Today marks what would’ve been the 107th birthday of my all-time favorite writer and chief influence, Robert Ervin Howard, the creator of Conan, Solomon Kane, and a slew of others, and the father of the sword and sorcery genre.
Howard was an extraordinary writer and sometime poet who took his own life before he had the chance to truly blossom or gain the recognition he deserved. He never knew fame or steady success in his lifetime, but he accomplished enough to still resonate with fans all over the world to this day, including myself. There is no greater writer of sword swinging action in my opinion.
Writing is a kind of alchemy, and the best practioners find a way to string base, everyday words together into a mystic formula that shines golden on the page long after the author is dust. The best parts of his stories enflame the spirit and plunge the imagination down lustrous, vivid paths. Howard was a man out of time and place, who dreamed of the past and idolized it, who could look at fields of churning oil derricks and see groaning monsters, who turned liquor store bullies into barbarians and saw dragon fire in the sun over the West Texas hills. He partly believed his own stories I think, saying they were merely related to him by individuals who existed somewhere, sometime. It’s his own belief in the worlds he is responsible for bringing to light that make them so enduring.
Everybody dreams, but not everybody can relate those dreams in a way that strangers can share in them and believe them too.
Hats off to the man from Texas. Next year, in Cross Plains!
I have not heard lutes beckon me,
nor the brazen bugles call,
But once in the dim of a haunted lea I heard the silence fall.
I have not heard the regal drum, nor seen the flags unfurled,
But I have watched the dragons come, fire-eyed, across the world.
I have not seen the horsemen fall before the hurtling host,
But I have paced a silent hall where each step waked a ghost.
I have not kissed the tiger-feet of a strange-eyed golden god,
But I have walked a city’s street where no man else had trod.
I have not raised the canopies that shelter reveling kings,
But I have fled from crimson eyes and black unearthly wings.
I have not knelt outside the door to kiss a pallid queen,
But I have seen a ghostly shore that no man else has seen.
I have not seen the standards sweep from keep and castle wall,
But I have seen a woman leap from a dragon’s crimson stall,
And I have heard strange surges boom that no man heard before,
And seen a strange black city loom on a mystic night-black shore.
And I have felt the sudden blow of a nameless wind’s cold breath,
And watched the grisly pilgrims go that walk the roads of Death,
And I have seen black valleys gape, abysses in the gloom,
And I have fought the deathless Ape that guards the Doors of Doom.
I have not seen the face of Pan, nor mocked the Dryad’s haste,
But I have trailed a dark-eyed Man across a windy waste.
I have not died as men may die, nor sin as men have sinned,
But I have reached a misty sky upon a granite wind.