Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Howard. For someone who wrote for the pulps, which were considered by many to be barely above subliterate trash during their heyday, he’s got a remarkable legacy.
His books are still being reprinted, with new ones coming out on a regular basis. Howard has been the subject of multiple biographies. A foundation has been formed in his name that gives a scholarship to a graduating senior each year. His work has been adapted to film. (Okay, not necessarily adapted well or faithfully, but it at least has been adapted.) He wrote some of the seminal works in the field of sword and sorcery, works that have been widely imitated for decades. And his collected letters reveal a young man whose mind and imagination were too big for the narrow confines of his small Texas town.
How many best-sellers from his era can you name beyond the obvious ones of Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Parker, and Hemingway? How many works of “serious literature” that bravely explore “the human condition” and promote social justice from as little as ten years ago, never mind two or three decades back, are still in print or even remembered?
Howard wrote with a passion, but then there weren’t many things Howard didn’t approach passionately, at least things he chose rather than had thrust on him, such as nonwriting jobs. His ideas and passions came through in his writing. That’s part of what makes so much of his work, whether fiction or poetry or correspondence, both fun and deep. Too many of today’s crusaders for [insert cause du jour here] need to take some time and study Howard’s works and see how it’s done. Howard communicates things like his views on barbarism, civilization, honor, loyalty, etc., clearly and unambiguously without ever interfering with his narrative or throwing the reader out of his story. Would that we had more like him writing today.
So take a moment today and remember him. Raise a glass in his honor. Spend some time in one of his worlds. With snow overnight and more expected for the rest of the day, I’ll read some more in Swords of the North myself. It’s a fitting day to immerse myself in that Northern thing.
Howard Andrew Jones has posted a solid tribute here.