Saturday, June 9, 2012

Robert E. Howard, 1906 - 1936

On June 11, 1936, writer Robert E. Howard took his own life in a fit of despair.

The preceding story was by Roy Thomas and Sandy Plunkett and it originally appeareed in "Epic Illustrated" #34. The scans were posted by Joe Bloke on his excellent Grantbridge Street & Other Misadventures blog, from where I grabbed them without so much as a "how do you do?".

Robert E. Howard has been one of my favorite writers since the early 1990s, when I first discovered his "King Kull" stories. I had been a fan of the "Conan the Barbarian" comic book from Marvel for years before that, and I'd tried reading some of the Conan paperbacks--where De Camp or Carter or someone revised and rewrote his stories but found I preferred the comics over the fiction. (Interestingly, the reverse was true when it came to King Kull.)

But the Kull stories, I loved. I later added "Solomon Kane" to that list and as the web came into its own, I soon discovered that Howard was not only more than Conan, he was more than fantasy fiction... he wrote lots of horror stories, adventure stories, and wild comedy stories.

Steve Costigan. Black Vulmea. Skull-Face. El Borak. Steve Harrison. Breckinridge Elkins. Cormac FitzGeoffrey. Bran Mak Morn. Red Sonya. And dozens more crusader knights, pirates, and hard-bitten men of action--fighting, and sometimes losing, against impossible odds. If you like action, you should like Robert E. Howard, because his stories are crammed with it from beginning to end.

Since reviving NUELOW Games last year, I have been putting together little anthologies of Howard's fiction, focusing on his mostly forgotten works... including some that he counted among his personal favorites. It's my small attempt to call more attention to his many non-Conan writings. It's also my way of sharing my love for the body of work he left behind when he chose to leave this world so early in his life.

At the moment, NUELOW Games' anthologies are available at (as well as and where the entire NUELOW Games line of products can be had) and only in PDF format. This format works on just about any laptop or desktop computer, as well as most Kindle models, iPads, and iPod Touch.

For a broad sampling of what Howard's non-Conan work is like, check out "Oriental Stories, Vol. 2." The book contains a sample of just about everything he wrote, except the playful first person style used in the Steve Costigan and Breckinridge Elkins stories.

If you like low fantasy or historical fiction, "The Deadly Sword of Cormac" and "Oriental Stories" is for you.

If you're in the mood for straight-on, Yellow Peril-style pulp fiction, "Skull-Face" is a novelette you'll enjoy.

If you like hardboiled detective tales (with a touch of horror), check out "Names in the Black Book".

If you want horror with a Southwestern flavor, "Shadows Over Texas" is the book for you.

If you like werewolves, "White Fell and Other Stories" is a must-read.

And if it's comedy or stories about boxing you want, "Fists of Foolishness" and "Shanghaied Mitts" are were you should look. (These books also include a roleplaying game and a solo adventure, respectively. The publisher is NUELOW Games after all.)

There are further comedic antics, centering on Howard's dimwitted western hero Breckinridge Elkins in "Bath-time on Bear Creek," "The Misadventures of Breckinridge Elkins," and "Breckinridge Elkins Rides Again."

Finally, if you want pulse-pounding adventure "Oriental Stories 3: A Texan in Afghanistan," stories featuring Howard's last great series character, El Borak, will fit your needs exactly.

When reading the stories in "Shanghaied Mitts", "Shadows Over Texas", "Oriental Stories" and "Oriental Stories, Vol. 2", I can't help but mourn for what might have been. Howard too his life just as he was on the verge of leaving commericial hackery like Conan the Cimmerian behind and pursue his true literary passions. In the final five years of his life, which amounts to the second half of his professional career, Howard not only kept improving as a writer, but he discovered the types of stories he was most comfortable writing--stories of action and adventure that were grounded in this world and real history rather than made up universes.


  1. & let's not forget Pigeons From Hell. great stuff.

  2. While Conan was undoubtedly the most commercial of Howard's creations, I'd say the best Conan stories were among Howard's best work. "The Tower of the Elephant," "Beyond the Black River," "Red Nails," "The People of the Black Circle" and "Queen of the Black Coast" are all worthy of consideration alongside "Pigeons from Hell," "Worms of the Earth," "The Black Stone," and the other non-Conan greats.

    Sure, it's painful to wonder what might have been had he overcome the problems which contributed to his fatal decision - but I think the work he left behind is great enough.