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David St-Michel
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Hello from a newcomer!

Postby David St-Michel » Thu May 28, 2009 11:36 am

Hi everyone.

My name is David. I'm currently the GM in my very first Conan RPG. I have to admit that it's been quite a special experience thus far. I took the time to read a lot of Howard works (including Conan of Cimmeria, books I, II and III).

I'm pretty sure that most of what I'll ask as far as questions go have already been adressed several times before. So if that is the case, I would appreciate being guided to the proper place of the forum where I can continue the conversation.

Ok, first off : In the 1920's and 30's, racists and bigots had the full weight and power of law behind them. This is underlined in a few Howard works, where he speaks of dark-skinned people (Picts, Zamorans, Black Kingdoms) as barely human. They seem more like beasts then men or women. And it was in the "Vale of Lost Women" where I actually stopped to re-check the paragraph where Howard wrote something along the lines of "I have seen enough black s**** to make me sick to my stomach."

Do you, as players or GMs, play with these racial tensions that both Howard and Lovecraft underlined in their works?
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Postby Hervé » Thu May 28, 2009 2:42 pm

Racism, bigotry and hate of the other are part of the human nature. The hyborian world is a grim place to live, so I implement these ugly facets of humanity in my games. The real horror lies in the depths of the human hearts, not in the dark temple of some forgotten god.

Anyway, things must be placed back in their original contest. Howard lived in the 20' and was a Texan, and his writings reflects the mentality of that time. Howard wasn't truly a racist as such, and most of his stories are more about xénophobia than about racism. Conan himself feels closer to Picts and Black Kingdoms savages than he is to "civilized" people and their degenerate ways. Of course I feel as much shocked as you are by some sentences from Vale of Lost Women...

On the contrary, HPL was a real racist at heart as his personal letters show, filled with a deep hatred of all that's different, born from his inner fears and lack of confidence. On some letters he exchanged with REH, he even talks about his admiration of Hitler, who was rising in power at the time, when REH warns him in his answer about the danger such a man could bring...
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Postby Stygian Devout » Fri May 29, 2009 4:13 am

Interesting... is there a volume of their collected correspondence in print?
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Postby Malcadon » Fri May 29, 2009 11:20 am

Stygian Devout wrote:Interesting... is there a volume of their collected correspondence in print?
You should check out Race, ethnicity, and class (under Themes) in Lovecraft's Wikipedia entry. It even list some examples of his viewpoints. That aforementioned correspondence sounds like it would be a vary interesting read.
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Postby Hervé » Fri May 29, 2009 3:59 pm

Actually, after some research, it shows that REH was pretty much racist at the beginning of his career, but tempered down his racist attitude towards the end of his life, circa 1933-36, when he would write things like:

That I lived to a straight and simple creed
The whole of my worldly span
And white or black or yellow I dealt
Foursquare with my fellow man


in The Day That I Die

While he wrote stories with black heroes like Ace Jessel, or amerindians like John Garfield, some of his ealier writings are quite disturbing. Here are some excerpts, taken from a post by Patrice Louinet in the rehfans mailing list:
REH/Tevis Clyde Smith, August 4, 1923: "Think of all the white races of the world arrayed against all the dark races! That would be a war worth seeing. A titanic struggle with color against color... Now a color war I would enter glady with. Remember my opinion of wars in general but a race-war is different. I don't even consider the Chinese of the same race as we." (Unpublished)

REH/Harold Preece, 20 Oct 1928: "The King of Kings" gripped me. I thought it was powerful, though I think Joseph Schildrkraut ran away with the picture as Judas. And William Boyd that fellow is the most human actor in the world. H. B. Warner lacked fire of course, but I don’t know who else could have done even as good as he did. Damn the Jews anyway." (expurgated in published version)

REH/HP, Mar 1929: "You cant justify the existence of the Hebrew race to me. [...] They are swine as far as I am concerned; a lot of dirty scuts that didnt have the nerve to come to America until the Irish had killed out the Indians and built the railroads. Then they came over and now they sit up on their bulbous rumps and blatantly announce that they own the damned country. Maybe they do; they'll never own Ireland. (expurgated)

REH/HP, 24 Mar 1930: "I heard the travesty of Miami the other night. I was disgusted. An English champion quits to a lousy Lithuanian and a Wop referee disqualifies him. If the staunch old Anglo-Saxon breed has reached such a pitch, what is the world to look to? But I hear the Englishman has Jewish blood in him, which would explain it. There was a time when Englishmen ruled the ring game." (expurgared)

REH/Howard Phillips Lovecraft, ca. Dec 1930: "I agree with you in doubting that the seeds of cultural development are present in the negroid race as a whole. They can ape and copy but that they could build a civilization of their own, I doubt. Doubtless you are right in your
theory that the easy life of the tropics contributed greatly to the negro's lack of progress." (expurgated from the published version)

REH/TCS, ca. June 1930: "We joined the club. Heh heh heh! I'm a member of the Business Men's Athletic Club of San Antonio. Whee! Well, when I looked around at the wops, spicks, Chinees and niggers who were among those of my club brothers it gave me a big laugh."

REH/HPL, ca. Sep 1930: "Negroes are an interesting study."

REH/HPL, ca. Sep 1930: "The death rate [of Mexicans] is enormous, the birth rate even more enormous. They live like rats and breed like flies."

REH/HPL, ca. Oct 1930: "Of course, many of the older families, both American and German, have held themselves apart from the rabble and intermarried with their own race and with each other, but the later arrivals from Europe tend to mix and mingle without rhyme or reason." (expurgated)

REH/HPL, ca. Oct 1930: "the majority of our negro slaves were of a comparatively low order of being. Living in the swamps and jungles they could not have been otherwise." (expurgated)

REH/HPL, ca. Oct 1930: (after a Mexican has been murdered): "The Cattlemen's Association sent out a detective - just why so much trouble was taken about a Mexican I cannot understand."

REH/HPL, ca. Dec 1930: "I imagine the combination you mention � Semitic nose, Mongol eyes, Aryan hair, etc., produces a weird effect, even more so than the red headed niggers you occasionally see in the South. The most inhuman hybrid I ever saw was ... in New Orleans. He - or it! � was as black as any negro I ever saw, but had the slant eyes and broad
features of a Chinaman." (expurgated)

REH/HPL, ca. Jan 1931: "That Negroid-Jew you speak of must have been a grotesque and amusing spectacle." (Unp.)

REH/HPL, ca. Feb 1931: "Altogether, Mexican tastes as a whole appeal to me, though I cannot say that the Mexicans themselves do." (Unp.)

REH/HPL, ca. Feb 1931: "In New Orleans all this noise and argument isn't confined to the Semites alone. I used to pass the Old French Market and near the Italian women screeching and squabbling over pennies, and see them grabbing and snatching in shameless greed until I was sick and ashamed of the whole human race." (Unp.)

REH/HPL, ca. Feb 1931: "I feel a deep pity for that people [the Boskop] - living in peace and friendliness - an unwarlike and pastoral race -and suddenly confronted by a horde of black slayers as rude and merciless as they were strong. It must have been a slaughter rather than
a war, and it's a damned pity that the Boskop people didn't have some Aryan traits to stiffen their spines and train their hands in fighting. I hate to think of white people being wiped out and enslaved by niggers." (unpublished)

REH/HPL, ca. June 1931: "It's a dirty shame that the Polacks are selling those fine old stone walls and replacing them with wire fences. Another proof that traditions mean nothing to these aliens, who bring their own traditions with them and callously trample on those of the land they pollute by their presence."

REH/HPL, ca. Dec 1931: "Whitehead's information about the negroid strain in the modern Danes struck me as rather ludicrous. That's a mating of Poles with a vengeance! The Scandinavian and the nigger, the extremes of development." (unpublished)

REH/HPL, ca Jan 1932: "I hardly think I'd feel any embarassment at social contact with such persons as you mentioned [inhabitant of the West Indies] - the cultured aristocratic ones, of course. Though if any should seek to pay court to a sister or daughter, I'm afraid i'd resort
to primitive Nordic tactics, regardless of the suitor's quarterings. Somehow this reminds me of the breeding of negro girls for concubines which was once practised in New Orleans . .. Their owners had an eye to posterity and mated them with as much care as they might have given to
the breeding of their race horses... After a few generations such girls, the vestige of negroid blood in their veins scarcely discernable, carefully raised, well taught in the arts of love, knowing no will save that of their masters, made mistresses and slaves not excelled by any
Eastern seraglio. They brought fancy prices, and they were worth it." (unpublished)

REH/HPL, ca Apr 1932: "Just now my interest in the Far East is centered on that trial in Honolulu, which makes me ashamed of my own race. How a white man can stand up in court and prosecute a white woman, before the scum of the Orient, with Orientals in the jury, is more than I can understand."

REH/HPL, ca May 1932: "That Hawaii business is a rotten reek in the nostrils of decent men... I don't know whether an Oriental smells any different than a nigger when he's roasting, but I'm willing to bet the aroma of scorching hide would have the same chastening effect on his surviving tribesmen... As for the attorney, for any white man who is low enough to crucify an outraged child of his own color before a mongrel swarm, a roll down a hill in a barrel full of safety-razor blades is too good for him." (unpublished)

REH/HPL, ca. Aug 1932: "My Socialist friend spoke bitterly of the fickleness of the Mexicans - whose ignorance is so abysmal it's almost impossible for a white man to comprehend it." (unpublished)

REH/HPL, ca. Sep 1932: "The Old French Market in New Orleans is... an old landmark that seems to me should be preserved. It smelled like hell - what with the fish, lobster, wops etc."

REH/HPL, ca. Oct 1932: "You know a coyote nor a buzzard never will touch a Mexican's carcass - they can't stand the pepper he ate in his life-time."

REH/HPL, ca Jul 1935: "I’ll admit it seemed strange to me to see Mexicans being treated on the same footing as white people. You can certainly tell the difference in the bearing of Mexicans, Indians, negroes and other dark races the instant you cross the Texas line.
Texas, whatever its virtues or faults, is a white man’s state, and that fact is reflected in the manner of the non-white races. They know their place. [..] I was pretty mad already, for one thing because I don’t like to see a nigger displaying insolence toward a white man..."
(unpublished)
Quite frightening...

However, Neal Romanek wrote in his Robert E. Howard and The Barbarian West article:
In the same year that Howard committed suicide, Nazi Germany attempted to show at the Berlin Olympics, that a specific type of European ideal could conquer all challengers and that the Third Reich would usurp classical Rome in glory and power and possession. The barbarians were finally running the show, and were determined to run it from now on. Howard had criticized the fascist politics of his friend H.P. Lovecraft, but it is a deceptively short leap from being a barbarian outsider to declaring that all others are the barbarian outsiders. It is uncomfortably easy to notice, in hindsight, that in Conan’s wild adventurer lurk the seeds of the fascist ideal of conquest and the triumph of personal will. Jesse Owens punctured Hitler’s Olympic dream soundly, but it would be another ten years before the world would unite to dismantle the rest of his dangerous fantasy.
So it seems tht REH was as much racist as the average man of his time and place (1930, Texas. What would you expect?) but learned to get past past his negative attitude in the last years of this life, something Lovecraft never managed to do.
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Postby Strom » Fri May 29, 2009 9:24 pm

Stygian Devout wrote:Interesting... is there a volume of their collected correspondence in print?
Yes there is - three volumes:

http://www.rehfoundation.org/?page_id=29
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Postby Sutek » Mon Jun 01, 2009 5:56 am

You gotta remember, folks, 30s Texas and white-biased racial views are pretty much the way things were, so referring to REH as "a racist" needs to be put into context first. He wasn't an evil dude because of his classification of people based on race, but was a product of his time and place whi managed to churn out entertaining stories because of those biases.

Let's think of him as prejudiced rather than racist, shall we?
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Postby David St-Michel » Mon Jun 01, 2009 4:47 pm

Wow.

I really didn't think that my initial post would summon up such a whirlwind.

I do agree that some sentences in some Howard stories were, to me, a bit of a surprise. But my initial question was whether or not in any given Conan RPG game, one of your characters would get his throat slit because he/she was Stygian, Pict, from a Black Kingdom, Shemite, Zamorian, etc.

It's common knowledge that most, if not all countries in the world of Conan is, at some point or another, at war. Be it border skirmishes, full-out invasions, espionnage, etc. I was more curious as to how you all, as players and GMs, played into the ethnic tirades that Howard presents in his stories.

Personally, I slide the bigotry in more rural places then urban ones. Large cities like Messantia, Tarantia and the like are rather cosmopolite, and most people living there have a certain degree of tolerance that is probably not as present in more isolated regions of the world.

I don't really think of Howard as something else then a very compelling writer. I personally don't know him and I can't really objectively judge someone else's attitude with a 70-year difference between him and I. I don't agree with a lot of things that he and other writers of his age wrote about certain subjets. But I wasn't there in the 1920's and 30's. As several people in this thread underlined, a lot of stuff that happened in those years was supported by the full weight of local, state and federal law.

So thanks to all of you for your points of view regarding this delicate issue.

I really appreciate getting actual feedback from intelligent people. :):):)
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Postby Krushnak » Mon Jun 01, 2009 5:03 pm

But my initial question was whether or not in any given Conan RPG game, one of your characters would get his throat slit because he/she was Stygian, Pict, from a Black Kingdom, Shemite, Zamorian, etc.
Not outright but lets say a pict or cimmerian is in any hyborian nation they would have to walk carefully and watch what they say and do as they would be under immense scrutiny. Just like any Hyborian would have to watch their step in cimmeria or the pictish lands.
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Postby flatscan » Mon Jun 01, 2009 9:37 pm

Yeah, racism is pretty rampant during the Hyborian Age in my campaign. None of the PCs in my game are Hyborians so all have been victim to prejudice while traveling throughout the Hyborian nations. And not just the Hyborian nations, places like Khemi in Stygia won't allow non-Stygians within their walls past nightfall. It's made for some interesting social challenges and drama.
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Postby Supplement Four » Tue Jun 02, 2009 3:02 am

I'm reading The Man-Eaters of Zamboula right now, and this line is appropriate to the conversation.

Howard writes...

"...Nay, in this accursed city which Stygians built and which Hyrkanians rule--where white, brown and black folk mingle together to produce hybrids of all unholy hues and breeds--who can tell who is a man, and who is a demon in disguise?"
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Postby Sutek » Tue Jun 02, 2009 5:37 am

Howard writes that, but who's words are they? Are those his thoughts or the character's?

<sheesh>

:wink:
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Postby Strom » Wed Jun 03, 2009 2:04 am

David St-Michel wrote:Wow.
I don't really think of Howard as something else then a very compelling writer.
I think that is a very common perception that I hope will be changed as people realize the complexity, diversity and genius this man from Cross Plains has brought to the world of literature. Announced recently - Robert E. Howard will finally be published by Penguin Classics:
Heroes in the Wind: from Kull to Conan: The Best of Robert E. Howard

Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Penguin Classics
ISBN-10: 0141189436
ISBN-13: 978-0141189437

Product Description
Howard's swashbuckling fantasy stories feature the adventures of the
enigmatic Conan: a free barbarian from distant Cimmeria who ventures
into the splendid kingdoms of the south to find his fortune in the
lost eons of the Hyborian Age between the sinking of Kull’s Atlantis
and the dawn of history. Cunning thief, captain of mercenaries and
corsairs, lover of sultry temptresses, Conan follows his destiny into
demon-haunted treasure towers and across the plains of death. And at
last, like Kull before him, he slashes his name across the scrolls of
royalty as King Conan, usurper-lord of imperial Aquilonia.
Plus, to quote Rusty Burke - REH Scholar & Editor - Howard has finally "got his toe in the door at the Library of America"

I hope this will help change the perception of Howard as just a compelling writer. 8)
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Postby Supplement Four » Wed Jun 03, 2009 2:13 am

Sutek wrote:Howard writes that, but who's words are they? Are those his thoughts or the character's?

<sheesh>

:wink:
Don't get me wrong. I think he's a fantastic writer. I like that he puts that stuff in the work. Not that I search out stuff like that, but it adds to the flavor.

The world is waaaayyy to PC these days, imo.

Our tolerance will be the death of us. Rome fell from within.
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Postby David St-Michel » Wed Jun 03, 2009 4:44 pm

I think Rome fell from within because some of its more influential inhabitants were too busy with degenerate activities then actually taking care of their city and their country...

Not necessarily because they were very politically correct. :)
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Postby zozotroll » Wed Jun 03, 2009 5:44 pm

One of the biggest reasons Rome fell was that its own citizens where no longer interested in serving in her armys, that increaseingly became maned by foreign born soldiers that had litttle in common with the citizens, and little concern for perserving the old ways.

I recruited for the Army for 3.5 years in Los Angeles. i think less than a third of my recruits where citizens.....
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Postby cbrunish » Wed Jun 03, 2009 8:30 pm

zozotroll wrote:One of the biggest reasons Rome fell was that its own citizens where no longer interested in serving in her armys, that increaseingly became maned by foreign born soldiers that had litttle in common with the citizens, and little concern for perserving the old ways.

I recruited for the Army for 3.5 years in Los Angeles. i think less than a third of my recruits where citizens.....
I am from Western PA and was in retention for the army reserve. All of the reservists in my area were citizens. I think that LA has a lot more diversity. Also most of the non-citizens go into the military to get citizenship.

In the Roman Empire, there mercenary soldiers came into serve then left and went back to there homes outside of the Empire. I don't think we're going to fall anytime soon. :D
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Postby Twin Agate Dragons » Wed Jun 03, 2009 8:34 pm

cbrunish wrote:I am from Western PA and was in retention for the army reserve. All of the reservists in my area were citizens. I think that LA has a lot more diversity. Also most of the non-citizens go into the military to get citizenship.

In the Roman Empire, there mercenary soldiers came into serve then left and went back to there homes outside of the Empire. I don't think we're going to fall anytime soon. :D
Having watched King Arthur [2004] a couple of nights ago I do see several similarities between America and the Roman Empire. The national symbol, for example.
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Postby Supplement Four » Wed Jun 03, 2009 10:08 pm

OT, but, speaking of Rome...

I'm absolutely in love with that cancelled HBO series: Rome. I can't get enough of it. I think it's brilliant (whether historically accurate or not).

Do any of you knowing persons here have a recommendation on a historical novel set in ancient Rome?
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Postby Sutek » Thu Jun 04, 2009 5:21 am

zozotroll wrote:One of the biggest reasons Rome fell was that its own citizens where no longer interested in serving in her armys, that increaseingly became maned by foreign born soldiers that had litttle in common with the citizens, and little concern for perserving the old ways.

I recruited for the Army for 3.5 years in Los Angeles. i think less than a third of my recruits where citizens.....
Although pretty true about Rome (even though some nutty leadership and some massive theological changes were involved too), I'd say your LA military recruitment demographic probabaly had a lot more to do with being in LA than interest in the military, wouldn't you say?
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