A few months ago we told the tale of the Robert E. Howard westerns that were published in his hometown newspaper, the Cross Plains Review. But to be honest, Howard wasn’t really famous for his westerns. The world knew him for his fast-paced tales of sword and sorcery, and among those one character stood above the rest: Conan the Cimmerian. The Southwest Collection has installed “Robert E. Howard: Creator of Conan the Barbarian,” an exhibit curated by our favorite cataloger and metadata librarian, Rob King. It describes the many materials the SWC holds related to the author and his world-famous barbarian, and will be on display through the first of the year.
Who was Robert E. Howard? A writer, of course. An avid boxer. A West Texan, too. But one young woman, Novalyne Price Ellis, kept extensive diaries about her years with the author that she later used to write One Who Walked Alone (the cover of which can be seen above.) Her insights into the man are wroth a read. Price was a school teacher who moved to Cross Plains, Texas, in 1934. She wanted to become a writer, and became interested in Howard both as an author and some-time partner. In the words of her Howard biography, she and Robert enjoyed “a unique, if often tempestuous, relationship.” Still, in between her teaching, his writing and boxing, and their quarreling, they rode horses across the countryside while discussing politics, Texas history, and the difficulties of living in West Texas during the Great Depression. They remained very close until Howard’s suicide in 1936, when he was only 30 years old.
Conan wasn’t the only character that Howard (seen here wearing a stylish hat) wrote to life. The young man spun yarns about Solomon Kane, a 16th century English adventurer; Bran Mak Morn, king of the Picts; and Kull of Atlantis, who we have some more to say about later. But really, Conan is what Howard’s legacy is all about, so here’s the short, short version of the barbarian’s story. Having traveled south from Cimmeria to seek his fortune in southern lands, Conan “trod the jeweled thrones of the earth under his sandaled feet” until he rose to become king of the ancient land of Aquilonia. There, as many know, he wore its crown upon his troubled brow. Our exhibit features compendiums of the Conan (and other Howard) stories, accounts of Howard’s life as both an author, amateur boxer, and lover of the American West, and analyses of the Conan phenomenon, such as…Conan the Phenomenon (the awesome cover of which can be seen at the beginning of this blog!)
Oh! Also, we have Conan comic books!
Conan had many forerunners in Howard’s fiction. Take for example Hunwulf the wanderer and his adventures in the “Garden of Fear.” This tale’s narrator reveals that he has lived countless past lives. During one particularly Conan-esque lietime many millenia ago, he traveled as Hunwulf, a barbarous fellow who, as barbarians often do, became mired in high adventure. Assaulted by mammoths! Beset by a black-winged demon-man! Rescuing a damsel in distress! And what a lady she was: Gudrun. “Not for a millennium of millenniums have women like (her) walked the earth. Cleopatra…Helen of Troy, they were but pallid shadows of her beauty….” Yeah, Hunwulf had fallen pretty hard.
Another Conan precursor can be seen posing, axe in hand, on this cover. Kull the Conqueror (aka Kull of Atlantis) only saw 3 short stories published in Howard’s lifetime, but another 9 were published posthumously. Other Kull adventures were also rewritten into Conan tales by Howard over the course of his career. There’s a lot we could say about Kull, but “By This Axe, I Rule,” the title of one of his short stories, pretty succinctly sums him up. Fun fact: Conan wasn’t the only of Howard’s creations to make it into the movies. Kull was the titular character of a film starring Kevin Sorbo in 1997. It might be wiser to stick with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian (1982) for a host of reasons, though, if you’re forced to choose between the two.
So come check out this new exhibit! Also, if you’re interested, read some of Howard’s stories in our digital copies of the Cross Plains Review. And for anything else Howard related at the Southwest Collection, our Reference Department would be happy to help you find it.