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REH A Racist?


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#41 Matt Spencer

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Posted 12 March 2005 - 11:03 PM

One note: Mr. Wilson also writes that the 'period racism in these stories does, at times, become oppressive." In the story Black Canaan I felt that statement was accurate.


True. What's even more unsettling is, with the exception of BC, many of Howard's stories present racial attitudes that haven't aged so well in our eyes, yet were friggin' liberal in the context of his times. Both Conan and Solomon Kane crush slavers and free slaves, and the tone in both instances is that these are examples of these heroes at their most heroic, written in a time and place when many people were still sore that they weren't allowed to own a few. I'm not defending the racism just because the man was otherwise an inspiring genious. But it does help to put it in perspective.
"I have lived in the Southwest all my life, yet most of my dreams are laid in cold, giant lands of icy wastes and gloomy skies, and of wild, wind-swept fens and wilderness over which sweep great sea-winds, and which are inhabited by shock-headed savages with light fierce eyes. With the exception of one dream, I am never, in these dreams of ancient times, a civilized man. Always am I the barbarian, the skin-clad, tousle-haired, light-eyed wild man, armed with a rude ax or sword, fighting the elements and wild beasts, or grappling with armored hosts marching with the tread of civilized discipline, from fallow fruitful lands and walled cities."
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#42 Strom

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Posted 13 March 2005 - 02:23 AM

One note: Mr. Wilson also writes that the 'period racism in these stories does, at times, become oppressive." In the story Black Canaan I felt that statement was accurate.


True. What's even more unsettling is, with the exception of BC, many of Howard's stories present racial attitudes that haven't aged so well in our eyes, yet were friggin' liberal in the context of his times. Both Conan and Solomon Kane crush slavers and free slaves, and the tone in both instances is that these are examples of these heroes at their most heroic, written in a time and place when many people were still sore that they weren't allowed to own a few. I'm not defending the racism just because the man was otherwise an inspiring genious. But it does help to put it in perspective.

Well said. I agree completely and my comment was only a opionion on the story Black Canaan.

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#43 Mark Finn

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 07:51 PM

A couple people stated that they couldn't tell from reading Howard's stories that he was racist, and though I admit it wasn't particularly pronounced in the Conan books, I still found that fact glaringly obvious, myself. What is the harm in opening up a few people's eyes?

As far as racism goes, most people cannot actually tell they are viewing/witnessing it (and just as often can't tell they are doing it, either), and a little education, even in such a small way as this is just another step in helping alleviate the problem.

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To me, the only harm comes from the double standard imposed on genre fiction versus "literature." No one comments on Twain, or London, or Hemingway, or even Burroughs anymore (and now, with the Penguin and Library of the Americas editions, Lovecraft), because those are "classics," whatever that ambiguous term means.

I think Lovecraft is far more egregious in his bigotry (though Joshi would doubtless disagree with that). It's funny how frequently this topic always comes up amongst REH fans, particularly when they want an either/or answer.

I'm really kinda bummed that I will have to address it in my book, along with the suicide question. No one is obsessing over Hemingway's decision to eat a bullet, nor Hunter S. Thompson. But always with Robert E. Howard these two questions seem to haunt him. I doubt my answers will satisfy anyone, either.
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#44 Philzilla

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 09:36 PM

Yes REH was a rascist, as was everyone in the western world who had a little education.
The science of Racism (note caps.) was the excepted rationalization of why European culture was dominating civilizations which were hundreds if not thousands of years older then the European nations.

Not until 10 years after REH's death, when Racial science went insane, did science abandon completly Racial science

This reminds me of the classic "was Tolkien a racist?" post found around

How about Stephen King? What does he mean Dark Tower?

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#45 Speelie

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 08:18 AM

This topic is easy to misinterpret, or to interpret in a very negative light. But there are thoughts and thought patterns out there that don't get expressed all that often that are worth considering. I have a friend who is getting his PhD at the University of Missouri, in the town of Columbia. I have visited him there several times, and I must agree with his assessment that the town is full of "trash" people. It has more than its share of basically worthless people who try to milk the welfare state and live lives of ignorance and idleness. The white folk who do this are considered "rednecks" and "white trash," while the equivalent "black trash" are called, well, you can figure out the word, it starts with "n." And that term IS used by my friend to describe plenty of folks in his town, though he is white and would not at all consider himself a racist, and sometimes dates black women. He doesn't use that term to refer to blacks in general, but only for the drug dealers and similar lowlifes who abound in part of the town.

Meanwhile, consider the Conan story The Vale of Lost Women. Conan doesn't want to leave a white woman among a bunch of black savages. Consider your own feelings if you were, say, an American, who went on some UN mission to Afghanistan. During a parley with Taliban holdouts, you see a Canadian woman they are holding prisoner. She was a journalist, who was travelling the back country with her male photographer partner, when they were ambushed and captured by the Taliban. They killed him, and are now keeping her prisoner. She looks miserable. Wouldn't most Americans who attended that parley feel a strong desire to get her away from those strange, very foreign tribesmen holding her? Would a PC voice in your head tell you that "they are devout Muslims trying to preserve their way of life and resist a foreign invasion of their country?" You'd like to think so, of course, but at that moment you might well think to yourself, "I've got to get her away from these dirty towel heads..."

It's not a pretty thought, nor a PC one, but it is likely to be a true one, and I think REH was portraying a "truth in fiction" in that story. And I think his letters were mostly referring to lowlifes and criminal elements, and that he wouldn't use derogatory terms for a black man with an Ivy League education, or one who wrote exciting stories for some magazine. Maybe this is all wishful thinking on my part, but I try to get in the heads of those with a variety of points of view....

#46 Mikey_C

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 04:51 PM

The question isn't about whether REH portrayed racism in his stories, but whether he was racist himself. I think that we know enough about him from his private letters to know that he was.

I think this probably came from his background and the people he spoke to, but also from his reading - there were a lot of 'scientific' (now discredited) racial theories around in those days and these clearly attracted his attention and affected the way he saw history and the world around him. This in turn will have affected some of his writing. If a certain type of viewpoint is 'common sense' in your circle and you read scientific stuff which seems to support it, that view gets reinforced in your mind.

I think that the racism gets in the way of the stories at times: the portrayal of black people just doesn't ring true in some of them. At the end of the day we're just stuck with that, I guess. Noone's perfect.

I think that the "Vale of Lost Women" is a very powerful story, but also a disturbing one as we get to see Conan and his world from the point of view of someone with 'civilised' values. Also, I wonder why Conan couldn't have struck some kind of deal with Bajujh to rescue Livia out rather than wiping the whole village out. I mean, in Speelie's comparison, this would be a war crime, wouldn't it?

A difficult issue, really, as I can't stand racism, but it's not going to stop me reading Robert E Howard and H P Lovecraft! As long as you know what you're reading, I don't think there's a problem: it's when people say they can't see it that I get a little bothered. :(

Edited by Mikey_C, 28 September 2005 - 04:53 PM.

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#47 Ironhand

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 10:13 PM

By today's standards, REH was racist, but by the standards of his time and place, he was mainstream, and I can hardly blame him for that...
...But...
Compare him with Mark Twain, who, in Huckleberry Finn, portrayed two white boys going to extreme lengths to procure the freedom of a black slave. MT is condemned for using the "N" word, but he was accurately portraying the language and mores of the time and people about whom he was writing. MT illustrates that there was a choice, that it was possible to be anti-racist in a racist era.
"Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man...!" - Conan, in "Shadows in Zamboula", by Robert E. Howard
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#48 daknight

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 10:58 PM

Yes REH was a rascist, as was everyone in the western world who had a little education.
The science of Racism (note caps.) was the excepted rationalization of why European culture was dominating civilizations which were hundreds if not thousands of years older then the European nations.

Not until 10 years after REH's death, when Racial science went insane, did science abandon completly Racial science

This reminds me of the classic "was Tolkien a racist?" post found around

How about Stephen King? What does he mean Dark Tower?

How come job applications say
African/American
Asian/American
White?

That's the thing about everything
If you look hard enough, the human mind is likely to find exactly what it wanted to find

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Hi. You certainly make good points here about context. What was the culture of the time? The study of "EUGENICS" began with the Brits around the time of the Boer war and eventually developed into an ACCEPTED area of scientific study. This 'field of study' among many things, for a time legitimized the idea that criminality was inherited, that the mentally or merely physically disabled should not reproduce (and even as recently as the 50s in the US there was state sponsored forced sterilizations). Someone mentioned on another post about the concept of Aryan and the original race and such things, which had to deal with this in part as well.

To understand where Howard was coming from, people need to have a working understanding of such things as COLONIALISM, EUGENICS, and to some extent BRITISH ISRAELISM, as most of the non-fiction and fiction Howard would have been exposed to in book and film would have been created under these, at the time, pervasive influences. I am not even sure we can consider him racist as I am not sure that would was used then, as we define it. Perhaps xenophobe may be better, I am not sure. When I read Conan stories I don't think I see racism, as much as I see a sort of garrison-mentality, a sort of they-are-not-me-so-they-are- a-potential-threat-to-me kind of thing.

The study of EUGENICS was considered acceptable study pretty much until Hitler got a hold of it and then it fell out of favor (though more gradually than some would like to admit).

I must also add that I have found some of Lovecraft's writing to disturb me more than Howard's on the issue of race as it enters their fictions.
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#49 Mark Finn

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 11:08 PM

By today's standards, REH was racist, but by the standards of his time and place, he was mainstream, and I can hardly blame him for that...
...But...
Compare him with Mark  Twain, who, in Huckleberry Finn, portrayed two white boys going to extreme lengths to procure the freedom of a black slave.  MT is condemned for using the "N" word, but he was accurately portraying the language and mores of the time and people about whom he was writing.  MT illustrates that there was a choice, that it was possible to be anti-racist in a racist era.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Well, there's also the scene in The Shadow Kingdom where Kull and Brule bond over the serpent men, united by a common enemy. Or the scenes from Solomon Kane where N'Longa helps Kane and he shrugs his shoulders and goes along with it.

Consider that most of the REH stories center around conflict, warring states, and the struggle for survival. Us vs Them. Moslem vs. Christian. Etc. Robert wasn't writing idyllic pastorals with a gently subversive message. That's where he fundamentally differs from Twain. Their subject matter was night and day.

I dunno. It's easy to make a case for or against REH's racial beliefs, or the lack thereof, but no one can slam dunk it. You can't say for certain if he was, or wasn't, and how much in either direction. There's too much stuff to take into account, and not enough stuff that we know.

I much prefer letting the texts be the barometer, along with the reader. Some folks aren't going to see it at all. Others will spot it right away. It's part of what makes Robert's work so interesting.
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#50 daknight

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 11:09 PM

I just thought of something else, sorry! The mention about the Vale of Lost Women got me to remembering something a buddy of mine had claimed about Howard. He claimed that at one point Howard had been involved with a black woman, or half-black (?) woman who ended things to settle with a black fellow, I guess the idea being she could blend in to his world easier than Howard's?

Now, about this anecdote. I haven't been able to find anything like it in anything I have yet read. Has anyone heard anything like this? I mean, when racial concerns get mixed up with hormones and romancing, especially among the young, I can only imagine the formative maelstrom that could have developed. If this is a true thing and not something from another writer's life that has been erroneously attributed. Now, I would really like to know.
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#51 Mikey_C

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 11:27 PM

You can't say for certain if he was, or wasn't, and how much in either direction. There's too much stuff to take into account, and not enough stuff that we know.

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It's probably been linked before, but here's where I got my views on the matter from. But at the end of the day I get a bit uneasy about judging someone who died at the age of 30, nearly 70 years ago, based on his private correspondence. I mean, should we be really be even reading it? And if our lives had been cut short at some point in the past and someone dredged up our rashly expressed opinions of the time - would that be fair?

Just know racism when you see it - we're responsible for own lives - noone else's! The sad thing is that this might put some folks off of REH, but I would hazard a guess that everyone here can live with it. B)
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#52 Mark Finn

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 12:12 AM

I just thought of something else, sorry!  The mention about the Vale of Lost Women got me to remembering something a buddy of mine had claimed about Howard.  He claimed that at one point Howard had been involved with a black woman, or half-black (?) woman who ended things to settle with a black fellow, I guess the idea being she could blend in to his world easier than Howard's?

Now, about this anecdote.  I haven't been able to find anything like it in anything I have yet read.  Has anyone heard anything like this?  I mean, when racial concerns get mixed up with hormones and romancing, especially among the young, I can only imagine the formative maelstrom that could have developed.  If this is a true thing and not something from another writer's life that has been erroneously attributed.  Now, I would really like to know.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Nope. Not REH. Might have been someone else, but he only had one girlfriend, Novalyne Price. My guess is your pal either misremembered the anecdote, or got confused as to the writer in question.
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#53 Mark Finn

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 12:19 AM


What I'm trying to say is: Can't we just read and enjoy stories instead of analyizing them? They slam Twain, Burroughs, etc. and now Howard. Why? They are dead and gone, and have long answered for any wrongs. What they left behind is for us to read and enjoy. And, yes, there is a black branch of my family and I'm as proud of them as anybody else! If we all shake our family trees enough, who knows what sort of nuts will fall out. Pick them up and be proud! They are part of who you are! Quoth the Raven, slightly steamed...

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Of course you can. Absolutely. Heck, I'd prefer it. But it's something that tends to come up in fandom on occasion (and in particular the fans who have a modicum of schooling and are big fans of post-modernism). Twain and Burroughs haven't had to answer the charge much since they got shoved into the "Classic Fiction" category. There's something about that magic word that lets criticism slough off.

The other side of the coin is this: fandom loves to eat its own young. Lovecraft fans and scholars often hold REH up to deflect from HPL's racial biases (and I too think HPL was worse than REH). Science fiction critics who loathe fantasy but comment on it anyway love to pull racism into any discussion of Sword and Sorcery. Fans, I feel, think way too much about it. But, they are all over the place. Best thing to do is ignore it when you see it. Just back away, and don't get pulled into the thread, as I have.

Hell, I'm writing a book about this stuff, and I don't want to touch it. I think it detracts from the point of reading REH. But I had a guy yesterday ask me if I thought Robert was a racist. He wanted to know if I'd put that stuff in the book.

Sigh.
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#54 Kieran

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 11:07 AM

From reading the stuff in his letters, I would say yes he was racist, maybe slightly more than average for his time, but that's very hard to analyse in hindsight. However, none of his stories that I've read have come off as particularly racist for their time.
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#55 Taranaich

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 04:19 PM

I personally feel that Howard's racism was a result of misinformation. All the racial propaganda of the time was based on faulty science, but a (relatively) rational man like Howard would believe in science.

If science says that blacks are inferior to whites, then what does it say about a man who disagrees? Since Howard was not particularly religious he couldn't renounce science either, and racism was so insanely rife at that point in history that it was easy for very intelligent men to become ignorant racists.

I mean, look at the others in the list: Twain, Tolkien, Burroughs, all great "classic" writers and all suspective of racism. Yet at the time it was hard NOT to be racist. Todays' society is so radically different from then that it's difficult for anyone to believe that an intelligent person could succumb.

If Howard was born in, say, 1974, no way would he be racist: he would have had access to more accurate and detailed information, and once you come out of the shadows of ignorance you can't go back to being racist. I know it's complete speculation, but I strongly believe that the social climate of the time was a big influence on the racial beliefs of Howard.

Not that I'm letting him off the hook, I feel that he was intelligent enough to rise above it, but for whatever reason he never did. It'd just unfortunate that his memory will be tainted with this nasty facet of his character.

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#56 budgie

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 06:11 PM

[ I wish people could just read the stories, remember that we've come a long way because people on both sides were willing to change, and remember that "the road BEHIND not the road AHEAD is the one forever barred to out footsteps." The stories are too good to ignore over whether or not the writer was a bigot. Heck, a lot of stuff being written now is bigotted! Quoth the Raven...

[/color][/font]

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Frankly I couldnt care less about Howards religious or personal views were on others.. Im interested in his stories only. remember they are works of fiction which also contain acts of extreme violence and sexual perversions - both subjects that are socially unacceptable in the real world..
I cant say I know a lot about the man, only his creation and thats what interests me and not whether Howard loathed blacks or whatever..

Think on it this way, does a persons traits guide you as to how you percieve that persons talents over hisor her private life..

To use one example.. Singer Chuck Berry.. Hes been convicted for several sexually related offences, tax evasion and armed robbery.. that doesnt stop me enjoying his music though..

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#57 Kortoso

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 10:50 PM

I personally feel that Howard's racism was a result of misinformation.

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:)
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#58 Mikey_C

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Posted 01 October 2005 - 12:15 AM

So who decides what's "classic lit" and what's "racist garbage"?

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It's not just ERB and HPL who were racist in their writings - it's the likes of TS Eliot and DH Lawrence, in fact most writers of that period, to some degree. I agree with you - we don't hear so much about that. It's a form of snobbery; the readers of 'literature' think that they are too intelligent to be affected by what they read, whilst the lowly readers of 'pulps' will just soak it up without thinking about what they read. How wrong they are! :lol:
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#59 Taranaich

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Posted 01 October 2005 - 10:56 AM

I personally feel that Howard's racism was a result of misinformation.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

:)
"In order to have any opinion at all, you have to ignore something." -Charles Fort

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


:blink:

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#60 Valin

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Posted 01 October 2005 - 03:38 PM

Twain and Burroughs haven't had to answer the charge much since they got shoved into the "Classic Fiction" category. There's something about that magic word that lets criticism slough off.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



Not really true. Many school districts for the last 30 years try to ban Huck Finn because of the "n" word. As for Burroughs, Richard Lupoff "edited" his Tarzan's and others so that the books would appear "less racist." There have been just as many, if not more, charges against ERB than against REH.
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