Saturday, June 09, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Smashing Novels, December 1936

This isn't actually a Western pulp. SMASHING NOVELS published a variety of adventure fiction. But since this weekend is the annual Robert E. Howard Days get-together in Cross Plains, it seemed fitting to me to spotlight my favorite Western yarn by Howard. "Vultures of Whapeton" is a truly visionary story, foreshadowing the trend toward darker, more hardboiled Westerns that really bloomed in the Forties and Fifties. I've read it several times and always enjoy it. It's also an unusual story in that Howard wrote two alternate endings for it, and SMASHING NOVELS ran both of them. I prefer the more downbeat version and think of it as the "real" ending.

The rest of this issue looks pretty good, too. The lead novel is by Will Jenkins, better known as the science fiction writer Murray Leinster even though Jenkins was his real name. Old-timer Peter B. Kyne is on hand, too, as is an author I'm not familiar with, Foster Drake.

As I write and schedule this post, I don't know if I'm going to Cross Plains this year or not. It looks more than likely that I won't be there. But I'll be thinking about REH. Maybe I'll pull out a copy of "Vultures of Whapeton" in one of its various paperback reprintings and read it again.


Walker Martin said...

SMASHING NOVELS lasted only 4 issues in 1936, according to the reference books.

I've often wondered if it is really possible to pick up a machine gun and fire it like our hero is doing on this cover. I would think the accuracy would be just about zero.

Scott Parker said...

Ah-nold could do it! :-)

James, you list this as your fav REH western. What are some of your other fav REH stories?

BTW, ever been to the REH Days? What goes on up there?

James Reasoner said...

I have my doubts about the accuracy of firing a machine gun that way, too, if it's even physically possible. But it sure does look cool, doesn't it?

Howard's "Wild Water" and "Beyond the Black River" round out my top three favorite REH stories. "Wild Water" is a contemporary (1930s) revenge story centered around the real-life storm that filled Lake Brownwood in three days, when it was supposed to take three years to fill after it was built. My father, who grew up in the same part of the country as Howard at the same time, remembered that storm and told me about it several times. I often cite "Beyond the Black River" as one of my favorite Howard Western stories, even though it's a Conan story. But there's no doubt in my mind that the Black River was based on the Brazos and the Picts were based on the Comanches. I guess you could call it a frontier story instead of a Western, but it's great no matter what you call it. Another Conan yarn that's really a Western, in my mind, is "Black Canaan", which features a huge battle taking place along what is obviously the Cap Rock in West Texas, transplanted to Howard's Hyborian Age.

I've been to REH Days many, many times in the past 20 years. It started out as an informal gathering where fans toured the Howard house and sat in the back yard on folding chairs under the trees to talk. Now there's a covered pavilion next to the house where panels on various aspects of Howard's life and work are held. Some panels are also held in the library in downtown Cross Plains, about half a mile away, where some of the original pulps and manuscripts are on display. There's a banquet on Friday night where each year's Guest of Honor gives a talk, plus the annual REH Foundation awards are given out. The festivities conclude on Saturday night with an outdoor barbecue at the ranch where East and West Caddo Peaks are located. These hills play a part in numerous Howard stories under different names. The best thing, though, is just sitting around talking to old and new friends who come from all over the country and sometimes all over the world. I'm not there this weekend (minor medical issues) and as you can probably tell, I miss it.

Mike Taylor said...

James, I looked up "Black Canaan" and it's not a Conan story--it's about a black uprising in the south led by a conjure-man, told in 1st person--maybe you were thinking of some other tale..?

James Reasoner said...

Mike, you're right about "Black Canaan". Thanks for jogging my memory. Maybe I was thinking about "Black Colossus". I'll have to dig out my REH books and check.