MONSTERS, MYTHS, AND THE MEN WHO CREATED THEM: ROBERT E. HOWARD AND H.P. LOVECRAFT

Molded corridors erected from cyclopean stones wrapped about in a never ending maze of forgotten and mismatched catalogs of ancient oddities.  Was I left in some abandoned ziggurat that stood sentinel on some black and lonely landscape in the farthest corners of the Earth?  Or had I been transported to a location outside of the confines of human reality?  Seeing through the foreboding darkness I came to the realization I stood in neither, I had simply wandered to a neglected part of the museum.  These were the hallways of a wing long forgotten and never truly brought to any deserved luster.  As I stood under the plethora of relics found within the domes of sunken kingdoms and weapons pried from the boney hands of dead kings a pang of sadness enshrouded me.  Truly it would seem my colleagues and even their pupils had never thought of how much was owed to this treasure trove brought to us so many decades past.  How we were able to carve our own paths through the unknown and mysterious in thanks to the knowledge brought to us by our forebears, these long dead and forgotten men who ventured out without so much as a thought for the glory and riches that cloud the minds of others in our field. 

I moved over the old treasures collecting dust and towards the end of the main exhibit.  My eyes navigated to the walls that housed massive arms and suits of fully complete armor.  I recalled the stories of how they came collected by a man, driven by the desire to escape the confines of a corrupt and decadent time and to blaze back into the primordial wilderness where instincts sharpened a man like whetstone to a blade’s edge.  Conflicted with his own physical weakness I knew this mind sought to become stronger and in turn ventured and search for the most savage and brutal names that could be deciphered.  He ventured searching for the old lands before Pangea, back to Hyperborean times before even Atlantis itself had been swallowed by the unforgiving sea.  He continued in his search, moving through the Age of Enlightenment to frontier days, until finally a tragedy would take him, and his name would be lost to the aethers of time. 

From the tales of mighty heroes and primal warlords I looked towards the other walls.  There were no implements of war to be seen, but the aura of dread was palpable.  Parchments of dried human skin moldered under their glass cages.  On each and every one, thin, lines, of indiscernible script were written in human blood.  These were the words to bring about the Ones that lived beyond our mortal pale of understanding and no scholar alive would be so foolish to test such things.  Above the glass, rows of old gold jewelry were displayed having been pulled from the very depths that took Atlantis, relics of priests who belonged to cults that still hide in the darkest corners of civilization.  Elder Signs adorned the walls, symbols representing lost and unknown power that only brings doom and madness to those unfortunate enough to succumb to temptation.  The thoughts of shrieking inner voices made me think of the individual who had unearthed such terrible sights.  A talent whose name brought some notoriety today but was lost to obscurity while he drew breathe.  He was a mind whose own demons sung songs of insanity and fueled notions of xenophobia and fear of the Other.  It came as no surprise to me why one such as this would look into the ruins that housed eldritch oddities and foul anomalies instead of being drawn to what was truly frightening: the mundane. 

I stopped, my footsteps that had echoed throughout the confines of the forgotten wing were now silent like the dead things we housed in the museum.  Before me I stared at an empty wall where two frames, once glinting golden, now rusted with a brown foulness that comes with being lost in the void of forgotten names and unknown achievements.  My eyes strained as I glared at the spaces where two portraits should have been housed.  In that musty, dark, hall where the tomes of lost sorcerers and the swords of fabled lords rested, I knew what I had to do. 

 

MONSTERS, MYTHS, AND THE MEN WHO CREATED THEM:

 ROBERT E. HOWARD AND H.P. LOVECRAFT

                         

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Their influence is a permeating ivy that has latched across the foundations of speculative fiction for decades past and will continue so seemingly into the foreseeable future.  The works of Robert. E Howard’s barbaric hero, Conan of Cimmeria, and H.P. Lovecraft’s countless eldritch monsters such as Cthullu and Dagon have been lifted from the yellowed pages of pulp magazines and moved through time and across media.  But the while the characters live on and are imitated over and over, the credit that should go towards these individuals goes largely absent are instead lambasted by countless criticisms on modern topics such as race and misogyny.  Robert Erving Howard (or R.E.H) and Howard Phillip Lovecraft crafted countless tales that have managed to live on past their own names, talents, and struggles as writers and as individuals.  It is through this curation project that the argument will be posed that these two authors should be recognized for their contributions in the various genres of speculative fiction they have touched.  

Though the works of R.E.H and Lovecraft have maintained a devout a following, namely those who can actually place a name of the writers to their accomplishments, they have largely gone unnoticed, save for their shortcomings.  While Howard is known for his iconic character, Conan, at best Howard’s work is left to be relegated as tropes and satire.  But upon closer inspection at Howard’s entire body of work, readers can see a wide array of themes that transcend not only the sword and sorcery genre he made famous, but also the confines of the pulp fiction world.  Even in Conan and alongside other characters such as King Kull and Bran Mak Morn, Howard utilizes a wide array of Celtic imagery and descriptions have been become synonymous with the idea of the noble Irish warrior.   The dark and dusky maned warrior hailing from a cold and misty land has been a staple and can still be seen in Dungeons and Dragons and Masters of the Universe, and in modern interpretations of Spartacus, just to name a few.  To the surprise of many, Howard’s heroes were not only one dimensional killing machines who got the girl at the end like in so many pulp stories or modern movies.  King Kull was a warrior who used his intellect to outsmart his enemies, Solomon Kane was a puritan so dour and morose about the evils he needed to eradicate, and Howard wrote that Conan was a man mountainous mirth and equal somberness, providing more than just a muscle bound Austrian.  One if not the biggest aspect that Howard brought to his writings that is utilized in many other stories is the idea of wilderness vs society, barbarism vs civility, and the notion that the most complex society is doomed is key R.E.H’s stories.  To some this is considered a mode of existentialism by a man who felt he was witnessing the degradation of the world around him.  Through a cornucopia of themes that began as feelings and the internal struggles of a troubled Texan morphed into a legacy that grew and spread through various artists. 

 

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Figure 1  Many authors name Howard as a source of inspiration.  This includes Charles Saunders and even artist Frank Frazetta.

While many creative minds utilize the elements crafted in Howards Sword and Sorcery genre few in scholarly texts acknowledge his influence.  Authors such as Michael Moorock have created their own fantasy worlds in a similar style to Howard while at the same time, working with their own creative voices.  Interestingly, fantasy author Charles Saunders cites Howard as an influence to his work in creating visceral fantasy stories set in a universe steeped in African lore while at the same time acknowledging Howards racial shortcomings.  Though many can see hints of Conan or other Howardian heroes in popular culture without knowing who Howard was, it may come as a consolation that these ideas have long stood the test of time and became a staple in the genre.  Even in comic books characters like Claw the Unconquered and Corsair and his Starjammers stood side by side with comic images of Conan and others. 

 

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Figure 2  The themes used by Howard are not resigned to just Sword and Sorcery pulps.  Even children shows utilize the stoic barbarian hero in cartoon shows such as Thundarr and He-Man.  In comics Powell uses the loner thematic in many of his comic books.

Though Lovecraft’s name has weathered the storm of time somewhat better than Howard’s, many namely view Lovecraft as a virulent racist and the creator of a multi-tentacle monster.  But if it were not for the works of Lovecraft and essentially his invention of the Cosmic Horror genre, writers such as Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Alan Moore would not have created their own memorable works.  Lovecraft’s themes such as forbidden knowledge, old and alien monstrosities and their indifference to mankind, and eldritch dimensions, are used by many other creative minds.  Videogames such as “Bloodbourne” and “Darkest Dungeon” utilize the horror thematic Lovecraft created to bring new types of interactive horror to the mass audience.  For decades movies have taken much from Lovecraft as seen in “Hellboy”, “Evil Dead”, and “In the Mouth of Madness”.  But possibly the biggest contribution Lovecraft created was his willingness to allow others to take what they wanted from his works.  Lovecraft corresponded with other writers such as Ashton C. and even Robert E. Howard through hundreds of letters.  Between these and others in Lovecraft’s list, the Lovecraftian Circle, a group that shared ideas and branched off one another.  While such groups would not come off as revolutionary as it seemed, Lovecraft seemed to encourage others into his mythos.  Even well after his death, others have taken up the mantle of tending to the Old Gods and the Elder Beings in Lovecraft’s fiction. 

 

Figure 3  Bruce Campbell has starred in quite a few movies that feature Lovecraftian elements.  While not directly citing his influence Octavia Butler utilizes Lovecraftian aspects in her writing.  Of course King and Del Toro created many Lovecraftian works.

Judging by their influence and legacy, Howard and R.E.H deserve more than the cult icon status they have accumulated posthumously.  Not only do their creative works stand the test of time, but their influences also inspires countless others.  Through Lovecraft the Eldritch world of Weird Fiction flourishes and from Howard Sword and Sorcery continues to be a staple for many.  In the end, both Lovecraft and R.E.H died before their respective times; one from stomach cancer and the other from suicide, and because of those circumstances the world never truly had the opportunity to see either reach their full potential.  But in the time they worked, Howard and Lovecraft left worlds of extraordinary fantasy for everyone. 

People see them in everything, in movies, comic books, in television and of course in books.  It could be an endearing admiration that while Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft have mostly gone forgotten in the eyes of the public, their works have influenced other creative minds for decades and spread about through other media.  While both Howard and Lovecraft were men with their own faults that may have caused a divide between them and readers of varying minorities, the works of both weaved passed those binaries and into the hands of many if not most.  While people play videogames featuring dusky skinned, and half naked warriors or watch movies in terror at the sight of nameless horrors, those aforementioned divisions deteriorated and now many authors have taken different approaches to be more inclusive in these types of literature.  But in the end, it can be said that even that would not be possible if not for the longstanding influence and legacy left by both Howard and Lovecraft.

 

 

 

Figure 4 Even the world of anime incorporates Lovecraftian Horror.

 

 

 

 

 

WORKS CITED

Santvoort, Derk van.  “Casting Shadows Out of Time:  H.P. Lovecraft and His         

Influences and His Influence.”  Utrecht University August 2008.  Accessed 10   Nov. 2016.  http://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/31722                  

This thesis details the influence left by H.P. Lovecraft on several prolific writers, including Stephen King.  I will use this to map out some of the ways Lovecraft’s influence has spread throughout the years. 

 

Finn, Mark “Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard.” The Robert E. Howard

Foundation, 2006,  Googlebooks. Accessed 10 Nov. 2016.   https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=SrygBQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR5&dq=+robert+e+howard+%22robert+e+howard%22&ots=Q2zCt1tyKh&sig=7_5wR9PnUhI9pI65JlI63lAERA0#v=onepage&q=robert%20e%20howard%20%22robert%20e%20howard%22&f=false

This lengthy biography of Robert E. Howard will be used to detail some of his writing styles and imagery.  I will use this to show how despite not being directly credited his influence is still experienced by many throughout all forms of media. 

 

Evans, Timothy H.  “A Last Defense against the Dark: Folklore, Horror, and the Uses of

Tradition in the Works of H. P. Lovecraft.”  Journal of Folklore Research, vol. 42, no. 1, January-April 2005, pp. 99-135.  Project Muse.  Accessed 10 Nov. 2016.

https://muse.jhu.edu/article/181485

I intend to use this article as another way to catalog H.P. Lovecraft’s influence on writing and other media.  I would also like to use this to get on the topic of the criticisms both Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard faces when it comes to things such as racism and sexism. 

 

Bell, John. “A Charles R. Saunders Interview.” Black American Literature Forum, vol. 18, no. 2, 

1984, pp.  90–92.  JSTOR.  Accessed 11 Nov. 2016.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/2904134?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=%28robert&searchText=e&searchText=howard%29&searchText=influence&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3D%2528robert%2Be%2Bhoward%2529%2Binfluence%26amp%3Bprq%3D%2528robert%2Be%2Bhoward%2529%26amp%3Bacc%3Don%26amp%3Bwc%3Doff%26amp%3Bfc%3Doff%26amp%3Bso%3Drel%26amp%3Bhp%3D25&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

I was briefly going to touch on this interview with a black fiction writer and the influence he gained from Robert E. Howard despite any racial tendencies he had.  Saunders suggest Howard was a man of his time, that will be looked at briefly, and how these conceptions about both Howard and Lovecraft should not prevent them from any due credit they deserve. 

 

Dowd, C. "The Irish-American Identities of Robert E. Howard and Conan the Barbarian." New

Hibernia Review, vol. 20 no. 2, 2016, pp. 15-34. Project Muse.  Accessed Nov. 11 2016.  doi:10.1353/nhr.2016.0027.https://muse.jhu.edu/article/627084

This article looks at how Robert E. Howards writing cultivated the idea of the Irish or Celtic hero in the minds of many of fantasy readers today.  I want to use excerpts from this to show how Howards influence in the Sword and Sorcery genre inspired many ideas of what the Celtic hero looks like to modern day fans. 

 

Parsons, Deke. “J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and the Birth of Modern Fantasy.

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2014. 26 November 2016.  pp.  115-120. WKU Library.  Accessed Nov 20.  2 016. http://www.myilibrary.com.libsrv.wku.edu?ID=663899

This excerpt touches on how Robert E. Howard’s work themes helped shaped fantasy writing into what it is today.  The themes that Howard utilized are detailed along with ideas as to where and when they manifested within Howard himself. 

 

Breakiron, Lee A. "The Cromlechers." The Nemedian Chroniclers 9: 17.  Robert-e-howard. 

Accessed 19 Nov.  2016.  http://www.robert-e-howard.org/nemedianchroniclers9.pdf

This older fan magazine details biographical information on Robert E. Howard’s life.  From these experiences and how he lived a level of detail on the themes in Howard’s work takes new light.  Theses facets of his personal background allows people to how Howard and his writing took shape.   

IMAGES AND VIDEO

Movie clip of “The Whole Wide World”.  “Robert E. Howard describes Conan.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2MwAy6njlM  Uploaded on Oct 28, 2007 by jroge008

Force of Will Movie Trailer.  “Exert your force of will: Cthulu is coming.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkNuW66uGfA.  Uploaded on Sep 20, 2016 by TokyoPop TV.  Acces

Photograph of H.P. Lovecraft.  Biography.  www.biography.com/people/hp-lovecraft-40102

Image of Robert E. Howard.  Counter-currents.  www.counter-currents.com/tag/robert-e-howard/

Images of Robert E. Howard.  Onaunderwood.  onanunderwood5.blogspot.com/2015/09/barbarism-and-civilization-in-letters.html

Powell, Eric.  “HillBilly” and “The Goon.”  Thegoon.  www.thegoon.com/

Photograph of Octavia Butler.  Bookfans.  bookfans.net/wp-content/uploads/images/Octavia_E._Butler_15800.jpg?c3d821

Photograph of Stephen King.  Parnassusbooks.  www.parnassusbooks.net/event/author-event-stephen-king-ryman-auditorium

Frazetta, Frank.  “Self-portrait.”  Wikipedia.  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Frazetta

Masters of the Universe movie poster.  Supercultshow.  supercultshow.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/masters-of-the-universe/

Thundarr the Barbarian image.  Thundarr the Barbarian Wiki.  thundarr.wikia.com/wiki/Thundarr_the_Barbarian_Wiki

Photo of Michael Moorock.  Goodreads.  www.goodreads.com/author/show/16939.Michael_Moorcock.

Photo of Alan Moore.  Followingthenerd. www.followingthenerd.com/comics/ftns-comic-creator-month-alan-moore.

Photo of Guillermo Del Toro.  Wired.  www.wired.com/2009/05/mf-deltoro.