Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Good Tribute to Robert E Howard

I am a pretty big Robert E. Howard fan and have often been of two minds when reading published versions of his work. The first sympathizes with the "purist" movement who desire to read Howard's stories as Howard wrote them and not the "edited" versions most modern readers are familiar with. The second appreciates the work of Carter and DeCamp did to keep Howard's writing alive as a part of popular culture.

I try to balance these two conflicting mindsets, but as time passes it becomes both easier and more difficult as publishers have begun in recent years to publish anthologies collecting the works as they were initially published. They have finally made it affordable for me to share the experience the purists laud so greatly. But Ace books has recently begun publishing the Age of Conan series, which has really excited my second mindset. Ghost of the Wall the first of the third Age of Conan trilogies was released recently and I am looking forward to reading it. If it is anything like the other two trilogies, it should be a fun ride and that is where the conflict becomes more difficult.

The purists are upset with what was an almost hidden betrayal. For readers like me, who only know better because of the purists, we never would have known that Howard's work had been rearranged, re-edited, and had pastiches fill chronological gaps. Sure, we would have noticed that some of the stories lacked the darkness or sophistication of Howard's best work, but we notice that even in his actual work. It is upon reading Howard's unaltered words that his vision of Conan becomes clear, and it shares little with the pseudo-erotica some pastiches aspire to be or with the filmic representations.

But the new writers aren't as presumptuous as Carter and De Camp. I recently wrote Matt Forbeck, the editor of the Ace Books line, asking him a few questions about the philosophy behind the current publications. It was the first email I had written him that he had not responded to, well at least not directly. Since the email, Forbeck has written a couple of updates regarding the new series on his blog. One of these provided a link to Jeff Mariotte's blog where Mariotte (the author of the most recent trilogy) has written a very nice entry about his appreciation of Howard which answers nearly all the questions I had.

Howard and his friends, H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, frequently borrowed from one another and in a way had shared worlds. The new Ace series seems to me to be writing in this vein. The authors of the Age of Conan books are writing in the time of Conan, but they are writing about other characters living in the rich environment Howard created. Unlike earlier publications, the new authors seek not to be substitutes for Howard, rather these authors are inspired by the Hyborian age and want to explore its possibilities. For me this is the perfect balance of my two mindsets. Having read Mariotte's essay on Howard, I look even more forward to reading his contribution.

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