Thursday, May 19, 2011

What If? Robert E. Howard.

I've got to ask your pardon ahead of time. I wrote this a while back and have been unsure if I should post it or not. But I feel that it's just too interested of a concept not too. So pardon me if I've gotten any facts wrong, I don't pretend to be a scholar in this matters, just a fan. Much like the old Marvel comics, we are going to imagine a world, one of many possible. One purely speculative and hypothetical, in which Robert E. Howard didn't commit suicide at age 30. I'm not particularly interested in the whys or wherefores of that. He did and the world's a poorer place for it. But what if he didn't?

What if, He went out to that car after having talked to the nurse. Sat down on the front seat. Pulled out that pistol, held it in his hands, checked to make sure it was loaded, put it to his head and then stopped. Took it down, looked at it, put it back in the sack or box he had it in and went back inside. Turned his grief into prose. Hammered out a succession of stories at his typewriter. hitting the keys with such fury it made his fingers hurt. The Funeral of his mother came and went. He began writing his western stories and soon got famous for them. He was struck again at the death of H.P. Lovecraft. Howard's Eulogy for Lovecraft was published in Weird Tales Magazine. Years went by and the storm clouds over Europe got darker, The ripples of discord got more violent in the pacific.

Howard never got back together with Novalyne. But they corresponded frequently. But after Pearl Harbour. Howard thought about following Edgar Rice Burroughs into the correspondent corps.. but his feelings that at 30 he was past his prime kept gnawing at him. He was beginning the downhill slope. He had hit his midlife crisis early but had chosen not to end it. Instead he just chose to enlist. He was 35 at the time, in good shape but to old to be drafted. One day he drove down to Brownwood and signed. Brownwood was home of the 141st Infantry. A unit steeped in Texas history. Being older than most of the men, he became an NCO. He definitely went with them to Europe. And there got cut off with them in the Voseges Mountains. This is where they earned their name as the Alamo Regiment.

Eventually the 141st Texas was relieved through the heroic efforts of the 442nd all Nisei regimental Combat Team. The Most decorated unit in US Military history. Being a man who recognized bravery no matter the origins. The Screams of 'BANZAI!' coming from the nisei men as they rushed the encircling Germans would have no doubt stayed with him. After the war was over, he set to work on an epic poem that would commemorate the battle in the Voseges. Eventually publishing it to great acclaim, both for himself and for all the men involved.

His westerns got more and more popular. In 1950 a small outfit called Gnome got in touch with him to see about re-printing his Conan yarns. He cleaned them up and mailed out new typescripts. These became immensely popular. Soon paperback editions of the gnomes were to be found in fox holes all over the Korean peninsula. He resisted the calls to write new Conan yarns, mainly coming from L. Sprague DeCamp. Though the two were never great friends, they had some vociferous conversations about why Conan was so popular.

He bought a copy of Lord of the Rings in 1955, and read it straight through. He was quoted later as saying "I loved the hell out of it", he also dismissed calls that Tolkien had lifted the story from his own "Hour of the Dragon". After these allegations, Howard and Tolkien began an infrequent exchange of letters. Maybe finding in the oxford don a surrogate for Lovecraft. They discussed GK Chesterton and James Fenimoor Cooper among other things.

In 1956 Howard received a manuscript from a fan in Sweden. He didn't think much of it, but wrote the fan a letter thanking him for taking the time to send it to him. The idea that people were so hungry for new Conan yarns they would write them themselves was an interesting one. So he thought, maybe other's can see the missing parts of Conan's life. He came up with the idea of getting others to write books and him editing them to make sure they stayed in the spirit of his own writing.

an initial offering of new novels and his own initial 21 completed yarns were all published in a uniform series of paperbacks by Lancer in the early 60's. Featuring works by the like of C.L. Moore, Henry Kuttner, and a relative newcomer Lin Carter, who he would eventually go on to co-edit a long lived Fantasy Anthology series with. Following this success, Howard took his place as the second father of Fantasy literature.

Robert E. Howard Died in 1964, age 58. He'd been out on one of his routine hikes in the Texas hill country when he'd gotten bit by a rattler. He shot the rattler and treated the bite, but even for a man of his size and physical condition it took him too swiftly for him to get help. He was Eulogized by Lin Carter, with J.R.R Tolkien provideding an epitaph from his still unfinished Silmarillion. "If all were now retold a man’s life would not suffice for the hearing."

Thats how I see it playing out on some alternate reality world. It would have been awesome.


Brian Murphy said...

I love it... I could see that happening.

I like the bit about Howard and Tolkien exchanging letters...maybe REH would have lit the fire under JRRT to get him to publish The Silmarillon and other tales of Middle-earth during his lifetime.

M. D. Jackson said...

It all sounds plausible (except for the part about the rattlesnake).

Lagomorph Rex said...

Your right, but I honestly couldn't think of a better way to end the story.

It's sort of a take on Beowulf and the Dragon actually..

Charles R. Rutledge said...

I wonder what REH would have thought of The Hobbit, published only a year after his death? The early chapters might have bored him, but by the end of the book I think he might have found much to interest him.