A review of David C. Smith's Robert E. Howard: A Literary Biography by our Deuce: Well, Crom willing, I’m here to celebrate Robert E. Howard’s birthday, despite the slings and arrows and technical glitches of outrageous fortune. I thought it would be fitting to review David C. Smith’s Robert E. Howard: A Literary Biography which came out just over a year ago. I’ve had several people ask me online about it and where it rates alongside the other two big REH bios. Let’s take a look.
The first major, book-size biography of Robert E. Howard was L. Sprague de Camp’s Dark Valley Destiny. It was long on posthumous armchair psychoanalysis and short on some other things. Like any mention whatsoever of Howard’s classic yarn, “Worms of the Earth”, in its entire four hundred pages. There are a few interesting tidbits and factoids scattered throughout the book which can’t be found in the other two bios. However, almost all of them can be found in REH’s Collected Letters, which every serious Howard fan owes it to himself to read. Bottom line: unless you’re a hardcore deCampista, there are better books on Howard.
Mark Finn’s Blood and Thunder—published by MonkeyBrain Books of Austin, TX—came out in late 2006, the centennial of REH’s nativity. There are pics floating around out there catching me in the act of handing Finn a fistful of cash for B&T the day after it was released. Blood and Thunder is a worthy bio of Howard. Its focus is “REH the Texan” and it sticks to its mission statement. It’s accurate, well-written and a fast read.*
Smith’s Robert E. Howard: A Literary Biography takes a different tack than the other two bios. As he stated right here on the DMR Blog, his theme was “Robert E. Howard as a Writer of Consequence”. Smith, an author with a decades-long career, looks at REH as a writer foremost. Of course, every writer’s life impinges upon his work, so DCS interweaves Howard’s lived experiences in with his burgeoning career as a pulp writer. However, the stories and REH’s growth as a writer really are the centerpiece of the book.
David C. Smith looks at all the major and/or significant tales from Howard’s Underwood. Starting with “Spear and Fang” and on up through Bob’s last yarns written in 1936. While every Howard fan has his own list of favorites and his own interpretations thereof, Smith does a solid job of identifying and explicating the standout stories from REH’s career.
Some reviewers of this bio have said that it’s a little too in-depth for somebody just getting into Howard while containing a lot of material that veteran Howardheads know backwards and forwards. I would say there’s some truth to that. Smith had to walk a tightrope and I don’t envy him or Bob McClain at Pulp Hero Press in trying to pull off such a challenge. Personally, I would say that novice Howard fans who really love REH, not just Conan—which is how I was—would get a lot out of this bio. For the seasoned REH fanatics, it’s more a case of DCS making his argument that Howard was a fine writer on a technical level and, more importantly, an author who had something to say. Something timeless.
*I have heard that Mark Finn’s revised edition of Blood and Thunder—published by the REH Foundation—is even better. Sadly, I have yet to read it.
Post by linefacedscrivener on Jan 23, 2020 19:31:50 GMT -5
I can't encourage you enough to read the revised edition of Blood and Thunder by Mark Finn. This isn't a college textbook revision where a couple of sentences are altered and a new picture is slapped on the cover., qualifying it as a "new edition." It was a substantial revision and it is fantastic! I've read in twice now. While I like Smith's biography for his perspective of Howard as a worthy literary figure, the best traditional biography on Howard is, hands down, the REH Foundation revised version of Blood and Thunder.
Post by linefacedscrivener on Feb 5, 2020 8:31:44 GMT -5
Smith was the guest of honor and the main speaker at Howard Days 2019, and he gave a fantastic speech based on his literary biography. He does an excellent job, in a short speech, of conveying the literary importance of Robert E. Howard. It is worth either viewing or reading, or both. You may read it in the latest issue of The Dark Man: The Journal of Robert E. Howard and Pulp Studies (10.2), available on Amazon here: THE DARK MAN 10.2