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The Lesser Known Werewolf Stories of Conan The Barbarian's Creator Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard was an innovator in the werewolf subgenre.
As many are well aware, Robert E. Howard is best known as the pulp author who created Conan the Barbarian. Unfortunately, many assume that Conan was the only character who Howard created. Fans of the “man who walked alone” know that Howard wrote scores of different short stories and crosses many different genres.He created a variety of different characters such as King Kull and Solomon Kane. Howard was also a prolific action-adventure writer and even wrote several tales of bareknuckle boxers in the vein of the classic Charles Bronson film HARD TIMES.
Howard & Short Horror Fiction
Howard was equally a dedicated writer of horror tales having written well over 50 yarns of the macabre. In his horror works, Howard seemed to have an affinity for the werewolf as the legendary creature made several appearances in his stories. By today’s standards, the use of a werewolf in a horror tale would not be very out of the ordinary. However, Howard was writing these tales in the 1920’s long before the release of Universal’s THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON and THE WOLFMAN. For Howard to have knowledge of the legend of the werewolf he must have had access to research material covering the legends of the creature from the 17th and 18th centuries. Not very many people were knowledgeable about the werewolf myth at the time and the only well known novel featuring the creature was Guy Endure’s THE WEREWOLF OF PARIS. This novel was adapted in the film THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF by Hammer Films with the setting changed to Spain for no reason other than the fact they had already built sets for an unmade film about the Spanish Inquisition. Besides this work, there is not much of an early literary tradition for the werewolf as far as fiction is concerned. Folklore wise there are quite a number of works that deal with the werewolf. The quality of the works, as is the case with all genres and subgenres in pulp works, vary.
In the 1920’s, the rise of pulp magazines presented a great many works of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. Within these magazines, the werewolf would finally gain some exposure in works of fiction. Robert E. Howard’s works are among the better presentation of the werewolf in fiction.
“Wolfshead” is one of Howard’s most well known werewolf tales and it features the first of two appearances of a character named DeMontour deals with a man who has been cursed by a werewolf and now becomes a werewolf himself. While the tale takes place in Africa, the afflicted was cursed in France. Those with knowledge of the legend of the werewolf will make the connection to the legend of the Beast of Gévaudan.
Interestingly, this tale clearly mentions that the full moon can turn a man into a werewolf. Many sources note that it was Hollywood that created the concept of the moon turning a man into a wolf. Considering this work was produced many years before the Universal werewolf films this would note that Hollywood did not create the legend.(Wolfshead appeard in WEIRD TALES in 1925) Perhaps this concept of the moon turning a man into a wolf originated in Irish and Scottish myth which was were the origin of silver bullets derive.Robert E.Howard was of Irish descent so he may have come across werewolf legends in Irish folklore.
What is not common in folklore is the presentation of the werewolf as a tortured figure which is how the werewolf is presented in this tale and a very strange poem Howard would craft.
Up John Kane
“Up John Kane” is a bizarre and creepy poem that is an homage to the mythos of selling one’s soul to the devil to become a werewolf. In ancient myths, this was the common means of turning oneself in a werewolf as opposed to the later means described in Hollywood films.
The creepiest in the poem revolves around John Kane’s realization as to what he did and his newfound reluctance to actually become a werewolf. Of course, once you have made a pact with the devil there is no going back....
In both of these works, we see characters who are cursed by the werewolf which is a common symbolic theme of the werewolf that we see in many of the early films. In many ways, the concept of turning into a werewolf is symbolic of a man trapped in a life or a world he wants nothing to do with. Robert E. Howard definitely felt being trapped in his own personal life so it is no surprise he would find werewolf tales to be attractive subject matter.
A common myth in popular culture is that werewolves first emerged in the classic films made by Universal Studios. Once you read the early works of Robert E. Howard, you see the pulps were the true origin.