Howard’s Pain to Gain: How Conan the Barbarian Became More than Pulp Fiction 

The late Robert E. Howard lived a short, but imaginative life.Howard dreamed of being a writer, and began to see success in his early 20’s.  His associations with H.P. Lovecraft, his trips around Texas and his anger towards the oilfield’s effects on small towns led him to create Conan of Cimmeria, one of the first sword & sorcery characters.conan_02

Conan gained much of its impact from Howard’s strong feelings towards his situation in life. The cycle of civilization versus barbarity comes from The oil boom, which could grow a town exponentially, and just as easily return it to its original size. The problem with the oil boom is that the crime rate and overcrowding become exponentially worse, even though it improved the city as a whole. To Howard, the decline of civilization in barbarity began once civilization hit it’s peak and began to stagnate. Howard’s hometown of Cross Plains, where his home is a museum today, was one such today affected.

Howard’s travels around the state helped to contribute to his ideas for various writings, including Conan. His inspiration for Conan’s homeland Cimmeria came to him while in Mission, TX in 1932;

I remember
The dark woods, masking slopes of sombre hills;
The grey clouds’ leaden everlasting arch;
The dusky streams that flowed without a sound,
And the lone winds that whispered down the passes.

Vista on vista marching, hills on hills,
Slope beyond slope, each dark with sullen trees,
Our gaunt land lay. So when a man climbed up
A rugged peak and gazed, his shaded eye
Saw but the endless vista – hill on hill,
Slope beyond slope, each hooded like its brothers.

It was a gloomy land that seemed to hold
All winds and clouds and dreams that shun the sun,
With bare boughs rattling in the lonesome winds,
And the dark woodlands brooding over all,
Not even lightened by the rare dim sun
Which made squat shadows out of men; they called it
Cimmeria, land of Darkness and deep Night.

It was so long ago and far away
I have forgot the very name men called me.
The axe and flint-tipped spear are like a dream,
And hunts and wars are shadows. I recall
Only the stillness of that sombre land;
The clouds that piled forever on the hills,
The dimness of the everlasting woods.
Cimmeria, land of Darkness and the Night.

Oh, soul of mine, born out of shadowed hills,
To clouds and winds and ghosts that shun the sun,
How many deaths shall serve to break at last
This heritage which wraps me in the grey
Apparel of ghosts? I search my heart and find
Cimmeria, land of Darkness and the Night.


Howard developed an interest in culture and geography, and this fueled the creation of Conan’s world setting, The Hyborian Age. This is a time period on Earth that occurred between Atlantis sinking and the rise of ancient civilizations. Many of the countries which populate the world are loosely based on real world countries. For instance, Cimmeria is culturally based on the ancient Celtic lands, where warriors like Conan developed.


Later in life, Howard began to correspond to H.P. Lovecraft, whose influenced showed throughout the former’s work in the form of monsters and horrors from the unknown. The two held a mail correspondence for six years. Lovecraft encouraged Howard to write more with regional history and lore, which helped to make his works more personal.

Robert Howard’s sheer imagination, along with his self taught knowledge of lore and inspirations from fellow writers such as Lovecraft, contributed to a hero which cannot be imitated, even by modern writers using the character in movies and comics strips. His frustrations and his experiences gave us the birth of the sword and sorcery genre and helped to make fantasy writing what it’s become today.



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