The Cromcast podcast has been an excellent way to explore the 'Worlds of Robert E. Howard'. This is the first exploration by Cromcast of REH's boxing stories, they are joined by Mark Finn and Chris Gruber! Chris Gruber edited 'Boxing Stories' by Bison Books.
The first few paragraphs of the first REH boxing story I ever read: The Pit of the Serpent.
The minute I stepped ashore from the Sea Girl, merchantman, I had a hunch that there would be trouble. This hunch was caused by seeing some of the crew of the Dauntless. The men on the Dauntless have disliked the Sea Girl’s crew ever since our skipper took their captain to a cleaning on the wharfs of Zanzibar—them being narrow-minded that way. They claimed that the old man had a knuckle-duster on his right, which is ridiculous and a dirty lie. He had it on his left.
Seeing these roughnecks in Manila, I had no illusions about them, but I was not looking for no trouble. I am heavyweight champion of the Sea Girl, and before you make any wisecracks about the non-importance of that title, I want you to come down to the forecastle and look over Mushy Hansen and One-Round Grannigan and Flat-Face O’Toole and Swede Hjonning and the rest of the man-killers that make up the Sea Girl’s crew. But for all that, no one can never accuse me of being quarrelsome, and so instead of following my natural instinct and knocking seven or eight of these bezarks for a row, just to be ornery, I avoided them and went to the nearest American bar.
After a while I found myself in a dance hall, and while it is kind of hazy just how I got there, I assure you I had not no great amount of liquor under my belt—some beer, a few whiskeys, a little brandy, and maybe a slug of wine for a chaser like. No, I was the perfect chevalier in all my actions, as was proven when I found myself dancing with the prettiest girl I have yet to see in Manila or elsewhere. She had red lips and black hair, and oh, what a face!
“Say, miss,” said I, the soul of politeness, “where have you been all my life?”
“Oooh, la!” said she, with a silvery ripple of laughter. “You Americans say such theengs. Oooh, so huge and strong you are, senyor!”
I let her feel of my biceps, and she give squeals of surprise and pleasure, clapping her little white hands just like a child what has found a new pretty.
“Oooh! You could just snatch little me oop and walk away weeth me, couldn’t you, senyor?”
“You needn’t not be afraid,” said I, kindly. “I am the soul of politeness around frails, and never pull no rough stuff. I have never soaked a woman in my life, not even that dame in Suez that throwed a knife at me. Baby, has anybody ever give you a hint about what knockouts your eyes is?”
“Ah, go ’long,” said she, coyly—“Ouch!”
“Did somebody step on your foot?” I ask, looking about for somebody to crown.
“Yes—let’s sit theese one out, senyor. Where did you learn to dance?”
“It comes natural, I reckon,” I admitted modestly. “I never knew I could till now. This is the first time I ever tried.”
Deuce, posting that sample makes me want to read 'em again.
Glad you liked it! As a 9yr old, that tale hit me like a left jab to the jaw.
Here's a sample of another Costigan yarn from Fight Stories, January 1931...
Alleys of Peril
The minute I seen the man they’d picked to referee the fight between me and Red McCoy, I didn’t like his looks. His name was Jack Ridley and he was first mate aboard the Castleton, one of them lines which acts very high tone, making their officers wear uniforms. Bah! The first cap’n I ever sailed with never wore nothing at sea but a pair of old breeches, a ragged undershirt and a month’s growth of whiskers. He used to say uniforms was all right for navy admirals and bell-hops but they was a superflooity anywheres else.
Well, this Ridley was a young fellow, slim and straight as a spar, with cold eyes and a abrupt manner. I seen right off that he was a bucko which wouldn’t even let his crew shoot craps on deck if he could help it. But I decided not to let his appearance get on my nerves, but to ignore him and knock McCoy stiff as quick as possible so I couldst have the rest of the night to myself...
Awhile back, I suggested to a friend that he should write up a story with a Howard-style boxing sailer who has a run-in with Deep Ones. Turns out Mythos author and REH fan, Ron Shiflet, got there ahead o' me:
Rough Night in Innsmouth was written for a proposed anthology edited by the stalwart Robert M. Price. Unfortunately, there have been publishing problems having nothing to do with RMP. Here's the intro he wrote for Shiflet's tale:
Speaking of blasphemous miscegenation, who would ever think two sub-genres like Lovecraftian horror and Howardian "fightin' sailor" tales could prove genetically compatible? I, for one, would have believed it possible, if at all, only in the form of a parody. But then, I have been known (not necessarily by myself) to be wrong. And this was one of those times. For that is just what Ron Shiflet has managed to accomplish. The pugilistic narrator's pal "Dorgan" is obviously Robert E. Howard's character "Dennis Dorgan." adventures of Sailor Steve Costigan (which appeared in Fight Stories and Jack Dempsey's Fight Magazine), but there were too darn many of them for one pulp to use, so Howard sold a bunch to Magic Carpet Magazine, changing the hero's name to "Dennis Dorgan."
Howard's fighting sailors often boxed for money in seedy port towns they visited, and Lovecraft's Innsmouth was such a town, right? So why wouldn't they maintain similar diversions for visiting sailors? Surely they would, to keep them out of unsuspected trouble. Shiflet has taken some trouble to trace out the implications of a Lovecraftian town being rooted in a mundane countryside, on a mundane map. There had to be a buffer zone to keep necessary outsiders at a safe distance, and what would be going on in it? Lovecraft put a chain grocery store there, but there had to be more. One might think that, by this time, Innsmouth stories would have become pretty redundant, even hackneyed. But then we used to think that about vampire stories, too, and both are still going strong.
An excerpt from Fighter's Grudge, a Steve Costigan yarn...
He come out at the gong like a wildcat and had rammed a straight left to my wind and two straight rights to my face before I could get collected. I came back with a wicked right hook under the heart, and missed with the same hand for the jaw. He had evidently decided his straight right was his best ace, for he kept shooting it over my guard and inside my looping left hook. Enraged, I suddenly slipped it, let it go over my left shoulder, and crossed my left hard to his jaw.
He grunted, and I sank my right deep into his ribs before he could recover his balance. He fell into a desperate clinch and hung on, shaking his head to clear it. The referee broke us, and Bert, evidently infuriated, crashed a haymaking right swing to the side of my head which knocked me into the ropes on the opposite side of the ring. As I come out of them, still dizzy, he was on me like a enraged wildcat and lifted me clear off the floor with a slung-shot right uppercut. Now it was me that clinched and it took all the referee's strength to tear us apart...
Some Howard fans out there keep laboring under the notion that they love a semi-mythical REH character named "Dennis Dorgan". The truth is, they simply love Sailor Steve Costigan. "Dorgan" is just Costigan disguised in order to sell boxing sailor yarns to a rival pulp.
Jeffrey Shanks is a well-known REH scholar. He's a huge fan of the boxing yarns and has worked closely with other Howard scholars involved with Bob's boxing fiction such as Patrice Louinet, Mark Finn and Chris Gruber. Here's what he has to say about Sailor Steve and "Dorgan":
"Almost all Dennis Dorgans were converted Costigans. In fact, on the typescripts, Costigan's and Mike's names are just whited out and replaced with "Dorgan" and "Spike". But there is one that was written after the others were sold to Farnsworth Wright for Magic Carpet magazine that was Dorgan from the beginning."