Sunday, January 22, 2006

Happy 100th, REH

Today, the 22nd of January, would have marked the 100th birthday of author Robert E. Howard (1906-1936). A phenomenal writer from the pulp-era, REH is best known as the creator of that iconic fantasy character, Conan of Cimmeria. Probably 98% of his extensive output (well over a million words from his first sale in 1925 until his death in 1936) were short stories -- action-adventure, sports, westerns, supernaturals, fantasy, and historical. He wrote only one full-length novel featuring his popular barbarian, Conan (Hour of the Dragon). Like Tolkien and epic fantasy, REH is credited with the creation of the sub-genre of heroic fantasy -- sometimes called sword-and-sorcery fiction. He borrowed liberally from history and myth to create his Hyborian Age, an epoch 10,000 years before recorded history, which became the stomping ground of Conan, who began his career as a thief and ended it as a king. REH used the stories, and many others besides, to explore his own theories about the nature of civilization versus barbarism and to promote the idea of the Noble Savage.

I first encountered REH in my brother's library (he had the patience of Job, my oldest brother . . . we pilfered his paperbacks relentlessly; he'd growl, but he'd never ban us from borrowing). I read my first Conan tale around age 8 or 9. As they're highly addictive, I finished the whole 12 volume Ace edition by age 12, then went back and started rereading them. Today, I own only a fraction of his work -- the Conan stories, his historicals and adventure tales (my favorite being the el-Borak series of desert adventures), and some of his supernaturals. I count him as one of the primary reasons I'm a writer. Indeed, Men of Bronze was originally begun as what's called a 'pastiche Conan', the kind of story Robert Jordan got his start writing.

So, tonight, I raise a toast to the shade of REH, who has probably set as many aspiring authors on the road to publication as Hemingway ever did. I know this one owes him a tremendous debt of gratitude.


International-Man-Of-Mystery said...

"He was a man," said Conan. "I drink to his shade, and to the shade of the dog, who knew no fear." He quaffed part of the wine, then emptied the rest upon the floor, with a curious heathen gesture, and smashed the goblet. "The heads of ten Picts shall pay for his, and seven heads for the dog, who was a better warrior than many a man."

Gabriele C. said...

Why does everyone hate the poor Picts? :-)

I like Howard as a fun read, but it was other writers who made me start on my own. Tolstoy and Thomas Mann are on that list (odd as it sounds), and Dumas, Sir Walter Scott, and Rosemary Sutcliff.

Mary Stella said...

Scott, the things you know amaze me!

Wynn Bexton said...

When you get time, check my other blog at

You've been tagged!