Monday, 31 January 2011

In Memory of Gordon R. Dickson

Januaries are a stacked month when it comes to famous author's birthdays. I remembered Tolkien, Howard and Smith, but I completely forgot Asimov, Poe, London and Merritt's birthdays, C.L. Moore's centennial, and I've just discovered I barely missed Lloyd Alexander's, which was yesterday. I also missed the anniversary of Rudyard Kipling's death, and Walter M. Miller's birthday and death. Well, no more: I'm setting a calender for important dates to ensure this doesn't happen again.  Even if it's a simple line or picture, I refuse to let my favourite authors' days of celebration and remembrance go unnoticed any longer.

And, just to prove this rule, I'm going to celebrate an author I don't think I've ever actually talked about on the blog: Gordon R. Dickson, who died ten years ago today.

Saoirse Ronan in The Hobbit?

Man, I am incredibly torn here. Saoirse Ronan in The Hobbit, likely as Itaril.

On the one hand, to Hades with Itaril. I already commented on this horrible character, but I just ask you to look at the description in its entirety:

ITARIL – female, A woodland Elf, this character is one the Silvan Elves. The Silvan Elves are seen as more earthy and practical. Shorter than other elves, she is still quick and lithe and physically adept, being able to fight with both sword and bow. Showing promise as a fighter at a young age, ITARIL was chosen to train to become part of the Woodland King’s Guard. This is the only life she has ever expected to live, until she meets and secretly falls in love with a young ELF LORD. This role will require a wig and contact lenses to be worn. Some prosthetic make-up may also be required. LEAD. AGE: 17-27.

This is Jackson/Walsh/Boyens fan fiction, pure and simple. For crying out loud, could this be any worse of an awful fan insert? I fully expect Arwen Mark II: a girl who's underestimated by The Man, yet manages to show more pluck and competence than half the men around her. Bonus points if her love with the Hot Young Elf Lord is looked down upon by her domineering, curmudgeonly father.

On the other hand... I really love Saoirse Ronan, even though I've only seen her in two films: City of Ember (an extremely underrated and under-watched post-apocalyptic film) and Atonement. I was struck by how accomplished and beguiling a young actress she was, far better than I was expecting. She's simply amazing, and I see her destined for greatness as an adult.  I really must try to catch The Lovely Bones, and, depressingly, I think I just missed The Way Back in the cinemas.  Anyone know a cinema still showing it in Scotland?  Anyone at all?

All said and done, if there's any young actress who could get me to grit my teeth through the nonsense of Itaril, then Saoirse may well be the one to do it. Now, if only they could get Ron Perlman for Beorn...

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Charles Saunders on the Heimdall Hullaballoo

You'll probably notice by my Facebook picture that my skin colour is in the single digits of the Von Luschan chromatic scale, and so my recent comments about Idris Elba as Heimdall are, obviously enough, from the perspective of a white dude.  How could they not be?  I can't exactly get a melanin transfusion, can I?  Even though I'd like to think I have some knowledge and experience of black culture, mythology, and history through contact with my aunt and a few other acquaintances, the fact of the matter is a white dude talking about a black dude playing a white dude is a very specific perspective on a subject with very different perspectives.

However, Charles Saunders, a man who can comment on racial matters from the black dude's point of view, has decided to leap into the fray regarding black Heimdall on his blog, with a very interesting observation regarding Amazons. I won't spoil it, because it's a revelation I'm somewhat stunned by: suffice to say, racebending was even in effect in the 1980s.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Seven more things I want to see in the new Conan game

The Battle of Venarium as the tutorial level, please.

Since Mr Holmes of Destructoid's wishes amount to pretty much "if it was in Conan the Barbarian, stick it in," I thought I'd give my ideas, continued!

Friday, 28 January 2011

Ralph Bakshi's Conan the Barbarian?

I came across this rather interesting little snippet a while back:

"See," he says, "I really wanted to do 'Conan the Barbarian'. Oliver Stone, who is a friend, wrote it and wanted me to direct. But we had to get Arnold Schwarzenegger's approval."

The trio met for drinks to discuss the movie. "And wouldn't you know it," says Bakshi, "I had one too many scotches and offended Arnold by saying, 'Arnold, if I direct this picture, you have to lose weight. You're just too big.'"

Arnold was not amused, and John Milius got the job. "John called me up and thanked me for my stupidity. And of course, it was a bad picture because Arnold was just too big."

What makes this especially baffling is that Arnold did lose weight for the film, because his muscles were impeding movement.  Look at the difference between Conan the Barbarian's fight scenes, and those in Conan the Destroyer, and consider Arnold was pushing it in Barbarian already. It's somewhat perplexing that Bakshi would be fired for doing something Milius would end up doing anyway.

I'm not sure if that's poorly-translated sarcasm in the last sentence or not, but it would be silly to assert Conan the Barbarian was a bad picture purely on the fact that Arnold was already awfully big.

While Bakshi's obviously quite experienced in live-action filmmaking, he never seemed more at home than when he was doing animation. Well, I think we can all imagine what Ralph Bakshi's animated Conan the Barbarian would've been like:

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Seven real eastern swords that would be cooler than Khalar Zym's

Double bladed, parallel scimitar.  That can break into a scythe.

I'm not including some of the beautiful historical curved swords like the Talwar, Yataghan or Shamshir, because I wanted to show that there are even more unusual weapons that would make visually striking arms in a Conan movie.

Well, obviously, I wouldn't be making this movie at all, but just because I'm stunned by the mere idea of a Double Bladed Parallel Scimitar, I think it's worth exploring the more exotic blades of the East which were actually used.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Filmgoer's Guide to Conan the Barbarian (1982): Conan's Early Life

... a BOY of about nine... The boy's dark eyes gleam like pools of oil... His eyes are piercing blue, the eyes of a barbarian child, already toughened by the harsh climate and the ways of the forest...
 - Description of nine-year-old Conan, Conan the Barbarian (1980 revision)

Conan is seen at the beginning of Conan the Barbarian, where he is nine years old. He has a close relationship with his father, who took him to pick wild blueberries since he was four or five. When Conan is nine, his father teaches him of his gods, and the enigma of Steel. On one fateful day, a horde of raiders come to Conan's village, decimating the populace and torching the buildings. No mercy is shown, not even to the women, and the few men brave enough to fight back are slaughtered - including Conan's father, who is slain before his son's eyes.

The slaughter is over almost as soon as it began: only the children, clinging to their mother's corpses or mewling pitably, remain - save one adult. Conan's mother, sword in hand, is defending Conan against the armoured warriors. Then a great, mysterious warrior - Thulsa Doom - dismounts, and seemingly entrances Conan's mother. She drops her sword to her side, and Doom beheads her. Conan can do nothing but watch, staring dumbly as his world is destroyed, and offers no resistance when he is locked in a chain gang with the other Cimmerian children. He is marched across hills, mountains, valleys and plains, until he arrives at the Wheel of Pain. There he is chained to a spoke, and forced to push this monstrous contraption. His childhood ends in chains.

Is this an accurate extrapolation of the clues Robert E. Howard left us regarding Conan's younger days?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Belated Birthdays for Merritt and Moore

I've gone and missed both their birthdays. I can't believe I didn't remember. Some fan I am.  It's even more ridiculous considering yesterday was Moore's Centenary.  I wish I could blame something like work or exciting things (there is an exciting thing coming up, but I'm not going to talk about it until it's ready), but really, the least I could've done was a tip of the glass.

To make up for it, I'll point to more observant fans: James Maliszewski, Shane Mangus, Lagomorph, and John O'Neil all posted little tributes.  A perfect example of how criminally under-appreciated Moore is: where's the Official C. L. Moore Forums?  Where's Jirel's atrocious adaptation that makes a hash of her origin and motivations?  Where's Northwest Smith's beautifully illustrated and sometimes problematic comic series?  She deserves so much more than this.

Return of Jody Samson


Conan the Barbarian Comes Back To Albion

New Glarus, Wisconsin - The Atlantean Sword, The Master’s Sword and other high-end collectible favorites from 1982’s “Conan the Barbarian” will be available again to eager fans, after a hiatus of several years. Albion Swords Ltd and Paradox Entertainment announced today that they have entered into a new license contract for those famous swords, as well as unique new items from the upcoming film, also called “Conan the Barbarian”.
“We are thrilled to be part of the Conan team again,” said Amy Christensen-Waddell, President and CEO of Albion Swords Ltd, LLC. “Conan is a very exciting and growing franchise, and we look forward to playing our small part in the Conan saga once again.”
“It is with pleasure we welcome Albion Swords back as a licensee, especially with the new movie in the making, from which they can bring new collectibles to their connoisseur customer base,” said Fredrik Malmberg, President and CEO of Paradox Entertainment Inc.“
The Atlantean Sword is arguably the most recognizable weapon in film history. Arnold Schwarzenegger, star of the film and former Governor of California, bought dozens of the recreated swords from Albion under the previous contract.
From 2001 to 2007, Albion Swords Ltd, LLC produced the swords from the first Conan film under a sublicense from Paradox Entertainment. Jody Samson, legendary artist, knife and sword maker, joined the team in 2001, moving his personal shop from Burbank, California, to New Glarus, Wisconsin. Jody made the original swords for the 1982 film and taught the artisans at Albion the ins and outs of recreating these landmark weapons. Jody passed away in 2008, but his legacy lives on at the small swordmaking company in Wisconsin.
The new Conan the Barbarian film is slated for an August 19, 2011, release and features Jason Momoa as Conan. Also featuring are Stephen Lang, Ron Perlman, Rachel Nichols and Rose McGowan.
About Albion Swords Ltd, LLC
Albion is the leading manufacturer of historically accurate and functional Medieval and Fantasy swords, catering to discriminating collectors and reenactors worldwide through its websites: and Albion is based in New Glarus, Wisconsin, and has a European distributor, Albion Europe (, based in Sweden.
About Paradox Entertainment Inc.
PEI and its subsidiaries own, develop and license mainly character-based properties. The companies control the rights to stories and characters created by pulp author Robert E. Howard, including Conan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn and Solomon Kane. Industries exploiting the company property portfolio include film/TV, publishing, comics, videogame, Internet/mobile/wireless, toys, apparel, and more. PEI is based in Beverly Hills, California and is owned by Paradox Entertainment AB, a Swedish public company traded on the NASDAQ OMX-run First North Premier list (PDXE, SE0000598054). For more information, go to

Well folks, I guess it was inevitable. You know what that means - Double Bladed Parallel Scimitar that breaks apart into a Scythe!

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Second Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains: Howard Days 2011

After the monumental success of the Scottish Five's cross-continental expedition, it would only be a matter of months before it was repeated.  12, to be exact.  Bill "Indy" Cavalier has posted an update on Howard Days 2011.  Excitement!

This year, under the sponsorship of The Robert E. Howard Foundation and Project Pride of Cross Plains, with assistance from the Robert E. Howard United Press Association, our “theme” is all about Howard History. 2011 marks four unique anniversaries upon which will will devote our festivities. Cross Plains, Texas is already celebrating it’s 100th anniversary as an incorporated town (you can follow this on Facebook right now), it’s the 75th year of honoring the Legacy of REH, it’s the 50th anniversary of Glenn Lord’s benchmark Howard publication, The Howard Collector, and it’s the 25th anniversary of the very first Robert E. Howard Days.

Lest we forget another very important anniversary: the first anniversary of the Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains!  (I kid, I kid, ho ho ho)

Keeping that history angle in mind, we’ve chosen two Legendary REH publishers to be our Co-Guests of Honor this year: Damon Sasser and Dennis McHaney. Those of you familiar with Howard Fandom will of course recognize Damon and Dennis and we’re happy to have them at Howard Days to talk and be available to their legions of fans. Damon is the publisher of REH: Two-Gun Raconteur (“The definitive Howard Fanzine”) and runs the REH: TGR blog, and Dennis’ The Howard Review is his ultimate claim to fame (among others) in a nearly 40 year career as as a REH publisher. Dennis also runs the biggest REH message board at

I had the pleasure of meeting Dennis at Howard Days, though it was not without some trepidation: he'd been rather critical of The Cimmerian's post-Leo Grin run (not that the Grin regime was exempt from his criticisms), but I was so awed by the man's work for Howardom that I felt compelled to introduce myself all the same.  He was a thoroughly pleasant and erudite gentleman, and I'm very glad to have talked with him.  I didn't, unfortunately, spend much time talking to Damon Sasser: this will undoubtedly be rectified this year.

There’s lots more info to come here on the REHupa site, plus there’ll be info at the REH Foundation site, Damon’s TGR blog and We’re in the process of setting up the scheduling for Howard Days, plus there’ll be some truly fantastic events happening if everything falls into place this year. All of the familiar fan-friendly events are still happening: House & Town tours, Banquet & Silent Auction, Swap Meet, Postal Cancellation, Saturday BBQ plus a plethora of interesting panels & hopefully some special events.
Ok, if that’s not enough enticement, keep your radio dial tuned here for updates and more detailed information. In the meantime, shouldn’t you be making your plans to get to Howard Days this year? We’ll be looking for you! Y’all come!

Woohoo!  I have the hotel booked, tickets bought, and working on how best to keep cool.  I'm thinking a Bedouin suit - thawb, sirwal, kafiya - but combined with my beard, I'd probably give the locals a bit of the heeby-jeebies.  I could always pretend I'm dressed up as Kirby O'Donnell.  Or T.E. Lawrence after a few years not shaving.

DAAAAAH daaaaah... daah-duuuuh-daaah-daaah-DAAAAAH daaaaah....

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Filmgoer's Guide to Conan the Barbarian (1982): The Cimmerians

Smoke from the early morning cooking fires curls up from the wheeled huts of the Cimmerian village. There is a sense of solitude, of peace. Women and children wander about, clad in warm furs against the morning frost.
 - Description of Conan's tribe, Conan the Barbarian script (1980 revision)

Milius' Cimmerians are fairly rustic sorts: they work mills and other agricultural tools, herd sheep and cattle, live in kudzahs, wear clothing and use tools that seem inspired by Eastern Europe, Mongolia and Scandinavia. They seem to have a variety of hair colours, ranging from dirty blonde to dark brown. They are a hardy race, but not all are warriors like Conan's father: for the most part, they are just a peaceful, gentle folk eking out a living in a harsh landscape.

Howard's Cimmerians, on the other hand...

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Robert E. Howard, 105 Today


Well, what more can be said that hasn't been said so often before? Well, let's not say anything. Today, I'll be providing links to my favourite audio-visual Robert E. Howard celebrations, adaptations, and ideas.

Friday, 21 January 2011

The trailer for A Game of Thrones "Isn't Really Fantasy"

Pop quiz, folks: does this trailer...

  1. brutalize anything we've seen of "Conan"?
  2. destroy anything we've seen of "Conan"?
  3. annihilate anything we've seen of "Conan"?
  4. obliterate anything we've seen of "Conan"?
  5. defenestrate anything we've seen of "Conan"?

We even see a tiny glimpse of Khal Momo (whose overall look I'm still not sold on as not being Mongolian-enough), as well as the delightful addition of Yorkshire Stark and Lancashire Lannister accents, further cementing the whole "War-of-the-Roses-with-a-few-fantasy-bits-and-pieces" feel of the setting that's the series' biggest strength and weakness.  I can say that it looks very high quality in motion, and miles beyond Legend of the Seeker and other such shows.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Sean Hood Attempts To Explain Himself

Man, this guy.

And so full of contradictions: apparently, Howard's dialogue is archaic and purple... yet he makes a point of putting Howardian dialogue from other stories into the script.  Apparently, changing the motivations, personal history, and very core of the character is just a compromise we have to "get over"... yet his heart is apparently with us.  Apparently, the Conan stories suffer from the lack of recurring characters and an overarching theme... yet the film introduces entirely new characters we've never seen before, and a plot we've never heard of, all of which will never be seen again.  Apparently, the film doesn't have wire-fu, unrealistic weapons, or fake combat... yet we've seen photographs of dudes on wires in front of greenscreen, horrible LARP weapons, and Double Bladed Parallel Scimitars. Apparently, Doppenheimer are accomplished screenwriters... yet Sahara, and A Sound of Thunder.

Bless Sean, I think he's trying his best, but there's just no point.  No amount of sprinkling in Howardian references will address the biggest problems in the script.  It's the equivalent of building a Ford Fiesta, and trying to pass it off as a Lexus by plastering a papier-mache Lexus framework over it: sure, it might look a bit like a Lexus, but it ain't gonna be a Lexus.  You can drown the film in Howard references, even fill it with nothing but lines culled from other Conan stories, but it won't make a bean of difference.

Good Scot/Bad Scot: A Sextet of Links

I've decided that whenever I see a good link or a bad link on the internet, I'm going to deliver both in the same post.  This way I hope to maintain a balance of good news and bad news, rather than get mired down in negativity or positivity.  For the debut, I'm not going to do two links, but six.

Bad Scot will be represented by red text, Good Scot will be represented by blue text.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Filmgoer's Guide to Conan the Barbarian (1982): Conan's Family

William Smith and Nadiuska play Conan's father and mother in John Milius' revised script for Conan the Barbarian. They depict the characters described in the script very accurately - but how do they compare to what Howard said about Conan's family?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

He'll Be Back

For seven long, excruciating years, we've waited for Schwarzenegger, now free of his Governor duties, to come back to the world of action films. Today we've heard the words we've been longing for, straight out of Arnold's own lips, that he's got three film scripts to consider; one of them being on our all-time drool list!
 - The Arnold Fans, bless 'em

Sometimes you just have to go with the most painfully unimaginative title.  After months of speculation on his post-governor future, the inevitable return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the silver screen appears to have been confirmed by the redoubtable Arnold Fans

Monday, 17 January 2011

Solomon Kane conflicts with "Red Shadows"

IMO I don't think that Kane started out evil, just really really amoral. Which kind of fits with the universe of the stories if you think about it - there are any number of subtle references to how Kane was once a mercenary sailor. There's even one quote from The Blue Flame of Vengeance where after Kane give his usual "I am a landless man out of Devon" spiel (and I personally love how the movie took that one little detail and expanded upon it and made it literal) he adds "I soul's salvation, perhaps" which certainly fits with this movie.
 - morden1018, over at the IMDB

It occurred to me that though we far more often get people trying to reconcile Conan the Barbarian with Howard's stories, there is a small number of folk who insist that Bassett's Solomon Kane is entirely in keeping with Howard.  This intrigues me, since they even cite stories supporting the idea - though of course, it's only ever those two lines from "The Blue Flame of Vengeance" which Bassett latched onto.

They don't seem to take into account the dozens of lines which are directly contradictory to the film's origin story. Well, since I've been on a roll, I figured I'd do the same as I've been doing with the Filmgoer's Guide, and discuss those Howard stories which have direct conflicts with Bassett's Solomon Kane.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Kapow! Comic Con: Howard Meet-Up?

On 9th and 10th of April, the first ever Kapow! Comic Con will take place at the London Business Design Centre. Details are slim at the moment, but the guest list is inundated with folks from the world of comics, television and film. Further information will be unveiled 14th February, including a "Massive 2011 Movie Preview". Hmm, the Conan trailer was said to be out on April, and Kapow! takes place in April...

Anyway, I'm pretty sure I'll be going with my local comic-minded friends, but it occurred to me that this might be a really good opportunity for Howard fans to get together and chat about Howard, the Conan comics and film (which will undoubtedly be discussed in some manner). I know Mark and gang had a good time at the San Diego Comic Con, and even though Howard & Conan aren't as big in Blighty as they are in the US - or even France, for that matter - I think it would be great for UK Howard Fans to stand up and be counted.

Who's with me, sword-brothers and shield-maidens?

The Filmgoer's Guide to Conan the Barbarian (1982): Cimmeria

Milius' conception of Cimmeria is of a great mountainous landscape, with many snow-capped peaks, and even Conan's village is covered in snow. Conan's home village is situated in a dark, boreal forest.  During the summer, wild blueberries are picked, and the leaves are darkly green, indicating the snow of the early scene is only seen in winter.

But how does it compare to Robert E. Howard's descriptions of Conan's homeland?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Where on earth is Don Herron?

Don Herron's The Dark Barbarian was one of the things that truly made an impact on my leap into Howard studies, and I'd wager it did the same for many. Here, finally, was a critical anthology that put forth the idea of Howard's work being more than Puerile Adolescent Wish Fulfillment, that there was more to Conan than Juvenile Gordian-Knot Escapism, and more to the Man from Cross Plains than Maladjusted To The Point of Psychosis (ok, that's enough of those).

One of Herron's other seminal works, "Conan vs Conantics," was one of the first shots fired in the movement against including other authors' work on the same level as Howard's original tales. It's never really been surpassed. There are many other great Herron contributions to Howardom, so much that he can be safely considered one of the Great Howard Scholars. So why haven't we heard from him in such a long time?

Mostly he's occupied with his first, greatest love, Dashiel Hammett, continuing his tours and expanding his horizons on that front. However, just so we can keep up on his adventures, he's started a blog (thanks to James Reasoner for the link.) I'd love to see him return, as well as Leo Grin and other Howardists who've taken leaves of absence from Howardom. I doubt Howard, once experienced, ever truly leaves a reader.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Sauron: A Misunderstood Hero?

What, me evil?

I'm not kidding, this is actually an argument put forward by Cezary Jan Strusiewicz.  One could argue that, since it's on, it shouldn't be taken too seriously - but then, every other "famous movie villain who was right all along" on the list had compelling, reasonable and logical arguments.  So why shouldn't we believe the argument that Sauron was the victim of a terrible smear campaign was similarly made in all honesty? According to Strusiewicz, Sauron, the enemy of freedom, peace, love and anything good, was just misunderstood.

Just so you can understand the immensity of insanity, I'm going to post the segment in its entirety here, and address it.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Clark Ashton Smith: 118 Today

I really should put important dates like this on a calendar.  However, James Maliszewski doesn't let the side down, as he pays tribute to Klarkash-Ton from a gamer's point of view, while Shane Mangus tips his hat.  In lieu of the sort of post Smith deserves, I'll just include a link to a video I greatly enjoyed of the man's work.

A significant milestone will be later this year, as it will be the 50th anniversary of Smith's death: coincidentally, it'll be the 75th of Howard's. While I'll obviously be observing the latter, I'm going to make a special effort to observe the former, too.  Smith's often considered the forgotten third of the Weird Tales Troika, and frankly, it's criminal. Let us not forget Clark Ashton Smith.

Films I saw in 2010, and Films I should probably see in 2011

There are a lot of films I was planning on seeing this year. There were a few I was looking forward to, but for some reason never got around to (Iron Man 2, Tron: Legacy).  Others I may have enjoyed (Shutter Island, Kick-Ass, Splice, Despicable Me, Predators, Inception, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Tamara Drewe, Black Swan).  In some cases, I probably dodged a bullet (Daybreakers, The Book of Eli, The Wolfman, Alice in Wonderland, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Jonah Hex). Despite the plaudits and recommendations, I still do not wish to, nor do I ever see myself wishing to, see The Social Network.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to see The Way Back, being as I'm a massive Peter Weir fanboy (who still thinks he's been robbed countless times at the Academy Awards)

Still, I'll give my thoughts on the few 2010 films I saw this year in order from least enjoyed to most enjoyed, and list the films I'm making a point of seeing in 2011.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Narnia Code

Although C.S. Lewis penned the Narnia Chronicles more than 50 years ago, today they are more popular than ever. Using dramatizations of Lewis' early life and career, this intriguing documentary travels the world, meeting experts, testing evidence, and uncovering surprising questions behind the best-selling series.

I do not understand.

... I still don't understand.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Frodo in The Hobbit - are you really surprised?

Once again, I'm more surprised that people are surprised at the news Elijah Wood will be returning to Jackson's Middle-earth for The Hobbit films.  Seriously, you'd think people would just expect this by now.

Quite how Frodo will fit in this version of The Hobbit is unclear, though at a guess, I'd suppose it would be in the form of a framing device.  Jackson & co aren't thick enough to cast Frodo in the main story, so it must be that way.  Perhaps it'll merely be in the form of a prologue/epilogue, or they'll go with a Princess Bride riff, snapping back to Frodo & Bilbo chatting throughout the two films.

It seems clear that Jackson wants to fit in as many of the characters from The Lord of the Rings as possible, so I fully expect to see lil' Aragorn too.  I wouldn't be surprised if they had a scene with the whole Fellowship at some point, using cut footage of Gimli to stick him in without putting John Rhys-Davies through the makeup process again.  Either that, or they'll give him digital makeup a la Gollum.

Speaking of Gollum, Andy Serkis has also been confirmed.  I don't think there was any jeopardy of him not reprising his role.  It looked troublesome for Ian McKellan, but he's confirmed too, and the fandom rejoiced, since even if you didn't take to his interpretation of Gandalf (though I'm fully aware I'm in the vast minority on that score), it would be ludicrous to follow up with a different actor.  Ian Holm and Christopher Lee are still in talks, and I'd dearly love to see more of Lee's Saruman in The Hobbit, especially since he's playing a hero for once.  Then again, considering how painfully unsubtle Jackson is, we'll probably have "hints" of Saruman's fall from grace with the nuance of a freefalling fire extinguisher sprinkled through the film.

I regret to note that Balin, my favourite Dwarf, has been cast, and it is not Brian Blessed.  Instead, it's Ken Stott - a decision I find highly intriguing, and one I'm actually warming to.  I really like his work on Rebus, Messiah, and his many guest roles, so to see him take the role of Balin is actually a move that I don't mind.  Indeed, of all my problems with The Lord of the Rings adaptations, the casting (outside of Frodo being too young and Aragorn just not being "right") has been pretty solid.  I still don't have any expectations for the films, but I can't deny I like some choices.

Still hate Itaril and her boyfriend.  Dammit, Jackson/Walsh/Boyens, get a hold of yourselves!

Monday, 10 January 2011

A Shadow from the Dark Days of Fantasy "Scholarship"

Michal Wojcik of One Last Sketch and The Lurking Humour, also known as Taran in the blogosphere and beyond, is a very smart chap, and very knowledgeable. A while back, he mentioned a particular essay by Hans Joachim Alpers, which he felt may have been an encapsulation of a great deal of ill will towards fantasy fiction that had been formulating in science fiction circles.*  Rusty Burke, impressed by Taran's studiousness, suggested that he investigate the matter further, and address it.  Well, wait no longer, for "Spacesuit, Blaster, and Science(!)" has arrived, and fired a withering broadside against a hideous little piece of work masquerading as scholarship that has evaded criticism for far too long. I think Taran's done a great job here.

Alpers does not seem to realize that the authors he cites for support were opposed to fascism in their personal lives.  J.R.R. Tolkien, for instance, made his views of Nazism and “that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler,” (Letters no.45) quite obvious.  Michael Moorcock describes himself as “an anarchist and a pragmatist,” (Mythmakers & Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers on Fiction) who goes out of his way to critique British Imperialism and yes, Nazism in many of his novels.  Robert E. Howard, whose work scholars often mislabel as latently fascistic, held a long correspondence with H.P. Lovecraft decrying fascism and Nazism; the groupthink of Nazism and obeisance to authority did not gel with Howard’s extreme individualism.  We are more likely to find empires fall than get built in Howard’s works.[*] 

Indeed, one need not look far to see what Howard truly thought of the Nazis and fascism in general. I'll have to get a "Robert E. Howard and Fascism" post for the Newcomer's Guide finished, which'll probably just consist of a bunch of quotes from the letters.

[*] Alpers’s belief that heroic fantasy’s barbarians mirror “the barbarism of concentration camps and aggressive war” comes as an unimaginative conflation; the “barbarism” he refers to and the barbarism found in sword & sorcery constitute two completely different terms, one modern, one historical.  Barbarians, in heroic fantasy, would never stoop to the excesses of the Nazis—that only becomes possible with the decadence of civilization.  I believe the Holocaust would have come as no surprise to Howard, had he lived to see it.  It is the ultimate example of modernity gone wrong.

Heh,  this reminded me of a few Howard quotes in regards to the different contexts of "barbarism":

Considering it again, I am not so sure that even cultural and artistic things will not suffer as civilization “advances” along its present lines. You seem to take it for granted that Fascism would guarantee absolute freedom of thought and mental research. I wonder if this faith is justified. I don’t notice any hilarious renaissance emanating from Germany or Italy or Austria resulting from the exhilarating freedom of dictatorship.

I’m not surprized at the massacre of helpless people, the torturing and abuse of women and children. It’s what I expect of cultured Europeans. It’s what I’ll expect of the people of this country when they get sufficiently imbued with European culture and civilization. It didn’t surprize me when Dolfuss [sic] murdered the helpless women and children of his enemies. That’s the “superior European” style. It didn’t surprize me when his enemies assassinated him; that too was in keeping with the best traditions of European culture. Reading in one of the biggest capitalistic dailies of the state - which is above all charges of “radical” - I noted the outrages committed on women by the Fascists of Germany and Austria. That too is characteristic, both of the Fascist movement and of the European character.

- Robert E. Howard, letter to H.P. Lovecraft, December 1934

Well done, Taran!

*And cheers for the clarification.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Filmgoer's Guide to Conan the Barbarian (1982): Cimmerian Mythology

Fire and wind come from the sky, from the gods of the sky, but Crom is your god. Crom, and he lives in the earth. Once giants lived in the earth, Conan, and in the darkness of chaos, they fooled Crom, and they took from him the enigma of steel. Crom was angered, and the earth shook, and fire and wind struck down these giants, and they threw their bodies into the waters. But in their rage, the gods forgot the secret of steel and left it on the battlefield, and we who found it. We are just men, not gods, not giants, just men. And the secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan, you must learn its discipline, for no one, no one in this world can you trust, not men, not women, not beasts... This you can trust.
It's all very nice and evocative, but aside from the name Crom, absolutely nothing comes from Robert E. Howard. Indeed, much of Cimmerian theology and philosophy in the film is entire the creation of Oliver Stone and John Milius, with many divergences from what we know from Howard.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

The Filmgoer's Guide to Conan the Barbarian (1982): The Nemedian Chronicles

The first stop on our journey through Conan the Barbarian starts, inscrutably enough, at the beginning, before the title appears on screen. The first words uttered in the film also happen to be the most tied to Robert E. Howard's work. Let's compare and contrast.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Two Towers: Addendum

As a follow-up to my Tolkien post, I want to give props to sword-brother Brian Murphy.  Brian's talking about the Argonath of Modern Fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard, over at Black Gate, and he mentions the seminal Tompkins essay.  A really excellent, heartfelt overview that chimes with my own thoughts.  Good on ya, Brian!

As an aside, be sure to check the comments section, where Scott Taylor makes the... interesting suggestion that Minas Rowling somehow topples Barad-Howard and Tolkiengard in terms of impact on fantasy fiction.  Erm, okay.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Filmgoer's Guide to Conan the Barbarian (1982): Introduction

Thus far, there hasn't been a single Robert E. Howard adaptation in cinema.

None of the five cinematic adaptations ostensibly based on the work of Howard actually adapt any of his stories at all. Some films claim to be Howard adaptations, but all they truly amount to are pastiches, or adaptations in name only.  At best, they take a few plot elements and characters, greatly altered, and put them into a new narrative; at worst, they take mere names, and seem to make an effort to warp and distort them from their original iterations.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

In the name of the wee man...

The unthinkable has happened: they're going to censor Huck Finn.

Publishers Weekly reported on Monday that a soon to be released edition of Mark Twain’s classic of American literature, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, will replace all instances of the ‘n-word,’ “the singularly offensive word” used to refer to African Americans throughout the late 19th-century text. Editors have also decided to do away with the word “injun,” replacing it as well with “slave.”

Yeah.  Now, I'm normally one who has to wait, count to ten, calm down, and then make a ruling on something.  After all, there are plenty of "classics for tots" series that take the bare bones of a great story, and present it in more simple language for tinies.  That, I don't mind too much, though I'd rather kids waited to experience the story as it was originally written. This isn't that, though.  This is the original text, except with a Find/Replace on all uses of the word nigger - the mere fact these people use "the n-word" shows they fundamentally lack the maturity to even discuss it - as well as injun. In other words, bowdlerisation.

I particularly have to laugh at this final paragraph in the National Post's article:

We’d like to know what you think. Is taking the n-word and other slurs out of Mark Twain censorship, or a step in the right direction in terms of getting younger people better acquainted with literature of the U.S. Civil War era? Let us know in the comments below.

Are they kidding? A group of people are seeking to subvert Mark Twain's* freedom of expression by mangling his literature.  This is practically the very definition of censorship.  As for the latter statement, how on earth are younger people supposed to get better acquainted with literature of the U.S. Civil War era if you're going to remove the language of that era? The literature of the period included words like nigger, which are naturally highly insensitive today, but it's an important lesson.  You can't whitewash history: all you can do is wait until a child is old and mature enough to be able to deal with it.

In attempting to make history more palatable for children, they're making a mockery of the real struggle the Civil War was about, in many ways.  Are they going to censor To Kill a Mockingbird next?

*As if accusations of my preoccupation with Howard weren't loud enough, I mistakenly put Mark Finn here.  Not that I think I do either Mark much a disservice, of course.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Other Projects: Filmgoer's Guides

It's easy for those who've read the Howard stories to know just why Conan the Barbarian was such a massive divergence from the source material. Crom knows I've talked about it on this blog all the time.  I've tried doing analysis of the Howardian content via synopsis to discussions of Milius/Stone's origin story, and whatnot, but it feels like I'm preaching to the converted, so to speak.

So, since I've been a bit on fire as of late with the Newcomer's Guide and Encyclopaedia, I feel I may as well strike while the iron's hot, and get The Filmgoer's Guide to Conan the Barbarian out on the 'Net. Technically this project's still on the backburner, and it won't take any time from my two other projects, but I've completed much of it already, I've considered posting it over at the Newcomer's Guide. The problem is, it's huge: I'm only partly done, and it's 6,600 words already.  Therefore, I'm of two minds with how to proceed.

 - Write the whole thing up as a complete page
 - Do it in installments

The latter seems like a good choice, since it would allow me to do parts of it without having to wait until the whole shebang's finished.  What do you think?

I haven't really done anything on Conan the Destroyer or Red Sonja, mostly because... well, what's the point?  With Conan the Barbarian it's important to point out the divergences so that those unaware can understand why we might respect or appreciate the film on its cinematic merits, and yet decry it as an adaptation.  Why even bother to point out how Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja make a hash of the original works, when they don't have the cinematic qualities going for them?

I've been working (a bit) on a Kull the Conqueror one, but it had been taking a lot longer, due to a) the new Conan film coming out, meaning discussion and comparison to the 1982 film will follow, b) because I don't want to put too much effort into even destroying that ungodly film, and c) because the film is painful for me to watch.  I mean it.  No other adaptation has made me froth with rage like Kull the Conqueror.  A Solomon Kane one is another I considered, but since Bassett was gracious enough not to stripmine REH for his story like the other films, it'd likely be something of a short article.

Again, these will all be background material secondary to the Newcomer's Guide and Encyclopaedia.

Monday, 3 January 2011

"All they done was block out the light... they can't block out the light in here."

Aw, man, not Pete.  64.  Too soon, dammit.

Pete Postlethwaite's one of those actors whom you never forget.  No doubt his fascinating facial features have something to do with it, but that should by no means diminish his considerable acting talent.  The man was very good at what he did, and what I loved most about him was that he always resisted the temptation to "steal the show," as it were, whenever he was inevitably called upon to lend some Shakespearean gravitas to a supporting role.  Whenever he was the focus, however - protagonist, antagonist, mentor, student, hero, villain - he was riveting.

While I'm sure most would point to his roles in Brassed Off, The Usual Suspects, In the Name of the Father, Romeo + Juliet and The Shipping News, deservedly so, I'm going to point to two others.

The first was Rat, a rather fascinating little fantasy that saw Pete turning into a rat.  This is one of those very British comedies that manages to have great tenderness and sincerity mixed in with somewhat incongruous harshness and severity.  It's a wonderful little fable that's like a cross between Roald Dahl and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.  I loved it, and Pete's performance as the titular rat tied it all together.

The second was Roland Tembo in The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  That was a problematic film for many reasons, but it had its moments - and they all involved Tembo.  Here was one of the most understated, yet, commanding, Great White Hunters I've seen in film: you know this man's in charge, but nonetheless, there's a strange, haunted look in his eyes.  A man who's spent his life in the company of death.

Plus he had all the best lines:

Somewhere on this island is the greatest predator there ever lived. The second greatest predator must take him down.

Remember that chap about twenty years ago? I forget his name. Climbed Everest without any oxygen, came down nearly dead. When they asked him, they said why did you go up there to die? He said I didn't, I went up there to live.

A true hunter doesn't mind if the animal wins. There weren't enough escapes from you and me, Ajay. We were like a firing squad, don't you think?

Requiescat in Pace, Pete.

The Shortest Distance Between Two Towers

It's that time of year again: J.R.R. Tolkien's birthday.  I really wanted to get a Barbarians article done, but as you may have noticed, I've been a bit preoccupied.  So instead, I'll point you to some of my favourite Tolkien links.

First, the Encyclopedia of Arda.  This was my inspiration for the Encyclopaedia Hyboriana, in that it would be "like that, but for the Hyborian Age."  It's the only Tolkien resource I really trust: Yavanna's blessings on the Tolkien Gateway and myriad Tolkien Wikis out there, but you never know what weird fanboy musings will end up contaminating a perfectly good wiki.

Second, Lalaith's Middle-earth Science Pages.  This is another site in the vein of the EoA, except it takes it a step further, and presents scholarly theories on Middle-earth ethnology, natural history and geography.  It's pretty much the Hyborian Age Gazetteer for Middle-earth.

My last link isn't to a site, but an essay. I'm delighted to discover that Steve Tompkins' award-winning masterpiece, "The Shortest Distance Between Two Towers," is now online and freely available for anyone to read.  In my mind, this is the Tolkien-Howard essay.  In just under 9,000 words, Tompkins details exactly why, although both authors are very different in many ways, they absolutely deserve to be considered on equal footing with each other.  Too often you get the snooty Lord of the Rings fanboys who decry Howard's work as little more than Puerile Adolescent Wish Fulfillment, but just as wrong to me are the Conan fanboys who consider Tolkien's work as nothing but Childish Mollycoddling Fairytale.  Tompkins also puts forward why he considers Tolkien and Howard both as Sword-and-Sorcery (and, contrarian that I am, I have taken to it myself), as well as some brilliantly insightful comparisons of the two authors' work and lives.

I know it must get grating for me to constantly harp on about Tompkins' genius, but honestly, it speaks for itself.  I might disagree with one or two things, but they're vastly outnumbered by the agreements.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Encyclopædia Hyboriana FAQ

Right, lads and lasses, I figure I might as well post a few factoids about my intentions for the Encyclopædia, just to give you a better idea of what it'll entail.

How many separate entries are there?

As of right now, 1,052. This may change as entries are conflated or divided, based on whether a given entry deserves its own spot, or should be absorbed into another.

What's the word count so far?

The master document, which has a fair portion of the information on it, is almost 54,000 words: out of that, about 10,000 is completely neat and tidy. There's still a metric boatload of information spread across dozens of files which hasn't been collated and applied, though.

In sculpting analogy, the 54,000 is the giant block of clay, with the 10,000 representing the completely carved sections -- but there's still a lot of clay in the studio to pile on.

Will it be as extensive as the Hyborian Age Gazetteers?

If they were, I'd never get the thing done!  The average length for each entry is about 200 words, though that can vary from as little as 100 to as much as 2,000. So while it'd be awesome to do something like a Hyborian Age Gazetteer in book form, it would take a lot longer.

Does the world really need an Age of Conan Encyclopædia?

I think it does, and I think it's been a long time coming too.  There are Hyborian Age resources out there, but they all utilize the work of other authors, leading to confusion.  There are times when one can easily believe, for example, that Howard called the City of Thieves "Arenjun," or called the tribes allied with Tombalku "Mindango," and "Bigharma." There have been calls for such a resource on the Conan Forums, and such great Howard minds as Steve Tompkins believe it to be necessary.  Indeed, there have been previous attempts, the most recent being Scott Oden's, but he eventually decided to concentrate on his historical fiction.

So you're essentially doing this because you hate pastiches?

Not at all - in fact, I hope this will make better pastiches.  The pastiches which have come before have persisted through to new continuities, and this leads to its own problems.  Let's take Age of Conan as an example.  The developers say that their aim is to use mostly Robert E. Howard material, and use elements from the comics and pastiches only to fill out the world.  However, where does the line between using some pastiches stop?  In filling out the north, they use elements of de Camp stories, such as the Yakhmar of "The Lair of the Ice Worm."  But if "The Lair of the Ice Worm" is canon, does this mean other de Camp stories - like the hated Conan the Liberator - are canon too?  If not, why not?  And if de Camp stories are canon, does this mean other pastiches are canon - even the very bad ones? This is bad enough when one considers quality, but then there are the cases where pastiches conflict with the game itself.  A famous example is the use of a quote describing Cimmeria as "a treeless land"... which kinda contradicts the very wooded hills of the game, not to mention Howard's description.

So many RPGs, games, books and other pastiches have been influenced by the pastiches that have gone before. The Encyclopædia will allow new pasticheurs to start from the ground up: just Howard, nothing from anywhere else.  No more Brylukas, Hydragons, Giant Mantids, and Spider-Things of Poitain running about the wilds of "Hyboria"; no more Arenjun, Haloga, Ianthe, Pathenia, or Uttara Kuru muddling up the map; no more Queen Vammatar, King Ferdrugo, Jenna, Thulandra Thuu or Sigurd of Vanaheim photobombing group photos; no more Cobra Crown, Herat of Tammuz, Atlantean Sword, or Mamajambo's War Club littering the treasuries of the age.

Besides, I'm sick of the Yakhmar turning up everywhere, and I even think it's one of the cooler* de Camp creations.

Are you going to publish it through Hulu, the REH Foundation, or another publisher?

That all depends on how Paradox/CPI want to do it (assuming they let me!): hopefully I can get a license and permission to do so.

Will the Encyclopædia be a super-elite-collector's-limited-extended edition hardback, or an affordable paperback?

Given the choice, the latter.  I'd rather take after Barbara Barrett's Wordbook or Paul Herman's The Neverending Hunt than the lavish, gorgeous tomes A Means to Freedom and Collected Poetry.

Why "Encyclopædia" instead of "Encyclopedia"?

It's a tip to the hat towards the Encyclopædia Britannica and other tomes using the spelling. Besides, I love the æ ligature. I played about with different ideas: Lebor Hyborianach, Codex Hyboriana, The Hyborian Lexicon, even something quirky like Cyclopedia Hyboriana. I wasn't sure whether to go with Nemedian Chronicles or not, but I'm fairly satisfied with Encyclopædia Hyboriana.

Why "Encyclopædia Hyboriana" instead of "Encyclopædia Hyboria"?

Hyboria is a pastiche term, and is loaded with all sorts of possible misinterpretations: the idea of the land, or even the planet, being called "Hyboria" paramount among them.  Rather than contribute to any possible misinterpretation, I decided to use a cod-Latin term with the "-a" suffix to give a general feel without using "Hyboria."

Anyone else with any questions, feel free to fling them over!

*I never apologise for puns.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Another year down in the books, and it's been a great one for me. I was nominated for a Venarium Award, I got to Cross Plains, I've announced my long-running book, the blog's been going strong. I'm hoping to ride that wave of momentum all the way into 2011 before the 2012 conspiracy theorists decide to destroy the world at the end of the year just to say they told us so.

So, my New Year's Resolutions, which will hopefully be dealt with before 31st December:

The Newcomer's Guide to REH
Between this and the Encyclopaedia, I might be in danger of becoming thin, sort of stretched... like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. However, I believe both are entirely necessary, and so I shall be working on both.

The Encyclopaedia Hyboriana
I still have to figure out where and with whom I'm going to try publishing it, as well as get everything tidied up, but now that it's been announced, I kinda have to get the thing finished, now don't I?

Continue the series started on The Cimmerian
I haven't done any "Hyborian Age Gazetteer," "Barbarians of Middle-earth," "Dark Worlds Unguessed by Man," or "The Art of Frank Frazetta and Robert E. Howard" articles since The Cimmerian closed its doors.  While the Guide and Encyclopaedia will undoubtedly take up most of my free time, I'll endeavour to do at least some of these this year.

More illustrations
I keep lamenting about the lack of illustrations for Howard characters on the internet, especially since most of the excellent stuff is in fanzines. Well, why shouldn't I do some more? I have a whole bunch of ideas.  For instance, everybody and their dog draws Conan in a few select poses: atop a pile of bodies, leaping into action, struggling with a giant snake/ape/beastie, posing with a girl.  Yet nobody seems to draw Conan with his sensitive side: when he takes Natala's hand at the end of "Xuthal of the Dusk," or when he listens in on Zamorian philosophers debating existentialism, or when he shows Prospero the map he made with childish glee.  Similarly, plenty of pictures of Red Sonja, Valeria and Belit, but not so many of Dark Agnes and Red Sonya.  I don't know if I've even seen Tarala, Conchita or Helen Tavrel on the internet.  I'll endeavour to do more unusual Howardian illustrations this year.

Read more authors
I'm giving Fritz Leiber another go of it, naturally, but I've also decided I should re-read and expand my reading of Poul Anderson, Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe, C.J. Cherryh and Keith Taylor too.  I've read some of their work, but not nearly enough.

Get back to Cross Plains
It's the big 25th-50th-75th-100th Anniversary celebration this year, not to mention the 1st Anniversary of the Scottish Invasion.  I've been saving up since coming back from CP this year, so hopefully round 2 will be just as fun.

Here's hoping, and Happy New Year to all!