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REH A Racist?


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#1 VoragoExcarnator

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Posted 17 August 2003 - 11:52 PM

The question of whether REH was a racist has always interested me because some of his stories (and definitely his background of the Hyborian age) seem to be tied up with race/ethnicity. He creates a very intriguing world with clear parallels to ours (not surprising since it is meant to be a fantasy prehistory) which can give us a good hint of what Howard thought of other races in his own time. I don't mean to make a big deal out of this or start an argument but I thought it was very interesting. Any thoughts?

This essay can provide one opinion on Howard's racism:
http://www.rehupa.co...eo_southern.htm

#2 Virgil

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Posted 18 August 2003 - 01:34 AM

As a black man, who is an avid fan of Howard's Conan stories, in a word 'yes' he was racist, but does that detract from his writing brilliance, no (but, there r a few times where i cringe at his sterotyping)

#3 Shrews

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Posted 18 August 2003 - 03:38 AM

Howard grew up from 00-30s. It is hard to add such mod PC crap to his writing.

It is like calling the Apostle paul an anti semite.

Besides, whatever his beliefs, who is perfect? I read for enjoyment, not for politicial fullfillment. It ones writes with a condom on their head, they ain't worth crap in a hand bag anyway.... :rolleyes:
For all the works of cultured man
Must fare and fade and fall.
I am the Dark Barbarian
That towers over all.
-Robert E. Howard, "A Word
from the Outer Dark"

#4 VoragoExcarnator

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Posted 18 August 2003 - 06:12 AM

Virgil said:

>As a black man, who is an avid fan of Howard's Conan stories, in a word 'yes' he >was racist, but does that detract from his writing brilliance, no (but, there r a few >times where i cringe at his sterotyping)

In the same position myself actually.. thought I'd be the only black person on this board.. fancy that B) ( I suggest you- and everyone else- check out the Imaro series. It's sword and sorcery set on an African backdrop. I found the change of scenery refreshing..) I'd agree that he was racist, perhaps not more than the average man of his time and place, but certainly racist. And, playing devil's advocate, are we really comfortable with our favorite authors being racist when it impacts so strongly on the story? I think it's an issue with REH simply because Conan (and REH's other heros) travels from one edge of the world to another and encounters many other cultures in the process. The spin/portrayal of these cultures is really what I see as the crux of the issue. I'll wager that most fans would agree that REH WAS racist, but refuse to let that fact detract from their enjoyment of his works ( which is exactly the position I take) :D

#5 Orkin

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Posted 18 August 2003 - 05:30 PM

Back then there was a lot of ignorance, or at least more than there is now; sideways references to science in REH's tales show how far they had to go. So I am not surprised that a depression-era Texan didn't get it. I doubt if he ever knew what "it" is.
? ?When I can not stand alone, it will be time to die,? he mumbled, through mashed lips. ?But I?d like a flagon of wine.?
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#6 Shrews

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Posted 19 August 2003 - 12:25 AM

If one is uncomfy with this factor concerning Howard, don't read him.

Personally, I do not focus on such things while reading.
When I read Tennessee Williams STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE in school, I never was raging, "THIS GUY IS GAY WHO WROTE THIS!!!!"

Lin Carter wrote a preface to a Conan book, may have been CONAN THE BUCCANEER...where he out forth that reading fantasy fiction was escapism...a place to lose your hang ups or modern concerns for a few hours.
For all the works of cultured man
Must fare and fade and fall.
I am the Dark Barbarian
That towers over all.
-Robert E. Howard, "A Word
from the Outer Dark"

#7 Virgil

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Posted 19 August 2003 - 01:47 AM

why can't u be uncomfortable with the factor yet still enjoy reading the tales???

personally i cant help but focus on things whilst reading some conan novels...u need to calm down and accept certain things...lol...whether it's escapism or not its a bit hard to lose your modern concerns when its so blatent...

#8 Crom

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Posted 19 August 2003 - 02:38 AM

Let's keep this topic polite and civil, please.

LD

#9 Shrews

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Posted 19 August 2003 - 03:05 AM

1. Its all fiction.

2. One must keep in mind the ERA one is reading about. If certain words offend the senses, read other types of work.

3. One also may need a bit of grit to consume that which offends. Think of it as educational, one way or another.

After all IT IS JUST A FANTASY STORY, not high art. I read Howard to be entertained, not to seek out the higher meanings of political philosiphy. I also read Howard to get away from all of this modern crap, such as work, worry and political turmoil. If I was after somethign to make me feel warm and fuzzy, I'd open the Bible....but it is full of violence, demons, sodomy and racial hatred...so gosh....where did I leave my copy of SOLOMON KANE?
(BTW, big fan of the Bible)
For all the works of cultured man
Must fare and fade and fall.
I am the Dark Barbarian
That towers over all.
-Robert E. Howard, "A Word
from the Outer Dark"

#10 Kane

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Posted 20 August 2003 - 01:06 PM

As a 40 year old fanboy who has spent over half his life collecting the stories of REH, I wish that I could site examples of how Howard was not a racist. I wish I could but, I cannot.
While this forum centers around Conan, anyone who has read some of the other stories written by REH can tell you that Howard's racism comes across as rather lite compared to his westerns or more modern settings.

Does this keep me from enjoying the man's work? In a word, no.
Trying to apply the standards of today's world to individuals who lived and died before our current generation is a exersice in futility. We cannot truly know what went on in their minds, we cannot understand the degree on influence that family, friends, surroundings and culture had on these people. At best all we can do is read there stories and letters and hope that this gives us some insight into the mind at the time they put words to paper.

Having read a number of Howard's works, and copies of his letters to other pulp authors it comes across that he was racist, By the standards of today!
For the standards of his time he seems to come across as rather liberal. He had opinions about blacks, hispanics, chinese and other ethnic groups. But, he seems to base his opinions about a person on what that person was like.

Howard was writing short stories, not 500 page novels or an epic saga that would require 10 books to tell a complete story. Because they were short stories he had to create characters and cultures in small, sharp details that could be easily understood and accepted by his readers. And this ment painting groups with a rather large brush.

Perhaps if he had lived longer we would see a change in his description of the varied ethnic groups. Even Lovecraft changed his opinions as he got older and, and was even more racist then any of you will ever consider Howard to be!

The simple fact is, everybody is biased to one degree or another. The writer uses his/her bias to paint word pictures about people and cultures, real or fictional.

The reader uses their bias to create the mental images from the writer's words.

Critics and scholars use their bias to tell the public what is and, is not, great literature.

Admit it, accept it, move on.
"I vanquished Law once, I'll conquer yet again--
And force upon Mankind the Freedom he fears--
And dead gods I will again defy?"

#11 Orkin

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Posted 20 August 2003 - 05:22 PM

I don't remember anyone saying that they were "offended" by REH's racism, it is just a product of his time; you can see it in Edgar Rice Burroughs as well (in fact the premise of a white man dominating Africa....well...).

It doesn't change my enjoyment, but like other factors surrounding our favorite author, it can make for enlightening conversation. :)
? ?When I can not stand alone, it will be time to die,? he mumbled, through mashed lips. ?But I?d like a flagon of wine.?
- Rogues in the House

-=The Free Companions=-
Hyborian re-enactment Yahoo group

#12 cimerians

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Posted 21 August 2003 - 01:26 AM

This issue always crops up with 'old' writers. I also beleive the society you live in dictates your life.

On the other hand, I think Howard tried to portray racism, violence, rape and other "bad" things in his stories for realism. Because lets face it, this world is FULL of those things.

That being the case I do not think Howard really thought of himself as hating anyone in reality. I really cannot picture him like that, in his stories he always admired the barbarian type of races, the northern germanics, the savage africans, the eastern monguls.

I simply don't beleive he was a racist the way some people may beleive him to be. Unfortunately he was a product of his generation and really nothing more.

#13 Drizzt

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Posted 21 August 2003 - 11:58 AM

I think someone already metioned that howard grew up in the early 1900's. That was a different time, being a racist was not looked upon the same way as it is today. People are more excepting today than they were back then. Imean black and whites didn't start going to school together until the 60's right? Howard was probably just a product of the time, plus he grew up in texas(if i remeber right) which probably had a population of blacks near close to nothing. :D

#14 Freebooter

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Posted 21 August 2003 - 10:41 PM

Hey Y'all,
I have read a lot of Conan stories, etc.. I never, not once got the impression he was a racist. I am a white male and am 48 years old and grew up in Prattville, Alabama, so believe you me, I have known some racists, and still do, both black and white! I can recall as a young sprout seeing the Clan burning 40 foot high crosses in the main intersection of Main St. and Hy 31 in Prattville, Alabama. As my mom eased through that intersection with the Clansmen all standing around with their sheets, hoods, and torches, I can tell you one thing; my mom and us kids were just as scared as anyone. I can still see those eyes shining in the torch light showing in their hoods' eye-holes as they leaned over and peered in our car as we eased through that intersection. When I was in Jr high and high school in the late 60s and early 70s I knew certain older boys that would pile up and ride around in the country picking out rural black folks' homes to shoot up with guns and terrorize. I am quite sure it was indeed terrorizing to the residents of the homes. But to the punks that were riding and doing the shooting, it was just a funny game. That is racism y'all. Not some struggling author trying to make it simply describing a certain group of black warriors, or aribic types, or whomever, as being particularly mean and bloodthirsty. Tell me how Howard was a Racist? How do y'all figure that? All I remember reading about were just facts he would mention such as this adversary or that one was an Arabic type, or this one or that was an African/Nego warrior, etc.. I rememer in one story a band of black raiders/warriors was depicted as particularly mean, nasty and bloodthirsty. But is that racism? Perhaps it was just that particular band of warriors he was talking about and not a whole race. And remember, he was writing in the mid 1930s to a mainly white american audience. But I don't recall reading anywhere in which REH got down on any one race as far as bashing and name calling and truly racist remarks. Anyone is welcome to fill me in or remind me if I am mistaken.
Take care,
Dave, The archer.
What do I know of cultured ways, the gilt, the craft and the lie?
I, who was born in a naked land and bred in the open sky.
The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die dogs--I was a man before I was a king!
---From The Road of Kings

#15 Orkin

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Posted 22 August 2003 - 06:04 PM

This is from the REHupa site:

http://www.rehupa.co...eo_southern.htm
Was REH a Racist?
? ?When I can not stand alone, it will be time to die,? he mumbled, through mashed lips. ?But I?d like a flagon of wine.?
- Rogues in the House

-=The Free Companions=-
Hyborian re-enactment Yahoo group

#16 Kane

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Posted 22 August 2003 - 06:46 PM

This is from the REHupa site:

http://www.rehupa.co...eo_southern.htm
Was REH a Racist?

Thanks for the site. In all the years that I have read Howard I've never come across those letter excerpts.

It does cause one to stop and think. I doubt that it will stop me from still being able to enjoy his works but, it does give me some new insight into the man.
"I vanquished Law once, I'll conquer yet again--
And force upon Mankind the Freedom he fears--
And dead gods I will again defy?"

#17 scumdog

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Posted 22 August 2003 - 08:06 PM

after reading the excerpts from that REHupa site article the remarks in his published work seem so light and mild (in my opinion basically non-exsistant surprisingly, after reading that) there is really no comparison.. all i can say is im glad he didnt feel the need to (or had the sense not to) incorporate the full depth of this true feelings in his stories..

#18 loonatik

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Posted 23 August 2003 - 04:18 PM

Isn't Reh Sexist also?I refer to the damsels who are always in distress in the stories.
All fled--all done, so lift me on the pyre--
The Feast is over, and the lamps expire.

Robert E. Howard's last words



Look upon my Works,Ye Mighty,and Despair! - Ozymandias

#19 VoragoExcarnator

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Posted 24 August 2003 - 05:14 AM

REH probably was sexist to a degree but I think it was far less virulent than his racism. He did portray some strong female characters and he probably believed far more in the equality of female to male than of white to black or white to any other race. Don't forget the strong influences of his mother and Ms. Price in his life. I can get some sources online in a bit but if anyone wants to cut in and find something I'm sure REHupa has some stuff, and remember,Google is your friend.. :P

#20 Cormac

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Posted 04 September 2003 - 07:52 PM

Racist? By our modern standards, yes. Sexist? Sometimes maybe, but the Dark Agnes stories are most certainly not.

Bottom line: REH was a product of his time and place. I still enjoy his stories, and the little quirks here and there remind me how different that time was.

That's part of the appeal of old pulp stories, to me anyway. I like reading what my grandfather might have read, maybe even step into that word for bit, and see how far we've come (good and bad.)
"His time was past," The Gael said. Perhaps he saw that too. But we'll carry his body to his people and tell them he died a hero, surrounded by slaughtered Picts." -Tigers of the Sea, REH