I made the Hajj, the Pilgrimage, to Cross Plains, Texas this weekend to visit the Robert E. Howard museum. Not coincidentally, it was also the weekend of the 2023 edition of Howard Days. I am, to be blunt, tired. It is only a five hour drive from Casa Lizzi, which is why I had no excuse to put off the visit. Still, on top of non-stop activity and limited sleep, that drive back proved less pleasant than the lovely drive out: putting a Gulf Coast thunder storm behind me Thursday morning as I wended my way north and west deep into the heart of Texas, into cattle and old oil boom country to the AirBnB I shared with Bryan Murphy and Deuce Richardson.
We met up with a number of Howardian fandom luminaries at a brewpub in Cisco, including J. Bullard, Esq. who provided the flyers for the unofficial Sword-and-Sorcery Revival panel held on Saturday, featuring the aforementioned notables Bryan Murphy and Deuce Richardson, as well as Jason Waltz of Rogue Blades fame. Oh, and yours truly. Bryan must be in danger of developing carpal tunnel syndrome from the number of autographs he placed in copies of Flame and Crimson over the course of the weekend and following the panel. Deuce performed yeoman work moderating and marketing DMR publications. And Jason dropped an Announcement (that I will leave to others to reveal.) I talked shamelessly about my books like the huckster I am. Happily I returned home with the car somewhat lighter, having discovered a number of intelligent sophisticates interested in my work. (You too could demonstrate your superior taste, intellect, and physical charms by picking up a book or two.)
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Friday I took a bus tour, guided by Rusty Burke, around the stomping grounds of Robert E. Howard. The scenery, backdropped by mesquite and post oak, well-illustrated the word “hardscrabble.” The bus drove along dirt lanes populated with houses that appear to have encountered the Great Depression and never managed to escape. The tour underscored the fact that one of America’s greatest writers emerged not from one of her great cities and elite universities, but from what had been recently the frontier.
The house of Dr. Isaac Howard further emphasizes the wonder of REH’s achievement. As the town doctor, Isaac Howard was relatively well-off. But by modern standards, the house is…modest. From a narrow enclosure that makes a college dorm room appear spacious, a former screened porch walled in to make it a bedroom, Howard created entire worlds. Astonishing. Yet the library in the sitting room goes some way toward offering some insight into his inspirations.
The docents in each room are friendly and helpful, showing no signs of impatience at answering what must be the same questions over and over. My hat is off to them, as well as the volunteers at the Cross Plains library with its unique collection of Howard manuscripts and publications.
The Howard grave is about a twenty mile drive south, in the Greenleaf cemetery in Brownwood.
The theme of Howard Days this year was 100 Years of Weird Tales. The speakers at the panels were uniformly well-informed and engaging. The Glen Lord Symposium featured Howard scholars delivering academic papers, said scholars including Bryan Murphy offering some thoughts on Jack London’s influence on Howard.
The weekend included banquets, vendors, poetry readings, hobnobbing and socializing with Howardian aficionados and dedicated researchers. If you have a collection of well-thumbed volumes of Conan, Solomon Kane, etc., etc., you owe it to yourself to make the trek. And if you attended this year, drop me a note and let’s keep in touch.
Now, for those of you following along with Magnus Stoneslayer’s diary, here is the next entry.
Islands, dear diary, are unique boxed surprises, no two alike. Open the lid and you never know what you’ll find. Isolated from each other and the mainland by the intervening waters of the inland sea, the Zajsan islands have had untold years to develop in radically different ways. Any one might harbor the fantastic: the dying remnants of a pre-human culture; ruins of an ancient city that was old before the land changed and the Zajsan Sea was still a broad valley interrupted by high plateaus (or so learned men have asserted in my hearing); beasts long extinct outside the confines of the isle’s shoreline; a secret pirate shanty town, equal parts buccaneer bazaar and corsair retirement resort; or nothing at all worth note to anyone other than an ornithologist or other assorted naturalists.
So imagine my surprise when on one such nameless rock I found Yaslina. Remember Yaslina, dear diary? Last I saw of her, that ungrateful Zantian noblewoman and her retainer, the wizard Vetrius, were throwing off my protective aegis without so much as a thank you for my pains.
What was she doing here? I know what I was doing – I hove to offshore and led a crew ashore in the jolly boat to water the ship, perhaps re-victual with fresh meat or fruit, whatever this point of land in the trackless sea could provide.
Now she is sharing my fire again. My sword once again provides protection. Not necessarily to ward her against the unwanted attentions of my piratical shore party. I did mention that Vetrius is a wizard, didn’t I? Ultimately I’m protecting my crew. I need them to sail my ship, not hunt each other to the last man under the magically induced delusion that each is an aboriginal island cannibal out for blood, or suffer whatever other sorcerous mischief Vetrius would cook up in defense of Yaslina.
So, what is she doing here? I hesitate to ask for fear she would tell me. A woman’s secret is like these islands, dear diary: open the lid and there’s no telling what you’ll get.