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Blood & Thunder
Mark Finn on Robert E. Howard
© 2012 James LaFond
In 2009 my son asked me to ‘help with security’ at a 150 person event he was running for a hobby store owner. I had been paying attention to the tales of big ghetto goons mugging geeks at these events and was glad to help, primarily to make certain my son was safe. There was some downtime, during which I perused the meager book collection. Among the titles was a biography of Robert E. Howard, my personal literary hero. When I saw the author’s photo had him wearing boxing gloves, then I knew he was a real Howard lover, and snapped the remaining copy up.
Robert E. Howard is my single greatest literary influence. The others, in order of importance are: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Luis L’Amour, Gene Wolf, and George R. R. Martin. People might assume that Howard’s propensity for writing violent adventure and his and my love for boxing indicates that I mimic his style in action writing. It is quite the opposite. I have studied Howard as a means of using metaphor and atmosphere. My action scenes are constructed in an almost opposite fashion from Howard’s. My point is here, that where people see Howard as an action writer, I see him as an atmospheric artist. I was thrilled, in Finn, to find a Howard fan who seemed to have Howard’s same sense for atmosphere.
I was sold—the book was mine.
Blood and Thunder
The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard
Mark Finn, 2006. MonkeyBrain Books, Austin TX, 264 pages
Three things sold me on this book: the table of contents which demonstrated a commitment to a comprehensive biography; the almost psychotic ‘about the author’ [You know we write those ourselves.] piece on the back cover; and the fact that rare photos and reproductions of pulp magazine covers were to be found on the interior.
Mister Finn treats Howard first and foremost as a Texan, and, just as importantly, a man of his times. Every aspect of Howard’s ancestry, upbringing, family and associations that found reflection in his writing is covered. Though a self-professed Howard fanatic, Finn does not engage in hero worship but scholarship. This is, quite unexpectedly, a vigorous investigative biography. As a Texan himself, sitting on much of the evidence, Finn was well placed for this project, and made good use of this advantage.
A writer communicates incompletely to his readers, in a deliberate attempt to express himself and at the same time obscure himself. This is at the nexus of the writer’s art, in fiction and non-fiction. Howard was noted for creating the second most recognizable character in modern literature, Conan, second only to Tarzan. Most biographical treatments of him focus on this dazzling creation. Finn gives all of Howard’s creations equal space, fully rounding out their creator.
For me the highlights of the book were the photos of Howard, which were well selected and the reproduced covers of pulps he wrote for: Fight Story; Oriental Stories; Top Notch; and Weird Tales. For an aspiring writer a biography of a writer who struggled so much in such obscurity and then posthumously achieved a longer and more vibrant life for his fictional creations than any writer short of Tolkien, is instructive as well as inspirational.
Mark Finn’s biographical style is good enough that I hope he tackles another project. Likewise, his eye for the poignant quote and illustrative passage would make for a fine editor. I will be looking to see what other titles the has authored or edited.
For more info go to www.monkeybrainbooks.com
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