high trust game"), and I'm sure Mark, Jen and the others were concerned as to whether Finn, Jeff and myself were going to make things very, very silly.
And while Mark (Finn) continued in his quest to murder me through the power of laughter at times, with a partner-in-crime in Mark (Carroll's) pal Seth - and Mark C himself nearly tore my guts out with his mad minstrel, I was pleased to find that the story started to take a rather dramatic, cosmic turn. Especially since my character ended up being central to it, in exactly the sort of way I tend to do in my RPGs. While Mark C was a magnificent DM, the story was very much a creation of all the players' contributions. I wish I took a note of all the characters' names and the intricacies of the story, it was really very fun: without spoiling anything, Mark C's science-fiction bias added a lot of awesome to the story.
After the tale, few were left. I had a good talk with Dave Hardy and Chuck Hoffman, saw Jeff and the gang, bade Aurelia good night, and whatnot. Eventually only Chris, Dennis, Ed and Tim were left, and I left them at the Howard porch while they discussed most erudite and intellectual subjects.
Howard Days was over, but the Scottish Invasion had a little time yet...
*I notice, by the way, that many of the charges of the supposed homoeroticism in Howard, including these two examples (which are also rife with silliness: in the second article, "Conan has tigerish muscles - always tigerish, never leopardish or bobcattish" - there's exactly one reference to Conan's "tigerish suppleness of limb" across all three Del Reys, and nothing about "tigerish muscles"), are from women. I'd suggest perhaps either these women were projecting things that weren't there, or that Howard's complete lack of discomfort in describing the male form is so uncommon that any work which does describe the male physique in detail is automatically considered homoerotic. Or maybe it's just wishful thinking, like how some men see lesbian subtext in works with female bonding. It amuses me greatly.
Also, that second link is an absolute riot. Such a load of complete and utter nonsense that's disprovable by simply reading the stories, but frankly, it's the sort of thing I've shot apart a dozen times before. You know, "there isn't a woman he can't ravish" - apart from the ones he, you know, doesn't - "there isn't a man he can't defeat" - apart from the men who do, you know, defeat him - "he doesn't care about delicate emotions" - presumably apart from the time he talked to his bro friend about how A BARD SINGING FOR HIM nearly ripped his heart out... Just read it, you'll see what I mean.
**For those wondering about what's going on with Aurelia and myself, the short answer is nothing. She has a lovely boyfriend back home in Arizona, and I'm absolutely ecstatic for her. I'm a man of honour, she's a woman of honour: I love her deeply, but I love her enough to let her go. I truly hope she and her man have a wonderful life together, and that I can find a girl like her that I can be with in that way.
Don't exceed port speed.ReplyDelete
Thanks for describing yet another day in much detail - it gives somewhat of a flavour of the REHFest to those that can't afford (for whatever reason) to be there. Photographs, though, would be appreciated. Perhaps insert then when back home? (Although, I myself would probably have too much fun and forget to take a single snap).ReplyDelete
Aurelia... Well, I'd hoped for a better ending. Move onwards and upwards, then. And enjoy the remainder of your time in the USA!
I'll be putting pictures in when I get the chance: I'd like to put the finishing touches on my final "Phoenix" post, but there will be visual media.Delete
Frankly, the ending with Aurelia's better than I could've hoped when I learned about her boyfriend. I'm forever grateful for simply meeting her that night, and it's given me the confidence to believe that there's a gal out there for me. As it is, we're both good friends, and I think we will be for the rest of our lives.
Two things: I really wish I'd have joined in the game (Mark Carroll was positively awesome as your GM) and I'd like to see you bag the Caddo Peak in that Lawrence of Arabia getup you mentioned.ReplyDelete
Mark & Jen will hopefully be back next year, so keep an eye out. You have no idea how many people want me to go T.E. Lawrence up Caddo Peak!Delete
Mark & Jen are already making plans! :) It's on our calendar, and we're going to try to get reservations at 34 West next year...Delete
I've never heard of a "shieldwall" in Howard fandom.
I've also never heard anything negative about Academics taking note of Howard.
My only negative comment about academia right now would be that a couple of years ago an "academic" read his paper in the library and it was one of the worst, dullest readings I've ever heard. Anyone that didn't doze off during that one must be desperate for entertainment. Notice I didn't mention his name. Anyone trying to promote Bob is OK in my book, even if they don't float my boat.
Dennis, well, the Shieldwall as I perceive it is a sort of informal way of referring to the folks who actively promote Howard and address inaccuracies and assumptions. Certainly Jeff, Mark, myself and others considered ourselves members of that group, and chances are it's just another name for the Howard fans in general.Delete
Unfortunately there are certain (not yourself, or indeed anyone I met at Howard Days, or anyone whose opinions I respect) members of Howard fandom who have a decidedly negative reaction to Howard not only being taken seriously by Academics, but being taken seriously at all. There are some out there who prefer to look at Howard and his work as simple adventure stories, and view any attempt to read more into them as misguided at best and foolhardy at worst.
I've enjoyed all your reports Al, makes me feel like I attended (in a vicarious way). If you can make it all the way from Scotland I have no excuse. New England is only a hop, skip, and a jump away in comparison.ReplyDelete
I'll tell you something, there are frequent moments - usually as I'm waiting for the plane, or on a long drive - where I wonder, "what the hell am I doing?" I wonder whether it's worth all the money, time and stress of travel just to spend a week in a climate I'm never going to get used to with a bunch of foreigners who've travelled there for the same reasons I did.Delete
I find the answer is the same each year: it's always worth it, and each year always gets better.
I think you'd have a great time, Brian, and the same goes for anyone else. If you can spare the expense and time, I think every Howard fan should at least consider making the pilgrimage. That first year I came, I fully expected it to be my only time, just so I could say I'd been once. But having been there, I knew it could never be a one-off.
I didn't get the whole Shieldwall thing of yours until I took a closer look at your blog. I don't spend much time looking at blogs, so I guess I'm out of touch as far as that goes.
As for the climate, After six years, I'm sort of used to it, but it doesn't make it any more pleasant. If Howard Days was just a week earlier, you'd have seen many more nicer days, like what we had on Thursday and Friday. The heat descends on us almost overnight like an unhappy and unstoppable wave from Hell.
Not at all, Dennis: the internet's a huge place, after all. I guess the climate's just something I'll have to get more used to, like yourself, but I'm doing better finding ways to deal with it. That first year I was concerned I would collapse of heatstroke, but this year I think I sort of understood it better.Delete
Al, the reason I think it's time to drop the "shieldwall" is that I believe the term encourages us to think in terms of combat. It is either defensive (we must all get together to protect poor REH) or offensive (we must put together this invincible shieldwall and attack our enemies). No wonder so many people think we're an irate rabble: we're using battle metaphors to describe ourselves.ReplyDelete
I think the battle is largely over, and we've won. There are certainly still some pockets of resistance or ignorance out there, but I think they are better dealt with through diplomacy and educational outreach than through attack. I believe that, now that the Old Regime is, if not wiped out, at least largely subdued and marginalized, and REH is established on the throne, it is time for us to be his emissaries, rather than his warriors.
It's a fair point, Rusty, which is why I thought of redeployment. Sort of like the Swiss Guard: they haven't gotten into a fight in a hundred years, but they're still prepared. I think using battle metaphors is only natural given how Howard's work is so often tied to war and bloodshed: if Jane Austen had a shieldwall it'd be more eyebrow-raising, but given this is the creator of Conan, Solomon Kane and all those blood-and-thunder characters.Delete
That said, I started thinking about other methods ever since that panel. I kind of like the idea of using something like bards, regaling far-off peoples with Howard's tales, or something like that.
Thank you so much for these reports...they are so much fun to read! And, if you *do* end up in Lawrence garb next year, you'll have to post a pic ;)ReplyDelete
Thank you for reading and enjoying them, my full-coiffed arachid!Delete
I find it a bit strange how this charge is almost always used in a derogatory way, and often by the same folks who paint themselves as quite accepting of homosexual relationships (and by extension, the expression of such in literature).
Yet Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint is rarely labelled "homoerotic", despite the writer being a lesbian and quite explicitly writing about male-male eroticism (even moreso in The Fall of the Kings, with more female-female eroticism in The Privilege of the Sword). Yet that's what the novel is. Whereas one critic called The Lord of the Rings homoerotic as an insult, though I'm scratching my head over where that eroticism exactly is, and what sort of society we live in if representations of homosocial relationships are immediately labelled "gay" (this only tells me that ideas of masculinity have actually become more rigid in certain circles than in Robert E. Howard's time even though we claim those gender boundaries have softened).
I really think it's because they think Howard/Conan fans will get all uncomfortable and shift around in their seats when the subject of homosexuality is raised, as if alleging that a half-naked muscular dude might possibly be homoerotic would bring their whole world's masculine facade crashing down. That's probably what I find funniest/most frustrating about it all: that they will champion homosexual rights with one hand, but use the allegation of homosexuality in a straight person to degrade and attack that individual. Make up your mind, guys, is homosexuality a legitimate life choice to be respected, or is it something to ridicule and belittle?Delete
This phenomenon of alleging a straight man as being homosexual as a form of attack to demean and degrade their self-esteem and identity (most commonly in the "homophobes are actually latent homosexuals lashing out" meme) baffles me, since you'd think if Howard's work was really that homoerotic, it would be championed for rejecting the contemporary gender norms. After all, when Howard was writing homosexual relationships were illegal: surely a blatantly homoerotic pulp story would be most unusual?
One thing that most gay and gender studies people never seem to get, nor factor into their work, is the idea that admiration for another man can be something other than sexual (or repressed sexuality). I suspect it has something to do with these people never having engaged in sports of any kind--or at least physical sports, such as football or boxing--but here's another explanation for anyone seeking to "charge up" Howard's prose with homo-eroticism: the description of a man's torso and limbs, or the characteristics of his muscles, or the manner in which he moves and carries himself has nothing to do with repressed sexuality and everything to do with evaluating that man's capacity for violence. It's the admittedly florid language of weapon evaluation, and nothing more.ReplyDelete
I think plenty are well aware of that, but *still* think it's inherently sexual. The sword is infamous as a phallic object, after all, so if one can look at a sharp piece of metal as sexually symbolic, then it's no wonder any depiction of unclad male physiques is viewed as sexually charged.Delete
Once again, I have to think that maybe these people get homoerotic subtext from media because they have homoeroticism on the brain. Kind of like those people who see David Icke conspiracies in everything.
Ick.. Copperheads.. I had one of those in my bathroom once.. talk about a shock..ReplyDelete
Never trust anything which hasn't got any legs.
As far as the gender studies stuff goes.. when the only tool you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Hah, too true. Luckily I didn't come across any venomous beasties in my domiciles.Delete
Well if I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning; I'd hammer in the evening; all over this laaaaand...
It's not the academics in gender & queer studies who are the problem, people. It's the folks on the net who act like they are but actually obtained all their education in literary criticism from LiveJournal.Delete
That's exactly true, but unfortunately I haven't encountered much of the former, and because of the latter, I'm concerned that a lot of academics might shy away from the subject as a result.Delete
One other item.ReplyDelete
I certainly have no problem with REH's works being re-evaluated by academics, or being studied to see what their underlying themes are. What I desperately don't want to happen is to have REH's themes and meanings morph him into a sort of Anarcho-Survival-of-the-fittest-proto-Ayn-Rand. I personally don't think thats possible, due to the sheer number of times Howard has his character help people, muse on the inequalities of life, or from what we can see, but it is something I've seen argued around the internet.
I've long since given up understanding just what on earth objectivism/Randism actually is, but if anyone attempts to assert Howard's characters didn't help people, didn't muse on the inequalities of life, etc, they'll have to explain this paragraph in "The Black Stranger":Delete
"I didn't get Tothmekri's jewels," he rumbled. "But here are some baubles I found in the chest where I got the clothes I'm wearing." He spilled a handful of flaming rubies into his palm.
"They're worth a fortune, themselves." He dumped them back into the bag and handed it to her.
"But I can't take these -" she began.
"Of course you'll take them. I might as well leave you for the Picts to scalp as to take you back to Zingara to starve," said he. "I know what it is to be penniless in a Hyborian land. Now in my country sometimes there are famines; but people are hungry only when there's no food in the land at all. But in civilized countries I've seen people sick of gluttony while others were starving. Aye, I've seen men fall and die of hunger against the walls of shops and storehouses crammed with food.
"Sometimes I was hungry, too, but then I took what I wanted at sword's-point. But you can't do that. So you take these rubies. You can sell them and buy a castle, and slaves and fine clothes, and with them it won't be hard to get a husband, because civilized men all desire wives with these possessions."
I'm not sure if that's compatible with Rand philosophy, but from what I can glean, it might have some problems fitting in.
Easiest way to understand her books, is to read Ragnar Redbeard's "Might is Right".. since that is effectively where both she, and Anton LeVay got their ideas from, you can also detect hints of it in John Milius's 1982 film.. and I think that is where the confusion comes in as far as Howard goes.ReplyDelete
The ironic part of that story is, though there is a lot of contention over who actually wrote the book, it was almost assuredly written as satire of people who thought that way.. it's almost but not quite as delicious as the irony that Rand spent the last years of her life being propped up by the very government run social programs she had spent most of her life railing against. Perhaps not as fitting as her ending her days eating catfood and fading into the obscurity she so rightly deserved.. but amusing none the less.
Ah, interesting, I'll have to have a look for that.Delete
Internet Archive has it available.. It might give you fodder for a future article, or at least better arm you against some of the ridiculous articles and statements people make about Howard's philosophy..ReplyDelete