We have lost another great artist. Kelly’s covers for the Berkley editions of Robert E. Howard’s works were among the first depictions of Conan and the other heroes and villains by REH I ever saw.
It’s the 11th of June, Robert E. Howard’s anniversary, and just 36 hours a go I did a post on my Italian blog about sword & sorcery, and mentioned Dark Agnes de Chastillon. And then yesterday, as we were recording our podcast, my friend Lucy and I talked briefly about Robert E. Howard’s women – because he did write a few very interesting women, and Dark Agnes was one of them.
I first met Dark Agnes de Chastillon, also known as Agnes de la Fere (a name that might ring a bell with those that have read Dumas) in the mid-80s. Having broken into the habit of reading in English, a whole world opened up for me, and I raided the shelves of the cheap paperbacks in the Sevagram bookstore. Some books I picked because of the author, others just because of the cover.
Sword Woman was perfect on both counts.
The first thing I ever read by Robert E. Howard was People of the Black Circle, the opener in Conan the Adventurer and still my favorite Conan story today. I bought the Italian edition in the early ’80s, the sturdy hardback with that gorgeous Karel Thole cover that gave me a lot of problems both at home and in school.
The market is shifting at a heady speed hereabouts – and if not the market in itself, the way in which the authors marketed themselves. This morning I caught a colleague (an excellent writer, indeed) explaining that his fantasies always tackle strong themes under a thin patina of fantasy adventure. A thin patina that includes “hard knocks”, “big boobs” and “100% fanservice”, probably, considering that up to two days ago the same author was signalling those as the selling points of his fantasies.
This makes me feel infinitely tired, because I am really tired of this constant, desperate, aggressive hustling – writers trying to sell themselves as the answer to this week’s taste: this week is social awareness and “strong themes”, next week might be ultra-violence and mindless mayhem.
If it sells, it’s what I’m doing.
The quality of the story, and the quality of the writing, are becoming meaningless, when instead they might be sufficient to hook the reader.
Over at her place, my friend Jessica Bakkers posted a list of the six books that made her what she is, as a writer. Great idea. It’s fun, it’s easy to put together in the form of a post, and we are always ready to learn more about the writers we follow, and maybe find out a few new books to read.
So, why not steal Jessica’s idea?
Now, I actually already did something similar, a while back, listing the authors that had most influenced me. The ones I wish I was as good as. A shortened list, one that I could (and maybe will) expand.
But let’s look at this thing from another angle.
In the end the instigators were, of all people, Robert E. Howard and Stephen Fry, quite an odd couple if you think about it. And weird things might come out of all this. But I am getting ahead of myself, so let me give you a bit of background here.
For the best part of my life I only owned three books of poetry: a selection of verses by John Donne, a collection of poetry by Edgar Allan Poe and one of haiku by Matsuo Basho. And this was it. My generation was taught a lot of poetry in school – but that amounted basically to learning verses by heart and then writing essays about what the poet meant by writing what he wrote (and not, strangely enough, the way he wrote it). It is reasonable to say that we learned more about metrics and rhythm and all that from the radio, by listening to rock’n’roll.Continue reading
Two-Guns Bob is being celebrated by the knuckleheads in this 113th birthday of his – they talk of blood-dripping blades and big-boobed wenches, of colorful curses, sex and violence, and simple-mindedly describe him as a purveyor of simple-minded trash, because that’s what they are all about.
That’s the new narrative hereabouts, and they say you can’t fight them, because they are many, and now they own the field, their trash is the new truth, because they can repeat it long enough.
I say screw them.
So here’s a poem by Robert E. Howard, born on this day in 1906, a fine writer and an intelligent man, that sometimes wrote rubbish, but even then, with flair.
Because here in Karavansara we remember, and care.
Dreams of Nineveh
Silver bridge in a broken sky,
Golden fruit on a withered bough,
Red-lipped slaves that the ancients buy—
What are the dreams of Nineveh now?
Ghostly hoofs in the brooding night
Beat the bowl of the velvet stars.
Shadows of spears when the moon is white
Cross the sands with ebony bars.
But not the shadows that brood her fall
May check the sweep of the desert fire,
Nor a dead man lift up a crumbling wall,
Nor a spectre steady a falling spire.
Death fires rise in the desert sky
Where the armies of Sargon reeled;
And though her people still sell and buy,
Nineveh’s doom is set and sealed.
Silver mast with a silken sail,
Sapphire seas ‘neath a purple prow,
Hawk-eyed tribes on the desert trail—
What are the dreams of Nineveh now?
In case you’re interested, the poems of Robert E. Howard can be found here, courtesy of WikiSource.