We recently passed the seventy-seventh anniversary of the death of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Cimmerian and seminal writer of the sword-and-sorcery genre. I had the opportunity to tour his home on the seventy-fifth anniversary of his death; I've written about it here before, but I took some decent pictures, and have been meaning to return to the experience. This seems like a good enough occasion.
Howard was inspired by history and adventure novels. The book in the front was a gift to his lady friend, Novalyne Price. They dated off and on during the couple of years leading up to Howard's suicide, having met at college in nearby Brownwood. She'd asked for a history book for Christmas, but instead he gave her a French pornography book with bizarre "naughty pictures," as the nice old lady who gave me the tour put it. Price was rather disturbed by the present and kept it hidden away. When she asked Howard the meaning of the gift, he replied that it was a history book in a sense, for to him it portrayed the slow degradation of our modern civilized culture. He was writing "Red Nails" at about the same time. He hadn't long to live then.
Price was also an aspiring writer. They told me that she had to drive to Howard's home in Cross Plains to get her first date with him because, whenever she tried to telephone, the protective Mrs. Howard would say her son wasn't in. Price later wrote a memoir about Howard—The Man Who Walked Alone—and it has been made into a movie with moderately famous actors. She wasn't fond of the Conan stories.
The tale I've sold most recently—"The Goblin King's Concubine," to Beneath Ceaseless Skies—is a subversive tribute to Howard. It's a retelling of the story of Cynthia Ann Parker's rescue at the hands of Sul Ross and the Texas Rangers, which seemingly also inspired Howard's tale "The Vale of Lost Women." Howard's latent racism, which unfortunately mars several of his stories, is in evidence here, and my story is in part an exploration of chauvinism and otherness.
So, perhaps Howard isn't altogether free of the besetting sins of his time, as I, no doubt, am not free from those of mine. He's something of an enigma, a complex man who died as he lived, unable (one suspects) to ever really say what was on his mind, who found himself in a dead end from which he could see no escape. I remain grateful for the earnestness of his writing and for the example he set; and I'm grateful, too, for having had the opportunity to be under the roof of his former home. Apparently someone from the REH House will be on hand at LoneStarCon in San Antonio this year to conduct a side trip to Cross Plains; I hope that some of you, my faithful readers, will take advantage of it.