More apt words I cannot think of. Today would mark the 106th Birthday of Robert E. Howard. It's difficult to know what he would think of the world today. In many ways he was abjectly progressive. His views on Women especially set him apart from the rest of his generation. In other ways he was reactionary, especially if he was writing a letter to a Non Texan or a Non Southerner. But one thing he wasn't, and that was normal. There is no mistaking that Bob was a Texan through and through. So he wasn't exactly a square peg in a round hole, but he had a few rough edges that kept him from fitting comfortably. This discomfort was probably a great factor in his imaginative output. The output which inspired so many people, lead to the creation of so many things, movies, music, games, endless streams of novels written in imitation of the master.
Though it may cause discomfort, Fitting in, isn't supposed to be mandatory. It confers certain social advancements. It most certainly isn't supposed to be dangerous. If you've read my ramblings for any length of time then you know I'm an advocate for the outsider. The kid who got picked on for playing D&D. The boy with long hair. The girl who likes metal and has a Mohawk. The guy in Texas who writes fantasy stories instead of getting a real job. All these things come with their downsides, lack of job opportunities, social ostracism, or even outright pariah status in school. This has its own downsides. It leads to depression, anxiety, people becoming stranger because they retreat into themselves to escape a world they don't fit into. Sometimes, like Robert E. Howard, they feel they have no alternative but to depart this world for another.
But that is a personal choice, those of us who survive are merely left to wonder why. Our status as bystanders disqualifies us from ever fully understanding the inner workings of another person. We should be understanding of others differences. Differences and hobbies and interests aren't supposed to be damning enough to take your entire childhood away. Being a Nerd or a Goth or an Emo or a Geek isn't supposed to be Dangerous. But in Arkansas that's exactly what it was.
I'm sure you all are aware of the nausea inducing West Memphis 3 case. Where a podunk town railroaded three boys into prison for the murder of 3 children, using as evidence heavy metal albums, black clothes and Stephen King novels to support an outlandish hypothesis involving ritual sacrifice and Satan worship. They were recently released, with the understanding that they admit they did it. It allowed some people in Arkansas with severe indigestion to sleep more soundly, but it didn't clear the boys names, it didn't give them their adolescence back. Unfortunately this rescue from the cusp of death wasn't at the hands of Roland Deschain, Jireal, Conan and Aragorn riding to the judges house and forcing him to recant his misguided decision, to crawl on bended knee to beg forgiveness for his sins, to ride an ass backwards in front of the gates of Jerusalem so that all might know his foolishness. The only reason it happened it all is because a filmmaker from New Zealand with deep pockets took it upon himself to do something to right this wrong.
Just because they are out of jail doesn't mean it's over. They still have a great big GUILTY next to their names. The flaws unearthed by this injustice are still built into the system. It could happen again. Remember that. If you don't fit in, This could happen again. No I think it will happen again, probably has happened again already and we just don't know about it because it didn't get media attention. Didn't get musicians and actors and filmmakers attentions.
It is my hope that Peter Jackson's recently produced West of Memphis documentary has just premiered at Sundance. If nothing else, if it can be prevented from happening again, then something good will have come out of this.
It is important for us to accept others as they are. I want to wrap up by talking about Bob Howard. A Man who I feel like I almost know but don't quite. He didn't quite fit in. I'm not going to postulate on why he killed himself. That's not fair to him. He knows why he did it. I wonder if he had found more acceptance in life if he would have felt it his only option. I wonder if these three boys had lived somewhere, where being different wasn't a sin, if there would have been another option.
Brian Aldiss, August 18, 1925 — August 19, 2017
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