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The Robert E. Howard Home Phototgraphy by Phil Diederich, Animated GIF by Rafael Kayanan

Notes Towards a Biography of
Robert E. Howard

RE: Dark Valley Destiny (a 1984 note): Parts of this book are enjoyable, but I do wish that there had been 50 less pages on Howard's supposed mental problems, and maybe 100 more pages about his writing -- oh well! Howard was some kind of genius -- I don't doubt that at all, and if so many of his lesser works hadn't been published I think more people would believe so too.

The Man and His Work

Robert E. Howard was born on January 22, 1906, in the small town of Peaster, Texas. The only son of a country doctor, young Howard lived in several small Texas towns before his family finally settled in Cross Plains.

Deciding in his mid-teens to become a professional writer, Howard attaacked this chosen field whole-heartedly and had made his first sale before the age of 20.

Although his writing appeared in many magazines and covered many genres, he is best remembered for his fantasy and horror writing, especially that which graced the pages of Weird Tales magazine. In the pages of that magazine, readers encountered Solomon Kane, King Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Turlogh Dubh of the clan na O'Brien . . . and finally Conan the Barbarian.

During his lifetime this prolific author reached an impressive peak, in regards to being a commercial, financial success. The realization of this is contrary to what some critics maintain, that he achieved no real success until the '70s.

While the Howard boom of the late '70s was quite impressive, and maybe even a high-point of Howard sales, he did achieve considerable success while yet alive. There can be no doubt that he was a commercially successful author during his late 20s. In the years 1934-1935-1936 in particular Howard achieved many sales (i.e.: had many of his stories published), surpassing the median income for the nation.

When critics speak of Howard's career, they often speak of it as just beginning at the time of his death, or about to begin, or, worse yet, as merely showing the promise of beginning. This is patently not true. Howard's career was well underway, and enjoying a sustained streak, when he chose to end his life.

As a mark of his success, let's look at an excerpt from "Burkett News" a cloumn in the Texas newspaper, The Coleman Democrat-Voice (April 25, 1935), as reprinted in The Howard Collector #2, Spring 1962.

The feature quotes at length from another newspaper feature, "Under the Reading Lamp," that appeared in The Republic, the newspaper of Palouse, Washington. The importance of this article cannot be understated: During Howard's lifetime, a newspaper half a continent away, takes the time and column space to praise his writing. This is a sure sign of success.

This article reads as follows:

It is seldom we pause in this column to consider an author aside from some particular novel he has written, but in this case we pause to compliment an author who never, to our knowledge, has written a book.

Robert E. Howard, instead of novels, has turned his typewriter in the direction of novelettes and short stories, since we have had the pleasure of reading his output. And pleasure it has been, to the extent that we, in common with a growing percentage of the reading public will purchase any magazine in which his name appears with the table of contents.

Mr. Howard, for all his lack of longer stories and novels, has a command of the English language that can only be termed "vivid". While his stories are primarily action stories, with a setting of the odd and usually supernatural for background, his characters are one of the things that makes his stories stand out from the ordinary run of action. His characters are living men and breathing women, and so well are they portrayed that before the story is finished the reader feels more than a speaking acquaintance with each.

Mr. Howard usually approaches his storis from the racial standpoint, if one may call it that. That is, humanr aces, and especially those of long ago, are often the subject of his stories. He frequently places his characters and actions somewhere in the dim and uncertain past, perhaps shortly after the destruction of fabled Mu and brings those unhistorical, perhaps, but interesting times to lifeagain in a most entertaining manner.

At present Mr. Howard's writings are usually confined to the better class of magazines called "pulps", and from which, we venture to predict, he will climb to national recognition in much the same way that Raphael Sabatini did.

Indeed there is considerable likeness between the two writers. Both write in a fluid, fluent style, both are able to build a sometimes complicated, but always entertaining plot, both are fond of going into the past for their settings and material, and lastly, both write blood-and-thunder action stories.

In case of an idle hour to spend enjoyable under the Reading Lamp, we can think of nothing more enjoyable than a magazine with one of Robert E. Howard's stories therein. Give him a trial.

Although the economic data recorded back in the thirties is nowhere near as complete as that kept today, it is easy to extrapolate that especially during the years 1934-1935-1936, Howard was probably making well over the median income of his day, perhaps even double that figure.

And then there's the fact that, during the height of the Great Depression, Howard bought a brand new car and paid cash for it! Now that is success!

Clearly Robert E. Howard was a successful writer in his lifetime! S, we respectfully remind our readers, when you see a critic demean Howard's career, especially in regard to what he achieved in his own lifetime, that that critic is putting forth an opinion unsupported by facts, and, in fact, may be pursuing a personal vendetta that includes belittling Howard's career in an effort to elevate that of the critic.

Howard was a life-long victum of very severe and chronic Depression, and would have ended his life much sooner had he not felt that his Mother needed him. She had consistently supported him in his efforts to become a professional writer, and this had strengthened the already strong Mother-Son ties they shared. As she lay on her death-bed, he finally put an end to his own misery.

Howard's story does not end there -- or rather the story of his work doesn't end there. Following his death, the magazines he sold to eventually published all their backlog of Howard material, with many stories being reprinted. It seemed as though some fanzine was always publishing at least one of his poems

Eventually in the late '40s Arkham House issued its first Howard collection, Skull-Face and Others. This was followed by the Conan stories in hardcover in the '50s and paperbacks in the '60s. During this time many of his stories were being reprinted in the fantasy magazines of their day. In the '60s, paperbacks of Hwoard's other work also appeared: Almuric (which appeared before the Lancer Conans), King Kull, Wolfshead and Bran Mak Morn.

Many Howard paperback and hardcover books were published in the '70s, including many previously unpublished pieces. Although the Howard boom seemed to be over by the early '80s many small press appearances of his work still surfaced.

Until the mid-'90s, Howard publishing was more spare, but that seems to have been set right over the past five years.

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