Some of you might not know this, but I'm a huge Conan the Barbarian fan. And I'm talking the pulp and comic stories as written by Robert E. Howard, and not the movies. Although the movies are good in their own rights, but for entirely different reasons.
Anyway, Dark Horse Comics started a brand new (and in my opinion, more faithful) capture of the *spirit* of the originals, if not the outright plots, in a brand new line of Conan comics. In each comic, a little 3-5 frame "mini-comic" detailing an idyllic episode in the life of a young R.E.H. finishes out the book in the letters section. These episodes are taken from numerous correspondences R.E.H. had with other pulp writers of the time, most notably H.P. Lovecraft. But some of them are taken from one Novalyne Price's memoirs, as collected in her novel: The One Who Walked Alone. These brief comics are very poignant, and show you how introspective and brilliant the real Robert E. Howard was, if not just a tad eccentric.
I learned a lot about Conan's creator through these short strips. He was a very troubled young man, one who found it hard to interact with so-called "normal" society, and preferred nature and solitude above all other things. For a brief time, he and Ms. Price had a romance that might have turned into something quite serious, but then tragedy struck when REH's promising life as an exciting writer was cut short by his suicide. I've always been intensely interested in learning more about this complicated man's life ever since discovering this little tidbit.
So imagine my surprise, then, when I found out a movie had been made back in 1996 based on Novalyne Price's book? It's called "The Whole Wide World" and stars Renee Zellweger as Ms. Price, and Vincent D'Onofrio as Bob Howard. The movie is a romance drama, but one that focuses very satisfactorily on the man behind the legend. D'Onofrio adds perhaps a little more panache than was true of the man, but for the most part his performance seems spot-on to how many of Howard's friends and peers described him. The clip I'm including below is taken from one particularly brilliant scene where Howard and Price are out taking a drive and she asks him about his latest character, Conan. The way D'Onofrio springs into life and has this demented gleam in his eye as he describes him almost made the whole movie for me! This is a lot like how I pictured REH -- it's so perfectly done! Check it out for yourself:
As an aspiring writer myself, this film really resonated with me as it deals with some realistic issues struggling writers face in life. Howard serves as a sort of mentor to the very young Price, who herself was a schoolteacher trying to get her stories and daily observances published by the big lifestyle magazines of the day. On the romance front, the movie purportedly has one of the best on-screen kisses on celluloid, although personally I found it a bit awkward looking. But since I didn't rent this for the romance aspect, it didn't bug me all that much. :)
I would recommend this movie for both romance enthusiasts as well as Conan fans who want to learn about the tragic short life and eccentricities of the man behind many of the most famous pulp characters of the late 20s and early 30s. It's a depressing movie, don't get me wrong, but tender at the same time. And Vincent D'Onofrio is just off the hook as the disturbed yet brilliant writer who's misunderstood by everyone except the woman he loves.
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