Two-Gun Bob: The Shadow of Zane Grey

In the section on Robert E. Howard’s Library in The Dark Barbarian from 1984, Steve Eng pointed out that “A look at the volumes of poetry may discover lines that are echoed in Howard’s verse.” True enough. And you also can see the shadow of other writers, not just poets, here and there.

Before I visited the Zane Grey Pueblo on Catalina Island last year I downloaded on Kindle the two novels by Grey known to have been in Howard’s personal library at the time of his death — The Border Legion from 1916 and To the Last Man from 1922. I felt like I might die of old age before I ever finished The Border Legion, and to date haven’t tried the other one — but I did read the foreword, written in Grey’s studio in the pueblo in April 1921. One passage in particular reminded me of Howard:

Even today it is not possible to travel into the remote corners of the West without seeing the lives of people still affected by a fighting past. How can the truth be told about the pioneering of the West if the struggle, the fight, the blood be left out? It cannot be done. How can a novel be stirring and thrilling, as were those times, unless it be full of sensation? My long labors have been devoted to making stories resemble the times they depict. I have loved the West for its vastness, its contrast, its beauty and color and life, for its wildness and violence, and for the fact that I have seen how it developed great men and women who died unknown and unsung.

I dug around in Howard and found the specific passage in which those lines echoed in a letter from REH to August Derleth, circa March 1933, in which Howard talked about the book Frontier’s Generation by his friend Tevis Clyde Smith:

I hope you’ll like Clyde’s book. One objection I have heard voiced to works of this kind — dealing with Texas — is the amount of gore spilled across the pages. It can not be otherwise. In order to write a realistic and true history of any part of the Southwest, one must narrate such things, even at the risk of monotony. There is no part of the United States whose history is more obscure, so little known, as that of Texas. We have always been more or less isolated from the rest of the nation, and life has been such a terrific struggle for existence that the arts and literature had no opportunity to develop. It is only in the last few years that native Texans are beginning to write the chronicle of the Southwest. Much of it is already lost and forgotten. Much will never be written. I myself know of incidents that would make vivid and dramatic reading; but I have not written of them, and I do not intend to.

But to return to blood-letting. Authentic history or realistic fiction of Texas must be gory. Writing fiction with the purpose of selling it, I would trim it down, past the facts, lest I be looked on as a mere sensationalist. Write a fiction book with half a dozen killings in it, and the critics would brand it melodramatic and impossible. Yet such an absolutely authentic work as Charles Siringo’s autobiography contains repeated references to murders and homicides. And in John Wesley Hardin’s autobiography, or rather in that part of it covering his life from his birth, in 1853, to the time he went to prison in 1878, descriptions are made of, or references to, the killings of 66 men. More than half of these were killed by Hardin himself. Nor was this super-homicide limited to the lower strata of life, as in other localities. If that were the case, history would not need to be so detailed about it; but the wealthy ranchman was as likely to be shot out of his saddle as the most humble vaquero. The politician wore his guns under his coat-tails just as regularly as did the cattle-rustler.

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