Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Conan Article in Ares #2

While combing through my collection of Ares magazines, I discovered that, in issue 2 from May 1980, there's an article in it entitled, "Conan: Illusion and Reality." It's a four-page overview of the writings and characters of Robert E. Howard, with particular attention paid, naturally, to his famous Cimmerian. It was also written by L. Sprague de Camp. Compared to many of his other pieces about REH I've read, though, De Camp seems almost effusive in this one. I genuinely got the sense that De Camp enjoyed Howard's writings, even if he was utterly baffled by the man who produced them.

Consequently, the article is filled with De Camp's signature amateur psychoanalysis of Howard, suggesting, for example, that
Around 1933, Howard's characters began to show a more normal interest in sex. It may not be a coincidence that in the next year he began regularly dating a young lady.
or that
Many stories end with the entire cast, save one or two, dead. In one of his last stories he kills off absolutely everybody, leaving none to tell the tale. A psychologist could plausibly argue that such plots foreshadow Howard's own end.
And of course he couldn't resist concluding that Howard "never grew up."

We can be grateful that the long shadow De Camp cast across Howard's legacy is at last being chased away by some sunlight. Over the last few decades, a fuller picture of REH has emerged, a more complex one than the Peter Pan-cum-Oedipus that De Camp peddled for so long. That's why it was so weird reading this article; it's a blast from a past that's increasingly been discredited and forgotten -- and thank Crom for that.

5 comments:

  1. Not to sound snarky, but instead of thanking Crom, we can actually thank the "young lady" herself, Novalyne Price, who set the record straight about REH in her book, later made into the movie The Whole Wide World. Any fan of Howard's writings, or any fan of a good drama, would find great pleasure and insight into Howard's life, as told by the woman he dated, more factual by leaps and bounds than any psychoanalysis by writing hacks De Camp and Lin Carter,

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  2. What does he even mean by a "normal" interest in sex?

    I genuinely got the sense that De Camp enjoyed Howard's writings, even if he was utterly baffled by the man who produced them.

    That's my impression. De Camp is like one of those fussy old professors who can be extremely knowledgeable in a specific field, but when he encounters something he doesn't understand, he's more likely to simply dismiss it than to assume it's a deficiency on his part. He also has a tendency to claim authority in fields he has no business to (like amateur psychology) simply because he has an MSc in engineering. After all, if he could master aeronautics, then he could master anything!

    Similarly, because he can't see the deeper philosophical undertones and social commentary, rather than assuming he missed them, he assumes they simply aren't there. Not to mention he changed "The Black Stranger" to "The Treasure of Tranicos" because he felt there were too many Conan stories with "black" in the title - though that didn't stop him from using "shadow" in even more stories, even ones that didn't have "black"!

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  3. I've been reading the The Coming of Conan lately and it's been very refreshing enjoying the original works (as published, in order) instead of the later facsimiles we've been inundated with during our impressionable youth. So, well said James!

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  4. Howard Fan Site

    http://rehtwogunraconteur.com/

    De Camp not held in any great regard

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  5. Not to sound snarky, but instead of thanking Crom, we can actually thank the "young lady" herself, Novalyne Price, who set the record straight about REH in her book, later made into the movie The Whole Wide World. Any fan of Howard's writings, or any fan of a good drama, would find great pleasure and insight into Howard's life, as told by the woman he dated, more factual by leaps and bounds than any psychoanalysis by writing hacks De Camp and Lin Carter

    True! Mind you, the re-evaluation of Howard and his writings contra the De Campian caricature of them has a lot of unsung heroes, including Novalyne Price Ellis. Both Glenn Lord and Karl Edward Wagner, for example, don't get the credit they deserve, I think, and both were instrumental in laying the foundations for modern studies of REH.

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