Conan! Solomno Kane! King Kull! These names mean action-adventure-romance-to thousands of fantasy fans thruout America; they are the heroes of adult fairy tales (rather gory ones it must be admitted) penned by he who is perhaps the greatest "actionist" writing fantasy today-Robert E. Howard!
This much-read author is a Texan. He was born January 22nd, 1906, in the small village of Peaster, some forty-five miles west of Fort Worth, and still resides in the Lone Star State, tho farther west.
At the age of fifteen, the future creator of Conan began writing with the intention of devoting his life to it; but it wasn't until the fall of 1924, while attending Howard Payne College at Brownwood, that he made a sale. The tale was "Spear and Fang," bought by Weird Tales for the princely sum of $16. It was very short and dealt with the imagined prehistoric struggles of the Neanderthal men and the Cro-Magnons.
Physically, Mr. Howard is a remarkable man. He stands almost six feet, is a decided brunette but for his blue eyes, rather heavily built, has a 45 inch chest, is 17 inches about the neck and perhaps 37 at the belt. And, he says "no one ever accused me of being handsome." He admires E. Hoffman Price immensely, calling him "a talented writer and a splendid gentleman."
Jack London is this Texan's favorite writer; and he prefers tequila to brandy, beef to pork, and he likes his eggs fried hard. Jack Benny and Gracie Allen are his idols, while Lionel Barrymore and Edna May Oliver hold his attentions in the movies. His sole ambition is to be a successful author, and he enjoyed writing "The Shadow Kingdom" better than any other tale.
Tho he claims to have led an ordinary life, when it is realized that he has been everywhere of interest in the vast Southwest, plus a large portion of Old Mexico and has witnessed the settlement of the Plains country, the development of the Rio Grande territory, and the Central West Texas oil booms, one easily sees the modesty of the statement.
As to his fictional characters, we'll let Mr. Howard speak for himself. He says: "The first character I ever created was Francis Xavier Gordon, El Borak, the hero of 'The Daughter of Erlik Khan' (Top-Notch), etc. I don't remember his genesis. He came to life in my mind when I was about ten years old. The next was Bran Mak Born, the Pictish king ('The Kings of the Night,' etc. Weird Tales) He was the result of my discovery of the existence of the Pictish race, when reading some historical works in a public library in New Orleans at the age of thirteen. Physically he bore a striking resemblance to El Borak. Solomon Kane ('Red Shadows,' etc., Weird Tales) I created when I was in high school, at the age of about sixteen, but, like the others I have mentioned, several years passed before I put him on paper. He was probably the result of an admiration for a certain type of cold, steely-nerved duellist that existed in the sixteenth century. King Kull differed from these others in that he was put on paper the moment he was created, whereas they existed in my mind years before I tried to put them in stories. In fact, he first appeared as only a minor character in a story that was never accepted. At least, he was intended to be a minor character, but I had not gone far before he was dominating the yarn. Conan simply grew up in my mind a few years ago when I was stopping in a little border town on the lower Rio Grande. I did not create him by any conscious process. He simply stalked full grown out of oblivion and set me at work recording the saga of his adventures. It was much the same, tho to a lesser extent, with Sailor Steve Costigan (Fight Story Magazine, action stories, Jack Dempsey's Fight Magazine, etc.), Kid Allison (Sport Stories) and Breckinridge Elkins (Action Stories.)
The distinctive style of writing developed by Mr. Howard-swashbuckling, raw, magificently bloody- is utterly off the trail and has proven consistently popular with Weird Tales readers. Those who have never perused one of his Conan yarns, should do so; they will never regret it.