Saturday 7 August 2010

Robert E. Howard, or, What's in a Name?

"That teller of marvelous tales, Robert Howard, did indeed create a giant [Conan] in whose shadow other 'hero tales' must stand."
– John Jakes, New York Times bestselling author of the "North and South" trilogy

I can never quite decide whether this is something I should necessarily be bothered about or not.

The man's name was Robert E. Howard.  That's what he's credited as on the manuscripts and publications, indicating that's the name he'd like to go by.  Ergo, the man should be referred to as Robert E. Howard, or Howard.  In a pinch, the informal use of Bob Howard or REH would do.

However, there are certain combinations of Howard's name that, for some reason or another, irk me.  I've seen it rendered as Robert Howard (as in the above John Jakes soundbyte), R. E. Howard (as quoth by James Purefoy in a BBC interview) and even R. Howard (as emblazoned on the cover of Wordsworrth's The Right Hand of Doom and Other Tales of Solomon Kane).  I don't know exactly why it annoys me, but it does.  Perhaps it's because other people aren't as fast and loose with other authors' names.  You never hear, for example, Jo Rowling, or Joanne Kathleen Rowling, or even Joanne Murray: it's always J. K. Rowling.  Same with Stephen King: nobody calls him Stephen E. King, or S. E. King.  I couldn't possibly list the number of variations of J.R.R. Tolkien that could be made, yet nobody strays from the standard.

So why does Howard run the gamut from Robert E. Howard, to Robert Howard, to R. E. Howard, to R. Howard?  Are people really that unaware?  Do they just not care?  Do they - dare I say it - throw their hands in the air with a Care Bear Stare?  (Sorry, I got into an Infinite Causality Rhyming Loop for a moment)

It just seems anathema to me.  Who knows, maybe I'm just really finicky or something.  I'll just go back and sort my Henry R. Haggard from my E. R. Burroughs, see if I can find that Terence Hanbury White that's been running about, and put the G. Raymond R. Martin and Lyon S. D. Camps collections back on the shelf.

... See how annoying it is?

EDIT: And as if to prove my point, I came across another R.E. Howard. What gives?  Still, this is worth a look, since he talks about Breck Elkins and the accompanying webcomic.  Cool stuff.


  1. A series of paperback, the Hard Case Crime series, deliberately played with that when they released a reprint of The Valley of Fear credited to A. C. Doyle. The odd iteration of the name and a lurid, pulp-inspired cover art by Glenn Orbik conspired to deliberately throw off the readers who would normally expect to see the classic deerstalker, meerschaum pipe and foggy victorian streets.

  2. I am amazed and impressed at the lenght of your crusade to set the facts straight about "Bob E H" and his creation(s). You are like a badger that wont let go untill you hear the bones crack, and I say that in the most appreciative way.
    I admit this post at first looked a bit much. But the different versions of the name is really just a part of the ongoing nonchalance about Mr Howard and his imagination. If this blog is anything to judge the climate by, Id say people just dont bother to get a proper understanding of the autor before they pass judgement (or publish outrageous claimes). Howard is obviously subject to some massive prejudice, and most people just dont take him serious enough to even try to get the facts straight. So, I actually do se how annoying this is as part of an ongoing process, and that you are entitled to bring it up without being treated like a compleat madman that truly lost it this time. Your blog is like a lighthouse on this sea of confusion.

  3. That is annoying. And now I'm off to read some Howard P. Lovecraft.

  4. "A.C. Doyle," eh? Well, I feel somewhat gratified knowing Howard isn't alone. From that perspective I can see what they're going for: I get the distinct impression that's what Wordsworth was doing too. TRHoDaOToSK was part of Wordsworth's "Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural," and I just now noticed that Howard isn't the only author to have a changed name:

    So in addition to R. Howard, we have R.H. Benson, W.H. Hodgeson, and Edith Nesbit. However, I've also found another volume - "The Haunter of the Ring and Other Tales" - that credits him as Robert E. Howard. Are people going to assume that the two are different men with the same name? Because it's things like that which had David X. Cohen invent a middle name because there was already an SAG member with his name. What's more, there's also one by "H.P. Lovecraft" AND "Howard Philips Lovecraft." No sign of Howard P. Lovecraft, though: sorry Brian!

    I'm still pretty positive ACD is almost always referred to as Arthur Conan Doyle, since I can't recall ever coming across A.C. Doyle before: in contrast, I come across Robert Howard on an irregular basis. Confusing.

    Fredrik, thank you very much for the vote of confidence. Being a fan sometimes means not knowing whether something is just a minor detail that shouldn't be too bothered about, or something more worthy of discussion. I truly believe that getting REH's name right is kind of important. Howard could've gone with one of his pen names like Patrick Howard or Patrick Ervin, or some other combination (Bob Howard, Robert Howard, Robert Ervin Howard) but for whatever reason, he went with Robert E. Howard. It's his signature. As far as I'm concerned, there's something important about it that I think needs to be recognized, even if I'm unsure what myself.

  5. by the way is Ervin or Erwin?
    Francisco de A. P. Palmero...

  6. Howard Lovecraft isn't very catchy, this "Philips" (not as good as Sony) in the middle makes it cover material. And I think this middle name pretentiousness fit with Lovecraft's character. "Robert Howard" sounds nice though (like in "Robert Redford"). I usually hate "Bob Howard". Bob..? And what's wrong with "John Tolkien"? Or Richard Grant instead of Richard E. Grant? These middle initials are always so pretentious, some people like John Joseph Nicholson would agree.

  7. I don't really feel either way regarding them. Sometimes middle initials can be useful to differentiate from people with the same name. Ultimately, I don't have a problem with what people choose to call themselves (though there are indeed cases that are unbearably pretentious), but I think it's just good manners to call them by it in an official context. "Bob Howard", for example, was a name used in correspondence among his friends. I will say that Robert Howard does have a good ring to it, at least.