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Go out with you? Why not... Do I like to dance? Of course! Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. Because that will never happen again. "Past, Present and Future"-The Shangri-Las

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Conan the Suicide

The other day I was reading Horror: 100 Best Books, a collection of short reviews by horror writers and buffs, and one of them jarred me. It was nominally about a satirical novel by James Branch Cabell, but was mostly a gonzo misogynist rant in which the author described himself as a feminine reader while scorning both women and "masculine" readers. He decries women for tying men to their apron strings, saying (paraphrasing from memory) "Thank the Adversary there is nothing about me to attract a woman."

Turns out this essay was written by Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. According to some biographical info I found, he was a fat bookish kid in a cow-town where fat bookish kids weren't held in high regard. His primary gigs in life were:

1. taking care of his ailing mother, and

2. writing armchair-macho fantasies about brawny guys who don't get picked on by cow-town bullies or have to take care of their sick mommies, being too busy smashing evil wizards and having their way with beautiful women.

When Howard's mother fell into a coma from which the doctor said she'd never recover, Howard shot himself (he stopped by the typewriter to write a poem first). He died at the age of 30.

Another thing Howard rails on in his essay: writers whose stock in trade is ambiguity. He doesn't name names, but claims that Cabell writes clearly, while too many modern writers try to conceal their ignorance by confusing readers. Was he talking about the whole James Joyce kind of Modernist thing? Not liking James Joyce is no sin, but I get the impression that Howard wasted a lot of psychic energy on trying to stave off and deny the complexity and ambiguity of life. Maybe if he'd embraced the Modernist fascination with ambiguity and complexity, instead of constructing a worldview in which everyone's roles in life are predetermined and ambiguity is represented as evil sorcery, he would have understood how much opportunity he had to recreate and redefine his life. And he wouldn't have shot himself.

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