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‘Changing Our Way of Life’
Ishmael and James Discuss Robert E. Howard


Ishmael is one of the many readers who have come to us after reading Ann Sterzinger’s Graphomaniac article. As much as luddites like I might decry Modernity for its spiritually corrosive effects, the internet has provided a forum for people of like minds who find themselves in vastly different locales and lifestyles, to discuss the core aspects of our lives and our impressions of the world.

The discussion below begins with an e-mail from Ishmael concerning the deep gulf between his rural upbringing and the suburban gentrified ethos of the greater American society. The sentiments he expresses in this piece echo many a passage in Robert E. Howard’s Conan, Kull and Kane stories in which the materialistic nature of civilization inevitably separates men from their forefather’s ethos, and those who hang onto the values of their ancestors face revulsion in the eyes of the new vapid elite. And let us recall, that Howard's diabolic sorcerers did not have to put their hands on the hero, or even touch him with any earthly device, to bring him to ruin.

The second part of the discussion below is from the comment trailer of ‘Pariahs, Wanderers Of The Earth’ concerning my impressions of the Robert E. Howard story Iron Shadows in the Moon.

Ishmael

I can relate somewhat to the story of the game keeper, the years I worked as a guide were first enjoyable, but after a few years I grew to detest my job. Most of the men I hunted for had no respect for the animal, only looked upon it as a trophy.

My father lived during the Great Depression. He taught me to hunt and fish. He taught me, or gave me, an understanding of what it meant to take the life of a living, breathing, creature. He once told me, “If you do not have a little remorse when you make a kill, stop! You no longer have the right to take a life. They are for nourishment, not for glory. Be proud of your abilities to track and hunt. This is a ancient tradition of our family. But to kill just to kill is wrong. I have showed you to kill with one shot. The animal deserves a swift death. You know how mad I get when you wound an animal. It happens to the best, but you practice your ass off if you are to hunt with me.”

I have never forgotten his words on the proper way to hunt. This skill is being lost among the younger men I talk to. My father was a meat hunter. We mixed the deer with the beef or pork to extend our diet. We, like most families in the area, had little money for extra frills. I hunted with a bow, learned to get in close, not from a tree stand or over bait, one on one. The animal had the advantage. They had learned of rifles and death from afar. It was a great experience. I loved the chase. The kill was anticlimactic… grew a great respect for the animal I pursued. It was like a bond, a spiritual bond. I think that is the way a true hunter should feel.

Thank you for your stories. I'm am grateful for your talents.

Best Regards, Ishmael.

James

Ishmael, your father came from the generation before mine, and grew up under conditions that none of my forefathers had experienced since the late 1800s. The side of my family that has origins closest to yours, as indentured servants to English slave masters in the 1690s, were the Irish McQuaids, whose patriarch changed his name to Quaid in order to obscure his reviled ancestry in an English colony.

The only portion of my family with any outdoor traditions were the Roys and LaFond’s from Canada who were descended from English slave children sold to French families as domestic servants. Elzear Roy was a shipwright who sailed to the arctic on one of his own crafts and worked as an herb gatherer selling to pharmacists in between ship-building contracts. His Uncle was a voyager killed by Indians of an unspecified tribe north of Lake Michigan in the mid 1800s.

With such wisps of family legend passed down to me by my grandmothers I have been fascinated by frontier life, while studiously avoiding falling into the German merchant tradition of the dominant side of my family. As if by default, I ended up living in the Quaid tradition as an urban laborer who lived in a world of human on human predation.

Where you experienced the degradation of your forefathers’ hunting arts at the hands of the glorified trophy collector, I have experienced a similar degeneration in masculine urban expression. I see this most clearly in the unwillingness of men to face each other in one-to-one situations. This was already a dying tradition in my childhood. But with the mommy ethos of the ruling Left and the dehumanizing nature of multicultural living, I now live in a world of ape hunting, where one type of ape gangs up on weaker individual apes in an almost feminine parody of pack ethics.

Just as your trophy hunters had no respect for their prey, the postmodern counterpart of the hard urban men like my uncles Bill, Bernie and Robert—who would respect a rival before and after their differences went physical—now seek the degradation of their antagonist, in the process robbing themselves of honor as well peace of mind, which is now only ‘achieved’ through medication.

Ishmael

James, first I want to confess I have never read Robert E. Howard's Conan series, but I read his bio, I was raised by Post-Depression males, my father worked in the oilfields, hard rock miner, sheep herder. I can relate to the men he probably knew. They lived hard tough lives, you never cried in front of them. My father boxed, rodeo cowboy, roughneck in the oilfield. They prepared me for a life of hardship, this was before the rich California state [people] changing our way of life. They bought up real estate, put in ski resorts, made life too expensive for the white trash they seen us as. Plus my ranger friend and I did not fit in because of our fathers’ background, living in a Mormon community and their hard drinking ways, so we became outcasts; grew up fighting our way through life.

Pariah, I know the word well. We are shaped by our environment, we chose the wilds places of Utah and Wyoming to escape. I still thank some of the assholes for the favor. The young men of today's world I do not understand, but they do seem to have a hard time with reality, spend too much time on X box, not enough time working or living life as a young men did 50 years ago, as I did.

The world is a dark place, but it has beauty to contrast it also. Modern life seems toxic to men like us, and I am comfortable to be that way. Maybe that's why we loved sci-fiction, it was a form of escape.

Your friend, Ishmael.

James

Ishmael, Howard, it seems, was widely misunderstood as an action writer, where he actually wrote about the same stuff that Lovecraft and a modern college professor named Andy Nowicki, wrote and write about in an academic flavored mire of internal conflict. Howard's genius was that he wrote about alienation in such a belligerent manner from both perspectives: the civilized female and the barbaric man. There is not a simper, or a whine, or a doubt in the mind of the alien barbarian, like there is in the tormented souls of Lovecraft's and Nowicki's soft civilized victims of alienation.

Not only are the atmospherics of Howard's stories horrific rather than fantastic, the action is so brutal that he skips the physicality. He's not a biomechanical writer that will describe the gelatinous slide of a cleaved part from the rest of the body—but goes right to the emotion of defiance, dominance, conquest and racial hatred.

To me, reading in my youth, and in my prime, and now on the downward side of life, what Howard wrote about in 1933-34 was the ultimate corruption of Civilized Man, of what he saw American society eventually becoming—of course, presented to his editor in a fantastical veiled manner—as seen through the eyes of a hero that strides onto the scene not to set things right, but to punish the weak and greedy and powerful that thrive therein, and then to fade into legend as the whole rotten world goes up in flames. In other words, I see Howard's fantasy and historical settings as his premonition of our moral predicament, and his heroes such as Kull, Kane and Conan [and Conan most of all] as a type of moral time traveler from a primal age, come to show us what our ancestors would think of Modernity. I get his drift as being along the lines of your suggestion that it would be great fun to bring forward 200 Blackfeet warriors from 1800 and set them loose in an American city.

What Robert E. Howard brings us, as an Aryan mystic obsessed with that which we are driven by our material demons to forget, is the judgment of our ancestors, for our fall, not from grace, but from an honored place.

Thank you for your input, Ishmael.

Add Comment
IshmaelJuly 26, 2015 11:00 AM UTC

James, my ultimate Taboo Man is Crazy Horse,of all the men I have read about in history he is the greatest in my eyes. If their is a spirit world beyond this I would want to place my lodge beside his. He cared not for material goods giving scalps away, horses, nonconformist to the end, killed by his own people, some never realizing just how unique this great man was. He seems to have cared more for his people than himself, did not fear death, embraced it, this is a man I would follow to the gates of hell if he asked me. Ishmael.
responds:July 28, 2015 1:09 PM UTC

Crazy Horse was my favorite Plains Indian. Tecumseh is my overall favorite.
SMART ASS WHITE BOYJuly 26, 2015 9:56 AM UTC

" When a nation forgets her skill in war, when her religion becomes a mockery, when the whole nation becomes nation of money-grabbers, then the wild tribes, the barbarians drive in." -Robert Howard