|I need to reorganize my bookshelves - that Frankenstein|
novel was not written by Howard.
I took two classes from English teacher Bill Roberts - Creative Writing and Epic, Fantasy, and Science Fiction. (Mr. Roberts' influence on me as a creative and a consumer of creative works extends well beyond Howard, but - in my best Mako impression - "that is another story.") He was a fan of Conan, and relied on the Lancer Books from the late 1960s to inform his knowledge and opinion of Robert E. Howard.
There was a used bookstore in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and while I was already making regular trips there to go through their gaming section, once I learned about those Lancer books, I made sure to go through their Fantasy & Science Fiction shelves until I found copies of those editions for myself.
I still have them on my bookshelf today, despite learning that these books really don't represent the Conan stories as Howard wrote them. They were my gateway, however, into, the sword-and-sorcery work of REH.
It was through the rulebook of the roleplaying game The Call of Cthulhu that I learned that Howard's literary works extended beyond Conan and company. This drove me to learn more about Howard. That he had a connection to Lovecraft, that he had written more short stories in other genres (including Westerns? really?*), that there was even more Howard fiction out there waiting for me to discover . . .
|photo by Angela Brown/About.com|
Get me started talking about ANYTHING fantasy-related, and I'll ultimately bring up Robert E. Howard. Go through the archives of the Dread Media podcast, and you'll find an episode in which I joined the host Desmond Reddick to talk about Howard's horror stories (and one of his poems). Ask me about one of the greatest losses I still think about when I suffered a hard drive crash a few years ago, and I'll lament the loss of the short movie Casonetto's Last Song, a movie based on a Howard short story that I co-directed in 2003. I've collected REHupa mailings and Howard fanzines. Attending Robert E. Howard Days is on my bucket list.
January 22, 2014, would have been Howard's 108th birthday, and I spent a lot of it with the soundtrack from the film The Whole Wide World (dir. Dan Ireland) playing on my iPod. This moving film score (by Harry Gregson-Williams) stands alone as a beautiful piece of music, and as music that accompanies this film, it's stellar. The Whole Wide World is based on One Who Walked Alone by Novalyne Price Ellis, a woman who dated Robert E. Howard a few years before his death, so the film is almost exclusively about their relationship. Lovecraft's name is dropped once, and there's some talk of Conan, but overall, it's a movie about two people and their relationship (romantic and otherwise), and I adore it. I've owned it on DVD for years, but I was also fortunate enough to see the film on the big screen at a previous year's HP Lovecraft Film Festival & CthulhuCon. It brought tears to my eyes because that movie hits me just that hard.
Listening to that score throughout the day made me think about how much Howard has shaped how I create and how I consume certain types of entertainment. I can't honestly say I've read all of Howard's work, but I have seen every film adaptation, and I'm fairly sure I've seen every television REH adaptation. I know that in terms of actual adaptations, none of them have really nailed it, but they're part of the Howard Popular Culture. (Yes, even The Adventures of Conan: A Sword and Sorcery Spectacular stage show that ran at Universal Studios for a decade is part of it.) When I think sword-and-sorcery . . . when I think fantasy, I think Robert E. Howard. I think about how he constructed his stories and how he drove himself to be a successful writer in a small Texas town despite what the locals thought of him. He and I are several decades removed, but I still take lessons from what he did and how he did it.
And, of course, I love his writing.
* Back then, the Western was a genre in which I had no interest. I was a dumb kid.