Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Conan on the River of Doom

Battle of Zama, courtesy Google Images, illustrator not indicated

Previously I discussed Dr. Holmes' appreciation for the works of L. Sprague de Camp, particularly an obscure novel titled Solomon's Stone. Holmes not only a fan of de Camp - he also worked for him at one point as a contracted author! This was described in an article written by John Martin in 1995, titled "In the Burroughs Tradition: John Eric Holmes and the Mahars of Pellucidar", published in Paperback Parade #42. The article is based on an extensive interview that Martin conducted with Holmes, which naturally focused on his Pellucidar work (D&D receives the briefest of mentions). John Martin later included part of the original article in rewritten form in an Edgardemain internet article titled, "John Eric Holmes: Mahars of Pellucidar and Red Axe of Pellucidar". The original version has a bit more detail, and quotes Holmes directly, so I'll reproduced the relevant paragraphs here:

"Awhile back, he had a contract with L. Sprague de Camp to write a Conan novel "I wrote two-thirds of CONAN ON THE RIVER OF DOOM, and then they changed editors and the new editor said he didn't want a Conan book set in Africa and that project died, although I did get paid. The nice thing about dealing with L. Sprague de Camp," he said, "was that de Camp took the writer's side and wrote contracts in such a way that a write could keep the rights to his material, even if it was turned down by the publisher."

"He's thought of simply programming his computer to change Conan's name to something else and finish and submit the story elsewhere. But instead of that, "I thought of another way I wanted to come at it. I decided I wanted to do some other historical things about Africa with it and I wanted to start off with the battle of the Plains of Zama where Hannibal is defeated by Scipio Africanus, and have my hero be part of Hannibal's army that escapes into the interior of Africa, and ends up with a 'searching out of the river monsters' kind of quest," Holmes said."

Holmes' revision has never been published, and it's unclear whether it was ever finished.

I'm not sure what year his contract with de Camp would have been...sometime in the early '80s? Perhaps the Bantam Editions from 1978-1982, which L. Sprague de Camp was heavily involved with. The last of these was the novelization of the Conan the Barbarian in '82. Perhaps someone with more knowledge of when de Camp stopped editing Conan could provide some insight.

Holmes may have been drawn to the African locale based on his appreciation for Burrough's Tarzan stories. The Martin article also describes how as an eight-year old living in Hawaii, Holmes met Burroughs and had him sign a copy of Tarzan and the Leopard Men. And while on the subject of Africa and aquatic monsters, I'll also note that Holmes also wrote a fantasy supplement for Avalon Hill's Source of the Nile game, published in The Dragon #24, April 1979, where explorers in the game have a chance of finding a city of survivors of lost Atlantis who have a sacred pool inhabited by a "mosasaurus, a gigantic aquatic dinosaur which has miraculously survived the eons in the lost city".

John Martin also wrote a moving account of the memorial service for Dr. Holmes in 2010.


  1. Thank you for yet another work of brilliant historical research Zenopus!
    I can't help but think that you are slowly putting together enough material to write the first Holmes' biography ever published. ;)

    1. You're welcome! Yes, I have considered that. I'm not sure there's enough for an entire book; I'd be more likely to put a bio together with various info on the Blue Book, etc.

  2. I think you're probably right that de Camp was thinking of another novel in the Bantam series. Those were actually the first Conan novels I ever read. My favorite is "The Road of Kings" by Karl Edward Wagner, who was also a physician (a psychiatrist). Would have love to see one by Holmes.