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ROBERT ERVIN HOWARD

I have lived in the Southwest all my life, yet most of my dreams are laid in cold, giant lands of icy wastes and gloomy skies, and of wild, wind-swept fens and wilderness over which sweep great sea-winds, and which are inhabited by shock-headed savages with light fierce eyes. With the exception of one dream, I am never, in these dreams of ancient times, a civilized man. Always am I the barbarian, the skin-clad, tousle-haired, light-eyed wild man, armed with a rude ax or sword, fighting the elements and wild beasts, or grappling with armored hosts marching with the tread of civilized discipline, from fallow fruitful lands and walled cities. This is reflected in my writings, too, for when I begin a tale of old times, I always find myself instinctively arrayed on the side of the barbarian, against the powers of organized civilization.
                                                                     --
Robert Ervin Howard

 

Conan the Barbarian, the hero created by Robert E. Howard, has no equal in the realms of the Sword and Sorcery/Horror genre. Born in Peaster, Texas in 1906, he was the son of one of the southwest's most prominent pioneer physicians, and was an imposingly tall, dark, brawny man with piercing blue eyes.  He was a literary pioneer, the first author of serialized fiction to ever earn a living as a full-time writer. 

Howard worked at a number of odd jobs after graduating from high school, for his writing at this early period brought in only meager income. He worked in a law office as a private secretary, packed a rod for a geologist, wrote up oil field news for various newspapers, as a public stenographer and finally in a drugstore. In the fall of 1926, discouraged with his lack of success at writing, he enrolled in a bookkeeping course at Howard Payne College in Brownwood.

He began writing his yarns at the young age of 15, tales of savage men living outside the rest of society, battling against other men, for land and pride. Though the plots, situations, and settings changed, the hero, or anti-hero, was always somehow reflective of Howard himself--part savage, part nobleman, part poet, and part pioneer.  His characters were both terrifying and seductive, and were an immediate sensation with the readers of
Weird Tales.  His work was published for the first time when he was 18 years old.  It was in his teen years that Howard created the character of Solomon Kane, Howard's personification of relentless, cold, bloody nobility, an English Puritan swashbuckler and redresser of wrongs.

Though Conan, Howard's personification of his own potential for raw, passionate savagry, is his most famous creation, most of his best writing is found in his other tales, amongst them genuinely chilling stories like
Worms of the Earth and Black Canaan. Howard's obvious knowledge of history added a depth which many of his imitators lack (compare a Howard Conan story with any of the Tor Conan series, or even the tales by L. Sprague De Camp).

To this date, surprisingly little is known about the private Robert Howard. Only one of his pulp fiction contemporaries ever met Howard; his mother, the somewhat obsessive focal point of his life, died shortly after his death; he never married, nor had children to carry on his legacy; most of those whom he considered his closest friends have since died. There is only Novalyne Price-Ellis, the only woman other than his mother who had a glimpse into the true nature of this larger-than-life spinner of yarns.  Her book,
One Who Walked Alone, is a loving portrayal, dramatically different from the crazed, borderline psychopathic person characterized in most Howard biographies.  I definitely recommend the movie based on this book to anyone.  The movie is called "The Whole Wide World" and stars VINCENT D'ONOFRIO as Robert E. Howard and RENEE ZELLWEGER (Empire Records) as Novalyne Price.  The REHupa site has an excellent collection of WAVs from the movie.  The film won BEST PICTURE & BEST ACTOR 1996 at the Seattle Film Festival, BEST ACTRESS 1996 at the Mar De Plata Film Festival, BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY 1996 at Fort Lauderdale Film Festival, BEST BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMER for Renee' Zellweger for the "Whole Wide World" and  "Jerry Maguire" 1996 by the National Board of Review.

Robert E. Howard only wrote one novel, "The Hour of the Dragon."  It was intended to be published in England, but the publisher Pawling & Ness Ltd. went into receivership in 1934, so the story was sold to
Weird Tales and serialized.  It has since been published in novel form under its original title and the title "Conan the Conquerer".  His other stories were all short stories or poems.  He wrote westerns, boxing stories, and, of course, fantasy and historical fiction.

Howard was having an all-time high in sales by the beginning of 1936, with his work appearing regularly in
Weird Tales and Action Stories, the Kirby O'Donnell and Francis X. Gordon (El Borak) adventure series appearing in Street & Smith's titles, and a new series of risque tales under a pseudonym in Spicy Adventure Stories.  Howard's letters to correspondents during this time indicated his growing worry over his mother's state of health. In 1935 Mrs. Howard had undergone surgery at the King's Daughters Hospital at Temple, Texas; she never fully regained her health, and from then on required visits to regular medical facilities and intensive nursing care.

On the morning of June 11, 1936, Robert E. Howard was told his mother would never emerge from her coma. He walked to his car, parked to the side rear of the home on the outskirts of Cross Plains, got in and fired a bullet into his brain.  He died eight hours later; Mrs. Howard expired some thirty hours afterward.  Both were interred at Greenleaf Memorial Cemetary at Brownwood after a double funeral was held.

Regardless of whether Howard was insane, or just an eccentric artist, Howard is, in my opinion, the greatest pulp writer of all time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
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