When I first encountered the work of Robert E. Howard, I was not aware that I was encountering the work of Robert E. Howard. I know, I know … that statement needs clarification.
To be technical about it, that first brush was actually with a television adaptation of one of REH’s short stories. The story was “Pigeons from Hell,” which was also the title of a Thriller TV series episode I watched as a wide-eyed teenager back in 1961. The episode scared me — and I wasn’t alone. Some consider “Pigeons from Hell” to be the best episode in Thriller‘s three-year run.
If Howard received story recognition in the credits roll at the end of the episode, I don’t recall seeing it. Even if it had, his name would not have meant anything to me back then.
Five years later, Howard’s name recognition skyrocketed with the release of the first Lancer Books editions of his Conan stories. Frank Frazetta’s dynamic cover paintings of the barbaric Cimmerian immediately caught my eye amid numerous other offerings on the paperback racks. And when I started reading the stories, I became hooked like an alcoholic or a junkie.
But the link between the creator of Conan and the Thriller episode remained elusive. I didn’t make the connection until the mid-1970s, when I began writing stories about my Conan-inspired hero, Imaro. During that time, I saw a Zebra Books collection of Howard stories with the title Pigeons from Hell on its cover. Immediately, my memory of the Thriller episode kicked in. I bought the book and dove right into the title story.
Howard’s original story affected me far more than the TV adaptation, which was far from a slouch. The TV version scared me. Howard’s version skeered me. Trust me; there’s a difference.
And so, on the 104th anniversary of Robert E. Howard’s birth, I take my hat off to a writer who knew how to skeer people.