Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Robert E. Howard: 75 Years of Silence - Part 3

Me sitting in Robert E. Howard's room at his
writing table.
[PART 1] [PART 2]

After we left the dining room, our next stop was the kitchen. While the kitchen had been restored and decorated with period appliances and decorations, the main attraction was the large assortment of Robert E. Howard memorabilia displayed about the room. The first thing that caught my eye was the huge map of Hyboria hanging on the wall, which was donated to the museum by one of his fans. Some other interesting items of note were: a notebook containing the genealogy of the Howard Family, the original glass display case from the local drug store where Robert worked for a time as a soda jerk, a collection of books by fellow author and best friend Tevis Clyde Smith, a work table that was likely used by Robert to fold papers when he worked for the Cross Plains Review newspaper, a picture of Robert E. Howard taken outside of his house with his trusted canine friend Patches (framed with pieces from the original picket fence that was destroyed in a tornado in 1994), memorabilia from the filming of the movie about his life, “The Whole Wide World,” and finally, Robert’s high school annual from when he attended Brownwood High School his senior year.

While these items were certainly interesting in their own right, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the room across the hall – Robert E. Howard’s bedroom – where he tapped away at his typewriter and created the numerous worlds of fantasy and fiction that millions around the world still enjoy to this day.

One of the last checks Howard received for his work, nearly a month after his death. 

A rope draped across the entrance to his room kept anyone attempting to enter at bay. To my surprise Anne, our tour guide, asked, “Would you like to sit in his chair?” My mouth said, “I’d love to,” but my mind was screaming, HELL YES! She carefully removed the rope and I was in. There were many interesting items displayed throughout the room, but I couldn’t resist sitting at Howard’s writing desk first. As I sat down and placed my fingers on the old Underwood No. 5 typewriter – a similar one, but not the original owned by Howard – I began to imagine myself as Howard, and what it must have been like to tap away at this archaic piece of machinery for hours and days at a time in the hot Texas heat without air conditioning, error correction, or a spell checker. GASP!

The room itself was smaller than most American’s master bathrooms or walk-in closets. It’s hard to believe that Howard managed to create hundreds of stories and poems in his short lifetime in these cramped and unforgiving conditions. As writers today, we are spoiled. We have, for the most part, control over our writing environment and a plethora of tools at our finger tips to ease the flow of words onto our pages. If we choose to, we can set the temperature of our writing space to whatever degree we want. We have computers with word processors that allow us to quickly and efficiently save, edit, and revise our written works at will. Spell and grammar checkers automatically prompt, and sometimes even automatically correct us when we’ve made an error. No need to crumple up that paper and start over when we’ve misspelled or absentmindedly left a key word out in the middle of a sentence.

Map of Hyboria - A transliteration of the mythical Greek people, the Hyperboreans. 
A picture of Howard at age 19 in front of what is now the Robert E. Howard Museum.

However, Robert E. Howard had one advantage over us – the lack of modern distractions. Granted, he had his own set of distractions to deal with - taking care of his ill mother, the occasional visitor, sometimes a house full of patients his father was caring for – but they pale in comparison to those we have in the modern day era. For one, he lacked a cell phone, or more importantly, a smart phone. Phone calls and text messages are enough of a distraction as it is, but when you add web surfing, MP3 capabilities, Angry Birds, and streaming video into the mix, it takes distraction to a whole new level. Then of course we have our computers and iPads (which are just larger faster versions of our phones), Facebook, Twitter, hundreds of television stations on satellite and cable TV, Movies on Demand, DVR’s, DVD’s, Netflix, Red Box, X-Box’s, Playstation’s, Wii’s , DS’s, PSP’s, Video cameras, Digital cameras, Microwaves, and an endless supply of convenience stores, supermarkets, and fast food establishments willing and able to provide our favorite food snacks at a moment’s notice when the mood strikes us. Just in the writing of this article I’ve had nearly a dozen distractions – a phone solicitor, text messages, two snack runs, a Facebook comment, three Twitter mentions, and a 15-minute derail on the internet looking at pictures and footage of the new Hobbit movie coming out.

The cramped little room where Robert slept
and wrote.
Still, distractions notwithstanding, I don’t think I would trade places with Mr. Howard. Even though I love the social and artistic era of the “Roaring 20’s” and the gangster-ruled era of the 1930’s, I wouldn't give up the modern conveniences we enjoy today. As a writer, I would not have made it without my computer, spell checker, and air conditioned writing room. My hats off to you Mr. Howard; you were a better man, and writer, than me.

After my reverie sitting at Howard’s writing table, I began to take in the number of other interesting things displayed about his room. Of note, there was the actual inkwell that he used to write with and a copy of, “The Collected Works of Pierre Louys” (a book of French erotica Howard gave to his love interest, Novalyne Price). By far the most intriguing thing I came across was a note that was left sitting in the typewriter.

It read;

All fled, all done,
So lift me on the pyre:
The feast is over,
The lamps expire.

These were the last words Robert E. Howard ever typed on his typewriter, and were found there soon after he committed suicide. Paraphrased from the poem, The House of Cæsar, written by Viola Garvin, there’s no doubt that Howard meant this to be a farewell message to the world. It struck a cord with me – haunting. It reminded me of the poem, Dead Poet, that I wrote a few years back. It’s a shame that his lamps expired with so much lamp oil still in the reservoir.

Some of the Robert E. Howard swag I picked up.

With the clock working against us, it was time to start wrapping up our tour. Our final stop inside the museum was the gift shop, where Alisha and I loaded up on all sorts of REH swag. Once again our docent, Anne Rone, was kind enough to let us take our time picking out our goodies, and take a few more pictures. From there, she walked us out to the pavilion, where Robert E. Howard gatherings and cookouts are held routinely. She took the time to point out the final resting place of Patches, Robert’s childhood dog, and then bid us a fond farewell.

We had a fantastic time, and Anne couldn’t have been a better host and guide. Alisha and I are very much looking forward to revisiting next year, during the annual Robert E. Howard Days celebration.


Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination 


Have you ever visited the Robert E. Howard Museum? Been to Robert E. Howard Days or the Barbarian Festival? What distractions keep you from your writing? I want to hear about them. 

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