Thursday, 30 December 2010

Looks like the Encyclopaedia Hyboriana has company!

I got a surprising link from Google Alerts: as of yesterday, it appears there's going to be another reference guide to the Hyborian Age, using only Howardian sources.

A reference guide to the world of Conan the Cimmerian. Using only the original works of Robert E. Howard.
I hope to index all places, peoples, objects and creatures unique to Conan's time in the Hyborian Age.
No information will be used from books or comics from other authors over the years. Though I will provide a list of them.
Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age is also tied with the Thurian Age of Kull the Atlantean, and also other characters in other time periods in recorded history. Information from other yarns with Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Turlogh Dubh O'Brien, Solomon Kane, James Allison, Cormac Mac Art, and other miscelleaneous stories will be indexed eventually as well. Providing ultimately a handy concordance of Robert E. Howards' fantasy tales.

Now, I'm definitely glad to see another Conan reference out there that doesn't include the work of other authors. The Conan Wikia is great, with tons of good info, but it isn't exclusive to Howard: the Conan the Cimmerian wiki, on the other hand, seems to have the same goals as the Encyclopaedia Hyboriana.  The fact that this wiki appears to have been created on the same day as my announcement... Well, I'm just going to treat it as a happy coincidence.

I've no intention of engaging in any sort of competition with the Conan the Cimmerian Wiki: both the Encyclopaedia and the Wiki share the same goals, and the energy is better spent in concordance than contention.  So, best of luck to Drush9999!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Epic Syndrome and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

He's an uppity, precocious, intolerant English schoolboy! He's a fierce, quixotic, swashbuckling talking rat!  Together, they travel the land seeking treasure, adventure and excitement wherever it may be!  Eustace and Reepicheep!  Muppet and Mouse!  Runt and Rodent!  Faffer and the Gay(ly clad) Mouse!

I'll tell you my about favourite scene in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  It's the duel between Reepicheep and Eustace Scrubb.  It was a battle of wits and a tussle of egos as an arrogant, snotty braggart of a child is challenged by a cavalier talking mouse.  The fight was energetic, fun, endearing, and engaging: two characters were having it out not just physically, but mentally.  On one side Eustace, one of those insufferable children who claim to have absolute insight and cannot conceive of any reality outside the ones they deign to recognize; on the other, Reepicheep, a romantic, adventurous, wild-hearted swashbuckler ever eager to find new wonders and experiences, constantly challenging himself.  Two archetypes at odds with each other in a whimsical miniaturization of the heart of the Narnia story: the juxtaposition of reality with fantasy, and the conflict which arises within and without.

If Michael Apted could've just taken that scene and figured out how to apply it to the rest of the film, as well as take hints from the best parts of the previous films,  Dawn Treader could've been great.  As it is, it's just ok: not bad, but man, just a bit more boldness and daring...

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Encyclopaedia Hyboriana: A Reference Guide to Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age of Conan the Cimmerian

Ever since I got really into Robert E. Howard after my second gateway via Conan, I've wondered just why there isn't a counterpart to Robert Foster's Middle-earth Encyclopaedia.  Here, I thought, was a world rich in atmosphere, facination and delight, with all the characters, places, events, relics and wonders one could possibly want. It seemed every line of exposition was pregnant with a story in itself. A character who appeared in a single sentence would have the foundations of their entire history encapsulated within a few words.  A mere phrase opened up whole worlds of possibilities.

So where is that Hyborian Age Encyclopaedia?

Well, Deuce let the Smilodon fatalis out of the bag over at the REH Forums, so I figure there's no time like the present to announce The Big Secret.  All those wondering what happened to Conan: Total War and the many other projects I've been working on can finally know the truth: all my effort over the past year has been put into a reference book for the Hyborian Age.

Monday, 27 December 2010

The Alleged Conan Formula

More recently I decided to read Robert E. Howard, particularly his Solomon Kane and Conan stories.
I am not a fan of Conan, I’m afraid. At least for the first several stories that Howard wrote, I felt like they were all derivatives of each other. 

This is exactly why I've set up the Newcomer's Guide. This gentleman, Bruce Nielson, has claimed to have read the first thirteen Conan stories - presumably this means The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian - yet I can see much reason to doubt that statement.  If he has read them, I really thinks he needs to read them again.

Ah well.  Can't please everyone, even though I don't know how anyone could consider "The Phoenix on the Sword," "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," "The God in the Bowl" and "The Tower of the Elephant" remotely similar enough to be "derivative of each other. But that's not my problem.  My problem is that Mr Nielson has gone to the trouble to produce a "Conan formula" which apparently applies to the stories, based on his reading of the first thirteen.  The problem is, as I shall demonstrate, that this formula does nothing of the sort.

Sure, he's just a blogger on the internet.  But I'm just a blogger on the internet.  This is the kind of stuff the Newcomer's Guide seeks to challenge.  And challenge it is what I intend to do.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Metal Barbarian Dinosaur Comics: The Expedition

We should've left long ago.  Before Sir John died.  Thinking back to that day...

History would record our journey as an attempt to find the Northwest Passage.  Better that history believes that, than the truth of what we were really searching for in the Great Bleak North.  The Navy were ordered not to search for us, even if we were years overdue.  No doubt Mrs Franklin would endeavour to search for us, but the Admiralty would see that her efforts would be in vain.  Not that it would matter, we thought: we'd be home to much fanfare in record time.  We fancied ourselves well prepared, even over-cautious, for the mission.  After all, we proud men of the Queen's Navy were masters of the mightiest empire on earth, the mightiest in the history of makind.  The British Empire, the crowning achievement of humanity.

But only humanity.

After a year or so on the ice, Captain Crozier organized the two ships' crew, and we left. Terror and Erebus were trapped, broken and chewed by the icy jaws of the very land around us.  The strongest vessels the Empire could create, twisted and crushed like Autumn leaves. Half the men were dead already.  There was no other choice.  It was no longer safe: we had to leave.  Escape.

Friday, 24 December 2010

The Centenary of Fritz Leiber

Today is Fritz Leiber's Centenary*.  Despite not actually being blown away by his work,  I feel like I should honour it with a post on my blog. I've only read "The Snow Women," "The Unholy Grail" and "Ill Met in Lankhmar" so far, and to my sadness I wasn't particularly moved.  Underwhelmed, in fact.  I guess I just started off with bad stories: if these were in fact sub-par Leiber, it'd be no fairer to judge him on them than to judge Howard if all I read of his work were the sub-par Conan stories. Leiber deserves more, though, so one of my New Year's Resolutions (early announcement, I know) is to give him another chance.  I have both Lankhmar collections of Fantasy Masterworks, so I'll definitely have a go with them. Maybe I'll crack open Our Lady of Darkness, or hunt down "Gonna Roll The Bones": I've heard good things about them.

In lieu of a tribute myself, I'd rather gather some of the fantastic tributes I've found around the internet, all far more qualified to speak on Leiber than myself: James Maliszweski, James Enge and P.C. HodgellSteve Tompkins, Joseph A. McCullogh, and John Howard's In Memoriam.

So many people speak highly of Leiber, many of whom's opinion I respect.  I must be missing something.  I aim to find out.

*In an earlier version of this post, I inadvertently made the rather profound exaggeration that it was "Leiber's 100th Centenary."  As Michael Halila patiently pointed out, he ain't that old!

Fear of a Black Asgard

I haven't really talked about what I think about casting Idris Elba as a Marvel character based on a Norse Mythological deity who was referred to as "The White God" because I think it would be redundant.  I've already said my piece on why positive discrimination is a self-defeating crock, and it applies here. In any case, I can't have any respect for the whole "colourblind casting" phenomenon considering the Jamie Foxx as Frank Sinatra fiasco. However, since it's still going - as nerd controversies are wont to do - I thought I'd talk more about this post at Man vs Clown!, and the whole Black Heimdall thing.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

More Fodder for the Newcomer's Guide

As I've said before, sometimes coming across something... not complimentary about Howard can inspire me to look at the author in a new way.  Take this post at Man vs Clown!, which speaks about the Iris Edelba controversy of Thor:

Not seeing Thor simply because a black man was cast in what you think ought to be a white man’s role may be racist; however, not seeing it because you think the casting may be symptomatic of many other boneheaded directorial choices isn’t. It’s not okay to complain about this because you’re a racist. It is okay to complain about this if you’re a fanboy, the same kind of person objects to the casting of Stargate: Atlantic actor Jason Momoa as Conan the Barbarian because his eyes are brown rather than the “volcanic blue”2 described by Robert E. Howard (who was a racist, which complicates matters).3
2. Whatever “volcanic blue” means. I’ve never understood this one. Last time I checked, volcanoes were grey to brown and threw up in reddish orangey colours. This must be what they call colour-blind casting.
3. As much as I love his pulp fiction, imagine how badly someone like Robert E. Howard would do as a casting director, given his reliance on broad, crude racial stereotypes. “Need a sinister villain? You want a Chinaman. Get me Jackie Chan’s agent.” “Crafty? Let’s get a bankable Jew. How’s Adam Sandler sound?” “Brutish? That part’s made for a Negro. Is Sidney Poitier still working?” It just wouldn’t work.

How cute.  My response is below:

Oh come now, that's just ridiculous and not borne out by any sort of analysis of Howard's fiction.  The vast majority of villains in Howard stories are white men.  Pick a Conan story: it's more likely than not Conan's enemy is a sinister white sorcerer, a crafty white general, or a brutish white warrior.  Sure, Howard was writing in the age of Yellow Menace and Jim Crowe laws were still in effect, but if you break down the stories, white men outnumber all other ethnicities combined.  It is simply false to state otherwise.

Besides, if you pluck most pulp fiction authors of the 1930s, of course they're going to have "broad, crude ethnic stereotypes."  That's how bad it was in the 1930s.  It was illegal for a black person to marry a white person in most states.  Miscegenation was outlawed.  Lynchings, while not common, were frequent in the south during Howard's lifetime.  Scientific theory, at the time, was inundated with the pseudoscience of racial theory.  Is it really any wonder that Howard said and wrote things that would be considered incredibly insensitive nowadays?

In any case, Howard would clearly cast Sidney Poitier as Ace Jessel, the intelligent, cheerful, courageous, sympathetic boxer, the only of Howard's boxing heroes to be a world champion.  For a supposed racist, it's strange that Howard wrote two stories featuring an intelligent, sympathetic black man, especially one where he has to overcome the town's prejudice towards him - and succeeds.

"Volcanic blue" is a reference to larimar, a very rare and highly prized variety of volcanic rock noted for its vibrant, intense blue hue.

So, I have a few more things to put up on the Newcomer's Guide: "How many of Howard's villains were black/Asian/Jewish/Not White," and "What does volcanic blue mean?"

I've already answered the latter, though a more in-depth explanation of what larimar is and a helpful image wouldn't go amiss.  However, for the latter I'll actually go through the stories, and note the ethnic origin of each villain, as well as heroes.  Can't forget the heroic minority characters like Ace Jessel, N'Longa, Sakumbe, Ajonga, Yasunga, Laranga, N'Yaga, N'Gora, John Garfield, Lala Tzu, Conchita, Belit, Juan Lopez...

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Newcomer's Guide to REH: Update

The more I come across people who don't know their Conans from their Cohens and Howards from their Jordans, the more I'm convinced the Newcomer's Guide is a necessity.  So necessary, that I'm thinking of expanding it beyond this blog, and into a site in itself.  Rather than being one big long page, each question will have its own page dedicated to it, with a contents list linking to each.

Since I've found Wordpress to be a more versatile platform, I've set up the bare bones here:

I still need to sort the basics out, but all the finished stuff will be put up.  Anyone with any ideas on how to improve, streamline or facilitate the site would be most appreciated.

EDIT: Gragh, I forgot to make it visible to everyone.  A fine debut that is!  The blog's very Spartan right now, and I'm still working out the kinks - like navigating the posts.  All I can suggest right now is go to the categories and click through them: some don't have anything, others have a few.  Boy, Wordpress's harder than I thought!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The Philip Palmer Challenge

I like to imagine he's contemplating how his company is going to take over the Crown.

In his recent post, Philip Palmer gives the very silly man Edward Docx both barrels for his very silly post.  It's from The Guardian, that home of baby intellectuals, so I can't be surprised at the silliness.  How silly?  Here's an excerpt:

... in my view, we need urgently to remind ourselves of – for want of better terminology – the difference between literary and genre fiction; because, to misquote the literary essayist Isaac D'Israeli, "it seems to me a wretched national compulsion to be gratified by mediocrity when the excellent lies before us".

It appears to be of the typical tired "fantasy, science fiction and horror aren't "real" literature" stripe, and again, he brings up that odious, snivelling, miserable, worthless malapropism "literary fiction."  Few phrases infuriate me more than "literary fiction": "now a major motion picture" is pretty close, though.  Hell, by his definition, isn't literary fiction in itself a genre - and thus, genre fiction?  I'd love to see Docx bend over backwards to make allowances for the many classics which couldn't be anything but "genre fiction".  Palmer does a fantastic job destroying, disintegrating and defenestrating Docx's idiocy.

However, he has something to say about Howard.  Something both challenging, and awesome.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Seven things I want to see in a Conan game

 Look on the bright side: there is no way any new Conan game 
could be as bad as Conan: The Mysteries of Time. No way whatsoever.

Sure, a good Conan game needs good combat, but that isn't to say that's all there is to it.  The Conan stories have a lot of appeal beyond hacking dudes to pieces: there are Conan's gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirths, the exploration of the Hyborian Age, battle tactics and strategy, Hyborian lore and legend, uncovering mysteries, and plain old fashioned girls & grog. Therefore, in addition to the combat/stealth which should make up the bulk of Conan gameplay experience, I suggest the following facets of gameplay.

In addition to, you know, adapting the bloody stories in some manner.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Destructoid on the new Conan game

A couple of things:

1. Mr Holmes seems to think Conan=Arnold. But hey, lots of people think that. Just like lots of people think fingernails keep growing after you die.

2. I beg to differ: Severence: Blade of Darkness and The Mark of Kri are ten times the "Conan" game Rastan is.

3. If I see anything - anything - of Mr Holmes' list except Number 2 (and arguably Number 3) appearing in the game, I'm going to defenestrate my Xbox.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Oh, Hyboria!, The Wrath of Zym's prequel, and a new game?

Remember a while back me and Miguel Martins teamed up to discuss the many Howardian projects on Paradox's lineup? Remember one of them being Age of Conan: Hyboria!, from the makers of Robot Chicken?

Well, it still seems to be a go.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures: The List

Rusty Burke has very kindly released the contents for the upcoming (boy oh boy oh boy) Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures on the REHupa website.

I'm excited.  Are you excited?  Because I'm excited.  Excited!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Quick Link: The Return of Darkstorm

It's fair to say that Dale Rippke is one of those who got me into really studying the Hyborian Age. When I came across the late Heroes of Dark Fantasy website, it was a revelation. Since then, Dale has somewhat disappeared from the aether. But lo, what do I see on the horizon, but The Darkstorm Files?  All the classic essays - Ciudad de Ladrones, To the Styx and Beyond, The Blue East, The Tao of Conan - have made their way there, and I really hope to see more.

Though I don't know if Dale's going to get back in the saddle, I do want to see him return in a more active role.

The Sexualisation of Lara Croft

And so we find Crystal Dynamics have released a preview of their latest Tomb Raider game, and I'm getting more and more frustrated and bothered by their direction for the games. I'll say that there are elements of this picture I like: I love that Lara actually looks like she's been mucking about in some godforsaken corner of the world, rather than being pristine and clean. She also has a few scrapes and bruises, also very appreciated.  I also like her determined expression, very strong and defiant. I don't see why it was necessary to change her trademark khakis for trousers, but I'm not too bothered, since it looks reasonable enough.  Overall, the image portrays a woman who's gone through an awful lot in a very short space of time, but come out alive.  Pretty powerful image, if I do say so.

That said, I have issues with it that are part of a much bigger problem.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Jackson Inserts Gratuitous Elves Into Tolkien Adaptation... Again

You'll notice I haven't discussed the upcoming The Hobbit film much.  That's because... well, I can't really think of anything to say.  Everything that was great and wonderful in Jackson's The Lord of the Rings will probably be great and wonderful in The Hobbit.  With that, everything that was frustrating and infuriating about Jackson's The Lord of the Rings will too, probably.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Damned if they do, damned if they don't

Alright, it's clear my self-inforced moratorium on Howard and Conan-related posts is going to be about as successful as the Prohibition, so I'm just going to come out and say it:

Calling the new Conan film Conan the Barbarian is a terrible idea, but they've painted themselves into a corner with it.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Treading Water: Narnia at the Movies

There are few things I hate more in life than the Major Motion Picture sticker.  You might as well have the sticker say "why bother reading when you could watch it on a big screen?"

This SF-and-F history month, I wanted to talk about some of the other greats of SF-and-F.  I'm just back from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (with the kids, you see, yeah, the kids!), and among the trailers, which are part of cinema habitual routine for me, I noticed that Walden Media really really seem to have gotten The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader off the ground.

Considering I had to sit through The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian to get to the one Narnia book I truly enjoyed, I'm excited - though given what's come before, about as nervous as one can expect.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Curse of the Lancers

I'd been thinking about my responses to people who I think "wrong" Howard.  Well, the truth is I don't think people are actively out to get him, just that people tend to be rather dismissive, or don't see the deeper appeal of Howard.

Like John Randolph Burrow.  I'll post a link to his site, and my response below.  In it, he basically says that Howard defenders who claim Howard is realistic actually mean that Howard is gory and blood-soaked.  That I would disagree with on a number of levels, mostly because there are plenty of Howard stories with nary a cleaving or stabbing to be seen, that are plenty realistic.  However, he then goes on to say that the action scenes are no more believable than the nonsense of action movies, like how "one could avoid injury in any massive explosion by simply leaping."  Apparently, Howard is as "realistic" as Broken Arrow and Chain Reaction.  Which I find hilarious, as I explain below, since Howard's violence is in fact pretty damn realistic.  I guess Mr Burrow suffers from that Reality is Unrealistic malady some suffer from.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Make December Science Fiction and Fantasy History Month

My dear friends, I am calling on you to help me start a movement. This December, let us take another step in further promoting one of our great loves---Science Fiction and Fantasy. Let us declare December to be SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY HISTORY MONTH.

What? Why does it have to be promoted? you ask. Aren't we inundated with it? Isn't there more genre in film and on television than ever? Isn't the fiction market dominated by genre?

Perhaps, but as lovers of the genre, we owe it to ourselves to promote quality work and to invite the young into our fold ,giving them a perspective and understanding of the traditions and tropes of our literary world. Consider the political and cultural influence of science fiction and fantasy, and how it has helped us vent our angst, voice our identity, and celebrate our optimism.

So Spaketh Stewart Sternberg.

I think it's a great idea.  I've been neglecting my SF for, oh, a decade or so, ever since I rediscovered Howard, and discovered the great fantasy fiction I missed out on. Indeed, The Blog That Time Forgot is quickly starting to become A Beardy Scot Rambles About Howard, occassionally punctuated by various other authors, cinema and works.

Well, I'm going to make an attempt to discuss more of the classic history of SF&F throughout December.  I might revisit SF classics like The Time Machine, Star Maker, Roadside Picnic, The Stars My Destination, The Forever War, A Canticle for Leibowitz, I Am Legend, Flowers for Algernon, More Than Human, Childhood's End, and more Ray Bradbury stories than I can remember.  I might also go for fantasy classics I haven't had an opportunity or inclination to talk about: The Prydain Chronicles, Stormbringer, "Black God's Kiss," The Metal Monster, etc.

If not, I'll just re-read some old favourites.

Dammit, They Stole My Idea: Rare Exports and Christmas Tales of Terror

In the depths of Lapland's Korvatunturi Mountains, 486 metres deep, lies the closest guarded secret of Christmas. The time has come to dig it up...

So goes the synopsis of the Finnish film Rare Exports, a tale of terror of that time-honoured Christmas tradition of turning Santa Claus into a figure of terror.  In theory, it isn't hard to imagine why: a great bearded man who can travel to every household on the planet in a single night, commander of hordes of elves who do his bidding, someone who somehow knows every human child's behavioural patterns... Yeah, it doesn't take much to turn that into a psychological chiller.

Alright, in fairness, the idea of doing a darker tale around the sinister early legends of Santa Claus is probably one many people have had before.  Darker fairy tales are not new: indeed, fairy tales were dark from the beginning.  The idea of twee, safe, happy fairy tales is a recent and short-lived phenomenon.  That's why I have to laugh at all those authors and directors who give the pretense of making "new and imaginative takes on cosy fairytales," especially when they pale in comparison to the Stygian horrors of the timeless folk traditions.  Even the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.

Still, from what I can see from the trailer and elsewhere, Rare Exports seems to rely on the concept of Santa as a not-quite-human, possibly supernatural demon from the dark past of European folklore.  In other words, the Joulupukki taken to its logical conclusion.  I can't discern more than that, and since the film seems to be a Raimi-esque comedy-horror, it might not even try to explain it further than "Santa's a lot darker than you Coca-Cola drinkers thought."

Me, I was instantly reminded of the many "Little People" works inspired by Arthur Machen, particularly Howard's "The Little People."  I'd often wondered about applying such ideas not just to fairies and elves, but to other traditions like Santa Claus.  As I think you could expect, their history stretches all the way back to the Hyborian Age.  I'll get into more detail as a sort of "Christmas post," but let's just say Walking In The Air, With Burning Feet of Fire isn't the only tale of terror that can be spun from the white whiskers of Father Christmas...

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Mr Ellison, you're brilliant, but you really can be an idiot at times.

"Fight the power! Stick it to the man! And git off my lawn you dern kids!"

Harlan Ellison is a fantastic author.  "Jeffty is Five," "The Deathbird," "A Boy And His Dog," "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream," - brilliant tales that can hang with the best of science fiction and horror. He's expanded into the world of television, with Outer Limits and Star Trek episodes to his name (albeit significantly altered in the latter case), as well as video games, as in I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.  He deserves praise for some of the most iconic pieces of post-apocalyptic science-fiction cinema, be it in inspiration as in The Terminator, or in adaptations like A Boy and his Dog.  I'll always feel tremendously saddened that his adaptation of I, Robot was never filmed, especially considering that other one that came out.

Almost as famous as Ellison's stories is his penchant for controversy. Harlan Ellison is a man clearly unafraid to speak his mind - almost a man afraid not to speak his mind.  He's outspoken, forthright and downright abrasive, and makes no apologies for it.  Whether one agrees or disagrees, one certainly can't fail to take notice of him.

However, like many opinionated authors, he sometimes comes up with stuff that's just plain wrong.  Eh, nobody's perfect.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Racism in casting The Hobbit?

 (I can't tell you how much I've wanted to use the Elrond Facepalm again)

Yeah, this old chestnut's raised its ugly spectre again.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

What Lupoff Said (Updated)

The third part of what has turned out to be a trilogy of posts, we can finally see what Lupoff actually said in the introduction to The Last Heiroglyph, thanks to Mikey_C of the Robert E. Howard Forums.

With regard to REH, Lupoff alludes to the Big Three not having led a so-called "standard model" American lifestyle of wife, kids, suburban etc, then includes a paragraph as follows:

Howard never married. He reportedly bragged of his sexual exploits but his claims were at best unsubstantiated. The details of Howard's suicide are well known. The reason or reasons may be more complicated than the following bald statement: His mother lay dying, her nurse told him that the end was near, he took a gun and put a bullet through his brain. Chronic depression, financial stress, a failed relationship, and what I am informed is now known as "Caregiver Stress Syndrome" may all have contributed to his act of self destruction.
As I said in the Forums... That's it? That's what we're supposed to have a fit about?

Monday, 22 November 2010

John C. Wright on Robert E. Howard and others

As an addendum to my previous post, I'm going to post an example of the two kinds of criticism: one of which I believe someone's entitled to that I can just disagree with, one I do not.

Just so everyone know's what's what.

Handling Howard with "Kid Gloves"

I confidently predict that certain people in the wacky world of Robert E Howard fandom will have a fit when they read Richard Lupoff's introduction.
  - Jojo Lapin X
I have no doubt about that whatsoever, and by this time one would think they could just let the matter rest. There is a point at which these continual leaps to Howard's defense cease doing Howard any good and merely suggest to the world that this is an author who must always be treated with kid gloves, a notion Howard himself would most likely have found ridiculous.
  - jimrockhill2001
You should've seen the original version!
 - Scott Connors

From The Eldritch Dark Forums.  The Eldritch Dark is a fantastic resource for Clark Ashton Smith stories, poems, biographies, criticisms and links, and I heartily recommend it.  You can even brave the Forums if you like: they're at least as protective of Smith as Howard fans are of their favourite author.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Momo as Drogo

A supplement to the recent A Game of Thrones news, here's a picamature of Jason Momoa in that other barbarian role, that of Khal Drogo.

Looking at him, I have to say he doesn't fit my mental image of the Horse Lord.  I imagined a much longer, Hun/Mongol style moustache, for one thing. Not sure if I'm digging his tattoo on the left arm being visible (unless it's being covered up in the actual show.)

Something like this:

Still, he looks great, and I'm sure Martin's legion of fans are pleased.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Early snaps from A Game of Thrones kicking "Conan's" arse in Every Way Imaginable

My general apathy with A Song of Ice and Fire is probably one of the most puzzling things about me. How can I not like a fantasy series that's all about treachery, violence, betrayal, political machinations, battles and gritty realism?  A lot of people promised I'd be hooked after A Game of Thrones, but for the life of me I can't get into it. Yet all the same... good golly am I looking forward to the upcoming series. 

Entertainment Weekly has just-short-of-a-dozen pictures from the film.  I'm deliberating over whether posting it over at Conan Movie Blog, since it's tangentially related as another Jason Momoa project, but he doesn't appear in the pictures.  While there's no sign of Khal Momo, the contrast between these and the ones for "Conan" is utterly staggering.  All the characters look great, the costumes have incredible verisimilitude, the sets are fantastic, even the quality of the film - it looks great.  The only problems I've noticed from commentators are Daenerys' and Cersei's eyebrows not matching their hair.  Man, if only my problems with the "Conan" film could be so trivial...

I normally try to refrain from silly base proclamations, but I'm going to say right now that A Game of Thrones is going to absolutely wipe the floor with "Conan."  Hell, the fact that it actually features characters from the source material already has it won, anything else is just a bonus.  Still, given the quality of previous HBO productions, the actors and crew, and compare that to the quality of previous Lionsgate productions, actors and crew... yeah, this is a bit of a one-horse race.

See this, Lionsgate?  This is how you do a goddamn fantasy series.  This is what "Conan" should be looking like, not a sub-Hercules: the Legendary Journeys riff.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Preview for Savage Sword's Dark Agnes

Conan and Solomon Kane may be the marquee characters of Robert E. Howard’s pulp adventures, but the writer created a whole host of fascinating heroes and heroines in his too-brief life. Among the classic REH characters being revitalized in Dark Horse’s “Savage Sword” anthology is Dark Agnes, or Agnes de Chastillon, a woman who fights back against her expected submissive role in society in 16th century France - with a sword.

And thus, I let my gruff masculine facade slip as I squeal like a little girl.

A little girl, I say.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Arrivederci, Dino: Dino de Laurentiis, 1919 - 2010

And so ends a controversial, but influential career.

De Laurentiis is certainly a divisive and polarizing figure. His vast resume is clear, and his financial input has led to many successful films, even some cult classics.  He's certainly well known for the many fantasy, science fiction and action-packed movies.  However, his infamous creative ideas have resulted in cinematic disasters like Dune, Orca, the first remake of King Kong and... well, let's just say his films' quality is all over the map.

Conan the Barbarian may well have suffered a similar fate if de Laurentiis had his way, with rumours of his desire for a pop soundtrack instead of Poledouris' phenomenal score scaring the bejeezus out of me.  Luckily, John Milius isn't the sort of guy to kowtow to Hollywood types - unluckily, it means he wasn't asked onboard for Conan the Destroyer, and Richard Fleischer seemed a lot more likely to adopt de Laurentiis' ideas.  What we got was a more family-friendly Conan - one that Roger Ebert seemed to advocate and even prefer over Conan the Barbarian - and arguably, one that led to the crashing halt of the Conan film franchise.  Then Red Sonja came along and soured Arnold on the very idea of doing new Conan movies.

It seems unfair to discuss the "warts and all" aspect of a man after his death, but in my mind, it just showed how powerful and influential he became.  He could make or break a film based on his input.  Sometimes his gambles paid off, sometimes they didn't: sometimes a film benefitted from his input, sometimes it didn't; sometimes he backed off and let a director do his thing, sometimes he didn't.

Whatever one thinks of the man's handling of beloved franchises like Dune, King Kong and, yes, Conan, it is clear that de Laurentiis had a part in the creation of some truly fantastic films.  Not only the magnificent, flawed, infuriating Conan the Barbarian, but the likes of Manhunter, Death Wish, Blue Velvet, Serpico, and others.  Truly a remarkable career.

The Conan Score That Could Have Been

Also a review, and a brief warning: lots of videos in this post.

Monday, 8 November 2010

An Urgent Appeal (Well, not *Urgent* but you know what I mean)

Things are heating up. I have a couple of projects going, and with the release of "Conan" being announced, at least one of them now has a set date.  However, I have one thing to ask, and it is linked to the Newcomer's Guide as well as The Secret Thing.

I'm looking for all the different permutations of Conan's "origin" story, and who can be credited for them.

Obviously, we have REH's as revealed in the P.S. Miller letter, but in addition...

 - Stone & Milius' for Conan the Barbarian, where Conan's parents are murdered by Thulsa Doom, his village is destroyed, he is sold into slavery, and pushes a wheel for 20 years
 - Harry Turtledove's for Conan of Venarium, where Conan's home has been conquered by Aquilonia and Conan leads the rebellion
 - Christy Marx's for Conan the Adventurer, where Conan's parents and grandfather are turned to stone by Wrath-Amon, and he embarks on a quest to restore them and defeat Wrath-Amon with his marvellous star metal sword along with his trusty sidekicks

 - Michael Higgins' for Conan the Barbarian #235, where Venarium is a hyper-futuristic city destroyed by sorcery
 - From the Conan the Cimmerian game, where Conan was living happily as a blacksmith with his wife in the sleepy village of Irskuld, until a group of horsemen under the command of Thoth-Amon raid the village, knock Conan out, murder his wife, butcher his friends, and ride away
 -  Dennis Richard & Charles Henry Fabian's for the Conan series, where Conan's homeland is enslaved by Hissah-Zuhl

 - Busiek's for "Born on the Battlefield," the only one that actually starts with REH's letter as a basis, albeit also making Conan a Chosen One responsible for the Aquilonian invasion
 - Doppenheimer's for "Conan,"where "Conan's" father is slain by Khalar Zym, his village is destroyed, and he manages to escape to embark on a life of vengeance/faffs about the Hyborian Age without really caring about the dude who wiped out his people until he comes across him years later

Have I missed any?

Friday, 5 November 2010

A good look at the pulps

Mark Finn directed me to this blog from Jess Nevins, a pulp historian, about the debt science fiction owes to the classic pulps.  Of particular note is this section:

Were pulps racist?
One common perception of the pulps which is not true is that they were exceptionally racist. Certainly, the pulps were racist. Numerous pulp stories featured overtly stereotyped characters, from anti-Asian Yellow Perils to subhuman black or native savages, and many other stories described worlds in which people with non-white skin didn't exist. The science fiction pulps were particularly bad in this regard, exceeded only by the romance pulps, which were the most egregious offenders. Racism is widespread in the pulps.
But it is not true that the pulps were exceptionally racist. Racism was common in the rest of American popular culture during the pulp era. The pulps were only marginally more racist than the slicks, or genre novels, or movies and radio, all of which commonly portrayed people of color in racist and bigoted ways.
In fact, pulps were often racially progressive. Many pulp stories were racist, but the pulps had people of color and female protagonists far more often than did the slicks, genre novels, and movies and radio programs. These characters were active in primarily-white environments and were portrayed as capable, efficient, and in as progressive and non-stereotypical a fashion as the author could manage. Moreover, most of these characters were portrayed as cowboys or detectives or big-game hunters first, and black or Chinese or Jamaican second or third. The characters were defined by their profession rather than their ethnicity, just as white characters were.

Anyone who's followed my discussion of REH's views on race will see where he's coming from.  That final paragraph rings particularly true.  Again, I look to my man Ace Jessel: a sympathetic, intelligent, good-natured, heroic boxing character, the main character of two stories, the only one of an author's many characters to be a world champion, who happens to be black - created by a young, white Texan, in 1929.

Isn't that much more worthy of note than his dime-a-dozen savage stereotypes?

Do not go to Spike Blogs - that way, madness lies!

I have no words.  Well I do have words, but they'd erupt in a blasphemous gibbering outpouring of unintelligible insanity.  I'll just let these reviews for The Film Whose Name We Do Not Speak say it for me. Points of interest shall be put in bold, while points of sheer unfathomable, unreasoning bafflement shall be put in red.  I have to think some of these were not written in English originally, resulting in some quite spectacular translation quirks.

Be warned, oh ye blessed folk who have not read this yet: madness this way lies.  It's too late for me, you can still make it!  Don't do it.  What ever you do, don't click that link!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Michael J. Bassett, Silent Hill, and Robert E. Howard

I've been quite critical of Michael Bassett's Solomon Kane in many regards. I even nominated him for the de Campista awards, which, in retrospect, I don't think was entirely deserved. Not because the changes he made to Kane's origin were any less objectionable, but because he did such a damn good job of praising Howard, without qualifiers or nonsense. His weird ideas on Solomon Kane's origins are an honest, artistic derivation, not one dictated by focus groups or trying to fit in with other stories he wrote. I'm not going to defend Solomon Kane as a Howard adaptation (which it isn't in the first place), but I know Bassett's heart was in the right place.

Anyway, Solomon Kane still hasn't hit North American theatres for reasons unimaginable, but Bassett's next adventure has been announced at Bleeding Cool - Bassett's writing and directing Silent Hill: Revelations, the sequel to the not-great-not-terrible Silent Hill.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Finally, Poledouris' Conan the Barbarian Gets It's Due

Thank you again, Google Alerts, for this piece of happy news!

I think canvassing Conan fans from every spectrum - the Howard diehards, the comics buffs, the pastiche experts, the movie aficionados, and everyone in between and encompassing multiples - would reveal that one of the few things almost every Conan fan would agree on is that the score for Conan the Barbarian is freaking fantastic.  I love it too.  I still can't fathom why it wasn't at least nominated for that year's Oscars - and much as I love E.T., that score had one jewel in the main theme: Conan the Barbarian's score was an entire crown studded with jewels.

However, the release of the soundtrack has been woefully incomplete thus far.  The original Milan soundtrack excluded a lot of great movements, and even the extended Varese Sarabande didn't have everything.  However, the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra are recording the entire score of Conan the Barbarian and releasing it on a two-disc set!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Io9's Eclectic Top 10 Monster Fighters

In lieu of a proper Samhain post, I'm just going to point to this Top Ten monster fighters from Io9.  Considering how many different characters could be considered "monster fighters," this was always going to be a somewhat arbitrary list.  They have the Winchesters, but wouldn't Mulder & Scully be equally appropriate?  They have room for Sheriff Eben and Van Helsing (who, while awesome, is not the Vampire Hunter later fiction depicts him being) but not Solomon Kane or freaking Beowulf?  Ah well.

I think I'm ready to leave a hint about The Secret Thing: I have ten months left in which to complete it.

Happy Hallowe'en, folks!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Arnold Might Return

LOS ANGELES (BNO NEWS) -- California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday hinted on a possible return to the big screen after recently meeting with the director of the "Terminator."

Schwarzenegger, 63, will be leaving office next week as he is unable to seek re-election for a third term as governor. On Tuesday, Schwarzenegger wrote on Twitter that he recently met with award-winning movie director and writer James Cameron.

Last week, Schwarzenegger was asked if he would return to the big screen after leaving office. "It depends," he said. "If someone comes with a great script, with a great idea. Will I still have the patience to sit on the set and do a movie for three months? I don't know," said Schwarzenegger, who has also expressed interest in writing a book.

My response to the inevitable "He Should Totally Make King Conan: Crown of Iron" rumours

This is not about revenge-


-this is about saving the future of Conan!

"Al, let Arnold return to the damn role!"

I will not sacrifice a true Conan film. We've made too many compromises already, too many concessions. They make Conan the Destroyer, and we fall back. They make Conan the Adventurer, and we fall back.

And I will make them pay for what they've done to Conan!

(Disclaimer: if you can't see the humour in the above post, then I can't help you)

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Somebody call Scott Oden!

He'll know what to do.

Orcs Orcs Orcs are battle ready, ugly, peeved and pouring out of the mountain to wreak havoc and destruction on outdoor enthusiasts and eventually all of mankind. Our collective fates lie in the hands of our hero trio; a couple of bumbling but well-meaning park rangers and Katie, a hot and feisty, over-the-top environmentalist.

So, a film called Orcs! Which has an exclamation mark at the end.  For emphasis, no doubt.

This is either right up Scott's alley, or his worst nightmare.

(Also, an update: you may have noticed I've been a bit less frequent in my postings.  This is due to work on the Newcomer's Guide, as well as The Secret Thing, and half a dozen other items and articles.  Truly I have created a monster...)

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Newcomer's Guide to REH: Preview

Remember how I said I was doing something about the New Manifesto? Well, here's a preview. About the same time that Mark Finn was writing his New Manifesto, I'd been creating my own attempt at forming an introduction to newcomers of Robert E. Howard and his work. This will always be a work in progress, as there's always a new discovery, perspective or explanation for the mysteries and intricacies of the Man from Cross Plains' life and art. It's basically taking some of the elements of the Manifesto and adding my own thoughts and expansions, and footnotes/annotations/citations will be added when I can track them down. Since the article's quite long, I'm going to try and figure out hyperlinks like on a wiki too.

The Newcomer's Guide will also be less confrontational than the New Manifesto for a very specific reason: covering all bases. Some people will be convinced to reassert their beliefs through reevaluation in the face of righteous indignation, while others will simply write off the New Manifesto as the rantings of a sensitive fanboy. Therefore, I think it important to have two approaches. I don't disagree with Mark on any of his assertions, but that doesn't mean Mark, or any one man, can speak for all of REH Fandom, who have opinions, beliefs and interpretations as varied as any fandom could have. As the great Rusty Burke said, getting Howard fans to agree on something "is like herding cats. Big nasty saber-tooth cats."

Think of Mark Finn's New Manifesto as the bad cop, and Newcomer's Guide as the good cop.

Remember, this is still quite incomplete: I just want to give everyone an idea of what the finished article would be like.  There are some glaring omissions I'm having trouble with (particularly the "hot topics" like racism, sexism, alleged Oedipus Complex, homoeroticism and whatnot) but most of the big stuff is there.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Well, we all knew this would happen.

As for love of Truth, it never occurred to me to doubt that you were motivated by a desire to establish truth. I supposed it was a fact that everybody took for granted, that the aim of every intelligent man was Truth. I knew it was your aim, and it did not occur to me to make the formal statement that my aims were similar. I did not suppose it was necessary.
- Robert E. Howard, letter to H.P. Lovecraft, January 1935

Mark Finn's New Manifesto was bound to rankle some folks, but the net had been unusually quiet.

But fear not, for James Nicoll has come to the rescue with a post called "By Crom, they seem thin-skinned." If you met some of us in person, you'd find that very little about a substantial subset of Howard fans can be called "thin." But I kid.

We get the usual sort of gems, like mistaking what the Manifesto was about (that apparently Mark is rallying against literary criticism when it's quite clear that he's rallying against bad literary criticism), a deCampista leaping to the Spraguester's defense (in the form of James Enge, who wrote a review of Almuric that utterly beggars belief in some respects), and the pop culture reference posing as gag (Leave Brit Robert Alone! please (sob)).

It's a shame most of the criticism of Mark's piece is essentially a misunderstanding of what it was all about.  As is clear in the article, Mark is not against new ideas on Howard's writing and their approach to sex, gender, race, class and whatnot.  What he is against is the silly nonsense based on absolutely no concrete foundations that somehow get touted as fact.  It isn't about being unable to cope with criticism of REH as a man and an author - it's about not putting up with inaccuracy and shoddy or non-existent research.

The New Manifesto is not just about defending REH from those meanies who throw silly insults his way, or come up with crazy ideas about his work: it's about establishing the truth.  Even if you don't know, like or care about Robert E. Howard and his work, surely one can sympathise with the desire to lift the obfuscating veil of rumour and groundless speculation to reveal the light of knowledge and truth?

But then, failing - or even refusing - to understand things is the hallmark of the deCampista.

There seems to be a conviction among modems that anything which seems to fall outside the narrow lines of their personal experience is impossible. They are like colorblind men who deny the existence of colors because they are unable to detect them. Like you, I prefer an open mind. I do not think that I have such a grasp on cosmic truth that a thing is necessarily false because I fail to understand the reason of it; I am willing to believe that things very possibly may exist outside my limited range of comprehension.
- Robert E. Howard, Letter to Clark Ashton Smith, 14th December, 1933

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

I get a mention on Topless Robot


Why? Well one of my childhood creations was considered among the Nerdiest by editor Rob Bricken.

Now I remember why I don't do as many story/memory/recollection-based contests as I used to. It's because they're pure agony for me to decide a winner. Seriously, out of 375 comments -- many of which were just people replying to each other -- I had 75 Honorable Mentions my first go-through, and that's while I was trying to be selective. It's not inaccurate to say that I thought 80% of the entries were good enough to be HMs, so please, if your entry doesn't appear in the 30 I managed to winnow it down to, please know that chances are I loved it anyways.

Here's the entry, which was in reply to a chap calling himself Dr Shoggoth.

Dr. Shoggoth said:
When I was a kid, I drew dinosaurs. So do a lot of kids. But hundreds of my dinosaurs were fictional. Inspired perhaps by the book "The New Dinosaurs", I invented a huge world where dinosaurs didn't go extinct, and my character was the daring boy naturalist who could travel to this world and catalog them all. My fake dinosaurs had natural enemies, predator/prey relationships, favored habitats and ecologies. But the kicker? Each species also had a correctly conjugated, accurate Latin name.
Al Harron replied to Dr. Shoggoth:
My brother... I must embrace you, for I did exactly the same thing. Complete with latin names, ecosystem, predator-prey relationships etc. I think I was also inspired by Dougal Dixon. Man, I have to go track down my pictures. Most of them were sauropods, 'cause I love sauropods. Especially diplodocids, because I felt they were underrepresented in The New Dinosaurs (stupid Titanosaurs...)
Babbletrish replied to Al Harron:
I, too, had a whole imaginary ecosystem that lived in my algebra notebooks, and it's largely Dougal Dixon's fault. The again, his deeply strange speculative biology books *did* get me interested in creature design. Good to see there are other fans of these books out there.

Making up Latin classification names for made-up dinosaurs? You guys are my heroes.

Whee, I'm all aflush with nerd pride.

Well, one of these days I'll get around to my fantasy dinosaur species on TBTTF. What's more astonishing to me is that no new dinosaur discovered since my preciocious childhood has actually used one of the names I made up. I don't know whether that's good or bad, but considering some of the names of new dinosaurs are just cringe-enducing (Dracorex hogwartsia anyone?) perhaps that's for the best. Still, there's always hope they find a new sauropod and finally call it Brontorex.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

HPLHS's The Whisperer in Darkness

This is seriously awesome stuff.  That Mi-Go is unlike any others I've seen, and it's great.  The acting's pretty solid across the board, too.  It looks like a most worthy successor to Call of Cthulhu.

The only thing working against it is that the team seems to love their CGI Mi-Go so much that it's in danger of being over-exposed.  Lovecraftian horrors work best with suggestion, where you never really get a good look at them: glimpses of Things That Should Not Be.  Think of how effective the supernatural menace of Night of the Demon was (assuming you walked into the theatre five minutes late and thus didn't have the film spoiled by the early reveal), or the xenomorph in Alien, specifically because so little of them was shown.  As such, I hope the Mi-Go aren't seen quite as often as the trailer suggests.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Robert E. Howard: A New Manifesto

(The following is a special message from none other than Mark Finn.  It will be proliferated on various websites as a measure to increase awareness on Howard, Howard scholarship and newcomers to the world of Robert E. Howard.  I encourage all who read this to forward it to anyone and everyone who needs to read it. Click on "But Wait, There's More" for more details on the Manifesto from Mark.)

Why a New Manifesto?
In the past twelve months, I've seen several rounds of speculation from various bloggers lately, two of which were the equivalent of Internet train wreaks that ended rather badly, despite everyone’s avowed intentions. In the interest of using the Internet as an actual research tool, I have written this manifesto on behalf of the fans and interested parties in the life and works of Robert E. Howard, as a guide to the person or persons who are new to Howard studies, or perhaps would like to write an article, essay, or blog post about him. If you’d like to delve deeper into the history and current state of Howard studies, and get some advice for participating in the debate, click on the link at the end of this Manifesto.

A New Robert E. Howard Manifesto
I am a fan of Robert E. Howard, the Texas author who created a multitude of unique characters, wrote original and inventive fiction, defined the genre of epic fantasy as we understand it, and inspired me to become a professional writer. There are tens of thousands of other fans just like myself. As fans of Robert E. Howard and his works, we are interested in reading more about our favorite author. We are interested in sharing and exchanging new ideas about his life and work, and we actively seek out these new ideas online, in print, and elsewhere.

What we do not want to see are semi-uninformed retreads of the same discussions that were in vogue circa 1984. The field of Howard Studies is alive and well, with new discoveries and voices appearing all the time.  Interest in the author is high and remains so. If you have a thought or an opinion, even a controversial or untested one, and want to share it with the world at large, we encourage that you do so.

We expect responsibility and accountability on your part. We are not interested in your grand pronouncement on a subject which has yet to be settled by people who have spent decades studying the issue at hand. We expect you to do your homework. There are a number of websites and literally stacks of new books that likely cover or answer most of your questions regarding Robert E. Howard. To not utilize those sources when doing your research smacks of willful ignorance and will not be tolerated by the fans of Robert E. Howard. 

If you want to write a review about how much you didn’t like Kull: Exile of Atlantis, have at it. Take it apart for any and all textual reasons you choose to invoke. We may not agree because Howard’s work isn’t for everyone, and we understand that. But the minute you start bringing Robert E. Howard’s life story into your Kull review, it will garner a much more careful reading, and if you don’t have your facts straight, or your opinions backed up by same, then we will call you on it.

The online Robert E. Howard fanbase calls itself the “Shield Wall.” Some writers who have been on the business end of the Shield Wall’s attacks have accused us of being bullies and overly-obsessed for the protective stance we take. While it is not our intention to bully anyone, and while we may get a little carried away on occasion, let me be very clear here as to why this is so: Robert E. Howard has not had a voice for 75 years now. For four decades after his death, he had very few advocates who would defend him against the libel and slander of those who stood to profit from his work. He has been misunderstood and misrepresented for years. The Shield Wall’s goal has been to stop in its entirety the kind of character assassination employed by L. Sprague de Camp and others who would adopt his methodology. 

Consider this a challenge to survey the amount of work that has been done in Howard Studies in the last ten years alone and then try to come up with your own take on a topic or angle of discussion that has not been beaten to death. Do not make the mistake that so many others have made; just because Robert E. Howard isn’t considered a “classic” author by the literary establishment that you can beat his literary reputation (or his personal life) like a rented mule and you will not get kicked for your efforts.

We expect you to accord Robert E. Howard the same respect as any other 20th century American author with continued and perennial popularity. No more back handed compliments. No more snide insinuations. No more rampant and irresponsible speculation with no basis of fact or evidence to bolster it. And for God’s Sake, no more “oedipal complex” crap, either. Those theories are thirty years out of date, and we are sick and tired of seeing it. Give us something new, or keep your parochial and backwards thinking to yourself. 

Mark Finn
Author of Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard
And Commander of the Texas Shield Wall

Roy Thomas on the history of Conan in comics

Way back when Thomas' return to Conan was announced, I had certain thoughts on the matter.  In retrospect, I'm a bit more appreciative of Thomas returning when we have blasted Jones to contend with, but even so, there's the worry of whether Thomas can gel with the current Dark Horse Conan.

So we get an interview where Thomas briefly recounts the history of Conan in the comics.  It's a very good read, with some very interesting morsels to ruminate over.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

"Never mind that $£!% - Here Comes Tubœuf!"

Apparently, horse punching (known as horse breaking) was common enough in Vienna that they started making statues of the occurence.

This post on Swords and Dorkery puts forward a possible origin for the infamous camel slugging scene in Conan the Barbarian.  As you're all no doubt sick of hearing, I really don't like that scene for many reasons, but the idea of there being a historical context intrigues me nonetheless.  After all, there are plenty of historical references and allusions in Conan the Barbarian, perhaps there's something to it.

Well, apart from Blazing Saddles.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

"Historically Crazy" and Conan games

Earlier this week, I considered writing about the Conan games that have come out over the years. The problem with that is they were all by and large horrible games, and two publishers released better Conan games the games actually based on the Conan stories. I'm sure the historically crazy Robert E. Howard wouldn't have wanted his hallucinations converted into horrible video games, but alas, they were.

From 8-Bit Animal's post on the Conan games.  I have to wonder exactly what "historically crazy" actually means.  Is it used in the same way as "legendarily crazy"?  Does he mean that the historical person was crazy, as opposed to the popular mythic figure?  Does he mean that he would be considered crazy through the lens of history?  What a strange thing to say.  The reference to "hallucinations" makes me suspect that 8-Bit Animal has only seen "Conan Unchained," with the infamous interview with Milius, where he claims that Howard really believed that the ghost of Conan came to him at night, and he had to write them down.  It's a cool idea for a horror-dark fantasy story, but it ain't true.

For posterity, here's my response:

By the use of the term "hallucinations" I'm guessing you've seen "Conan Unchained," where Howard was presented as a paranoid barely-functioning nutcase who believed Conan's ghost was coming to him late at night to dictate his stories to him. That's a massive misinterpretation of what he actually said in his letters, where he was using similes to describe how writing Conan was so natural it was "as IF" his ghost was present. There's no evidence of Howard actually having hallucinations of a long-dead warrior king.

I'd suggest you read Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, or at least Rusty Burke's "Short Biography of Robert E. Howard." Howard studies has made leaps and bounds over the last few decades, and commonly held "facts" have been soundly debunked. Howard was eccentric, true - what writer isn't? - but he's hardly "historically crazy." 

Anyway, it got me to wondering about Conan in videogames in general.  Perhaps I'll do a review of them some time down the line, or at least an overview.  The long-lived (by internet standards) and very cool site Conan the Digital has information about all the Conan games, though I don't think all of them are easy to attain, and some are quite infamously bad. Conan: Mysteries of Time is even considered one of the worst games of all time. That's frightening.

Of the games, I've only played two: 2004's Conan: The Dark Axe and 2007's Conan.  Both were rather substandard games, the latter better in terms of gameplay, but a lot shorter and far less satisfying an experience.  Both wrought havoc on Robert E. Howard's creation in different ways, though both are (marginally) closer to Howard than Conan the Barbarian or any of the television series.  It's been a while since I played both, though.  Another playthrough may be in order.

However, now that I have a shiny new laptop (4 GB RAM, 2.27GHZ processor, 450 GB Hard Drive) I might - might - be able to run the big one.  Yes... Age of Conan.  All I need to do is get my internet worked out, and Taranaich of Cimmeria may make his first encursion into this strange universe...

Friday, 15 October 2010

Conan Continuity Conundrum

The above graphic shows all the different continuities within Transformers fiction.  As you can see, it's a mite complicated: there are quite literally dozens of different universes all coalescing, coexisting and frequently conflicting with each other.

This got me to consider the state of Conan.  As we all know, there are dozens of Conan continuities out there, with many relations and conflicts with each other.  Depending on which continuity you're talking, Conan's parents are either alive or dead (or turned to stone) and the age of Conan at the time of their deaths can be different.  Even their names can be multiple choice.

Thus, I feel it might be helpful to create a "Conan Multiverse" system for future reference.

So far, I think I have the following.

Robert E. Howard Stories
Lancer/Ace Pastiches
Bantam Pastiches (includes REH/Lancer/Ace)
Tor Pastiches (includes REH/Lancer/Ace)

Conan the Barbarian Comics
"What If" (each comic occupies its own universe)
Savage Sword of Conan Comics
Conan Newspaper Comics
Conan the Adventurer
Conan (1996)
Conan the Savage
Conan the Barbarian Movie Special
Conan Dark Horse Comics

Cinema & Television
Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Destroyer (because CtD is often ignored, and would be ignored by Milius for King Conan, I feel it might be considered a "branching" continuity from Conan the Barbarian)
Red Sonja (assuming that Kalidor is in fact an assumed name for Conan, just for fun)
Conan the Adventurer - Animated
Conan & the Young Warriors
Conan the Adventurer - Live Action

Video Games
Conan: Hall of Volta
Conan: The Mysteries of Time
Conan the Cimmerian
Conan: The Dark Axe
Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures

There are some things I'm unclear on, such as the Marvel graphic novels, the Conan the Barbarian miniseries, and Giant-Sized Conan - do they occupy their own universes, or should they be considered extension of the existing Marvel comics? There's also the matter of a universe drawing on two disparate ones: Conan the Adventurer, for instance, draws upon the comics and the films.

If any of the chaps with more knowledge of the lesser-known Conan universe, let me know!

How wrong can one reporter be?

I generally try to get the word of Conan and Howard out there. Having a blog is great, but it can quickly become preaching to the choir.  You guys all know my grievances, and I sometimes feel like I'm repeating myself.  So, whenever I feel it worthwhile, I make a point of clarifying errors and mistakes wherever I see them.  Most people are fairly appreciative, while others are just silent.  Yet occassionally I run into... others.  Such as one Martyn Conterio.

Now, I have provided two versions of the article.  This is the article as it appears on the site now:

Marcus Nispel has spent a good majority of this year working on his Conan The Barbarian reboot out in sunny Bulgaria. There’s been plenty of stills knocking around these past few months but none like the ones here, which show off the beautiful lighting, art direction and costume design.
Conan will be released worldwide in 2011 and Nispel’s $90 million dollars sword, sorcery and sandals epic could be a great slice of b-movie heaven… we hope. Television actor Jason Momoa won the role of the Cimmerian blacksmith’s lad forced into human bondage after his village is wiped out by some mean bastards.
Filling out the cast alongside Momoa is Stephen Lang as villain Khalar Zym, Ron Perlman, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan and Saïd Taghmaoui.
Conan The Barbarian is based upon fantasy writer Robert E. Howard’s 1930s series and in the 1980s launched Arnold Schwarzenegger on the road to stardom in John Milius’s 1982 epic. Arnie followed up the original with Conan The Destroyer in 1984.
You may recall Rose McGowan was much touted to play the flame-haired lady warrior in a reboot by Robert Rodriguez, but the project is currently languishing in development with other lost movie souls. In Nispel’s film she plays the character Tamara.
Conan The Barbarian is undergoing 3D cosmetic surgery. Shame that. 

Now here's the article as it originally appeared, with my corrections.

Marcus Nispel has spent a good majority of this year working on his Conan The Barbarian reboot out in sunny Bulgaria. There’s been plenty of stills knocking around these past few months but none like the ones here, which show off the beautiful lighting, art direction and costume design.

Conan will be released worldwide in 2011 and Nispel’s $90 million dollars sword, sorcery and sandals epic could be a great slice of b-movie heaven… we hope. Television actor Jason Momoa won the role of the Cimmerian prince forced into human bondage after his village is wiped out by some mean bastards.
Filling out the cast alongside Momoa is Stephen Lang as villain Khalar Zym, Ron Perlman, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan and Saïd Taghmaoui.

Conan The Barbarian is based upon fantasy writer Robert E. Howard’s 1930s series and in the 1980s launched Arnold Schwarzenegger on the road to stardom in John Milius’s 1982 epic. Arnie followed up the original with Conan The Destroyer in 1984, which introduced the character of Red Sonja to proceedings.

You may recall Rose McGowan was much touted to play the flame-haired lady warrior in a reboot by Robert Rodriguez, but the project is currently languishing in development with other lost movie souls. In Nispel’s film she plays the character Tamara.

Conan The Barbarian is undergoing 3D cosmetic surgery. Shame that.

Notice the differences?  Now, I had responded to the article in its original form, and - in my own placid, unconfrontational style - corrected Martyn on those points. I also noted that it was Rachel Nichols who plays Tamara, not Rose McGowan, who plays Marique.  Happily, Martyn appears to have taken these suggestions aboard.  Unhappily, not only was my comment not published, but...

Now that's just a bit rude, isn't it?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Sideshow Collectibles' Conan:The Prize

When Sideshow got the Conan license I thought it was for the MOVIES. You know, Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer.
But since the first release with that great portrait of Arnold, we've had everything BUT products from the movie.
I mean the dioramas are nice but isn't there a wealth of source material from Conan the Barbarian alone?
I'm much more interested in future PFs of Arnold in various other poses or even some of the villains. 
What's the problem? Do they think it won't sell?
- DFChang on Statue Forum. His tagline: "Artificial Intelligence usually beats real stupidity." Ain't that the truth?

Conan statues are a mixed bunch.  There are some really nice ones - the Frazetta ones, for instance, are pretty top notch, but it's pretty hard to mess up Frazetta - and there are some that I don't particularly care for. I don't actually own any Conan statues, mostly since none have really made enough of an impression on me to think "I must possess this depiction of Robert E. Howard's creation."

Mostly because many of them... well, they're interpretations of interpretations. Statues of Frazetta's Conan, Buscema's Conan, Arnold's Conan - very few seem to depict Howard's Conan without being viewed through the lense of an illustrator or adaptation. This bothers me: surely a completely new interpretation of Howard's character, free from the influence of other visions, would be pretty cool?

It seemed Sideshow Collectibles felt the same, hence Conan: The Prize.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Metal Barbarian Dinosaur Comics #1: Dream That Impossible Dream

Well, my first comic - well, not my first, but the first with any degree of professionalism, and certainly the first I like enough to put on the internet - is online, along with work from my fellows, at the Greenock Comics Book page!  Be sure to check out 'The Gun,' the worst - by which I mean best - superhero ever.

But however will you know what it is, when you don't click?

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Andrew Marr on Blogging

This isn't really to do with any of the usual fare of TBTTF, but since it regards the very nature of blogging, I feel it worth discussing.

A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting. They are very angry people. 

What young men has Andy been hanging around with, if he categorizes them as "bald" and "cauliflower-nosed"?  What does social competence, complexion, relationship status and housing have to do with their arguments anyway?  Hell, what does baldness have to do with it?  Doesn't seem to cause Andy any problems.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Thomas Ellison Is Not Well: Robert E. Howard and Norman Bates

So, we've had Howard compared to Tweedledum, Al Capone, and now Norman Bates.

Of course!  How could I not see it before!

Oh, that's right...

Robert Bloch was inspired to write Psycho after reading about Ed Gein’s exploits but I contend parts of the novel were inspired by Robert E. Howard’s last days as chief caregiver for his sick mother.  In Chapter Nine, Norman Bates realizes he will always be mommy’s little boy.  The only time Norman feels like a somebody is when he’s lost in a book.  Robert E. Howard could never escape being mommy’s little boy, either.  When he was writing for pulp mags or letters to friends, Howard was Two-Gun Bob, Terror of Cross Plains.  Howard had fans, admirers, and editors who wanted to publish his stories.  But in the end, Howard was just Hester Howard’s frightened little boy.  On June 11 1936, Robert E. Howard shot himself moments after he learned his mother would never awaken from a coma.  Why did the creator of Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, and many other characters end his life when he was so close to being free from the burden that had crippled his writing for so long?  Maybe Norman Bates is right  when he says “I think perhaps all of us go a little crazy at times.”

Lovely.  I don't see this ending up badly at all.  That said, I can see how someone could make the Bates-Howard connection if one bases it on Bloch's misconception of Howard the Oedipal, but it's clear that Thomas Ellison is saying that Bloch was basing it on fact, not misconception.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Keeping up with the Grinses

I miss Leo quite a bit.  I remember clicking on The Cimmerian, eager to read his latest news from the world of Howardom, or Tolkienalia, or Dunsanya.  I've been reading his essays in The Cimmerian journal, and I'm really rather saddened that he hasn't been around for such a while.

Luckily, though, Leo hasn't completely skipped planets, as he can be found at Big Hollywood.  Leo never made the connection between his work at TC with his work at BH, and for good reason: Big Hollywood is a site for conservative movie lovers.  Given how powerfully divisive politics can be in America - as circumstantially portrayed at TC itself, where John J. Miller, a writer and Howard fan who just happened to be a proud conservative, had his books "one-star bombed" at for the simple reason that his politics are not the same as another group's politics - this was unquestionably a choice for the better.  I would've hated for TC to be the recipient of such childish, petty antics, regardless of what I think of an author's political stance.

But this blog isn't TC, and I since I'm not an American, my opinions on the American political spectrum hopefully won't attract too much attention.  Not that I'm going to comment on them, of course: this blog is a politics-free zone.  There are enough things to disagree about within the realms of fiction without hauling deeply-set fundamental beliefs into it.

Anyway, reading up on Big Hollywood has allowed me a way of keeping up with Leo, and reminding me that he hasn't stalked off into the wilderness to hunt and forage.  So I come to my latest linkage and thinkage, as Leo discusses something that had been bothering me for a while: the treatment of vampires and other supernatural horrors linked with Christianity in cinema and television in recent years.