Monday, April 11, 2011
Sale offers proof that J.R.R. Tolkien likely read Robert E. Howard
L. Sprague de Camp is not exactly known as a bastion of credibility among readers of Robert E. Howard. In his 1983 biography Dark Valley Destiny, de Camp combines research and first-person interviews with exaggeration and embellishment, speculation and psychological conjecture, and at times outright fancy to paint what is at best a suspect portrait of the man who brought us Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane and others.
Unfortunately de Camp is the only source (that I know of, at least) linking Howard with J.R.R. Tolkien. This comes via a recount of de Camp hanging out with JRRT in a memorably described encounter, as detailed in his non-fiction review Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy:
"We sat in the garage for a couple of hours, smoking pipes, drinking beer, and talking about a variety of things. Practically anything in English literature, from Beowulf down, Tolkien had read and could talk intelligently about. He indicated that he 'rather liked' Howard's Conan stories."
In J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment by Michael Drout, de Camp adds the following explanation/equivocation of the above quote:
"During our conversation, I said something casual to Tolkien about my involvement with Howard's Conan stories, and he said he 'rather liked them'. That was all: we went on to other subjects. I know he had read Swords and Sorcery because I had sent him a copy. I don't know if he had read any other Conan besides 'Shadows in the Moonlight', but I rather doubt it."
I know I’ve always been hopeful but rather skeptical of the claim that Tolkien actually said he “rather liked” the Conan stories, given that the quote’s source is, well, de Camp.
But this sale which I recently found during a web search seems to provide proof that Tolkien at least read “Shadows in the Moonlight,” aka., “Iron Shadows in the Moon.” At the very least it provides concrete evidence that he owned the book, and that de Camp sent him the copy. Cool stuff. I can't help but wonder what Tolkien thought of this bit:
With a gusty laugh he lifted her to his fierce lips.
"I'll make you Queen of the Blue Sea! Cast off there, dogs! We'll scorch King Yildiz's pantaloons yet, by Crom!"