Robert E. Howard was an inspiration for generations of writers and fans who came to love his iconic characters and adventurous tales. On Friday and Saturday, Howard enthusiasts from across the country and around the world gathered in Cross Plains at Howard’s home-turned-museum to celebrate the life and legacy of the great 20th-century American author.
As attendees streamed into town, the Howard House museum and adjacent Alla Ray Morris Pavilion were everyone’s first stop. The museum, maintained by Cross Plains organization Project Pride, holds hundreds of Howard collectibles, mementos, photographs, books, letters and manuscripts, both original and reproduced. The main hallway of the small but cozy house contains dozens of photos and posters for Howard biopic “The Whole Wide World” and “Conan the Barbarian.”
Howard originated Conan’s character, his most famous and enduring, in “Weird Tales” magazine in the 1930s.
In the museum gift shop, Robert E. Howard Foundation member Paul Herman explained what he loves about the pioneering author. “When people read Howard, you either like him or you don’t — and probably 89 percent don’t,” Herman said. “Howard was about individuality and self-determination. When you read his characters like Conan, he’s never at home. He’s always on the road and always the barbarian in a civilized place.
“But he’s the smartest guy in the room, he’s the toughest guy in the room, he’s the craftiest guy in the room and of course he’s the most dangerous guy in the room. It’s a great combination. So that’s kind of the draw for people — people who tick to a different clock and want to do their own thing. They don’t want to be like everybody else, they want to be themselves.”
Herman said Howard Days is “a great chance to let fans come together with like-minded fans,” other members of the 11 percent who identify with his work.
Friday’s Howard Days itinerary included early-morning coffee and doughnuts, a bus tour of Cross Plains and a swap meet of Howard items. At the nearby First United Methodist Church, panelists talked about various Howard works before the annual celebration banquet that evening.
Patrice Louinet first attended Howard Days in 1989. It’s no small accomplishment — Louinet travels from his home in Paris, France for the celebration. “Whenever I can, I’m here,” Louinet said.
Louinet discovered Howard through the French edition of his comics, eventually delving deeper into the original American works. He did his Master’s dissertation on Howard in 1990 and continued to write about and study Howard in the ensuing decades, eventually founding the Robert E. Howard Foundation to help publish more Howard works, award scholarships and plan the Howard Days.
“His stories, I can read them over and over again,” Louinet said. “What satisfied the teen in me satisfies the old me, and I don’t go back to most of the writers I read when I was a teenager. Howard’s different. I think he got short-changed by literary history.”
Coming to Cross Plains for Howard Days, he said, is like a “family reunion” with so many familiar faces who share his enthusiasm.
Cross Plains declared Friday, June 9 “Robert E. Howard Day” to recognize the major tourism draw the author continues to be for the city. His museum is located at 625 West Highway 36 in Cross Plains.