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MM on Robert E. Howard

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  • MM on Robert E. Howard

    I am curius what MM thinks of the writing of Robert E. Howard. I have read a bit of his opinion of Tolkien and would find it interesting to know his view of Howard. Can anyone direct me to a thread addressing this, or perhaps MM could reiterate his view in this thread. I have read that Elric was a direct parody of Conan. I am wondering if this is from a perspective of distaste, or simply a breaking from the simple hero mold.

  • #2
    I won't rob you of the enjoyment of searching through the Q&A archive for a more up-to-date view from MM - but his piece "The Secret Life of Elric of Melnibone" (written in 1964 and later included in "Elric at the End of Time") traces the origins of Elric to "a first chapter and outline of a Conan story" he wrote for Science Fantasy, mistakenly thinking that the editor had asked him to, when what he had actually wanted was "something along the same lines".

    This, writes MM, "suited me much better. I decided that I would think up a hero as different as possible from the usual run of S&S heroes, and use the narrative as vehicle for my own 'serious' ideas." He exclaims further; "Elric was me (the me of 1960-1, anyway) ..." So, according to this account, Elric is part reaction against Conan, part self-portrait (I wouldn't like to have got on MM's bad side in those days!)

    The article says that MM had a "keen interest" in REH, Clark Ashton Smith and others "up until I was twenty or so", but gives the general idea that he had moved from all that by the time the article was written. However - I pick up a more positive view from stuff I've read on this site - although MM clearly doesn't appreciate all the Conan pastiches from other hands.
    \"...an ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at climbing, who yet feels himself to be a symbol and the frail representative of Omnipotence in a place that is not home.\" James Branch Cabell

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    • #3
      Get off his back!

      Ah poor Robert E Howard died long ago yet his works still inspire millions.

      As an idea, the Hyborian Age has more reality to it than most S&S novels as it is actually set on our earth instead of some leap of fantasy other world. It is populated by characters and races we can clearly see are ancestors of today. His writing about Conan, as opposed to those writers who would take up his mantle, portray a character who although from simple upbringings eventually succeeded in landing a good job as king AND fought against man's oldest foe the serpent men and won.

      I bet Conan's parents were proud (although quite dead).

      And need I mention it didn't do bad for Mr Shwarznegger's prospects either.
      "What do you think you're doing? This is a closed set!"

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      • #4
        Re: Get off his back!

        Originally posted by muckyshoe
        And need I mention it didn't do bad for Mr Shwarznegger's prospects either.
        Nothing's all good, then!

        I wasn't aware anyone was on REH's back, by the way. He was a great pioneer in the S&S genre, in many ways unexcelled. I think it was a terrible tragedy that he felt compelled to end his life before he had completed the great epic he was so clearly capable of. I guess MM just needed to move on and strike his own path, and in the process he's given us something far more memorable and unique than any of the Howard imitators.

        It is populated by characters and races we can clearly see are ancestors of today.
        Unfortunately, REH and race is a sorry topic:
        http://www.rehupa.com/romeo_southern.htm

        However, I do tend to agree with the writer of the above article that
        Any flaws are outweighed by superior storytelling and meaningful themes regarding the nature of civilization in his best work.
        But I do think we should be wary of his attitudes.
        \"...an ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at climbing, who yet feels himself to be a symbol and the frail representative of Omnipotence in a place that is not home.\" James Branch Cabell

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        • #5
          hot water

          The article is well put together, for sure.
          I suppose you know that the real bad guys in the film "Master and Commander" were meant to be the Americans, but of course Hollywood changed them to the more despicable French (c'est vrai!)
          Truth be told, whilst we live in VERY enlightened times, PC rules whether we think we're being safe or not. Back then there was no global vision. People from down the street let alone other countries were strange and mysterious pagans with other ways.

          Shame. I wanted to discuss Conan.

          Crom is laughing at me, you know.
          "What do you think you're doing? This is a closed set!"

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          • #6
            Has anyone been reading the new Conan comic by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord and published by Dark Horse? It's pretty good and worth checking out.

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            • #7
              Yeah, I have been getting it.
              It think the comic started out well enough, but Nord's pencils have been becoming looser and looser as each deadline approaches. So much so that Thomas Yeates was called in to add pencils too (and the latest issue is pencilled entirely by Greg Ruth).

              I'm not a fan of comics that are pencilled then computer coloured, I much prefer some ink to go on a page before colour (and in some instances, no colour at all).

              This new incarnation of Conan comics is better than a lot of comics out on the market at the moment, but it's not a patch on the first 25-30 issues of Marvel's Conan series of the 70s, nor on the finer stories presented in Savage Sword of Conan.
              (and I still cannot believe that Busiek had the gall to retell the Frost Giant's Daughter storyline, because it doesn't get any better than the Roy Thomas/Barry Windsor-Smith version).

              -mr.wolfie
              www.gaiateam.dsl.pipex.com

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              • #8
                I've been collecting Dark Horse's reprints of the Conan series from the 70s. Very nice stuff. Volume 3 ("The Monster of the Monoliths and Other Stories") collects the two Conan/Elric issues!

                "The Secret Life of Elric of Melnibonأ©" can also be found in the Sojan paperback, which should still be available from Savoy.

                And, yes, I believe Howard held quite a few prejudices, which can be said for so many other famous authors, unfortunately.

                That's an awesome avatar you have there, misterwolfie! :D

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                • #9
                  Sadly, I seem to have arrived at this topic a bit late to dampen my blade in the first wave. Nevertheless, it amuses me to worry the flanks of the thing though someone else has gotten to the heart of it. ;)

                  As I heard the tale told, Mr. Moorcock wrote Elric as a reaction to positivist, order-oriented high fantasy in the Tolkienite pattern. Of course, it would also make sense for the White Wolf to be a conceptual antithesis of Conan, for as has been pointed out many times before, the two are about as different as one can imagine sword-swinging heroes might be.

                  Conan is great of thew, wary of sorcery, barbarous, carnal. He does not place great importance on strategy or bookish learning and seems, despite the efforts of Carter and DeCamp to portray him otherwise, generally unconcerned with the fate of the larger world. Conan's top priority, from birth to unchronicled death, is Conan.

                  Elric, though, is frail, sustained by occult magics, actively in league with superhuman, extraplanar powers, civilized, erudite, almost sterile (at least post-Cymoril) in his consideration of the world. By fate he is drawn into the workings of the cosmic machine to play a role that transcends all shallow human concepts of time and space. Elric plays upon the stage of the multiverse and fights in the name of the cosmic Balance.

                  That said, though, I personally like Conan no less than Elric, though the two could not be more at odds philosophically. Most fascinating to me is the revelation in this thread that Elric is in essence Mr. Moorcock's self-portrait. It is generally believed that Conan was likewise a distillation of Robert E. Howard's self-concept.

                  I know little enough of how Mr. Moorcock thought of himself while writing Elric, and will not field a guess as the Man Himself is present and capable of giving his own account (which would excel my best speculations at any rate). Howard, though, is almost seventy years gone and cannot speak for himself. Having read various scholarly inquests into his world-view as well as the personal memoirs of Howard's one-time romantic interest Novalyne Price-Ellis, I find I have something of a thin and foolish understanding of Howard.

                  Howard dwelt for most of his career in Cross Plains, Texas, a tiny thorp that today is still as backward and intolerant as it was in the 1930s. Though he frequently traveled hither and yon in Texas, he only rarely ventured beyond its borders and was, as were many of his contemporaries, a product of the time and environment in which he was raised. That Howard harbored racist sentiment is no small part of his writing. I do not approve of such a world view personally, but to dispute the reality of Howard's ideology is futile. What he believed shaped his world, and the world in which he lived was the direct inspiration for what he wrote.

                  The people of Cross Plains were generally ill-disposed to Howard's livelihood and unorthodox behavior. Writing for the pulps carried a terrible stigma, and Howard was shunned by many peers and neighbors. He, however, shared the sentiment of disdain with them. He thought of primitive man as the most excellent representation of the species--a pure and noble savage sort of concept. The dim and hazy past held for Howard, inasmuch as it lacked the constraints and currency-slavery of the modern world, a realm into which he could project himself as an escape.

                  Thus most of his heroes were, indeed, barbarians. Because Howard himself was embattled (at least in his mind), his characters are relentlessly harried by all sorts of natural and supernatural foes. Unlike Howard, however, who eventually fell victim to the chains he believed bound him, Conan and his peers emerge victorious in the end. It is my belief that Conan is Robert E. Howard as much as Elric is an early 1960s Michael Moorcock. Thus, should there be disparity of worldview between the writers, (which there doubtless is), the characters must share that gap of understanding.

                  I find myself drawn to Howard and Moorcock's heroes in equal measure, but I admire and in ways relate to them for different reasons entirely. Fundamentally Howard's characters represent to me the oft-discussed Unstoppable Force. Though he is simple and narrow of view, Conan nevertheless always triumphs. His determination is legendary and wins greatness for him in the end. No matter how battered, the Cimmerian refuses to be bested.

                  Moorcock's characters, in contrast, seem broad-minded in their consderation of the cosmos, deeply pensive concerning all things, and, though just as determined as the seminal barbarian of Howard's world, catalyzed by greater forces than the need for treasure, sustenance, and willing wenches. Elric and his ilk always accomplish their goals, but the road to such things is twisted and fraught with horrors and cruelty. Nothing is without its cost and consequence, and Moorcock's characters seem all too aware of this fact.

                  For me there is no question of which author is better. Both write from their own experiences, and one finds their works palatable or unpalatable based upon one's own ability to relate to the world-view expressed therein.

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                  • #10
                    Crom Lives!

                    Well thank Crom for Lisa V. Tomecek!

                    Conan and his world is a great source of a world gone that occupies our own space time. It's a real pleasure to envisage what the world was like before the North Sea filled in or the islands that we know took shape.

                    i thought the movies were great also. Was that really King Kull that Conan took the sword from? My imagination tells me so. My only sour point was the idiot they replaced Subotai with.

                    der rhiddle uf steel?

                    Dinner for wolves?

                    Lot on yor knife

                    I'm sorry, I must get up now...
                    "What do you think you're doing? This is a closed set!"

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                    • #11
                      If i am not mistaken i believe i read that elric was created to be the total opposite of conan. it worked pretty good if you ask me :D

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                      • #12
                        Re: Crom Lives!

                        Originally posted by muckyshoe
                        Well thank Crom for Lisa V. Tomecek!

                        Conan and his world is a great source of a world gone that occupies our own space time. It's a real pleasure to envisage what the world was like before the North Sea filled in or the islands that we know took shape.

                        i thought the movies were great also. Was that really King Kull that Conan took the sword from? My imagination tells me so.
                        I love the Conan stories and the first movie. The sword Conan found in the crypt wasn't King Kull. That skeleton was of a giant.

                        ~Clangador
                        __________
                        ~Clangador
                        __________
                        Another obligatory quote:
                        \"The word liberal, like liberty, derives
                        from the Latin liber (\"free\").\"
                        __________

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                        • #13
                          Still curious about this topic and hoping MM may comment on it.

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                          • #14
                            Hi , just joined the Board and see that a number of you are Howard and / or comic fans too , so if you'd also like to chat about those over on TheREHcomics Group we'd be pleased to see you.

                            Terry

                            http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TheREHcomicsgroup/
                            The Robert E Howard Comics Group is dedicated to the characters created by Robert E Howard that have appeared in Marvel Comics , Dark Horse Comics , Cross Plains Comics , Dynamite Entertainment etc.
                            http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TheREHcomicsgroup/

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                            • #15
                              I recently did an interview, part of which should be going out on the new DVD issue of the Conan movies. You'll hear there how much I admire Howard still. I don't find his stories as interesting as I did, but I still enjoy his writing. I have always argued that there is far more vitality in American fantasy of this kind than most of the English kind. You'll find this opinion in Wizardry and Wild Romance, recently reprinted by Monkeybrain Books of Austin. It's a revised edition of the book I originally did in the 80s in which I say what I don't like about Tolkien and what I do like about Howard. I hardly read any fantasy, these days. That which I do read is either to give a blurb for a publisher or to review.
                              Many of those reviews can be found at The Guardian books site and several have been reprinted in Wizardry and Wild Romance. Howard was a more sophisticated reader than many realise and came from a middle class background, though he lived in a pretty awful part of Texas, where his father was a doctor. Like other solitary writers, he formed a deep attachment to his mother. She became sick and eventually died.
                              His depression was so great that he killed himself. My guess is that if a gun hadn't been available to him and he had had a little more support he would have lived on, writing increasingly more interesting fiction. While it's well known that I have problems with Tolkien and those he inspired, I have no such problem with American writers like Howard, Moore, Smith,
                              Brackett and others, who are the bedrock of the best American heroic fantasy which I happen to believe is far superior to most of the current British heroic fantasy.

                              Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
                              The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
                              Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                              Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                              The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                              Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

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