REH Guest Blog Series – Beyond the Bounds of Reality Robert E. Howard and the birth of Sword & Sorcery by Bob Freeman

 

 

 

As part of my Robert E. Howard guest blog series I am proud to present another guest blog spot.

In my hopes of getting every awesome REH enthusiast or expert I can to come on my blog and share some of their vast knowledge, I have been recruiting the best of the best. I was able to convince today’s esteemed guest to write a guest blog post for my REH series.

Bob Freeman has been kind enough to write a guest blog post for Mighty Thor JRS today. I am very excited and I would like to thank Bob for the opportunity to host this Guest Blog.

Would you like to be a part of my guest blog series? Please contact me! (mightythorjrs@gmail.com)

Now without further adieu here is Bob’s awesome guest blog.

 

Other Guest Blogs in this series:

REH Guest Blog Series – The Carnival, The Girl, and The Smitten Teenager by Todd B. Vick

REH Guest Blog Series – Bêlit’s Bane: Where the Falling Demon Meets the Rising Ape by Bobby Derie

REH Guest Blog Series – “By Crom” Conan and The Khoraja Saga: Beyond Robert E. Howard’s Black Colossus by Bob Byrne

Calling on my fellow Robert E. Howard Enthusiast and Experts.

 

 


 

 

 

The following essay was written as the introduction to Slave, Soldier, and King: A Make 100 Anthology published via crowdfunding by Apollyon Press.

 

 

Beyond the Bounds of Reality
Robert E. Howard and the birth of Sword & Sorcery

By Bob Freeman

 

In the early morning hours of the 11th of June, 1936, Robert E. Howard lifted up a borrowed .380 Colt and placed it to his head. All the promise that his fiery prose contained evaporated with a single shot. After months of turmoil, Howard was finally at peace. Make no mistake, this was no whim. The author had set his plan in motion weeks before, making arrangements for his literary estate, purchasing a family burial plot, and finalizing his last will and testament. As his mother approached death’s door, he saw to it that he would traverse the great hereafter before her, preparing the way, intent on being there to greet her as she entered her eternal rest. Robert E. Howard left this world on his own terms, leaving behind an enduring legacy built on the passionate and visceral words he hammered out on an Underwood No. 5.

I discovered Howard, as so many of my generation, through Marvel Comics. It was the early 1970s and I was a young farm kid living in rural Indiana, with a growing obsession for Conan the Barbarian as adapted by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. My introduction to Kull came later and by way of a thin collection of back issues a friend’s brother had left behind when he went off to college. There amongst the Batman, Spider-Man, and Mighty Thor comics were four issues of Kull, numbers 5, 7, 8, and 12. It was issue twelve, subtitled The Destroyer, that first caught my eye, of course, for blazened there above the masthead were the words “From The Creator of Conan”. That was all I needed to hear. I devoured the issue, penned by Steve Engelhart and skillfully illustrated by Mike Ploog, but then, turning to the earlier issues, something clicked. Of these issues, titled Kull the Conqueror, two were written by Gerry Conway, whilst the other, Len Wein, with Marie and John Severin. Those three comics had something altogether magical about them, mostly due to the wondrous illustrations from the brother and sister duo that brought Kull to life for me.

 

Kull_the_Destroyer_Vol_1_12

 

It would be a few years later before I discovered the written works of Howard, but by the late 1970s, I was feverishly reading my way through anything and everything I could get my hands on. My obsession that had begun with Marvel Comics transitioned to mass market paperbacks, first with the Ace Conan editions, then on to the Bantam’s Kull: The Fabulous Warrior King covered by Lou Feck.

 

kull-paperback-cover

 

Robert E. Howard was 23 years old when the first Kull story was published in Weird Tales magazine. The year was 1929, and “The Shadow Kingdom” introduced the world to a new fantasy sub-genre, Sword & Sorcery. While comparisons can be made between Howard’s more famous creation, Conan of Cimmeria, with that of Kull of Atlantis, the two are really worlds apart. I don’t think anyone would argue the fact that Kull was directly inspired by the tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Rudyard Kipling. Kull, far more than his barbarian descendant, was concerned deeply with his place in the universe. He was introspective and contemplative in ways that the Cimmerian never was, but despite his philosphical bent, Kull is hindered by his feral upbringing, with an almost child-like questioning of reality and existence.

In many ways, Kull reflects the author’s youth, innocence, immaturity, and social awkwardness. He is prown to berserker rages and ashews female companionship, stating he has “not yet known the love of women”. Kull is full of questions, desperate to find his place within a world alien to him, adapting from slavery to the heights of power by sheer will and a savage temperament. Despite rejecting the untamed nature of being reared in the wild, it is that nature that ultimately rules him. He is conflicted and torn between these two worlds, and in many ways this is refelected in Howard’s uneasiness navigating his place in rural Texas.

 

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Art by Marcio Moraga (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/424112640/slave-soldier-and-king-a-make-100-anthology)

 

In this collection we are treated to three tales: The Shadow Kingdom is a horror fantasy, full of intrigue and dark revealtions, while The Mirrors of Tuzan Thune is a surreal adventure yarn that showcases Howard’s ability to weave an intricatly vivid narrative. The final piece is The Phoenix on the Sword, a rejected Kull story, reimagined for a new character, Conan the King. Originally titled By This Axe I Rule!, the rewrite introduced a secondary plot and a greater emphasis on supernatural horror.  In the initial rejection letter, Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, wrote the story had “points of real excellence. I hope that you will see your way clear to touch it up and resubmit it.” And thus Kull would give birth to Sword & Sorcery’s greatest literary creation, Conan.

While Robert E. Howard’s writing talents would grow immeasurably, his Kull stories possess all the elements of which he would later be master of. In all, there were thirteen Kull tales: three published in his lifetime, nine published posthumusly, and a poem, The King and the Oak, to round things out. Why these other stories were rejected is hard to say, other than Weird Tales was looking for more supernaturally driven adventure tales, hence the acceptance of, and enormous popularity of the Conan tales.

In retrospect, these Kull tales were an important crossroads in Howard’s writing career. It was here that he honed his skills and explored his thoughts on barbarism and civilzation, in the process giving birth to a new genre that would ultimately see a wealth of imitators. Howard himself would become synonomous with Sword & Sorcery and his characters would become world-wide phenomenas, in constant print and adapted into comics, films, video games, roleplaying and board games, and more.

 

23384d341a8f0afcd44e7b8b43646c0d--robert-e-howard-robert-richard

Art by Justin Sweet

 

Kull of Atlantis, who began life as a feral child to become a slave, soldier, and king, is a dynamic character brought vividly to life by an author early in his career. Through this baker’s dozen of tales, we see two men trying to carve out an existence in a savage world, one fictional and the other all too real.

In my view, Robert E. Howard was an eccentric genius with a gift for weaving stories unlike any other writer before or since. In a few short years, he redefined fantasy literature and left a legacy of stories and characters that have achieved unimaginable heights. His death at such a young age, while a tragedy, cemented his legend for all time. One can scarsley imagine the stories he had yet to tell, but we can be forever thankful for the ones we do have. From wherever he now sits, I hope he well and truly sees what a gift he gave to us.

In Conan, I see the man Robert E. Howard wanted to be. In Kull, I see more of the man he was.

 

 

Bob Freeman
Little Pipe Creek

May 14, 2018

 

 

 


 

 

 

Bob Freeman is an author, artist, and paranormal adventurer whose previous novels include Shadows Over Somerset, Keepers of the Dead, and Descendant.

A lifelong student of mythology, folklore, magic, and religion, Freeman has written numerous short stories, articles, and reviews for various online and print publications and is a respected lecturer on the occult and paranormal phenomena. He lives in rural Indiana with his wife Kim and son Connor.

Mr. Freeman can be found online at occultdetective.com

or twitter.com/OccultDetective

 

The Occult Detective

occultdetective.com

 

Amazon author page:

https://www.amazon.com/Bob-Freeman/e/B004FQXYEE

 

 

 


 

 

 

  2 comments for “REH Guest Blog Series – Beyond the Bounds of Reality Robert E. Howard and the birth of Sword & Sorcery by Bob Freeman

  1. August 17, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    Reblogged this on Oak Hill RPG Club.

    Liked by 1 person

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