Howard and Tolkien’s “Strider the Ranger Series”

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 mechanical fault that saved Howard’s life when he tried to commit suicide, propelling him into volunteering in the Spanish Civil War. The wounded Howard had been shipped to England by sympathisers. Though he was still distraught by the death of his buddy Hemmingway – famously, the two finally egged each other on into a heroic but fatal escapade within six months of the war’s close – he immediately hit it off with the academic.

Tolkien, on his part, saw in the Texan “…the very manifestation of the men of Middle Earth.” Abandoning attempts to create what would have been a 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, 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, and ultimately – as a grand old man – computer games.

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Posted in Alternative History, Genre, Pulp, Robert E Howard
3 comments on “Howard and Tolkien’s “Strider the Ranger Series”
  1. Neil MacCormack says:

    What a brilliant conceit! You should write it, perhaps as a parody on the lines of Spinrad’s “The Iron Dream” – presumably Strider, between slaughtering foes and bedding paramours, would stop to admire the landscape, share a second breakfast with his hobbit companions and recite Elvish poetry, and deal with the One Ring by hoisting both ring and ringbearer on the end of his sword and casting both into the Crack of Doom…

  2. Gregg says:

    Brilliant is right. I’ve always been pessimistic about how Howard might have dealt with the Second World War, and the gigantic changes in the world – and the United States in particular – after it was over. But like the best alternate history stories, this works because it seems entirely plausible. Like what might Howard have done once he’d processed the death of his mother? There was really nothing tying him down (have you seen Cross Plains? What a hell-hole…), and it’s too easy to imagine him wanting to do something right, something to prove himself, and something (quite possibly) hopeless.

    Seriously, this need to be a novel!

    • mharoldpage says:

      Hah. Thanks. I think it was his mother that kept him alive, rather than her death that killed him. Realistically, I think he would have transitioned from S&S to folkish tales of the Old West. Perhaps he would have done a John Jakes.

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