Robert Ervin Howard (January 22, 1906 – June 11, 1936) was an American pulp writer of fantasy, horror, historical adventure, boxing, western, and detective fiction. Howard wrote "over three-hundred stories and seven-hundred poems of raw power and unbridled emotion" and is especially noted for his memorable depictions of "a sombre universe of swashbuckling adventure and darkling horror."
He is well known for having created — in the pages of the legendary Depression-era pulp magazine Weird Tales — the character Conan the Cimmerian, a.k.a. Conan the Barbarian, a literary icon whose pop-culture imprint can only be compared to such icons as Tarzan of the Apes, Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond.
Between Conan and his other heroes Howard created the genre now known as sword-and-sorcery in the late 1920s and early 1930s,spawning a wide swath of imitators and giving him an influence in the fantasy field rivaled only by J.R.R. Tolkien and Tolkien's similarly inspired creation of the modern genre of High Fantasy.
As a seminal figure in the history of modern fantasy, Howard remains a highly read author, with his best work endlessly reprinted. He has been compared to other American masters of the weird, gloomy, and spectral, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne , Herman Melville, and Jack London.
In August 1930 Howard wrote a letter into Weird Tales praising a recent reprint of H. P. Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls" and discussing some of the obscure Gaelic references used within. Wright forwarded the letter to Lovecraft, who responded warmly to Howard, and soon the two Weird Tales veterans were engaged in a vigorous correspondence that would last for the rest of Howard's life. By virtue of this, Howard quickly became a member of "The Lovecraft Circle," a group of writers and friends all linked via the immense correspondence of H.P. Lovecraft, who made it a point to introduce his many like-minded friends to each other and encourage them to share stories, utilize each other's invented fictional trappings, and help each other succeed in the pulp field. In time this circle of correspondents has developed a legendary patina about it rivaling similar literary conclaves such as The Inklings, the Bloomsbury Group, and the Beats.
Howard was given the affectionate nickname "Two-Gun Bob" by virtue of his long explications to Lovecraft about the history of his beloved Southwest, and during the ensuing years he contributed several notable elements to Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos of horror stories (his Mythos stories include: "The Cairn on the Headland", "The Black Stone," "The Children of the Night" and "The Fire of Asshurbanipal"). He also corresponded with other weird tale writers such as Clark Ashton Smith , August Derleth , and E. Hoffmann Price.
Throughout all of this time, Howard continued to be dogged by fits of increasing melancholy and depression, and he maintained his belief in the validity of suicide as an escape from the nightmarish pain. All of his close friends had married and were immersed in their careers, Novalyne Price had left Cross Plains for graduate school, and his most reliable market, Weird Tales, had grown far behind on payments.
Most importantly, his home life was falling apart — after decades of struggle, his mother was finally nearing death, and the constant interruptions of care workers at home combined with frequent trips to various sanatoriums for her care made it nearly impossible to write. Several times in 1935–36, whenever his mother's health precipitously threatened to give out, he made veiled allusions to his father about planning suicide. Both parents made efforts to convince him to reconsider. In June 1936, as Hester Howard slipped into her final coma, her son maintained a death vigil with his father and friends of the family, getting little sleep, drinking huge amounts of coffee, and growing more despondent.
On the morning of June 11, 1936, told by a nurse that his mother would never again regain consciousness, he walked out to his car in the driveway, took a borrowed .38 automatic from the glove box, and shot himself in the head. His father and another doctor rushed out, but the wound was too grievous for anything to be done. Howard lived for another eight hours, dying at 4 p.m.; his mother died the following day. They were both buried on June 14, 1936 in a double funeral in Greenleaf Cemetery in Brownwood, Texas.
Howard's death sent shockwaves of grief through the weird fiction community, vividly documented in the pulps and fanzines of the era, and marked the beginning of the end of the Golden Age of Weird Tales. H. P. Lovecraft was severely affected by the death of his friend, and would die himself of intestinal cancer within a year. Clark Ashton Smith (the third member of the triumvirate of Weird Tales), was stricken by the deaths of Howard and Lovecraft as well as those of his own parents, and soon stopped writing fiction himself.
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