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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