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Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard

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Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, King Kull, and others that defined heroic fantasy, lived and died in the small town of Cross Plains, Texas. While his books remain in print, Howard himself has fallen into obscurity, his life mired in speculation and half-truth. This engaging biography traces the roots of his writings, correcting long-standing misconceptions, and offers a tour of Howard's world as he saw it: through his own incomparable imagination.

342 pages, Paperback

First published December 25, 2006

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About the author

Mark Finn

69 books57 followers
Mark Finn is an author, an editor, and a pop culture critic. He is a nationally-recognized authority on Robert E. Howard and has written extensively about the Texas author. His work has appeared in publications for the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, Dark Horse Comics, Boom! Comics, The Cimmerian, REH: Two-Gun Raconteur, The Howard Review, Wildside Press, Centipede Press, The University of Texas press, Greenwood Press, Scarecrow Press, The Dark Man: The Journal of Robert E. Howard Studies and elsewhere. Finn has presented several papers about Howard to the PCA/ACA National conference, the AWC, and he continues to lecture and perform readings regularly.

Finn also writes comics and novels, as well as articles, essays, reviews, short stories and role playing games for Playboy.com, RevolutionSF.com, Dark Horse Comics, DC/Vertigo Comics, Monkeybrain Books, Sky Warrior Books, F.A.C.T. Publications, Tachyon Press, Modiphius Press, and others. Finn’s fiction can be found in Ray Guns Over Texas, Road Trip, Tails From the Pack, Empty Hearts, Heroika: Dragon Eaters, Barbarian Crowns, Asian Pulp, and Fight Card: The Adventures of Sailor Tom Sharkey, and elsewhere.

He is a managing editor for Skelos Press, and he podcasts for The Gentlemen Nerds. When he is not waxing eloquent about popular culture, he writes comics and fiction, dabbles in magic, and produces and performs community theater. He lives in North Texas atop an old movie theater with far too many books and an affable pit bull named Sonya.

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5 stars
128 (50%)
4 stars
97 (37%)
3 stars
26 (10%)
2 stars
4 (1%)
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1 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 35 reviews
Profile Image for Werner.
Author 3 books578 followers
September 19, 2012
Versatile pulp writer Howard (1906-1936) has, until now, not been very well served by his biographers. The apparently only previous full-scale biography, the 1983 effort by L. Sprague and Catherine de Camp (which I haven't read, but of the particular slant of which I was already informed before reading the discussion here) devoted a lot of its treatment to "proving" de Camp's thesis that Howard's tragic suicide at age 30 must have been caused by long-term insanity. Finn undertook to write an inductively researched biography without that particular axe to grind. The result is an outstanding work of literary biography, which could serve as a model for its type! My five-star rating is as much for this book's sheer quality as for my great personal pleasure in reading it. (And I rarely rate nonfiction books this highly!)

Finn is both a Howard fan and a serious scholar of REH's life and work, and he brought to this project some significant commonalities with his subject that helped in understanding him: they're both creative writers (that shows in Finn's prose, which is as vivid and readable as a novel!), both boxers on the side, and above all both Texans. One thing this bio does extremely well is set REH in his Texas context, and explain the very significant influence of his environment on his life and work. The author has done his homework thoroughly, researching the primary sources (including Howard's large body of letters) extensively, and reading seriously for background; the bibliography here runs to about five pages. (He doesn't use footnotes, but attributes his sources in the text wherever it's really needed, to facilitate easier reading.) His organization is clear and logical, starting with Howard's antecedents and socio-cultural setting, going through the different phases of his life and career, and concluding with a chapter on REH's posthumous literary fortunes and mythos. Each of the four main "Parts" of the book are prefaced by short (about a page) imaginative reconstructions of typical incidents that might have taken place in Howard's life at that stage, which may employ some invented dialogue, etc. but stick very closely to the basic contours of known facts. (For me, these enhanced the narrative rather than detracting from it, giving a "feel" for the subject, as they were meant to.) All along the way, he discusses Howard's major writings, in the chronological order they were produced, with insights into their literary qualities, themes, and connections to the author's life experiences. As Finn makes clear, REH was much more than the creator of Conan or a writer of swords-and-sorcery; his fiction spanned a number of genres, and he left behind a substantial body of poetry as well. (I enjoyed both the discussions of works I've read and the many that I haven't, and found my appetite to read the latter greatly whetted!) Attention is given to the vexed question of Howard's racial views (Finn makes a convincing case that our hero was much less racist than is sometimes supposed, and that his views evolved as he got older), and of course to the reasons for his suicide. Where there are areas of REH's life and mindset that we don't really know about for sure, the author isn't afraid to say so.

Another fellow Texan, acclaimed writer Joe R. Lansdale, furnishes a solid introduction which argues convincingly for Howard's place in the broader history of American literature. A serviceable index and excellent black-and-white period photographs also enhance this volume. It may be too soon to pronounce this book THE definitive Howard bio for the ages (and I may not be qualified to make that assessment!). But if it isn't, it's most definitely in the running.
Profile Image for Malum.
2,224 reviews128 followers
August 22, 2018
I have a lot to say about this book, but if you just want a short recommendation, then this book is as definitive of a biography of Howard as we are ever going to get.

Ok, now on to the meat:
This book has a few problems. Some of them are Finn's fault, others are out of Finn's hands. Buckle in, because here we go:
First, you can tell that Finn is a big Howard fan. This is a problem in biography writing because we aren't getting a neutral picture of the person. For example, Finn glosses over Howard's racism by saying "Hey, it was just the times he was living in" (which might be a serious argument to make, but it is an excuse that has been done to death so much that it doesn't even warrant all the time Finn spends on it).

Also, Finn glosses over Howard's compulsive lying by constantly reminding us that he was just engaging in a bit of the "tall tale". Nope, he was (along with his mother) a compulsive liar.

Finn is constantly referring to random Howard stories as "the best" or "the finest" or "the greatest". At one point, we are told about three different stories in three pages, all of them supposedly "the best" that Howard ever wrote. Can't there be only one "the best" though? Finn is fanboying out a bit here, and it doesn't do the biography any favors.

Finn also gives us pointless synopses of several Howard stories. These add nothing to the biography (except to interrupt it) and, if you are reading this book, you have likely already read many of those stories anyway.

Finn adds a bit of fiction in about what might have gone on in Howard's life. These are thankfully few and short. They are also pointless and skippable.

Finally, Finn is a little too over the top sometimes. When Howard sells his first story, Finn tells us that (and I'm paraphrasing here) "He knelt down and when he stood up, Robert E. Howard was born!". Settle down there, Finn.

One of the problems that isn't Finn's fault, though, is that we know very little about Howard's life and what we do know is tainted because anything that Howard or his mother said is likely a lie (oh, sorry Finn. A "tall tale"). Because of this, the first third of the book is actually a history of the Texas that helped shape Howard, with the man himself appearing very little. It took me a long time to get through these first parts, because they just aren't the book that I wanted to read. Once Howard shows up in full, then it gets a bit more interesting.

Throughout the book, too, the chapters cover different periods of Howard's life and are very short, because we just don't know a whole lot about him. A huge portion is taken up by his letters to Lovecraft (which is fair enough, they had quite a long correspondence). But, again, these letters are full of things that either probably aren't true, or have been literally proven to be untrue.

So why am I giving this book a whopping four stars? Because, when it comes to Howard's life, this is probably the best biography you are going to get. There have been a few previous attempts (some, like Novalyne Price's book, just cover the portion of his life that she knew him. Others, like De Camp's book, is just pure bunk written to make a buck), but this is probably the best of the bunch.

From what I got out of this book, here is Robert E. Howard: He was an extremely sensitive person that constantly felt he was being bullied. He couldn't hold down a job because he felt people were mean to him or he would just make up some health problem-like a heart attack-to get out of it.

He seemed to hate the town he lived in and was a social outcast. He once referred to it as "hell".

He was socially awkward, and didn't know how to interact with others (although he was usually polite). At one point he started dressing like a vaquero, complete with drooping mustache, sombrero, and bandana. You know the weird kid you went to school with that had no friends, acted/dressed strange, and kept to himself? That was Howard.

He likely suffered from what we now know as clinical depression, and harbored suicidal thoughts for most of his life. His mother was a compulsive liar (she started speaking in an Irish accent well into her middle age because she came up with a story about how she was descended from Irish royalty) and was a control freak. She made sure Robert had zero goings on with women so that he would stay with her forever. She likely also pretended she was more sick than she really was and would guilt Robert into staying with her and taking care of her. Robert was basically her full-time nurse for most of his life because his dad was sick of her shit.

His father was miserable in his marriage and, after Howard's death, he hid Robert's will so that he could have all of Robert's income for himself. Dick move, bro.

So, basically, Robert was born into a world of shit and died in a world of shit. With parents like his and living in an era and part of the country that he did, he didn't stand a chance.
Profile Image for Peggy.
267 reviews65 followers
August 14, 2007
I expected an easily accessible style. I expected solid scholarship and a passionate defense of Howard's legacy. What I didn't expect was to get so caught up in Mark Finn's picture of Howard's world that I didn't want to put the book down. Of course you should read this if you're a fan of Robert E. Howard and his work. You don't need me to tell you that. But even folks who only know Howard in passing will get caught up in this one.
Profile Image for Charles.
Author 40 books252 followers
January 4, 2009
A very useful new Biography of Robert E. Howard from Texas writer Mark Finn. Finn focuses a lot on the Texas nature of Howard's writing, and is one of the first biographers to treat Howard's humorous stories with due respect.
1,285 reviews12 followers
January 27, 2008
This book explores the life and times of one of the most famous writers ever to come out of the state of Texas. During his brief writing career in the 1920s and 1930s, Robert E. Howard did a lot more for imaginative literature than simply create the character of Conan the Cimmerian.

In the early 1900s, Texas was experiencing an oil boom. Practically overnight, a town would spring up around oil wells, bringing all sorts of people, from roughnecks to work the wells, to barkeepers to prostitutes. They would stay until the oil ran out, then move on to the next boom town. Howard grew up in one boom town after another; Isaac, his father, was a frontier doctor, so they also followed the oil. Howard got to see, up close and personal, the dark underside of civilization, and it disgusted him. Finally settling in Cross Plains, he was a voracious reader who hated the regimentation of school. He lived on pulp magazines, like Weird Tales, available at the local general store. Howard was the shy, quiet kid in town with no interest in joining the oil boom.

A major influence on Howard’s development as a writer was the Texas tradition of telling tall tales. Isaac was an expert spinner of tales, and in her own way, Hester, his mother and an Irish immigrant, was pretty good at it, too. Hester had tuberculosis for most of Robert’s life, which forced him to stay home and help take care of her, because Isaac was frequently gone for days on his "rounds." After he became a published author, Howard was one of the mainstays at Weird Tales. He sent them all sorts of stories, usually set in the distant past, showing civilizations that had already degraded into barbarism (like Texas of the early 20th Century). In those days, pulp magazines usually paid half a cent to one cent per word, payment was usually on publication, which could be several months after acceptance, and even then, payment was sporadic. Howard spent hours a day at his typewriter, writing boxing stories (a huge interest of his), poetry and westerns, along with tales of Conan, his most famous creation.

Anyone who has ever picked up a pulp magazine, or who knows REH as more than just the creator of Conan, will love this book, as I did. While Howard’s books are still in print, Howard’s life has fallen into obscurity. This book does a really good job of remedying that situation.

Profile Image for Dan.
2,107 reviews44 followers
August 16, 2019
A decent biography and close enough for me as I will probably never get to read the one written by his girlfriend ....which is out of print and very expensive.
Profile Image for Cwn_annwn_13.
471 reviews66 followers
October 8, 2020
I read the old Conan 1-12 Ace published paperbacks religiously as a teenager, and have delved back into them (or the Del Ray Conan re-prints) for a re-read from time to time. I have always counted Howards Conan stories among my favorite books. As far as Howard himself I always found him to be a fascinating but confusing figure. I had heard such wildly varying stories of how he was. On one hand he had been portrayed as a macho, brawling, boxing, roughneck fitness fanatic, that in some ways mirrored Conan and some of the characters in his other work, and on the other hand I had heard he was a mental basketcase mamas boy that died a virgin when he commited suicide at the age of 30. Since reading this book I have come to the conclusion that there is a ring of truth to both of those extremes.

Finn does a great job with this book connecting the dots and proving and disproving much of the mythology that is out there about Robert E. Howard. A big thing Finn does here, in fact it comprises a good bulk of the book, is he talks about Howards Texas environment and how much of an influence it was on his writing. From the day to day violence that he was exposed to in the scoundrel and roughneck infested oil boom towns that he grew up in, to the local Texas folklore, to the front porch story tellers that held court while Howard gave listen. All of these had a big impact on Howard and his writing. REH even stated that Conan himself was to a large degree a mix of various boxers, oil field workers and cowboys that he knew over the years.

This book also goes into greater depth with Howards non Conan work than anything else I have ever read. In some ways this book is as much a literary analysis of Howards writings as much as it is about Howard himself. Other subjects delved into are his relationship with his only girlfriend, his ups and downs as a pulp fiction writer, his physical fitness and boxing obsession, his feelings as an outcast in the small town he lived mainly because he earned a living as a writer instead of in the oil field or as a farmer, his legendary correspondses with HP Lovecraft, and especially his strange relationship with his parents (he never moved out of his parents house) and Howards suicide.

I do think this is a great book. There is so much great information in this and Finn is an engrossing writer, I could hardly put this book down once I started reading it. But I do have a few criticisms. One he goes into apologetics over Howards attitudes on race. Downplaying and even denying that Howard was a racist as well as making the false statements that Eugenics have been scientificly discredited, the Aryan race does not exist and Finn also makes the wacky statement at one point that what was once called race are now referred to as "cultures". Huh? We must be living on another planet. But anyway while I think you could make a solid argument that he wasn't a racist in the stereotypical Nazi way and he certainly wasn't mean or abusive to people because they were not white it can't be denied that Howard was a man who was heavily into and obsessed with his own "dark Irish" heritage and other northern European cultures, in particular the Picts and he certainly had no problem portraying other races in less than complimentary ways. Not to mention the multitudes of stories he wrote with "racial memory" themes. It can't be denied that Howard was a heavily racially concious man and in my mind it makes him that much more admirable.

Another criticism I have is there is only one chapter dedicated to the Conan character and that chapter weighs in at only 10 pages! I think its great that Howards other work was explored in depth here but so many people do not understand the true nature, depth, and greatness of the Conan character only seeing him as the corny comic book muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger movie cliche. The Conan stories are often as much horror stories as much as they are sword and sorcery adventure tales, or at least a fusion of the two. There is also a philosophical side of Conan that is one part might is right style social darwinism, mixed with an Aryan warriors sense of honor and chivalry along with a Viking berserkers battle ecstacy. These things, especially the philosophical side of Conan should have been delved into much more.

I would have also liked to have heard more (they are covered but just not as much or as in depth as I would have liked) about Howards barbarism vs civilization debate that went on through mail with HP Lovecraft as well as REH being a hardcore Celtophile.

But those criticisms aside I really thought this was a great book. I can't help but think while gazing at a photograph of REH at the end of this book where he has a huge almost viking like beer glass raised to his lips in an almost salutatory manner that Howard is one of the great divínely inspired Odinic writers who were given a drink of Odins mead of inspiration. I hope to have a drink in Valhalla with you some day Bob.

4.5 out of 5 stars
126 reviews1 follower
August 18, 2013
I came across this fairly recent Robert E. Howard biography while looking instead for the earlier biography by L. Sprague de Camp, and it's just as well that I did, because Finn makes a good case that de Camp performed as much of a hatchet job on Howard as he did on H. P. Lovecraft in an earlier biography.

Unlike de Camp, Finn is actually a Howard fan--he knows and loves Howard's works, and indeed, if you finish this biography you'll likely want to read some Howard for yourself. de Camp, on the other hand, was a character assassin who thought nothing of devoting hundreds of pages to explaining why he thought popular writers were inferior to him both personally and professionally.

Finn is at his best in describing and critiquing Howard's works, in debunking a lot of the lies that have built up around Howard, and also in putting Howard into the context of the Texas environment from which he sprung--something that other biographers have apparently failed to do. Also, I can attest that Finn's analysis of Howard's psychological state is spot-on, because my mental problems and family and social dynamics are very similar to those of Howard in a few particulars.

All that said, though, this is a flawed book. While Finn possibly did a good deal of research--he certainly gives the impression that he did--not all of his information is correct.

For instance, at one point he writes, "Pancho Villa had just been assassinated at his villa." That's cute wordplay, but it's also not true. Villa was assassinated while driving his car through the Mexican village of Parral. And though Finn cites a Villa biography in his list of works consulted, I guess he didn't read the book all the way through.

At one point Howard is said to have written to someone named "Talman," but it's not until later in the book that this person is given another name. In fact, he's given two. He's referred to as "Wilfred Talman" in one place and "Wilford B. Talman"--his correct name--in another.

The chapter devoted to Howard's girlfriend Novalyne Price starts with a group photo of her co-workers at Cross Plains High School--a photo in which Price doesn't even appear! Why is the photo even in the book, then?

The book is filled with typos and other errors of style, spelling, grammar, and content, which could easily have been fixed had the text been given even a cursory examination by a proofreader.

But the main problem with the text is Finn's bad habit of repeating himself. I'm not sure whether this was due to Finn being careless, or wishing to pad out the book, or a little of both. It's bad enough to come across a restated point that had been perfectly made dozens of pages before, but it's inexcusable to see a point made twice in one paragraph.

And strangely enough, Joe R. Lansdale, in his painfully bad introduction to the book, makes the same mistake, though his repetitions tend to be more noticeable in the two-and-a-half pages he takes up, than those of Finn, which appear scattered throughout the entire book.

Still, if you're not as anal-retentive about style as I am, "Blood and Thunder" will provide you with as good an introduction to Robert E. Howard's world as you're currently likely to find.

NOTE: This is a review to the 2006 first edition of "Blood & Thunder." I just learned that Finn updated the book in 2011.


I quote from Finn from the above link:

..."Oh, well, it’s no secret amongst the movers and shakers of Howard studies and Howard fandom that there are some errors, both technical and factual, in the first edition. All unintentional, of course, but remember, I had to write it while the Centennial loomed nigh. So, I went fast, and Monkeybrain went fast, and we all pulled together and got it out in time for the World Fantasy Convention, which was in October of that year. Any later and we would have missed the deadline. So, unintentionally, some errors crept in from earlier drafts, and some wonky sentences didn’t get fixed.

"And then, in 2006, Don Herron rediscovered Doc Howard’s medical books. And then Rob Roehm started uncovering tidbits here and there (and he’s still doing it). And then in 2007 or 2008, I forget which, Patrice Louinet managed to pinpoint when Howard and his family were in New Orleans, and the serendipitous discovery that led to, and oh, hell, there’s new stuff now! So, I was already keeping an error file, for fixing, and I kept my slush pile and my notes for some things I either decided not to include for space or time purposes, and all at once, it occurred to me: a second edition! That would fix everything!"...

This, to me is good news. I hope to get a chance to read the new edition at some point and see if it fixes the problems from the first edition that stuck so badly in my craw.
Profile Image for Konstantin.
Author 38 books10 followers
May 24, 2018
Pro mě osobně nesmírně zajímavé čtení! Nikdy jsem nechápal, jak je možné, že člověk, trpící depresemi a sebevražednými sklony, nemluvě o závislosti na své nemocné matce, člověk, který strávil naprostou většinu svého dospělého života v malém texaském městečku (a který vlastně prakticky nikdy neopustil Texas), člověk, který si ve třiceti letech prohnal kulku hlavou, zkrátka že právě takový člověk stačil během tak krátké doby napsat tolik úžasných příběhů a svým literárním vkladem vlastně definovat podobu moderní fantasy. Ale možná, že jedině takový člověk to mohl dokázat, nikdo jiný... Každopádně, tato kniha sice velice podrobně zkoumá různé stránky Howardova života a tvorby, ale nesklouzává k nějakému suchopárnému výkladu. Naopak, je napsaná příjemným, živým jazykem, takže je opravdu radost ji číst. Dále oceňuji, že věnuje (zaslouženou) pozornost také méně známým (přinejmenším u nás) autorovým dílům a okolnostem jejich vzniku. Vždyť Howard zdaleka nerovná se jenom Conan - jsou tu horory, westerny, příběhy o boxerech, dobrodružné povídky, odehrávající se ve Střední Asii atd. Přiznávám, že v tomto směru mám jako čtenář poměrně dost mezer, které si hodlám urychleně doplnit! Upřímně, ono není mnoho autorů, jejichž vlastní život by mě zajímal natolik, aby mě to donutilo přečíst si nějakou jejich biografii. Ale REH rozhodně patří mezi ně!

P.S. Kniha není moc dlouhá. Ale to Howardův život bohužel také nebyl...

P.P.S. Strčím sem ještě jednu básničku, prý Howardovu oblíbenou. Jedná se o „Richarda Coryho“ z pera Edwina Arlingtona Robinsona – a je (vzhledem k okolnostem) velice vypovídající...

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
Profile Image for Raymond.
119 reviews1 follower
January 27, 2015
In the first proper biography of Robert E. Howard that's been written in decades, Mark Finn seeks to adress some the myths that have been circulating about Howard - most of them to his detriment - and also to place him within a particularly Texan literary context. The latter is accomplished by analyzing how early 20th century Texan society affected Howard's upbringing and mindset, and in turn how this filtered into his various creations from Steve Costigan to Conan to El Borak. While this makes a lot of sense and is arguably the most fruitful approach to understanding Howard as an author, my one criticism would be that other literary influences - such as Lovecraft and orientalism - are given little to no attention in the parts that deal with analysing the stories. There is f.ex. no mention of Lovecraft's influence on "The Devil in Iron", despite parts of it reading just like something he could have written.

The last chapter is particularly interesting, as it deals with Howard's post-mortem legacy. While it's painful to read about the awful copyright mess that stifled the publication of Howard's stories in their unedited form for decades, it's a pleasure to read contemporary authors' elitist take-down of Howard's talent knowing that in time nobody would learn these authors' names except through their association with the man they had so little regard for.
55 reviews
January 27, 2008
This is an excellent biography of one of the men that shaped modern Science Fiction. Finn does a remarkable job of helping us understand how the time and place Howrad lived influenced the way he viewed the world and the stories he produced. And who would have thought that Cimmeria was inspired by the Texas Hill Country? After reading this biography, it was an absolute must to go and read the re-released, de-Decamped collections of Howard's stories in their original form and properly released order. This biography helps you understand the "tall-tale" style Howard had mastered. And as you read the newly released stories, you appreciate the genius of his talent and style.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,541 reviews5 followers
December 23, 2022
I think I was in high school when I read (or tried to read) Dark Valley Destiny: The Life of Robert E. Howard by L. Sprague de Camp. It may have been my first taste of a really shitty biography, although--at the time--I had nothing else to really compare it to (Little House, Long Shadow: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Impact on American Culture is another serious clunker). I basically hate armchair psychoanalysis and weird Freudian analysis of authors and their deep, dark secret psyches.

This book is much more to my liking. The author places his subject--one Robert E. Howard--in the context of his time, and place, and his family, and creates a fair portrait of the author and his influences. Howard's weird fiction--Conan, Bran Mak Morn, King Kull, Solomon Kane--have been living in my head rent free since I was 12 years old, and I am not complaining! Howard was the master of what's now called 'sword&sorcery,' which is my favorite kind of fantasy, and I absolutely love him. This biography filled in a lot of gaps for me, and I now have a much deeper appreciation of how the South in general, and Texas in particular, shaped Howard's world view and work. This is a fast, excellent read.

Robert. E. Howard was an odd and somewhat tortured man (the fact that he was in a epistolary bromance with the other great teller of weird tales, H.P. Lovecraft tells you all you need to know). His imagination was vast, his ability to telling a rip snortin' talke second to none, and his writing far, far better than many of his contemporaries in the pulp fiction of the 1920 and 30s. So three cheers for Robert E. Howard, a two-fisted, beer drinking intellectual who never quite found his place in the world. Hands down one of my favorite authors ever.

(Don't tell anyone I said this, but I like him better than Tolkien!)
Profile Image for Jeremiah.
143 reviews2 followers
September 22, 2018
I am a purist fan of Robert E. Howard. This means that I am only interested in the stories that he wrote before they were edited or added to by the likes of L. Sprague de Camp. Luckily my interest and discovery of Howard's work corresponded with the release of the Del Rey illustrated trade-backs that were published with fans like myself in mind.
Blood and Thunder is a magnificent biography of one of my favorite authors. The insight into Howard's life and creative process is as complete as any fan could hope for and it was a pure joy to read. My thanks to Mark Finn for his scholarly work and giving this book to fans.
Profile Image for Remco Straten.
Author 10 books5 followers
November 3, 2019
Immensely readable, comprehensive biography of pulp writer Robert E. Howard. It traces his roots from pioneer stock, and lays the origins of his writing in his Irish heritage and the Texan tradition of 'spinning yarns' from when the Wild West was still living memory. This, set against a backdrop of oil boom and bust and a young man who doesn't quite fit in, gives a quite good impression of the man who did not only gave the world Conan, but also invented the Weird Western, wrote historical adventure stories, westerns, light-hearted but heavy-fisted boxing tales, and much more.
Mark Finn is from Texas himself, and as they say: it takes one to know one.
Profile Image for Gonzalo Oyanedel.
Author 18 books57 followers
September 25, 2017
El investigador Mark Finn pretende una aproximación honesta y desprejuiciada a la figura de Robert Ervin Howard, cuya imagen fue distorsionada durante años por las versiones muy subjetivas que propagaron continuadores como Sprague De Camp. Un trabajo bastante completo que -pese a ciertos errores de información- aborda de lleno la vida, obsesiones e inquietudes de un autor ampliamente superado por su obra, pero a quien no le faltaron coloridas vivencias en su singular vida fronteriza. Documento.
Profile Image for DeWayne Todd.
Author 3 books5 followers
September 16, 2018
Revisited this excellent book as part of Howard Day's this year and realized I hadn't dropped a review. Very engaging and well written overview of Howard, his life and his influences. Definitely give a great set of perspectives on the complexity of Robert E. Howard and the struggles he faced. I appreciated that Finn tells the good, the bad and the amazing pieces of the story and shows us that all we can really know about a person is glimpses as through the fog. What lies beneath is far more complex.
Profile Image for Karen Kohoutek.
Author 9 books19 followers
February 4, 2018
The best Howard biography so far, bar none. If you're interested in Howard, read it!
Profile Image for Trevor Denning.
76 reviews
September 14, 2022
Simply outstanding depiction of Howard within the context of Texas history and oral tradition. You get more than you bargain for with this very readable biography.
Profile Image for Richard Behrens.
Author 18 books7 followers
September 12, 2015
I went to Providence, R.I. for Necronomicon 2015, the convention devoted to Weird Fiction. To be honest, I went to experience the works of H.P.Lovecraft, but got a pleasant surprise running into the Robert E. Howard Foundation whose table at the vendors' room was a great place to buy a copy of Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, because the man who sold it to me, Mark Finn, was the author of the book.

I first read Howard when I was kid in the form of those butchered paperbacks of Conan stories out out by Ace paperbacks. In recent years, the literary legacy of Howard and his prime creation Conan has been shedding its baggage, more specifically its association with those Arnold Schwarzenegger and the tampered-with L. Sprague de Camp edits that has rankled the fans of pulpdom for half a century. This is the best time in history to be discovering Robert E. Howard, since his massive output of fiction only contains less than 20 Conan stories, and new readers can discover his other characters and writing styles.

Let us not be deceived, Howard is no Shakespeare, and he remains the undisputed king of Pulp Fiction. He wrote under enormous pressure for money, but never failed to produce a solid, two-fisted tale of tremendous energy and action. There is no better writer for a hard boiled detective, occult, boxing, weird western or ancient civilization tale. He spun yarns like they were coming out of his lungs with his every breath. Just recently, I began reading his Bear Creek western tales and found them as funny as P.G. Wodehouse. Same with his Steve Costigan boxing stories. The man was hilarious. His western and boxing stories are in many ways the superior literature to the Conan tales because they hold up under every criteria for great story telling and bold characterization. Breckinridge Elkins and Steve Costigan are, in my opinion, the literary equal to Bertie Wooster or Jeeves the Butler. Instead of upper class English twits, Howard portrays working class American idiots to great effect.

And don't underestimate the Conan stories either. Modern day fantasy like Game of Thrones owes a tremendous debt to Howard and his world-building works.

Mark Finn's biography is as tough as its subject. It takes you back to the pre-oil strike Texas to examine the roots of Howard's family and walks you in the man's mighty footsteps as he burns with pure word passion until his tragic and untimely suicide at age 30.

After fifty years of reading Howard, I finally stepped back and said with awe: "Yeah! Robert E. Howard!" Hopefully, this American writer's finest days in the limelight are ahead of us. And don't forget to check out the Robert E. Howard Foundations great reprints of most of Howard's more obscure series.
Profile Image for Rolf.
Author 7 books6 followers
August 13, 2022
One of the three best biographies I ever read (the other two being Mark Robb's Rimbaud, and Crystal Zevon's I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon).
Profile Image for Peregrine 12.
347 reviews9 followers
July 27, 2012
Thank you, Mark Finn, for providing such a wonderful and in-depth review of Robert E Howard and the world surrounding him. Being a Texan myself, I especially appreciate the focus you give to the attitudes and belief systems prevalent during Howard's time and even today. It's hard to articulate the culture, but you have done an excellent job here. You have made REH come alive and seem as a real, understandable person and not a manic-psycho depressive who lived in a constant state of paranoia (as I thought from reading Conan intros as a child). I cried at the description of Howard's suicide, brief as the passage was. I guess I just didn't want it to happen. (And the part about his father's dishonest dealings with his will made me angry - how could you deny your son's last wishes? Really, how?)

All thank you notes aside, this book is a must-read for any serious Howard fan out there. This book has deepened my appreciation for Howard's work and made me even more of a fan than I already was. Having read this, my next stop is going to be Novalyne Price's One Who Walked Alone: Robert E. Howard - The Final Years.

Guess I'd better clear a shelf for my growing REH collection.
Profile Image for Jayme Blaschke.
Author 12 books21 followers
July 19, 2012
A magnificent examination of the life and works of Texas fantasy author Robert E. Howard, Finn dispels myths and delves deep into the man's troubled personal life through extensive research. Howard's life in the tiny, West Texas town of Cross Plains come to vivid life under Finn's steady hand--Finn's passion for the subject matter is almost physical in its intensity.

This is a short review, but make no mistake, this is an engrossing book that will bring the reader a whole new appreciation for Howard and his wide range of works. Had Julie Phillips not published "James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon" in the same year, "Blood & Thunder: The Life & Art of Robert E. Howard" would have swept the genre's non-fiction awards. It's that good.
Profile Image for Matthew.
102 reviews3 followers
October 7, 2013
I read a later edition of this book which I don't see here that includes additional material.

The constriction of Howard's circumstances and inevitability of his suicide ride the narrative throughout the book, but there is joy and humor to be found in his life. Finn places Howard and the reader firmly in Texas and though the state is vast, there was a world beyond that Howard yearned to see and never would. He made his own world through a passion for history, a violent imagination, and great talent for telling ripping yarns. Finn fills in the details of Howard's life while dispelling popular myths. If you're a fan of Howard, you must read this book.
Profile Image for Jim.
1,123 reviews66 followers
November 3, 2012
A very quick read -and fascinating- about the man who wrote the Conan the Barbarian stories. Mark Finn's purpose is to point out the importance of Howard's small-town Texas roots and he shows that REH's writing was about much more than Conan. He wrote poetry, boxing stories,horror, historical fiction( mostly set in the time of the Crusades ),and increasingly, Westerns. Ultimately,it is a tragic story, as REH committed suicide at the age of 30. Finn explores possible reasons why he did that. And, at the conclusion, Finn looks at the continuing influence of Howard, as comics, movies, and games have come out ( mainly focusing on Conan ).
Profile Image for gazoo.
93 reviews
February 14, 2015
A great backgrounder on a king of pulp. Texas blood in his veins runs into his work. Disappointed with limited insights on Conan series. A mere footnote here. I assume author felt this territory was covered by others and wanted to show the larger breadth of the man. A shame considering Conan's appeal and the fact the cover art is of Conan to draw you in (draw sales). Putting the book down early as the next bit is Novalyn Price notes which I would prefer to read in her novel One Who Walked Alone. Don't miss movie The Whole Wide World.
Profile Image for Dustin.
1 review
January 8, 2023
Mark Finn does a fantastic job of dispelling hearsay, rumors and downright inaccuracies in this thorough work. Obviously this will appeal to Howard fans, but I think any reader would gain something useful from this articulate and expositional work of biographical literature. Bravo.
Profile Image for Mike.
Author 5 books7 followers
November 13, 2009
Very interesting, especially for Howard fans. Does its best to make sense of Howard's rather tragic life (he committed suicide at age 30) and rehabilitate his literary reputation. Although he he was mostly published in the ghetto of pulp magazines in his lifetime, Howard does deserve to be recognized as one of America's great writers.
Profile Image for Vincent Darlage.
Author 23 books46 followers
December 22, 2011
I really enjoyed this look at the life of Robert E. Howard. It seemed far more balanced and scholarly than any other biography of Howard I have ever read. Top notch work. Now, this is how one should write a biography. Engaging to the last, it kept me going even though I have other pressing matters at hand to do.
Profile Image for Martin Rundkvist.
Author 10 books22 followers
June 11, 2015
This biography is well argued but poorly written. When the author reaches for a slightly more literary phrase, he often grabs hold of almost but not quite the right word. This could be helped by professional copy editing. But another weakness is neither the author's fault, nor possible to do anything about. This is simply the biography of a man who lived a short and uneventful life.
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