Greetings from the Odinson,
The 1980s was the Golden Age of fantasy.
And, right at the forefront of it all for the Odinson was Conan the Barbarian.
These are seminal names in the history of popular fiction, and they were all created by Robert E. Howard. I have read Conan comic books my entire life, but when it comes to Robert E. Howard, the Odinson is by no means an expert on the man’s biography or bibliography. I am, however, a fan of the man’s work, and becoming a bigger fan with each passing day.
I saw the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian starring Arnold Schwarzenegger at an age that might be deemed a bit too young (Ah, the wonders of early ‘80s late night HBO) which led me immediately to the comic books. For many years, Conan’s home was at the House of Ideas and Marvel spared no expense when it came to creative talent. The Marvel series ran 275 issues from 1970 to 1993 with several spin-offs, mini-series, specials, and Annuals and featured such legendary writers and artists as Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith, and John Buscema.
I can remember being mesmerized by the cover art for the Savage Sword of Conan magazines and crest fallen when the proprietor of the local 7-11 refused to sell it to me because I was too young. Well, little did he know, a mischievous little Odinson would sneak a copy every month to the back aisle where I would hide and devour those flights of fantasy next to the motor oil and floor mats. Mind blown, I would return the magazine back to the rack and whistle my way out the door.
Conan has been a character that has always been in my life. I read the novel Hour of the Dragon in high school. I say all this because it was through Conan that I recently ventured down a rabbit hole that has led me to so much more.
About a month or two ago, I went to the Alamo Draft House (the best way to see classic films on the Big Screen) and saw the original 1982 film Conan the Barbarian. Over the years, I have seen this film dozens of times, but since I was too young to see it when it first came out, this was the first time I had ever seen this film in the movie theatres. I even wore my special “What is best in life…?” T-shirt for the occasion. Alamo Draft House always does these amazing pre-movie presentations. They are montages of clips from old trailers, movies, TV shows, commercials, cartoons, and music videos, all of which usually have something in common with the film you are about to watch.
In the pre-film presentation for Conan that night, there was a clip from the 1996 film The Whole Wide World. It is a biographical story about the author Robert E. Howard. I had never seen this movie before, which is odd because I am a fan of the actor Vincent D’Onofrio. In the clip, D’Onofrio, as Howard, describes his character Conan to Novalyne Price (played by Renee Zellwegger), a real life friend of Howard’s and whose book this movie is based on.
The scene is only a few minutes long but the passion Howard (as portrayed by D’Onofrio) expresses is wholly infectious. The powerful adjectives he uses to describe Conan, the carefree use of his limbs as he talks, and the fire in his eyes, it all captured my imagination, so I immediately sought out this film and watched it. It did not disappoint. In fact, the film only stoked the flames of my curiosity even more.
As I said, I have been a Conan fan my whole life, but up until now, I knew very little about the man that created him. The film paints him as an eccentric, passionate man with wild mood swings and a poet’s way of looking at the world. The film has led me to several fantastic documentaries and interviews with writers and scholars all revealing even more about the man.
I find Robert E. Howard to be infinitely fascinating. His correspondence with legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft is fascinating. Howard was an extremely prolific writer, and he worked in many genres – fantasy, horror, adventure, sports, westerns, mystery, and historical. He was a major contributor to the Pulp Fiction phase of modern pop entertainment. And, his influence on the medium and on pop culture in general can still be felt to this day.
I have begun adding his bibliography to my reading list. In the last week I have read Tower of the Elephant a heart-pumping fantasy heist starring Conan, and a tale I had only previously read in comic book adaptations by both Marvel and Dark Horse. I have also discovered a horror gem by Howard titled The Cairn on the Headland. This is a fantastic short story with elements of fantasy, noir crime, supernatural horror, and historical implications. To say it captured my imagination would be an understatement.
Howard has a poetry to his writing. For instance, he does not simply say, “She was a beautiful woman with dark hair.” Instead, he writes – “She was slender, yet formed like a goddess…Her rich black hair, black as Stygian Night…” (NOTE: An excerpt describing Bêlit from Queen of the Black Coast.)
Unfortunately, Robert E. Howard took his own life in 1936. He was only 30 years old. THIRTY?! That is how prolific of a writer this man was. He created vast, rich worlds inhabited by mighty characters so intriguing that they still resonate to this day. Unfortunately, we are left wondering what more he could have given us. All those wonderful stories we will never get to read, hear, or see adapted on the screen.
Howard’s legacy lives on as his works have been constantly kept in print over the many years since his death. They have been adapted into TV series, movies, and even cartoons. Some of the best adaptations can be found in the Conan Dark Horse comic books from the early 2000s, especially the ones spearheaded by writer Kurt Busiek.
Currently, Conan is back at the House of Ideas and writer Jason Aaron is absolutely killing it! Along with Immortal Hulk, Jason Aaron’s Conan the Barbarian is, hands down, the Odinson’s favorite thing going in the current market. His stories are fantasy at its very best, and his interpretation of the mighty Cimmerian is as dangerously charming as the one Howard created.
Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) was an eccentric man whose life story is utterly fascinating. He was a voracious writer with a poet’s eye for the world around him. His influence on modern day fantasy and pop culture can never be overstated.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell
NOTE: Be sure to check out my book – The Survivors: A Glen Haven Tale. Available in Paperback, Kindle, and Audiobook.