Saturday, December 01, 2007

Postcards From the Outer Dark


I'm a little more than 100 pages into the second volume of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, and finding it far more fascinating than volume one. Though I enjoyed the first volume from a biographical standpoint, most of the letters in that book were to Howard's Texas friends and dealt mostly with his day to day life and only had limited information about his writing since he was just beginning to sell to the pulps.That said, toward the end of that volume we do see the beginnings of two of his most famous creations, King Kull and Solomon Kane.
Volume two finds Howard firmly in the land of professional writing. He's selling steadily to Weird Tales and other markets and he's beginning to create some of his other series characters. There are a couple of interesting letters about his "new" character, Turlough Dubh O'Brien, who appears in The Dark Man and the Gods of Bal-Sagoth. He also talks about the story 'The Voice of El-Lil" which he sold to Oriental Stories, the recently established companion magazine to Weird Tales. Howard had great hopes for OS because it was a market for his favorite type of story, historical fiction. There he didn't have to worry about adding any supernatural elements to his stories to sell them to Weird Tales. Unfortunately the magazine was to be short lived.
And this is the volume where Howard begins his famous correspondence with noted horror writer and fellow Weird Tales contributor, H. P. Lovecraft. Howard wrote a glowing letter of praise for Lovecraft's work to WT editor Farnsworth Wright, and Wright forwarded it to Lovecraft, who wrote directly to Howard. Lovecraft was perhaps the world's champion letter writer, reportedly scribbling well over one hundred thousand missives to his various correspondents. I have often wondered what Lovecraft would have done with the internet. He probably would have never left home and simply emailed people all day and his blog would be updated even more than mine.
It's fun to see Howard question Lovecraft about the backgrounds of Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, and other aspects of Lovecraft's stories, only to find that HPL made it all up. There's also a letter where Howard mentions that he'll join the game and start dropping references to Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones into his own fiction. We're seeing the beginnings of legends here, folks.
It's kind of frustrating to only read half of the correspondences between REH and HPL. I do own a couple of the Arkham House editions of the Letters of H.P. Lovecraft so I know what HPL's responses to some of Howard's letters were, but I'd really like to see someone publish a volume that contained both REH's and HPL's letters. That would be a lot of fun.
Anyway, I know that this volume ends about the time that Howard was creating Conan, so I'm enjoying seeing the seeds that would lead to the big Cimmerian's genesis. Howard is pulling together the strands that would eventually lead him to pioneer his own brand of heroic fantasy and beginning to find his own unique voice as a writer. Great stuff.

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