In anticipation of our upcoming Season of Kane, I thought I’d get the fantasy pipe primed by taking a look at the first book in the Echoes of Valor series. Echoes of Valor was a classic fantasy series edited by Karl Edward Wagner. Published by Tor, only three volumes were ever released, they were published in ’87, ’89, and ’91.
Today I’m looking at the first story in the first collection “The Black Stranger“ by Robert E. Howard. “The Black Stranger“ has a very interesting genesis, it was re-written multiple times by several editors and even Howard himself, it wasn’t published in its original form until Wagner’s Echoes of Valor.
As Wagner stated in his introduction, Farnsworth Wright rejected the story for Weird Tales. Howard revised it as a pirate tale “Sword of the Red Brotherhood”, replacing Conan with Terence “Black” Vulmea, a 17th-century Irish peasant turned pirate. Unfortunately, this piece also never sold. Years later, after re-writes from L. Sprague de Camp and an added four opening paragraphs from Lester del Rey the story finally saw print in Fantasy Magazines, March 1953 issue. The title had been changed again, this time to “The Treasure of Tranicos”.
It was published several more times and culminated in a self-titled publication from Ace Books in 1980. The book included “Treasure” as well as several essays about the story and Howard himself. One essay was a reprint of a 1967 article from Amra Volume 2 Number 45 called “The Trail of Tranicos“ written by de Camp. In it, he states “There is reason to believe that the pirate version came before the Conan one.” However, Wagner in his 1987 introduction to the story seems to put the question to rest saying “I have the photocopy of Howard’s original manuscript of “The Black Stranger,” which clearly shows Howard’s efforts to change the story from the Conan to the Black Vulmea version.” In the introduction to the Red Nails collection of Conan stories Wagner compiled in 1977, he addresses Howard’s revision of “The Black Stranger” saying “A professional writer accumulates a stack of unsold manuscripts. The ability to revise and “salvage” an unremarkable story is a measure of his command of fiction and awareness of his own writing flaws.”
Karl Edward Wagner must have loved being able to include this story “The Black Stranger” in its original version. I imagine on a professional level it must have felt like a huge victory to be launching his new series of uncovered classics with a story he had been trying to publish since at least 1977. In the afterward of Red Nails Wagner mentions “The Black Stranger” again. “We have Howard’s original manuscripts for this and the other three Conan tales that were discovered after his death, and it is hoped that we will be able to present the stories as Howard wrote them once present contractual matters are resolved.” Those italics are all Wagner’s by the way. He finally got his wish 10 years later in his publication of Echoes of Valor.