464px-Reh studio portrait

Robert Ervin Howard

Robert Ervin Howard (1906-1936) ranks among the greatest writers of action and adventure stories. The creator of Conan the Cimmerian, Kull of Atlantis, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, ‘El Borak,’ Sailor Steve Costigan and many other memorable characters, Howard (known as REH to his millions of fans), in a career that spanned barely 12 years, wrote well over a hundred stories for the pulp magazines of his day. While he is widely regarded as the ‘father of Sword and Sorcery’ and the creator of Conan the Barbarian, this reputation has been something of a double-edged sword. It has helped keep his work in the public eye for six decades since his death, but it has also obscured the astonishing breadth of his imagination, his talent for mastering a variety of genres and his ability to weave his magic in both prose and poetry.

Robert E. Howard contributed his most celebrated work to the pre-eminent fantasy pulp magazine of the era, Weird Tales. However, his stories also appeared in such diverse publications as Action Stories, Argosy, Fight Stories, Oriental Stories, Spicy Adventure, Sport Story, Strange Detective and a number of others. That his stories were a consistent hit with readers of the time is not surprising, for he created thrilling, vividly realized adventures populated by colorful, larger-than-life characters. He was a consummate and dynamic storyteller. Even after his death publishers continued for some time to publish his stories or reprint them under other by-lines. So enduring is the appeal of his work that over a half century later he continues to gain new fans, introduced to his tales through paperbacks, comics, and movies. His work has also inspired subsequent generations of fantasy writers and a loyal following that has taken to cyberspace to spread the word.

Robert E. Howard was born on January 22 (or possibly January 24), 1906, in the “fading little ex-cowtown” of Peaster, Texas, in Parker County, just west of Fort Worth. The confusion surrounding his date of birth arises from Howard celebrating January 22 as his birthday (this was the date he submitted to Who’s Who Among North American Authors), while his record of birth in Parker County reads January 24. As his father also gave Robert’s birthday as 22 January, it is probably safe to assume that is the correct date.

At the time of Robert’s birth, the Howards lived in Palo Pinto County, on the banks of Dark Valley Creek. His father, Dr. Isaac Mordecai Howard, presumably moved his wife temporarily to the larger community of Peaster to allow readier access to medical care during her pregnancy. Hester Jane Ervin Howard, Robert’s mother, did not enjoy robust health, to put it mildly: there was a history of tuberculosis in her family and Hester Howard was sickly for much of Robert’s life. Isaac Howard was a country doctor, a profession that entailed frequent lengthy absences from home, and thus he may have wished to be certain that his wife of two years would have adequate medical attention when she delivered their first, and as it transpired, only child.

Isaac Howard seems to have been possessed of a combination of wanderlust and ambition that led him to frequently move his family in search of better opportunities. By the time he was eight, Robert had lived in at least seven different and widely scattered Texas towns. In 1915, the family moved to the community of Cross Cut in Brown County, and they would live in this vicinity - with moves to Burkett (in Coleman County) in 1917 and finally to Cross Plains (Callahan County) in 1919 - for the rest of Robert’s and his mother’s lives.