HOWARDIANA #2

POSTING COMMENTS

 

 

 

First of all I think that the posting comments should go to level 3 as they are something internal in REHEAPA and I think they are only interesting for its members. What do you think about it? Anyway, I would like mine in level 3.

 

THE SHADOW SINGER #1

I read with much interest your essay on Spear and Fang. Before reading it I reread the story and I think your analysis is interesting. The sentence you quoted ("The result was crude, but gave evidence of real artistic genius, struggling for expression") can perfectly summarize the first stage in Howard writing career. In my opinion it is one of his less interesting stories; however, as you said, regardless of its merit, it really has some interesting points and elements.

You are completely right in one of the points you bring to our attention: "The metaphor of the cave painting is also indicative. Howard could not have known of the Lascaux, France cave paintings (discovered 1940) but he must have been aware of the archeological explorations and discoveries of the prehistoric quickly advancing in the early 20th century. The fact that such had survived for tens of thousands of years appealed to the young artist in Howard in the way that art lures many, perhaps most artists -- at least one appeal is the potential for a relative "immortality" of sorts, a living on through ones work." I think that it is a quite common idea, even though it is maybe more common among the general public than among writers or artists. I guess the idea is kind of inevitable, even though in my opinion not very realistic. Probably, this idea appealed to Howard. Even though I wonder how he combined it with another typical Howardian idea, mainly that we are just shadows that live between darkness and darkness. As Howard said in a letter (which you quoted in The Shadow Singer #3): "Let us talk of life; I am damnably weary tonight. What are you? What am I? Listen, I'll tell you; Life is Power, Life is Electricity. You and I are atoms of power, cogs in the wheels of the Universal system. Life is not predestinated, that is, the trivial affairs of our lives are not, but we have certain paths to follow and we cannot escape them. Do you think we can? Then let me see you raise yourself even seven inches off the earth and remain there unsupported save by your own efforts; let me see you look at a star and tell me if grass grows there, with your naked eye; let me see you swim to the bottom of the ocean and back or walk on water; let me see you live a thousand years. Listen, I'll tell you; we are sparks of star dust, atoms of unknown power, powerless in ourselves but making up the whole of some great power that uses us as ruthlessly as fire uses fuel. We are parts of an entity, futile in ourselves. We are merely phases of electricity; electrons endlessly vibrating between the magnetic poles of birth and death. We cannot escape these trails in which our paths lie. We do not, as individual entities, really exist, we do not live. There is no life, there is no existence; there is simply vibration. What is a life but an uncompleted gesture, beginning in oblivion and ending in oblivion? What man of history ever really accomplished what he desired to accomplish? No, what men name life is simply the sparkle of an electron as it flashes from the pole of birth to the pole of death. There is no beginning, nor will there ever be an end to the thing". (Letter from REH to TCS, ca January 1928, Selected Letters: 1923-1930, #9, p. 9). Or as he said in Men of Shadows: "The glory of the Nameless Tribe is vanished; like the snow that falls on the sea; like the smoke that rises in the air. Mingling with past eternities. Vanished the glory of Atlantis; fading the dark empire of the Lemurians. The people of the Stone Age are melting like hoarfrost before the sun. Out of the night we came; into the night we go. All are shadows. A shadow race are we. Our day is past". And I guess he would surely agree with Omar Khayyam:

Oh you without knowledge, the corporeal shape is nothing,

And this dome of nine charted spheres is nothing:

Take comfort, in the place of being and decay

We are creatures of a single moment ÷ also nothing.

You have seen the world and all you saw was nothing,

All you have said and heard, that too is nothing:

Running from pole to pole, there was nothing,

And when you lurked at home, there was also nothing.

Suppose the world went as you wanted, then what?

And suppose this book of life were read through, then what?

Let me suppose a century of self-gratification left,

Even supposing we had a century more, then what?

I also like your suggestion that Ka-nanu is similar in its sound to canine. About the fact that this character calls the girl "moon of delight", you said that that "is more metaphoric than we might usually allow a cave dweller". Obviously I do not know how the prehistoric men expressed themselves, but I do not think that would be too poetic for them. It is a fact well known that people in societies lacking a written tradition can achieve a high degree of sophistication in both oral literature and everyday speaking. There is a nice example of that in the film The Emerald Forest by John Boorman: I always remember when the tribesmen call the deforested area "the end of the world".

Another interesting point is this one: "The battle scene itself is one grand example of how even the young Howard could visualize and mentally choreograph (eventually, of course, often physically "choreograph") his action stories. Howard had the mind's eye of a director of cinema (one can only speculate how interesting might have been his possible eventual attention to screenplay or direction)". I wonder if you knew that in the 30Ôs Hollywood was about to shoot an adaptation of the Conan stories even though eventually nothing transpired. Did you know that?

THE SHADOW SINGER #3

I like the unpublished poem you mention ("Life"):

I see no light to lead my way

No gleam that heralds coming day

Oh, world of men, oh, world of men.

I laughed, I dreamed my dreams and then

I started on my road, the way

O'er which my feet ever must stray,

Must tread forever and for aye.

Could you quote it in full in the next issue of The Shadow Singer?

Thanks.