Tuesday, June 19, 2007
posted by Leo Grin
For the most part, it’s been great fun watching the Wikipedia “community” have at the long biographical entry I wrote for Robert E. Howard’s Wikipedia page last year. I haven’t agreed with many of the tweaks made, but the mere fact they are being attempted is a sign of how many people out there are Howard fans to some degree. There have been literally hundreds of edits to the page, every one of which is logged here. It’s fun to browse through this log, select two different versions using the radio buttons at the left, and hit “Compare Selected Versions” to see exactly what was done in each edit.
There have been a few edits that clearly have been controversial. One guy refuses to allow any hint that Lovecraft was influenced in any way by REH, although like the rest of us he grants the opposite equation (that HPL of course influenced REH). Some editors have again and again subtly introduced non-neutral points of view regarding de Camp. One guy deleted my reference to de Camp as a “science fiction grandmaster,” considering it editorializing on my part, although in fact he won the Grandmaster Award and is technically exactly that. Others have tweaked the language surrounding the de Camp passages to defend him, insinuating that the charges of his critics are merely the opinions of a minority rather than the clear consensus in the field. There have been numerous “copy edits” by guys intent on making the prose not only encyclopedically neutral but as dull as possible. The copyright status of various REH stories has been fought over, with Paul Herman’s reasonable assessments challenged by someone who every few months insists on promulgating the lie that:
Since Robert E. Howard died 70 years ago, all his works and characters (including Conan) have now fallen into the public domain and are free for all to use as they wish. No institution may lawfully claim any right to them what-so-ever.
This despite the education he has received from other visitors on the ins-and-outs of current copyright law.
However, all in all my initial posting of text has held up rather well, a bit frayed at the edges but with the core information sitting out there like a rock with the waves of editors crashing against it day after day. I was pleased to note at the WFC that panel moderator Steven Gould had educated himself about Howard in preparation for his panel with Glenn Lord and myself by printing out a copy of the entry. Getting Howard’s entry up to scratch was worth the time invested for sure.
But check out this page, which shows in red type a series of changes instituted by an anonymous, unregistered editor. It makes you wonder who would go so far out of their way to modify REH’s page in this way, and why. Clicking on the IP Address of the vandal in question shows that he also has selectively edited some entries dealing with Islam, tweaking words like “militant” into “terrorist” and so forth. To me his actions seem contradictory: I assume his calling REH a Jew is meant to color our perception of REH in a negative way, whereas his other Wikipedia edits seem to be anti-Muslim. Or perhaps he feels that his bogus revelation of REH’s heritage is a badge of honor. Who knows, and ultimately who cares. Anyone who would harp so incessantly on someone’s ancestry clearly has ugly personal issues that transcend any attempt to rationalize them.
Like most other instances of vandalism to Wikipedia pages, this guy’s was quickly deleted by an observant reader. What’s doubly strange is that this is the second time I’ve seen Howard painted as Jewish this month — readers of the soon-to-ship V4n3 can check out Paul Shovlin’s Contributor’s Blurb to get the lowdown on the other incident I am speaking of, one that confirmed for me that “peer-reviewed” publications are often not what they are cracked up to be. Steve, I’d love to read your opinion of this odd new Jewish Question in Howard studies.
(the image used at the head of this post was taken from an especially apropos article at The Onion, the most famous news-spoofing site on the web.)