Robert E. Howard: King of Sword and Sorcery

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

Robert E. Howard branched out from his cousins in horror to widen the fantastic realism of the human condition in war, violence, and suffering of humans at the hands of its own power mongering kind. He opened the door on an aspect of our history that even now as we look around has yet to subside. As Heraclitus remarked a couple thousand years ago:

‘War is father of all, and king of all. He renders some gods, others men; he makes some slaves, others free.’

Sadly like other aspects of the darker and more pessimistic conclusions to existence and the human predicament both horror and “sword and sorcery” were pushed by mainstream liberal optimists into the gutter world of pulps. And, yet, unlike many of those same optimists novelists and short story writers of the mainstream, these old pulp artists are still with us being printed over and over generation by generation. They have staying power. Why? Because they speak a harsh truth that both young and old alike know instinctively is true, that they render a vision of life that speaks to us about the world as it is in it’s essential nature of horror and violence, despair and decay. And, yet, provide a way of dealing with it that is both empowering and adequate to the common fate of us all. As Howard would ask a friend in a letter:

“Ask yourself the question and answer it honestly: how much of your life stands clear and distinct, unclouded by the haze of illusion and uncertainty? Can you truly say of yourself, “This is thus, and this is thus; this much is truth and this is false; here lies concrete fact and here the fabric of illusion; this is hazy and this is clear.”?”

—Robert E. Howard to Tevis Clyde Smith, August 1925

– David C. Smith, Robert E. Howard: A Literary Biography

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