Why Does Robert E. Howard Still Matter?

Charles Gramlich has devoted tremendous time and energy in keeping the Robert E. Howard legacy alive, both by writing essays about the man and through his own Howard inspired fantasy series The Sword of Talera . Currently on his blog, Razored Zen, Charles has a couple of great posts about the nature of fantasy as a genre. I asked him if he would write a short post about why Howard still matters? While mature fans of genre may know the name, does he still matter to younger fans?

ROBERT E. HOWARD

The icon that is Conan by the late Frank Frazetta

They’ll tell you he created Conan the Barbarian, Kull the Conqueror, and Solomon Kane, and that he originated the genre called Sword and Sorcery.  They’ll tell you that he shot himself at age 30.  They’ll tell you about scores of pretty good comic books and several pretty lame movies based on his work.  What they seldom tell you is that Robert E. Howard could tell a tale like few others.

Listen:  “The clangor of the swords had died away, the shouting of the slaughter was hushed; silence lay on the red-stained snow.…  Across the red drifts and mail-clad forms, two figures glared at each other.  In that utter desolation only they moved.”

This is the opening to the Conan story, The Frost-Giant’s Daughter.  I don’t know about you, but it fires my imagination.  Two figures are left on a battlefield, and they are not friends.  I have to know what happens next.

Howard spent most of his childhood in Cross Plains, Texas.  Farming and oil were the major livelihoods in tiny Cross Plains, and Howard wasn’t interested in either.  He knew at an early age that he wanted to be a writer.  He grew up bookish and small, but built his body up by chopping wood until he became a man no one would bully.  And though he lived where few were interested in literature, he still made a living from writing.  In fact, during his last years Howard made more money than anyone in Cross Plains, including the banker.

Howard killed himself in 1936.  His mother, chronically ill through most of Robert’s life, was on her own deathbed.  When it became clear that she’d never regain consciousness, Howard took a borrowed pistol to his car and shot himself in the head.  Mother and son were buried the same day.

The tragedy of Howard’s suicide, caused by a combination of depression and the mental and physical exhaustion brought on by his unceasing care of his dying mother, started rumors that have persisted to this day that Robert Howard was crazy.  As a psychologist myself, I can tell you it isn’t true.  He was tired, very tired, and maybe he wasn’t thinking straight.  But he wasn’t insane.   

the man himselfThe reason Howard’s work remains popular is because he was truly ahead of his time.  His work is fast paced and full of action.  His scenes carry strong emotions; his characters are vivid.  Almost all of his work, from Conan to his horror tales, are in print.  Just check your local Borders or Barnes and Noble, or search online.  You won’t be sorry.

People interested in joining the Robert E. Howard community might find this web site of interest.

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