Author's Note: I am indebted to fellow scholars Jess Nevins, Rob Roehm, and Barbara Barrett for their comments and also in the sharing of their research with me in the rewriting of this paper. MF
Southwestern Discomfit: An Analysis of Gary Romeo's Controversial Article on Robert E. Howard and Racism
REHupa #173 was a watershed mailing, way back in February 2002, for a number of reasons. Significantly, it was the mailing that featured Gary Romeo's article, "Southern Discomfort." As I read the article, I immediately noticed that Gary, in constructing his argument, was so interested in trawling the bottom that he willfully overlooked so much better stuff closer to the surface. It made me angry, and it made me instantly defensive. What I wanted to do was first ask Gary: what was your point in writing the article? Who is the target audience for it? And then I wanted to take it apart, piece by piece in my next mailing.
But I didn't. I was new, and I didn't want to rock the boat, or make any enemies right away. So I held my tongue. Besides, I wondered, I had no idea what my fellow REHupans thought about any of this. Maybe they agreed with Gary.
As it turned out, they did not. In the subsequent mailings, several of the older and more experienced REHupa members took Gary to task, and took a number of calculated swings at his essay, his methodology, and even his intent. I felt a lot better about my involvement in REHupa, but I regretted never having a chance to tee off on the topic.
When the REHupa website started up, it was determined that more recent, more approachable articles could also be listed on the site, if any member so wanted. Gary was one of the few people who stepped up to the plate and actually handed out articles to post. Along with his other Pro-de Camp essays was "Southern Discomfort." I watched it go up, go live, and bit my tongue. After all, I thought, who was I to say that Gary could list all the rest of his articles, except that one? That's when I got the idea of first doing a counterpoint article, just to balance out Gary's essay, especially now that it was devoid of its context within the REHupa mailings and commentary structure. But at the time, I was working on what would become Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, and so, I thought, I had bigger fish to fry.
Now it's 2011. I've been a member in REHupa for nearly ten years now. And it's high time I took a whacking stick to "Southern Discomfort" publically. It has needed it for a long time, particularly since it's one of the most popular things accessed on the REHupa website. The number of links to it from external blogs, websites, and citations used to indicate that yes, Robert E. Howard was indeed a racist, because look, right here, this guy says so on the experts' website, are too numerous to count. That's the problem with Internet research: it's grab and go, and no effort is made to fact-check it.
Well, you may consider this the official fact-check. This article assumes that someone has already read "Southern Discomfort" and want to know more about whether or not Robert E. Howard was a racist or not. If you would like the background to "Southern Discomfort," you can go here (1) and read all about it. You can also read the initial reactions to Gary's piece here. (2)
Deconstructing "Southern Discomfort"
The single biggest problem with Gary's article is that it's unfocused and attempts to cover so much ground that his argument is spread rather thin. He uses letter quotes, biographical sources (both recounted private conversations and reminiscences), and quotes from Howard's fiction to say that Howard was a racist, and then goes into a lengthy comparison of one of Howard's horror stories—the most racially charged story Howard ever wrote—as if this was the sort of thing that Howard wrote all of the time. Moreover, he compares Howard's short story, which first appeared in the pulp magazine Weird Tales (and was written with that audience in mind), with the fourth novel of a man known for his sympathetic views towards African-Americans in the forties and fifties.
It's a set-up, from start to finish. Gary made no attempt to level the playing field by comparing Howard to other pulp authors. In his haste to make his argument that Howard was a racist, he ignored or downplayed all of the instances where Howard cast ethnic characters in a favorable or sympathetic light. The amount of material that Gary never talked about in his essay is astonishing. The reason it's not in there is because, for Gary, all of this has the same value to him. In his mind, if Howard wrote the word "nigger" in a story, then he's a racist, and never mind any evidence to the contrary.
Comparing Erskine Caldwell to Robert E. Howard as any kind of racial barometer is a ridiculously unfair juxtaposition. Gary says the comparison is apt, but he's just wrong. Yes, they were both writers, and lived in the south (or southwest), but there the similarities end. Wayne Mixon, of Augusta State University, said about Caldwell's writing, "Caldwell's focus on the issues of class and race was more intense than that of any other white southern writer of his generation." Those things were only of tangential and historical interest to Howard, thematically speaking. Caldwell made those the central focus in his work (and was pilloried by his community for decades because of it). Howard focused more on the elemental conflict between two warring factions, and most frequently members of different ethnic groups or "races." Caldwell wrote novels and stories for high end magazines. Howard wrote mostly short stories for the pulps, and in a variety of genres. Excepting Howard's own singular idea of "realism" in his fiction, he is known as the Father of Sword and Sorcery as we currently define it. There's no real common ground between the two authors. By setting up criteria that inherently favors Caldwell, and not countering the argument with any positive race portrayals by Howard, Gary's ringer automatically wins.
Gary begins his essay with a simplified explanation of the Hyborian Age and Conan's world. This is followed by a couple of examples of racially-charged language, cited from an L. Sprague de Camp article on how he personally chose to edit the Conan stories. Finally, Gary begrudgingly states that the stereotyping language utilized in the Conan stories could be dismissed as standard conventions of the pulps and pulp writers in general. I would add that such stereotyping was, in fact, in wide practice throughout all of popular culture at this time—radio, the movies, magazines, newspapers, the theater...and it was universal, particularly for comedians and humor writers. When you consider that roughly one third of Howard's professional work could be categorized as humorous, that fact is crucial. Gary then states: "But Howard has grown popular, and with increased popularity, comes increased scrutiny." On this point, I do agree with Gary completely, and we have certainly seen increased scrutiny in Howard's work over this past decade.
Gary then leads off his argument with a litany of statements culled from Howard's correspondence and private conversations from friends and biographers. I will not attempt to defend any of the statements Howard makes, but I will offer up some context. There are a handful (as in, five or six) of statement by Howard regarding the topic of race that could be construed as racist. This out of a correspondence that encompasses over five years and millions of words over thousands of pages. Each instance of the above was brought up by Lovecraft, who was, if anything, more vitriolic in his beliefs than Howard. So the question must be raised—was Howard playing to his audience? Was he trying to impress the older, and more established writer, Lovecraft, whom Howard initially admired as a fan?
There are other references to race in the lengthy correspondence between Howard and Lovecraft that Gary chose not to mention. These quotes are fairly frequently spread around when discussing the influence of folklore on Howard's work. I'm referring to the lengthy passages regarding the ghost stories he heard in Bagwell, Texas—stories that later informed one of Howard's most famous stories, "Pigeons From Hell."
These statements, of course, utilize the word "Negro," and it's a term Howard introduces into the conversation. But Howard's statements do not defame, nor denigrate in any way. An insulting word, now, back in Howard's time, the word "Negro" was the polite term to use in conversation. Considering that Howard himself attests that, as a child, he was profoundly influenced by an African-American woman he called "Aunt" Mary Bohanon and her storytelling skills, it seems likely that Howard was, in fact, going along with Lovecraft. Ancillary comments, e.g. the use of the word "darky," while certainly are out of bounds today, fall squarely within the racially-institutionalized time and place of Howard's world.
And what's interesting about the conversation that Gary mentioned between Howard and Novalyne Price is that he didn't note Howard's vexation and confusion with Novalyne at the end of the argument. All he transcribed was Howard's comment, "Those people come from a different line. They have different blood." We know this to be inaccurate now, but it was a widely held belief in Howard's day, and it applied to not only African-Americans, but Asians, Europeans, Africans, etc. Wrong, yes, but hardly damning evidence. Howard's point was a comment on race-mixing. Miscegenation was not only taboo in Howard's time, but extremely dangerous; people were beaten and killed for daring to consort with someone not of their "own kind." That is the point Howard is trying to make to Novalyne in their conversation, a point Novalyne refuses to acknowledge or accept.
Gary finishes his point by saying that Howard wrote approvingly of racial violence and implied that he knows the smell of a "nigger when he's roasting." Writing about violence does not constitute approval. Writing about racial violence without condemning said violence does not constitute approval, either. The quote to which Gary refers is this one, taken from the article:
In reference to a trial in Honolulu where native Hawaiians were accused of rape, an act Howard considered despicable, he wrote, "I know what would have happened to them in Texas. I don't know whether an Oriental smells any different than a nigger when he's roasting, but I'm willing to bet the aroma of scorching hide would have the same chastening effect on his surviving tribesman."
Nowhere does it say that Howard himself attended a lynching or any other kind of racial encounter. Howard says what he says above because he came out of a time period where lynchings, burnings, and other forms of violence against African-Americans was woefully common. All Howard is saying above is that folks would have likely taken the law into their own hands, as they had done so many times in the early 20th century in Texas.
Rob Roehm has made a concerted study of Howard's friends and acquaintances, and along the way has uncovered a trove of interesting ancillary information about Howard's life and times. He noted that in the Brownwood Bulletin, for example, during the early 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan had resurfaced with a vengeance and was active in Texas until they were chased out of the state by Governor Ferguson. Roehm found a number of headlines and stories that backed up this unchecked level of activity:
7, 1922: NEGRO LYNCHED FOR MURDER OF CAMP FOREMAN
September 12, 1922: KLAN QUESTION NOT DISCUSSED IN LEGION MEET
September 13, 1922: OKLAHOMA ATTORNEY IS BEATEN AND FEATHERED FOR TALKING ABOUT KLAN
September 28, 1922: "Georgia Negro Taken From Officers Today and Lynched by Mob"
September 29, 1922: KU KLUX FROM OTHER POINTS SPEAK ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT RISING STAR
-MAN IN DISGUISE SAID TO HAVE DELIVERED GREAT ORATION IN MAJESTY OF RIGHT
September 30, 1922: DEPUTY SHERIFF STABBED IN KLAN PARADE IN PANHANDLE LAST NIGHT
12, 1922: NEGRO HOLDS UP PASSENGERS ON SANTA FE TRAIN
October 16, 1922: Anti-Klan Democrats Meeting Tuesday Night
October 21, 1922: Colored Baptist to Entertain Sunday with Sacred Concert
November 1, 1922: JAPS CONFIDENT OF SUCCESS OF LEAGUE NATIONS
November 8, 1922: THE COLORED VOTER
Roehm concludes, "And that's just a smattering. If all of the above was the norm in Howard's corner of Texas, it's no wonder some of the same words and phrases appear in his poetry, prose, and letters. How could it not?" Indeed, given the amount of coverage the topic received in Texas in the early 1920s, it's interesting to note that Howard is far more moderate and thoughtful than many of his friends and acquaintances, such as Tevis Clyde Smith.
Gary then goes on to acknowledge that Howard lived in a part of the country and at a time when racist attitudes were the norm. He then alleges that there were groups of Southern and Texan people who were opposed to racism in Howard's lifetime. As an example, in the original, unedited article which ran in REHupa, he gives a snippet from an article taken from the redoubtable Handbook of Texas Online in which the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching came into prominence in the 1930s. This springboarded into a full blown campaign to end lynching, backed by the Texas legislature. That's all well and good, but ending lynching in Texas and letting a black man sit next to you at a lunch counter are two radically different things. By the time the anti-lynching laws were in place, in 1934, most of the damage had already been done.
Also, consider that the state of Texas was in mid-transformation from an unsettled frontier to a civilized state (thanks to the massive influx of people and money via the petroleum industry). These laws were passed to bring Texas from a state of barbarism to something akin to civilization. I cover this in greater detail in Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard. The only reason I'm mentioning it here is to show that these statements, these beliefs, do not merely center around a single word and are, in fact, complex subjects that may require complex answers.
To be fair, Gary removed a number of unrelated and scattered pieces of information out of the article which now resides online—perhaps sensing that his argument needed more focus. After stating that Howard's literary work will bear the scrutiny of any perceived racism (begging the question—why bring up letters and private conversations in the first place, but never mind that), Gary alleges that most pulp writers of the time engaged in stereotyping. He even goes so far as to mention one writer who was an exception to that rule, Paul Ernst. There were others, as well, who went in the opposite direction, engaging in hate-speech against Asians, African-American, and other ethnicities. Howard's work, overall, falls squarely in the middle of the pack. Some authors were more balanced and even handed than him, and some authors were much, much worse. In fact, if we are to judge Howard solely on his fictional output (and we will), it's easy to see that while Howard's language may have ventured into the realm of the stereotypical, Howard's treatment of other ethnicities did not. But we'll cover that later.
After his pulp concession, Gary offers up some dialogue from two of Howard's stories to help set up his point. He pulls a line of dialogue from "Black Canaan" as proof that Howard had a problem with educated Negroes. The dialogue in question is just that—words coming out of a character's mouth. To then say that educated black people were a problem for Howard is ridiculous. The second line, also dialogue, comes from the minor piece, "The Fear Master." Unpublished at the time of Howard's death, it has since cropped up in no place any casual reader would ever find it. Again, Gary paints a picture of Howard through the thoughts of his character, and it's patently ridiculous to presume that an author's character is inseparable from the author himself.
Having set the stage with all of his props, Gary launches into a lengthy comparison of "Black Canaan," one of Howard's most effective horror stories, and a novel by Erskine Caldwell called Trouble in July. Never mind that one of them is a novella and the other one is a novel. Never mind that one of them is a horror story, intended to frighten, and the other is a contemporary novel, intended to educate. Forget that the authors were separated by geography, culture, upbringing, and intention. Both authors used black characters to tell their story, so it makes perfect sense to compare them. This right here is the crux of Gary's argument, and the straw man is so complete and lifelike that it might as well jump up and sing, "If I Only Had a Brain."
Gary spends several pages recounting the plot of "Black Canaan," making sure to emphasize and highlight anything he deems controversial. N-bombs. Other snippets of dialogue, taken out of context. That sort of thing. Gary then follows that with a similar deconstruction of Caldwell's Trouble in July. Curiously, the dialogue Gary samples tend to reflect directly the social injustices perpetrated in Caldwell's work. The inference being, since Howard didn't do the same, then he's a racist.
What Gary has pointedly overlooked and omitted is very simple: the reason why "Black Canaan" has no social commentary is because that wasn't the plot of "Black Canaan." It's not just a "race war" story, either, as Gary alleges. "Black Canaan" is about a stronger, more charismatic man uniting a group or groups of people with the intent to go forth and conquer, take back what was once theirs, etc. This atavistic leader usually represents the very ideal of that ethnic group, or sometimes is a genetic aberration in that he is actually the next step in evolution. Regardless, it's a common theme that shows up in virtually all of Howard's varied genres; Conan, El Borak, even Steve Costigan, all had to deal with one of these plots at one time or another. Kull, the "barbarian" from Atlantis, takes his crown by force, and becomes King of Valusia. Conan too, assumes the mantle of Kinghood in a similar fashion. Bran Mak Morn, the leader of the doomed Picts, continues to rally his men against overwhelming odds. Their ancestors, at least literarily, get the last laugh in the Conan story "Beyond the Black River." And don't forget nearly all of Howard's historical oriental adventures, and his stories set amid the various Crusades. But don't take my word for it. Consider the similarities from this elementary sampling below:
From "Black Canaan:"
Tope's explanation of Saul Stark's actions:
"He aim to make hisself king of Canaan. He sent me to spy dis mornin' to see if Mistah Kirby got through. He sent men to waylay him on de road, cause he knowed Mistah Kirby was comin' back to Canaan. Niggers makin' voodoo on Tularoosa, for weeks now. Ridge Jackson was goin' to tell Cap'n Sorley; so Stark's niggers foller him and kill him. That make Stark mad. He ain't want to kill Ridge; he want to put him in de swamp with Tunk Bixby and de others."
Gordon's explanation of Kathulos' plans:
"As I thought, the Scorpion had preceded me. This man, whose education and craft transcend anything I ever met with, is simply the leader and instigator of a world-wide movement such as the world has never seen before. He plots, in a word, the overthrow of the white races!
"His ultimate aim is a black empire, with himself as emperor of the world! And to that end he has banded together in one monstrous conspiracy the black, the brown and the yellow."
"These brown and yellow people, what care I for them? The blacks were the slaves of my race, and I am their god today. They will obey me. The yellow and the brown peoples are fools--I make them my tools and the day will come when my black warriors will turn on them and slay at my word. And you, you white barbarians, whose ape-ancestors forever defied my race and me, your doom is at hand! And when I mount my universal throne, the only whites shall be white slaves!
From "Fist and Fang:"(featuring Sailor Steve Costigan)
Santos discussing his situation with Costigan:
He give a short grim laugh. He hit his breast with his fist.
"Me king, now! Togo old fool; friend to white man! Bah! I say to young men: make me king! We kill white men, and take rum and cloth and guns like our people did long ago. So I kill Togo, and old men that follow him! And you--" His eyes burned into me.
"You make fool of me," he said slowly. "Aaahhh! I pay you back!" He looked like a madman, gnashing his teeth and rolling his eyes as he roared at us.
From "Son of the White Wolf:" (featuring El Borak)
Osman lays out his plot to his former commander:
"Mutiny, effendi," he replied calmly. "We are sick of this war we fight for the Germans. We are sick of Djemal Pasha and those other fools of the Council of Unity and Progress, and, incidentally, of you. So we are going into the hills to build a tribe of our own."
Osman then rallies the troops:
"British guns!" said Osman. "Battering the Turkish Empire to bits! The New Turks have failed. What Asia needs is not a new party, but a new race! There are thousands of fighting men between the Syrian coast and the Persian highlands, ready to be roused by a new word, a new prophet! The East is moving in her sleep. Ours is the duty to awaken her!
"You have all sworn to follow me into the hills. Let us return to the ways of our pagan ancestors who worshipped the White Wolf on the steppes of High Asia before they bowed to the creed of Mohammed!
"We have reached the end of the Islamic Age. We abjure Allah as a superstition fostered by an epileptic Meccan camel driver. Our people have copied Arab ways too long. But we hundred men are Turks! We have burned the Koran. We bow not toward Mecca, nor swear by their false Prophet. And now follow me as we planned--to establish ourselves in a strong position in the hills and to seize Arab women for our wives."
"Our sons will be half Arab," someone protested.
"A man is the son of his father," retorted Osman. "We Turks have always looted the harems of the world for our women, but our sons are always Turks.
"Come! We have arms, horses, supplies. If we linger we shall be crushed with the rest of the army between the British on the coast and the Arabs the Englishman Lawrence is bringing up from the south. Onto El Awad! The sword for the men--captivity, for the women!"
From "Black Colossus:" (featuring Conan the Cimmerian)
They were rumors from the desert that lies east of Stygia, far south of the Kothian hills. A new prophet had risen among the nomads. Men spoke of tribal war, of a gathering of vultures in the south-east, and a terrible leader who led his swiftly increasing hordes to victory. The Stygians, ever a menace to the northern nations, were apparently not connected with this movement; for they were massing armies on their eastern borders and their priests were making magic to fight that of the desert sorcerer, whom men called Natohk, the Veiled One; for his features were always masked.
But the tide swept northwestward, and the blue-bearded kings died before the altars of their pot-bellied gods, and their squat-walled cities were drenched in blood. Men said that the uplands of the Hyborians were the goal of Natohk and his chanting votaries.
Raids from the desert were not uncommon, but this latest movement seemed to promise more than a raid. Rumor said Natohk had welded thirty nomadic tribes and fifteen cities into his following, and that a rebellious Stygian prince had joined him. This latter lent the affair an aspect of real war.
Characteristically, most of the Hyborian nations were prone to ignore the growing menace. But in Khoraja, carved out of Shemite lands by the swords of Kothic adventurers, heed was given. Lying south-east of Koth, it would bear the brunt of the invasion. And its young king was captive to the treacherous king of Ophir, who hesitated between restoring him for a huge ransom, or handing him over to his enemy, the penurious king of Koth, who offered no gold, but an advantageous treaty.
These are just a few examples. Howard's Bran Mac Morn stories are all about this particular theme. The story "Kings of the Night" centers around Bran calling forth from the mists of antiquity one Kull of Atlantis to help him lead various scattered armies against the Romans intent on stamping them out. Other Conan stories, like "Beyond the Black River," where the uprising focuses on the Picts against Hyborian settlers, is another example. Even Howard's oriental historical stories use this theme.
When this idea of the stronger, more vital leader gathering his people and rising up, is paired with Howard's world view of a civilization rising up and achieving dominance—and then after they become complacent, are overthrown by the barbarians waiting outside the gate—in an endless cycle, over and over again...and it's suddenly crystal-clear that "Black Canaan" is another exploration of that recurring theme. Perhaps a touch more polemic, owing to the controversial relationship between blacks and whites in the 20th century, but Howard never shied away from interesting conflicts in his fiction.
The concept of "us" and "them" is a distinction that made the conquest of America possible, as Richard Slotkin noted in his study of the Myth of the American Frontier, Gunfighter Nation. And Howard played with the concept constantly, in all of his historical tales, in his fantasy work, in his early sword and sorcery stories—anytime there was an elemental conflict between two rival cultures. More on this idea can be found here (3).
Getting back to Gary's essay, after the comparisons wherein Howard is taken to task for not being the reformer that Caldwell is (and yet, Gary doesn't fault Caldwell for not being a horror and fantasy writer), he launches into a teeter-totter summary by first comparing dialogue in the Caldwell book to something Howard wrote in "The Last White Man," a story that was unpublished at the time of his death and a story that Howard had no intention of seeing print. Gary then attests that because of the similarity of the dialogue, Howard was influenced by racist propaganda. Again, Gary accuses Howard while forgiving Caldwell, which makes no sense. He does the exact same thing in the next paragraph by stating that because Howard's main character is attracted to the half-black villain in "Black Canaan," that doesn't excuse him from anything.
Finally, Gary trots out what most people consider to be the worst Conan story ever, "Vale of the Lost Women," and waves it around as evidence of something. Again, this is a story that was unpublished (and quite possibly not even submitted to Weird Tales) in Howard's lifetime. Meaning simply, the only reason it has seen print is because of L. Sprague de Camp and the fans' desire for more Conan, any Conan, and never mind the quality. Patrice Louinet correctly assessed that it was Howard's attempt at recasting the Cynthia Anne Parker abduction story into the Hyborian Age, and nearly every scholar (and apparently Howard, too) agrees it falls short. This story is not a typical example of Howard's work. If anything, it's an exception. Gary only includes it because Howard has Conan rescuing a white woman from the clutches of black tribesmen merely because of her skin color. It's callous, sure, but such sentiment amongst people during the Wild West and among the frontier was commonplace when discussing the Native Americans and fighting in the various Indian Wars, which is exactly what Howard was attempting to emulate. Perhaps he succeeded a little too well.
Gary, who is perhaps the most vocal defender of L. Sprague de Camp and his involvement with the Conan property, then throws his literary hero under the bus by claiming that de Camp isn't the best judge of Howard's racism, either. For the record, de Camp alleged that "Howard was, if a racist, a comparatively mild one by the standards of his time." This is one of the few statements about Robert E. Howard that de Camp made that most experts have no problem with—but not Gary, who tells us "Caldwell, a Southern writer contemporary with Howard, stands up to modern scrutiny. Howard doesn't."
I would amend that statement to say, "Given the current climate of political correctness, Howard cannot." After all, a small press just published an edition of Huckleberry Finn with the word "nigger" completely removed, stating that a growing number of teachers can't teach it in their classes for the trouble it causes amongst students and parents. If Mark Twain can't be intelligently discussed for fear of offending someone who might read the word "nigger," then what chance does Howard possibly have?
Gary goes out on a high note, but it's a pyrrhic one. He lists off some of the best of Howard's work and states, "Any flaws are outweighed by superior storytelling and meaningful themes regarding the nature of civilization in his best work," which is an echo of a sentiment that L. Sprague de Camp frequently used to attempt to verbally wash off the tar and feathering job he'd so recently applied. While de Camp was occasionally able to get away with it, in Gary's case, it's too little, too late. Anyone who wanted to have their suspicions confirmed that yes, indeed, Howard was a racist, probably never made it to that final paragraph, having stopped somewhere before the Caldwell plot summary to post something gleefully in a message board forum.
One thing that is missing from Gary's examination is the poetry of Robert E. Howard. This is not his fault; Howard's 800+ poems have only recently been collected and published for fans and scholars to examine. Barbara Barrett has done such an examination, and found thirty-two poems that deal with race, racialism, or the theme of another race. Her conclusions were enlightening:
Robert E. Howard wrote over 800 poems. Thirty-two of them were analyzed...Of those, six contain offensive racial names. Miscegenation is mentioned in three and one of those three contains a romantic setting. The majority of his poems on the subject treat Africa, Africans, and African-Americans with respect and dignity. What's probably even more revealing are the two or three poems in which REH identifies closely with the warrior members of African tribes, especially with their freedom.
Quite the bombshell, considering that this is a vast collection of written material that few people have ever seen in total, much less gone through with a fine-toothed comb. The majority of Howard's poetry was written for himself, or shared with a select group of friends. In other words, it was not intended for commercial considerations. This material, then, cannot be discounted when discussing how Howard thought or felt about a given subject.
So, what was the point of all of this? Merely to show that there are two sides to every coin, and when the issue is this complicated, this controversial, there's sometimes more sides than two. The question of "Was Howard a racist" can only be answered definitely by people who go into the discussion with their mind made up already. A number of modern readers are going to hit the N-bomb in "Pigeons From Hell" and then go say something that they think is prescient, like game designer Robin Laws, who wrote, "Although that author is by modern — and was perhaps even by contemporary — standards a monstrous bigot, his writing is worth a look for his vivid, action-packed English." For so many people, who have only read a handful of pulp authors, and they would be considered the cream of the crop, how can anyone make such a statement?
There were thousands of pulp authors, each with their own quirks, peccadilloes, and agendas. A few authors really had it out for other ethnic groups. Some authors were positive and laudatory, writing very enlightened stories. Most authors fall squarely in the middle, using the accepted polite language, slang terms, and stereotypes of the time. For every N-word we can find in Howard's fiction, you have to account for the black witch doctor, N'Longa. A trifle stereotypical? Yep, particularly when dealing with Darkest Africa. But without a doubt a positive force in the stories, helping Solomon Kane on several occasions, so much so that Kane takes some of the witch doctor's magic into his own arsenal. But no worse than Edgar Rice Burrough's depiction of the natives. Such stereotyping doesn't prevent anyone from reading Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
Ace Jessel, the black prize-fighter featured in two of Howard's boxing stories, and likely modeled on Australian Golden Age champion Peter Jackson, is another example. While maybe not as deftly handled as, say, Erskine Caldwell, it's important to remember that if Howard was, in fact, the kind of racist we think of today when we use the term, it would never have occurred to him to write any positive portrayals of black characters, citing any number of the reasons that people do. The fact that he has a body of fiction that can in fact be described as multi-cultural is significant. Tellingly, Howard's treatment of Moslems is singular in this day and age.
The point is simple and obvious: judging Howard's racial beliefs based on reading one or two stories is ill-advised. Looking at the total of all of Howard's fiction that trades on racial stereotypes or evokes cultures that are inherent to the plot, Howard was generally even-handed. Certain peoples were exaggerated for certain stories. Mexicans, about whom Howard said pointedly that he liked the culture, but not the people, only show up in a few stories, and are all treated in a positive manner. Or, if not overtly positive, the Mexicans fall within the stereotypical boundaries of the pulps in Howard's casting of them as mustache twirling banditos. There's no malice present; it's all a pop culture shortcut.
Asians, too, fall into standard roles in Howard's humorous boxing stories. Howard could have, I suppose, taken the time and effort to go to cities like Dallas or Houston and go to the libraries and possibly find the handful of books that were ethnographies of Asian cultures and really portray them as they were, but that just wasn't what people did back then. Far faster to take your cues from other pulps, magazines, movies, radio, and newspapers, and get the story written now because they pay by the word and money is tight.
In his private life, it's pretty clear that Howard was no better or worse than most, if not all, of his fellow small town Texans when it came to certain subjects. Miscegenation was a controversial topic for most of the 20th century and continues to be a touchy subject today, despite great strides forward. If you are going to call Howard a racist for questioning Howard's reaction to Novalyne's interaction with a black man on the streets of Brownwood, Texas, then what are you going to call the parents who only want their son to marry "a nice [fill in the blank—Jewish, Indian, Greek, Spanish, etc.] girl" in this day and age?
These questions of identity, of nationality, were large in Howard's time. Everyone he knew was a Texan first, an American second, and from somewhere else, third. National identity was, in the absence of social media, a way to get to know someone quickly. Jewish comedians traded on stereotype on stage and radio to introduce their culture to people who had never seen or met a Jewish person in their life. The Irish, who were considered "a mongrel horde" and not even human in the 1880s and 1890s went through a kind of transformation as the country's racial dialogue shifted from one of multiple nations, each with their own racial identity, to one of simple skin color—black, brown, yellow, and white. This automatically bumped the Irish up into "acceptable" status, and St. Patrick's Day hasn't been the same since.
For the rest of the population, their country of origin came with some pre-conceived notions that became those stereotypical conventions, i.e. the Irish love to drink and fight, Swedes are big and slow-witted, Mexicans are lazy, "Orientals" are secretive, etc. These things are still with us today, in a culture that can't bring itself to even acknowledge the N-word. So why are we, of all people, condemning Howard for being no better or worse than the rest of the world?
Set aside Howard's discussions with Lovecraft about the Aryan cultural migrations, his other conversations about his Celtic heritage (and his own playing to Irish stereotypes, even though Howard wasn't actually Irish), and all of the tens of millions of words of fiction and poetry that Howard wrote, and what you are left with is a single word: Nigger. Howard used it in a few stories and poems, and to modern readers, any usage of that word, regardless of context, makes him a racist. If that's Gary's, or anyone else's stance, then there's not much anyone can do to say otherwise. In today's political climate, this may in fact hurt Robert E. Howard's sales, if not his literary reputation. It's hard to say right now, as the debate over said word in the works of Mark Twain has finally reached critical mass. Whatever the gestalt decides will undoubtedly be retroactively applied to other authors.
Personally, I'm hoping for a little reason to prevail. We need to be able to read Huckleberry Finn as-is. No one word deserves all of the power we give to the N-word. Also, we do ourselves no favors by discounting all historical and cultural associations to any author's work. Time and place have to be accounted for. Howard's fiction is worth reading and discussing. It is because of his time and place that his fiction has that singular drive, that frantic edge to it. Taking words out, or worse, labeling the author unfairly, closes minds and creates preconceived notions about the author and his work that distort the real picture. There has been enough of that already in Howard studies. It's time to celebrate Howard, the author, without caveats, without exceptions. It's time to read Howard and decide for yourself what the man was about, without someone else's filter or interpretation of a single story as a guide. Let Howard's work—all of it—speak for itself.
Framing the Argument
Gary didn't write "Southern Discomfort" in a vacuum, out of any sense of altruism on his part. The article was a response to a month-long debate that had been raging online in various REH forums. Gary was just solidifying his position, and since most of the folks in REHupa were also involved in the online discussion, the appearance of his article made perfect sense. Interestingly, in the same mailing, Psychology professor, author, and REHupan Charles Gramlich offered up his own thoughts on the subject in his 'zine, Razord Zen. He wrote at length, out of personal experience, from the point of view of a scientist, and with some clinical authority. He prefaces his remarks by saying, "In today's world, being called a racist is not a minor rebuke. People can lose their jobs, be fined, be suspended from schools, or have their good names and legacies sullied. In many cases such punishments are well deserved. Racists who act on their beliefs can be very dangerous people."
Gramlich goes on to say, "When people describe another person as racist they are generally saying that the individual holds 'racist' attitudes, which are internal likes and dislikes. Attitudes, in fact, are thoughts, and it is generally believed by the public that stated attitudes are an aspect of an individual's personality and that they influence behavior in a simple and direct fashion." He discusses this idea in terms of being able to prove scientifically whether or not someone is or isn't a racist. He states that in order to satisfy a charge of racism, a person's beliefs and a person's actions must be in agreement. In other words, a person must deny service to someone in a restaurant and also state that they are doing it because of skin color.
As an interesting example, Gramlich cites a study in 1934 by Richard La Piere, wherein his researchers traveled across the United States with Asian companions and were refused service at restaurants and motels a total of once, as in, a single instance. At the time, there was a serious prejudice against Asians in this country. In a follow-up portion to the study, when La Piere wrote to every single place where he and his Asian friends had been served, he asked if the establishments served Asian customers. 90% said that, in fact, they did not.
Was there racism or not, Gramlich asks. "The answer is unclear, or rather, it depends on how you define racism and whether you require a simple subjective level of proof (hey, they said they wouldn't serve Orientals) or a more objective level (agreement between verbal statements and behavior." But the fact that these restaurants served Asians (with one single exception) when 90 percent of them had a policy that said they wouldn't, is serious food for thought in any era. Even today there is often a real disconnect between what people say, and what people do.
After discussing the possible traps inherent in determining racist intent, Gramlich drops a clinical bomb on the discussion by explaining a common critical fallacy:
It is common for observers who are untrained in scientific evaluation (and even among those who are) to judge the words and behaviors of individuals as being due more to the individual's personality than to situational or environmental factors...this is especially true if the person's actions are viewed negatively, as in the case of racial prejudice. In fact, this inference to personality rather than to situation is so common, and so commonly wrong, that it is referred to by social psychologists as the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAR).
This means that an observer will be far more likely to judge a person's words or behaviors as being due to internal attitudes (racism) than to external factors such as the demands of the environment...from a theoretical and scientific perspective, choosing to accept negatives as evidence for attitudes while ignoring positives is illogical and insupportable.
Having set up a definable criteria, Gramlich goes on to discuss racism within the letters and fiction of Robert E. Howard. He concedes that "...it would be difficult to deny that the culture of the 20s and 30s in the United States was more accepting of racist attitudes, comments, and behaviors than is our current culture. This would, in turn, create a climate where an individual who was not racist in internal attitude might still voice what are today judged as racist comments." Gramlich offers up choice literary passages full of words and descriptions that are inarguably connotative of racism, and then reveals that the passages are from Mark Twain, Joe Lansdale, and black author Donald Goines. Gramlich's inference is that dialogue written in a story does not constitute evidence of racist behavior on the part of the author.
Gramlich emphasizes "...to argue that Howard's statements [in his letters] should be considered within the framework of his time is not to forgive his statements. Critics of an author's work are not in the business of forgiving the writer. Nor are they in the business of condemning him (or her)." Finally, Gramlich applies his own criteria to Howard by comparing his actions with his verbally stated opinions:
In other words, if we are to decide that Howard was truly racist, we should expect to see that his behavior towards blacks and Orientals accurately reflected his verbally stated feelings. Does such evidence exist? Did Howard engage in violent acts against blacks or other minorities? Did he insult minorities when free to do so? Did he refuse to share facilities such as a bus with blacks, or refuse to eat at a place that served blacks (or other minorities)? I am not aware that Howard engaged in any of these sorts of behaviors, or in any number of other behaviors which would clearly illustrate racist behavior.
Gramlich concludes his lengthy discourse by stating, "One could argue logically from either premise, that Howard was a racist or that he was not. There are two sources of evidence that seem to contradict each other. Anyone evaluating such an issue should be aware of the possibility of the fundamental attribution error...I would strongly urge caution to anyone unless the evidence is overwhelming. I do not believe that such overwhelming evidence exists in the case of Robert E. Howard."
This was not the first, nor the last, REHupan to weigh in on the subject, but given the appearance of "Southern Discomfort" in the same mailing as Gramlich's cogent treatise, it's interesting how like minds sometimes don't think alike, as we will soon see. As clinical and as detailed as Gramlich's zine was, REHupan David Godwin, who was also in the middle of the discussion, replied from a place of personal experience. In his mailing comments, he responds to Ben Szumskj's article on Howard and race from a previous mailing, saying, "True, [Howard] was not prospective Klan material, but he could not help being a racist in that time and place. I have to disagree on the definition of a racist; I don't think it is necessary to treat members of some other race unfairly in order to be a racist. It's only necessary to harbor the attitude that one or more other races are decidedly inferior to one's own. If you have that attitude, it will affect your behavior willy-nilly."
Reactions to "Southern Discomfort"
In the next mailing, REHupa #174, Gary Romeo himself is the first to comment on the article. He says, 'I was a little dissatisfied with the 'Southern [Dis]Comfort' article. I should just do a racism in REH article and a separate REH/Caldwell article. Combining the two wasn't the best way."
He took the words right out of my mouth.
REHupan Leo Grin nails the article to the wall succinctly and accurately in his mailing comments when he writes:
Your revised version of "Southern Discomfort" ends up being just more of the same. As I said the first time to you, I think it is well-written and well-argued. But that is when taken in a vacuum. When put up against the totality of what we know, it is scandalously subjective about what it reveals to the reader and even more scandalous concerning what it leaves out. All of your arguments turn to putty when expanded beyond the narrow-minded racial playground you have staked out...In any case, have fun giving Howard his posthumous tar-and-feathering. With any luck you'll soon have schools and libraries using your essays to ban Howard from bookshelves and curriculums.
Well, not quite, but Gary's article has been used by a number of people to tar and feather Howard in the past few years, so Leo's prediction wasn't too far off the mark.
David Godwin, who would seem to be sympathetic to Gary's argument, had this to say about "Southern Discomfort": "I think you have mentally inflated the prevalence of non-racists in 1930s Texas. You seem to imply that Novalyne was not a racist, since she countered some of Bob's racist remarks with humanitarian rejoinders. But that's just a socially conditioned feminine trait (or was at the time). I suspect Novalyne would have had somewhat harsher remarks to make if anyone had suggested interracial dating or marriage. If not, she was an exceptional lady indeed for her time and place."
Godwin goes on to state he personally feels anyone born in the South before 1955 was a racist, because they grew up in a society of institutionalized racism and the social odds were against them. He goes on to state four possible factors that might reform someone from that time period, including a person's parents being from somewhere not the south, adolescent rebellion (from parental norms and thinking), going to college and being exposed to different ideas and people, and world travel and experiences.
Charles Gramlich, in his mailing comments, wastes no time taking Gary to task. He writes:
I read "Southern Discomfort" with interest, Gary, but I have to say that it either confused me completely, or, it illustrated perfectly why any attempt to diagnose racism by dissecting a writer's "fictional output" is likely to result in complete failure. Correct me if I am wrong, but my reading of your essay suggests that you believe Howard expressed racism through his fiction in "Black Canaan" and "The Last White Man," while Caldwell did not in Trouble in July.
Let me quote from your article. Caldwell has one of his white characters say "We've got to send all the niggers back to Africa where they cam from. They're multiplying so fast there won't be room for a white person to breathe in before long."
You also quote from REH's "The Last White Man" the following phrase, which is essentially the internal monologue of a character: The whites should have seen that they could not stand before them. The black race doubles itself in forty years, the brown in sixty, the white in eighty."
You then go on to say that, after quoting from Howard's story, "Clearly Howard was influenced by the racist propaganda of his day."
Come on, Gary! Surely you must admit that, objectively, the quote from Caldwell's character is, if anything, more racist than the quote relaying the thoughts of Howard's character. You are assuming that when Howard wrote something from the point of view of a character than he meant it, while Caldwell did not. How can you make such an assumption? How do you know the character of "Narcissa" is not saying exactly what Caldwell wants to say? The fact is you don't and are assuming based on your own viewpoints.
I'm not saying you couldn't be right about Howard and Caldwell. You may well be. Others have agreed with you about "The Last White Man" and it certainly reads like a racist fantasy. But how do you know what the author's intent is when he's writing fiction, and how do you judge one statement as racist and the other as not when they say virtually the same thing?
Gramlich has a lot to say on this subject, but it's mostly more evidence that Gary picked and chose his material, and then wrote what he wanted to write in the end. Another example Gramlich cites:
Howard's character finds a black woman attractive. This equates to racism, or at least does not argue against REH's racism. Caldwell's characters (apparently more than one, though I'm guessing it is off stage) engage in sex with black women in a demeaning fashion. This somehow supports the idea that Caldwell is not racist. The fact that Caldwell's characters engage in sex with black women is being used as evidence to support the idea that Howard could have had a character attracted to a black woman without it indicating racial tolerance. In other words, you are making Caldwell's book the benchmark by which you judge Howard, and are accepting Caldwell's book as the arbitrator of what is racist or not.
Gramlich finishes his comments with a discussion of tone and authorial intent. He also wonders if someone writes a story with a character who perpetrates violence on women would be considered sexist or misogynist. After showing a few more quotes from famous authors who wouldn't normally be considered racists but have written about racial and racial characteristics, Gramlich dismisses the rest of Gary's essay by saying, "It's important to remember that in order to achieve their goals, fiction writers absolutely must lie. And the better they lie the better we like them."
By June of 2002, the argument had played itself out online and in REHupa mailing #175, Gary offers up a reply to Gramlich's caning in his own mailing comments:
Charles Gramlich's criticism of my essay "Southern Discomfort" raises three important points. First, Charles says anyone seeing racism in a story is reflecting a personal subjective bias. Second, Charles asks how can the reader know that the tone he or she detects reflects the writer's personal beliefs and is not a choice dictated by the writer's vision of the story's need? Thirdly, he questions whether a writer's non-fiction (letters, etc.) should be a basis for interpreting a writer's fictional characters.
Regarding the first argument. I think it is very true that one can see racism in something and be wrong. The Huck Finn example bears repeating again and again. But, of course, one can see racism in a story and be right. Someone reading "The Turner Diaries" easily recognizes this work of fiction to be the work of a racist.
The "tone" question is pertinent in Howard's case...The reader's detection of racism is more reflective of his societal learning than a personal bias. Educated people know Jewish stereotypes, negative comments about mixed marriages, and concentrating on race are questionable things. People sympathetic to Howard like de Camp, Don Grant, and Glenn Lord all edited these things. The introductions to the Berkeley and Baen versions of "Black Canaan" remind the reader of racial attitudes in Howard's day...There is something in Howard's "tone" that affects, even fans, negatively.
Charles third point is one I completely disagree with. Knowing the writer's personal letters is key to examining his personal beliefs in his fiction. As we know Howard routinely expressed racist thoughts in his letters and in his conversations with Novalyne. One of his best friends tells us pointblank that Howard did not like Negroes and Jews. Knowing all this is the proof for any reader's suspicious. Perhaps the fiction alone isn't enough to judge, but the fiction raises questions. Further investigation supports these suspicions rather than allays them.
Rather than reply to Gary's comments, some of which do not, in fact, accurately reflect what Gramlich said at all, I'm going to leave them as Gary's final word on his work, up to this point. Besides, there is still one final set of comments to consider, from REHupa 176, the August 2002 mailing. Veteran Howardist Rusty Burke weighs in at the end of it all with some insightful thoughts:
Some of the examples you cite in commenting on Charles' second point...may be more reflective of pulp magazine conventions and stereotypes (in turn reflecting societal conventions and stereotypes) than of Howard's personal beliefs (except, of course, insofar as his beliefs were shaped by those same conventions and stereotypes). You make a very good point, that the educated reader today recognizes that those conventions and stereotypes were rooted in racist beliefs and they make us uncomfortable. But that says more about us than it does about Howard (or any pre-Civil Rights era author).
As you know, I try not to downplay what I see as Howard's racism too much, but I think you go too far. I don't think it's fair to say that Howard "routinely" expressed racist thoughts in his letters and in his conversations. You can find them if you go looking for them, yes, but they are actually in only a small percentage of his letters, mainly in those to HPL. While I think the vehemence of those comments indicates more than merely "playing to his audience," they are hardly "routine." Same with the conversations with Novalyne—it is precisely because it was not routine that Novalyne made such a big deal out of it. And it has to be said that there are "racist" comments that have more than a touch of irony, like the "coon [who] cooked three cops in New Orleans" (REH to Clyde Smith, March 1932), indicating more sympathy with the victim than one expects of a hard-core racist. You say that "One of his best friends tells us pointblank that Howard did not like Negroes and Jews." Really? He didn't actually know any Negroes or Jews—how could he know whether he liked them or not? To be technically correct Clyde [Smith, the aforementioned best friend] should have said "He didn't like the idea of Negroes and Jews." And as long as we're using all the available information about a person to judge what he has written, shall we consider Clyde Smith's reliability as a witness for anyone's racial attitudes?
I would agree that "The Last White Man" is "racist," but "race war" was not the marginal paranoia then that it is today. (It was mainstream paranoia.) There were books written by scholars who were quite reputable in their day concerning the "inevitability" of race war, such as Madison Grant's The Passing of the Great Race and Lothrop Stoddard's The Rising Tide of Color. Not long before Howard wrote "The Last White Man," the United States Congress had passed sweeping immigration laws aimed at keeping out "inferior" racial groups (many of the same biases are still encoded in our immigration laws). Seen in context, I don't think "The Last White Man" comes off as the kind of racist screed it would be if it were passed around by today's white supremicists. And I will entirely disagree with anyone who finds "Black Canaan" to be a "racist" story. It is absolutely true to its period, the villain and villainess are evil not because of their race but because of their practice of black magic, and Howard shows considerable sympathy, in my opinion, with the blacks who are the victims.
And that was where the matter lay, at least, until the REHupa website went up a few years later. Once online, and stripped of the commentary that demonstrated the flaws in Gary's argument and methodology, not to mention highlighting facts from opinions, it has since been downloaded and viewed thousands of times.
Barbarism Versus Civilization
But where did Howard get this idea of an endless cycle of uprisings? The barbarians coming over the walls to oust the pampered and soft civilized men—barbarians who would then take their place and become soft and lazy, until they were ousted by the next horde of barbarians on the way up—is a central idea to the work of Robert E. Howard, and it is no surprise that it was shaped and influenced by his own interests as well as the times in which he grew up.
In Howard's lifetime, the state of Texas, thanks to the discovery of oil in 1901, made a rapid and dizzying transformation from wide open agrarian and cattle based frontier to the richest industrial state in America. And by that I mean, in the span of thirty years. Howard grew up with a generation before him that remembered fighting for the Confederacy, and taming the frontier with fierce battles with the Comanche Nation. Cross Plains' Main Street had a number of hitching posts for farmers to tie off their horses and wagons, and these parking spaces were right next to Model T cars and Ford trucks. The changes happened so fast that many people could not keep up with them. Tens of thousands of people poured into the state, from all over the country, and from Europe and Mexico, too. And all of those people crammed together, all vying for the money that came from the oil industry, made for a lot of conflict.
Racial tension was high at this time, especially in East and South Texas, where many of the black population resided in the more established urban areas, like Houston and Galveston. The following summary is from the Handbook of Texas Online:
The most common cause of riots in the first half of the twentieth century was public outrage toward prisoners. Mob threats of violence to prisoners necessitated the use of state troops on four occasions in 1900. In 1901 three lynchings by mobs took place despite the calling of state troops; in two instances the troops suppressed the mobs. At Brenham rioting broke out over the employment of a black brakeman by a railway; it was suppressed after two days. In 1902 mob violence brought on the use of state troops three times. In one instance the mob hanged a prisoner before the troops' arrival. Troops were called out three times on this account in 1903, twice in 1904, three times in 1905, and once in 1906. The Brownsville Raid (1906) precipitated a serious race riot involving black soldiers. Troops were needed elsewhere in 1907 and 1908; in the latter year rioting at Slocum resulted in the killing of more than ten blacks. Other mob actions in the first decade of the century resulted from strikes at Houston in 1904 and racial tension at Ragley the same year. Riots also took place in San Antonio and Fort Worth in April and May of 1913. The Houston Riot of 1917 was started by about 150 black troops from Camp Logan, a temporary training center near the city. The riot, touched off by the arrest of a black woman, was the culmination of general uneasiness and hostility following the establishment of the camp. It resulted in the deaths of seventeen people, mostly whites; the anger of an aroused white population necessitated martial law for four days. The Longview Race Riot of 1919 also resulted in the proclamation of martial law. A strike at Galveston in 1920 produced lawlessness that required the help of the Texas National Guard. Mexia was declared in a state of anarchy because of a riot and was placed under martial law from January to March 1922. The Sherman Riot of 1930 stemmed from the arrest of a black who had assaulted a white woman; rangers were called to protect the prisoner, but a mob set fire to the courthouse and virtually seized control of the town. When troops of the Texas National Guard arrived, they were attacked by the mob, and before martial law restored order, a number of buildings were destroyed. Enforcement of oil-conservation laws in the 1930s also necessitated the use of the National Guard to suppress mob lawlessness.
Not to be outdone, the Mexican Revolution began in 1910 and ran up and down the Texas-Mexico border (and frequently spilling over into Texas) for ten years. Many of the conflict's more colorful characters like Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa became household names with their audacious exploits—Villa actually crossed the border frequently and even attacked towns in New Mexico and Texas. Tens of thousands of innocent Texans and Mexicans, not to mention soldiers, servicemen, and Texas Rangers, lost their lives in skirmishes and raids during this period.
Out of that conflict came a document that caused quite a stir among Texans at the time. One of the most fiery pieces of revolutionary rhetoric to ever see print was the Plan of San Diego, allegedly written in San Diego, Texas. This plan called for the formation of a "Liberating Army of Races and Peoples," to be made up of Mexican Americans, African Americans, and Japanese. The aim of this liberating army was no less than to overthrow the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Colorado from United States control and establish the new territory as an independent state. And what of the existing tenants? All white males over the age of sixteen were to be executed.
This of course never happened, but in 1915, it scared the hell out of a lot of people, and understandably so. Robert E. Howard was an impressionable 9 year old when this came to light, and he would hear about the revolutionary violence taking place to the south of Texas for another five years before everything was settled, if not forgotten. The idea of a coming race war was not a racist fantasy to Howard, or any other Texan. At that time, it was a distinct possibility. As such, it sounds an awful lot like the plot from all of those Howard stories about would-be conquorers.
To say that these unique historical incidents had no bearing on the young Robert E. Howard, or indeed, any Texan from this time period is patently ridiculous. Howard's time and place have to be accounted for when discussing the themes and motifs present in his fiction. In his personal life, Howard was pessimistic about the future—and who could blame him? By the age of twenty, Howard had lived in a dozen places in Texas, dealt with a number of boom towns and the chaos they inevitably wrought, listened to reports from the border for ten years, and read about (and saw in the faces of returning veterans) the horrors of the Great War. Howard was even exposed to the trauma that the oil boom industry brought when it showed up on his home in the form of industrial accidents, gunshot and knife wounds, looking for Howard's father, the town doctor. That Howard was able to write about both sides of a conflict, and see that just because someone was an enemy, that had no bearing on the person as a human being, is exceptional. It is precisely this ability to spin the reader's eye around to the player on the other side of the battlefield or color line that makes so many of Howard's stories compelling and timeless.