I recently purchased THE SAVAGE TALES OF SOLOMON KANE from Del Rey Books and with spot illustrations by Gary Gianni.
So I’m going through the book, and I’m moving pretty capably along.
There are the random slurs and stereotypes, but pretty much they are few and far between and they don’t get in the way of the story…
Until I hit THE MOON OF SKULLS.
Game over man. Game effing over.
To call it insulting is perhaps an understatement. I had to check to make sure I wasn’t reading something by Lovecraft.
Oh stop crying! You know I’m right!
Have you read Howard’s THE MOON OF SKULLS?! A xenophobic, denigrating, and intolerant bit of writing, that goes on forever. I think the actual term that popped into my head before pulling the plug on the story was “racist piece of crap”.
Now I do make allowances for the time these books were written, and the fact that the Texan Howard when compared to his contemporaries of the time such as H.P. Lovecraft (a staggering racist) was quite moderate by the definitions of the age.
Part of this is the difference in the type of men they were.
Howard was a rough and tumble, ‘man-of-action’ sort, who understood the world beyond his head, and by that definition understood people outside of his head.
Lovecraft was a secluded New England ‘Intellectual’ who sought a mythology, a hierarchy of master and slave, with the almost ingrained need of the region to preserve an upper class (that in all truth, Lovecraft was very far from, due to the family’s loss of fortune early in his life) by the belief and need for a lower class.
I think racism, gave a lacking man like Lovecraft something. Something to drag himself up on, to restore him to that glory he never had, but thought he deserved… by tearing others down.
Whereas Howard was a self sufficient man (which makes his end all the more bewildering), he went along with the expected prejudice and tropes of the day, but you get the sense in some of his writing, he was content to see men as men. That Howard was a man who stumbled into the tropes of racism, rather than active in the creation and embracing of racism… ala Lovecraft.
I can deal with Lovecraft’s writing in small doses, but I find this recent deification of Lovecraft, of a writer who was barely a footnote in his own time… as odd, though not inexplicable; especially in a country that so desperately, like Lovecraft, wants to turn back the clock to a glorious age of Master and Slave, that never was glorious, and never will be.
But I do think people are over-stating both Lovecraft’s influence and importance, as his work followed in the footsteps of writers like Lord Dunsany, and took inspiration from contemporaries such as Clark Ashton Smith. Much of what people are quick to define as Lovecraftian isn’t, it belongs to a writing movement of the time, dark fantastic offshoots of the age of spiritualism, Houdini, and Arthur Machen.
“In 1914, when the kindly hand of amateurdom was first extended to me, I was as close to the state of vegetation as any animal well can be…With the advent of the United I obtained a renewal to live; a renewed sense of existence as other than a superfluous weight; and found a sphere in which I could feel that my efforts were not wholly futile. For the first time I could imagine that my clumsy gropings after art were a little more than faint cries lost in the unlistening world.” —H.P. Lovecraft
So I do take the biases of Lovecraft into account when reading Robert E. Howard. And rank him as better than the contemporaries of his age.
And I realize I just have to avoid Howard stories that are written toward a certain audience, and toward a prevalent prejudice of the day. Generally this means avoiding most of his Conan stories, as I would end up ripping them in half.
I can stomach his writing in small doses, and that’s generally when he isn’t on bigoted diatribes disguised as a story. In short bursts, and when not using an entire Continent of Africa to advance 1920s fantasies of race and heroism, I can appreciate his writing. His SKULLS IN THE STARS is probably his best short story, it is a well done story and mainly because it is free of Howard’s capitulations to the prejudices and tropes of the day.
So the winner of my Writer’s Face-Off? Well let’s put it this way. I own a Robert E. Howard book, I don’t own any HP Lovecraft books.
I guess that says it all.