|Weird Tales Oct. 1925|
|Weird Tales July 1925|
It is, therefore, piquant & enjoyable to exchange ideas with Two-Gun or to read his stories. He is of about the same intelligence as Seabury Quinn—but Yuggoth, what a difference! (LRB 256-257)
Seabury Quinn was born in Washington, D.C. in 1889, attended Washington National University, and had graduated with a degree in law. He practiced law only for a short time, and joined the army for World War I. After his discharge he returned to practicing law and handled a libel case involving mortuary jurisprudence. He won the case, and they took him on as legal advisor—and so he got his start for The Casket, a trade journal for morticians. Quinn was given progressively more work with The Casket until he became its managing editor; and in 1921 Quinn married his first wife, Mary Helen Molster. In January 1925, The Casket merged with the mortuary journal Sunnyside, andQuinn became editor of the combined magazine The Casket & Sunnyside, which job necessitated moving to New York. (Schwartz & Weisinger 1-2, Ruber 336, Ruber & Wyrzos ix)
|Seabury Quinn (1889-1969)|
One evening in the spring of 1925, I was in that state that every writer knows and dreads; a story was due my publisher, and there didn’t seem to be a plot in the world. Accordingly, with nothing particular in mind, I picked up my pen and literally making it up as I went along—wrote the first story [...] As with The Horror on the Links, so with all other adventures of de Grandin. (CA 1.xxi)
Quinn may have been fudging a little; the French occult detective with his more incredulous counterpart Dr. Samuel Trowbridge probably owes something to Agatha Christie and her Belgian investigator Hercule Poirot and companion Arthur Hastings, who first appeared in The Murder on the Links (1923), but both were patently working in the same mold as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Watson & Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin. Whatever the case, “The Horror on the Links” was quickly followed by “The Tenants of Broussac” (WT Dec 1925) and “The Isle of Missing Ships” (WT Feb 1926)...and a fan letter in “The Eyrie”:
Robert E. Howard, of Cross Plains, Texas, writes concerning Mr. Quinn’s stories of Jules de Grandin: “These are sheer masterpieces. The little Frenchman is one of those characters who live in fiction. I look forward with pleasurable anticipation to further meetings with him.” (CL 1.75)
Quinn was a regular with Weird Tales over the next few years, and de Grandin’s adventures in its pages were many, and received considerable praise. Howard was still finding his way with the magazine, his stories and poems published sporadically, but beginning in 1929 he began to make sales more regularly, and “The Eyrie” took notice of series characters like Solomon Kane and King Kull:
I think a book of Seabury Quinn's stories would go over big [...] also Otis Adelbert Kline, Lovecraft and Howard. Why can't we have their best stores in book form? (WT Feb 1929)
Seabury Quinn, Gaston Leroux and Robert E. Howard certainly wield charmed and facile pens. (WT Mar 1930)
Such stories as those about Jules de Grandin, King Kull, the Overlord of Cornwall and the Werewolf of Ponkert are always sure to hit the mark. (WT Jan 1931)
|Bread lines during The Great Depression|
I’ve a hunch they’ll get back where they were in 1928-9, that your drawings will finally bring you what they’re worth, and that I’ll once more enjoy the rate they used to pay me--- and I did enjoy it, too, don’t let ‘em tell you different. It was rather something to be able to set your watch by the regularity with which the checks arrived, and to be able to say when you saw an Oriental rug, a bit of Georgian mahogany or a piece of Victorian silver, “Wrapt it up!” (Quinn 1974, 29)
However, there are signs that favoritism aside, Quinn managed his affairs with some foresight. H. P. Lovecraft remarked:
Wright surely is a provoking cuss—& I don't feel any kindlier toward him since learning that he pays Seabury Quinn for reprints (which he isn't legally compelled to do) without extending a similar mark of regard to Grandpa! He obviously exercises favouritism toward those (like Quinn & Kline) from whom he has reason to expect much catchily popular material. (ES 1.397)
“Weird Tales Reprints” were a long-running feature of the pulp magazine, usually some classical or foreign language weird story, but in January 1929 editor Farnworth Wright began reprinting stories from Weird Tales earlier issues, including Quinn’s “The Phantom Farmhouse” (rpt. WT Mar 1929). (Silverberg 32) Most pulps bought all the rights to a story, which made reprinting old stories an attractive option from an economical point of view; but Quinn appears to have had the foresight to sell “first serial rights only”—meaning if Wright wanted to reprint a Quinn story, he’d have to pay for it; Howard wouldn’t become quite as savvy about the rights he was selling until about 1933 (CL 3.57-58). Lovecraft acknowledged this:
But possibly astute Sequin did reserve his rights from the first—being an attorney, he naturally would have his eyes open for such points. (ES 1.400)
H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard would begin their correspondence in 1930, and through Lovecraft the Texan was put in contact with many in the Weird Tales circle, discussed new issues of their “old standby” as it came out, and shared gossip. One of Lovecraft and Howard’s mutual correspondents was fellow pulpster Wilfred Blanch Talman; Howard wrote to Talman in July 1931:
I notice you mention having met Quinn, the king-favorite of Weird Tale fans. I’d be interested in your impressions of him; for some unknown reason, I’ve always pictured him as a tall, powerfully built man with a leonine head and a full beard. (CL 2.220)
Talman had met Quinn in March of 1931 (ES 1.325-236), and described him to Howard, to which the Texan replied: “I’m very interested in your account of Quinn. He must be a fascinating character.” (CL 2.250) While we don’t have Talman’s description of Seabury Quinn, Howard did write to his friend Tevis Clyde Smith about Talman:
He’s met Quinn, (alias Jules de Grandin) and says he’s a courteous gent of middle age, with a Southern accent. He says Quinn is independent and knows how to twist the editors. Says he recently turned down a big contract from Street & Smith, reported valued at $10,000. A gent can afford to be independent when he already has jack. (CL 2.246)
Lovecraft also met Quinn in July 1931 (ES 1.350-351), which might fill out the sketch:
I met Quinn twice during my stay in N Y, & find him exceedingly intelligent & likeable. He is 44 years old, but looks rather less than that. Increasingly stocky, dark, & with a closely clipped moustache. He is first of all a shrewd business man, & freely affirms that he manufactures hokum to order for market demands—in contrast to the artist, who seeks sincere expression as the result of an obscure inward necessity. (LJS 27)
Lovecraft’s take on Quinn was biased by his own sensibilities; Howard, while not neglecting the aesthetics of his work, was more pragmatic. Still, it is clear that the Texan studied Quinn’s stories, as he wrote in a letter to Lovecraft dated 9 Aug 1932:
Their capacity for grisly details seems unlimited, when the cruelty is the torturing of some naked girl, such as Quinn’s stories abound in—no reflection intended on Quinn; he knows what they want and gives it to them. The torture of a naked writhing wretch, utterly helpless—and especially when of the feminine sex amid voluptuous surroundings—seems to excite keen pleasure in some people who have a distaste for wholesale butchery in the heat and fury of a battlefield. (CL 2.411, MF 1.353)
As for the scenes of individual torture such as appear in the work of Quinn, Capt. Meek, and other pulp idols—I think most of them are in rather doubtful taste. (MF 1.372)
|Weird Tales July 1926|
Quinn’s work was all right but I liked Howard’s much better. Quinn was smart, though. He realized immediately that Wright was having me do a nude for every cover. So he made sure that each de Grandin story had at least one sequence where the heroine shed all her clothes. Wright then picked Quinn’s stories to be the cover story. (Korshak & Spurlock 19)
In stories like “The Black Stone” (WT Nov 1931), Howard had begun to include more scenes of naked women, and sometimes flagellation. Whether this was directly in imitation of or inspired by Quinn’s success at using these elements is difficult to say; but the it seems to have worked for stories like “Black Colossus” (WT Jun 1933), “The Slithering Shadow” (WT Sep 1933), “A Witch Shall Be Born” (WT Dec 1934), and “Red Nails” (WT Jul 1936), among others, and even Lovecraft noted in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith:
He certainly is a pip for consistency—to howl about excessive eroticism after deliberately adopting a policy of ha’penny satyr-tickling in his damn cover-designs …. A policy which amusingly causes his more subservient writers (not excluding the illustrious Quinn &—at times—even the sanguinary Two-Gun Bob) to go miles out of their way to drag in a costumeless wench! (DS 440-441)
Despite this gentle admonishment, even as he recognized that the Texan was writing to make sales, just as Quinn was, Lovecraft assured Howard that:
Your stories are really vastly different from the pallid hack work of systematically mercenary writers like Otis Adelbert Kline, Hugh B. Cave, the later Seabury Quinn, and (alas!) the future E. Hoffmann Price if he doesn't want his step and cling to his old non-professional standards. (MF2.560)
Howard, for his part, continued to consider Quinn one of the top writers at Weird Tales, as he mentioned in a letter in “The Eyrie” published in the March 1932 issue:
Yes, I consider the current magazine uniformly fine, of an excellence surprizing considering the fact that neither Lovecraft, Quinn, Hamilton, Whitehead, Kline nor Price was represented. (CL2.302)
Quinn and his creation Jules de Grandin had become something of a standard among Weird Tales readers, even as the Necronomicon or Conan the Cimmerian would become, and Howard privately worked de Grandin into a verse of his “Weird Ballad,” included in an April 1932 letter to Tevis Clyde Smith:
The bale-fire burned, and the pot smoked blue,
—Eerily wind, sing eerily—
And Jules de Grandin rose from the brew.
And the wind was blowing eerily.
Eerily, eerily, blow, wind, blow,
With a heave and hey, so eerily. (CL2.324)
|Oriental Stories Vol 1. No. 2|
Dec. 1930 - Jan. 1931
Economic difficulties continued, however. Normally, Weird Tales paid upon publication, but beginning in late 1932 checks were delayed—and in 1933, due to a bank holiday, occasionally bounced. The editor continued to accept stories for publication, albeit at reduced rates (for most authors) and with gradually increasing delays in payment, so that regulars like August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard began to be owed considerable amounts of money, which were sometimes paid off in installments and half-payments. (Connor 166-167) By 1935, Weird Tales owed Howard over $800. Scott Connor reports:
It is rumored that Seabury Quinn [...] boasted that he always received his money up front, although in the opinion of Weird Tales historian Robert Weinberg this may have been just so much hot air. (Connor 169)
Up to 1933 Howard and Quinn did not directly compete for any pulp markets besides Weird Tales. Quinn’s sales from 1925 on outside WT were predominantly to Real Detective Tales and Mystery Stories, Grit Magazine, Detective Book Magazine, and Detective Classics, while Howard was selling mostly to Action Stories, Fight Stories, Oriental Stories, Sports Story, and Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror. Then with the January 1933 issue Oriental Stories became The Magic Carpet Magazine—and Howard and Quinn found themselves competing in a second market. The retitled magazine would only last for five issues, but Quinn managed to land stories and novelettes in four of them; Howard only managed two. Yet the fan response for both men was generally positive, and several times both men or their creations were mentioned in the same breath:
The stories are of a high caliber, and with four Aces of WEIRD TALES represented in Howard, Quinn, Kline and Smith, the issue is very good.
(WT Jan 1933)
I vote first place to Seabury Quinn for the superb Jules de Grandin tale, The Door to Yesterday. Second place, and a close to first, goes to Robert Howard for The Phoenix on the Sword. [...] Always like any of Robert E. Howard's or Seabury Quinn's stories very much, but don't care for those 'space' stories…
(WT Feb 1933)
If you will just put ADDLEBRAIN and a few more hopeless nuts to work laying bricks or digging ditches, and publish one more issue of all-weird stories, including stories by Clark Ashton Smith, Seabury Quinn, Robert E. Howard, and Paul Ernst, I think the opinion we fellers of the South formerly had of your magazine will rise to the top again. (WT May 1933)
Let me hand a great big orchid or something of the sort to Robert E. Howard and Seabury Quinn.
(WT Aug 1933)
Solomon Kane, next to Jules De Grandin, is my favorite character in WEIRD TALES. (WT Oct 1933)
Church orchids, as Walter Winchell would say, to Seabury Quinn for his mystery tale, The Bride of the God, which in my opinion is the best story in the July issue. But Howard's The Lion of Tiberias is a close second, and is the best story from the pen of this great writer that I have ever read.
(The Magic Carpet Magazine Oct 1933)
I have an insatiable appetite for Robert E. Howard's tales of Conan the Cimmerian. The Slithering Shadow was a gem. May I also toss an orchid to Seabury Quinn for his inimitable, lovable Jules de Grandin? There's a sentient fiction-character, if ever there was one. (WT Nov 1933)
Howard and Quinn never shared space in anthology during their lifetimes, though this was more by chance than a mark of competition. Both saw reprints in the Not At Night series edited by Christine Campbell Thompson, but never at the same time. Yet they might well have done so. Robert E. Howard wrote to Lovecraft in August 1931:
By the way, E. Hoffmann Price writes me that he and Mashburn are attempting to promote a sort of anthology of weird tales — or rather a collection of ten selected stories, which includes your “Pickman’s Model” and my “Kings of the Night.” I’m all for it, myself. Have they mentioned anything about it to you? I think it would be great. (CL 2.240)
“Mashburn” would be Wallace Kirkpatrick (“Kirk”) Mashburn, a fellow Weird Tales writer who was a regular friend of Price’s in New Orleans. Lovecraft spread the news:
As to anthologies—Howard tells me that E. Hoffmann Price & W. K. Mashburn are planning in anthology which will include my “Pickman’s Model”—though they haven’t said anything to me about it. (ES 1.381)
No further news of the Price-Mashburn anthology [...] (ES 1.384)
Did I mention, by the way, that (according to Robert E. Howard) a small weird anthology is contemplated by two veteran W.T. contributors—E. Hoffmann Price & W. K. Mashburn. (DS 324)
Unfortunately, Howard later replied that the anthology was sidelined:
Price said in his last letter that he and Mashburn had not had an opportunity to go further into the business of getting the anthology going, but that they intended to see about it eventually. (CL 2.269)
The idea was apparently picked up again in early 1932, as Howard mentions it in a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith:
I’ve drifted into correspondence with some more Weird Tailors (as Lovecraft calls them) and Mashburn tells me that there seems to be a good chance of getting that weird anthology published. I hope so, ye gods. (CL 2.315)
Yet the matter seemed to stutter out again. Two letters dated February and March 1933 survive from Howard to August Lenniger, who was Price’s agent, concerning copyrights for reprints to one of his Weird Tales stories for an anthology, but nothing happens. (CL 3.14, 41) The sticking point, at least according to Price, was Seabury Quinn:
We forgot to discuss that anthology which was to include stories by Quinn, Howard, Mashburn, Kline, Whitehead, and others. Probably against his better judgment, and to humor a client who might some day be profitable, my agent had accepted my proposal on an anthology of weird fiction. After reading the scripts, he decided that the Quinn and the Whitehead selections should be cut, as they went to much greater wordage than the stories warranted. Whitehead readily conceded that there was rarely a story which wouldn't be improved by cutting. Quinn, like Lovecraft, would not change as much as a comma, or delete even a word. The anthology never got into orbit. (BOD 156-157)
Almost certainly, it was prior to this June-July 1933 meeting that Quinn and I had corresponded concerning an anthology of weird stories---one of his, one by HPL, one by Robert E. Howard. Never got into orbit. My agent suggested some of the selected stories should be cut. Seabury Quinn, like H. P. Lovecraft, would no more cut a word than he'd chop off his own head. (Price 1969, 66)
This was too bad, as at least one Weird Tales fan would have clamored for such a volume:
I would buy a Quinn or Howard book 'on faith,' feeling that I was going to get my money's worth in pure enjoyment when I got around to the reading of it.
(WT Dec 1934)
Robert E. Howard is his favorite fantasy writer. He terms his work "wonderful - best man writing for WEIRD TALES." (Schwartz & Weisinger 6)
The title of the article spoke directly to the source of Quinn’s fame; whatever the merit to his other stories, he was best known as the creator of Jules de Grandin. Likewise, readers identified Robert E. Howard with his own series characters; in the October 1934 issue of Weird Tales, Conan and de Grandin were lauded repeatedly (alongside E. Hoffmann Price’s Pierre d’Artois and C. L. Moore’s Northwest Smith):
With each succeeding tale Howard becomes better; his unique character, Conan, is the greatest brain-child yet produced in weird fiction, even overshadowing Moore's Northwest Smith and Quinn's dynamic little Frenchman, Jules de Grandin. [...] We also need the services of Jules de Grandin, Pierre d'Artois and Conan the Cimmerian to stand at all portals leading to the editor's desk and mow down all authors who come in with stories for WT that are not weird....Here's to you for those fine serials we have had this year, the dandy covers (except for the March), the length of said serials (remember, no more than four installments), and for Northwest, Jules, Conan, Pierre, and a host of others. [...] for the lovable personality of de Grandin by Quinn; for the thrilling old barbarian Conan of Howard [...] all those old and new writers of the genuine weird story as found only in your magazine, WEIRD TALES.
|WT "The Devil in Iron" |
(Conan the Cimmerian)
|WT "The Curse of the |
House of Phipps"
(Jules de Grandin)
I read Seabury Quinn's pages of brisk, cheerful, up-to-date conversation (when I stop to read them at all) with a polite yawn & an academic admiration of his cleverness in handling the conventional technique of fiction. Of any real sense of weirdness there is none--because nothing in the style has served to build up any emotional reparation for the marvels or horrors so glibly stuck in toward the end or prosaically catalogued throughout the text. Everything is sprightly, mechanical, & puppet-like, & nothing reaches that inner region of perception & response which gives birth to the true sense of fear. (LCM 253-254)
Howard had greater difficulty finding a character that would “stick.” Tales with a new character would sell a couple stories, then face rejection—in Weird Tales he ran through the problem with Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, and King Kull of Atlantis before landing on what would become his most successful Weird Tales character, Conan the Cimmerian—and, in fact “The Phoenix on the Sword” began its life in manuscript as a King Kull story. Between December 1932 (“The Phoenix on the Sword”) and October 1936 (the final part of “Red Nails”), Howard had managed to publish 17 Conan tales; in the same period, Weird Tales published only 14 Jules de Grandin novelettes, though both men had much other work published in other pulps. Aside from length, and possibly playing up a nude scene in a bid for the cover, the Conan stories were structured completely differently. The Cimmerian was a roamer, who wandered over a prehistoric setting which Howard would develop through careful world-building, which culminated in the long essay “The Hyborian Age”; the adventures took place at different periods in Conan’s life, and were not composed or published in any kind of chronological order; the stories had no regular supporting characters.
One aspect that both sets of stories had in common was variety: while Quinn stuck to his formula and Howard worked his own approach, both series exhibited a considerable variation in genre. Howard took advantage of the scale of Conan’s wanderings to set weird tales in exotic settings: “The Pool of the Black One” (Oct 1933) and “Queen of the Black Coast” (May 1934) are pirate stories, “The People of the Black Circle” (Sep-Nov 1934) is an Oriental adventure, “Beyond the Black River” (May-Jun 1935) a frontier story with Picts in place of Native Americans, “The God in the Bowl” (unpublished during Howard’s lifetime) a police procedural. Quinn, sticking with Harrisonville as the center of activity, was more limited in scope—but not by much. Many of de Grandin’s adventures were, strictly speaking, not stories of occult detection: they were shudder pulp and weird crime stories like “The House of Horror” (Jul 1926) and “The House of the Golden Masks” (Jun 1929), yellow peril tales such as “The Chosen of Vishnu” (Aug 1933), and weird romance stories including “Ancient Fires”(Sep 1926); the infamous “The Jest of Arburg Tantuval” (Sep 1934) is essentially a mystery story interrupted by a minor haunting.
|Robert E. Howard (1906 - 1936)|
What is more—of all the repeatedly-used stock characters of the W T bunch—Jules de Grandin & so on—it is certain that Conan, hate him as you will, has the most aesthetic justification. He is the least wooden & artificial of all—that is, he reflects more of his creator's actual feelings & psychology than any other. De Grandin is merely a puppet moulded according to cheap popular demand—he represents nothing of Quinn. But in the moods & reactions & habits of Conan we can clearly trace the sincere emotions & aspirations & perspectives of Howard. De Grandin always acts as a synthetic marionette, but Conan often acts as a living & distinctive human being. [...] Actually, as a creator of vigorously self-expressive & more or less sincere & spontaneous fiction of a certain sort, Howard undeniably stands higher than such absolutely [text erased] puppet-showmen & herd-caterers as Edmond Hamilton, Quinn, Kline, & the latter-day Price. (LRB 119)
Part of the “cheap popular demand” of the de Grandin tales was no doubt due to Quinn often resorting to familiar weird threats: vampires, werewolves, ghosts, ancient curses, mummies, cults (Satanic or Voodoo for preference), and witchcraft, though he often tried to resolve them in some novel way: de Grandin was probably the first phantom fighter to defeat a ghost with a vacuum cleaner, for example (“Red Gauntlets of Czerni” Dec 1933). Howard’s encounters were not always more original (over half of the Conan tales published in his lifetime involve an evil wizard or witch), but they were often weirder; Jules de Grandin could give sympathy to a vampire (“Restless Souls” Oct 1928), but only Conan could give vengeance for the broken alien Yag-Kosha (“The Tower of the Elephant” Mar 1933). Like Quinn, when dealing with a “classic” Universal Monster, Howard too liked to deviate from established methods—no stake or garlic when Conan encountered the vampire Akivasha in “The Hour of the Dragon,” for example, nor in the non-Conan story “The Horror from the Mound” (May 1932).
Several of Howard’s stories contain similarities to some of Quinn’s tales, especially outside the Conan stories. This doesn’t seem to be a direct case of borrowing ideas or images so much as it was that both men (and many more Weird Tales and Strange Tales writers besides) were drawing on common source material: the multi-cultural Satanic cults and reference to the Yazidi in Quinn’s “The Devil’s Bride” and Howard’s “Three-Bladed Doom” and “The Brazen Peacock” (unpublished during Howard’s lifetime) both appear to draw on Robert W. Chamber’s novel The Slayer of Souls (1920) and William Seabrook’s Adventures in Arabia (1926), for example. Another specific image was the “Dance of the Cobras” Quinn’s “The Chosen of Vishnu” (Aug 1933) and in Howard’s “Shadows in Zamboula” (Nov 1935). The closest that Howard ever came to Quinn’s “de Grandin formula” was perhaps in “The Haunter of the Ring” (Jun 1934)—an occult detective tale starring Kirowan & O’Donnell, and which would tie in with “The Phoenix on the Sword.”
It was through tie-ins—and worldbuilding in general—where Quinn and Howard differed most substantially. Like H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, Howard would tie his own stories together in various ways: “The Hyborian Age” essay connected the Kull and Conan stories, Kull appeared in the crossover tale “Kings of the Night” (Nov 1930) with Bran Mak Morn, whose adventure “Worms of the Earth” (Nov 1932) contained referenced to H. P. Lovecraft’s Mythos stories. Howard’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten and “Little People” formed a connective tissue through many of his horror stories as well, building up an artificial history and mythology. Quinn never quite developed anything like that; Haddingway Ingraham Jameson Ingraham (“Hiji”) first appeared in “The Devil’s Bride,” and would go on to have his own brief series in addition to guest-starring in a few de Grandin adventures, and after making the acquaintance of Manly Wade Wellman, both men made reference to each other’s occult detectives in their own stories of de Grandin and John Thunstone, though this never led to a collaboration or any kind of shared mythos...although readers interested in such things would note that the Thunstone tale “The Letters of Cold Fire” (May 1944) contained the Necronomicon, which would technically tie the de Grandin stories in with Lovecraft’s Mythos, and through that to Howard’s part of the shared universe, albeit without any intentional effort on the part of either Quinn or Howard.
Howard’s “Red Nails” serial finished in the October 1936 issue of Weird Tales; Conan would no longer compete against Jules de Grandin for a spot in their old standby. Quinn paid his respects in a letter in “The Eyrie”:
The field of fantastic fiction has lost one of its outstanding and recognized masters in Robert E. Howard. His Solomon Kane stories, his tales of Kull, and latterly his Conan sagas, all of them were superb in their own way. He was a quantity producer, but always managed to keep his stuff fresh and vigorous. There are few who can do this. (WT Oct 1936)
Fans of both men would sing their praises for years to come:
In my humble opinion, the most thoroughly enjoyable stories that appear in WT are those by such writers as Seabury Quinn and Robert E. Howard (how I miss that boy!), in which there is a little humanity, a little humor, a little happiness.
(WT Mar 1938)
|The Horror on the Links: |
The Complete Tales of Jules de Grandin,
Vol. One (9781597808934)
Literary criticism too has not been kind to Quinn, where critics remember to comment on his stories at all, they tend to follow Lovecraft’s line regarding the formulaic quality of the de Grandin tales (CA 3.v, Shea 10), or focus on his more accessible republished works, such as Roads (1948, Arkham House), a fantasy adventure almost in the swords & sorcery vein, which caused occasional comparison to Howard:
Presumably his profession influenced his literary subjects, although his natural bend in writing would seem to have been adventure tales such as Price wrote or the kind of S & S stuff which Robert E. Howard flourished in. (Shea 11)
This conflation of Howard and Quinn was not uncommon among some, especially in the 1970s when Howard, Lovecraft, and to a lesser extent Quinn and other pulp writers were undergoing a paperback boom. When Quinn claimed in interview or introduction that...
From first to last Jules de Grandin has seemed to say, “Friend Quinn, je suis présent. En avant, write me!” (CA 1.xxi)
. . . Robert A. W. Lowndes accepted the comment uncritically, but felt the need to add:
I have no solid evidence, but I certainly suspect that Robert E. Howard's stories were done this way. (Lowndes 10)
As a critical assertion, the idea is flawed on its face, though Lowndes may well have been been ignorant of the details and made it in good faith. Howard is known to have done extensive research and gone through multiple drafts of his stories; with Conan in particular, scholar Patrice Louinet carefully chronicles the process in his essay “Hyborian Genesis.” Quinn too obviously did some considerable research on various aspects of the occult, for details of the stories are taken directly from reference works; “The Corpse-Master” (Jul 1929) contains details from William Seabrook’s The Magic Island which had come out the same year, and speaks to a professional keeping abreast of things. Yet in part, this idea was postulated by Quinn and Howard themselves. Compare Quinn’s statement with one from Robert E. Howard:
While I don’t go so far as to believe that stories are inspired by actually existent spirits or powers (though I am rather opposed to flatly denying anything) I have sometimes wondered if it were possible that unrecognized forces of the past or present — or even the future — work through the thoughts and actions of living men. This occurred to me when I was writing the first stories of the Conan series especially. I know that for months I had been absolutely barren of ideas, completely unable to work up anything sellable. Then the man Conan seemed suddenly to grow up in my mind without much labor on my part and immediately a stream of stories flowed off my pen — or rather off my typewriter — almost without effort on my part. I did not seem to be creating, but rather relating events that had occurred. Episode crowed on episode so fast that I could scarcely keep up with them. For weeks I did nothing but write of the adventures of Conan. The character took complete possession of my mind and crowed out everything else in the way of story-writing. When I deliberately tried to write something else, I couldn’t do it. I do not attempt to explain this by esoteric or occult means, but the facts remain. I still write of Conan more powerfully and with more understanding than any of my other characters, but the time will probably come when I will suddenly find myself unable to write convincingly of him at all. That has happened in the past with nearly all my rather numerous characters; suddenly I would find myself out of contact with the conception, as if the man himself had been standing at my shoulder directing my efforts, and had suddenly turned and gone away, leaving me to search for another character. (CL 3.150-151)Quinn could no doubt have written something like that with regards to Jules de Grandin—though in his own way, not with the Texan’s style. They were alike in that they were two men who wrote earnestly, to help support themselves and their families; they were members of the same fraternity of writers that found their main break in weird fiction, and stuck with it through thick and through thin; though they never corresponded directly, they knew and appreciated each other’s fiction, and if they found fault in each other there is no record of it. They were Weird Talers.
BOD Book of the Dead
CA The Compleat Adventures of Jules de Grandin (3 vols.)
CL Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols. + Index and Addenda)
DS Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill
ES Essential Solitude (2 vols.)
LCM Letters to C. L. Moore and Others
LJS Letters to J. Vernon Shea, Carl F. Strauch, and Lee McBride White
LRB Letters to Robert Bloch and Others
MF A Means to Freedom (2 vols.)
Connor, Scott. (2010). “Weird Tales and the Great Depression” in Darrell Schweitzer’s The Robert E. Howard Reader. Borgo Press.
Howard, Robert E. (2007-2008). Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. 3 vols. Edited by Rob Roehm. Robert E. Howard Foundation Press.
Korshak, Stephen D. and Spurlock, J. David. (2013). The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage. FL: Vanguard Publishing and Shasta-Phoenix Publishers.
Lovecraft, H. P. (2015). Letters to Robert Bloch and Others. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. NY: Hippocampus Press.
____________ (2016). Letters to J. Vernon Shea, Carl F. Strauch, and Lee McBride White. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. NY: Hippocampus Press.
____________ (2017). Letters to C. L. Moore and Others. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. NY: Hippocampus Press.
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The wings of Melek Taus hover over the world, the winds whisper of revolt, anarchy, war and red ruin for all the sons of men. (CL2.116)
The Yazidis (also given as Yezidis, and Yezidees) are a largely Kurdish people in the Middle East, whose religion reveres Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel; similarities with Abrahamic tales of Lucifer or Shaitan saw the Yazidis labeled as devil-worshippers by their Muslim neighbors, and have been the subject of centuries of persecution. Interest in the Yazidis was spurred by the publication of works like Robert W. Chambers’ The Slayer of Souls (1920) and William Seabrook’s Adventures in Arabia (1926), which includes a visit among those people; many of the details of his visit were incorporated into stories by pulp writers such as H. P. Lovecraft, Seabury Quinn, G. G. Pendarves, and E. Hoffmann Price, which featured in the pages of Weird Tales.
The first mention of the Yazidis by Howard is a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, in December 1930:
No doubt you’ve heard of the Yezidis who live on Mount Lalesh in Syria and worship the devil in the form of a brazen peacock. They believe that Satan was the foremost of angels and that he rules on earth for ten thousand years. God, they say, is too far away, too gigantic, to be concerned with the affairs of the earth, and only by worshipping Melek Taus can anyone prosper, for only he has charge of men’s affairs. Certainly the Devil is loose on the world, and the evil are more likely to prosper than the honest and virtuous. Perhaps the Yezidis are right. Certainly their cult is as logical as religions which teach that this earthly hell of red chaos and black insanity is ruled by principles of good and light, that justice exists and reigns, and that men are compensated for good and evil — God, what a bone-clanking jest — like the cataclysmic laughter from the gaping and froth-dripping jaws of a bleached skull. (CL2.115)
A few things stick out in this passage: Howard uses the spellings “Yezidis” and “Melek Taus,” includes the image of the brazen peacock, and correctly identifies Mount Lalesh in Syria. This suggests that his source was neither Seabrook nor Chambers (who preferred the spellings “Yezidees” and “Melek Taos”), but more probably an encyclopedia article or the works in Weird Tales and Oriental Stories. H. P. Lovecraft, for example, used the term “Yezidis” in “The Horror at Red Hook” (WT Jan 1927), as did E. Hoffmann Price in “The Peacock’s Shadow” (WT Jul 1925).
Howard’s first writing inspired by the Yazidis would be “The Daughter of Erlik Khan” (Top Notch Dec 1934). In that story, El Borak ventures into a strange country, occupied by the Black Khirgiz, described as “devil worshippers” with a sacred city of Yolgan, who are antithetical to the local Muslims. (EB 30) This provided the basic format for the unsuccessful tale “Three-Bladed Doom,” which went through multiple versions without success, and finally first found publication in 1955, when L. Sprague de Camp re-wrote it as a Conan tale “The Flame Knife.” In “Three-Bladed Doom,” Howard follows much the same plot—El Borak penetrates a secret city of a group of devil-worshippers—but here he is more specific:
Devil worshippers, by the beard of Allah! Yezidees! Sons of Melek Taus! […] the people of that ancient and abominable cult which worships the Brazen Peacock on Mount Lalesh the Accursed. (EB 101)
The use of the term “Yezidees” suggests the influence of, if not Chambers and Seabrook, than perhaps Seabury Quinn, whose Jules de Grandin novel The Devil’s Bride, which was serialized in Weird Tales from February-June 1932. Quinn weaves together aspects of various Satanic myths in his story, from the accounts of the Black Mass to Seabrook (and perhaps also Chambers), postulating a worldwide connection between various cults, including “a revival of the cult of assassins” and attracting members “from as far as Mongolia”—both plot-elements of “Three-Bladed Doom.” (CAJG 2.678-679)
Howard was a fan of the Grandin stories, and in 1926 wrote to Weird Tales regarding them: “These are sheer masterpieces. The little Frenchman is one of those characters who live in fiction. I look forward with pleasurable anticipation to further meetings with him.” (CL1.75) So it appears very likely that he read this story. However, in one of those odd coincidences, shortly after Quinn’s story ran (August 1932), E. Hoffmann Price ran a shorter but thematically similar tale, “The Bride of the Peacock.” Quinn wrote on this:
Coincidences of this sort are not strange. Many readers have accused E. Hoffmann Price of plagiarising Quinn’s “Devil’s Bride” in his own story, “Bride of the Peacock.” The truth of the matter is that both stories were written at the same time, and Price’s story was in Farnsworth Wright’s office before Quinn’s was in print. (F&SF 7)
Also in “Three-Bladed Doom,” Howard identifies the Yazidis with the Kurds:
The man who killed the Sultan of Turkey was a Kurd […] Some of them worship Melek Taus, too, secretly. (EB 102)
There are too many sources where Howard could have picked up this detail to narrow it down much—E. Hoffmann Price mentioned it in “The Stranger from Kurdistan” (1925), Lovecraft in “The Horror at Red Hook” (1927), Quinn in The Devil’s Bride, etc.
The most notorious story using the Yazidi was of course “The Brazen Peacock”—where an adventurer, Erich Girtmann, disguised himself as a Druse (Druze) and infiltrated their city, to make off with a brass idol of a peacock sacred to the cult. Many of the details are plainly drawn either directly from Seabrook’s Adventures in Arabia or some source that ties closely to it, since they are absent from The Devil’s Bride and many of Howard’s other stories. Karen Joan Khoutek wrote an excellent article on Robert E. Howard and the Yazidis, “The Brazen Peacock,”so we need not go into detail of the comparisons here, save to add a few details. For example, where Howard writes:
A Yezidee may not speak the name of Shaitan—so it is commanded in the Black Book of their creed, the scroll dictated long ago by Satan to Sheikh-Adi, founder of the cult. (TWM 115)
The “Black Book” is the Khitab al Aswad mentioned by Seabrook (Khitab Asward in The Devil’s Bride), the “Black Book” or “Black Scripture” of the Yazidis; the similarity of the name with Howard’s own “Black Book”—Unaussprechlichen Kulten—which first appeared in “The Children of the Night” (1931) is probably coincidental.
It is interesting to compare the Yazidis as presented in “The Brazen Peacock” with how they are presented in “Dig Me No Grave,” where Howard writes:
“Malik Tous – good God! No mortal man was ever so named! That is the title of the foul god worshipped by the mysterious Yezidees – they of Mount Alamout the Accursed – whose Eight Brazen Towers rise in the mysterious wastes of deep Asia. His idolatrous symbol is the brazen peacock. And the Muhammadans, who hate his demon-worshipping devotees, say he is the essence of the evil of all the universes – the Prince of Darkness – Ahriman – the old Serpent – the veritable Satan!” (HSREH 136)
The Eight towers and Mount Alamout (Alamut) are details from Robert W. Chambers’ The Slayer of Souls, while the Seven towers and Mount Lalesh are details from Seabrook’s Adventures in Arabia; it is obvious that Howard relied on Chambers but not Seabrook when writing “Dig Me No Grave,” and Seabrook but not chambers when writing “The Brazen Peacock.” Very probably “Dig Me No Grave” dates to an earlier period in Howard’s writing. The use of Malik instead of Melek may owe itself to Howard’s letters with Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price, for Lovecraft’s nickname for Price was “Sultan Malik” and similar variations. (AMtF 2.761)
The Druze present a more interesting difficulty; in “The Brazen Peacock” the Druze are explicitly not “devil-worshippers” like the Yazidi, yet in “Lord of the Dead” they are described as “a race apart. They worship a calf cast of gold, believe in reincarnation, and practice heathen rituals abhorred by the Moslems.” (CS 222) In this story, Howard revisits one of the concepts from “Three-Bladed Doom,” the idea of a cult that connects or underlies several different religions and ethnicities in Asia and the Middle East—a syncretism perhaps inspired in part by The Devil’s Bride, and echoing at least slightly the multiracial cult in Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook.” Why Howard chose to use a Druze instead of a Yazidi probably lies in the Druze religious beliefs in reincarnation, which forms a major motivation for the Druze character.
In the context of his times, the “Satanic” output of Robert E. Howard is not particularly exceptional; Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith wrote less of it, E. Hoffmann Price and Seabury Quinn did more. Probably it was only that Howard was published by Arkham House that caught LaVey’s attention—and that scarce enough; “Dig Me No Grave” was published in The Dark Man and Others (1963), a handful of poems in Always Comes Evening (1957), most of the other tales were not published until long after The Satanic Bible came out.
Satanism as Howard, Lovecraft, and Quinn understood it was theistic Satanism; it was focused on worship of an entity, simply not the Christian God. Only Price, of all of them, in his story “The Stranger from Kurdistan” appeared to appreciate the irony of the Black Mass, acknowledging Christ while proclaiming their allegiance to Satan. Satanism as LaVey understood it, and as his latter-day followers like Michael Rose understand it, is atheistic Satanism; more of a philosophy than a religion, despite the trappings and the sorcery. And there is much in Robert E. Howard’s poems and stories which, even without explicit reference to the Devil, fits neatly into the beliefs of LaVeyan Satanism—a desire for freedom of thought and action. Howard expressed ideas that LaVey himself might have written, such as when wrote:
Yet worshipping Satan is too much like kowtowing to a conqueror. We may realize his power without doing obeisance to him. (CL2.115)
AMtF A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (2 vols, Hippocampus Press, 2009)
CAJG The Compleat Adventures of Jules de Grandin (3 vols., Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2001)
CL Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols. + Index & Addenda, REH Foundation, 2007-2015)
CS Crimson Shadows: The Best of Robert E. Howard Vol. 1 (Del Rey, 2007)
EB El Borak and Other Desert Adventures (Del Rey, 2010)
F&SF F & SF Self-Portraits 2: Seabury Quinn Creator of Jules de Grandin (Necronomicon Press, 1977)
HSREH The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard (Del Rey, 2008)
TWM Tales of Weird Menace (Robert E. Howard Foundation, 2010)
“The Daughter of Erlik Khan” illustration by Tim Bradstreet
“Three-Bladed Doom” illustration by Jim and Ruth Keegan
Read Part 1, Part 2