'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Showing posts with label Weird West. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Weird West. Show all posts

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Weird West of Robert E. Howard: Old Garfield's Heart.

Continuing my look at the Weird West of Robert E. Howard I thought I would look at a few of the stories in depth. The first I have chosen is probably one of my favorites as well as being my introduction to Howard's work in this genre.

Old Garfield's Heart was first published in Weird Tales in December of 1933 and is generally labelled as a "Horror Story". I am not sure if I agree with that assessment, but I understand why it receives it. Either way it takes place shortly after the end of the Wild West, but for me falls squarely into the "Weird West" genre. The story is about an frontiersman, Old Garfield, that has lived as long as anyone can remember. The story is told through the eyes of an unnamed narrator who believe's the tales told by Old Garfield are nothing more than whims of fancy or tall tales. As I mentioned, the story takes place in a time that post-dates the Wild West by a few years, but it's central themes are from the 1870s.

As the story opens the narrator is waiting for the doctor so he can accompany him to check up on Old Garfield, and engaged in conversation with his grandfather. Despite Old Garfield's injuries, the grandfather doesn't believe he will die. We learn that the Grandfather and Old Garfield had been in a few fights together including fights with the Comanche. During one of these Old Garfield is grievously wounded and a medicine man mysteriously shows up and saves him.

The narrator travels with the doctor to check up on the mysterious Old Garfield. They find him injured, as we have been told, but he is delirious and tells us the story of how "Ghost Man" saved him and made him immortal.

After this the narrator ends up crossing paths with a local bully, Jack Kirby, over an argument about a cow that was bought. The narrator ends up nearly killing Jack, and ends up on an assault charge. The charge isn't nearly good enough for Jack. Once he has recovered he sets out to kill the narrator.

The narrator and Jack have their showdown at Old Garfield's place and we finally learn the truth.

Old Garfield's Heart is a fairly short story at about 3500 words, but in that we get action, adventure, mystery and a sprinkling of magic. The world Howard creates, through descriptions and dialogue, is almost tangible. In my opinion the amount of depth and flavor he achieved is amazing, especially given the amount of time he has to create it.

Robert E. Howard wrote a lot of fantastic stories set both in the modern world, the medieval world and worlds time has forgotten. These are all places of his imagination, perhaps well researched, but still not places he knew first hand. Stories like this are a little different, this world he has near first hand experience with. The setting is his own. The stories and tall tales from the old timers he loved to listen to. The narrator in this story could be Howard, a younger man talking to an old timer about the old days of the frontier.

If you are a fan of Howard's other characters, or if you are new to Howard in general, and are looking to try something new this is a great intro to some of his other works.

The story can be found on Gutenberg Australia at Old Garfield's Heart. I encourage you to take 10 minutes, give it a read and let me know what you think!

If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!
If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Weird West, REH Style.

All night Ghost Man did magic, callin' my ghost back from spirit-land. I remember that flight, a little. It was dark, and gray-like, and I drifted through gray mists and heard the dead wailin' past me in the mist. But Ghost Man brought me back.
Old Garfield’s Heart
-Robert E. Howard

The time is the late 1800s. The place is the western United States; the Wild West. The idea of it brings images of a dusty landscape populated with lawless men preying on the helpless, with the occasional man of character defending them. A time of gunslingers, prospectors and pioneers. It is a time of romanticized violence in the Americas. A time of barbarism vs. civilization.

In this time legends were born: "Billy the Kid", "Wild Bill", "Butch Cassidy" and "Wyatt Earp" are just a few of the men who have been made into icons of this time. The places these men fought and died have become just as famous as the people themselves: "The Shootout at the OK Corral", "El Paso Gunfight", "Northfield Bank Raid" to name only a few of these events.

In the Early 21st century, over a century since men rode horses and brandished six shooters, we are still enthralled by this era. Television shows such as Hell on Wheels, Deadwood and Godless are all set in this time, while Westworld, a modern remake of a classic uses the west as a backdrop. As I write this Red Dead Redemption II has just been released, and seems to be selling well, another testament to our interest in this time period.

But what of the pulp era? Why have I chosen to talk about the Wild West? The Pulps as I generally think of them are published from about the 1900s to sometime in the 1950s. I generally narrow my scope to the 30s and earlier, simply because I am often talking about Robert E Howard and his contemporaries. If we do a search on wild west pulp magazines we turn up a cornucopia of pulp magazine covers dedicated to the Wild West, plenty of which fall into this pre-1930s era. Clearly they were popular.

As a man living in Texas, having seen the effect of boom-town America, trying to make a living selling yarns to the pulps, it should not be a surprise to anyone that Mr. Howard penned his share of western tales. Especially given his interest in the cycles of civilization.

But I didn’t write this article to talk about the Wild West, despite its interest to many people. I want to talk about a sub-genre: The Weird West. Take all the adventure the Wild West serves up and drop in fantasy and horror elements. Perhaps a secretive eastern sorcerer is up to no good, or a ghost train haunts the tracks. Maybe the outlaws have come face to face with a zombie horde?

Where men with swords in the dark ages meets the fantastic and magical we get Swords and Sorcery.
Where the six gun meets the weird we get the Weird West.

The RPGs

The RPG I know that falls, perhaps most famously, is the Savage World setting: Deadlands. There are others, most of which I am not familiar with, but I wanted to also say the ICRPG has a Weird West setting called Ghost Mountain which shouldn’t be missed.


The Inspiration

Across social media I see people asking the same question as they move into this setting, “What can I read/watch for inspiration?”. Of course watching westerns will get you into the right headspace, everything from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” all the way up to more modern westerns like Tombstone.

I wanted to give a mention to a fairly brutal film that I think fits in here nicely as both a solid western as well as a film that touches on the potentially weird aspects of the west, "Bone Tomahawk". If you haven’t seen it and are ok with fictionalized realistic violence, I recommend checking out this film.

The Stories of REH

As I am sure you have guessed by now Robert E Howard wrote a few weird west tales as well.

Most of these stories are available online or through audio book. I strongly suggest you check them out as some of the foundational work in this genre. You can find them at Project Gutenberg and then doing a search for Robert E HOWARD

Pigeons from Hell. If you are familiar with REH and the Weird West I am sure you are thinking to yourself, “What? This isn’t set in the Wild West!”. Before you think I am crazy though, this is set in the 1890s around the same time as the Wild West. Despite it dealing with magic of the south, the ideas and concepts wouldn’t be hard to find inspiration from for the Weird West.

Old Garfield’s Heart. One of my favorites. Great story about a man and First Nations magic. Lots of good ideas and ambiance in this one!

The Valley of the Lost. Robert E Howard and vanished civilizations go together like cookouts and beans. This western tale is one of an ancient civilization, blood feuds and shootouts. It is definitely worth your time.

Horror from the Mound. Another classic REH tale. This time burial mounds and ancient curses are the order of the day.

The Dead Remember. A story about magic and revenge set in 1877. Told as a series of statements by the main characters and eye witnesses to the events the story revolves around. Not surprisingly, another good one.

Beyond the Black River. Yes, it’s a Conan story, but it’s also set on a frontier and is as much a western as anything. It features a fort, scouts, the Picts, magic and dark forests. It is an excellent story that you should be able to pull a fair amount from and push into a more traditional Wild West setting.

Do you have some more ideas on what stories Robert E Howard wrote that would help readers get an idea for some Weird West adventures. Do you have any favorite Weird West games you like?

If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!
If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!