Robert E. Howard: Creator of Conan and Master of Pulp Fiction

Robert E. Howard, born on January 22, 1906, in Peaster, Texas, was an American author who revolutionized the genre of pulp fiction. Best known as the creator of the iconic character Conan the Barbarian, Howard’s stories of high adventure, fantasy, and horror continue to captivate audiences worldwide.

Early Life and Influences

Robert Ervin Howard was the only child of Dr. Isaac Mordecai Howard, a country physician, and his wife, Hester Jane Ervin Howard. He spent most of his life in the small but oil-rich town of Cross Plains, Texas. Howard’s experiences in this rural, rough-and-tumble environment played a significant role in shaping his writing.

From an early age, Howard displayed an affinity for storytelling. He began writing stories as a child, often inspired by the tales of historical battles and frontier adventures told by his mother and grandmother. These tales kindled in Howard a love for history and a fascination with the concept of the hero, elements that would later become central to his writing.

Career and Works

In the 1920s and 30s, Howard became a prolific contributor to pulp magazines, a popular form of entertainment featuring short stories of adventure, romance, and mystery. His first published story, “Spear and Fang,” appeared in the July 1925 issue of a pulp magazine called “Weird Tales.”

Over the next decade, Howard wrote hundreds of stories spanning various genres. However, he is best remembered for his contributions to the genre of Sword and Sorcery, which he effectively created with his tales of Conan the Barbarian. These stories, set in the mythical “Hyborian Age,” combined elements of fantasy, history, and horror to create a rich, vibrant world filled with magic, monsters, and high adventure.

Key points from Howard’s career include:

  • The creation of Conan the Barbarian, one of the most enduring characters in the genre of fantasy.
  • The development of the Sword and Sorcery genre, blending elements of adventure, fantasy, and horror in a unique and compelling manner.
  • His contributions to other genres, including westerns, boxing stories, and horror.

Despite his success, Howard struggled with personal demons. He suffered from depression, a condition exacerbated by the illness of his mother, to whom he was extremely close. Tragically, Howard took his own life in June 1936 at the age of 30.

Legacy and Influence

Although his life was tragically short, Robert E. Howard left an indelible mark on the world of literature. His stories, particularly those featuring Conan, have been translated into numerous languages, adapted into comics, films, and television series, and have inspired countless authors.

As Stephen King said, “Howard was the Thomas Wolfe of fantasy, and most of his Conan tales seem to almost fall over themselves in their need to get out.”

Howard’s influence extends beyond his own works. His creation of the Sword and Sorcery genre paved the way for authors like Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, and George R.R. Martin. His impact on popular culture can be seen in everything from Dungeons & Dragons to video games like World of Warcraft.

In conclusion, Robert E. Howard’s legacy is a testament to the power of storytelling. His vivid imagination, unique style, and commitment to his craft resulted in stories that continue to entertain and inspire. As we celebrate his contributions to literature, we honor not just the creator of Conan the Barbarian, but a master of pulp fiction whose influence continues to resonate in the world of fantasy and beyond.

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