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The Lesser Known Werewolf Stories of Conan The Barbarian's Creator Robert E. Howard

Tony Caro enjoys writing about all things pop culture, especially movies and television.

Robert E. Howard


Robert E. Howard was an innovator in the werewolf subgenre.

Fantasy and adventurer tale readers recognize Robert E. Howard name. He's the pulp author who long ago dreamed up Conan the Barbarian and the Cimmerian's world. Pop culture history doesn't always tell an icon's entire tale, and some assume Conan reflects Howard's only creation. Fans of the "man who walked alone" know that Howard wrote scores of different short stories, crossing several genres.H e created a variety of characters, such as King Kull and Solomon Kane. Howard was also a prolific action-adventure writer and even wrote several tales of bare-knuckle boxers in the vein of the classic Charles Bronson film HARD TIMES. Howard also wrote many horror yarns, some deserving of a second look. Werewolves popped up in a few tales, giving the horror works accessibility to modern readers interested in traditional horror trappings.

Howard & Short Horror Fiction

Howard was equally a dedicated writer of horror tales, having written well over 50 macabre shorts. In his horror works, Howard seemed to have an affinity for the werewolf as the legendary creature made several appearances. Using a werewolf in a horror tale would not be out of the ordinary by today's standards. However, Howard wrote these tales in the 1920's long before the release of Universal's THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON and THE WOLFMAN. For Howard to know the legend of the werewolf, he must have had access to research material covering the legends of the creature from the 17th and 18th centuries. Not very many people were knowledgeable about the werewolf myth at the time and the only well-known novel featuring the creature was Guy Endure's THE WEREWOLF OF PARIS, a novel adapted into the feature THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF by Hammer Films. Besides Endure's work, there is not much of an early literary tradition for the werewolf, although the pulps surely gave the creature a home, as did folklore and myths.

In the 1920s, the rise of pulp magazines presented a great many works of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. Within these magazines, the werewolf would finally gain some exposure in works of fiction. Robert E. Howard's works are among the better presentation of the werewolf in fiction.

Wolfshead Debuts

"Wolfshead" is one of Howard's most well-known werewolf tales, and it features the first of two appearances of a character named DeMontour deals with a man who has been cursed by a werewolf and now becomes a werewolf himself. While the tale takes place in Africa, the afflicted was cursed in France. Those with knowledge of the werewolf's legend will connect the origin to the myth of the Beast of Gévaudan.

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Interestingly, this tale mentions that the full moon can turn a man into a werewolf. Many sources note that Hollywood created the concept that the moon turns a man into a wolf. Considering this work was produced many years before the Universal werewolf films, this reveals Hollywood did not create the legend. ("Wolfshead" appeared in WEIRD TALES in 1925) Perhaps this concept of the moon turning a man into a wolf originated in Irish and Scottish myth, which also established silver bullets' lethality. Robert E. Howard was of Irish descent, so he may have come across werewolf legends in Irish folklore.

What is not common in folklore is the werewolf's presentation as a tortured figure, which is how the werewolf is presented in this tale and an extraordinary poem Howard would craft.

Up John Kane

"Up John Kane" is a bizarre and creepy poem that is an homage to the mythos of selling one's soul to the devil to become a werewolf. In ancient myths, this was the "ordinary" means of turning oneself into a werewolf instead of the later means described in Hollywood films.

The creepiest in the poem revolves around John Kane's realization of what he did and his newfound reluctance to become a werewolf. Of course, once you have made a pact with the devil, there is no going back.

In both of these works, we see characters who are cursed by the werewolf which is a common symbolic theme of the werewolf that we see in many early films. In some ways, the concept of turning into a werewolf is suggestive of a man trapped in a life or a world he wants nothing to do with. Robert E. Howard felt trapped in his personal life, so it is no surprise he would find werewolf tales to be an attractive subject matter.


Tony Caro (author) on April 03, 2013:

He wrote four that I am aware of. There may be more.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 03, 2013:

Well I had no idea. Thanks for the information and education.

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