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25 January 2011 @ 10:01 am
Posted for later reference and commentary  
The Shortest Distance Between Two Towers, by Steve Tompkins.

I'm only half-through this, and want to read it when there's a more favorable gray-matter-to-phlegm ratio in my cranium.

The author takes issue with the idea that Tolkien is not Sword and Sorcery, and in fact has far more in common with Robert E. Howard than most genre observers would grant.

Since I've loudly advocated the "plaid and paisley" position myself, this interests me.

I've also become keenly aware that Howard's work is another critical gap in my reading history. When I first dove into Sword & Sorcery after getting initiated into D&D in 1978, I read Moorcock and Lieber ... but not Howard. My exposure to Conan, to that point, was through the Marvel comics I mostly ignored. Milius's 1982 film and its star did nothing to temper my inaccurate impression of Howard's best-known creation as "Big Dumb Guy With Sword".

I know that's not the case, after reading about Howard's work for decades—and yet, I've never cracked the covers of a Howard tome.

That needs to change—particularly since my own magnum opus is assertively on the Sword & Sorcery side of the fantasy divide.

If there really is such a divide.

Addendum: Also adding a "read when brain works" link to Spacesuit, Blaster and Science(!): Confronting the Uneasy Relationship between Science Fiction and Heroic Fantasy, by Michal Wojcik, which addresses another set of genre-trope prejudices I hold even though I know they don't bear sustained scrutiny.

ebony14 on January 25th, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
For all that Arnold failed to grok Conan, the movie does do a decent job of invoking Howard's sense of Hyperborea, with its unfathomable magic, weird gods, and lack of high fantasy tropes. It just lacked any idea of how the Cimmerians were supposed to look, and fell back on the Norsemen as a default (which is what Marvel did as well, I think).

The black cover Del Rey oversized paperbacks of the Conan stories are good. They're reprints of the hardback Wandering Star Press editions, with lots of added stuff like partial drafts and letters. And the artwork by Gary Gianni is very nice. Del Rey also released the Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn collections, which are good to compare to the Conan work.
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on January 25th, 2011 06:44 pm (UTC)
We'll see what the library has!

... I don't have the space or the ready funds to BUY books right now.
ebony14 on January 25th, 2011 08:56 pm (UTC)
Point. I'd let you borrow mine, if it weren't for the slight matter of 1,700 miles of highway. (Still haven't master three pips in Correspondence, sadly.)
Stalbonstalbon on January 27th, 2011 12:00 am (UTC)
From what I've read -about- Howard's original works, it was mostly a in-name-only piece that nonetheless did give you a good sense of the overall bleakness and life of a wanderer thing Conan and the rest of the world had going on. I'd like to have seen a bit more of the power behind Thulsa Doom, however, as with most of Marvel's more-recent comics, Conan is pretty much constantly fighting those sorts of demigod-like beings or smashing through their cults.
John "The Gneech" Robey: Conan Civilization Sucksthe_gneech on January 25th, 2011 07:25 pm (UTC)
Howard is very uneven -- he wrote a TON of stuff in a very short time, tossing it out to whatever market promised to actually pay from time to time. That said, you can't really go wrong by starting with Conan, as long as you stick to the Howard-only works at first. A lot of the Conan-pastiche stuff (particularly De Camp and Carter) is treated by the general populace as if it were written by Howard, but it is nowhere near as good. Some of it is like decent fanfic, and some of it is like crap fanfic. :P

Fortunately, "Howard purist" editions of his work are fairly easy to get ahold of these days. :)

Some of Howard's other stuff can get into downright ugly bigotry; you can catch whiffs of it in Conan from time to time, but no more than many other pulp authors and considerably less than some. But when you get into Howard's attempts at Lovecraftian horror (for instance) or some of his "yellow menace" stories, it starts to get nasty.

He's a complex case -- amazing at his best, appalling at his worst.

Your Obedient Serpent: Yog-Sotheryathelind on January 25th, 2011 08:13 pm (UTC)
Fear not! I'm quite used to reading works from a bygone day without condemning them for failing to live up to current mores; that crops up a lot with HPL and "Doc" Smith.

My familiarity with Lovecraft also leaves me wary of the "writer's circle" effect. I doubt that DeCamp, Carter, and Roy Thomas were guilty of more egregious dilution Howard than August Derleth was of Lovecraft.
Moral Explorernotthebuddha on January 25th, 2011 08:24 pm (UTC)
when there's a more favorable gray-matter-to-phlegm ratio in my cranium.

Nominee for year's most vivid dysphemism.
(Anonymous) on January 27th, 2011 02:44 am (UTC)
It's early in the year yet.
Paka: pied crowpaka on January 25th, 2011 10:08 pm (UTC)
Please please please please do. The Conan stuff is a real treat, and even though some of Howard's attitudes are understandably dated, his stuff is less offensive to modern sensibilities than Edgar Rice Burroughs (who I still liked a lot). F'rex, one detail about Conan the actual character very different from Conan the popular portrayal might be the point where he jumps ship to evade the law - and there's this long description of what armor he's wearing, this total mishmash of protection suitable for a hardened mercenary. Or there's The Thing in the Bowl, which is basically a Lovecraft story with Conan thrown right into the middle of it, and it works.
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on August 28th, 2011 03:37 pm (UTC)
Reply, Eight Months Later!
There are gamers who insist that if your Call of Cthulhu characters aren't dead, insane, or completely ineffectual at the end of an adventure, you aren't playing it right.

They miss some important facts:

1) The Lovecraft characters who end up that way are all Effete Sensitive Intellectuals;
2) Not all of Lovecraft's characters -- even his protagonists -- fall into that category; and
3) If you're going to include Derleth in the Mythos, there's no reason not to include Howard.

∴ Conan is an appropriate model for a CoC protagonist.
Paka: pied crowpaka on August 30th, 2011 03:21 am (UTC)
Re: Reply, Eight Months Later!
Depends really what you want to get out of CoC. I adore HPL, but I'm not a purist and love the 1920s setting a lot more than Sandy Petersen (I've read an interview where he basically wanted to go modern, and Greg Stafford didn't really dig HPL - and felt the draw would be the Twenties). If my character has to go insane, then I really want a chance to blather about the five dimensional solids... the color out of space... ever hear tell of a shoggoth? But if not, then I'm all up for going in with twin .45s blazing, darnit.
Your Obedient Serpent: Yog-Sotheryathelind on August 30th, 2011 03:48 am (UTC)
Re: Reply, Eight Months Later!
Last week, in Dresden Files, I got to drive my vintage '57 Buick Roadmaster taxicab into a Tentacled Monstrosity From Beyond Space and Time at high speed.

THAT'S the way you do it.
Pakapaka on January 25th, 2011 10:27 pm (UTC)
And the thing is, all of the authors who we're lionizing right now give this sense of history. Tolkien, Howard, Lovecraft, Moore are all people whose world has been around for a while, and you find out about how big it is in passing. I don't think it's really fair to diss Howard for throwing into the stewpot a mix of historical periods and ideas; writing excitement counts for a lot when you're from a background of tall tales and needing to pay bills - JRRT had a day job, and could afford more scholarly accuracy, and I'll point to Dashiell Hammett as another pulp author who occasionally decided that even though he was writing one genre which sold well, he was going to wander off into another genre that sold well.

Cimmerians were a real people. They lived in south Russia/Ukraine, presumably got absorbed my the Scythians, and survive in the Georgian term gymyri, giant. Howard jacked the name for his black-haired northern guys - he has two other northern groups, Aesir (who are blond) and Vanir (who are redhaired) to give some perspective. To give you an idea of how the cultural stew continues playing out in the whole thing, the Picts - who are where the historical Picts wound up, and are presumably their descendants in the Bran Mak Morn stuff - are basically sort of stereotype Native Americans in a lot of ways.
Arcaton: jackassr_caton on January 26th, 2011 10:52 am (UTC)
For a really light touch try "The Tough Guide To Fantasy Land" by Diana Wynne Jones....