Robert Ervin Howard (1906 - 1936) was a classic American pulp writer of fantasy, horror, historical adventure, boxing, western, and detective fiction. Howard wrote "over three-hundred stories and seven-hundred poems of raw power and unbridled emotion" and is especially noted for his memorable depictions of "a sombre universe of swashbuckling adventure and darkling horror." He is well known for having created - in the pages of the legendary Depression-era pulp magazine Weird Tales - the character Conan the Cimmerian, a.k.a. Conan the Barbarian, a literary icon whose pop-culture imprint can be compared to such icons as Tarzan of the Apes, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond.
Between Conan and his other heroes Howard created the genre now known as sword-and-sorcery in the late 1920s and early 1930s, spawning a wide swath of imitators and giving him an influence in the fantasy field rivaled only by J.R.R. Tolkien and Tolkien's similarly inspired creation of the modern genre of High Fantasy. There is no evidence that Tolkien was influenced by the earlier author, however. A full century after his birth, Howard remains a seminal figure, with his best work endlessly reprinted.
He has been com-pared to other American masters of the weird, gloomy, and spectral, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Jack London.
Howard's suicide and the circumstances surrounding it have led to speculation about his mental health. His mother had been ill with tuberculosis his entire life, and upon learning she had entered a coma from which she was not expected to wake, he walked out to his car and shot himself in the head.
Voracious reading, along with a natural talent for prose writing and the encouragement of teachers, created in Howard an interest in becoming a professional writer. From the age of nine he began writing stories, mostly tales of historical fiction centering on Vikings, Arabs, battles, and bloodshed. One by one he discovered the authors that would influence his later work: Jack London and his stories of reincarnation and past lives, most notably The Star Rover (1915); Rudyard Kipling's tales of subcontinent adventure and his chanting, shamanic verse; the classic mythological tales collected by Thomas Bulfinch.
"I'll say one thing about an oil boom; it will teach a kid that Life's a pretty rotten thing as quick as anything I can think of."
-Robert E. Howard in a letter to Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright, Summer 1931.