Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Robert E Howard and Putting a Bullet in Your Head

On June 11, 1936, Robert E. Howard, prolific pulp writer and creator of Conan, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Kull, Breckinridge Elkins, Sailor Steve Costigan and countless other brawny hero-types, went out to his car, put a gun to his head, and blew his brains out.

Not a very heroic move, for someone so in tune with the stoic, 'never-surrender' attitude of the classic hero.

The reason he did it, nominally, was that he'd just been informed that his mother (who'd fallen into a coma) was going to die. He couldn't handle it. Howard was very attached to her. I'll leave it up to you to decide how healthy or unhealthy that attachment was.

But I suspect there was more to it, really; the person who ends his own life begins, usually, with a predisposition toward suicide. They spend most of their lives barely hanging on, searching desperately for a reason to keep living. But deep inside they often feel like all their reasons are a sham, and that the true, horrible nature of the world will eventually overwhelm them. And so, in the end, they are overwhelmed, and they snuff it.

I can't bring myself to judge suicides harshly. I've heard some folks say of them that it's cowardly, that it's weak, to kill yourself. That's a cop-out and an over-simplification. People who are predisposed to suicide expend tremendous amounts of personal strength just getting through the day. But you know, in the end, strength can only hold out for so long.

So no, they aren't weak, necessarily. They are sick. They are stuck in a cycle that no human being can escape from on their own. They need help. Because even the strongest among us can't fight forever, and especially against our own treacherous brains.

It's always hard for us, the ones still hanging on, to hear about yet another brilliant mind doing itself in. What future would, say, Kurt Cobain have had? Hunter S. Thompson? Ernest Hemingway? Or most recently, the staggeringly talented Cort McMeel? We can only speculate, I guess.

And I especially can't help but wonder what brilliance REH might have had ahead of him. I wonder what great heights he might have achieved in his art. He wrote something like 800 stories in the ten year span he was active, and redefined pulp action forever afterward.

It's a goddamn shame.

I wish like hell he could've gotten some help, way out there in the barren countryside of Texas. RIP, REH.


  1. At some point, you go so far deep within yourself, everything gets dark and you don't know where you're going anymore. You surrender control. It's tough to explain, but those who have been there understand.

  2. Howard talked about suicide long before he did it, but he was a devoted son and knew his parents needed him around. When the nurse told him that his mother would never wake up, that freed him from the need to stay and take care of her. I think Howard dreaded growing old more than anything else.

    The topic of what would Howard have done if he lived is one of endless fascination for fans of his work. I've been on several panels about that very subject.

  3. I agree with all the above comments. Compassion and understanding are good only if others strive to make a difference where they see the need. This man was in so much pain all his life and his only reason for hanging in was his mother. My heart goes out to him and I say a prayer for him and all the others who have taken this way to solve problems and personal pain. Rest In Peace

  4. He was also under tremendous stress at the time he killed himself. He'd been doing much of the care for his mother, had slept very little, was owed a lot of money from markets he'd sold too. It was not a simple thing like "mom is dead so I'll kill myself."

  5. Stress will push you in that zone I talked about earlier. It'll do that to you.

  6. School. Work. Family. Social. Societal pressures. Perception of self worth.
    The above are a list of categories by which we can evaluate ourselves at any given time. When the value scores low in a majority, or in fact any one of these, it is easy to see that seeking your demise may be the best option even without "mental illness". Many may have religion in one form or another as their last remaining form of hope to cling on to life. Sadly they tend to be the religious nuts we so frequently see because they've thrown themselves so deeply into it for the very reason that it is the last resort for them to not accept the alternative of "Opting Out".

    Some of us secretly suffer with the knowledge that we are failures, unloved, unwanted, ridiculed, shunned and unaccepted by society, We are reminded of it on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis. How much then does it take then to simply tip the scales. A person can only take so much. Even if they are strong to begin with. With ever increasing pressures on people, world events, personal setbacks, or the demons they may be wrestling with, is it any wonder they may chose to end it all?

    What if they feel they have no one to turn to. Oh, the option of seeing a counselor or calling a help line? Well if you think you can tell a stranger all about your personal trials, I suggest you try it sometime. Though I know for some it's easy, for many it's NOT!

    When the pain of living seems greater than the pain of exiting this world, you begin to muster all the bravery and strength you can to "do the deed". "A cowards way out" it is not! It takes a lot to go through with it. And that is why they many are still here. Either they've found a solution to their troubles before they've gone through with it, Or they're still working on getting to that point.

    In summation, "We", that is to say you, me, them, they people we know, everybody, are the answer. For if it were a kinder world to live in, perhaps someone may find the reason to stick around.
    Then again, that's just my opinion.

  7. In case I wasn't clear in this post, I'm going to reiterate:
    I DON'T believe the death of his mother was the sole reason REH did himself in, it was simply the final push for him. As James and Charles point out, he was under tremendous pressure. But I DO think he was predisposed toward the idea of suicide (verified by his talk of it before).

    Mitch-- It's clear that you speak from experience and personal pain, and you should know that you aren't alone in feeling the way you feel, even though nobody else on Earth shares your particular circumstances. I sent you a private message.