ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Conan the Barbarian's Creator Trades Swords for Gloves, Bare-Knuckles, and Iron Men: Boxing Tales by Robert E. Howard

Updated on November 30, 2016

Robert E. Howard is a name even readers with just a passing interest in fantasy books have heard of. Even those who are not familiar with the author do know the name of his legendary creation, Conan the Barbarian. Conan might be Howard's most popular and iconic hero but, by Crom, Howard did craft numerous other memorable characters such as Solomon Kane, King Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Sailer Steve Costigan, Breckinridge Elkins, and more.

Although Howard left this world while still in his early 30's (of a tragic suicide), the author was a prolific writer of "yarns" for scores of pulp magazines of the era. Not all pulp fiction is part of the crime or science-fiction genre. And not all Robert E. Howard stories are fantasy works. He also wrote westerns, historical pieces, horror, and even sports0themed pieces.

The sports works often focused on one his favorite exercise activities: boxing. The only thing Howard seemed to enjoy more than fencing was a little pugilism. Howard was no nebbish writer. He liked physical things and he enjoyed boxing. During his life, Robert E. Howard drew inspiration from the sport and wrote around two-dozen boxing tales.

One decade ago, Bison Books released a collection of the author's boxing tales under its complete Howard collection. Titled, appropriately, Boxing Stories (The Works of Robert E. Howard), the stories present the "daydreaming manliness" Howard was so fond.

Of those works, Iron Men is considered one of Howard's best boxing tales.

Boxing and the Plight of the Working Man

" Many a fighter stumbles through life and never learns anything, simply because of an ignorant or negligent manager."

That is what Steve Amber says to himself when he approaches journeyman fighter Mike Brennon about a management deal at the beginning of Iron Men. Brennon turns it down. He's done with fighting. Of course, all that changes and the working man's fighter finds his way to Amber's training camp in due time.

The fight camp is hardly a Beverly Hills spa.

Howard's work does not make any attempts at making the old-time boxing profession out to be a glamorous fantasy world. His fighters are tough guys who are down on their luck. Brennon only chooses to take Amber up on his management offer because he flat out needs the money.

"Stumbling through life" is a pointed choice of words. Journeyman do not exactly enjoy stable employment.

The down-and-out nature of the main fighter-character has the feel of a tired blue collar worker who is struggling to get by. The short story shares thematic and plot similarities to the Charles Bronson film Hard Times (1975) all the way down to the manager/fighter relationship.

In his own life, Howard enjoyed writing professionally because it afforded him the freedom to live his life the way he wanted. For extra money, he did work odd jobs in the rural Texas community in which he lived, but Howard earned his primary annual income from selling tales to the pulps. The author didn't like to live by the constraints and rules of society. Writing provided him with freedom and a living, albeit a meager one. Howard was able to experience both escapism and relive his plight through his characters. The boxer Brennon is evocative of the free man Howard yearned to be.

Like Brennon, Howard was known to toil and struggle over his craft. At least in this particular work of fiction, all the struggles of the character do pay off. Not in the most glamourous of ways, but something is achieved through the difficult effort.

Honing the Craft with Sweat and Prose

Brennon does follow a workman's like approach to learning the craft of boxing. Amber realizes that Brennon is not a natural talent. He is a slugger, a tough guy. Brennon can survive in the ring out of sheer toughness and beat unskilled foes, but he cannot rise to the level of a truly talented boxer. Rather than give up on Brennon, Amber and his trainer work on developing Brennon's skill. Brennon serves as the eager student and works hard at honing his craft.

And the reader of the 1920's gets a true glimpse of boxing training, something not seen by eyes that never ventured into a small-time, early 20th century boxing gym. Although this particular work is not as dark or as gritty as other boxing fables crafted by Howard, the essence of the hard work and little reward associated with the sport is brought to life in Howard's prose.

Brennon does win his first fight under Amber's management. Not because he is a great boxer, but because he is an "iron man", a tough guy with a strong jaw who can slug it out. He's a working class hero. Don't look for him to be an iconic fighter. Look for him to survive to fight another day.

Brennon's words not the mix of hope and hopelessness in his situation:

"I've failed at everything else I've tried. As for boxing, the crowd dazes me, for one thing. But that isn't all. I just can't remember what to do next, and have to struggle through the best way I can....But I can take it! That's my one hope."

Those are the words of the recurrent everyman's theme of the tale.

The Brutal, Inglorious Path to Fame

Howard's characters had a drive to them that surely was rooted in the author's own personal dreams and aspirations. Again, Howard did try to live through his characters.

For Iron Mike Brennon, he now has a chance to be someone. He wishes to make something of himself and put the memories of life in an orphanage as a child and a "hobo" during his younger days behind him. Brennon's only chance at being something is going out and repeating his "iron man" performance - take one brutal beating after another with the hope of scoring a lucky punch and a lucky win.

He does this and becomes a star...and suffers massive beatings fight after fight as a result.

Brennon fought and fought and fought. And he made a lot of money doing so. Remembering his days of poverty, Brennon saved his money. He lived as if he had none, living in the gym as if he was a pauper. The money earned from fighting became his nest egg. Not having money during his life led him to valuing it greatly.

Money may not even have been the motivation for his fighting. A vicious his beatings were, Brennon achieved fame experiencing them. The pain made him known to the public and, for the first time in his life, it made him feel alive.

Is there another reason why he fights? And is he really saving all his money in a miserly way? Answering those questions would spoil a major plot point in the story so no answers are going to be forthcoming here.

The story does have a bittersweet and very Howard-esque positive-but-not-happy ending. There is an ambiguity to the ending and the work certainly does not conclude with Brennon experiencing a perfect finale to his career. Still, the short ends with a renewed hope for the future and the tale never leaves the blue-collar realism Howard crafts from the very beginning.

Although not the most popular of Howard's works, Iron Men is still well worth reading,


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)