As far as I know, there aren’t any Howard Anniversaries this year. If there are, they’ve slipped my mind. I usually read something by an author whose birthday I’m posting about. The problem is all the Howard stories I want to read or reread are too long given the time available. I’d still be reading them on C. L. Moore’s birthday (two days after Howard’s).
Instead, I’m going to do something a little different.
Howard was born on January 22, 1906. One hundred twelve years ago. The world has changed a lot since then.
Many of the roads Howard knew, if they still exist, are paved now. Cars are much faster. They’re also air conditioned, as are most houses in Texas. That’s something he would appreciate, I’m sure. Howard was interested in radio technology, but I doubt he could have imagined how much radio would have evolved. As for television and internet, I’m sure he would be amazed. I think he would have taken to the internet like Conan took to battle. I’m going to steal a line from Mark Finn and say, can you imagine Howard and Lovecraft on Facebook?
There are a lot of things Howard would probably be quite enthusiastic about that didn’t exist in his day. But I think there would be some things he wouldn’t.
Take the idea of safe spaces, for instance. I think Howard would despise the idea of a safe space. I mean, c’mon, think about it. This is the guy who argued that barbarism is the natural state of mankind. In his work, especially the Conan stories, he’s always contrasting Conan’s ethics with those of the more civilized people he encounters. Usually civilization does come off looking so good. Howard’s heroes (and heroines) did not try to hide from danger. They stood their ground. And that’s if they didn’t seek danger out in the first place. Safe spaces are the most effete thing you can come up with.
Can you see Solomon Kane going to his safe space when evil rears its head? Conan telling Belit she was making him uncomfortable with her dance? Sailor Steve Costigan apologizing for hurting someone’s feelings? Bran Mak Morn worrying about whether or not his policies were Rome-ophobic?
Howard’s characters would not fit in well in today’s politically correct world. They were direct. They said what they thought. They weren’t worried about who was offended or if anyone disagreed with them.
Maybe that’s why I find Howard’s characters so refreshing. They had spines. They lived by their own codes and didn’t let society force them into a milquetoast mold.
Howard refused to let the society he lived in force him into a mold. He struggled, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to be his own man. He lived by his own code, and while his code is not quite my code, it was one I can admire. Furthermore, he incorporated that code into his work. And in doing so he gave us some of the most enduring characters in some of the greatest works of literature of the 20th Century.
And for that I raise my glass to him on the anniversary of his birth.