October 6 marks what would have been the 60th birthday of Steve Tompkins. As I have noted before, the very existence of Frontier Partisans owes a lot to Tompkins and to Deuce Richardson, whose work with the excellent Robert E. Howard blog The Cimmerian set my moccasins on the blogging trail.
Tompkins’ analysis of Howard’s Hyborian Age frontier tale Beyond the Black River showed a deep understanding of both the literary and the actual frontier, which was most gratifying to me and drew me onward. I absolutely loved his witty, erudite and wildly discursive work. To my regret, I never communicated with him directly before his untimely death in 2009.
I must note that October 6 carries another significance, this one in the legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien. The date marks the anniversary of the attack on Weathertop, as depicted in The Fellowship of the Ring.
I think Tompkins would relish the dual acknowledgement. In addition to his appreciation of REH, Tompkins also honored the legacy of Professor Tolkien, and he braided those assumed-to-be-disparate-but-actually-kindred legacies in the wonderful essay The Shortest Distance Between Two Towers.
Hobbits are hobbits and barbarians are barbarians and seldom the twain shall meet, but the boreal breath of the frost giants can be felt in the work of both Howard and Tolkien… Not to beat the subject, like Fingon, to death, but neither writer is trod into the mire by a comparison to the other. The shortest distance between these two towers is the straight line they draw and defend against what John Clute has memorably dubbed “the dehydrations of secularization,” against disensoulment, commodification, and the slow death of imagination denied.
I am proud to have stood on that line with the likes of Tompkins and Deuce Richardson and Paul McNamee and our comrades of the Shieldwall. I may prefer to be out on the flank, anchored against the high, hard ridges of Frontier Partisans History, and my weapon of choice may be a rifle rather than a sword — but nevertheless, there I stand. And thanks in no small part to
Tompkins, none of us will ever abide the slow death of imagination denied.