The Savage Worlds of Robert E. Howard
Best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Robert Ervin Howard was born in 1906 in the Texas town of Paster. He was interested in reading and writing from a very early age, he particularly enjoyed reading tales of the old west.
By the time REH reached his teen years the pulps were very popular, it was the heyday of Amazing Stories, Uknown Worlds, Adventure Magazine and other publications that offered a wave of new, innovative and imaginative fiction writers like Harold Lamb with his sweeping historical sagas, Gordon Young, with his two-fisted, globe-trotting warriors; and H. P. Lovecraft, with his dark, disturbing horror stories and their stark portrayals of unspeakable evil.
In 1925 REH sold his first story “Spear and Fang” to Lovecraft’s pulp home, Weird Tales. REH along with Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith would become known as Weird Tales magazine’s three greatest contributors.
REH’s stories were perfect for Weird Tales, they were action-packed, blood-drenched, imaginative and his prose vivid and harsh. He also wrote tales of horror in the Lovecraft mould. REH invented an army of vicious, pitiless warrior heroes, such as – the puritan Solomon Kane, Cormac Mac Art, Bran Mak Morn, the Atlantean King Kull and most popular of them all, Conan the Cimmerian.
Conan lived 12,000 years ago in the “Hyborian Age”, a time of giant serpents, sorcery, demons, voluptuous women and spectacularly gory violence. REH published 17 Conan stories in Weird Tales, the series written in non-chronological order, with Conan middle-aged in one story and a young man in the next. He might be a pirate on the high seas in one adventure and a mercenary, thief or even king in another.
The first Conan story was recycled from an unused King Kull adventure entitled "By this Axe I rule!", story elements were rearranged, names changed, new subplots thrown in and the title changed to "The Phoenix on the Sword", the short story was published in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales.
In his dreams REH sometimes saw himself as a barbarian in a primitive landscape and he would identify with his heroes, this immersion into that world helped bring his characters vividly to life on the page. For the reader the result were stories that might have an intense, hallucinatory force and yet felt strangely real.
REH would draw the reader right inside those barbaric, ancient landscapes, his typewriter capturing the splash of blood and the blinding glare of flashing steel. He described places that were at once familiar and bizarre, but also three dimensional and teeming with life.
Though REH was interested in fishing, hunting and drinking, he was not a typical Texas boy at all. With his daydreaming, wild imagination and brooding, he stood apart from the people of the town of Cross Plains, and was generally thought to be something of a weirdo among the locals.
REH was devoted to his mother. He was prone to bouts of depression and his mental health seemed to be faltering but it did not seem to slow down his writing. In the spring of 1936, Mrs. Howard became gravely ill and on the morning of June 11, sitting at his comatose mother’s bedside, REH was told by the doctor that his mother would never recover.
REH went to his workroom and wrote some lines of poetry, then walked outside to the family’s ’31 Chevrolet sedan. He took out a Colt .380 Automatic from the glove compartment, placed the barrel in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.
Robert E. Howard was 30 years old.
The last words he wrote were - “All fled, all done, so lift me on the pyre; The feast is over, and the lamps expire.”
H. P. Lovecraft, who was a pen pal of the young writer, sent words of tribute: “Scarcely anybody else in the pulp field had quite the driving zest and spontaneity of Robert E. Howard. How he could surround primal megalithic cities with an aura of aeon-old fear and necromancy. Weird fiction certainly has occasion to mourn.”
Robert E. Howard’s brief life’s work left a legacy that endures to this day. He practically invented the sword and sorcery genre and created it’s greatest hero. Conan has become as much a cultural icon as Tarzan, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes.
A complete bibliography along with cover art to all books and magazines featuring REH's stories are in the link below.
Movies based on characters from the stories of Robert E. Howard –
1982 – Conan the Barbarian – starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones and Max Von Sydow, directed by John Milus
1984 – Conan the Destroyer – starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones and Sarah Douglas, directed by Richard Fleischer.
1985 – Red Sonja – starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brigitte Nielsen, directed by Richard Fleischer.
1997 – Kull the Conqueror – starring Kevin Sorbo and Tia Carrere, directed by John Nicolella.
2009 – Solomon Kane – starring James Purefoy, Alice Krige and Max Von Sydow, directed by Michael J. Bassett.
2011 – Conan the Barbarian - starring James Momoa, Rachel Nichols and Stephen Lang, directed by Marcus Nispel.