Sunday, June 5, 2011

Recognize this famous writer?

Recognize this bloke, Eunice?  You don't?!  And you call yourself a fan of Fantasy and Science Fiction!

This good ole' Texas boy is Robert E. Howard.  In the 1930's he wrote lots of imaginative tales for the pulp magazines. Especially for one called Weird Tales. In fact it was this mag that got the man started in his brief writing gig.  Yeah, I know you may not be familiar with the guy's name.  But I'd bet your next alimony check, Eunice, you're quite familiar with one of Howard's fictional characters.

Conan the Barbarian.

Big guy with muscles bulging all over his body.  Wore a loin cloth all the time.  Had long brown hair falling past his shoulders.  Used a broad sword chopping down hundreds of his foes at a time.  Even a recent governor of California became an internationally know movie star thanks to Conan.

Conan as the more famous of Howard's many creations.  But Howard created a character earlier in his career that really is more intriguing, more mysterious, than his muscle bound freak show named Conan would ever be.  A dark character with lots of secrets.  A sinful man trying to make good for past sins.  The name of this character?  Solomon Kane.

Kane was a Puritan killer.  There's no other way to describe him.  You could call him a hunter.  His main occupation hunting Evil and dispensing Puritanical justice.  Which made sense, really, since Solomon Kane was a Puritan.  All of Howard's stories featuring Kane were set in the 17the Century--the prime time for Puritan dogma.   Howard wrote a number of short stories featuring this character--and in their time they were quite successful.  But for some reason Solomon Kane's name never developed the buzz . . . or the following . . . as his Conan the Barbarian did.

Which is too bad.  Kane had vastly more potential as a character.  If Howard had become as proficient writing novels as he did in writing short stories, maybe Kane would have become the famous entity and Conan as the also-ran.  But the troubled Howard never developed as a novelist.  Frankly he wasn't around long enough to become one.

The guy was a troubled man who committed suicide when he was 30 years old.  A waste.  A tragedy.  Many think Howard invented the Swords and Sorcery sub-genre found in Fantasy.   I have a tendency to agree with that summation.  Too bad imagination--and a trouble mind--seem to go glove-in-hand with so many brilliant writers.

Go up and read about Howard's life on the link I left.  A fascinating read.  And then go to the library and find the stories featuring Solomon Kane.  You won't be disappointed.


  1. B.R.,

    I live west of Fort Worth, not quite to Abilene but hey. Thanks for writing about this guy. I know of him and he was wayyyy ahead of his time. Drop by my plave sometime and say hey. Btw, big fan of yours.


  2. Interesting post B.R. - I am a big fan of Howard's work. Del Rey put out a volume a couple of years ago with all of the Solomon Kane stories in it. Howard had a few other really interesting characters as well - El Borak (also the subject of a recent Del Rey anthology) is a character I really enjoyed - but he wrote across a range of genres - with some really exceptional pieces mixed in across them ("Pigeons from Hell" is another personal favorite).


  3. Got to agree with you BR - R E Howard was the man and I'm also a huge fan. It was reading the early Conan (long BLACK hair and volcanic blue eyes by the way) and Solomon Kane, El Borak, Kull, Cormac Mac Art, Bran Mak Morn, Kirby O'Donnell etc adventures that set me on my own writing path. Howard is a real treasure, and it's a pity that so many readers have lost touch with him over the years. I wonder how many books readers have picked up in recent decades were actually inspired by the adventures of Howard. Countless I imagine.