Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thew Boy

Back when I was willing to take on all kinds of writing work because they were offering and I didn't want to let anything pass, I took on a couple of Conan novels. I enjoyed doing them, but after the second, I was done.

Or so I thought.

Then my wife's company was the victim of a hostile takeover by a corporate raider, who broke the company apart and sold off the assets, during which she was let go. She decided to try consulting for a time, and actually did okay at it, but money was tight going in, and when the Conan folks offered more work, I grabbed it, signing up for three more books.

Halfway through the fourth of five, I think, I was having a bit of trouble with the thee-thou-thither and punctilious use of "shall" and "will," of the prose, and in a fit of semi-hysteria, I penned a short story, "Conan Takes a Hike," which poked fun at Howard's creation. 'Twas a story that, for legal reasons, could never see print, but which I read aloud at conventions now and then. Basically, Conan tossed his sword aside, disgusted with all the slaying and gore. He wanted to go off to the country and get into bee-keeping with Sherlock Holmes, maybe finish up his Ph.D at Oxford, but alas, it was not to be ...

The five novels were:
Um. Anyway, I was reminded of thew-boy during a discussion on anti-Semitism on another site I frequent.

Robert E. Howard, Conan's daddy, was raised, and lived in, small towns in Texas. A mama's boy whose mother had TB and was dying from it most of his life, Howard was thirty when his mother went into a coma from which she was not expected to recover. Depressed, he went out to his car, pulled a borrowed. .380 Colt pistol from the glove box, and shot himself in the head.

A product of his time and that place, Howard was sexist, racist, and anti-semitic. You can see this in his writing -- there are references to hook-noses and darkies here and there, "swamp niggers," and the like, including in some of the Conan stories. There are exceptions, and he seemed to be becoming less bigoted as he aged, but there are plenty of examples of his views, which were considered normal for the times. Ah, the bad old days ...

I used to use the term "thew-boy" when I talked about Conan. Fun to see who got the joke and who didn't ...


Brad said...

You know, I still have those Conan's you gave me in Dallas. Shold have had you sign them and then auction them off... I'd have made, what? 50 cent a book?

I kid. But frankly, I'm glad I found you through the Matador novels. If the Conan books had been my first exposure to you, I may not have gone any farther. Not that they are bad books, just not my cup of tea.

Shady_Grady said...

Howard has got to be the short list as one of my favorite fantasy authors of all time. I'm not sure how good of a writer he was but he was a heck of a story teller if that distinction makes any sense.

But man, was he racist. There are some stories he wrote that I just can't read all the way through-'Pigeons from Hell", "Black Canaan" and "She-devil" top that list.

I always have mixed views about "for the times" arguments. There were a few (white) writers back then who did not traffic in the racism that Howard did. Howard was bigoted beyond the norms of whiteness even for that time. He seems to have missed/ignored entirely the Harlem Renaissance phenomenon or anything else which might have challenged his world view.

But he's dead and gone. At least we still have stories like "As the Grey God Passes" or "Beyond the Black River" or "Phoenix on the Sword".

Steve Perry said...

Shady --

I think this can be summed up in three words and a date:

North Central Texas, 1906.

I expect that most folks in that region in the 1920's knew little about Harlem and the artistic Renaissance there, and any time you ventured below the Mason-Dixon line in them days, Jim Crow was the norm.

(The laws were based on a song, which predated the Civil War. I can remember singing this vile little ditty when I was a child, but all I can remember of it is the chorus:

"Wheel about, an' turn about, an' do jis so;
Eb'ry time I wheel about, I jump Jim Crow.

We learned it in school.

Any white men from that region and time who were writing and weren't racist, sexist, and good ole boys would have exceptions to the rule.

Howard was born a little over forty years after the Confederacy fell. Given that there are places where the South is still fighting and losing that war, that he was brought up a bigot isn't a surprise.

It is hard to transcend that kind of thing when that's all you hear and see everywhere you look.

Shady_Grady said...

Steve, I agree with everything you said as far as being an exception to the rule it is just my selfish wish that a writer who was so incredibly entertaining and exciting was more of an exception to the rule. (shrugs)

If he had lived longer and gotten over an initial shock at post WW2 changes in the US I like to think he would have changed his views on some things.