Dark Valley Destiny

BOOK: Dark Valley Destiny
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Dark Valley Destiny: The Life of Robert E. Howard

L. Sprague de Camp

 

Copyright © 1961, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, and 1976 by L. Sprague de Camp

Copyright © 1983 by L. Sprague de Camp and Catherine Crook de Camp

Jacket art and endpaper art {collector's edition only) by Kevin

Eugene Johnson Book design by Francesca Belanger

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the express written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. For information, contact Bluejay Books Inc., 130 West Forty-second Street, New York, New York 10036.

Manufactured in the United States of America First Bluejay printing: December 1983

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

De Camp, L. Sprague (Lyon Sprague), 1907-

Dark Valley Destiny.

Bibliography: p. Includes index.

1. Howard, Robert Ervin, 1906-1936—Biography. 2. Authors, American—20th century—Biography. I. De Camp, Catherine Crook. II. Griffin, Jane Whittington.

III. Title.

PS3515.0842Z62 1983 813'.52 [B] 83-15635

ISBN 0-312-94074-2 ISBN 0-312-94075-0 (lim. ed.)

Dedication

To Jack Scott, distinguished newsman and civic leader of Cross Plains, and to all Texans who, in one way or another, remember Robert Howard.

 

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

I. DREAMER AND DREAM 5

II. DESTINY'S CHILD 18

III. DARK VALLEY LORD 36

IV. BOY NOMAD 53

V. THE REALM OF THE X-TRIPLE-BAR 70

VI. THE VIOLENT LAND 98

VII. BARBARIAN IN A BOOM TOWN 124

VIII. APPRENTICE PULPSTER 171

IX. SINGER IN THE SHADOWS 214 X. SERPENTS, SWORDS, AND SUPERMEN 245

XI. THE TRANSCENDENT BARBARIAN 262

XII. LOVE AND THE LONER 296

XIII. FAITHFUL IN HIS FASHION 327

XIV. DARK VALLEY DESTINY 355

Notes 369

 

Bibliography 383

 

Index 391

 

Introduction

For over thirty years, Sprague and I have been fascinated by the Conan stories written by Robert E. Howard in the early 1930s. Sprague gathered them, edited them, and searched for a paperback book publisher willing to bring them out; for in 1951 Howard and his fictional character Conan of Cimmeria were known to only a very small group of admirers. In the ensuing years, Sprague—with his colleagues Lin Carter, Bjorn Nyberg, and, more recently, with me—has added many new tales to the saga of the great barbarian. Sprague kept the name of Conan before the public; and, with the help of Glenn Lord, a man Sprague recommended as literary agent for the Howard heirs, made Conan a household word among readers and comic-book fans.

As our interest in the great barbarian grew, we found ourselves increasingly intrigued by the Texas writer from whose teeming brain Conan and other heroic characters emerged. Although no one had ever written a book-length biography of Robert Howard or done much to assay his work, we hesitated to undertake the task, since we knew little about life in Texas during the first third of the present century. We knew even less about the boy who grew up to create, almost single-handedly, the subgenre of American fiction that is now called "heroic fantasy."

One evening—it was November 17, 1976—when Lin Carter was in Philadelphia to help Sprague plot a new Conan story, I asked Dr. Jane Whittington Griffin, a witty and charming woman friend, to make a fourth at dinner. At the close of the meal, Sprague and Lin went off to the study to get on with their work. I was embarrassed by the speed of their departure and explained somewhat lamely to our guest everything that I knew about Conan, his Cross Plains creator, and the two ladies who had become the Howard heirs. At the mention of the name Kuyken-dall, Jane exclaimed: "I went to college with a girl named Alia Ray Kuykendall. She lives just a few miles beyond Eastland."

I called to the men, who, abandoning their plotting, hastened down to the living room. We spent the entire evening discovering that Jane grew up in Eastland, Texas, at about the same time that Robert Ervin Howard was growing up in Cross Plains, some thirty miles away. Jane knew the land, the history of the region, and many of the people who had had contacts with the Howard family. Moreover, through her work in child development, a subject that she taught to graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania, Jane could reconstruct a great deal about the early life of a Texan child brought up in an environment not far removed from pioneer days.

Assured of Jane's help with the early chapters of Howard's life, we decided to bring the tragic story of Robert Howard to all who admire the man and his creations. Thus was born the project that has occupied much of our time and energy for over five years.

We have made five research trips to Texas, and we have interviewed nearly every living person who remembers the neglected genius of Cross Plains. Many are the adventures we have had during these extended research trips. On one we took Jane, who had emphysema and required a supply of oxygen at all times. Only later did we learn that, had we hit a pothole or another car, the two huge cylinders of oxygen on which I planted firm feet would have exploded and blown us all into another county.

By the merest good fortune, we located the cut in the low hills that goes by the name of Dark Valley. We had stopped to ask a shopkeeper if he knew where Dark Valley was. The man told us that his father, Mr. J. C. McClure, was the local historian and that he would be glad to show us around. Mr. McClure owned the very ground on which stands the small house in which the senior Howards, as bride and groom, made their first home. Because of Jane's Texas drawl and her knowledge of the local families, we were graciously received by people who might otherwise have been reluctant to entertain us.

Jane Whittington Griffin passed away on November 9, 1979, but by that time she had shared with us her insights into Howard's formative years. She greatly increased our knowledge of the flora, the customs, and the way of life of Texans at the turn of the century. Most of all, she gave us the courage to go on with a subject whose magnitude escaped us until we were so deeply involved that we could not dream of turning back.

Many other people have lent us a welcome hand in bringing this project to fruition, among them Glenn Lord, who supplied us with information and gave us permission to use quotations from Howard's works. We wish to thank for their kindness in granting us interviews: Jack Scott, a former mayor of Cross Plains, who was a young reporter in Howard's day and who has most kindly agreed to read and criticize this manuscript; Miss Kate Merryman, also of Cross Plains, who helped to nurse Mrs. Howard through her last illness; and Mrs. Novalyne Price Ellis, who was Howard's close friend during the last two years of his life.

E. Hoffmann Price, no relation of Mrs. Ellis, contributed the rare insights into Howard's personality that only a writer of his stature could make; and Dr. Charlotte Laughlin, a professor at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, gave generously of her time in doing essential research.

Other people, either through correspondence or by means of interviews, contributed enormously in rounding out this picture of the Howard family and the world in which they lived. Among them are: Mrs. Fanny McClung Anderson, Jonathan Bacon, Earl J. Baker, Robert Baker, E. Wayne Barlow, Mrs. Lorene Bishop, John Bloom, Miss Paula Bond, Hyman Bradofsky, Mrs. Ruth Baum Browning, Elliot and Zora May Bryant, Garry Burg, LeeRoy and Floyce Butler, Sam Buzbee, Gray Cassidy, Norris R. Chambers, J. H. Childs, Mrs. A. L. Conlee, Mrs. Jocelyn Darling, Mrs. Annie Newton Davis, Mrs. Ollie Lorene Davis, Raymond De Busk, Peter Beresford Ellis, Steve Eng, and William Fulwiler.

Also Kenneth Franklin, Mrs. Lois Garrett, T. H. Frazzetta, Mrs. Mary Robertson Genstey, Alfred Gechter, Wallace C. Howard, Truman Howard, Rev. Toby Irwin, Sherwood B. Idso, Mrs. Alma Baker King, Robert S. Latona, Billy Lee, Richard Lupoff, Mrs. Birdie L. Martin, Mrs. Irene Shults Mayfield, John D. McClure, Mrs. Gladys Doyel McNabb, Frank D. McSherry, Jr., L. L. and Deoma Morgan, Mrs. Alia Ray Morris,

Sam Moskowitz, Miss Dorothy A. Murray, Austin Newton, Howard 0. Newton, Mrs. Vera Baker Nichols, Mrs. Nathan Oliver, Mrs. Patricia Neeb Peterson, Ervin Polishuk, Harold Preece, Phillip Sawyer, Robert Stevens, H. L. Somerville, Mrs. Johnnie Newton Stone, Miss Dolores Tanner, Gomer Thomas, Frank Thurston Torbett, Truett Vinson, Tom R. and Urla Wilson, Mrs. D. K. Woolridge, Mrs. Alice Younglove, and several others who prefer to remain anonymous.

Catherine Crook de Camp Villanova, Pennsylvania June 30, 1983

I. DREAMER AND DREAM

Drums of glory are lost in the ages, Bare feet fail on a broken trail— Let my name fade from the printed pages; Dreams and visions are growing pale. Twilight gathers and none can save me. Well and well, for I would not stay. . . -
1

Early on the morning of Thursday, June 11, 1936, Robert Ervin
2
Howard, successful young pulp-writer and creator of Conan, the mighty barbarian hero, arose from his vigil at his mother's bedside. His gaze may have strayed beyond the open window and across the dried grasses of the yard to the picket fence that separated his house from the Butler place next door.

Although it was only a little past seven, the morning was already blazing hot; and the sun, hanging above the eastern horizon, promised another day of dry winds and unrelenting heat. Nothing stirred. Cross Plains was a hound dog lying in the sun, panting beneath its rib cage, totally unconcerned with Howard's observation.

Cross Plains had troubles enough, without bestirring itself over those of the young man about whom the townsfolk knew little and cared less. "Time," one of the inhabitants has said, "seems to have passed Cross Plains by."
3
The oil boom of the 1920s, with its excitement and prosperity, had given way to the Great Depression. The shallow oil wells had largely petered out, and the boom people had all moved away. With them the rains had departed, too, and a drouth had set in. In a country given to long dry spells and uncertain rainfall, so prolonged a drouth had been beyond the memory of even the oldest inhabitants.

In those life-threatening days, only the buzzards had thrived. On the ranges, cattle died of thirst and starvation, sometimes with their bodies bloated from the prickly-pear cactus on which they had fed as a last resort. To prevent their suffering, humane ranchers slaughtered their calves and gave their veal away. Many a family made it through the years of the Depression on potted meats and canned chili put up by enterprising women in the farming community. Hanging on barbed-wire fences along the roads for miles in all directions, hides from slaughtered cattle were being cured in the sun. Better curing hides than maggot-swarming bodies of dead animals lying in the pastures.

BOOK: Dark Valley Destiny
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