In the review I did this past summer for issue 15 of Two-Gun Raconteur, I mentioned the moment late in 2005 when a couple of new critical anthologies on Robert E. Howard were being prepped for publication in 2006, his centennial year.
One of them announced it had a bit from Michael Moorcock.
The other announced it too had a piece from Michael Moorcock!
For a moment, I wrote, it was as if the two books were lunging forward neck-and-neck, and you could almost feel thundering hoof beats. . . .
“Yeah,” my Howardian pal Leo Grin noted, “thundering donkey hoof beats!”
Those two books, they weren’t very good. (But they were plenty fun to review.)
Now I realize that people interested in Howardian litcrit have another photo-finish coming up fast — well, no, fast isn’t the word. Coming up maybe sometime in the next few months, or later. . . .
In a sense, I’ve been watching this race since 1984, the year my first critical anthology on Howard, The Dark Barbarian, saw print from Greenwood Press. The big trick with that one was that it was the first book on Howard to appear from an academic press, smashing that scholarly glass ceiling to bits. Before then, the academic community either had ignored Howard completely or dismissed him as a mere pulp hack. After that, grudgingly, they had to concede that Howard was worth some attention — as one of my favorite reviews from an academic journal put it, “Though I still believe that Howard deserves more serious attention from academic critics, The Dark Barbarian will do nicely for now.”
Nicely for now?
Oh. I get it. Until academic critics come along and do it all better. . . .
So, I set my campstool up next to the scholarly track, and began waiting for the academics to bolt forward, froth on their lips. For a few years, nothing happened at all. I had time to break Philip K. Dick’s selected letters down into six volumes. Do the Hammett tour and some other stuff. And what do you know, a quarter of a century eased past with not a single book on Howard published from the academic community.
Good thing The Dark Barbarian was there all that time to act as a placeholder.
But now we’re well into 27 years since publication of TDB, and what ho! — two books on Howard from academics FINALLY have been announced. No doubt unintentionally, they are in a sudden race to see which will be the first book on Howard written by academics, published by an academically acceptable press. Neither is by any stretch of the imagination the first book on Howard — there’ve been a lot of books from the fan press. And not the first book from an academic publisher — that’s TDB.
At long last, though, we’ll get to see what the academics can do in the critic department.
The first of the two books announced was More than Human by Justin Everett and Dierdre Pettipiece — my impression was that it was supposed to come out late in 2010, but then it was announced for release sometime in 2011. (One of the problems dealing with academic presses is that it sometimes takes forever to plow through the system — TDB was held up at least a year during production, which is one of several reasons that when I did a follow-up for the twentieth anniversary, The Barbaric Triumph, I went with a popular press.) Anyway, as far as I know, that’s the one that has the front position at the moment.
But coming up fast on its heels is Conan Meets the Academy — a collection of essays by a variety of profs. While after all this time I’m not bursting with excitement to see what they do, I wouldn’t mind reading the piece from Paul Shovlin — Shovlin was on the cusp of the idea of using Richard Slotkin’s books on frontier violence as a means of exploring what Howard was doing (although he was beaten to the punch by Steve Trout in REHupa, the guy who “discovered” Slotkin for our purposes).
Unless some other academics that I don’t know about have an animal in this race, one or the other of those books will be the winner — yeah, I can see necks stretched out, straining for the finish line. . . .
Go, academics, go! You can do it!
(And the photo at top is taken from The Daily Post in the UK — I never suspected how many images would show up from a simple Google on “donkey racing photos” — from an article on how the local donkey races may be banned for sanitation reasons. Man, don’t ban the donkey races. They’re hysterical.)