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The Father of Heroes


Writing is a fantastic thing. When I was about thirteen, I read the ILIAD, the great classic by Homer. Since then, it has always struck me how someone could write something that still marvels, inspires and even changes people’s lives more than three thousand years later. With that in mind, it’s not surprising to say that Robert E. Howard, a writer that's been dead for more than eighty years now and someone I've never known personally and could never have, has become my great master in the writing of English literature.

Some people turn their noses when talking about more popular genres of art. To them only names such as Dostoevsky, Shakespeare or Hemingway deserve to be called genius. But what then do you call a guy like Stan Lee? Or Frank Miller? Someone whose body of work is not only massive, but also considered extraordinary by millions of people? Whose stories have been turned into books, movies, and TV shows, and whose characters have carved their way deep into the very fabric of the entire world's culture? Well, sorry pretentious fellas, but I call them genius. And I certainly call Robert E. Howard a genius.

Let’s think about it: the man wrote hundreds of poems and over 300 works of fiction; gave birth to an entire new genre; created several characters that withstand the test of time. And all that having died prematurely at the tender age of thirty.  In comparison, Isaac Asimov, another extraordinary prolific genius from a slightly less despised genre, wrote and published 40 novels, 382 short stories, and over 280 non-fiction books –– but over a 53-year career, while Howard’s career lasted only about 15 years.

Much more than by cold numbers though, Howard’s legacy can be measured by the passion his stories inspire in all his fans, worldwide. And boy, are we passionate! Why? Well, there are just so many reasons for loving Robert's writing. The characters for one are incredible. Think of Conan and the dream of being invincible he evokes in all of us, especially when we're younger, but that somehow doesn't go away. Think of Solomon Kane and the combination of features that builds his persona: righteous, sullen, strict, seriously religious and of course, a deadly warrior in every regard. Think of El Borak, loyal to his friends, bound by honor and a beast with sword or pistol. And so many other characters.

The Plots are also amazing. Think of "The Tower of the Elephant" with its combination of mundane and spiritual, its twist from a rough and dangerous tavern (a place so common in its essence) to the tower where beyond the evil sorcerer lays an incredible being from another realm. Think of the sinister stories of Kane or the plain, ludic adventures of Xavier Gordon. In short, there's a lot more to Howard’s genius than most people suspect.

But to me the thing that puts Howard above all the other writers I’ve known is the simple, plain beauty of his prose and the incredible ability to economically describe a scene so well you can see it materialize in front of your eyes. Howard is not some purple-prose author full of himself; his commitment is with the action and with the reader. And that is clear in the way the scenes pop up so clearly before the reader’s eyes; in the pace that keeps you glued to the lines that keep rushing through your mind like a roll of movie on an old projector. The image that shows on the ‘screen’ is one of incredibly entertaining adventure, like the finest Spielberg movie, like a teenage matinée. Howard’s letters must’ve come from a magical quill because they come alive every time you read them.

To give you an example, let’s look at Bernard Cornwell, arguably the best historical fiction writer of today and someone who does a lot of battle scene description. There is a battle between the Romans and the Picts in Howard's Bran Mak Morn story "Kings of the Night" which is simply the best battle scene description I've ever read in my whole life. Nothing that Cornwell ever wrote, in my opinion, comes even close to it.

Another example I can't leave behind can be found in Conan's "Iron Shadows in the Moon," in a scene where Conan rows and Howard describes how the stars above mingle with their own reflection on the darkening sea, and Olivia feels like she's drifting in space with stars above and stars beneath. Simply beautiful. All that from someone many claim to be a lesser writer from a lesser genre.          

In short, Howard is a writer that certainly deserves much more credit than he has received and he still has lots of characters seemingly yet to be 'discovered.' Life left him too soon and he didn’t have the chance to leave his own kin behind. But read Howard stories and enjoy his fantastic characters and you'll understand why he will live forever and why he is indeed, a father.

To Robert E. Howard, the Father of Heroes.

#REH #Howard #SandS #SwordandSorcery #Iliad #writing #Homer #StanLee #FrankMiller #Asimov #Dostoevsky #Shakespeare #Hemingway #Conan #Olivia #ElBorak #Kane

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