Howard's End

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Sales of Howard books in Germany, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, and France continue at a brisk pace. In Bulgaria, Lord says, unauthorized versions of Howard's Conan stories have been among that country's best-sellers for years. Today, he adds, Robert E. Howard fans abroad outnumber those in the U.S.

Over the years, rights to the Howard properties have passed far afield from Dr. Kuykendall. After his death, his wife inherited the responsibility of overseeing the business, then it was passed along to a daughter, who was the first to see real signs of the oncoming Howard revival. Since 1995, all things related to Robert Howard rights have been watched over by Austin's Jack Baum, an associate commissioner with the Texas Department of Health, and his wife Barbara. "It gets a little confusing," admits Barbara, a high-school English teacher trying to explain the chain of events, "but my husband was distantly related to the Kuykendall heirs by marriage."

She admits that neither she nor her husband knew much of Robert E. Howard or his writings until they heard family members talking of the first Conan movie back in the early '80s. "We had no idea at the time," she says, "that one day we would be entrusted with the rights to his works."

Now well-versed in all things Howard, she admits that keeping up with the various publishing projects being planned and under way and fielding an ongoing stream of new offers for film deals and product licensing has become such a full-time job that she is thinking of leaving teaching to give full attention to the Howard properties.

"What we're spending a great deal of time on now," she says, "is getting a lot of his other things republished. Despite the success he's enjoyed with the Conan and Kull kinds of stories, he's been placed in a niche that really doesn't do his body of work justice. Howard wrote some wonderful Westerns, good detective stories. As an English teacher, I find his poetry is remarkable. I think there is a much wider audience for his writing out there if people are made aware that he wrote things other than the sword-and-sorcery adventure stories. During his career, he wrote something for everyone."

"Robert Howard's work in the genre of popular adventure fiction has shown a staying power and a capacity for arousing lasting enthusiasm far beyond any of his contemporaries, save only Edgar Rice Burroughs, father of the timeless hero Tarzan..."

--L. Sprague de Camp

That "lasting enthusiasm" is evident in the remarkable zeal of Howard collectors who network via fan-club magazines, dozens of Web sites and, most recently, Internet trading posts such as e-Bay. "The Internet," says Plano-based patent attorney Paul Herman, a collector for 20 years, "has opened a whole new world to people looking for an old copy of Weird Tales or a first edition of one of his books. Time was when you went to collectors' conventions or networked with other collectors by mail or phone. Now, any evening, you can sit in front of your computer and find just about anything related to Robert E. Howard that you're looking for."

What you find, though, is found at constantly spiraling prices. "There was a time when I'd find a pulp magazine I didn't have," he says, "and would pay $20 to $30 for it. The prices you see now are in the $100s." The price tag on a copy of Always Comes Evening, a small book of Howard's verse, is now up to $500--if you can find someone willing to sell one. Several years ago, a first edition of Howard's first book, A Gent From Bear Creek, was supposedly sold for $3,000. If you can locate one today, Herman says, the sky's the limit.

Checking recently, he says, he learned of only a half-dozen copies in existence. Agent Glenn Lord has one, and there is one in the main library of London; one in the national library of Edinburgh, Scotland; and one, donated by the Kuykendall family, in the Ranger (Texas) Junior College library. "I'm told," Herman says, "that two copies have been sold in the United States in the last 15 years. One went for $3,000, the other for $4,000, and neither even had the original dust jacket."

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Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers

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