Updated: May 13
Welcome to Conan the Barbarian Week at Interstellar Intersection. Come back in a couple days for an in-depth look at the “Conan the Barbarian” film from 1982, and much more.
Covers of different editions of "Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard"
When the “Conan the Barbarian” feature film had its theatrical premiere on May 14, 1982, the sword-and-sandals epic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger cultivated a new following for Robert Ervin Howard’s creation of 50 years prior.
A Cimmerian living in the Hyborian Age, Conan made his literary debut in 1932 in the pages of Weird Tales, a fantasy and horror pulp magazine. Conan was born from the mind of Howard, a native of Texas, whose first published tale of the barbarian was a repurposed Kull of Atlantis story he hadn’t been able to sell titled “By This Axe I Rule!” The revised story, featuring Conan instead of Kull, was called “The Phoenix on the Sword.”
Howard completed 21 Conan stories in his lifetime — 17 of which were published in the pages of Weird Tales, another went to Fantasy Fan magazine, and three didn’t see print until decades after Howard’s passing. The author, who took his own life in Cross Plains, Texas at the age of 30, had fragments and notes for several other Conan stories which were later published.
Even though Howard died more than 80 years ago, his legacy continues through his creations. From the new Marvel comic books spotlighting Conan, to the character being featured in games and other media, it seems Conan may get an opportunity to help see Americans through another depression.
Famed horror scribe Stephen King once said of Howard, who also created Solomon Kane and Red Sonya in addition to Conan and Kull, “Howard was the Thomas Wolfe of fantasy, and most of his Conan tales seem to almost fall over themselves in their need to get out.”
Below is a short profile on the most recent biography published of Howard, written by Mark Finn.
Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Cimmerian
Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard
Mark Finn penned what has become the definitive biography on Robert E. Howard in the 21st century, titled “Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard.” Published by MonkeyBrain Books in 2006, a second edition with revisions was later furnished by the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press in 2012.
Finn, a scholar from Texas, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in the Special Award — Professional category in 2007 for his biography and scholarship of Howard, highlighting how desperately the genre fiction community needed new scholarship of Howard, as his creations outshined him.
In his afterword for “Blood & Thunder,” Finn writes of Howard, “The popularity of Conan notwithstanding, the average person with a working knowledge of genre authors and subjects will barely have heard of Robert E. Howard at all. Odds are pretty good that what little they have heard revolves around Robert’s suicide at the age of thirty, or perhaps an intimation that Robert and his mother were, well, very close to one another.”
At the time of the book's initial publication, it would be an understatement to suggest that Finn’s biography challenged and threw out much of the scholarship that was written of Howard in prior books, particularly “Dark Valley Destiny: The Life of Robert E. Howard,” a 1980s Bluejay Books publication written by L. Sprague de Camp, with Catherine Crook de Camp and Jane Whittington Griffin.
It turns out that a lot of what people thought they knew of Howard, who lived from 1906 to 1936, until the 2000s simply wasn’t true (much of this was to do with the de Camp book), and it wasn’t until Finn’s “Blood & Thunder” was released that new light was shed on Howard’s life, as Finn’s book was the first in-depth biography published of Howard in 25 years.
Between the centennial celebration of Howard’s birth, Finn’s first edition being published with MonkeyBrain Books, and the creation of the Robert E. Howard Foundation in 2000 and its affiliated press in 2007, it was like a light was suddenly flipped on for genre fiction and Conan fans in the 2000s. They suddenly had increased access to Howard’s original stories, which were finally being reprinted, and there was a new and much more factual record of Howard's life to learn from.