What follows is a letter sent by author Robert E. Howard to his colleague, H.P. Lovecraft dated June 1935.
Dear Mr. Lovecraft,
Much has happened since my last letter. You may find it hard to believe what I have to say, but I will endeavor to make you understand. You must understand for I believe a new age may be upon us.
Let me begin by saying that I think the real reason so many are clamoring for freedom of some vague sort is because of unrest and dissatisfaction with present conditions; I don’t believe this machine age gives full satisfaction in a spiritual way, if the term may be allowed. Perhaps that is because civilized men are so discourteous. They need not one another to survive and thus turn a blind eye to those in need. We are the more savage race of men when compared to the barbarians of old. To humanity’s discredit, the tribes and clans of yesterday have dissolved and we have become disconnected, drifting apart more and more the closer we get to tomorrow. Such dissolution only makes the hardships of life all the greater.
As to my views on life, life is about the struggle between good and evil. I have never given much merit to those who believe evil exists in man. I don’t like that sort of philosophic wondering. I believe in action. Don’t stop. Don’t analyze. Don’t philosophize. Act. Feel. Act. Evil is an external thing; something that can be confronted and understood even in the vaguest sense. Evil is a corruption by the elements. You see, man struggles to survive in an elemental way always fighting against the savagery and bestiality about to engulf them. It is an eternal struggle through which a man’s worth is measured.
I don’t pretend to have the answers to what makes a good life. What works for one doesn’t always work for another. Trying to put together the pieces, each individual day with its myriad experiences, is too difficult. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me.
No, I find it difficult to dwell on living or at least, I used to. I have always been morbidly preoccupied with the end of civilization rather than its ascent and flowering. Every civilization’s tale is a tragic one. Where others see growth and maturity, I see eventual decay. From life comes death. That is the cycle. With the passage of time every civilized man forgets how to survive. He becomes cut off. Once that connection to the world is severed decline is inevitable and his struggles to survive futile.
My personal struggle is big and uncomplicated with civilized standards. I just want to get away from this modern, complicated world with its hypocrisy, its cruelty, its dog-eat-dog life. I want to revert back to the origins of the human race. The civilization we live in is a hell of a lot more sinister than the times I write about. In those days, men were men and women were women. They struggled to stay alive, but the struggle was worth it. What do we have to struggle for?
As of late I found it difficult to sleep or dream brooding on that question. My reservoir had been empty for some time. I couldn’t write anything. No time. Never any time. So many interruptions. I get started; I have to stop. Maybe I grew tired of my stories. Where once writing was an escape it had become pounding out one damn yarn after another, pounding them out whether I wanted to or not just to make enough to scratch by another day.
You see, your career falls in ruins when you go on producing, knowing the well is running dry. How much more time you have to produce before it dries up, you don’t know. You’ve got to watch that when you start writing full time.
You start in to write and, at first, you write day and night. Many days, eighteen hours. Sometimes, if things are going right, you may write twenty-four. But the constant production finally gets you. If you try to settle down to eight to ten hours a day steadily, if you devote your whole life to breaking into the writing game, you should be mighty careful that you don’t burn yourself out before you write the big book.
Well, I was burned out. I pounded out yarn after yarn — sometimes ten or twelve thousand words a day. I worked my damn guts out. Finally, I knew I was burnt out — that the time was coming fast when there wouldn’t be anything left. Nothing at all. And that’s where I was. I was hollow with no more dreams to share. I was at the end.
All of us hurt. We love. We hate. We win. We lose. We have more enemies than friends. Friends become enemies. We see our parents grow old, become sick and suffer pain. Hell. Nothing goes right in real life. You try to help somebody and get kicked in the teeth for your pains. With some of us things don’t ever go right.
I have not been a success and probably never will be but so what. I have accomplished little enough, but such as it is, it is the result of my own efforts.
Forgive the gravity of the content of this letter and its rambling nature. Surely I make little sense, but through this rough correspondence am I struggling to put into perspective an event so fantastic that even now I am sometimes assailed by feelings of unreality that have brought into question my own mortal perception.
For too long have I been burdened by melancholy. I have attributed it to many sources, given it many forms, but never have I ever successfully confronted it. I never possessed the tools to do so. I’ve tried confessions a little. I always thought there was a kind of formula to them. I thought you sinned, suffered, and repented. A cycle. But I never found a reprieve from my suffering.
You understand that I am prone to wandering; visiting with strangers I encounter on the road just to hear their stories. Maybe in their lives I was trying to find an answer to my own. I had finished at the icehouse and was on my way home to see mother when a spell of melancholy overwhelmed me. So I roamed the roads between Coleman and Cross Plains, just driving in the hopes that the spell would pass when I came across a strange pale figure; a dark-eyed man traveling the windy wastes. Call me impetuous, but when I saw him my curiosity was piqued so I stopped and picked him up.
As we rode together, I asked him his tale and he recounted his prodigal youth speaking of his travels and dreams. He told me of the battles he’d fought in the Great War and the horrors he had discovered thereafter. Finally, he spoke of a quest for redemption that he was on. Of who or what he did not clarify. And then he paused and peered at me for some time. To my surprise he began to tell me my own troubled tale including the futility I ascribed to life. When he began speaking to me about my dying mother and the years of anguish that her suffering caused me, I couldn’t listen to him a moment longer. I slammed on the brakes and told him to get out. It was then that he took my hand and I was overwhelmed by light. For that moment I saw everything. Every world. Every star. Every soul. I saw ages long past and days yet to come. I’d always thought myself insignificant until he showed me that I was part of the infinitesimal. I touched eternity. To experience the interconnected whole…to know everything had a reason and that the cycles life travel through are not downward spirals but an evolution of existence…My feelings of disconnection vanished. Even now I feel part of something everlasting and epic. Through him I finally knew freedom from this oppressive weight. My melancholy has not returned since. And him? He disappeared once more into the desert from whence he came to continue his quest.
I have written of magic and sorcery, but I never expected to encounter such phenomena in this modern age. Just knowing that such a thing is possible…That such amazing events can happen…No longer did existence seem as heartless, unfair, and ultimately futile. There is a reason and we do not have to surrender to despair.
For the longest time I’ve been a little tired of Conan. But this man…he needs to be written about. I have hesitated to write that big book having never possessed a story nor met a man who could inspire such a tale. I believe I finally have. My reservoir is full once more.
Robert E. Howard