Texas | People
Conan in Texas:
The Robert E. Howard Story
Photos Courtesy of
The Robert E.Howard Museum and Era Hanky
boy with cheek of tan"
Young Robert as Noble Savage
Ervine Howard-you'll find the terminal E on his middle name on his
birth certificate and his tombstone, but nowhere else-was born either
January 22 or January 24, 1906, in the Parker County town of Peaster,
Texas. He was the only son and only child of Dr. Isaac M. Howard and
Hester Jane (Ervine) Howard.
Robert's father seems to have been, although a physician, something
of a milktoast type, while his mother, though sickly most of her life,
apparently had a strong, somewhat controlling personality. Robert
grew into a bookish, somewhat withdrawn child who had few close friends.
He also had an above-average intellect and a powerful interest in
A more filled-out
Howard about the time of his boxing career.
a young man, Bob Howard, as his contemporaries knew him, was a robust
six footer weighing about 200 lbs, and an accomplished amateur boxer.
He was also something of a pre-Society for Creative Anachronism 'creative
anachroniser.' He and friends armed themselves with wooden shields
and wooden swords to discover how the real thing was used in the past.
Most boys outgrow the 'wooden sword and garbage-can-lid shield by
the age of 8 or 9, but Howard continued well into his teens.
the time he was 8 the Howard family settled in the community of Cross
Plains, Texas, near Brownwood.
Robert was a voracious reader, ultimately devouring every history
book and historical novel in the Cross Plains public library and the
school libraries. At this point he apparently taught himself the fine
art of burglary. He traveled to surrounding towns, entered the public
libraries after dark, removed armloads of books, read them and apparently
made notes on them-and then made an after-dark return of the books.
In his early teens Bob began to show a flair for writing fiction.
He apparently sold a few stories to various pulp magazines, but not
many. His father insisted he attend Howard Payne College in Brownwood,
and Bob spent a year there. When he returned, he told his father he
intended to become a writer of fiction, and college was doing him
no good at all. Father and son came to an agreement-Bob would have
a year to prove he could support himself as a writer of fiction. If
at the end of the year he was not self-supporting, he would return
to Howard Payne and get a degree. At the end of the agreed-on year
Bob was not yet completely self-supporting, but he had cashed some-for
the time and place-fairly impressive checks.
The Howard Home
- now the Robert E. Howard Museum
- just SE of downtown Cross
bedroom / workroom. Mother's bedroom is through window at left.
was the great era of the pulp magazine. Broadcast radio was in its
infancy, television was only in the Buck Rogers comic strip. The entertainment
of the era was the pulp fiction magazine-and there were myriads of
them. From the 'dime novels' of the late 19th Century, the magazine
industry had grown into a giant. Specialized fiction magazines ranged
from general fiction to highly specialized. There were baseball stories
magazines, railroad stories magazines, airplane stories magazines-even
fighter airplane stories magazines. And, of course, there were fantasy,
horror, romance, science fiction, western-you name it, there was a
pulp fiction magazine that covered whatever you wanted to read. Into
this Robert E. Howard plunged headfirst.
Arnold (as Conan)
took time to autograph a publicity photo for the museum.
Howard is best remembered as the creator of Conan the Cimmerian, mostly
today called 'Conan the Barbarian,' he also created King Kull of Atlantis,
Solomon Kane, a dour Puritan who smashed pagan altars with a bronze-bound
Bible; Bran Mak Morn, 'El Borak,' sailor Steve Costigan, and dozens
of others. He wrote in virtually every genre with the possible exception
of romance, under at least 100 different pseudonyms, often having
two stories under different pseudonyms in the same issue of a magazine.
In almost every case his stories featured thrilling high adventure
with a larger-than-life central character-which was what the public
and the publishers wanted. With the possible exception of Frederick
Faust, who wrote mostly as Max Brand, Howard may have been, from about
1925 until his death in 1936, the single most prolific author in the
pulp fiction field.
Howard was a box of contradictions. He once told a friend "I don't
smoke. I don't smoke because the sorriest SOB I know of smokes, and
I won't be like him. Well, Hell-he breathes and so do I." He wrote
poetry-mostly unpublished until after his death-about his love for
beautiful women, but had relationships with only two women in his
life-his mother and a girl, later a schoolteacher, named Novalyne
- Novalyne Price
R - Howard in a fedora - shortly before his death.
1930, when Howard was 24, a new urgency entered his writing. The depression
had hit, his father's medical practice had gone down to virtually
nothing-Dr. Howard was required, by the Hippocratic Oath, to treat
patients, but he mostly went unpaid. In addition, Hester Howard had
developed cancer-a cancer that would ultimately kill her. Robert's
writing checks became almost the family's only income.
|A replica of
Howard's typewriter. The original is now in private hands, but the
owner has furnished documentation of the original - allowing the purchase
of this authentic replacement.
impressive income for the time it was, too. Though the maximum pay
for a story in a pulp magazine at the time was only 1½¢ per word-a
5,000 word story would bring the author $75- -Howard's annual income
was exceeded only by the salary of the president of the local bank.
In 1935, the last full year of his life and his most productive year,
Howard earned about $6,000 from his stories. He was able to buy-and
pay cash for-a brand-new 1935 Chevrolet coupé, at the time about a
|Docent Era Hanky
in front of a period piano. The encased bust of Cleopatra is one of
the few items actually owned by Howard.
a time-only occasionally-he dated Novalyne Price. She once commented
that she thought he would have made a great warrior for Genghis Khan.
He replied "I did." Reincarnation, in which he apparently believed
wholeheartedly, forms a theme in many of his stories. He also told
Miss Price "I don't write the stories, I just copy them down from
what the characters tell me."
|A rather fanciful
publicity poster for the movie - The Whole Wide World
early 1936 Hester Howard's cancer was entering the terminal stages.
Bob was writing 16 to 18 hours a day, sending dozens of stories a
week to publishers. His mother, who was still ambulatory to some extent,
all but cut him off from the outside world. When his mother entered
the final coma, he asked the attending physician if there was any
hope. He was told there was not, that his mother had only hours to
live. He went upstairs, typed a bit of poetry and left it in his typewriter,
went out to his car, took a Colt .32 automatic pistol out of the glove
compartment, put it to his head just over his right ear, and pulled
the trigger. He lived about two hours. His mother died the next day.
Robert E. Howard was only 30 years old.
words left in his typewriter.
legacy goes far beyond Conan the Barbarian. His many, many stories-some
are even now being discovered by researchers of the pulp-magazine
era, with new Howard pseudonyms coming to light-were hastily written,
but were the products of a gifted writer. At one time it was popular,
among critics of the genre, to refer to Howard's talent as 'slapdash
and derivative.' The critics, at the time, were unaware of the conditions
under which Howard wrote. As awareness of those conditions has come
to light, Howard is being recognized as a giant of literature, forced
to use his talent in a very mundane way to support his family and
pay for his mother's medical treatment in an economic depression of
monumental proportions. The fact that he was able to produce what
he did in the time that he had to produce it certainly makes him one
of the most prolific writers in history. Had circumstances been different-had
he not had to work in the genres he did for the reasons he had to
work there--he would probably have become a novelist with the stature
of a Steinbeck or a Hemingway.
|Photos of Howard
(framed with actual pickets from the original fence) are available
for sale in the Robert E. Howard Museum in Cross
by Robert E. Howard
Coming of Conan the Cimmerian
Savage Tales of Solomon Kane
More on Robert
The Weird Works Of Robert E. Howard ...
The Whole Wide World
Conan - The Complete Quest