Robert E. Howard - 105th birthday of Conan’s creator

Robert E. Howard - 105th birthday of Conan’s creator

On this day 105 years ago, Robert E. Howard, a writer blessed with a magnificent talent, was born in Peaster, Texas.

He was the only child of Dr. Isaac Mordecai Howard, a traveling physician, and Hester Jane Ervin Howard, a caring and loving mother who would play an important role in Howard's future. Young Robert's interest in writing and poetry was from the beginning nurtured in large part by his mother, who shared with her son a great passion for poetry and literature. Hester would encourage the boy to read a wide variety of literature. In the years that followed, she would offer both praise and support when Robert began writing his own stories and poems.

In school, he was a polite if somewhat reserved pupil, chafing with boredom and taking scant interest in the dry, repetitive lessons ladled out by his teachers. Robert's educational strategy was to do just well enough to satisfy his instructors with the least effort possible. Here his passion for freedom first surfaced and took possession of him. He developed a disdain for the discipline and mundane jobs forced upon him by others. He wanted to be his own master. Over the years, he worked at a variety of jobs, but routine labor distressed him. It was not the hard work he detested, but rather the fact that others determined what he had to do with his life. The desire to control his own destiny contributed to his passionate determination to succeed as a professional writer. Robert E. Howard became his own master, enjoying the fruits of his own labor, and living with a supreme satisfaction that no one could tell him what to do or when to do it.

Robert E. Howard's childhood was marked by frequent relocation due to his father's many migrations from one small Texas town to another. All those journeys across the warm Texas landscape brought the young Howard into contact with other migrants who were experiencing the chaotic and brief prosperity of boom towns that rapidly declined after the area was sucked dry of its oil. Young Robert eagerly listened to ghostly stories told by former slaves and the more evocative tales spun by his grandmother. As the years passed, Robert came to appreciate the strength and rough honesty of the people and the land itself.

As he explained in his letters to his friends, all those people, places and images he encountered on his journeys, all those lessons learned about society and civilization, became the inspiration for his characters, invented worlds, and fabulous tales. Howard described Conan's character as a mixture of oil-field roughnecks and other leather tough working men, both honest and otherwise, that Howard continued to encounter in the Texas oil patch over the years.

By 1928, he had finally succeeded in making a full time living with his writing. Howard's stories would be published in many Pulp magazines of the period (Weird Tales and the like). His creations would reach a broad, enthusiastic audience and he was proud of his success. Over the following years he created famous characters like Conan the Cimmerian, confidently tramping across the nations of Howard's Hyborian Age. Other remarkable protagonist included Bran Mak Morn, a pict in ancient Britain, Solomon Kane, a sombre puritan wanderer in a dark and twisted 16th Century Europe, and Kull of Atlanis, a great King living in an ancient world that predated even Conan's Hyborian Age. In addition, Howard created dozens of characters who existed in wonderfully rendered historical times. He was an amazingly versatile writer, who could spin yarns in all kinds of genres and master them all.

In the relatively brief time of his professional career, Howard published well over a hundred stories in different pulp magazines and even more poems. He is generally acknowledged as the father of the Sword and Sorcery genre, which continues to provide heroic inspiration for fantasy authors to this very day.

Howard's life was not free of heartache and tragedy, yet Howard channeled even his darkest anguish into his stories. He endured and prevailed, but at a huge personal cost that eventually demanded payment. On the night of the 11th of June, 1936 Howard succumbed to a deep depression, the tragic combination of his own darker impulses and a long series of emotionally painful experiences with which he could no longer cope. As he had often intimated in his bleakest poems, Robert E. Howard took his own life with a pistol borrowed from a friend.

In thirty brief years, Bob Howard played many parts. He was a good and caring son, a creative and imaginative teller of tales, and a loyal friend to many men and women who were privileged to know him. Howard lives on, his memory enshrined in his immortal characters and stories. With humble gratitude for his profoundly enduring legacy, we celebrate this 105th birthday of Robert Ervin Howard.

More on Robert E. Howard on the web