I would like to complain about the comments about Texan writer Robert E. Howard made by Stewart Lee at the end of "The Review Show" (4/11). Lee describes Howard as "a mad bloke" and then goes on to allege "Because he was insane, he maintained that he didn't write it but these characters stood over his shoulder, and dictated to him."
Both these statements are inaccurate. I assume that the notion that Howard was "mad" or "insane" stems from the biographical fact that he committed suicide at the age of 30. Although he was never diagnosed in his lifetime, it seems likely that this tragic action came about due to untreated clinical depression, probably induced by the stress of maintaining a living as a full-time writer during the Great Depression whilst acting as main carer for his terminally ill mother.
Having read Howard's published correspondence with friends and colleagues, I can confirm that he was intensely concerned with the creation of his stories, which were carefully crafted to suit distinct "pulp" markets. The notion that he believed they were dictated to him by discarnate entities is risible. Presumably it comes from a passage from one of the letters in which he describes figuratively the process behind his creation of "Conan". I find it near incredible that the BBC's premier arts programme should be inviting us to interpret this literally.
Not only is it inaccurate to describe Howard as "a mad bloke" because of his presumed depression, but it is insulting to people suffering from the same condition today. People with mental health problems suffer from discrimination from all directions, and hearing the words "mad bloke" and "insane" coming unexpectedly and inappropriately from a television comedian is likely to fall as another cruel blow to their self-esteem.
I am convinced that underlying this attack on one of the 20th Century's greatest fantasy and horror writers is the BBC's continuing bias against writing that falls outside of the narrow band of "literary fiction". A petition signed by 85 top authors was delivered to the Director General only this April, protesting against the network's "sneering coverage" of genre works. From the evidence of "The Review Show", it would appear that this has been ignored.
Kirsty Wark's sneering introduction to the piece backs up this impression: "Here's comedian Stewart Lee with a selection of his favourite books, most of which appear to be out of print - should that tell us something?" Presumably, to the mainstream mind of Ms. Wark, it should tell us that the books are worthless.
And yet; out of the three works chosen by Lee - two of them "genre" - only one (Machen's "The Green Round") is actually "out of print". "Conan", in particular, is readily available in a bewildering variety of editions, from e-books through cheap movie tie-ins to chunky hardbacks. To imply otherwise, not only demonstrates an appalling lack of research, but does the publishing industry a considerable disservice in these difficult times.