Robert E. Howard | character sketch

Character sketch


Howard's attitude towards race and racism is debated.[154][155] Howard used race as shorthand for physical characteristics and motivation. He would also employ some racial stereotypes, possibly for the sake of simplification.[156] He was also of the belief that, no matter who won the subsequent conflicts, it would only ever be a temporary victory. In "Wings in the Night" for instance, Howard writes that:

"The ancient empires fall, the dark-skinned peoples fade and even the demons of antiquity gasp their last, but over all stands the Aryan barbarian, white-skinned, cold-eyed, dominant, the supreme fighting man of the earth."[157]

[158] Howard became less racist as he grew older, due to several influences. Later works include more sympathetic black characters, as well as other minority groups such as Jews.[159] Significant works in terms of Howard's views on race are "Black Canaan" and "The Last White Man," which depict white protagonists at war with black barbarity.[155][160]

Howard had feminist views despite his era and location which he espoused in both personal and professional life. Howard wrote to his friends and associates defending the achievements and capabilities of women.[161][162] Strong female characters in Howard's works of fiction include the protofeminist Dark Agnes de Chastillon (first appearing in "Sword Woman", circa 1932–34); the early modern pirate Helen Tavrel ("The Isle of Pirates' Doom", 1928), two pirates and Conan supporting characters, Bêlit ("Queen of the Black Coast", 1934) and Valeria of the Red Brotherhood ("Red Nails", 1936); as well as the Ukrainian mercenary Red Sonya of Rogatino ("The Shadow of the Vulture", 1934).[163][164]

Howard had a phobia of aging and old age, a frequent subject in his writings, where characters were always eternally youthful and vigorous. He often spoke of a desire to die young.[165][166]


Physically, Howard was tall and heavily built. He had a gentle, round face with a soft, deep voice.[167] E. Hoffmann Price wrote that when he first met Howard in 1934 he "was busy trying to combine two images, that of the actual man, and that of the man who loomed up in those stirring yarns. The synthesis was never effected. He was packed with the whimsy and poetry which rang out in his letters, and blazed up in much of his published fiction, but, as is usually the case with writers, his appearance belied him. His face was boyish, not yet having squared off into angles; his blue eyes slightly prominent, had a wide-openness which did not suggest anything of the man's keen wit and agile fancy. That first picture persists—a powerful, solid, round-faced fellow, kindly and somewhat stolid seeming."[168]

Leisure activities

Howard enjoyed listening to other people's stories. He listened to tales told by family members growing up and, as an adult, collected stories from any older people willing to tell them.[169] Howard's parents were both natural storytellers of different kinds and he grew up in early twentieth century Texas, an environment in which the telling of tall tales was a standard form of entertainment.[170] Howard himself was a natural storyteller and later a professional storyteller. Combined, this often led to Howard embellishing facts in his communication, not with an intention to deceive but just to make a better story. This can be a problem for biographers reading his works and letters with an aim to understand Howard himself.[171]

Howard had an almost photographic memory and could memorize long poems after only a few readings.[21] Howard also enjoyed listening to music and drama on the radio. However his main interests were sports and politics, and he would listen to match reports and election results as they came in.[172]

After Howard bought a car in 1932, he and his friends took regular excursions across Texas and nearby states. His letters to Lovecraft also contain information about the history and geography he encountered on his journeys.[173] Howard was also a practitioner and fan of boxing, as well as an avid weightlifter.

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