Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2016 Evelyn C. Leeper.

"Pigeons From Hell" by Robert E. Howard:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/20/2014]

"Pigeons From Hell", Robert E. Howard (Weird Tales, May 1938; Robert E. Howard's PIGEONS FROM HELL): You can tell from this that Howard was a wordsmith; it is not an "oak door," but an "oaken door." One thing that might make this less popular with the voters is the repeated use of the N-word. But this would be a mistake, because though it is used repeatedly, it is the Southern sheriff who says it. The narrative voice uses the word "negro", which was the polite term at the time. I would not use this to postulate any special progressiveness towards race on Howard's part, but to note that his language here is not a reason to reject the story.

The descriptions of the pigeons make me wonder if Daphne du Maurier was partially inspired by it, though I admit it is unlikely. One definite influence is the term "zuvembie", invented by Howard and used in comic books from 1954 to 1989 instead of "zombie", because the Comics Code Authority forbade the use of that word. But the story is a fine example of Southern Gothic even without any influences it may have had.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/22/2016]

"Pigeons from Hell" was made into an episode of "Thriller" (episode 36 of the first season). It must have been hell to shoot (no pun intended), with a need for probably more than one pigeon wrangler. The constant cooing of the pigeons is annoying enough, even before they added weird voices and screams. It was shot "day-for-night", which probably made some things easier--I suspect that pigeons tend to sleep at night rather than perform all the actions they do in the episode. Interesting trivia: The episode was directed by John Newland, who went on to fame with the television series "One Step Beyond". The short story (novelette, actually) was written by Howard in 1934, but not published in his lifetime. It was published posthumously in 1938 in WEIRD TALES.

The episode made some changes to the story. Not surprisingly, it brought it up to date (1960). It made the two friends in Howard's story brothers, and (with the choice of actors) made them very immature. But the setting still seems to be Louisiana, or that general area. H. P. Lovecraft set his stories in New England, while Howard set his in Texas and the surrounding area. Perhaps as a nod to Lovecraft, Howard's friends come from New England.

On the one hand, Howard could recognize that the myth of the idyllic antebellum South was just that--a myth: "Griswell grew faint with nausea, that rose from a frantic abhorrence of these back woods, these ancient plantation houses that hid forgotten secrets of slavery and bloody pride and mysterious intrigues. He had thought of the South as a sunny, lazy land washed by soft breezes laden with spice and warm blossoms, where life ran tranquilly to the rhythm of black folk singing, in sunbathed cottonfields [sic]. But now he had discovered another, unsuspected side--a dark, brooding, fear-haunted side, and the discovery repelled him."

On the other, of course, one also finds the casual racism of the period. Howard writes, "Joan had white blood in her, and she was proud, too," as though that meant that when she was whipped by the sisters, it was worse than if a black servant or a slave were being whipped.

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"Red Nails" by Robert E. Howard:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/22/2016]

"Red Nails" is the longer of the two [as opposed to "Pigeons from Hell"], and is the story in which Conan meets Valeria. (It has nothing to do with the film in which he meets her, CONAN THE BARBARIAN.) It is also the last Conan story thatHoward wrote, and was serialized in three issues of WEIRD TALES in 1936. Whether it is a function of being paid by the word, or the general style of pulp writing, Howard rarely has a noun without an adjective.

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[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/22/2016]

The film-and-book group did THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD and "Red Nails" and "Pigeons from Hell" by Robert E. Howard this month. THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD is a (highly-recommended) sort-of-biopic about Robert E. Howard, based on the memoirs of Novalyne Price. In the film, we hear Vincent D'Onofrio (as Howard) re-telling excerpts from a couple of his stories, describing Conan, and so on. D'Onofrio does an excellent job, and this was really useful to reading the two stories chosen, as I ended up hearing them in D'Onofrio's voice.

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