The other week I had a chat with Robert Zoltan and Edgar the Raven, and we discussed Robert E. Howard, sword-and-sorcery, my own writing, and all sorts of other stuff as well. You can journey to the Dream Tower yourself and listen in through this link.
If you haven’t dropped by the Dream Tower yet, I encourage you to do so. The interviews so far have covered Edgar Rice Burroughs and J.R.R. Tolkien and have been with a couple of my favorite people.
I’ve been in the midst of a whole lot of spring cleaning over the last weeks and it’s time to get back to writing, although part of each day will still be devoted to some not-quite-finished projects.
At the end of each busy day I’ve been reading the Breckinridge Elkins stories of Robert E. Howard, something long overdue for me. The Robert E. Howard Foundation recently printed the second and final volume that collected all of the Breckinridge Elkins tales, along with adventures starring other similar characters.
I’d tried reading them years before, and while I thought they were fun, I’d never dipped back in. Now I’m regretting that. Maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. A couple of times I had to sit down the book and stop reading for a while because I was laughing so hard.
Breck Elkins is a fairly obscure Robert E. Howard character. There’s no lurking horrors or exotic settings or swordplay, and no supernatural events — apart from the exaggerated amount of damage and violence Elkins himself can endure and inflict — so even those Robert E. Howard fantasy fans who get all the way through his adventure catalog may not dip into the tales.
And that’s a shame, because the over-the-top, bare-knuckled, ludicrous shenanigans of the titanic, dumber-than-a-stump protagonist are a lot of fun. I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy Robert E. Howard’s humorous boxing stories, but I think I like these even more. Robert E. Howard seems to be having a lot of fun with the ridiculous turns of phrase and colorful descriptions, the depictions of simple-minded subtlety, and the wonderful understatements that accompany all of the action.
Here’s an excerpt that gives you some sense of the style. Separated like this from the surrounding text it doesn’t give a chance for the set-up and humor to build, but maybe it will work its spell. Breck, a mountain of a man, is in a town called Grizzly Claw and just wants something to eat. But so far as he can see everyone’s acting plum loco. He doesn’t understand why everyone keeps accusing him of being a counterfeiter, and he loses his patience with the cook.
“I brandished my bowie under his nose, and he hollered and stampeded back into the stove and upsot it, and fell over it and the coals went down the back of his shirt, so he riz up and run for the creek yelling bloody murder. And that’s how the story got started that I tried to burn a cook alive, Injun-style, because he fried my bacon too crisp. Matter of fact, I kept his shack from catching fire and burning down, because I stomped out the coals before they done no more than burn a big hole through the floor, and I throwed the stove out the back door.
“It ain’t my fault if the mayor of Grizzly Claw was sneaking up the back steps with a shotgun jest at that moment. Anyway, I hear he was able to walk with a couple of crutches after a few months.”
For most of my life I didn’t share that much fiction with my father, owing to our different tastes in storytelling. I wouldn’t ever have shared Conan or Solomon Kane or even the Robert E. Howard historicals with him. But I wish I could have shown these tales to him. I can imagine his wry smile as we discussed them, and imagine his chuckle as we traded some of the outrageous turns of phrase and dialogue.
It’s been almost seventeen years since his death now, and as the years have gone on it’s harder to imagine interacting with him because so much has happened and so much has changed. But I can picture so clearly what it would have been like sharing these yarns with him that this, too, is part of the pleasure of reading them.
You can find Breck Elkins over at the Robert E. Howard Foundation web site. I highly recommend him. I also recommend reading the novelized versions of the short stories (in volume 2) first, because REH really did a great job of weaving the tales together.