One of the stranger quirks of literary history is the collaboration between the big morose Texan pulpster and the genteel Oxford don.
To blame is a mysterious Englishman who interrupted Howard’s planned suicide by suggesting he instead seek death by volunteering in the Spanish Civil War. This in turn led to Howard being wounded and sent to convalesce in England with an Oxford-based group of left wing sympathisers.
Though he was still guilt-wracked because of the death of his buddy, Hemmingway – as everybody knows, the two finally egged each other on into a heroic but fatal escapade within six months of the war’s end – he immediately hit it off with an academic he encountered while quaffing ale in a “quaint old English tavern”.
Tolkien, on his part, saw in the Texan “…the very manifestation of the men of Middle Earth.” Abandoning attempts to create what would have surely been a very cumbersome work in the Romantic tradition, Tolkien set about cheering up his new friend.
What started out as a weekend’s literary game on the banks of Lake Windermere, blossomed into a collaboration that only ended with Tolkien’s death in 1973.
Who has not thrilled at Strider’s adventures in the mysterious Eastern Lands (the classic example being “Strider the Oliphant Rider”)?
Or gawped at arguably the highpoint of the series where Strider carves his way into Mordor, uses an ancient artefact to force Sauron to manifest in corporeal form, then hacks off the head of the Dark Lord, and casts it into the pit of a volcano?
An interesting literary footnote is Tolkien’s little-read solo effort “Lord of the Hyborian Age”. Howard, in mourning for his friend, revived this project and spent the years 1975 until 1990 knocking out well over five million words in the what became known as the Conan Saga. The child who grew up listening to the tales of old gunfighters, lived to see his vision translated to silver screen, TV, tabletop and ultimately – as a grand old man – computer games.