Two-Gun Bob: Lightin’ Al Strikes Again, Like Lightin’

Meanwhile, over in the World of Robert E. Howard Studies (or at least one encampment where skin-clad knuckle-draggers sit around and devour the latest issue of the Conan comic book in cannabalistic fashion — yum-yum, eat-em-up):

I see that Al Harron has tossed together a response to my previous Lightin’ Al post — if you follow this sort of thing, hop over to this bit and make sure to read the comments, too, they’re priceless. Got to love the commentator who suggests I lurked in egomaniacal fashion on Al’s site for month after month waiting for him to reply to an even earlier post — now there is someone who has no idea how this new-fangled Internet works. Al does explain about contraptions like Google Alert, and even reveals that he has his name programmed into Google Alert so he knows instantly every time his name pops up anywhere. Wow. Does that make Al an egomaniac — or is that just what almost everyone does these days?

I bet he’s an egomaniac. Come on, Al, really — you have to know every time your name graces some website?

But again, two points of clarification: I don’t actually read Al’s blog, because it’s about stuff like the Conan comic books that I don’t care about one way or the other (during Howard Days one year they were giving away comp copies when you checked in, and I didn’t take any — honest, I don’t need to read that stuff). I’m not on Google Alert, and only heard about the Al posts because Damon Sasser told me about the first one and Brian Leno spotted the next one. They’re more dedicated to patrolling the Howardian Web than I’ll ever be.

And Al is correct that I don’t think he’ll ever become a major critic, certainly not with his laid-back If I Inspire Even One New Fan style (Golly Gee, I helped a new guy discover REH, and now he’s reading the comic books!). Yeah, one new guy every now and then, that’ll really set Howard on the road to literary acclaim — if you live longggggggg enough.

Al is confusing being a general REH fan booster with being a critic. You want to review new Conan comic books for the people who read them, knock yourself out. Have fun. Keep up with movies and video games.

You want to lift Howard higher in critical regard in the wider world, you’ve got to do more than that to have any impact.

What else?

Someone tipped me off to a mini-rebuttal Professor Frank Coffman made to my dismissal of Conan Meets the Academy — a book Frank is set to appear in — as a throwback to the kinds of books L. Sprague de Camp used to assemble from material that had appeared previously in the fanzine Amra, edited by George Scithers. The Conan Reader (1968). The Conan Swordbook (1969). The Conan Grimoire (1972). Complete reliance on the name Conan to attract fanboy buyers — which may have worked for de Camp back when, but I don’t think will sell many copies of the new academic-oriented tome. They’ve made a big mistake commercially by putting “Academy” in the title — they should have titled it Conan the Supercilious or something.

Frank’s rebuttal notes, “The stuff in those LSdC’s was from Amra wasn’t it?”

He adds, “Those books contained stuff about stylometric analysis and archeological connections for Conan? Did they suggest that Conan isn’t quite the ‘Dark’ barbarian that Herron maintains?”

In answer, yes, the stuff was from Amra. In those days critics did consider “style,” but the mathematical stylometric analysis hadn’t kicked in yet — you talk about boring, try reading a stylometric piece. A sub-sub-specialty of a niche group of academics. And while I don’t recall if archaeology popped up in those de Camp edits (de Camp himself wrote whole books on ancient civilizations and traveled the world to archaelogical sites), they did include surveys of word origins in Howard and so on — basically, you take a topic and apply it to the Conan stories. What’s the difference?

As for the de Camp books suggesting that “Conan isn’t quite the ‘Dark’ barbarian that Herron maintains,” I guess Prof Frank isn’t really ready for razor-point debate. No, none of them suggested that idea, because my book The Dark Barbarian didn’t see print until 1984 — twelve years after The Conan Grimoire. The fanzine Amra itself released its last issue in 1982. It would have been very hard for them to suggest I was wrong, given that whole linear time concept I keep hearing about. . . .

But what Frank is saying unwittingly is that, yes, the ideas put forth in The Dark Barbarian have come to be the standard accepted critical concepts in Howard Studies over the last couple of decades. In the previous de Camp/Amra period, the idea was that Conan was great and that Howard was a crazy guy who killed himself at age 30 (but thank god he created Conan first!!!). The concepts I set forth were that Howard, at his best, was a great writer, and that any critical work ought to consider the whole of what he wrote, not just Conan.

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