Thursday, August 13, 2015


Since I mentioned it yesterday here on my blog, I thought I'd take a moment and tell my L. Sprague de Camp story. First of all, let me preface this by saying there are some details regarding this encounter that I frankly do not remember. I ask your forgiveness for these gaps in my memory.

In the 1990s, my buddy Bob Parker lived in Brownwood, Texas. I would often go up there for a visit and the two of us had several adventures in that city (and in Cross Plains), involving our much loved literary hero Robert E. Howard. For instance, we visited (more than once), the family plot in the Brownwood cemetery where Howard, his mother and father are all buried and, again, more than once, we visited Cross Plains, where Howard lived and died. I have some more detailed stories about those visits but those are for a future blog post.

On one of my visits to Brownwood, sometime in the 1990s, Bob and I decided to go over to Howard Payne University and check out their collection of Howard material. By the way, my niece, Elizabeth, is going to be attending HPU this fall as a freshman but I digress...

We found the right building and the right room and while we were looking around, a nice lady came up to us and asked, "are you going to be here this evening for the de Camps?"

We looked at her and admitted that we had no idea that the de Camps were going to be there that evening but that we would certainly plan to attend. L. Sprague de Camp had a long and illustrious career as a writer of science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction and some non-fiction, including a biography of Robert E. Howard. de Camp and his wife, Catherine Crook de Camp, lived in Plano at the time so it was fairly easy for them to make the trip to Brownwood to give a talk.

The trouble was, since we didn't know in advance about the de Camp's appearance, I had none of his books with me to get signed. Still, this was a chance to see and hear a man who, for better or worse, had contributed material to the Conan saga and signed books or not, we weren't going to miss this one.

de Camp, looking much like the photo above, was everything I expected from such an august man of letters that evening. Tall, thin, bearded and erudite, the man knew his stuff. He had a slightly regal, imperious air about him but he spoke with authority and conviction about Conan, REH and other topics. It was a very enjoyable evening, even if I have no signed books to show that I was there.

de Camp and his wife's book, DARK VALLEY DESTINY: THE LIFE OF ROBERT E. HOWARD, was published in 1983. I have a copy on my shelf. The book caused quite a bit of controversy in Howard fan circles as de Camp attempted to force his Freudian psychology on Howard, calling him "neurotic" and "Oedipal", among other things. I must shamefully confess that I haven't read the book so I can't comment on the validity of these criticisms. I do know that the book pissed a lot of people off.

Another Howard biography is THE LAST CELT: A BIO-BIBLIOGRAPHY OF ROBERT ERVIN HOWARD by Glenn Lord. It was published by Donald Grant in 1976 in a limited edition of 2,600 copies. Sadly, I do not have a copy of this book.

I do, however, have a copy of ONE WHO WALKED ALONE: ROBERT E. HOWARD: THE FINAL YEARS by Novalyne Price Ellis. WALKED ALONE, first published in 1986,  is the only Howard biography written by someone who actually knew him and it was the basis for the film, THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD (1996), which starred Vincent D'Onofrio and Renee Zellweger. The film was shot in and around the Austin and Bastrop areas and when it opened in Austin in 1996, I wrote a sidebar about Robert E. Howard that ran in the American Statesman along with a review of the film.

Finally, there is BLOOD & THUNDER: THE LIFE & ART OF ROBERT E. HOWARD by Mark Finn, published in 2006. I don't have a copy of this one but I understand it's a good one.

If you're interested in reading more about Robert E. Howard, see if you can find a copy of one of these four books.


  1. Blood And Thunder is an excellent read. Mark Finn gives great insight into the Howard family and to the setting of Bob's Texas of the day. Do yourself a favor and read the best biography on Howard.

  2. I met de Camp and his wife once myself, at a world fantasy con in New Orleans. Interesting fellow and very gracious. I've never been a big fan of his fiction but he definitely was a nice guy in person. He did some lingering damage to Howard's legacy with some of the things he put in Dark Valley Destiny, which I have read.