Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Daily Dose of Literature: Robert E. Howard

Robert E. Howard

Time to address the elephant in the room! We've covered Lovecraft and Burroughs, but what about the man who was once called "The greatest pulp writer in the whole wide world?" We're talking about none other than the creator of such luminary characters as Conan the Barbarian, Sailor Steve Costigan, Solomon Kane, Kull the Conqueror, Bran Mak Morn, El Borak and more: Robert E. Howard. Between the mid-1920s and up until decades after his untimely death in 1936, Robert E. Howard was leaving an indelible mark on not only the pulps, but on genre fiction in general. He is thought of as the father (or grandfather) of heroic fantasy. While not as well known or spoken of as Prof. Tolkien, Howard's tales of Kull and Conan were some of the earliest forms of sword and sorcery literature to see print, and have had just as much influence. Indeed, in some way Howard's work has influenced directly or indirectly almost every fantasy writer to come along since.

Howard was a huge history buff and though self-educated, was well-informed on the various popular, accepted and fringe theories of history of the day. He adopted several of these (particularly fringe ideas) in his crafting of lost ages of humankind and his ideas of racial memories that influenced later characters in his fiction. He was especially concerned with the idea of civilization vs. barbarism, often coming down heavily on the side of the latter and believing that civilization was by and large a series of interruptions between periods of barbarism.

He is perhaps most famous for his friendship and correspondence of H.P. Lovecraft, who thought very highly of Howard and his writing, and indeed wrote a famed obituary of Howard when Howard passed.

It takes volumes to get into the details of Howard's life; suffice it to say it was as interesting as the stories he wrote. His fiction alone is worth exploring if you have not; much of it is in the public domain and there's a reason why he has had such an effect on writers and genre fiction to this day.

Some of the best books about Howard:

Price-Ellis, Novalyne. One Who Walked Alone: Robert E. Howard, The Final Years. Donald M. Grant, 1986. Amazon Link

Finn, Mark. Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard. The Robert E Howard Foundation Press, 2006, 2011, 2013. Amazon Link

Robert E. Howard's Fiction on Feedbooks (available in PDF, Kindle or EPUB formats, for free!)

After you've read up on Howard, if you've got the itch for some gritty, high action fantasy, historical or general pulp gaming, check out Amazing Adventures