Thursday 22 January 2015

Literary Afterlives

See, Howard just got pirates. None of this "arrrr matey" theatricality: just a surly, burly man slouching with a sword.

22nd of January, another in a month with a disproportionate amount of memorials to death authors who've shaped my imagination. Tolkien, Smith, Lovecraft... Howard.

Even before I knew Howard's work, he was always there. He was in my genes, as my parents and grandparents read his work - and the work of those which informed his writings, like Conan Doyle, Burroughs, Haggard - so if nothing else, it's keeping in the family. During the long spell between when I read Almuric and my rediscovery of Howard through Conan, he still managed to be there, that liminal figure on the boundaries of my imagination. Howard's ideas and thoughts echoed throughout the stories I enjoyed even without my realising it: many of the things I liked were mirrored in Howard's work.

Sometimes it's easy - you can see why a Howard fan might enjoy The Lost World, Ivanhoe, The Lord of the Rings, Stormbringer, all the way to Saturday morning fare like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. But what about something like Wuthering Heights, one of my favourite novels - one which you'd think would have nothing to do with Howard's brand of sombre blood and thunder? Well, when you think of Wuthering Heights not as romance, but as gothic horror, it becomes all too easy. I saw Howard's brooding, violent heroes in the dangerous Heathcliff, his obsessive vengeance as consuming as any John O'Donnell. The clash of classes in the bleak Pennines is not so far away from Howard's many tales of frontier tensions with their home "civilization" and the savagery dwelling just under the surface. Catherine's eventual fate speaks for itself.

Soon I could see Howard analogues everywhere - books, film, television. Even Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.

Bear with me on this one.

It only goes to show the breadth and depth of Howard's work, that it can be compared and contrasted with just about anything, and provide some interesting analogues. You could probably do this with any fantasy, adventure, action or horror story, such was Howard's proclivity and variety - and it would work. Then you start thinking what Howard's version of a story would be - how would Howard have written, say, the story of Vlad Tepes? Couldn't have been worse than 2014's version. What if Howard did biblical epics, bringing blood and thunder to the stories of the Bible he found most enthralling? What if Howard started getting into these comics shindigs - what sort of superheroes would Howard create?

It even works outside of fiction. Politics, spirituality, history, relationships: I end up thinking of Howard when it comes to just about everything in life. Sometimes I wonder about what Howard would make of this situation, or how this echoes what Howard said about this or that, or how things are different - or exactly the same - compared to Howard's time. Howard's life and writing is, well, inescapable. Even when I think I'm on a "break" from Howard, he finds his way back in.

And you know what? He's always welcome.

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