A Must-Buy For Any Howard Fan: Robert E. Howard Changed My Life edited by Jason M. Waltz
Robert E. Howard Changed My Life (Rogue Blades Foundation, June 9, 2021). Cover by Didier Normand
Many of us “older folk” (I’m using that term very broadly) can attest to some experience in their early years — usually somewhere around 13-years old — where some individual, some book or books, some movie, some band or something similar made a huge impact upon our lives, an impact with a positive and profound, lasting influence.
For me, it was probably getting my first basic box set of Dungeons & Dragons (with the Erol Otus cover) for Christmas in 1981. I was only 12 at the time. Thereafter I immediately began to beg for, or scrap together any money I could to buy, any D&D books that I could get my hands on. And probably the most influential D&D book I got shortly thereabout was the hardback Deities & Demigods (again with an Erol Otus cover). This book had chapters on a host of traditional mythologies, each with its own heroes, gods and monsters — provided with D&D stats of course! But Deities & Demigods also contained other “mythologies” that were rooted in the books of authors like Michael Moorcock, H. P. Lovecraft and Fritz Leiber. This opened up a whole literary world for me that, I can fairly say, changed my life in integral ways.
Perhaps you’re old enough to relate to something similar happening to you. Evidently many can claim that the books of Texas writer Robert E. Howard (1906–1936) had such an impact. Rogue Blades Entertainment’s new book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life: Personal Essays about an Extraordinary Legacy gives a whole litany of testimonies to such. How did this interesting book come about?
Many Robert E. Howard fans are familiar with Howard Days, an annual event held in honor of the said writer in his hometown of Cross Plains, Texas. Every year there is a guest of honor who gives the keynote speech at the Howard Days banquet. In 2018 lifelong Howard fan Bill “Indy” Cavalier gave a speech (which is the first essay in this new book) where he claimed “Robert E. Howard saved my life.” Based upon this keynote, Jason Waltz of Rogue Blades Foundation sought to make a book that collected testimonies of people whose lives, if not saved, were greatly changed by Robert E. Howard. In 2021 he edited and published Robert E. Howard Changed My Life.
Personally, I came to Robert E. Howard (REH) fairly late in life. I was only vaguely aware of Conan growing up. Besides seeing the Conan comic book on the local drug store spinner rack, I think my first real exposure to REH was the first Schwarzenegger movie. Though REH himself did not make a huge impact on my own early life, nevertheless, as I related above, I certainly do understand how such artistic works can have a lifelong impact. And I think most of us reading this will not think it entirely strange to see a whole book of contributors noting how REH’s works had changed their lives.
Robert E. Howard Changed My Life contains over thirty contributors. Many of these personal essays are fairly short, but all are intriguing. Knowing the theme of the anthology, it was interesting to see how different individuals approached their essays. For some, it was a particular character like Howard’s Conan, or Solomon Kane, or El Borak, or Steve Costigan. Some recounted how they first encountered REH through the Ace paperbacks with those amazing Frank Frazetta covers. Others came to Howard through the comics. Some came later through the Zebra editions of REH’s work. And a few came to Howard by way of the Schwarzenegger movies like me, or even by REH-inspired video games. One gets an impressed sense of the pervasive influence of Robert E. Howard through these various essays.
Some of the essays are also incredibly personal and vulnerable in relating how instrumental Howard’s works were balms or even life savers in very hard times of their lives. For many, Howard helped them get through tough incidents, tough relationships, or his works were just inspirational for sundry points throughout life. Some of the essays almost read like religious conversions or survival stories. It’s truly amazing that this small town Texas pulp writer could have such an impact.
It was also interesting to read how many writers or artistic creators came into their craft because they were inspired by Howard’s books. Many within Robert E. Howard Changed My Life relate how he provided their impetus into all kinds of imaginative endeavors, like writing poetry, making games, or even going into academics as a career. What a varied impact!
The book also testifies to the fact that becoming inspired by Robert E. Howard tends to put you in contact with other likeminded REH fans. The names of Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier, Mark Finn, and of course the late Glenn Lord (1931–2011) — who now has an academic symposium named in honor of him at the annual Howard Days — often came up in these various essays. As with Howard’s own works, many of these essays relate how influential and encouraging these individuals have been to fellow Howard enthusiasts.
In addition to the many inspirational essays within Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, the end of the book also includes an “Appendix REH.” Clearly in the spirit of Gary E. Gygax’s influential “Appendix N” from the original D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, which included a list of readings that inspired the original D&D game and were offered as inspirational sources for other D&D players, “Appendix REH” is given as additional inspirational and educational readings as well for those interested in Howard. But Jason Waltz has done more than simply give a list of Howardian books with “Appendix REH,” he has also meticulously compiled a list of titles about Howard, inspired by Howard, or “in the vein of Howard” (p. 319) that were mentioned or recommended by the contributors of the book. And each entry gives the name or names of those contributors who recommended it. For those interested in sautéing in the world of REH for inspiration, the items in this appendix should be sought out.
The contributors to Robert E. Howard Changed My Life are many and varied. They include some famous authors such as Michael Moorcock, Joe R. Lansdale, Steven Erickson, the late Charles R. Saunders (his last published work?) as well as comic book giant Roy Thomas. It also includes several international Howards scholars like Patrice Louinet and Dierk Günther and then a whole host of REH fans and experts who will be familiar to REH fandom.
The complete table of contents:
Foreword: A Riot of Life, by Jason M. Waltz
“REH: How REH Saved My Life” by Bill Cavalier
“Conan: REH, Conan and Me” by John C. Hocking
“Kull: Dreams of the Purple Kingdom” by Jason Durall
“REH: Out there in the Wilds with REH” by Joe. R. Lansdale
“Bêlit: Queen of the Black Coast” by Jaym Gates
“James Allison: REH and Me: The Celtic Connection” by Adrian Cole
“REH: He Himself was in Every One of Them” by Rusty Burke
“Terence Vulmea: Crossed Swords and Bloody Seas” by David C. Smith
“Valeria: Taking the World by the Throat” by Karen Joan Kohoutek
“REH: The Black Dog and REH” by C. L. Werner
“Turlogh Dubh O’Brien: An Empire of Ghosts and Smoke” by Scott Oden
“Cormac FitzGeoffrey: From Conan to Cormac” by Todd B. Vick
“REH: Opener of the Way” by Nancy A. Collins
“REH: Wyrd Ensemble” by Bobby Derie
“REH: The Ride of Falume” by Barbara A. Barrett
“Sailor Steve Costigan: For the Honor of the Ship” by Christopher A. Gruber
“REH: An Ode to REH” by Cecelia Holland
“Breckinridge Elkins: A Love Letter to Bear Creek” by Mark Finn
“El Borak: On the Trail with El Borak” by David Hardy
“REH: The Were-Woman, the Gnome, and the Zebra” by Deuce Richardson
“Steve Harrison: In the Footsteps of Steve Harrison” by Fred Blosser
“The Hyborian Age: Unearthing an Age of Undreamed Of” by Jeffrey Shanks
“REH: How REH (and Glenn Lord) Changed My Life” by Roy Thomas
“Kosru Malik: Kosru’s Road” by Howard Andrew Jones
“Cormac Mac Art: 1975: The Year of the Cormac” by Keith J. Taylor
“REH: In a Dark Place” by Steven Erikson
“Agnes de Chastillon: My New Friend Agnes” by Becky Cloonan
“Solomon Kane: Sol K. and Me” by Dierk Günther
“REH: An Unexpected Gift” by Barbara Ingram Baum
“Bran Mak Morn: A new and Mighty Mission” by Matthew John
“Conan: White Spark, Black Fire” by Charles R. Saunders
“REH: Why No Howard Character Ever Changed My Life” by Patrice Louinet
“REH: A European Perspective” by Michael Moorcock
“Afterword” by Janet Morris”
Appendix REH, compiled by Jason M. Waltz
It is work noting that every copy of Robert E. Howard Changed My Life sold supports the Howard Museum in Cross Plains, Texas. Jason Waltz and Rogue Blades Entertainment are to be commended for this wonderful labor of love.
Robert E. Howard Changed My Life is an incredibly interesting collection of essays. It is a “must buy” for any Howard or Conan fan but it is also an inspiring read on how a very creative person can leave a diverse and pervasive, lasting legacy. Who knows if your work today might not be that spark in some 13-year old’s life that is changed in some lasting and positive way?
Wonderful words, James! Thank you for the thorough and thoughtful look at Howard’s impact as reflected by these 33 lives.
My pleasure. Great book! Great idea for a book!
AND thank you for pointing out the Appendix REH!
A spectacular collection extending Rogue Blades (Waltz)’s incredible library.
Bought on the basis of that recommendation. Thanks.
It sounds like our experience of discovering D&D came at the same age, but I’d already found Conan.
At the risk of presumption, I’ll mention that I’m currently blogging about how REH shaped RPGs and arguing for the normative assumption that REH should shape RPGs.
Thanks for the comment. An interesting assumption, one that I doubt you’ll find much objection from people our age. It would be interesting to see how that assumption would land on a younger crowd.
The power of pure reason will convince them!
Are Millennials and Generation Z even aware of Howard?
Good question. Not sure how widespread an awareness it is, but if the crowd at Howard Days is any indication I think there is a group of young-ins who are into Howard.