Robert E. Howard

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Robert Ervin Howard (January 22, 1906June 11, 1936) was a writer of fantasy and historical adventure pulp stories published mainly in Weird Tales magazine in the 1930s.

Early life

Howard was born in Peaster, Texas, the son of Dr. Isaac Mordecai Howard and Hester Jane Ervin Howard. His family had lived in various places in south, east and west Texas, as well as western Oklahoma, before settling in Cross Plains in central Texas in 1919.

He began to write at age 15, and was first published four years later when his story Spear and Fang appeared in the July 1925 edition of Weird Tales. Many more of his stories were published in Weird Tales and he had his first 'cover' in 1926.

Writing

Howard wrote stories in many genres, but his most famous were sword and sorcery, a genre of fantasy based on war, fighting and magic. Indeed, many consider him the father of the genre in the same way that J. R. R. Tolkien is considered the father of epic fantasy. He created one of the most popular of all fantasy characters in the barbarian warrior Conan, who first appeared in The Phoenix on the Sword in December 1932. To add realism and depth to his new character Howard developed the fictional Hyborian Age. His other characters include the Atlantean King Kull, the Puritan adventurer Solomon Kane, the Pict Bran Mak Morn, and the female warriors Dark Agnes de la Fere and Red Sonya of Rogatino, the latter the prototype for the better known Red Sonja of Marvel Comics fame.

Another field in which he was successful was supernatural horror, where he borrowed heavily from his peer and correspondent Howard Phillips Lovecraft, adding his own trademarks of quickly paced action and strong characterization. His original creations like the forbidden tome Nameless Cults by Friedrich von Junzt are now considered 'canon' in the Cthulhu Mythos.

Howard also wrote in other genres:

Howard envisioned almost all of his sword-and-sorcery stories to take place in the same literary 'universe', starting with the prehistoric adventures of James Allison's pre-incarnations, evolving in the Valusian saga of Kull, then moving forward to the times of Atlantis and Lemuria (from where Kathulos/Skull Face comes), onward to the Hyborian Age of Conan and then to known history.

Howard engineered his tales so that a great Cataclysm always came to seal and divide each era from the next one, so each civilization was barely conscious of the ones that came before, and even then only in myths and legends (for example Allison's slaying of the 'Great Worm' provided us with the myths of Siegfried and Beowulf).

In one of the most memorable Howardian tales ever (Kings of the Night) a cross-over between different sagas is presented as the Pictish chieftain Bran Mak Morn magically conjures Kull the Valusian from his time to aid him in battle against the Romans and their allies.

Howard's prose is straightforward, colorful, and exciting more than subtle and literary, and it attempts to entertain rather than instruct, but it is not without sophistication. Howard tells of worlds where violence is usually the best solution to problems, and where gold, jewels, and beautiful women are often the hero's reward; yet, distancing himself from the more pedestrian emulators and epigons Howard's works have a shade of macabre, even malignant humour in contrasting his square jawed heroes' efforts with their ultimate futility in the greater pciture of things, and yet, as true Nietzscheans heroes, they accept their toil of suffering, bloodshed, passion and pain without even lamenting or complaining about it, thus achieving ultimate freedom from it.

"Although he had his faults as a writer, Howard was a natural storyteller, whose narratives are unmatched for vivid, gripping, headlong action. His heroes... are larger than life: men of mighty thews, hot passions, and indomitable will, who easily dominate the stories through which they stride. In fiction, the difference between a writer who is a natural storyteller and one who is not is like the difference between a boat that will float and one that will not. If the writer has this quality, we can forgive many other faults; if not, no other virtue can make up for the lack, any more than gleaming paint and sparkling brass on a boat make up for the fact that it will not float." L. Sprague De Camp

Howard corresponded with other pulp authors of the day, such as H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith.

On June 11, 1936 at around 8 o'clock in the morning, after learning his tubercular mother was unlikely to regain consciousness from her coma, Howard settled into the front seat of his car with a borrowed .38 Colt automatic and shot himself in the head. He never recovered consciousness, and died at 4 o'clock that day. His mother died the following day, and they shared a funeral on June 14th. Both are buried in Greenleaf Cemetery in Brownwood.

On the morning of June 11th, 1936, Howard wrote this poem, which was found typed on a strip of paper in his billfold in his hip pocket:

All fled—all done, so lift me on the pyre—
The Feast is over, and the lamps expire.

(This couplet, once thought to be a paraphrase from Ernest Dowson's poem "Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae," is actually from a little-known poem entitled "The House Of Cæsar" by Viola Garvin.)

External links

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