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Introduction

Professional photograph of Robert E. Howard wearing a hat and suit.
Howard in 1934

Robert Ervin Howard (January 22, 1906 – June 11, 1936) was an American author who wrote pulp fiction in a diverse range of genres. He is well known for his character Conan the Barbarian and is regarded as the father of the sword and sorcery subgenre.

Howard was born and raised in Texas. He spent most of his life in the town of Cross Plains, with some time spent in nearby Brownwood. A bookish and intellectual child, he was also a fan of boxing and spent some time in his late teens bodybuilding, eventually taking up amateur boxing. From the age of nine he dreamed of becoming a writer of adventure fiction but did not have real success until he was 23. Thereafter, until his death by suicide at age 30, Howard's writings were published in a wide selection of magazines, journals, and newspapers, and he became proficient in several subgenres. His greatest success occurred after his death.

Selected quote

Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.

— Beyond the Black River, 1935

Selected character

Conan the Cimmerian is one of the most iconic characters in American fantasy. Howard came up with the character while on vacation to the Mexican border in February 1932, although he had used the name in an earlier work.

The first Conan short story, both in terms of writing and publication was "The Phoenix on the Sword". It was a rewrite of an unsold Kull story called "By This Axe I Rule!" with a completely new secondary plot and an added weird (the contemporary term for fantasy) element. It was published in the December 1932 issue of the pulp magazine Weird Tales. The character and his setting (The Hyborian Age, which Howard formalised in an essay after writing the third Conan story) was a success in the magazine and this popularity has continued to the present day. By the time of Howard's suicide in 1936, he had written twenty-one complete tales, seventeen of which had been published, as well as a number of unfinished fragments.

Conan is a black-haired and blue-eyed proto-celtic Cimmerian. He is often described as physically massive but also possesses cat-like reflexes and agility. Despite most portrayals in other media, Conan possesses guile and intelligence. Over the course of his career he has picked up a knowledge of linguistics and cartography that exceeds most scholars of the age.

Selected story

"Spear and Fang" was Howard's first published story; in the July 1925 issue of Weird Tales.

Wikisource-logo.svg Read Spear and Fang on Wikisource

Related article

Selected image

Weird Tales August 1934.JPG
Cover of Weird Tales (August 1934, vol. 24, no. 2) featuring the Conan story The Devil in Iron. The picture depicts Conan fighting a giant, and supposedly extinct, snake while the escaped slave Octavia kneels, recoiling in horror, in the foreground. Art by Margaret Brundage.

Selected poem

Visions

I cannot believe in a paradise
Glorious, undefiled,
For gates all scrolled and streets of gold
Are tales for a dreaming child.

I am too lost for shame
That it moves me unto mirth,
But I can vision a Hell of flame
For I have lived on earth.


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