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▶  More from Blog Book Reviews A Well of Heroes
Why Robert E. Howard?
Confession of a Crackpot Reader: Well of Heroes—Prologue


Six years ago I discovered, that in order to be able to pursue my dream of writing fulltime that I would have to move from a two-room rental to a single room. I would be moving by bus as well, with but one trip in a pickup truck available for the futon mattress, computer and desk.

What of the 800 books?

I needed to retain about a hundred to complete my boxing and white slavery research. I do my research in books, not online. I can only sit for so many hours before my hips lock up and my eyes go from the computer screen, so virtually all of my reading is done while lying down or while walking from print books.

That gave me 100 books out of 700 to salvage.

I was unable to convince a library, an antique dealer, the good will, or any used book store or individual to take the other 600 books off my hands. I filled up my trashcan with books about a dozen times and walked them down to the dumpster and heaved them in. The dumpster was 30% filled from empty when I was done.

What went in that dumpster?

-About 100 science fiction and fantasy hardbacks, including the works of Tolkien, Martin, Heinlein, Asimov, C.S. Lewis, Jack Vance, Silverberg, Anderson and Gene Wolfe.

-The Walls of Jolo, an adventure set during the Philippine Insurrection in mass market novella form, that my father bought in the early seventies and I had inherited.

-The complete works of William Shakespeare

-The complete illustrated works of Charles Dickens

-135 Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks

-Phillip K. Dick, Phillip Jose Farmer, Greg Bear—some of the very best science-fiction I had read, and I was about to devote myself to writing science-fiction—hit the bottom of that big steel trashcan.

-47 Louis L’Amour books, and alone among these authors old Louis, a pro boxer with a winning record, could have easily beaten my ass

-The Ace paperback editions of Conan.

I paused at the Berkley paperback editions and set them aside, gifting them to a young man I trained.

Tolkien, Dickens, The Bard, all went into that mass literary grave. But The Bible, Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Robert E. Howard’s hardbacks and trade paperback collections could not go. I felt more of an affinity with this young Texas man of my grandfathers’ time, as a man in my late forties in a Baltimore ghetto, then with other writers with whom I held more in common with on the secular scales of life by which we are measured and in the nature of our literary pursuits. I had no desire to write heroic fantasy, but Dickish science-fiction with a brutal tone and a Wolfish subtext.

Out of a general sense of guilt, I began reviewing everything I read, knowing that the course I had chosen was more likely to result in a need to move into yet smaller quarters than to be able to afford more space for my beloved books. The ancient boxing history I had spent 12 years researching and writing had just been rejected by my failing publisher and the remainder of my book royalties assigned to paying them back the advance that had purchased so many of these books in 2001. What I sought to accomplish in these book reviews—of which I think there are about 400 on the site as I write—was to record my impressions of what I have read, as the 12 binders full of handwritten notes I had amassed for the boxing project had proved difficult to work with.

Charles, my web master, told me to include the title and author in the review and that would bring readers who were hopefully “into reading the same weird shit you read.”

Once this worked so well that many readers [many for me] began to access the site to read my impressions of Howard’s stories, I decided, on an impulse, to ape my editorial betters and include information about Howard, the person, gleaned from a dozen editorials and one book—not even realizing that there is a vast body of literature on this very subject. I thus tainted my impressions with poor bibliographical inclusions, and, in my opinion, ruined the thing.

So, the unnamed book—embarrassingly enough up for an award—which I have taken out to the meat locker in my mind and put a bullet in its brain, [I sent the title deletion request into the POD platform yesterday] has been removed from my self-publishing lineup.

Nevertheless, my ambition to review everything that Robert E. Howard wrote remains, and I shall pursue this goal in the same manner that I have with the epic poetry of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Song of Roland, Beowulf and Melville’s Moby Dick, none of which are complete, but all of which I will draw upon in this concurrent project.

In 1976, via a copy of Conan the Wanderer, Robert E. Howard effectively saved my soul from the lying, invalidating, emasculating adult world of sissies, creeps, criminals, cops and deluded parents that I was born into. People have often regarded me as insane when I informed them that I drew my ethics almost solely from reading the story of Samson in the Book of Judges, along with Conan, Solomon Kane, Cormac MacArt and Bran Mak Morn stories written by some long gone suicide. But it is so. I relate to Howard’s work in the same way I relate to ancient epics composed by authors who are either entirely lost to history or have become, like Homer, but a name with some suppositions attached under conditions of academic debate.

In this mythological spirit, I shall attempt a review of the text and subtext of the body of Robert E. Howard's work, most of which has recently fallen into my hands thanks to kind readers. The methodology will be discussed in A Well of Heroes, and will follow two parallel tracks, the artifact method, in which a specific physical edition of a book is examined as a standalone artifact, as in my treatment of Almuric in Hairy Monument, and the usual method which discusses the story alone. These two review tracks will all be published under one multivolume unified title, instead of in the previous impulsive, haphazard, jackass manner. That title is A Well of Heroes, which is what the prose and verse fiction of Robert E. Howard has always been to me.

James LaFond, Monday, April 4, 2016

Add Comment
deuceApril 8, 2016 11:55 AM UTC

I've lost over 2,000 books in three distinct flood/water damage episodes. Twice in different basements and once in the second story of a house. Short of keeping everything in bags in sealed tubs, I'm not sure what to do.
Sam J.April 5, 2016 12:45 AM UTC

Talk about pain. I know a guy who buys estates including books. He scans the books then throws all away that don't bring over say $5 or so. I think he's thrown away maybe 20,000 books the past few weeks. Maybe more. He has storage lockers full of books. I went and looked at some and kept a few but had to leave it causes me so much pain to see books thrown away like that. No one will take them. We're losing masses of books because of this. I have no where to put them as I have shelves and shelves of books already. I saw a perfectly good set of "My Book house" which I read as a kid. Knights and stuff like that. Fairly tale type stuff. I can't even go look at them. It's heartbreaking. I wish I had somewhere to put them. They probably could be sold a little at a time but there's so many.