Pulp Author Spotlight: Robert E. Howard
This is a very well-known photograph of Robert E. Howard taken in 1934. According to his then-girlfriend Novalyne Price, he hated wearing a suit, tie, and hat, yet he went to a studio and had several photographs taken because she liked it when he dressed up. It’s ironic that a photo he may have admired least has become the Definitive Image of the author. This image is in the public domain, and may be found on countless Robert E. Howard websites, fan pages or book sleeves. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Recently I have been very interested in a set of authors from the 1920’s and 30’s who have been called the “Lovecraft Circle“. The reason they have been called this is because they are a set of authors who corresponded with H.P. Lovecraft and all wrote similar material, writing mostly in the pulp genre. Their works are diverse, yet their works are somewhat similar in that they write about subject matter that was frowned upon at the time, having a perception of cheap dime store novels.
Pulp novels were given this name because they were made from cheap pulp paper and were sold for very little. These writers, however, were very prolific and there exist many great books full of interesting characters, icons, and fantastic settings.
Recently there has been a resurgent interest in this genre, especially in comic books. Comic books usually are good gauges for pop culture shifts, usually on the cutting edge of what is coming to fiction. I don’t really consider myself as a pulp writer, but some of my future books could fit right in with the books written by the “Lovecraft Circle” of writers.
Each week I thought I would touch on a different writer in this list, so this week I thought I’d write about my favorite of the list: Robert E. Howard.
Conan the Buccaneer (Photo credit: Lonnie’s Life)
One might not recognize the name, but if we say “Conan”, immediately everyone understands who Robert E. Howard was. Many don’t know about the strange story of his life, and one only need look to Wikipedia for this, but I will not write a biography but I will simply comment on his life and what it means to me as a writer.
Howard lived in Texas, not far from my home in Oklahoma, and even though he never travelled far from his home he wrote of the amazing Kull the Conqueror and Conan the King/Barbarian, the lands of Cimmeria and Stygia. He was prolific, writing hundreds of stories, several novels, and was able to make a living from his craft. He died a tragic death, committing suicide after the death of his mother.
He invented the genre of sword and sorcery which is kept alive today in the works of George R.R. Martin. It is kept alive in film with screen adaptations of Conan’s exploits, and was very popular in the ’80’s after the first Conan film was a huge success. There have also been many video games that are definitely inspired by the works of Howard.
English: The Robert E. Howard Museum, the former home of Robert E. Howard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What inspires me about Robert E. Howard is that he was educated much like myself, graduating from high school and attending college for writing, and he worked very hard in a local culture that never really respected him, yet he wrote memorable characters and settings that stand the test of time. His books are still as relevant as they were in his day, even more so because he touched on themes and subjects that modern popular writers are currently exploring. From a small Texas town Robert E. Howard looked out on a hilly landscape as the mists formed across a field and dreamed up Cimmeria. His life teaches me that it doesn’t matter if you are well traveled, you can still write about fantastic places and settings, strange sorcerers and unearthly monsters, and heroes that thrill the soul from the comfort of a writing desk.
Imagination, after all, is the writer’s best ally. It is tragic that Howard faced such personal struggles that led to his death. I do not have any such foibles, and life is never too difficult that I would take my own life over it. I also have people in my life that ground me, and unfortunately Howard felt that after his mother’s death he did not.
I would encourage anyone who writes fantasy or science fiction to read Howard because he has a style that is unique and interesting, and there are always things we can learn from writers, especially of the caliber of Robert E. Howard.