Pulp writer ROBERT E. HOWARD was a singular figure in speculative fiction, having created enduring characters like Conan and Solomon Kane that defined the sword-and-sorcery genre. He was also a Texan.
While Howard, the son of a wandering country doctor, was never a longtime San Antonio resident, it’s easy to see the Alamo City having an influence on his life and work.
Howard moved frequently during his childhood, spending some time in Poteet, a scant 30 miles south of here. And as an adult, he traveled extensively throughout the state, visiting larger communities like San Antonio. It’s hard to imagine Howard, an avid student of Texas history, not being enthralled by sites like the Alamo and the city’s other Spanish missions.
Indeed, Howard’s records show at least one of his detective tales took shape during a stay here.
“Lately I’ve been trying to write detective yarns, something entirely new for me, and haven’t had much success — in fact none, so far, except for a short yarn, ‘Talons in the Dark,’ written in San Antonio last spring,” he wrote to one of his correspondents.
Howard also passed through San Antonio during his formation of the first Conan stories in 1932. “At some time during his stay in the Valley, Conan came to him. He returned to Cross Plains via San Antonio, where he stayed a few days,” Howard scholar Frank Coffman wrote.
Howard’s own notes on his poem “Cimmeria,” written in Mission, said the piece was “suggested by the memory of the hill-country above Fredericksburg seen in the midst of winter rain.” Yes, that Fredericksburg, the idyllic tourist town an hour or so north of San Antonio.
There are some serious Howard scholars out there who could probably come up with a timeline of every one of the writer’s stays in San Antonio, perhaps offer even more insight into how our fair city molded the man. I’m not sure I’m up to the task, but I welcome some to weigh in and set me straight.
Suffice to say, most agree Texas and its wild history had a major influence on Howard’s creations, and San Antonio with its battlegrounds, hoary Spanish missions and tales of donkey ladies and chicken-footed dancers no doubt had a place there as well.
“Throughout his life, he had heard stories from these various characters of Texas. He would have heard the stories of people who fought in the Civil War, who fought the Comanches, people who survived out on the Llano Estacado, who had relocated from out East or from Europe via covered wagon, people who had seen the Texas Rangers in action.”