Saturday, December 13, 2008


By Robert E. Howard

Of all the pulp authors still in print today, who is remembered for crafting a multitude of boxing stories, most of them humorous? Think hard. Time’s up. For the answer read the author’s name listed above.

Perhaps Robert E. Howard’s strong output of boxing tales (some sixty eight, based on titles listed on HowardWorks) is best known to die-hard REH fans. However, it need not be. Wildside Press has produced books such as Waterfront Fists and The Complete Action Stories (replete with fistic exploits), the University of Nebraska saw fit to devote an entire volume to REH’s boxing stories as part of its series of Howard anthologies.

Boxing Stories is a sampler of REH boxiana, including several tales of Sailor Steve Costigan, a seaman on a tramp freighter who doubles as a waterfront palooka. His adventures take him though numberless foreign ports where his efforts to maintain his reputation as the boxing champ of seafaring crowd are inevitably more successful than his efforts to win the love interest. Sailor Steve was the character REH used the most. Costigan is featured in thirty tales, not counting others re-written to feature Dennis Dorgan as the protagonist, more even than Conan.

Not all of REH’s boxing tales are comedies. This collection marks the first appearance of the restored “Iron Men”, which has only appeared in heavily re-written versions. It’s a grim tale of a stubborn ring gladiator who has to choose between a career as a boxing kamikaze and the love of a good woman. Some of REH’s boxing related poetry appears as well. Last but not least is the excellent introduction by Chris Gruber, a Howard scholar and boxing enthusiast.

Boxing stories weren’t just a writing job for REH. He was a fan of the sport and was part of an informal boxing club where he watched and participated in amateur matches. Steve Costigan, the boxing sailor was such a part of REH’s personal mythology that he gave the name to the protagonist of his semi-autobiographical novel Post Oaks and Sand Roughs. For fans of old-time pulp, Boxing Stories is an excellent read, for REH fans it is essential reading.

-Dave Hardy


Charles Gramlich said...

I have this and am looking forward to the restored Iron Man, which was a great story in the form I first read it in.

Dave Hardy said...

I need to dig out my dusty old copy of The Adventures of Dennis Dorgan and re-read some of those.

Chris Gruber said...

Really late in saying this ( I just stumbled across your blog looking for War on Whiskey Road) but thanks for the review! As fond of Dorgan as I am - I came to Howard's boxing tales via the Adventures of Dennis Dorgan and The Iron Man collections - now you can read all the tales in the original glory courtesy of the REH Foundation Press in the form of Fists of Iron volumes 1-4 and a possible 5th volume. Thanks again, Dave!