THE GRIM AND BROODING STRANGER #1
A submission to REH-eAPA for publication
Autumnal Equinox 2004
By Kirk Jones
© 2004 All Rights Reserved
As this is my initial submission to REH-eAPA, it would be advantageous to introduce myself. I‚m a 39-year-old customer relations professional and soon to be professionally published writer (I hope!). It is my desire to participate in this APA not only to improve upon my writing skills, but to educate myself more on Robert E. Howard, specifically, and on pulp and short story writing in general. I currently own both Del Rey books published so far, as well as the first Ace publication of Almuric. I am looking forward to getting to know other REH aficionados, as my experience on the web has demonstrated that REH fans are a lively lot!
I‚ve been an avid reader of many things since childhood. I enjoy science fiction, biographies, self-help books, and comics, primarily. In my teenage years I became a fan of the works of H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and Robert E. Howard. I have to confess that John Norman‚s Gor series has been a guilty pleasure as well. Many of the books from those years were taken to Goodwill or the library for others to enjoy. Looking back, part of me regrets getting rid of those books, (mostly through parental insistence!). Still, if someone else was introduced to the authors through my generosity, well, then it was worth it. Now I am in the process of recouping many of those works. Thank goodness for used book stores and e-bay!
Other interests that I enjoy include guitar, music of all kinds (though I particularly gravitate toward, blues, jazz, and American roots music), some gaming, and that venerable institution of British television, Doctor Who.
There has been a distinct lack of interest for years now by both major publishers as well as booksellers to produce and keep an adequate stock of classic genre fiction on the shelf. While newer titles should, by necessity, receive the most attention, many classic titles are left unattended and unnoticed. If I go into my local bookstore and try to find the Del Rey Robert E. Howard volumes, is it likely that I will find them? Well, the situation for Howard has improved, fortunately, due to a larger publisher taking the reins. I did walk in on a national chain bookseller in August to find 2 copies of the first Conan volume and one copy of the Solomon Kane volume. The Kane book was sitting in the graphic novel section, rather than science fiction and fantasy. I was surprised, in all honesty, as I has to special order my copies of both titles.
Many authors cannot be found so easily. On the same trip, I found 2 Edgar Rice Burroughs books, no E.E."Doc" Smith, and no Mickey Spillaine. All three have produced novels and stories which have helped define their genres and have influenced countless other writers. One might argue the individual talents of the authors, but their influence on popular culture is demonstrable. Burroughs‚ Tarzan was the subject of a short-lived television series (admittedly, hardly recognizable) just a year ago. His John Carter series defined the Interplanetary Adventure sub-genre, which would include Howard‚s own Almurac. Smith‚s Lensmen series has been highly influential. While not as highly regarded maybe as Hammett or Chandler, Mickey Spillaine created in Mike Hammer one of the most recognized hard-boiled detectives in pop culture. If I am lucky, I might be able to special order some of their work, but unless I was to have prior knowledge of these authors, I‚d never discover them in the bookstore.
The works of these and many other older or deceased writers must be preserved and readily available not only for younger or unfamiliar readers to enjoy, but for their influence to be carried on in the writing of another generation. An author like David Drake might list Howard as an influence, but if I have no way of reading Howard, how will I be able to discover how and why this influence is present. A musical analogy would be to hear the band Jet, who is heavily influenced by the Rolling Stones. I research the Stones, finding out that they are influenced by Chuck Berry, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters (even taking their name from a Muddy Waters song). If I can‚t trace this back, I am being denied both an education and the means to enrich the experience of my own life. Classic texts might not bring in the revenue that newer books do, but they are by no means wasting an investment. This investment is more important than the corporate bottom line, as it is an investment in the authors of tomorrow, whose work will keep publishers in the black.
CONAN, REH AND ME
Like so many others of my generation, my first exposure to REH was the Ace Conan series. I was immediately taken in by the vitality of the character. Conan is no one‚s fool and does not suffer fools wisely. He doesn‚t hold back unless it is to gain the upper ground in a situation. He makes a decision and owns it, following his instincts and accepting the consequences. He drinks fully from the cup of life, draining every drop.
The world of Conan is richly imagined without endless descriptions that may easily become tedious. Howard filled the tales with many archetypes and settings that are at once foreign and familiar. I was easily drawn into his world the first time I read the stories. They continue to have that effect on me. As a teenager, the vision of scantily clad nubile women held me in its sway, I must confess. As an adult, I‚m still enamoured of the vision. Happily, some things never change.
The power of Howard‚s writing grabs the reader from the outset and never lets up. One can almost smell the sweat and blood, the death, the perfume of the women∑the effect is that strong. Whether the reader likes Howard‚s work does not at all matter. The power of the writing is not easily forgotten.
The secret to that power is the ability to place oneself in the position of the character being written. I‚ve never read anyone who more had that ability than Robert E. Howard did. Many times characters are attributed with autobiographical characteristics of their authors. It seems to me, with Howard‚s characters, that Howard‚s dreams and worldview are much more important than the events of his life in terms of the fictional lives of his characters.
As a teenager growing up in rural North Carolina, life was rarely exciting, or if so, not exactly the type of excitement that one might wish for. Robert E. Howard transported me away from all that into a world of adventure, danger, and excitement. I was more than willing to go there. As an adult with a 9 to 5 job, kids to raise, bills to pay, and many other obligations, I still find myself looking for that kind of escape. In fact, if anything, the escape is more precious now than ever. I can just imagine Two-Gun Bob sitting, looking over the rural Texas landscape, creating in his mind the world to which he wanted to escape. More than that, I can identify with him. To be able to escape in that fashion is truly a gift. Happily, it was a gift that Howard shared with us.