Howard’s legacy is conserved in ‘Conan’

CONAN THE BARBARIAN: THE STORIES THAT INSPIRED THE MOVIE, by Robert E. Howard. Del Rey, publisher. 304 pp. 2011. $7.99, pap.

By A Contributor

“Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”—Robert Ervin Howard.

Fans of Robert E. Howard have always felt that he deserved more recognition and respect for his sword and sorcery tales.

After all, he invented the literary genre of sword and sorcery. Though he is most famous for his numerous volumes of the “Conan” series, he also became involved with creating unusual, witty and haunting horror tales, detective stories, occult fiction, sports narratives and Westerns.

There is even a Robert E. Howard museum in is former hometown, Cross Plains, Texas.
In “Conan” and “Conan the Barbarian,” which is also referred to as “Conan the Cimmerian,” Howard (1906-1936) was obviously ahead of his time, or perhaps the world in which he lived in was not quite ready or prepared for such a genius.  In “Conan the Barbarian,” all attention is focused on the Conan who wages war brutally, against those enemies that murdered his father and other people in his village. Howard visualized cultures and mythological places, where gruesome beasts, invading armies and savage behavior were just a normal-abnormal part of this so-called fantasy world.
Is this man civilized? He puts the question in so many words to his readers. It was a clash case study of Barbarism and Civilization. Like so many writers who wish to succeed in the literary field, many publishers first rejected Howard’s writings. It was not until his later college years that Howard truly started to shine. The original reprint of “Conan the Barbarian” released in July, features various adventure stories with Conan always out front or in the middle. In fact, the book coincides with the release of a new version of the film of the same title, starring Jason Momosa in the lead role.
Curiously, Momosa has been writing the script to the movie’s sequel, which he also stars in. Arnold Schwarzenegger fit the role almost perfectly in the 1980s film, but Momosa is equally contagious as Conan. Sadly, Howard committed suicide in 1936 at the young age of 30 after learning that his mother whose health had been failing would never come out of her coma and would eventually die. 
Howard, however, could wrap anyone around his words and descriptive, flowing phrases and verses. He definitely had the poet “in him: “The shimmering shaft of the tower rose frostily in the stars.”
Practically every page in the “Conan” series is intense and violent and Howard is a master of the gore and glorifies the wicked and sets verbal (and real) traps for Conan and the readers to get caught in despite his courage, roughness and determination.
In “A Witch Shall Be Born,” Conan is crucified, dangling from a cross as the sun slowly bakes and dries his raw skin and he begins to hallucinate. Howard describes the conflict/survival between warrior and vulture:
“Conan drew his head back as far as he could, waiting, watching with the terrible patience of the wilderness and its children. The vulture swept in with a swift roar of wings. Its beak flashed down, ripping the skin on Conan’s chin as he jerked aside his head, then before the bird could flash away, Conan’s head lunged forward on his mighty neck muscles and his teeth, snapping like those of a wolf, locked on the bare, wattled neck…and the scavenger’s neck bones crunched between those powerful teeth. With a spasmodic flutter the bird hung limp. Conan let go, spat blood from his mouth.”
Is man savage? Is man civilized? It is a primitive society in which he lives until he makes another choice. Or, as Howard stated, “Mood is sorrowful wonder at the insane ways of men.”

Carol Wright is a freelance writer and resides in Winfield.

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