Robert Ervin Howard (1906 – 1936)

When movie-star Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California, there were a few people who said that Arnold’s large popularity at the polls was due to a man named Robert E. Howard. Considering the fact that Mr. Howard had been dead for nine years before Arnold was even born makes for a fascinating story.

This story begins in the 1930’s when Robert Howard wrote “Conan, The Barbarian” and then jumps to 1982 when Hollywood decides to make a movie about Conan; a half-naked warrior with bulging muscles. The movie producers looked around for someone to play the part of Conan and they picked Arnold who was then the world champion body builder. Arnold, as Conan the Barbarian, became very popular with the baby boomer generation who liked watching his sword fighting scenes. Those living in California later went to the voting booth and elected Arnold Schwarzenegger, the man who in their minds was Conan; their movie hero who fought against all the forces of evil. Now for the rest of the story!

Robert Howard was a fantasy fiction writer and Conan lived, loved, and fought in an imaginary age about 12 thousand years ago, the period between the sinking of Atlantis and the beginning of recorded history. These stories followed the adventures of this heroic figure who possessed mighty thews and hot passions and who carried a long double-edged sword into a magical world with physically attractive women. Many of Howard’s readers have declared that he was the world’s greatest pulp fiction writer and that Conan was his best character. Few book critics disagree.
Howard’s short life is almost as difficult to believe as the imaginary stories he created. He was born on January 22, 1906. His father, a county physician, finally settled in Cross Plains, a small town in central Texas. While still in high school, young Robert began submitting short stories to the publishing companies of that time. He finally made his first sale at the age of 18 when Weird Tales accepted “
Spear and Fang”, a short tale about a Neanderthal man. He continued to write stories that occurred in an imaginary world where magic works and all men are mighty, all women are beautiful, all problems simple, and all life adventurous.
The Great Depression had a deleterious effect on the publishing industry. Forced to seek new markets, Howard experimented with detective fiction with only negligible results. In 1932 he returned with his most famous character, Conan. Over the next four years, seventeen Conan stories appeared in Weird Tales. By the beginning of 1936 Howard was having an all-time high in sales. But at the same time, Howard was worrying over his mother’s state of health. In 1935 Mrs. Howard had undergone surgery and from then on required intensive nursing care. On the morning of June 11, 1936. Robert Howard asked the attending nurse if his mother would ever recover from her coma. The answer was negative. Howard went to his room where he typed a four-line couplet on the Underwood typewriter that had served him for 10 years.
“All fled, all done so lift me on the pyre. The feast is over and the lamps expire.”
He then walked to his car which was parked in the rear of his home in Cross Plains, got in and fired a bullet into his brain. He died eight hours later; Mrs. Howard expired some thirty hours afterwards. A double funeral was held, with interment in the Greenleaf Memorial Cemetery at Brownwood.
There is a movie of Robert Howard’s life made in 1996 called “The Whole Wide World.” It stars Vincent D’Onofrio as Howard and Renee Zellweger as Novalyne Price, a Texas schoolteacher who shared his interest in writing. It is a bitter-sweet tale that portrays the life of a genius who could not gain control of his life.