Chilling American Authors and Their
Spine-Tingling Stories of Yore: Volume II
Our third author was a member of the “Lovecraft Circle” or a group of fellow pulp fiction authors who frequently wrote to H.P. Lovecraft and each other about their spine-tingling works.
He was born in 1906 in Parker County, Texas and only lived until the age of 30. However, during his short life he composed a wide range of writings from historical fiction, poetry, fantasy, westerns, horror and even developed his own genre…
Who was this father of sword and sorcery?
Robert E. Howard
“I walked in Tara’s wood one summer night,
And saw, amid the still, star-haunted skies,
A slender moon in silver mist arise,
And hover on the hill as if in fright.
Burning, I seized her veil and held her tight:
An instant all her glow was in my eyes;
Then she was gone, swift as a white bird flies,
And I went down the hill in opal light.
And soon I was aware, as down I came,
That all was strange and new on every side;
Strange people went about me to and fro,
And when I spoke with trembling mine own name
They turned away, but one man said: “He died
In Tara Wood, a hundred years ago.”
-By Robert E. Howard, published for Weird Tales in 1929 (Wikisource, public domain)
The haunting ambiance of the moon provided Howard with the ideal setting for some of his chilling stories. He regularly contributed compositions to Weird Tales magazine…
“…Keep off!” I stepped back, and with a screech that set the echoes shuddering he leaped for me, and though a sword hung at his belt he did not draw it. My rapier was half out when he grasped my arm and flung me headlong. I dragged him with me and we struck the ground together. Wrenching a hand free I jerked off the mask. A shriek of horror broke from my lips. Beast eyes glittered beneath that mask, white fangs flashed in the moonlight. The face was that of a wolf. In an instant those fangs were at my throat. Taloned hands tore the sword from my grasp. I beat at that horrible face with my clenched fists, but his jaws were fastened on my shoulders, his talons tore at my throat. Then I was on my back. The world was fading. Blindly I struck out. My hand dropped, then closed automatically about the hilt of my dagger, which I had been unable to get at. I drew and stabbed. A terrible, half-bestial bellowing screech. Then I reeled to my feet, free. At my feet lay the werewolf. I stooped, raised the dagger, then paused, looked up. The moon hovered close to her zenith. If I slew the thing as a man its frightful spirit would haunt me forever. I sat down waiting. The thing watched me with flaming wolf eyes. The long wiry limbs seemed to shrink, to crook; hair seemed to grow upon them…”
– In the Forest of Villefére published in Weird Tales, 1925
One interesting fact of Howard’s life was that he had an interest in boxing and even became an amateur boxer. He would use these experiences to write about characters who sparred in some of his fictional works.
Photo of Robert E. Howard in a boxing stance – Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Among Howard’s most popular writings were the Conan stories. In 1932 Howard received this letter from Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright rejecting one of the original stories but accepting another.
Here’s a sample of one of Howard’s early Conan stories that was published in Weird Tales in 1934…
“Another dozen strides would carry him to the steps where the sneering demons stood. He drew his breath deep, his fury rising redly as his charge gathered momentum. He was hurtling past the altar with its golden serpents when like a levin-flash there shot across his mind again as vividly as if spoken in his external ear, the cryptic words of Khemsa: “Break the crystal ball.” His reaction was almost without his own volition. Execution followed impulse so spontaneously that the greatest sorcerer of the age would not have had time to read his mind and prevent his action. Wheeling like a cat from his headlong charge, he brought his knife crashing down upon the crystal. Instantly the air vibrated with a peal of terror, whether from the stairs, the altar, or the crystal itself he could not tell. Hisses filled his ears as the golden serpents, suddenly vibrant with hideous life, writhed and smote at him. But he was fired to the speed of a maddened tiger. A whirl of steel sheared through the hideous trunks that waved toward him, and he smote the crystal sphere again and yet again. And the globe burst with a noise like a thunderclap, raining fiery shards on the black marble, and the gold pomegranates, as if released from captivity, shot upward toward the lofty roof and were gone. A mad screaming, bestial and ghastly, was echoing through the great hall. On the steps writhed four black-robed figures, twisting in convulsions, froth dripping from their livid mouths. Then with one frenzied crescendo of inhuman ululation they stiffened and lay still, and Conan knew that they were dead. He stared down at the altar and the crystal shards. Four headless golden serpents still coiled about the altar, but no alien life now animated the dully gleaming metal.”
– The People of The Black Circle published in 1934
We continue with a story from Howard’s Solomon Kane series that was written in the last 1920’s. Kane, who has been popularized in recent films is a somber Puritan who seeks to root out evil around the world.
If you’d rather read Rattle of Bones – click here:
Tragically, Robert E. Howard took his own life in 1936 after learning that his mother would not recover from a terminal illness.
His writings live on…