Adrian Cole’s Treason in Zagadar

by Gary Romeo

“Treason in Zagadar” was first published in The Anthology of Fantasy & The Supernatural, edited by Stephen Jones and David Sutton, Tiger Books International, London, 1994. The story is by Adrian Cole.

From Wikipedia: Adrian Christopher Synnot Cole (born 22 July 1949 in Plymouth, England), is a British writer. He is known for his Dream Lords trilogy, the Omaran Saga and Star Requiem series, and his young adult novels, Moorstones and The Sleep of Giants.

Mr. Cole is a participating member in some of the same Facebook groups that I’m a member of. We have never interacted, but everything suggests he is a personable fellow. I hope he doesn’t mind the few criticisms I have of this short story.

When doing a King Kull pastiche, you have two routes you can follow. Do a “By This Axe I Rule!” or “The Shadow Kingdom” type of story or do a metaphysical story like “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune” or “The Screaming Skull of Silence.” Adrian Cole chose the former.

The opening line is “Three men sat alone, dreaming of power and grandeur as the huge primordial sun sank down like a bloody ball of fire into the western ocean where Atlantis still held sway…” I thought that a nicely poetic sentence reminiscent of Robert E. Howard.

We are introduced to Gorvic, who is related to King Borna, whom Kull slew to obtain his kingship. Later we are introduced to Xaldeev, a necromancer. Xaldeev secreted Gorvic to Zagadar when Borna’s throne was usurped by Kull. Both Gorvic and Xaldeev mistakenly believe Kull would have had Gorvic slain, as a threat to his throne. Of course, any reader familiar with the Kull stories knows that Kull was not that petty. He left Kaanuub, a known relative of Borna, alone when he became king. But Xaldeev hadn’t read that story. 🙂

Xaldeev is not alone for long. An “obsequious creature” tells Xaldeev he has a visitor. Three people plotting? Are these the three referred to at the beginning? Nope. Finally, we are introduced to Ambellus, a general of Kull’s Red Slayers. To my thinking, this first chapter works just a little too hard to set a mood and somewhat confusingly introduces characters like the “obsequious creature” and a specific “serpent man” who do not figure significantly in the later narrative.

Anyway, onward. Zagadar is a remote southern kingdom that started out as a military outpost allied to Valusia. Gorvic became king of Zagadar when the military outpost declared independence. He is a tested warrior and leader of men having fought off attacking Grondarians and serpent men and other monstrosities that exist in the nearby jungles.

With the second chapter, things come more into focus and the writing became more straight forward in my opinion. Gorvic refers to Kull as “the Tiger” which is kinda cool (at first, anyway.) Gorvic tells Ambellus that Kull and his Red Slayers need to come to Zagadar to help exterminate the serpent men. Ambellus recklessly decides to make a foray into the jungle with his own Red Slayer army to attack a serpent men citadel and to also prove that the Red Slayers are better warriors than any in Zagadar.

It is all a big trap. Ambellus and his men are taken to the citadel and the Red Slayers begin smashing up the place. They are then attacked by a large force of serpent men and wiped out. Ambellus swears “By the Tiger” upon realizing he fell into a trap. Gorvic and Xaldeev have come up with this trap to force “the Tiger” into coming to Zagadar.

When Kull learns his best general was slain by the serpent men, he goes to Zagadar as Gorvic and Xaldeev knew he would. Adrian Cole captures the relationship between Kull and Brule very well. You can feel REH’s voice coming through. But when Kull refers to himself as “the Tiger” I was disappointed. It was cool when others referred to him that way but not so much when Kull referred to himself that way. (Now I’m worried someone will find where REH had Kull doing it too! Oh well, mea culpa if that happens!)

Gorvic and Xaldeev’s plan to kill Kull and install Gorvic as the king of Valusia seems to have a few flaws to my thinking but villains never think it all the way through. The plan as stated is to kill Kull and his army with the aid of the serpent men and then leave for Valusia letting the serpent men take over Zagadar. Why Gorvic thinks Valusians would readily accept him after proving himself incapable of protecting his own kingdom doesn’t enter his thoughts.

Others may disagree but I think Cole makes a bit of a mistake in the fifth chapter titled “Within Accursed Walls” by having Kull and Brule behave somewhat stupidly. They are in Gorvic’s palace deciding how to attack the serpent men when they notice movement in the tapestry. Brule tosses his spear at the moving figure. When they look behind the tapestry, they see a hidden chamber where the intruder has fled. Instead of asking Gorvic about hidden entrances or calling forth guards to search for such, Kull merely opines, “The smell of the serpent. We must sleep lightly this night.”

The next day Kull decides to lead his men to the place where Ambellus was ambushed. Before that happens, the serpent men attack the palace walls. Forgetting that the serpent men have secret access to the palace Kull concentrates the fight on defending the walls. Of course, the serpent men get into the palace via secret access, and they start to win the battle.

I won’t spoil the ending but will say Xaldeev goes rogue and changes the plan conjuring up a pretty nifty beastie. Adrian Cole gets into action mode and the writing won me over despite my nitpicks. I’d welcome more Kull from him.

The story ends more on a Conan note than a Kull one though: “And Kull threw back his head and laughed at the stars, a loud ringing sound, filled with relief that the crisis had passed.”

The book was later reissued as The Giant Book of Fantasy and the Supernatural.

Dennis McHaney’s REH and Weird Tales

by Gary Romeo

Robert E. Howard and Weird Tales, Old Tiger Press, 2021 is a very attractive, heavily illustrated, and informative book from the prolific and cantankerous Dennis McHaney. Mr. McHaney is a longtime REH fan and one of the primary fan publishers of the 1970s. (Most likely, Dennis will find fault with that description.) Ordering information appears at the end of this article. It is available through http://www.lulu.com and retails for $45.

To be honest, I delayed purchasing this book due to the price. Lulu does send out periodic discount coupon offers but with shipping and sales tax this book can still be pricey. Complete digital scans of EVERY issue of Weird Tales can be found inexpensively on eBay and free online with enough patience. And this book is 80% reproductions of covers, letters, and poems that are found within Weird Tales. But the 20% that consists of McHaney’s organizing the data, adding excerpts from REH’s letters, and his sometimes acerbic commentary makes it worth the purchase price.

First off, the reproductions are of the highest quality. Every illustration is crisp, clear, and usually colorful. McHaney has expertly colorized several black & white illustrations and photographs enhancing my appreciation of them. The ONLY flaw is that in some of the full page reproductions the page number of the book appears as part of the reproduction.

This flaw appears sporadically throughout the book. The majority of the full page reproductions are without this flaw but it occurs just enough to be off putting.

I love the way the book is organized in chronological order. It starts with a brief overview of REH’s life but correctly states, “This book is neither a biography of Howard’s life, nor a history of Weird Tales. It is the saga of their time together, the good and the bad, and how they fit in the history they both carved out in the world of trash entertainment.”

McHaney proceeds to give a short history of how the book came to be. He starts with the 90s, skipping over his early publishing endeavors. For some reason McHaney avoids mentioning REHupa, the amateur press organization where his prototypes first appeared. For disclosure’s sake, I’ll admit to being a joint member of REHupa and I do consider Dennis McHaney to be a friend. With that caveat in mind, I hope you find me an honest critic and I’ll state what I believe to be mistakes (as in the criticism above) and state my quibbles such as they are.

As stated before, the book covers REH and Weird Tales in chronological order. This works fantastically well. You can see REH’s increasing appearances and accolades. As far as I can tell, McHaney does not miss a single instance of REH’s name being mentioned in “The Unique Magazine.”

My first quibble is McHaney mentioning, but not reproducing, in full, the Weird Tales 1932 Curtis Senf cover illustration of Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Monster of Prophecy.” It is reproduced in the book, but in blown-up fashion, without all the cover detail. Here it is in full:

Later McHaney mentions that REH’s story “Old Garfield’s Heart” was not treated well by Weird Tales, appearing underneath another story’s ending and without any illustrations as shown below:

Interestingly, REH scholar Bobby Derie found an old comic book, Voodoo #12, 1953 that contains a story that “borrows” its plot from “Old Garfield’s Heart.”

The best feature of this book is that McHaney reprints all the letters and comments from “The Eyrie.” McHaney points us to a letter written by REH’s mother. It’s the one with the heading, “He Seems to Like Conan.”

I wish McHaney had specifically identified more of the authors of these letters in his narrative. That would have been a tedious task, and authors like Robert Bloch really do not need to be identified but some of the lesser known, but important (in the life of REH), could have used a note. In particular, Alvin Earl Perry, a friend of REH’s and John D. Clark, who was instrumental in the creation of the Gnome Press Conan series. Also there is a reprinted letter from H. P. of Dallas that I believe is from another REH friend, Harold Preece. But it is understandable that McHaney lets the names speak for themselves instead of trying to identify each and everyone of them.

I liked McHaney’s humor at several points even though one or two caustic remarks slightly bugged me. One of the humorous ones was when McHaney commented on an angry letter from the properly named Fred Anger. McHaney quips, “Mr. Anger sounds like some modern REH fans ready to slaughter over an unkind word [about REH].”

There is a slight, very slight, mistake in the section (March 1936) dealing with The Hour of the Dragon. McHaney states that the March issue contains chapters 15 – 20 of the novel. The chapters that appear are 15 -19. There was no chapter 20. The April issue begins with chapter 21. It has been determined that Weird Tales mistakenly numbered the chapters and that nothing is missing from the printed story.

After REH’s death several readers asked that another writer take up chronicling the adventures of Conan. McHaney agrees with Weird Tales editor, Farnsworth Wright that that is a bad idea. When McHaney calls one of the people requesting pastiche a “dimwit” I laughed even though I think L. Sprague de Camp’s arranging the Conan stories in chronological order and completing new adventures was a grand idea and that de Camp hate is the most tedious fault of REH fandom. The marketplace agreed with de Camp of course and the Lancer Conan series (along with the 1982 movie) remains the high point of Conan’s popularity.

While McHaney and myself disagree on that issue, we agree that REH and Conan deserve to be popular and I think we’d both agree he did a fine job compiling and authoring this book. I highly recommend its purchase.

https://www.lulu.com/shop/dennis-mchaney/robert-e-howard-and-weird-tales/paperback/product-5572yr.html?page=1&pageSize=4

Hopefully, Dennis McHaney can make it to Howard Days this year and bring copies of this book for purchase. It is definitely a cornerstone book and a valuable reference for REH fans.

Harlan Ellison Wrote a Sword & Sorcery Story?

by Gary Romeo

In 1956, L. Sprague de Camp was having problems with a teenager in his neighborhood. In a letter to his friend and colleague, Alan Nourse, he reports a neighborhood story that the teenager in question pulled a knife on another teenager who was baby-sitting for one of his neighbors. De Camp uses that story to justify his dislike of the teen:

Ellison, pretty much always tongue in cheek, certainly didn’t expect de Camp to take his advice, nor did de Camp do so. Eventually time solved the issue and if it weren’t for the fact that de Camp and Ellison were writers, all this would have been long forgotten.

“No Game for Children” first appeared in Rogue Magazine. It was later reprinted in Gentleman Junkie, Pyramid Books, 1961. The story is a fictionalized account of de Camp and his teen-age adversary. De Camp is renamed Herbert Mestman. “[He] was forty-one years old . He was six feet two inches tall and had suffered from one of the innumerable children’s diseases at the age of seven, that had left him with a build decidedly pigeon-chested and slim to the point of emaciation.” De Camp , in reality, had once been put on a whole milk diet in order to increase his weight.

Ellison continues the story introducing Frenchie Morrow, the 17 year old neighbor of Herbert Mestman. Frenchie is the typical fast living teen. Girls, hot-rods, and rock ‘n roll music. Frenchie first annoys Mestman when he discovers Frenchie peering into the bedroom window where his wife was undressing for the night. Complaining to the boy’s father only results in Mestman almost getting punched out by his burly neighbor.

Frenchie, now vindictive, uses his hot-rod skills to scare Mestman while Mestman was driving home from the grocery store. Frenchie, psychopathic now, kills a cat and leaves it at Mestman’s door. Later he attacks Mrs. Mestman and almost rapes her. Mestman, instead of going to the police, pays some juvenile delinquents to stage a car race and has them cut the brakes to Frenchie’s car. Frenchie dies in the crash. “It certainly was not … not at all … a game for children.”

Ellison later criticized de Camp and Lin Carter for their role in continuing the adventures of Robert E. Howard’s Conan and famously called (arguably in a good way) REH “bat-shit crazy.” Criticizing others and being provocative was Ellison’s shtick. Ellison, at one time, announced he was writing a novel based of REH’s life to be titled Rif. A short prospectus was published in an updated reprint of Approaching Oblivion, Abbey Archive, 2021.

Rif, is the Conan-like hero created by Donald Shackbyne, the REH like-writer. (The two characters are a “riff” on REH’s life and work, I suppose.) There is a third character Mr. Dangler. When Shackbyne’s mother dies, Shackbyne writes a book of philosophy, then kills himself. That book (along with other events) will lead to world’s end. Dangler manipulates time and has Shackbyne meeting a woman (“girl,” according to Ellison) before writing the book. Basically, Dangler offers Shackbyne earthly happiness in exchange for the immortality of an important book. It could have possibly been an interesting take on REH’s life. Ellison never completed the book so we have no idea of what would have been Ellison’s final take on REH. But I do know Ellison had a take on Sword & Sorcery.

“Delusion for a Dragon Slayer” was first published in Knight Magazine, September 1966. It has been reprinted in a slightly updated form several times since then. Marvel Comics adapted the story for Chamber of Chills #1.

Like with Heinlein’s S&S story, most will object this is not a true S&S story. But it should at least count as a “meta” one. The story starts with a list of surprising deaths. Accidental, fluky, happenstance wrong place wrong time type of deaths. A building demolition causes a gas line explosion and William Glazer Griffin gets his own surprising death.

Rather than the nothingness you would expect he is now on a sailing vessel and has the physique of a typical S&S hero. “He was Nordic blond, aquiline-nosed, steely blue-eyed.”

Sword in hand, Griffin encounters a wizard who tells him he is in heaven. “Heaven is what you mix all the days of your life, but you call it dreams.” The wizard continues and tells Griffin he has to “overcome the foam-devil that guards the girl, [and] win her love” on his own terms. Basically, that he is going on a S&S or at least a Heroic Fantasy adventure.

Griffin successfully sails the tides and feels pride. His pride is punished and Grffin loses his ship and crew and finds himself alone on a hostile shore. He crosses the sandy shore into a jungle. “In there somewhere, waited the girl, and the mist-devil, and the promise of life forever …”

After a hard journey Griffin sees “The girl, naked white against the ledges and slopes of the fall […] the certain face of the girl he had always looked for […].” As Griffin goes to approach his dream girl, the mist-devil appears. Griffin feels fear and the mist-devil shrinks to man-size and makes love with the dream girl. Griffin’s loathing causes him to attack the mist-devil with his sword.

The mist-devil is easily defeated and Griffin then rapes his dream girl. Griffin realizes his “brute desire” and “the true faces of his sins, the marks in the ledger of a life he had never led, yet had worshipped silently at an altar of evil.”

A dragon opens its mouth and grinds Griffin to senseless pulp. (My emphasis, but no doubt carefully chosen words by Ellison.)

Griffin’s body is recovered from the demolished building and the emergency responders intuitively feel Griffin’s odd facial expression tells them, “a man may truly live in his dreams, his noblest dreams, but only, only, if he is worthy of those dreams.”

Ellison may not have written a Sword & Sorcery story, but he certainly skewered that “wish-fulfillment” aspect that some readers applaud. I liked Ellison’s story even though I read S&S for some of those same thrills that critics like Isaac Asimov (and seemingly Harlan Ellison) find disheartening.

January 22, Robert E. Howard’s Birthday!

The Centaur Kane Series: Wings in the Night

by Gary Romeo

“Wings in the Night” was first published in Weird Tales, July 1932. It was reprinted in Skull-face and Others, Arkham House, 1946. It appeared in edited form in Red Shadows, Donald M. Grant, 1968. It was reprinted again in The Hand of Kane, Centaur Press, 1968.

There are some textual differences between the Centaur Press version and the “pure-text” version. The “pure-text” version appears in The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, Ballantine (Del Rey) 2004.

CP: savage demons

DR: black demons

CP: man

DR: black man

CP: man

DR: black man

CP: man

DR: black

CP: hideous face

DR: hideous black face

CP: Puritan

DR: white man

CP: savage wrists

DR: black ribs

CP: savage

DR: black

CP: warrior

DR: black man

CP: torn man

DR: black man

CP: the people

DR: the black people

CP: newcomers

DR: black people

CP: natives

DR: black people

CP: fatalistic philosophy of the savage

DR: fatalistic philosophy of the black man

CP: Bogondi

DR: blacks

CP: natives

DR: blacks

CP: Bogondi

DR: black folk

CP: cannibal

DR: black man

CP: The Conqueror (chapter heading)

DR: The White Skinned Conqueror (chapter heading)

CP:

DR:

This heavy editing is toward the end of the story.

Marvel Comics adapted the story in The Savage Sword of Conan #53 and 54. Both parts are by Don Glut and Dave Wenzel. The story was adapted again in The Sword of Solomon Kane #6. Story by Ralph Macchio. Art by John Ridgeway and Al Williamson.

In the Red Shadows hardcover book, Glenn Lord provided brief introductions to each story. These were not reprinted in the Centaur Press paperbacks. The introduction for this story appears below:

Pursued by cannibals, Kane leaves the heavily forested belt, crosses a strip of savannah, and comes to a range of hills.

The story starts with Kane wondering what caused the devastation he sees. Especially confusing was a skeleton dangling in a 60 foot tree. But Kane “felt no fear as an ordinary man would feel.” Kane is described as “tall and spare, almost gaunt, built with the savage economy of the wolf. Broad-shouldered, long-armed, with nerves of ice and thews of spring steel, he was no less the natural killer than the born swordsman.”

Kane had recently encountered a cannibal tribe and believes they are still chasing him. While Kane ponders his next move we learn a little of his past. “Sir Francis Drake had called [Kane] Devon’s king of swords.” And Kane “had rowed, chained to the bench of a Turkish galley, and he toiled in Barbary vineyards, he had battled red Indians in the New Lands and had languished in the dungeons of Spain’s Inquisition. He knew much of the fiendishness of man’s inhumanity.”

Yet Kane is sickened when he sees a mutilated man, still alive, bound to a stake. The man falteringly speaks of the akaana, a priest named Goru, and his own brother who helped bind him. Kane notes that the man’s wounds seem inflicted by fang and talon. As a macaw flies near, the man screams, “The wings! The wings!” and dies.

After burying the man and being attacked by a cannibal, Kane sleeps and has a vision of the nightmarish winged demons known as the akanna. Upon awakening Kane travels near a village and shoots his first akanna. Others attack and one scoops up Kane. After killing his attacker and being dropped in mid-air Kane is found by the villagers where Goru is the priest. Yeah, and they think Kane a god.

Goru turns out to be a decent guy under a lot of stress. The akaana have harried the villagers for years and eventually a sacrifice system was set up to achieve some sort of stability and avoid constant random attacks. Kane remembers the Greek myth where Jason defeated harpies by driving them to the Strophades Isles. Kane surmises these are the same harpies but now fled to Africa.

Goru implores Kane to save them. He recognizes the power in Kane’s ju-ju staff and Kane’s pistols. Kane doubts he can win against the akanna but heroically says, “Yet will I stay here in Bogonda all the rest of my life if ye think I be protection to the people.” He isn’t. The akanna attack and Bogonda is wiped out. Kane survives and comes up with a long-term plan that deprives the akanna of any other food source. He then builds an escape proof structure and butchers a buffalo and places the meat inside to lure the hungry akanna into his trap. When the akanna enter to feast on the buffalo Kane seals the doors from outside and sets it all on fire winning the day.

A modern audience might complain that Kane is too much “the white savior” in this tale. Both the left and right criticized Che Guevara when he considered intervening in the Congo back in the 1960s. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser said it would make Che a “Tarzan” figure. I think Kane deserves a pass here. His willingness “to stay here in Bogonda all the rest of my life” makes him genuinely sympathetic and far more that just a stereotype white savior.

In the edited Centaur Press version the conclusion has the narrator patting “the supreme fighting man” Kane on the back for wiping out the akanna. In the unedited REH version the narrator credits “the Aryan barbarian, white-skinned, cold-eyed, dominant, the supreme fighting man of the earth” for the deed. Yeah, that puts a damper on my theory above.

In any event, and in my opinion, this isn’t the greatest Solomon Kane story. There are long stretches of exposition where very little happens. It is too similar to the much better “The Hills of the Dead.” And is actually, dare I say it, a little boring at times.

The Centaur Kane Series: Notes on the Various Editions

by Gary Romeo

There were three Centaur Press Solomon Kane books.

The Moon of Skulls went through 3 distinct printings. The first printing was cover priced for 60 cents. The second printing added “SECOND BIG EDITION” on the cover and was priced at $1.25. Other than that cover blurb and the price increase the two versions are exactly the same (including back cover and house ads.) The third printing adds “NEW ILLUSTRATED EDITION” to the cover and raises the price to $1.50. This version is illustrated by Marcus Boas. There are minuscule changes in the front matter (title page, table of contents, introduction; these all have slight changes). The big change is 7 new illustrations by Marcus Boas. The house ads are also changed.

The Hand of Kane had two distinct printings. The first was priced at 75 cents. The second printing was priced at $1.50 and had 7 illustrations by Ned Dameron. The house ad for The Pathless Trail was removed. The cover states “NEW ILLUSTRATED EDITION” and features purple ink for the title instead of reddish-pink. The spine uses black ink.

Solomon Kane had three printings. The first was cover priced at 75 cents. The second printing mistakenly says “THIRD BIG PRINTING” on the cover and was priced at $1.25. There are no other differences in the first and second printing. The third printing is priced at $1.50. It does NOT say anything on the front cover about illustrations but mentions them on the back cover. There are some very very minor differences in the front matter. The third printing has 7 illustrations by David Wenzel. Back cover and house ads are the same.

The first two books had brief uncredited introductions (most likely by Glenn Lord). Solomon Kane had an introduction by Albert E. Gechter. Mr. Gechter was a BNF (big name fan) in the late 1950s and early 60s. He wrote articles in Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard magazines. Below is a partial bibliography:

Gechter started a correspondence with Sprague de Camp in 1956:

De Camp responded with information about the next Conan volume:

The illustrated Centaur Press books are available on eBay for usually less than $10. Scanning these caused me to bend the spine of my copies and it was very time consuming to scan just these three. So sorry, I am NOT going to scan every illustration in every book. Hopefully, even with that final disappointment, this information was useful.

Heinlein Wrote a Sword & Sorcery Novel?

by Gary Romeo

In L. Sprague de Camp’s autobiography, Time and Chance (Donald M. Grant, 1996), he recounts how in early 1942, he applied for a commission in the United States Naval Reserve. A friend of Robert Heinlein’s, A. B. Scoles was a Lieutenant-Commander and director of the Aeronautical Materials Laboratory of the Naval Aircraft Factory at the Philadelphia Naval Base. Scoles had the idea of recruiting science fiction writers to work at his Materials Laboratory.

Sprague was given his naval commission, while Heinlein and Isaac Asimov were employed as civilians. De Camp fictionalized some of his experience working there into his novel The Arrows of Hercules (Doubleday, 1965) which he dedicated “To Isaac Asimov and Bob Heinlein, in memory of our own Ortygian days.” De Camp’s novel was about the invention of the catapult in 399 B. C. Dionysios’ “materials laboratory” was on the Greek island of Ortygia.

The three men remained friends and each continued their writing careers. Heinlein and Asimov’s names are now synonymous with science fiction. De Camp’s highlights consist more of historical fiction (the aforementioned The Arrows of Hercules among others) alternate futures (Lest Darkness Fall, The Wheels of If), and fantasy (the Harold Shea stories written with Fletcher Pratt and his stewardship of Robert E. Howard’s Conan).

De Camp and Heinlein often corresponded by postal mail. In 1951, after discovering the greatness that is Conan the Conqueror, de Camp wrote to Heinlein first discussing personal matters and later giving him an update on their mutual friend and colleague, John D. Clark:

For me, de Camp saying: “once I start one of the damned things I can’t put it down” overrides the “oafish superman” comment but your mileage may vary. In any event de Camp overcame any reservations he had about Robert E. Howard and became, in Michael Moorcock’s words, “Howard’s greatest publicist and supporter.”

Also, for proper context, we need to consider that de Camp’s introduction to Howard, The Hour of the Dragon AKA Conan the Conqueror does have its flaws. Steve Dilks, sword & sorcery author and administrator of several REH-oriented Facebook pages, writes in a Goodreads review of the book: “As for the novel itself though, I risk losing my Conan fan club card by announcing that this is not Howard at his best. There are some well written passages but overall, it lacks atmosphere and relies too much on coincidence instead of a proper plot machination. Conan vanquishes everything that comes across his path all too easily.”

And, of course, de Camp may have been purposely understating his enjoyment of pulp fiction due to Heinlein’s prominence as the top SF writer who had “made the slicks.” Heinlein was SF. His books, still to this day, are regularly available in bookstores. Heinlein was a man to defer to – then and now. And de Camp’s other friend, Isaac Asimov, a close second in being the author who defines SF was no fan of Sword & Sorcery. When Asimov was the editor of the science fiction magazine that bears his name, he wrote an article about why he dislikes Sword & Sorcery. First published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, January 1985 and reprinted in Asimov’s Galaxy: Reflections on SF (1989), and later Magic (1996). The basic thesis is that S&S typically values brawn over brain.

Asimov wrote his “Black Widowers” series based on the real-life “Trap Door Spiders” which was a loose confederation of writers who met for dinner at various places. In the story “Northwestward” when the men are talking about the “Superman” ideal, the de Camp character, Geoffrey Avalon mentions, “Even half a century ago, we had the development of Conan by Robert E. Howard, as a modern legend. These were all far stronger than we puny fellows are, but they were not godlike. […].” Whatever reservations de Camp may have had in the beginning in extolling the virtues of REH and Conan were now overcome. De Camp was clearly known as the REH/Conan fan among his peers.

Heinlein, Asimov, and de Camp traveled in the same circles. All knew George Scithers, editor and publisher of the premiere REH/Conan fan magazine, Amra. According to author Darrell Schweitzer, “Heinlein wrote [Glory Road] when George Scithers suggested he couldn’t write Sword & Sorcery. It was more or less a dare.”

Glory Road first appeared in serialized form starting in the July 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It quickly appeared in hardcover. The book is dedicated “For George H. Scithers and the regular patrons of the Terminus, Owlswick, & Ft. Mudge Electrick Street Railway.” Which means the readers of Amra. Which is nice! Amra is not always given the respect it is due as the first magazine dedicated to REH and Conan.

There is no question that Heinlein is a talented writer. Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers are modern classics. His short story “Jerry Was a Man” is prescient in a true to life way. Animal Rights groups have initiated court cases that almost exactly mimic that story.

Several will protest that Glory Road is not sword & sorcery; but it does fit the overall format of heroic fantasy which arguably only differs from Sword & Sorcery in subjective ways. (The novel was written in 1962, the hard divisions between SF, Fantasy, Sword & Planet, Heroic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, etc. were not as defined then.) The introduction in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction clearly stresses the favorite S&S tropes: adventure, broadswords, and a lovely woman.

The plot (which certainly sounds more like heroic fantasy than SF) has the hero, a Vietnam war vet, answering a newspaper ad that leads him to the adventure with the beautiful heroine, Star. They begin a quest for an Egg that contains knowledge that Star wants. There is adventure but it never grabbed me. After their quest is completed our hero is bored. He comes back home to Earth, begins to doubt the adventure ever happened and places a newspaper ad that his former adventure companion, Rufo (a sort of Moonglum to his Elric) sees and the novel ends with our hero given another chance to travel the Glory Road. “Got any dragons you need killed?”

According to Heinlein biographer, William H. Patterson Jr., “The apparatus of wizards and aristocrats didn’t much appeal to Heinlein’s democratic soul. Instead he made Glory Road a kind of “gay deceiver.” Los Angeles SF fan Walt Liebscher had coined the term to describe fantastic stories that had mundane explanations – dreams, most often. The “fantasy” elements of Heinlein’s new story would be high-level technology, applied mathematics mostly, and literary psychology , so that the fantasy would be science fiction in masquerade.” The novel was started as The Power and the Glory on April 12, 1962. It was changed to Glory Road when published.

The novel is told in the first person in a breezy somewhat smart-aleck way that is almost fun at first but quickly wore on me. There is humor but I thought it more sophomoric than incisive. Lines like “I was twenty-one but couldn’t figure out which party to vote against” are funny but display more cynicism than I personally like. Conan is name-checked and another weak joke (as they begin their journey), “don’t make a hobbit of it” references Tolkein of course. Written in 1962 it does reference a lot of people and products of the time: Booth Tarkington, Hugh Hefner, Ronson Lighters. But I had a hard time enjoying the novel even with the nostalgia from my childhood era.

As I should never be the final arbiter of any opinion and in the interest of fairness, I reproduce from Wikipedia, some other opinions of the novel: Samuel R. Delany called the novel “endlessly fascinating” and said that it “maintains a delicacy, a bravura, and a joy”. The novel’s second half has been praised as intriguing, as it goes into what happens after a typical hero’s journey is finished. Oscar is married to a ruler in a situation that should be “happily ever after” and the end of many works, yet the novel continues rather than stops: having nothing to do and nothing new to conquer is itself a struggle for Oscar. A review at SF Site by Peter D. Tillman thought the book was okay, but felt it had aged poorly in parts. While Tillman acknowledged loving the book while younger and it making a good “pulp” read, he felt that it wasted too much time on Heinlein’s personal hang-ups and rants, and that the relationship between Oscar and Star was too much puerile wish-fulfillment. Glory Road was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1964, losing to Way Station by Clifford D. Simak.

Of these three SF greats only de Camp really understood the appeal of Sword & Sorcery. Heinlein and Asimov are still on the Barnes & Noble shelves but sadly, for me anyway, de Camp (and the Lancer/Ace Conan series) is not. De Camp’s detour into Sword & Sorcery overrode his SF career but it was clearly a genre he loved and flourished in for a good while. Conan pastiche (and you can credit or blame de Camp as you wish) is still a thing though, with S. M. Stirling’s Blood of the Serpent being available at the local B&N.

As a Sword & Sorcery fan I’m glad de Camp made that detour.

The Centaur Kane Series: Hawk of Basti

by Gary Romeo

“Hawk of Basti” is an incomplete story. It was first published in edited form in Red Shadows, Donald M. Grant, 1968. It was reprinted in The Hand of Kane, Centaur Press, 1970. It was reprinted again, in its edited form, with an added ending by Ramsey Campbell in Solomon Kane: The Hills of the Dead, Bantam Books, 1979.

In the introduction to this book Ramsey Campbell wrote: “I have added conclusions to the two unfinished stories, “Hawk of Basti,” and “The Children of Asshur.” In both, Howard’s original work has been left untouched.” He was incorrect. He was undoubtedly unaware of Donald M. Grant’s prior edits to the stories. At that point in time L. Sprague de Camp was the ONLY editor of Robert E. Howard who clearly told his readers that he edited the author’s work. De Camp’s detractors later used de Camp’s honesty against him while ignoring the edits made by Donald Grant, Glenn Lord, and others.

Textual differences between the Centaur Press version and the “pure-text” Ballantine (Del Rey) version are as follows:

CP: By the gods of Hades!

DR: By the black gods of Hades!

CP: savages

DR: blacks

CP: natives

DR: blacks

CP: I found a strange people upon the islands — and a curious and ungodly race

DR: I found a strange people upon the islands — black folk and a curious and ungodly race

CP: people

DR: black people

CP: slaves

DR: black slaves

CP: the latter

DR: these black people

CP: women

DR: black women

CP: men

DR: black men

CP: great altar

DR: black altar

CP: Masuto

DR: black

CP: torturing devils

DR: brown-skinned devils

CP: Masutos

DR: black people

CP: slaves

DR: black folk

CP: Matsutos and the Khabasti (the order was switched)

DR: brown folk and the black

CP: Matsutos

DR: black people

CP: savage

DR: black

CP: warriors

DR: black men

CP: warriors

DR: brown men

CP: some

DR: black men

CP: the warriors of both factions

DR: the warriors, brown and black,

In the Red Shadows hardcover book, Glenn Lord provided brief introductions to each story. These were not reprinted in the Centaur Press paperbacks. Below is the introduction to this story. (FYI: I’ve since added those introductions to the three previous reviews.)

Kane continues bearing eastward from the Slave Coast.

There have not been any comic book adaptations of “Hawk of Basti.” Some of the dialogue does give credence to how Solomon Kane was portrayed at the start of the Solomon Kane movie though. Jeremy Hawk, an old acquaintance of Kane, stumble into each other in the heart of Africa.

“Well, Solomon, my sober cutthroat, it’s been many a year since I gazed on that sombre face of yours, but I’d know it in Hades. Come, have you forgotten the brave old days when we harried the Dons from the Azores to Darien and back again? Cutlass and cannonade! By the bones of the saints, ours was a red trade!” Later, Hawk refers to Kane as “my melancholy murderer.”

Hawk makes Kane sound like the bloodthirsty Captain portrayed by James Purefoy at the start of the movie. If the movie had chosen another way to redeem Kane instead of that “the devil owns his soul” nonsense I would have unquestionably loved the film even more.

Hawk tells his story and it could be a Conan yarn. Hawk was a captain on a vessel attacked by a Spanish warship and after retreating to the Slave Coast is attacked by natives. Hawk survives the multiple attacks and comes upon an isolated kingdom which has a rigid caste system. The ruling caste being the Khabasti and the slave class being the Masutos. Instead of being killed “White Privilege” saves his ass. They think him a god since he is white and juggles well. (Really, no joke.)

Hawk organizes a coup against the Khabasti, something that needed to be done, but later it becomes evident that Hawk became a tyrant himself. A countercoup occurred and now Hawk is fleeing for his life. He recruits Kane to help him. Kane agrees to do so only knowing about Khabasti brutality toward the Masutos.

REH narrates: “Both of these men were born rovers and killers, curst with a paranoid driving urge that burned them like a quenchless fire and never gave them rest.”

The natives chasing Hawk arrive and Hawk using Kane’s pistol shoots their leader in the head calming down the rest of the natives. Hawk intends to resume his kingship and belittles the natives. Kane seems to take it all in stride. And here the story ends.

Ramsey Campbell completes the tale from this point on. If you haven’t read Campbell’s version but plan too then I have to warn of spoilers ahead.

Hawk intends to confront Agara, the leader of the countercoup. Kane senses that the natives might not be completely cowed into obeying Hawk. As Kane frowns, Hawk says, “Time’s robbed you of your manhood, my old prayer-teller, since I saw you paint your cutlass bright red in men’s guts.”

Kane gets miffed but “could scarcely leave his fellow countryman alone amid the warriors.” When Agara is finally confronted, rather than fight, he meekly submits to Hawk’s rule.

During the night, N’Longa speaks to Kane in a dream, and is told to let Hawk take his cat-headed voodoo staff. The next morning Agara throws the men a party. Hawk drinks too much and even Kane lets his guard down. Agara has a woman disarm Kane while he disarms Hawk. Hawk calls for a duel in magic. Kane gives Hawk the voodoo staff and Hawk performs some impressive magic, making the iron hard staff wiggle snake-like, multiplying it, and impaling himself without harm.

Agara transforms himself into a moon-faced creature and would have won the magic duel, but Hawk uses the voodoo staff to kill Agara. But it isn’t Hawk! N’Longa has taken over Hawk’s mind and body and will now rule the land of Basti.

I’m not sure that is how REH would have finished the story, but it works okay. Neither Agara nor Hawk were fit rulers. N’Longa taking over Hawk’s body (it is suggested it will be temporary) to bring some sort of stability to this kingdom (end slavery, human sacrifice, and benefit both the Khabasti and Masutos) seems a logical way to achieve justice. Which is important in Kane stories. So, Campbell did a fair job, and REH’s hints about Kane’s past in the first half were very intriguing.

The Weird Tales Collector

by Gary Romeo

The Weird Tales Collector only lasted six issues. But interest in Weird Tales continues on. This little known publication ran from 1977 – 1980. It was edited and published by Robert & Phyllis Weinberg. The price was $2 a copy. Today they sell anywhere from $15 – $20 on eBay.

In the late 1970s, Robert Weinberg was the Weird Tales expert. Weinberg’s strength was his promotion of other pulpsters besides the big three: H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard. Weinberg’s anthology Far Below and other horrors, Fax Collector’s Editions, 1974, included one story by Robert E. Howard but the other 10 authors were relatively unknown to contemporary readers.

Weinberg’s tour de force is most likely The Weird Tales Story, Fax Collector’s Editions, 1977 (and reprinted by Wildside Press in 1999). This book featured articles on the magazine, the editors, the writers, and the artists of Weird Tales. A really good book that had an expanded edition published in 2021.

The expanded and enhanced version was published with the permission of John Betancourt, who has been announced as the Guest of Honor at this year’s Howard Days celebration. (Robert E. Howard Days is coming April 28-29, 2023!)

From Wikipedia: John Gregory Betancourt (born October 25, 1963) is an American writer of science fiction, fantasy and mystery novels, as well as short stories. He is also known as the founder and publisher, with his wife Kim Betancourt, of Wildside Press in 1989. In 1998, they entered the print on demand (PoD) market and greatly expanded their production. In addition to publishing new novels and short stories, they have undertaken projects to publish new editions of collections of stories that appeared in historic magazines.

The updated book includes contributions from a variety of pulp scholars: S.T. Joshi, Darrell Schweitzer, Mike Ashley, Rob Roehm, Bobby Derie, Jason Ray Carney, Adrian Cole, Morgan Holmes, and Terence E. Hanley. A highly recommended book!

Anyway, onward. Let’s now take a look at The Weird Tales Collector…

The Weird Tales Collector #1

This 32 page magazine consists of a table of contents, a 2 page editorial, 12 pages of articles, and a 17 page index to Weird Tales (a listing of the contents of each issue from March 1923 to December 1927.

Of interest are two articles on Edmond Hamilton. Known primarily for his Captain Future stories (and being married to Leigh Brackett) the article by E. Hoffman Price talks about their friendship and some of Hamilton’s best stories. Weinberg’s article concentrates on the work Hamilton did for Weird Tales.

The third article is on lesser-known WT writer, Everil Worrell. The article is written by Worrell’s daughter, Jeanne Eileen Murphy. It is a nice biographical sketch on one of the many female writers who contributed to Weird Tales.

The Weird Tales Collector #2

The format for this issue is pretty much the same as the first issue. A table of contents, an editorial, 5 articles, a Weird Tales gallery (all B&W illos), and the index. Weinberg included an in-house advertisement as the last page.

The first article by Robert Weinberg profiles Margaret Brundage. Weinberg had a face-to-face meeting with her before she passed away in 1976. Weinberg gives us a personal look at this fabulous artist. Next up is a poem by Farnsworth Wright that was originally published in Fantasy Magazine. Weird Tales writer, Amelia Reynolds Long is profiled by Chet Williamson.

Edmond Hamilton appears again in the second issue in a reprinted article and August Derleth is profiled by Atom (DC Superhero) namesake, Ray Palmer. Both the Hamilton and Derleth articles also appeared first in Fantasy Magazine.

The Index lists the contents of Weird Tales issues from January 1928 – December 1932.

The Weird Tales Collector #3

The only format change this time out is back cover art by Dave Gallon. Previously the back covers were blank. Only 3 articles this time out.

“Literature With a Capital Hell” by Malcolm W. Ferguson is an attempt at higher literary criticism. “Unlocking the Night” by Mike Ashley is an interesting look at writers Oscar Cook and Christine Campbell Thomson. Ms. Thomson edited the “Not at Night” series that gave several WT authors their first hardcover appearances. In the last article in this issue, Forry Ackerman provides another look at Margaret Brundage.

The Index covers WT issues from January 1933 – September 1938.

The Weird Tales Collector #4

The fourth issue is more of the same, this time with a back cover by Frank Hamilton.

“Self-Portrait” by Henry S. Whitehead is a biographical sketch by the popular Weird Tales author. “H. S. Chibbett” by Mike Ashley is about Harold S.W. Chibbett, whose writings appeared in several weird magazines but only once in Weird Tales. “Weird Whisperings” by Robert Weinberg reprints excerpts from the news column of that name that appeared in The Fantasy Fan.

A “Letters” section is new. There are letters from Richard Winter, Robert Bloch, and E. Hoffman Price.

The Index covers WT issues from October 1938 – July 1950.

The Weird Tales Collector #5

The table of contents, an editorial, two articles, photos of Seabury Quinn and Mary Elizabeth Counselman, the letters column, the index, a poem by Walter Shedlofsky, and back cover art by Bob Kellough complete this issue.

“The Very Much So Clever Fellow” by Robert Sampson is a longish article about Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin. Included are two full page illustrations by Steve Fabian. “Reader’s Choice” by Robert A. W. Lowndes tells us who the readers of WT thought best for the issues from 1924 – 1926.

The Index covers WT from September 1950 – Summer 1974.

Letters are from Jack Williamson, Robert A. W. Lowndes, and Mike Ashley.

The Weird Tales Collector #6

The final issue has the table of contents, an editorial, 4 articles, 1 poem, the letters column, and an index to Strange Stories. There is no back cover art this time.

The editorial apologizes for the year long delay between issues but there is no indication that this will be the last issue.

“The Raconteur of Emerald Lake” by Thomas Kent Miller and Gary von Terbach is a look at the works of E. Hoffman Price. “An Interview with Mary Elizabeth Counselman” by Stephen Gresham is a nice Q & A with the talented author. “The Case of the Moonlighting Physicians” by Chet Williamson is a humorous piece on Doctor advertisements that probably influenced Virgil Finlay’s renditions of de Grandin and Trowbridge. “Reader’s Choice” by Robert A. W. Lowndes continues with choices from readers for WT issues 1927 – 1929.

The letters are from E. Hoffman Price, Mike Ashley, Robert A. W. Lowndes, and Lila Thomson.

Sadly, the magazine ended publication with this issue.

The Centaur Kane Series: The Hills of the Dead

by Gary Romeo

“The Hills of the Dead” was first published in Weird Tales, August 1930. It was reprinted in Skull-Face and Others, Arkham House, 1946 and then reprinted in edited form in Red Shadows, Donald M. Grant, 1968.

The first paperback publication of the story appeared in The Hand of Kane, Centaur Press, 1968. This was the second volume of Solomon Kane stories in the Centaur “Time-Lost Series.” The text was taken from the Red Shadows hardcover published by Donald M. Grant.

There are some textual differences between the Centaur Press version of the story and the “pure-text” version published in The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, Ballantine Books (Del Rey) 2004.

CP: Englishman

DR: white man

CP: old voodoo man

DR: black man

CP: The girl was slim and well-formed. Her nose was straight and thin-bridged. She was a deep brown in color, perhaps with a strong Berber strain.

DR: The girl was a much higher type than the thick-lipped, bestial West Coast negroes to whom Kane had been used. She was slim and finely formed, of a deep brown hue rather than ebony; her nose was straight and thin bridged, her lips were not too thick. Somewhere in her blood there was a strong Berber strain.

CP: two men

DR: two black men

CP: different from any he had ever seen

DR: different from any negroes he had seen

CP: great forms

DR: great black forms

CP: the man’s shoulders

DR: the negro’s shoulders

CP: the two went down together

DR: the white man and black man went down together

CP: the stranger

DR: the black

CP: savage (should have been savage’s)

DR: black’s

CP: the stranger’s body

DR: the negro’s body

CP: the man’s skull

DR: the black man’s skull

CP: The savage creature

DR: The black man

CP: sinewy back

DR: black giant’s back

CP: the other’s neck

DR: the negro’s neck

CP: The body

DR: The black man

CP: man

DR: negro

CP: dead fellows

DR: dead black fellows

CP: The wave of vampires

DR: The black wave

CP: dark shapes

DR: black shapes

CP: dark insects

DR: black insects

CP: slave to the Bukra and learned

DR: slave to the Buckra – the white man – and learned

Like the other Kane stories edited by Donald Grant; some edits were arguably needed, and other edits probably not.

Marvel Comics adapted “The Hills of the Dead” originally in their black & white magazines. It was adapted in two parts for Kull and the Barbarians #2 and #3. The script was by Roy Thomas. The first part had art by Alan Weiss and Neal Adams. The second part was by Alan Weiss and Pablo Marcos. Kane was a brunette in these issues. Previously Marvel had Kane drawn as having blonde hair.

Later Marvel Comics did a six issue The Sword of Solomon Kane comic book. “The Hills of the Dead” was adapted a second time and featured in issue #5. The adaptation was by Ralph Macchio and Jon Bogdanove. Cover art by Frank Cirocco.

Artwork by Gary Gianni

In the Red Shadows hardcover book, Glenn Lord provided brief introductions to each story. These were not reprinted in the Centaur Press paperbacks. Below is the introduction to this story.

In 1591, Lord Thomas Howard, with a fleet of sixteen ships, was sent to intercept the homeward bound treasure fleet of Spain. Kane was aboard the “Revenge” under Sir Richard Grenville. Off the Portuguese coast they encounter a fleet of fifty-three Spanish ships bearing up to the Azores to meet the treasure fleet. Howard and the fleet avoid contact, but the “Revenge” was becalmed under the lee of a large galleon, and after a fight of some fifteen hours, the ship is captured with one hundred and fifty men; Grenville is fatally wounded. Kane languished for a time under the tender mercies of the Inquisition, but finally manages to escape. He next turns up back on the Slave Coast in the village of N’Longa, whom Kane first met in the events chronicled in “Red Shadows.”

N’Longa has a starring role in this Solomon Kane tale. As mentioned before the Centaur Press books presented the stories in a helter skelter way. N’Longa first appeared in “Red Shadows” but that story doesn’t appear in the Centaur Press books until the third volume. N’Longa was mentioned in “The Footfalls Within” which was the last story in the first volume of the Centaur Press series. This non-linear (chronological or when written) order of the Centaur Press books didn’t lessen my enjoyment of them. (Following and Memento are my favorite Christopher Nolan films.)

Kane’s friendship with N’Longa is commonly given as evidence that the Solomon Kane tales are racially inclusive and somewhat progressive (for their day). There is some truth there but a modern audience can rightly feel something is off when the two dialogue:

N’Longa: “Many moons burn and die since we make blood-palaver. You go to the setting sun, but you come back!”

Kane: “Yours is a grim land, N’Longa, a red land barred with the black darkness of horror and the bloody shadows of death. Yet I have returned -.”

Given that Europe was a charnel house for centuries (wars, plagues, religious strife) and that Kane had personally experienced the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition he has some large musket balls dissing Africa. But in Kane’s defense, Europe had achieved a technological (if not moral) edge over the world in Kane’s time. And that no doubt affected Kane’s (and REH’s) outlook. An argument could be made that Kane subliminally chose to vanquish evil in Africa (instead of Europe) because of that technological edge. He could be more effective there.)

But a story where technology overcomes evil is too mundane (especially for Weird Tales!). Hence we have N’Longa giving Kane the voodoo staff. When gunpowder fails, rely on N’Longa’s magic.

Kane leaves N’Longa and travels along saving a young woman from a lion. The young woman, Zunna, immediately thinks Kane is a god. I dunno? White skin, big gun. That seems to jibe with the Texas version of God. Not sure it is an African one though.

Later Zunna and Kane are attacked by creatures that Kane identifies as vampires. Zunna calls them the “walking dead.” Whether vampires or zombies Kane has to use the voodoo staff to kill them. Kane realizes he is outnumbered and wonders how to defeat them. Kane uses the voodoo staff to summon N’Longa.

Zunna’s lover, Kran, also accepts Kane as a god. N’Longa takes over Kran’s body. Kane is amazed and thinks N’Longa might be Satan. The natives look for gods, the Englishman for a devil.

Kane and N’Longa go to fight the vampires and Kane once again disses Africa. “Truly this land is dedicated to the powers of darkness.” Kane apparently forgets his supernatural adventures in Europe. Kane is pretty clueless in this situation. It all falls on N’Longa who comes up with a plan that is clever and it works to save the day. I will avoid this spoiler since some probably haven’t read this tale. But I must say I really liked the solution.

At story’s end Kane is definitely impressed with N’Longa. Kane learns more about N’Longa and while he doesn’t think of him as a god, he considers him on a level with the prophets of old. This is a top-notch Kane story.

Some Actual Stats

by Gary Romeo

Anybody that knows me, knows that I am a big fan of the Lancer Conan series. A long time ago I acquired some copies of the “Royalty Report” forms that Lancer Books provided L. Sprague de Camp when the Lancer bankruptcy was going on.

At that time I didn’t have a blog, didn’t really have a way of sharing them, and didn’t really know what to do with them. But now I do have a blog, can share them, and so now will try to see if they have anything significant to say.

As most reading this probably know, Lancer Books declared bankruptcy on October 10, 1973. One of their hottest properties was the Conan series as edited by L. Sprague de Camp. When Sprague heard about Lancer going under he immediately wrote a letter to his colleagues Glenn Lord, Lin Carter and Bjorn Nyberg. Carbon copies went to his lawyer Cecil Catron and Lin Carter’s agent, Henry Morrison.

Lancer owed de Camp for unpaid royalties at the time of the bankruptcy and these royalty reports forms were part of the court proceedings. I have a report form for each of the 11 Lancer books. I’ve collated the results onto the table below:

Conan of Aquilonia was not published by Lancer. I included it on the table but probably shouldn’t have. Oh well. I do not have figures for the Prestige/Ace paperbacks. This chart is only for the Lancer books. The books are listed in order of copies sold with #1 selling the most. Full title and year of publication are given. REH stands for Robert E. Howard, LSdC for L. Sprague de Camp, LC for Lin Carter, and BN for Bjorn Nyberg. In the “Artist” column, FF indicates Frank Frazetta, JD is for John Duillo, and BV is Boris Vallejo.

The royalty amount is higher for some books even though fewer copies were sold. Most likely de Camp negotiated a higher royalty for that particular book. These figures come from Lancer Books (those Royalty Reports) and may or may not be completely accurate. Lancer would have had a financial incentive to UNDER REPORT for obvious reasons but as these figures were presented as part of court proceedings they are probably reasonably accurate.

What do they tell us?

Adding up the royalties paid column I get $71,423.75. There was $10,116.55 in unpaid royalties at the time of the bankruptcy. De Camp split the royalties among the Howard heirs, Lin Carter, and Bjorn Nyberg based on whatever percentage agreements were made at the time a contract was signed. It is easy to see that Conan royalties added considerably to everyone’s income.

The total copies sold add up to 1,970,472. Close to 2 million copies. Previously I heard the figure for the Lancers was 3 million. In any event the books were best sellers and continued to sell well when Prestige/Ace took over the publishing.

It does not appear that REH only volumes sold significantly better than the multi-authored ones except for Conan the Conqueror. Conan of the Isles sold better than some books with REH content. Perhaps it sold well by being the last book (chronologically) of the series. Conan the Buccaneer was the most recently published book at this time and that may account for the lower sales.

The cover artist does not seem as much of a factor as previously rumored. Frank Frazetta has the top books but Conan the Wanderer with John Duillo cover art sold more than several of the other books with Frazetta covers.

These “Royalty Report” forms give us some information about the success of the Lancers before the bankruptcy. The details of all the infighting and aborted deals that took place during the bankruptcy are still hazy. I’m working on getting more information about all that but that could take a long while.

De Camp did write about the bankruptcy in his autobiography, Time and Chance, Donald M. Grant, 1996. According to de Camp there was 3 and a half years of litigation which he financed on behalf of the Howard heirs and himself. De Camp remembers a grueling cross-examination by the Lancer lawyer and apparently it upset him enough to recall it in his autobiography. “The lawyer bellowed at me until even the judge called him down, saying: “Mr. Weinberger, couldn’t you address the witness in an ordinary tone of voice? I don’t believe he is deaf.”

Eventually the rights to publish Conan in paperback was divided between Ace and Bantam Books. Ace reprinting the Lancer series and Bantam publishing new adventures. Conan Properties, Inc. was formed. De Camp sums up:

Hopefully all this was interesting to most. On a personal note I must say I wished more people subscribed to this blog. The recent post I did reviewing Blood of the Serpent is currently close to 800 views! On average I get anywhere from 75 to 150 views depending on the topic. I’m satisfied with those numbers for the most part but I do wish more would actually “follow” the blog. It’s painless, you get an email, which you can simply ignore or not. I plan to review more new books and present more actual letters and rarer items in the future. Follow the blog and get a reminder! Easy, peasy, and I know I’m being cheesy but go ahead and do the “follow” thing. Thanks in advance.