The character and attainments of Mr. Howard were wholly unique. He was, above everything else, a lover of the simpler, older world of barbarian and pioneer days, when courage and strength took the place of subtlety and stratagem, and when a hardy, fearless race battled and bled, and asked no quarter from heartless nature. All his stories reflect this philosophy, and derive from it a vitality found in few of his contemporaries. No one could write more convincingly of violence and gore than he, and his battle passages reveal an instinctive aptitude for military tactics which would have brought him distinction in times of war. His real gifts were even higher than the readers of his published works would suspect, and had he lived, would have helped him to make his mark in serious literature with some folk epic of his beloved southwest.Well said, Mr Lovecraft, and happy 105th birthday, Mr Howard.
It is hard to describe precisely what made Mr. Howard's stories stand out so sharply, but the real secret is that he himself is in every one of them, whether they were ostensibly commercial or not. He was greater than any profit-making policy he could adopt -- for even when he outwardly made concessions to Mammon-guided editors and commercial critics, he had an internal force and sincerity which broke through the surface and put the imprint of his personality on everything he wrote. Seldom, if ever, did he set down a lifeless stock character or situation and leave it as such. Before he concluded with it, it always took on some tinge of vitality and reality in spite of popular editorial policy -- always drew something from his own experience and knowledge of life instead of from the sterile herbarium of dessicated pulpish standbys. Not only did he excel in pictures of strife and slaughter, but he was almost alone in his ability to create real emotions and spectral fear and dread suspense. No author -- even in the humblest fields -- can truly excel unless he takes his work very seriously, and Mr. Howard did just that in cases where he consciously thought he did not. That such an artist should perish while hundreds of insincere hacks continue to concoct spurious ghosts and vampires and space-ships and occult detectives is indeed a sorry piece of cosmic irony!
Saturday, January 22, 2011
It is hard to sum up any man in but a few words, even moreso when the man in question is Robert Ervin Howard, who was born on this day in 1906. Rather than attempt to do so, I instead offer up this excerpt from H.P. Lovecraft's tribute to him, published in the September 1936 issue of Fantasy Magazine: