L. Sprague de Camp and Catherine Crook de Camp at Nolacon II in New Orleans (1988)
Robert E. Howard's legacy extended after his death in 1936. Howard's most famous character, Conan the Barbarian, has a pop-culture imprint that has been compared to such icons as Tarzan of the Apes, Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond. Howard's critical reputation suffered at first but over the decades works of Howard scholarship have been published. The first professionally published example of this was L. Sprague de Camp's Dark Valley Destiny (1983) which was followed by other works, including Don Herron's
The Dark Barbarian (1984) and Mark Finn's Blood & Thunder (2006). Also in 2006, a charity,
Robert E. Howard Foundation, was created to promote further scholarship.
Following Robert E. Howard's death, the courts granted his estate to his father, who continued to work with Howard's literary agent Otis Adelbert Kline. Dr. Isaac Howard passed the rights on to his friend Dr. Pere Kuykendall, who passed them to his wife, Alla Ray Kuykendall, and daughter, Alla Ray Morris. Morris left the rights to the widow of her cousin, Zora Mae Bryant, who gave control to her children, Jack Baum and Terry Baum Rogers. The Baums eventually sold their rights to the Swedish (now US) company Paradox Entertainment.
Howard's first published novel, A Gent from Bear Creek, was printed in Britain one year after his death. This was followed in the United States by a collection of Howard's stories, Skull-Face and Others (1946) and then the novel Conan the Conqueror (1950). The success of Conan the Conqueror led to a series of Conan books from publisher Gnome Press, the later editor of which was L. Sprague de Camp. The series led to the first Conan pastiche, the novel The Return of Conan by de Camp and Swedish Howard fan Björn Nyberg. De Camp eventually achieved control over the Conan stories and Conan brand in general. Oscar Friend took over from Kline as literary agent and he was followed by his daughter Kittie West. When she closed the agency in 1965, a new agent was required. De Camp was offered the role but he recommended Glenn Lord instead. Lord began as a fan of Howard and had re-discovered many unpublished pieces that would otherwise have been lost, printing them in books such as Always Comes Evening (1957) and his own magazine
The Howard Collector (1961–1973). He became responsible for the non-Conan works and later restored, textually-pure versions of the Conan stories themselves.
In 1966, de Camp made a deal with Lancer Books to republish the Conan series, which led to the "First Howard Boom" of the 1970s; their popularity was enhanced by the cover artwork of Frank Frazetta on most of the volumes. Many of his works were reprinted (some printed for the first time) and they expanded into other media such as comic books and films. The Conan stories were increasingly edited by de Camp and the series was extended by pastiches until they replaced the original stories. In response, a puristic movement grew up demanding Howard's original, un-edited stories. The first boom ended in the mid-1980s. In the late 1990s and early 21st century, the "Second Howard Boom" occurred. This saw the printing of new collections of Howard's work, with the restored texts desired by purists. As before, the boom led to new comic books, films and computer games. Howard's house in Cross Plains has been converted into the Robert E. Howard Museum, which has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.