Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Robert E. Howard: A New Manifesto

We expect responsibility and accountability on your part. We are not interested in your grand pronouncement on a subject which has yet to be settled by people who have spent decades studying the issue at hand. We expect you to do your homework. There are a number of websites and literally stacks of new books that likely cover or answer most of your questions regarding Robert E. Howard. To not utilize those sources when doing your research smacks of willful ignorance and will not be tolerated by the fans of Robert E. Howard.

--Mark Finn, "Robert E. Howard: A New Manifesto"

Mark Finn, author of Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, has written an essay entitled "Robert E. Howard: A New Manifesto." It's currently making the rounds on the internet. You can read in its entirety at Al Harron's The Blog That Time Forgot http://theblogthattimeforgot.blogspot.com/2010/10/robert-e-howard-new-manifesto.html#more.

While I'm a little uncomfortable endorsing a manifesto in total and disagree with a few of its details, I am completely in agreement with the spirit of Finn's essay. One of the great things about the internet is that it allows anyone to post anything they want. Conversely, one of the awful things about the internet is that allows anyone to post anything they want. What the Manifesto says is that, if you introduce Robert E. Howard's life into a blog post or essay or argument, please take the added step of actually doing some homework (what a concept!). Read his biographies. Seek out his letters. Examine the many journals and works of criticism dedicated to his life and works. And if you insist on making outrageous, unfounded statements, be prepared to be called on it.

Finn's Manifesto is tough stuff and some may find it abrasive, but frankly wakeup calls are sometimes necessary. After some of the unfounded accusations, wacky theories, and uninformed, inflammatory, contextless arguments I've read around the internet recently, "Robert E. Howard: A New Manifesto" is a welcome wake-up call.

Shields up!


Tex said...

One is seriously tempted to send the link to the Manifesto to Sanford.

(and I mean reeeealy tempted)

Eric D. Lehman said...

Just re-read some of the Conan stories (in those great Del Rey editions) last week. "Charged" writing indeed.

Great to be reminded, not just by you and Mark Finn, but by the writer himself...

Will Mistretta said...

Sounds like a man with a very particular view of Howard's life and work trying to quell dissent on the part of others in advance.

His treatment of Harrison's gay "reading" of Howard in particular is telling. He's already determined in his mind that there's nothing potentially enlightening about such a pursuit, and that's all there is to it. The dismissal also has disturbingly homophobic undertones. Of course his literary hero couldn't have possibly had any such tendencies!

Understandable, but not admirable.

Brian Murphy said...

Tex: I'm afraid it would be deleted, or ignored.

Eric: They are great stories, aren't they? Among fantasy's best.

Will: To me the point of Mark's "Manifesto" was as I've described here--he wants people to seek out the source material and do some degree of fact-checking before offering their summation of Howard the writer (and person). I don't think he's trying to quell dissent or squash debate.

I can't comment on the Harry Harrison quote because I haven't seen it before.

Will Mistretta said...

"To me the point of Mark's 'Manifesto' was as I've described here--he wants people to seek out the source material and do some degree of fact-checking before offering their summation of Howard the writer (and person)."

I agree. Facts are facts. Stating that R.E. Howard was born Francois Villairs in Miraumont, France in 1872 would be problematic.

But there are other issues that merely having access to some of the man's written correspondence (hardly an objective look at his inner mind, surely, as it was written, after all, with its recipients in mind) and anecdotes from a handful of people who knew him are not sufficient to settle. Topics like the nature of Howard's feelings for his mother, the true reasons for his suicide, his outlook on race, and, yes, even the possibility that he may have had homosexual tendencies, are far from settled with incontrovertible facts.

These issues and more are still fair game for speculation, scholarship, and debate. Period.

Brian Murphy said...

I agree with you Will, for what it's worth. I don't think anyone will ever know why Howard committed suicide, for example. It's only natural to speculate why he shot himself 30 hours after his mother died. The speculation continues and there's nothing wrong with that.

Mark admits that he was driven to write his Manifesto by a couple recent blog posts, including one which I recently commented on here. The essay ("Robert E. Howard was a racist. Deal with it") was written as though it were the definitive word on Howard's racism. The writer in question made the case that Howard was a horrible racist not only by our 21st century standards, but by those of 1920s Texas. The problem was that he didn't cite evidence from Howard's letters. He didn't bother to read Dark Valley Destiny and apparently not even Blood and Thunder (which are the only two full-length Howard biographies on the market. He said he read B&T but that book makes a strong case that Howard's racism was common for his place and time). He didn't comment on the culture of Texas at the time, and he didn't bother to present the other side of the argument (Howard's heroic black characters, for example). You can't write a post a like that and expect to have it go unchallenged.

All the cases you've described above can still be made, and Howard the person examined, but it should be done with care and patience and deliberation. Good scholarship builds on what has been done, after all.