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▶  More from Blog Book Reviews A Well of Heroes
Kinsmen and Farslayer
Developing Impressions of the Heroic Subtext


“James, you seem to be on a different page concerning your reviews and impression for Howard’s works than your commentators, who are mostly very knowledgeable and send you factual, bibliographical information that bears on your reviews after the fact.

“One, how much bibliographical information do you employ for your process, and why?

“Two how does this bear on the ultimate form of the book you are building on the site?”

-D. L.

Answer One

The only information outside the text I am using is the physical composition of the book and those inspired contributions in the various collections I am working from by artists and editors. I am not looking at Howard chronologically, for the simple fact that he did not usually write Conan chronologically.

One might review Howard’s work from various perspectives. Those that generally do so—as far as I have read their work—source:

1. Howard’s known reading list and literary influences.

2. The order of composition. When was Almuric written for instance?—if written concurrently or after another character, than it will not be treated as a seed story or prototype character. A rule I’ve largely ignored.

3. Howard’s letters, which, if I read them I will tend to mine for fragments rather than biographical info, as I am just looking at his art, and attempting to do so as if I knew even lass about him than I do, which is not a lot.

4. Howard’s life, friends, experiences, family, etc.

5. The publishing history of his work. For the most part, I am only interested in first date of publication.

6. The text.

7. The subtext.

I am only looking at Robert E. Howard’s Art from the last three perspectives. I am particularly interested in works that were not sold in his lifetime, as they give a clearer view of his muses, a quirky type of phantom creature that commercial writers must often shackle, strangle, torment—and some manage to kill—in service to their editors. It only takes one rejection from an editor to get a writer obsessed with earning their acceptance, predicting what the editor wants, etc. We writers are married to our editors after a fashion and just like the husband who desires his wife’s approval will avoid slapping Uncle Joe across the face at Christmas dinner, so does the writer often ride herd on his own muses. So it is of particular interest to me when a story is rewritten and unsold in multiple forms, such as The Frost Giant’s Daughter, By This Axe I Rule!, The Spears of Clontarf and The Black Stranger.

Answer Two

Comments from the readers who are versed in Howard’s life, letters, reading, etc, are just as valid to me as anything I bring to the table through my writer’s view of Howard’s work. The more these comments contradict, disagree with or balance my impressions then the more valuable they are to the reader.

Imagine, if you will, Deuce, Tex and me investigating a Howard story, from our perspectives.

Now imagine we are investigating a murder, the murder of a story, by an editor, for instance?

For example: I am very intrigued by Deuce’s information on the fact that Howard’s Weird Tales editor may have posthumously ghost written part of Almuric. I have ghostwritten a book about that length, in full. I found it very tiring, but doable, to sound not like me, but the author, whose magazine articles I had read to get a feel for his style. The man who published scores of Howard tales would certainly be able to pull it off better than an egotistical writer. So I would not be surprised to find myself hoodwinked by Farnsworth Wright. I find the happily ever after ending, suspect. However, consider that Wright might—if Howard had been living when Almuric was first serialized in 1939—have requested such an ending from Howard [that is if Howard had not written it] in keeping with a strong genre tradition. Editors cast a shadow even when they are not actively ghost writing. They have a different kind of influential. Manipulative ego, than the direct action ego of the writer.

These Howard historians are the equivalent of the coroner and ballistics experts, the crime scene people who can tell you how long the victim was dead and what model tire those tracks were made by.

Me? I’m filling the profiler’s role—doing the fun stuff while they sift through physical evidence with tweezers—so I doubly appreciate their patience with my method.

I see the reader as the ultimate investigator and invite them to compare my impression with the work done by these other men and their colleagues and draw their own living impressions of these deeply imaginative works.

The Heroic Prototype

I have a final note on the longevity of prototype characters in the mind’s eye of a writer. As I worked soul-crushing jobs and attempted to learn the craft of writing via the patient cruelty of editors in the distant days of snail mail and red pens between 1988 and 1995, I developed two characters who I never even named from their begotten perspective, but granted them identities based on their acts: Kinsman and Farslayer. I actually had a publisher request I write this science-fiction concept as a novel. But he was bought out, and the guy that bought me from him was bought out and I began working five additional jobs and picked up a girlfriend, etc.

I have 240 pages on these heroes and their setting.

I paid professional artists to sketch these characters and their antagonists.

These characters have never seen print, and are 25 years older than characters I write this month, to whom they are both younger and elder selves—ancestral muses perhaps.

I may never write these characters. However, know, that if some comic publisher or movie director called me up and said, “Love Reverent Chandler, but I don’t want to be tarred and feathered. I need two opposing heroes for something more salable, can you get me something ASAP?”

I’d write Farslayer in two days and people years from now might say, “Those characters are evolved forms of Fend and Est,” when in reality it was the reverse. And beyond this, there are still deeper characters that I have wrestled with in my mind as alternative identities for myself and possible protagonists for stories as yet unwritten, who are years or decades older in my mind than those I have recently written—but who are parents of a whimsical kind.

All of these points said, considered and possibly discarded, the most important reason for having a writer do impressions of a writer’s work, is that you get a view of the subject from somebody who has just as big an ego—and of a similar type—as the author under consideration.

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