Robert E Howard, In remembrance for a lifetime of inspiration
Rambling Conan Blog, pt.91

This coming Sunday, June 11th, is the 81st anniversary of Robert E Howard’s death. For whatever reason, and despite guesses and theories nobody really knows that reason for certain, Robert E Howard went out to the car that day and put a gun to his head. He was 30 years old. Many words have already been written about Howard, his life, and his death, so I’m going to write about my life instead and how he inspired it.

In 1982, when I first discovered Howard’s character Conan the Barbarian, through comics and then through Howard’s stories, I was just entering High School and was a pretty miserable, eccentric, and outcast nerd. Being a nerd or different was not at all cool back then like it is now. I didn’t fit into my small town school at all, and I paid the price for that. I take in and learn things well, and I never had to study to get good grades. School was like a boring prison where I was tormented daily for being different. On top of everything else, I had obsessive compulsive disorder and major anxiety problems, two things not understood at all in early 80’s small town schools.

Something just clicked when I read Conan. It struck a spark like nothing ever had before, lighting up the darkness. During those last years of school, I began working out, something I still do to this day. I grew my hair to the appropriate barbarian shoulder length. I went to the local mall and bought a sword. I couldn’t afford one of the real steel swords they sold at “Cutlery World” so I bought a wooden practice katana for $8. That wooden sword and I have had worlds of adventure together, and I still own it today. By the time High School was finished I was still very eccentric, but I wasn’t a tormented outsider. Instead, I embraced being the outsider. That is, after all, what made Conan so cool. I’d mostly conquered my OCD because Conan certainly wasn’t weak willed. (I still deal with anxiety to this day, because it took me a lot longer to understand exactly what it was.) I was emulating Conan, but in a weird way I was finally able to truly be myself without society telling me who I should be and how I should act. Robert E Howard, through his character of Conan, had truly saved my life.

I’m almost 50 now, and Conan has always been there. Every single aspect of my life is steeped in and filtered through those stories. I quite literally would not be here without them. I’ve been through some dark times and dark moods, loneliness, homelessness, and I’ve seriously contemplated suicide several times. Every time Conan was there, fighting for survival, pressing on.

During one of those low times, when I was busy determining the way in which I would end my own life, I met my wife via World of Warcraft. She lived in New Zealand at the time, and I in the US. If you have never known anyone who immigrated, it’s not an easy process by any means. Looking at that immigration road it seemed like a dream instead of a possible reality. However, I pressed on. It was Atali, the Frost Giant’s Daughter, and no matter how far that speck was on the snow covered horizon we pressed on, single-minded and iron willed. One of my favorite memories of that time is reading, over Skype, the Frost Giant’s Daughter to my wife-to-be as we each lay on separate beds an entire world apart. In the end we too caught Atali, but rather than a wisp of gossamer we came away with a green card and a marriage certificate.

This post sure sounds a lot like it’s all about me, but I hope it’s more about how Robert E Howard may have tragically ended his own life but saved mine several times. If he truly ended his life out of dark despair, I wish he could have had an inspiration that gave him hope and strength like he has given to me, as well as a meaning, such a deep meaning to life as I have found in his most famous character.

In Robert E Howard’s wallet was found a folded piece of paper with this poem:
“All fled, all done
So lift me on the pyre.
The feast is over
And the lamps expire.”

The lamps may have expired for Robert E Howard, but that pyre still burns very brightly.

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