Clueless and Outnumbered or the Bad Old Days Revisited Essay
Over this past weekend, like an unexpected visit from your weird Aunt, a posting about Howard appeared at the Fandomania blog with the unlikely title of “Was Conan the Barbarian Really a Fictional Character?” by Maggie Van Ostrand. When I first saw the title I thought, why yes he is a fictional character. As I read on, it got a Hell of a lot worse as the author delved cluelessly into the life of Robert E. Howard and his parents.
First off, the cockamamie premise put forth with virtually no concrete evidence by Ms. Van Ostrand is that Dr. Isaac Howard was the inspiration for Conan. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is how Howard himself describes how Conan came to be from from “A Short Biography” by Rusty Burke:
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Much later, Howard would tell a fan that “Conan simply grew up in my mind a few years ago when I was stopping in a little border town on the lower Rio Grande. I did not create him by any conscious process. He simply stalked full grown out of oblivion and set me at work recording the saga of his adventures.” To fellow author Clark Ashton Smith he said, “While I don’t go so far as to believe that stories are inspired by actually existent spirits or powers (though I am rather opposed to flatly denying anything) I have sometimes wondered if it were possible that unrecognized forces of the past or present – or even the future – work through the thoughts and actions of living men. This occurred to me when I was writing the first stories of the Conan series especially. I know that for months I had been unable to work up anything sellable. Then the man Conan seemed suddenly to grow up in my mind without much labor on my part and immediately a stream of stories flowed off my pen – or rather, off my typewriter – almost without effort on my part. I did not seem to be creating, but rather relating events that had occurred. Episode crowded on episode so fast that I could scarcely keep up with them. For weeks I did nothing but write of the adventures of Conan. The character took complete possession of my mind and crowded out everything else in the way of story-writing.”
Needless to say, Ms. Van Ostrand has quickly become the Thoth-Amon of Howard fandom. Her scathing biographical hit piece at the Fandomania blog has marshaled the troops, big time. Using only Dark Valley Destiny by L. Sprague de Camp, Catherine Crook de Camp, and Jane Whittington Griffin, published in 1983 (through she cites it as being published in 1961), and One Who Walked Alone – Robert E. Howard the Final Years by Novalyne Price Ellis (1986) she sets about attempting to destroy decades of work by dozens of true Howard scholars to disprove the myths and inaccuracies from what I call the “bad old days” of Howard fandom. With these outdated and disputed sources, Ms. Van Ostrand weaves a tale so riddled with erroneous statements it borders on the absurd. Ms. Van Ostrand labels herself a humorist, while that claim is debatable, she is clearly not a journalist. Anyone wanting to write an accurate piece would have verified his or her findings with second and third sources before publishing their article on the internet.
In short order she trotted out the long debunked theories that Robert was in love with his mother, that he was crazy, as were his parents, that he was sexually repressed and incapable of having a normal relationship with a woman, etc., etc., ad nauseam.
Some of the more accurate sources she could have easily found include Rusty Burke’s “A Short Biography,” Mark Finn’s Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, Morgan Holmes’ 16 part opus “The de Camp Controversy,” Leo Grin’s “In Defense of Hester Jane Ervin Howard,” to just name a few.
She also posted a somewhat watered down version, slanted with a Texas theme at the Texas Escapes website.
Judging by the amount and timbre of the comments posted in response to her piece at the Fandomania website, Ms. Van Ostrand has clearly brought a knife (and a rather small one at that) to a gunfight.