Calling this “The DMR Interview” is a bit of a misnomer. This originally appeared in 2006 on the website swordandsorcery.org, which is now defunct. Howie Bentley allowed us to preserve it here so it doesn’t vanish into the internet void. –DMR
Richard L. Tierney is one of a very few of the post-Weird Tales writers carrying on the Tradition of the Golden Age of Weird Fiction in all of its glory. A good many Sword and Sorcery fans know Richard from his Red Sonja novels and maybe his Simon Magus tales published in the Swords Against Darkness anthologies (starting back in the late 1970s) if they are lucky. If that is the case, you are merely scratching the surface. Richard is the author of at least ten published novels, more than forty short stories and enough poetry to choke the proverbial horse. I caught up with Richard in his Hermitage in the great corn desert of Iowa and here is what he had to say.
Probably the best-known character you have created is Simon Magus, also known as Simon of Gitta. What can you tell us about the inspiration behind this escaped gladiator turned sorcerer?
I saw that old movie The Silver Chalice when it first came out, and enjoyed Jack Palance’s portrayal of the sorcerer, Simon Magus. In about 1960 I wrote my first Simon of Gitta tale, “The Ring of Set”, picturing Simon as Jack. I never intended it as the start of a series. It lay around in manuscript for about 16 years, till my friend, Kirby McCauley, submitted it to Andy Offutt for his first Swords Against Darkness anthology, which appeared in 1977. That encouraged me to write more, and from that time the series of Simon tales took off and grew.
Your latest work, The Drums of Chaos, which is in the process of being published by Mythos Books, is a Simon Magus novel. Is it true that Simon meets up with another of your characters, John Taggart the time traveler, who works with the Lovecraftian Ancient Ones?
Yes, it’s true that Simon of Gitta and my time-traveling character from the 20th century, John Taggart, do have intertwined destinies in Drums, and the Old Ones of the Mythos are definitely involved.
In The Drums of Chaos, Simon encounters another sorcerer named Jesus. Jesus turns out to be the spawn of the Lovecraftian demon Yog-Sothoth. What sort of reaction do you expect from the Christian fundamentalists if they get wind of this? Think you might catch as much flack as Dan Brown has?
I fear Mythos Books has missed two good landmarks for publishing the novel, first by not having it coincide with Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ and recently with The Da Vinci Code movie. But of course this is par for my publishing course. I finished writing the novel a bit over 15 years ago! If Drums is ever published, I hope it takes off with the kind of notoriety Dan Brown’s novel has enjoyed. With luck, it may even attract a death-fatwa from Christian fundamentalists, putting me up there with Salman Rushdie. One can always hope.
Throughout your writing there seems to be this “Dark Cosmology,” as you have referred to it. This seems to be an extension of Lovecraftian concepts. In your stories the gods of the world’s major religions are portrayed as malevolent entities who thrive on the pain and suffering of human beings. Would you care to explain and elaborate on this a bit?
In this “Dark Cosmology” of mine, I picture Derleth’s “Elder Gods” (which I often call “Primal Gods”) as the creators of this universe with its natural laws. This universe churns out beings on countless worlds whose endless sufferings feed the Elder Gods’ psychic appetites. Opposing them are HPL’s “Great Old Ones” who want to destroy this source of the Elder Gods’ psychic energy by killing off all these life forms and taking over the planets they now inhabit for their own nameless purposes. Thus, the battle for the universe, the Elder Gods being “good” from the human viewpoint, the Great Old Ones “evil.”
The House of the Toad is a sort of Mythos novel. It was published in 1993 by Fedogan and Bremer. When did you write this novel and what was your inspiration for it?
Two major ingredients went into it. During the 1960s I spent the better part of four winters in Latin America visiting ancient ruins in Mexico, Central America and Peru. Then, in 1972 and 1973 I worked for Llewellyn, an occult publisher in St. Paul, Minnesota. At that time the company’s offices were in an old mansion of dark stone with a peak-roofed tower at one corner. My villain, J. Cornelius Wassermann, I pictured as an Innsmouthian version of Aleistair Crowley with a deep, croaking voice like Henry Kissinger’s. (Llewellyn was publishing some of Crowley’s stuff at the time.) Philip Rahman eventually asked me to use these elements in a novel for his Fedogan & Bremer publishing house. Thus, was a dark, toadlike villain hatched. I picture Wassermann as one in a series begun by A. Merritt in Seven Footprints to Satan, in which his villain, who goes by the name “Satan,” is pretty obviously patterned after Crowley. Merritt was followed by Dennis Wheatly and Ian Flemming, who created similar villains who were obviously embodiments of overpowering Satanic evil.
You once wrote an essay on some misconceptions about H.P. Lovecraft’s outlook on the supernatural and the cosmos as they were presented by August Derleth from his perspective of the “Cthulhu Mythos.” What prompted you to call Derleth out?
I noticed that Derleth several times quoted HPL as saying, in one of his letters, that the Great Old Ones had invaded this world by means of “black magic,” but Derleth never actually gave a date for this letter. I got to visit Derleth in Sauk City (in 1971, I believe) and tried to pin him down about the source of that quote. He said he couldn’t remember exactly but knew the letter was in his files. Many years later David Schultz ran down that source, which proved to be a letter from one of Derleth’s correspondents other than Lovecraft. By the way, a later commentator on this incident, I forget who, said that Derleth “became angry” when I questioned him about the quote. That’s hardly the case. At most, he seemed to me to be mildly irritated at the thought of spending all the time it would take to dig up the quote from his files.
At the end of your essay, “The Derleth Mythos,” you say “The line of Lovecraft’s development remains open—no one has really taken up where he left off—and it leads toward the cosmic.” Do you feel like you have successfully developed Lovecraft’s ideas further with The House of the Toad and the Simon Magus stories?
No, I don’t feel my writing has taken up “the line of Lovecraft’s development.” Rather, I appear to have taken up and developed Derleth’s vision of the Mythos. I suppose that’s appropriate. HPL’s vision was truly cosmic, and I am one of many of his acolytes to have caught a fleeting glimpse of that vision, but I fear I’m hardly qualified to fill his shoes, let alone climb upon his shoulders in order to see even farther cosmic vistas.
Your first novel, The Winds of Zarr, was written in 1959 but wasn’t actually published until 1975. What is the story behind that and what inspired you to combine elements of time travel, Lovecraftian entities and the supposed exodus of Moses and the Jews out of ancient Egypt?
It was, of course, the appearance of Cecil B. de Mille’s movie of The Ten Commandments. I remember I went to it five times the first year it ran! Of course I was steeped in Lovecraftian lore at that time and could sense what was going on “behind the scenes”.
The Winds of Zarr is fairly hard to find as it was limited to 1000 copies. Has anyone mentioned bringing it back into print?
As for the Silver Scarab Press publication of Zarr, it has not appeared since 1975 save in a German translation. Kevin O’Brien of Lindisfarne Press has told me he wants to bring it out in a collection of my tales one of these times. That would be a collection of my John Taggart tales, and would include a revised (and disguised) version of my sequel to Orwell’s 1984. O’Brien also hopes to publish a second collection of my miscellaneous stories not related to either of my series heroes, Taggart or Simon of Gitta. Here’s hoping he can bring these projects to fruition! (Evidently that never happened.—DMR)
Back to Simon Magus. Scroll of Thoth collects all of your short stories about Simon aside from “The Wedding of Sheila-Na-Gog,” coauthored with Glenn Rahman (“Crypt Of Cthulhu #29”) and “The Throne of Achamoth,” coauthored with Robert M. Price (“Weirdbook #21”). Is this correct?
You collaborated on six novels about Red Sonja as well as a Bran Mak Morn novel, For the Witch of the Mists, with David C. Smith, another great author in the S&S genre. You also wrote a Simon Magus novel with Glenn Rahman. How did these collaborations come about? How did you guys work? Who did what?
He (David C. Smith) and I would toss ideas around for a while, then Dave would rattle off a fast and sloppy first draft. I’d then work it over thoroughly, often deleting and rewriting whole sections and finally polishing it up for publication. I’m sure no one could ever untangle our writings. I still possess most of Dave’s first drafts, though, in the doubtful case that anyone would ever be interested. In the second Red Sonja novel, Demon Night, an inept assistant editor at Ace jumped in as an uninvited coauthor at a couple of places, thinking she could “improve” things. Unfortunately she removed a paragraph in one early chapter, thereby making a paragraph in a later chapter unintelligible.
As for the Simon Magus novel, The Gardens of Lucullus, Glenn and I worked exactly the same way Dave and I had. We’d both read Robert Graves’ Claudius novels and Glenn had watched the whole TV series, with which he was much taken. We were careful to follow Tacitus and other historical sources.
Roy Thomas is credited with creating Red Sonja based on Robert E. Howard’s Red Sonya of Rogatino from Howard’s short story “The Shadow of The Vulture.” Were there some strict parameters to deal with from Thomas and/or Ace publishing or did they pretty much give you and David free rein?
We were told to follow Roy Thomas’s conception of her as a Hyborian Age heroine, but as you know, we didn’t present her as the comic-book babe in the steel bikini through most of the novel series. As I recall, a female reviewer or two appreciated that.
You mentioned Jack Palance’s portrayal of the biblical Simon Magus in The Silver Chalice. I am wondering if you had any particular actress in mind when you were writing Red Sonja? Was she a hot mamma like Raquel Welch or Ann Margaret, or a crusty old broad with soot on her face and matted hair like Calamity Jane? Did any other films inspire characters or stories?
No, I didn’t have any actress in mind when I was writing the Sonja novels. Can’t think of any actors save Jack Palance that I patterned any of my characters after. I’ve sure played a lot of movie scores for inspiration while writing, though, from Miklos Roza and Alfred Newman to John Williams!
There was a collection of stories written by Robert E. Howard about the Irish Reaver, Cormac Mac Art, who sailed and slew with the Vikings in the days of King Arthur. Two of these stories were never finished by Howard. You finished the two that weren’t completed and these were published along with the two Howard finished in a collection titled Tigers of the Sea in 1975. How were you chosen for this and how did you approach finishing Howard’s stories? I think anyone who knows anything about you knows that you have a genuine admiration for REH and that you were not just a hired gun. Did you feel like you were walking on eggshells or was it just completely natural for you to finish those stories?
Glenn Lord asked me if I’d do it and sent me photocopies of the Howard mss. I found it came without too much effort for me. I think I have more affinity with REH than perhaps any other writer.
It seems that you have been seeing print a lot lately in Leo Grin’s excellent REH oriented publication “The Cimmerian.” Would you tell us a little about your Hyborian Age sonnets?
I haven’t seen “The Cimmerian” lately. They’ve published six of my dozen Hyborian Age sonnets so far and had planned to do all twelve by the end of the year. I hope they’re not running into difficulties.
Few authors in the Sword and Sorcery genre who write both poetry and prose well spring to mind. Right off I can think of Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. You seem to do both quite well yourself. How many collections of your poetry have been published so far?
So far my only poetry collection has been the Arkham House one, Collected Poems: Nightmares and Visions, save for that pamphlet of frivolous eldritch ditties by Sidecar (“The Blob That Gobbled Abdul and Other Poems and Songs”). I now have enough post-Arkham House poems to make up an even larger collection.
Though you have a new Simon novel in the process of being published, you seem to be writing poetry exclusively these days? What is going on there? Are there any plans for more Simon stories in the future?
As for Simon stories—or any other stories—I don’t seem to receive any more inspirations, divine or otherwise. Poems still pop into my shadowed skull now and then.
Sword and Sorcery was going strong there at one time. All of a sudden it all just seemed to stop. What do you think happened?
The field has proliferated so much since “my day” that I haven’t even tried to keep abreast of it. I sense that the “Elves & Dragons” would-be imitators of Tolkien have overwhelmed the Howardian/Wagnerian branch of the field nowadays.
Are there any active authors in the Sword and Sorcery or speculative fiction genres whom you find to be outstanding?
Yes, I loved Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, but I haven’t read much else in the fantasy field lately. As I say, the field has mushroomed so greatly that I can’t even try to keep up with it. I can’t think of any other modern authors offhand that have grabbed my interest, though I try to sample the field now and then. The literature has proliferated like yeast in a vat.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I have no advice for aspiring writers. I’m not a professional writer and never aspired to be. There were a few things I felt compelled to write and I think I’ve pretty much written them. There was never much of a market for my stuff. Writers aspiring to be professionals need good advice, but I’m not the one to give it to them.
Note: A few copies of “Weirdbook #21”, which contains “The Throne of Achamoth”, one of the two stories not included in the aforementioned collection Scroll of Thoth, are currently listed on Amazon. The other tale, “The Wedding of Sheila-Na-Gog” (“Crypt of Cthulhu #29”), is usually not to be found on Abebooks, ebay, or Amazon.com, but if you keep watching those three sites, it is only a matter of time before you find that rare gem.