Monday, November 10, 2008

Letters From Cimmeria

Spent a good part of the weekend reading the third and final volume of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. I had a lot of mixed emotions as I read through this volume. It's the one that contains the most information about Conan. The years 1933-1936 was when Howard was working hard on the tales of the burly Cimmerian. All the quotes I've read in various Conan related books and articles over the years come from the letters in this time frame. It was interesting to see them in their proper context.
However it's also the volume that contains Howard's last letters. The book is broken up by years, so as I reached 1936 I knew that Howard was fast approaching the end of his life. The tone of his letters doesn't really change though there is more mention of his mother's declining health. Much has been made about the motives for Howard's suicide, but I won't speculate on that here. I once read that suicide occurs when someone's pain exceeds their capacity to cope, and I think that's true.
There was one strange little moment as I was reading through Howard's letters for June of 1935. Howard liked to travel around as much as he could and he always kept up his correspondences from wherever he was. I'm reading along and suddenly there are two letters mailed from Santa Fe New Mexico. I immediately emailed Laura to tell her that Howard had visited her hometown.
A few pages later, in a letter to H.P. Lovecraft, there is a detailed account of Howard's visit to Santa Fe. He was only there for two days, and he talks mostly about the crowds of tourists and the mountain vistas. However he does mention that he went to the Governor's Palace which had been made into a museum even back in 1935. While I was in Santa Fe in June of this year I also visited that museum. I'm sure it's quite different than it was then but the fact remains that I have walked through the same space as Robert E. Howard. There's a building we've both been in. I find that kind of neat. I've had lunch in Conan Doyle's favorite hotel bar. I've sat at the desk where Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield. I've held letters written by Mark Twain. I've sat at J.R.R. Tolkien's table in the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford. Now I've crossed paths with REH. I hope to make a trip to Texas in the not too distant future to see my pal Lanny and to visit the Robert E. Howard museum in Cross Plains.
Anyway, I finished up Letters Volume III last night not long before bedtime. No more missives from Two-Gun Bob as Lovecraft called him. However next year there will be two volumes that collect the correspondence between Howard and Lovecraft. I'll be able to read both sides of their often long and drawn out arguments and discussions without having to look through half a dozen books. So I'm not quite done with the letters of Robert E. Howard.

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