Like John Randolph Burrow. I'll post a link to his site, and my response below. In it, he basically says that Howard defenders who claim Howard is realistic actually mean that Howard is gory and blood-soaked. That I would disagree with on a number of levels, mostly because there are plenty of Howard stories with nary a cleaving or stabbing to be seen, that are plenty realistic. However, he then goes on to say that the action scenes are no more believable than the nonsense of action movies, like how "one could avoid injury in any massive explosion by simply leaping." Apparently, Howard is as "realistic" as Broken Arrow and Chain Reaction. Which I find hilarious, as I explain below, since Howard's violence is in fact pretty damn realistic. I guess Mr Burrow suffers from that Reality is Unrealistic malady some suffer from.
Anyway, here's my response. If you agree or disagree with me, do say so.
Huh, first time I've come across this site, I believe.
The important thing to remember about Almuric is that it was published post-mortem, and was actually incomplete at the time of his death. It wasn't even named by Howard. Documents from Weird Tales from the 1930s talk of "Howard's unfinished novel" and the like. It's thus almost certain that an unknown "posthumous collaborator" had a hand in the writing of Almuric, most particularly the final chapters. Who this hand was is a matter of debate, but it's easy to see that the final chapter reads incredibly differently from what has come before. We'll likely never know the full extent, or who was responsible for completing Almuric: Farnsworth Wright had the original manuscripts of most of his stories destroyed.
So Almuric is an interesting read from a speculative point of view, but it should absolutely not be judged on the same level or by the same criteria as stories Howard finished and intended for publication.
Anyway, while I think you have some good points, I have to disagree on a few. For one thing, I cannot agree on sketchy background or "self-love" of describing the male physique as flaws of Howard's, since Howard's background descriptions are frequently evocative and powerful, while describing the hero's physique never struck me as excessive in the slightest. The most extensive I can think of are the boxing yarns, and really, these are sports stories: it's going to involve a lot of descriptions of striving muscles and straining thews.
I also disagree that Almuric was truly an anti-intellectual screed: what I got from it was that Esau wasn't bookish, arty or intellectual, but he lived in a world where you couldn't amount to much. Too violent and undisciplined for the army, too independent for mob work. Esau could not exist on this modern world: Almuric was on a world he could exist and thrive in. Yes, Esau was "how he should be" - emphasis on he.
I don't exactly understand what you mean by Chandler and Hammett's language, style, characterisation and plot has to do with being more "realistic."
I note you cite the boxing stories are examples of Howard's "realism": in fact, many of the boxing stories are about as realistic as Paul Bunyan, due to them being broad comedies. The Steve Costigan stories are over-the-top and wildly entertaining for it, but I also see a marked difference between them and a more serious tale like, say, "The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux" or "Double Cross." They're not a good example.
For Howard's "realism," simply look to his westerns and historical adventures. They are surprisingly exacting and true to life. If you doubt the likelihood of some of the events, remember that real life is often even stranger than fiction: if someone wrote a story about Audie Murphy's life, people would laugh it off as preposterous nonsense. Nothing I've read in Howard, comic tales aside, is remotely as audacious as some of the true war stories I've encountered.
I guess I can't really buy into the idea of the Conan stories - the good ones at least - as simply adolescent escapism. I'd hate to end up like Conan at the end of "Xuthal of the Dusk," with pieces of skin hanging off his frame, lips mashed and bruised black, bleeding from gumbs, eyes, ears and dozens of scars. I also think having the bad guys win and the secondary protagonist die in "Beyond the Black River" is a bit more sobering than the average Puerile Adolescent Wish Fulfillment fantasy.
Finally, the representation that Howard's defenders mean to substitute "realism" for "blood & guts" - well, in my experience, I tend to think of realism rather differently than that, though Howard's bloodletting is more realistic. War and battle is an incredibly bloody business. Battlefields would become literal lakes of blood and entrails. Carrion birds would block out the sun in the aftermath. Comparing Howard's treatment of violence to the gore-soaked action movie is not apt, in my opinion: if anything, it's more like the true, horrific descriptions of violence that have only recently have been portrayed in cinema. Or are the likes of Saving Private Ryan simply "gore-spattering action movies"?
Howard knew this, and knew it well. How did he know this? His father was a country doctor in a boom town in the great depression. There were too many people there, too many violent men. Howard saw the results of violence first-hand, and often had to help his father treat the victims of gunshots, stabbings, assaults, and other such traumas. You may think of excessively gory violence as unrealistic, but the sad fact is that real violence is drenched in blood. If anything, action movies are less violent than real fights are.
Also, "the heroes live to fight another day"? Well, unless you're the hero of "The Valley of the Worm," "Beyond the Black River" (for there's no way Conan was the main character of that story), "The People of the Black Coast," "The Man on the Ground," or dozens of other stories I can think of where the hero dies at the end. I could also point to the stories where the hero doesn't save the day ("Wings in the Night," "Queen of the Black Coast"), or actually makes things even worse ("Worms of the Earth"). You say you've read tons of Howard stories, yet apparently Howard's heroes are all about winning?
Your comparison to London is interesting, since I really cannot see London being appreciably less "adolescent" than Howard could be. Which is to say, not at all.
Oh, and Howard travelled a lot more than just a few hundred miles from his home, in fact, it's more likely in the thousands. He's been as far afield as Galveston, Santa Fe and New Orleans: each of those destinations are over two hundred miles from Cross Plains. He regularly traveled to Brownwood, which is itself 30 miles away.
(I forgot to mention that Almuric was not, in fact, Howard's only venture into Science-Fiction)
Again, Mr Burroughs is allowed to have a dissenting opinion, but I just feel the need to engage with those with a different viewpoint. Even if I don't convert anyone, and Crom knows those occassions are preciously rare, I always find that talking about Howard with those with a divergent viewpoint can be as refreshing and invigorating as talking with those who agree. It isn't quite as great as, say, talking about the Classical/Shakespearean influences of "The God in the Bowl" in a group at Howard Days, but as I've found before, sometimes it can lead the mind to think of things in a way that I wouldn't normally. Case in point, I've noticed Jack London is often considered a "juvenile author," but I sure as heck disagree. Call of the Wild and White Fang could be considered suitable Boy's Adventure fiction, but the big mistake people make with that genre is that it's intended, or only suitable, for boys. In contrast, there aren't many Howard stories I'd be happy giving to one of my cousins.
Anyway, I notice this is the second part. Here's what he says about Howard Academia:
I need sometime to explore what I think makes Howardʼs fantasy so riveting and real. In these days of academic Howardiana — which still strikes this furtive nocturnal reader of the juicy material as humorous and perhaps wrongheaded, although helpful to me and my interest in his writing and life — I may have nothing original to say.
I have to chuckle in kind, as I find his skepticism about as humourous and wrongheaded as I suspect he does of Academic Howardiana. Still, he does have some great stuff to say about Howard, being "powerful," "imaginative," "enthralling," and whatnot. He clearly likes the stories of the man, even if he seems to think of the stories as just great adventure yarns without anything deeper therein. All I can say is if academic Howardiana is "humorous and wrongheaded," then such illuminary institutions as the Library of America and Penguin Books are suffering the same amusing false craniality.
I guess this phrase from an earlier post seems to explain the disparity between his way of thinking from mine:
Even though the current Howard experts consider the deCamp/Carter revisions bastardizations, having read them while young, I still hold them fondly in my heart.
Aaaaah. He's a Lancer boy. Now it all makes sense: after years of being fed the stifling pap from de Camp about how the stories are simple escapism, with no thought of philosophical depth or social commentary, where The Hero Always Wins, The Women Exist Only To Be Ravished, and it's been drummed into them so many times that they just believe it. It's a well established phenomenon: the more often a statement is repeated, the more likely someone is to believe it to be the truth. It's why some people think Barack Obama is a Muslim, or why people continue to think Columbus' expedition was to prove the sphericity of the earth.
After reading things like:
How would you like to go to a world where men are mighty, women are beautiful, problems are simple, and life is adventurous... And where nobody so much as mentions the income tax or the school-dropout problem or atmospheric pollution?
Fiction of this genre is pure entertainment. It is not intended to solve current soial and economic problems; it has nothing to say about the faults of the foreign-aid program, or the woes of disadvantaged ethnics, or socialized medicine, or inflation. It is escape fiction of the purest kind, in which the reader escapes clear out of the real world.
For nigh on forty years, is it really any wonder they react to the current idea of Howard being so much more than just the author of Puerile Adolescent Wish Fulfilment with incredulity? If I'd been told something was so by the people who I was led to understand were the top authorities of the subject for so long, and they were revealed to be wrong, I'd be in a bit of denial myself. Or am I reading too much into it? Then again, if he can presume Howard defenders say "realistic" when we really mean "Whoa dude did you see that man awesome his head wen shpew look at all the bloooood," then hopefully you can forgive me in a little bit of poetic irony when I consider him a sadly mistaken chap clinging to the Bad Old Days where Howard was an Oedipal, Paranoid, Raving Lunatic who was Maladjusted To The Point Of Psychosis.
Truly this guy isn't the enemy, even if he doesn't hate de Camp and Carter (for as any fule no, those two are the Twin Anti-Howards and No Self-Respecting Howard Fan Is Allowed To Mention Their Name Without Shaking Their Fists Angrily*): he's just a guy who doesn't see the depth in Howard that others do.
Ah well. You can lead a horse to water...
*Disclaimer for sarcasm. Of course I have massive problems with de Camp's treatment of Howard, but come now, we don't need to demonize him: he does that more than adequately himself.