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Robert E. Howard & Conan the Barbarian

Astraea^Andy, transcriber

The following was written by Karl E. Wagner in commentaries to his Berkeley editions of unadulterated, unabridged Conan books. Howard did not refer to this experience as soulbonding; for him, that would have meant a great love or friendship that lasted beyond the grave. Only a small handful of people, mostly young writers on the Internet, refer to it as soulbonding. Specifically, Howard's experience is closer to what they would probably refer to as a muse.

In a letter postmarked July 22, 1933, Howard comments: "Thanks, too, for the kind things you said about Conan. I enjoy writing about him more than any character I have ever created. He almost seems to write himself. I find stories dealing with him roll out much easier than any others."

Howard, in a biographical sketch in the amateur journal, "Fantasy Magazine" (July 1935), says of his most famous creation: "Conan simply grew up in my mind a few years ago when I was stopping in a little border town on the lower Rio Grande. I did not create him by any conscious process. He simply stalked full grown out of oblivion and set me at work recording the saga of his adventures."

Again, in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, dated July 22, 1935: "It may sound fantastic to link the term 'realism' with Conan; but as a matter of fact -- his supernatural adventures aside -- he is the most realistic character I ever evolved. He is simply a combination of a number of men I have known, and I think that's why he seemed to step full-grown into my consciousness when I wrote the first yarn of the series. Some mechanism in my subconsciousness took the dominant characteristics of various prize-fighters, gunmen, bootleggers, oil field bullies, gamblers, and honest workmen I had come in contact with, and combining them all, produced the amalgamation I call Conan the Cimmerian."

While Howard identified to some extent with all of his major characters, toward Conan he felt a sense of a mystical bond. In an earlier letter to Clark Ashton Smith, postmarked December 14, 1933, Howard wondered whether preternatural forces might have influenced his writing: "I'm rather of the opinion myself that widespread myths and legends are based in some fact, though the fact may be distorted out of all recognition in the telling. While I don't go so far as to believe that stories are inspired by actually existent spirits or powers (though I am rather opposed to flatly denying anything) I have sometimes wondered if it were possible that unrecognized forces of the past or present -- or even the future -- work through the thoughts and actions of living men. This occurred to me when I was writing the first stories of the Conan series especially. I know that for months I had been absolutely barren of ideas, completely unable to work on anything sellable. Then the man Conan seemed suddenly to grow up in my mind without much labour on my part and immediately a stream of stories flowed off my pen -- or rather off my type-writer -- almost without effort on my part. I did not seem to be creating, but rather relating events that had occurred. Episode crowded on episode so fast that I could scarcely keep up with them. For weeks I did nothing but write of the adventures of Conan. The character took complete possession of my mind and crowded out everything else in the way of story-writing. When I deliberately tried to write something else, I couldn't do it. I do not attempt to explain this by esoteric or occult means, but the facts remain. I still write of Conan more powerfully and with more understanding than any of my other characters. But the time will probably come when I will suddenly find myself unable to write convincingly of him at all. That has happened in the past with nearly all my rather numerous characters; suddenly I would find myself out of contact with the conception, as if the man himself had been standing at my shoulder directing my efforts, and had suddenly turned and gone away, leaving me to search for another character."

More on Howard here:

Pavilion Library, Index

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Edith Wharton on soulbonding

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pavilion @ karitas. net
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