Two-Gun Bob: A Quick Meditation on Arriving Too Late on the Scene

Another factor in hitting the Second Sunday fan gathering was that Tom Krabacher — an academic of many years standing, but also a longtime fan (he’s planning on doing a Dum Dum next year for Edgar Rice Burroughs enthusiasts) — wanted to roll down from his lair near Sacramento and put in his two cents on Little Lulu, old TV, movies and the hot variety of topics under discussion.

From an informative moment in the talkative turmoil, I’m now looking forward to the Doom Patrol as a 13-part season coming in 2019. It’s always nice to have something to live for. . . .

Afterwards, Tom and I headed for Kim Thanh on Geary for geoduck, “the largest burrowing clam in the world,” where we continued the talk.

In recent weeks, we’ve been chewing over the perennial topic of litcrit on Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft and weird fiction, and I mentioned to him the fact that several current REH fan types really want to relegate my work on the Texas author to the “one idea thirty years ago” dustbin of history.  Of course I had more than one idea, and my various essays and books remain viable — more intellectually viable than commercially viable, to be sure.

Whereas recent releases on REH concentrate on providing basic simple information for “new readers.” Can’t you feel my contempt radiating off the webpage?

Tom has commented on this stuff before, and here’s what he’s got to say this round:

 

When you remarked a week or two ago that they dislike you because you got there first, you were dead on target.

The great misfortune of the current crop of wannabe critics — as far as the ongoing appearance of new essays on Howard criticism and the like are concerned — is that they arrived too late. They want to engage in big picture Howard scholarship, but everywhere they look they find that those fields have already been plowed (clumsy metaphor; sorry).

They’re stuck with the little stuff.  Like excavating the Howard fruit cellar; or writing essays for new editions of Howard stories.

My personal theory of literary criticism (or scholarship more generally) is that in most cases — there are exceptions — once a writer is recognized as having some literary importance there is only a narrow window, a couple of decades perhaps, in which most of the major foundational scholarly criticism takes place.

As an example, for me at least, Melville criticism peaked in the 1950s and that of Joseph Conrad circa 1970.  Not that meaningful scholarly work can’t occur after such a peak, but it tends to be on narrower (often trivial) aspects of the topic; the occasional new biography may appear (e.g. Andrew Delbanco’s first-rate Melville biography from about 10 years ago) but big picture stuff’s already been done.

I bring this up because I think that’s the case with Howard.  The basic work on REH has long been done decades ago now by the first wave of Howard researchers and critics  — e.g., Glenn Lord’s book, you, and your generation — and our understanding of the basic features of REH’s life and art is pretty much set.  While useful stuff is still being done around the edges — Patrice’s work on the Howard texts, Morgan’s Almuric article, Leno’s essay on HPL, REH, and “Pigeons from Hell ” — the big picture stuff has been done.

The HPL situation strikes me as somewhat more complex. I’m not sure all the foundational work has been completed.  For the most part the biographical and textual details have been pinned down — S. T. Joshi gets a lot of credit for this — but the interpretive stuff seems still in flux. Joshi’s critical views are not as definitive as he wants to believe. And that’s one of the reasons I’m really looking forward to what Haefele’s Lovecraft: The Great Tales has to say.

It’s also a reason why I’ve been reluctant to do much on my own in the form of REH or HPL scholarship/criticism, since I honestly don’t think I have anything new and original to say.

Sure, I could crank out something on “Transgender Anxiety as Manifested in Lovecraft’s ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’” for a PCA conference or the like.

But why bother.

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Sinister Cinema: Top 25

Yesterday I hit another meeting of the Second Sunday Fanzine Fans of Yesteryear, where Bruce Townley happened to mention his ten favorite movies.

To paraphrase myself, I said something like, Man, that’s not enough, and told them about the time in the late 70s/early 80s when John Law and I sat around and easily tallied up our 100 Fave Films.

Bruce is into movies (you can find many movie moments in his zine Oblong, a file of which is available free online), and he just sent me a list where he has expanded on ten, but weeded that potential 100 down to 25. If you’re also a cineaste, you’ll enjoy browsing through, I’m sure.

Any fan’s list will be — ought to be — different. I’m more of a Wild Bunch/Enter the Dragon/Saragossa Manuscript/North by Northwest/Big Trouble in Little China/My Dinner with Andre/Arsenic and Old Lace/Seven Samurai/Mr. Vampire type myself. Several off Bruce’s selection would make my Top 100, of course.

Offhand, I think the most recent film to shoot its way into my faves would be John Wick. 

But now Bruce Townley, saying, “For your consideration here’s my, more or less, Top 25 films”:

THE 400 BLOWS

BEDAZZLED [1967]

THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI

CHINATOWN

CITIZEN KANE

DINER

DR. STRANGELOVE

ERASERHEAD

FORBIDDEN PLANET

THE GENERAL [1927]

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT

HE WALKED BY NIGHT

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (a tossup with SWORDSMAN II)

LA STRADA

M [1931]

THE MALTESE FALCON [1941]

A MAN ESCAPED

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL

O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?

SPIRITED AWAY

SUNSET BLVD. (tossup with SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS)

THIN BLUE LINE

THE THIRD MAN

YOJIMBO

Bruce even put them in alphabetical order. Damn. . . .

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Hammett: Trouble in Paradise

Shot above from a few years ago, Mike Humbert, Don, Bill Arney standing in front of the folded-up Murphy bed in Sam Spade’s apartment, 891 Post Street. Mike maintains a Hammett website and Bill is famed as the one-time occupant of the Spade digs.

You might think that other than going under the knife on occasion, that nothing much happens to Hammett fans — certainly that they’re not involved in any exciting news.

Unfortunately, not so.

Bill reported a couple of days ago, “I just got off the phone with Mike Humbert, whose house, along with most of the town of Paradise, has burned to the ground in California’s latest brush/forest fire. Mike got out, literally with his hair on fire, as his roof was bursting into flames.

“His books, typewriter collection, hell, most of his clothes, are gone.”

Other than the singed hair, it sounds as if Mike survived. And he’s not the only guy who got whacked by the fire (now not even the latest, with two more popping up near LA), and he’s luckier than the people who didn’t even make it out.

I’ll report better news, if any drifts in.

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Tour: Photobombed!

In the pic above shot by Sue Montgomery I stand in front of the Flood Building, 870 Market, on October 28, waiting to see who’ll show up for the walk.

And I’m not alone.

Technically a true photobomb or by accident? You decide.

Sue — who if you remember is the Christopher Columbus of the Gutman’s Daughter Discussion here on the Mean Streets — just dropped by to say hello, en route to a four-hour opera or something of the sort.

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Sinister Cinema: Borland’s Mark

You know that Brian Leno collects autographs constantly, but I’m sure he gets an added kick out of the hunt if he can spin a seasonal angle out of it.

He tells me that the autographed photo above is “something I got in the mail yesterday — just in time for Halloween.

“Borland signed stills from Mark of the Vampire aren’t easy to come by, so I’m pretty happy with this.

“I watched it again last night on TCM and love it when Bela, at the end, swirls his cape and says, ‘I gave ALL of me!’

“Words we should all live by.”

Indeed. And have a pleasant fang-filled Halloween.

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Rediscovered: That Cosmic Piping of a Flute. . .

John D. Haefele and I have been batting chapters of his upcoming Lovecraft: The Great Tales back and forth like we’re in some champeen tennis match or something.

I’m doing the editing, and after I went under the knife earlier this year, the whole process ground to a near stop for awhile. At least on my end. But once I got about six months out whatever vague post-op ennui that lingered fell away, and suddenly I got my old speed back. I don’t do much, but when I do actually do something, I’m faster than hell.

I’m thinking my revived speed might even be faster than my old speed. . . .

Anyway, we’re kicking the Lovecraftian ball around and today Haefele sent me this note:

Did you catch the recent article in USA Today by Doyle Rice titled, “Spooky noises heard in Antarctic ice shelf”?

Rice says the noises were only discovered using special instruments and quotes one scientist saying, “It’s kind of like you’re blowing a flute, constantly.” Another scientist “likened the sounds to the buzz of thousands of cicadas.”

If you’re not into Lovecraft, that might not do much for you.

If you are into old HPL — delightful, right?

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Tour: Two Sundays in November

One Sunday tour left in October, then two more in November to wrap up the year. . . .

The pic above came from Mario Ruiz, and he dates it to 2014, when he rolled down from Portland to walk the walk and “had a blast.” He’s thinking about hitting one of the upcoming November dates, and I hope he makes it.

I can’t be sure if he’s the guy I remember who one day decided to just jump in his car and drive down from Portland to do the tour, or another guy.

Maybe I’ll find out next month.

To learn which specific Sundays and where to start, hit the Contact Don button above and I’ll send you the dope.

Pic below, same basic image — standing next to the plaque mounted next to the doorway of 891 Post, the building where Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon, the building where Sam Spade lives in the novel. But this one dates from the tour by appointment I did for Sisters in Crime on August 5, 2017:

 

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Rediscovered: A Tough Guy Amidst Books

Woke up today to find Nathan Ward had dropped a link on me to his latest tidbit on CrimeReads, of which he says:

“Has nothing to do with Hammett or the (newly discovered by the NY Times) Tenderloin. Thought you might like this piece I did on Izzy Zimmerman, the toughest guy I ever met in a bookstore.”

You’ll like it. Guy survived the chair at Sing Sing, a beating in Attica.

Interesting that the Times just tumbled to the Tenderloin as a thing — first TL of course was on the island of Manhattan. But I’ll take Nathan’s word for it. He’s on the ground in Brooklyn and can keep an eye on their preoccupations better than me.

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Rediscovered: Klarkash-Ton and Brian McNaughton

Kevin Cook, pulp and book collector, recently retired from the New York City scene to a new home in the South. Over the garage he’s had built a library to display the old collection, the first time in his adult life he’s ever managed to place every single book, pulp, and fanzine sitting visible on the shelf (shades of John D. Squires with his excellent library housed atop his garage).

Certain items that have been boxed up for decades are now reappearing. In this instance, Kevin located his copies of the fanzine Amra v1,n1 for April 1956 (a two pager), plus a couple of issues of the Hyborian Legion Bulletin. He figured I’d want to see them, because of my long-standing interest in the fandom circulating around pulp fictioneer Robert E. Howard. And he was right.

One tidbit Kevin pointed out is that in the first issue of Amra the name of the overall fan club was rendered as “Hyborean Legion.” Someone must have pointed out that REH spelled it differently in his classic essay on the background of the Conan stories, “The Hyborian Age.”

In the 1970s more or less the same kerfuffle would happen when I started up an amateur press association I named The Hyperborian League — intended to cover both REH and Clark Ashton Smith, and related topics. Various people jumped in to point out that it ought to have been spelled, correctly, as Hyperborean League.

But. . .but. . . I muttered in my defense, it’s about REH and CAS, hence the mashup spelling. I think a few of them believed me.

Kevin was also excited by Bulletin #6 for October 1957, which gave the names and addresses of the entire roster of the Legion. With my age and background in this arena, I know most of the names, but today few would jump out at you. Robert Bloch Box 362 Wayauwega, Wis. (on the brink of writing Psycho, 1959). Fritz Leiber 5447 Ridgewood Ct. Chicago , Ill. (editing for Science Digest, battling alcoholism, and — inspired by the Legion — about to revive his Sword-and-Sorcery series featuring Fafhrd and Gray Mouser).

Kevin was especially surprised to see Clark Ashton Smith (117 Ninth St. Pacific Grove, Calif.) on the list. Generally, traditionally, we haven’t thought of CAS as a member of that fandom, but of course he was — he lived until 1961.

The name that took me most by surprise was Brian J. McNaughton (183 Mechanic Street, Red Bank, N.J.) — to know that CAS and McNaughton would have been in the same fandom, addresses public, capable of some easy exchanges of letters. I’d imagine the letters, if any sailed through the post, would have been fan mail from the 22-year-old McNaughton to the veteran of Weird Tales.

McNaughton bears the distinction of later writing the finest set of stories ever in the CAS mold, inspired by the Klarkash-Ton cycles set in such fantastic realms as Hyperborea and Zothique. The collection The Throne of Bones won the World Fantasy Award as best of the year, and I couldn’t agree more. In his fantastic realm McNaughton turns the action over to ghouls, and — but enough.

I think I know which book I’ll be rereading for Hallowe’en this year.

Posted in Lit, REH | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Two-Gun Bob: Famous No.1, then Leno No.1, then. . .

After I blurbed that my new eBook Famous Someday got to no.1 on the Amazon list for Kindle — sub-category horror, sub-sub-category litcrit on horror — I realized that it probably hadn’t been the actual no.1.

It was no.1 in the further sub-division, New Releases.

I was contemplating jumping online and correcting my error, but by the time I had doped out my mistake, Famous Someday leapt into the actual no.1 spot for a few hours.  I then figured, What the hell.

That was on the 12th. The next day Famous was holding at no. 2 and 3 when I checked, but then — a real What the hell moment — Brian Leno’s Lovecraft’s Southern Vacation was no.1.

A few hours later Famous was again no.1, and was no.1 when I began typing up this report.

Brian was extremely pleased to hit no.1 — on an eBook that’s been available for three years. Classic stuff, fighting its way to the top of the heap. He’s been a frequent guest blogger on this site, so if you want to sample his wares before dropping three bucks on his eBook, dive into the archives.

Leno also pointed out to me that early in the day on the 15th — today — that all four Cimmerian Press eBooks on Robert E. Howard were in the top ten. Famous was then no.2, Leno was 5, Morgan Holmes’ Enter the Barbarian was 8 and my Litcrit MegaPack on the creator of Conan was 10.

With these titles, to paraphrase Strother Martin, What we have here. . . is ability to communicate.

For some irony, certain fanboys in REH circles have been trying recently to build a narrative that my writings on Howard are all old, out-of-date — that I am no longer relevant.

Really?

Gee, I don’t feel irrelevant. Irreverent, perhaps. . . .

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