“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind, civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”
– Robert E. Howard, The Conquering Sword of Conan
I have no shame in admitting that Robert E. Howard is one of my all time favorite authors. Even if you’re unfamiliar with his works, you probably already know quite a few of his characters like Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja.
Within The Robert E. Howard Omnibus you’ll find a variety that runs the gambit from cosmic horror, to sports, to fantasy; and often within the same story. One of my favorite tales from this collection was Almuric, a story that reads like a fusion between Minecraft and the Paleo Diet.
One of Howard’s strengths was that, unlike contemporary fiction writers, he celebrated the the power and raw savagery associated with masculinity. These are old fashion tales of men being men. In the era of skinny jeans and effeminate hipsters, these stories are a much welcomed relief.
Writing wise, I think Howard had tremendous talent. Unlike most pulp writers of his time, Howard was able to convey excitement and energy without falling back on hyperbole. Take his description of this thieves den from The Tower of the Elephant:
“Torches flared murkily on the revels in the Maul, where the thieves of the east held carnival by night. In the Maul they could carouse and roar as they liked, for honest people shunned the quarter, and watchmen, well paid with stained coins, did not interfere with their sport. Along the crooked, unpaved streets with their heaps of refuse and sloppy puddles, drunken roisterers staggered, roaring. Steel glinted in the shadows where wolf preyed on wolf, and from the darkness rose the shrill laughter of women, and the sounds of scufflings and stragglings. Torchlight licked luridly from broken windows and wide-thrown doors, and out of these doors, stale smells of wine and rank sweaty bodies, clamor of drinking jacks and fists hammered on rough tables, snatches of obscene songs, rushed like a blow in the face.”
It’s easy to forget that this quality of writing was appearing in magazines like this:
My only complaint with this collection is that it gets redundant. Like most anthologies, the reader tires of the subject matter before the book is over. As such, reading one or two stories a week would be more than sufficient. There are also a few racial slurs, Howard wrote during the 1930’s, that some might find inappropriate. Nothing said is too offensive, and I don’t think anyone’s life will be ruined by derogatory terms that infrequently surface.
If you’re looking for some inexpensive entertainment this weekend, you could do a lot worse than picking up a copy of The Robert E. Howard Omnibus. For the two dollar price tag, this collection is a great way to get acquainted with Howard’s life work.