Jason Sanford writes that as Robert E. Howard was undeniably racist, his work is not worth preserving.
“This cultural “passing on” is where Howard’s writings embrace true failure. Despite what Howard’s defenders may wish, we do not read his stories as if we were back in the 1930s. We read them through the eyes of our 21st century beliefs. Not only was his racism disturbing to some of his contemporaries, it is equally disturbing to modern readers. Because of this, many people don’t believe Howard’s stories are worth passing on to others.”
This is cultural change in action. As a father with a biracial family, I will not recommend Howard’s stories to my sons. As a critic and reader, I will not recommend his stories to anyone else. When enough people do this, an author’s work moves out of the cultural mainstream.
So you’re basically saying that Howard’s racism excludes his fiction from consideration in the ranks of great literature? By that logic you’d have to lose Jack London, Joseph Conrad, Ian Fleming, H.P. Lovecraft, Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard, and many others. I certainly don’t think that should happen at all.
I agree with Mr. Harron on this point.
Robert E. Howard was undeniably racist. Yet, as I’ve argued before, the censorious, Pharisaical urge to purge literature that does not conform to 21st century American political piety is not a good thing. We are not, after all, the apex of history, and the entirety of history has not been an progressive evolution leading to Glorious Us, the wisest and most enlightened of all generations, fit to judge all those who came before.
Just as we look back and condemn 19th century America (and its literature) for slavery and racism and robber barons, so to will future generations one day look back and condemn 21st century America (and its literature) for its libertine obsession with sex, its craven adherence to politically correct speech, its addiction to materialistic pleasure-seeking, its contempt for the elderly and sick and unborn. Previous generations were human, and flawed – as we are.
Besides, previous generations of writers often wrote with a power and vigor that we modern writers cannot match. To censor them would be to deny ourselves their insight into the tragedy of the human condition.