YMMV / Robert E. Howard

  • Fair for Its Day: Although, usually under pressure from his publishers, Howard had many Damsel in Distress types, he also wrote several strong, intelligent female characters including Belit and Valeria from his Conan stories, and Red Sonya of Rogatino from his historical fiction. Unfortunately the same can't be said of his racial views which were pretty typical for the time and place he grew up in.
    • Averted Trope. Howard was absolutely obsessed with race race and purity (or otherwise) of blood run rampant through his essay The Hyborian Age. and he was well aware that other people weren't. He wrote to H.P. Lovecraft about Red Nails, "I have been dissatisfied with my handling of decaying races in stories, for the reason that degeneracy is so prevalent in such races that it can not be ignored as a motive and as a fact if the fiction is to have any claim to realism. I have ignored it in all other stories, as one of the taboos, but I did not ignore it in this story..." Yes he painted himself as the bold taboo-buster (do we have a trope for that?), a trait common in bigots today.
    • Howard occasionally wrote stories that weren't screamingly racist, or at least had some non-racist plot elements. In the Solomon Kane stories set in Africa, most of them have something along these lines. In The Hills of the Dead, N'Longa the shaman can actually be read as the hero, since he does all the major work necessary to put down the vampires, while Kane just keeps the vampires off N'Longa's back during the process. N'Longa also speaks eruditely when he's using his own language...he just can't speak English well. The Bogondan villagers of Wings in the Night are presented as basically good people trapped in a horrible situation. During the The Footfalls Within, Kane attacks a band of Arabs who've been enslaving Africans, and is (temporarily) captured. A minor Arab character, who had only been traveling with the slavers' caravan for protection, is sympathetic to Kane's plight. In The Moon of Skulls, Howard makes the following point about the villainous African culture of the piece: "These savages are not like the other natives of the region. A latent insanity lurks in the brain of each and every one." (Mind you, Moon is still jaw-droppingly racist, but at least Howard managed to slightly ameliorate his attitude.)
      • Other non-racist moments show up from time to time. In Howard's historical short story The Road of Azrael (not public domain, but recently reprinted in Lord of Samarcand and Other Tales of the Old Orient), the viewpoint character is an Arab. Several of his horror/supernatural works feature sympathetic characters of color: The viewpoint character in The Thunder-Rider is Native American, while In The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux (aka Apparition in the Prize Ring) the hero (but not the viewpoint character) is an African-American, whom Howard actually describes as possessing "great nobility." In The Noseless Horror, Ganra Singh (a Sikh) saves the day at the end. Meanwhile, The Horror from the Mound features a Mexican who's got a damn sight more common sense than the story's white viewpoint character. Finally, The Dead Slaver's Tale and The Dead Remember feature black victims getting ghostly revenge on the whites who murdered them.
      • Also in his defense, he wrote some stories that showed plenty of racism existing between conflicting clans and tribes that were either purely imaginative, or all ultimately Indo-European, at least in name. Picts? Northern Britain. Atlanteans? Supposed "Aryan" progenitors. In other words, Howard's fiction contains racism, itself, as an common accepted fact.
    • Double Cross, also staring Ace Jesse from "The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux", is one of the few Howard stories to address white-on-black racism directly and it portrays the racism that the main character is subjected to as exclusively negative and erroneous. There are also minor examples like Conan believing black people to be inherently cowardly in Queen of the Black Coast and the narrative going out of it's way to prove him wrong.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: The so-called "devil worship" references in "Dig Me No Grave" were pretty ignorant to begin with (Shintoism = black magic? Since when?). But now, following the rise of ISIS and their open genocide of the Yazidis, Kirowan's rant about that ethnic/religious minority's "foul god" and "idolatrous symbol" - the same twisted misconceptions about their faith which are getting them exterminated in Real Life - have become a lot more repugnant.
  • Macekre: In addition to some of his stories being completed upon his death, many of his less-popular stories were rewritten, often to create dolled-up installments in his more popular franchises (source), and many of his actual stories were {bowdlerised in paperback printings (source, and see also). In addition L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter wrote several published fanfics which they declared canon. The fanbase refused to go along with this, however, and all these bad decisions have long since been reversed.