I've been on another Robert E. Howard kick lately. The man's writing has influenced me directly for fifteen years. As of right now, I have a sword and sorcery novel that I plan on publishing at the end of the year and I have Dozens of books and over 130 stories later and he still draws me in.

My intro to him, as with most people of my generation, was through the 1982 Conan movie. Looking back, this movie gets the feel of ancient history intertwined in the Conan stories but gets the character wrong, turning him into an almost mute dope who stares at everything with his mouth open. Even as a kid, he seemed kind of an idiot to me. I still liked Conan to some degree but I didn't realize there was more depth to him.The movie has several highs, but the story really meanders.

It wasn't until 2008 when I really dived into Howard's actual work. I started with his horror tales "Old Garfield's Heart," "Pigeons from Hell," "Valley of the Lost," and "Horror from the Mound." I realized pretty quickly that he was a real storyteller. His narrative drive is relentless. I eventually read the Kull stories, the Solomon Kane stories, and eventually Conan. 2008 was truly the year of Weird Tales for me.

Howard still weaves a powerful spell on me, not just through his fiction but his letters and his life. He was a loner who wrote for hours on end and rarely dated (he had a girlfriend Novalyne Price Ellis, who wrote about him and remains a reliable source.) He was socially awkward, prone to strong depressive episodes, and was obsessed with reading. He would tell correspondents that as a young man during the summer, when school was out of session, that he would break into schools and take home books in a flour sack. To Lovecraft, he wrote, "In my passionate quest for reading material, nothing would have halted me but a bullet in the head." Of course I related to this guy.

He was the father of the sword and sorcery tale, wrote engaging westerns, horror, and historical fiction. He even wrote boxing stories, an abiding passion of his. He sold roughly a third of what he wrote (approximately 300 stories). He committed suicide at the age of 30. Too many people have attributed this to an assumed oedipal relationship with his mother who was dying at the same time. I think that is a copout for small dirty minds. I've read enough on him to know that there's no proof of that.

I embraced the theory that he took his mother's dying as the chance of being relieved of his obligation to take care of her and therefore take the opportunity to kill himself, something he talked about doing for years. Some people referred to him as crazy (director John Milius who directed Conan, for instance). L. Srague deCamp's bio Dark Valley Destiny helped to espouse that. Personally, I think deCamp was an editorial grave robber who bashed Howard when the opportunity presented itself while taking creative license with Conan for over twenty years. People credit him with keeping Conan alive but it wasn't all him. Don't tell me Frank Franzetta didn't contribute to Conan paperbacks selling like hotcakes.

Obviously, I have a lot to say. I'll be sharing more thoughts on Howard soon because I'm fixated on him again. With a body of work as large and diverse as his, it won't be too hard.

Written by Nicholas Montelongo

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