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Seven Of The Most Exciting And Fantastic Adventures Ever Created -- The Unforgettable Tales Of The Mighty Conan.

"Conan Is The Superman --or Super-barbarian, Rather--into Whom The Prolific Robert Erwin Howard Was Best Able To Inject His Furious Dreams Of Danger And Power And Unending Adventure, Of Combative And Sexual Prowess... Conan Is A True Hero Of Valhalla, Battling And Suffering Great Wounds By Day, Carousing And Wenching By Night, And Plunging Into Fresh Adventures Tomorrrow." --FRITZ LEIBER

10 thoughts on “Conan

  1. says:


    I struggled with my star rating for Conan because, despite any mitigating factors, I really love the character of Conan, particularly in the hands of his progenitor, Robert E. Howard.

    Howard had a fiercely creative mind and a burning work ethic that enabled him to crank out some of the most amazing pulp heroes and anti-heroes, including Kull, El Borak, Solomon Kane, the humorous Breckinridge Ellis, and, of course, Conan before taking his own life at thirty years old.

    It is an impressive run, and his characters continue to live and breathe for us almost seventy-five years after his suicide.

    Rereading the first Conan book, an attempt by L. Sprague de Camp (Howard's flame holder) to bring together Conan's short tales in something resembling chronological order, was a real treat: a return to my teenage years of sword and sorcery roll playing, pulp comic book madness, and pubescent wish fulfillment that everything could be answered with a strong fist, righteous violence and that women would swoon for the man who could deliver those things.

    The fondness I have for Conan is hard to shake.

    But there are things that mitigate the quality of the Conan books today, and they are unavoidable. L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, the partners who filled in the gaps in the Conan saga, wrote their own chapters and finished Howard's tales from notes and partially written drafts, are nowhere near as talented as Howard, and their work, which appears in every Conan book of the original cycle, gets in the way.

    It is also tough to swallow the sexism and racism underlying much of Howard's work. The former is blatant and Howard made no attempt to hide Conan's patriarchal proclivities; the latter is not as obvious but Howard himself may have been totally unaware of its presence. Howard was fairly forward thinking for his day, but he was writing pulp in 1930s Texas and we can't expect him to share our supposedly "enlightened" opinions or views of the world. Even so, some of Conan's behavior is tough to take.

    But there is so much that is entertaining and excitingly creative about Howard's writing that I find myself swinging the other way on the pendulum almost as soon as something bothers me. It's so easy to get swept up in Zamoran intrigue or Nemedian murder mystery or Stygian black magic that all other concerns disappear.

    Howard's finest achievement, and one that I have never seen discussed, was the way his Conan narrative unfolded with Conan's role constantly shifting. I'm not speaking about Conan's move from thief to adventurer to mercenary and back again. What I find fascinating is that Howard tells the story of Conan using countless short stories, but Conan isn't always the main character. Sometimes he's nothing more than a peripheral supporting character, yet each occasion of his presence tells us something more about Conan and furthers the chronicle of his life. "The God in the Bowl" and "Rogues in the House" are perfect examples of Conan's shifting narrative role, and these are stories unmuddied by the hands of Howard's followers. The technique of allowing a major character to have his story told through drips and drops is, I think, underused in literature today -- and Howard mastered it with Conan.

    This time through I marveled at Howard's creative and narrative genius, cringed at his antiquated social outlook, and moved through my discomfort to simply enjoy what is -- no matter its flaws -- a classic of Fantasy literature. I love Conan, and I probably always will, but tainted as it is, and as a potential recommendation for others, I can't give it more than three stars -- even if its a five in my heart.

  2. says:

    This book is a copy I bought secondhand many years ago and only decided to start it (finally!) when I participated in a group Conan read in the Sword & Sorcery: "An earthier sort of fantasy" forum at Goodreads.

    The book opens with L. Sprague de Camp’s introduction and a letter written in 1936 by Robert E. Howard to P. S. Miller, which explains his conception of Conan. This is followed by Howard’s ‘The Hyborian Age – part I’, an essay outlining the origins and broad historical sweep of Conan’s world, which I found to be rather dry reading – other readers could easily skip this if they just wanted to delve into the adventures of Conan straight away.

    The first proper story is ‘The thing in the crypt’, by Lin Carter and de Camp, which was OK, but I felt that you could guess each step in the story before it happened. A fire is lit (that will be important later on), a sword is seen (Conan will use it), etc. There were no surprises and no twist; it seemed rather humdrum, although a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old, relatively inexperienced in reading heroic fantasy, might love it! I initially thought that this must’ve been a story written early in Howard’s career before I checked the author credits (authorship is not indicated on the title page of each story).

    Then I read Howard’s ‘The tower of the elephant’, which is rich in description, has a mysterious setting (the eponymous tower and its garden), involves a cosmological aspect reminiscent of a Lovecraft tale, and has a much less predictable plotline. Although I would quibble over a couple of phrases – the top of a circular tower’s walls should be referred to as the parapet as opposed to the ‘rim’ and the use of the term ‘Arctic Circle’ seemed out of place in a supposedly ancient (pre-modern) setting – this was by far a better story than the preceding.

    The next story – ‘The hall of the dead’ – is based on an outline by Howard but was written by de Camp. A tale of treasure-hunting in an ancient ruined city, it was almost as good as ‘The tower of the elephant’. However, I thought (view spoiler)

  3. says:

    I was a teenage barbarian. I grew up in a world of might and magic, sword and sorcery. I learned at an early age what violence could accomplish, and that nothing gets you out of danger as effectively as brute force. I lost my parents at a very young age and wandered the land, living off of whatever I could salvage and slaying those who stood in my way, be they man or beast. It was a time of uncertainty. It was a time of evil. It was a time of adventure.


  4. says:

    Based on a recommendation from my dad, I first read this series when I was eleven. I was pretty much sold as soon as I saw the cover paintings by Frank Frazetta. So, I decided I would re-read all 12 books to see if my general impressions had changed at all since then. Here’s some observations about the 7 stories that appear in book 1.

    The Thing in the Crypt

    As a kid, I only had a vague notion about why three different authors were credited on the cover. Over the years, I think I tried to block out the fact that L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter had partially written some of the stories based on unfinished manuscripts, and in some cases, crafted entire stories on their own. So, it was definitely a surprise to me to realize that what I always thought was the definitive Conan story was not even written by Howard! It’s the very first story in the series! A young Conan is being pursued by wolves; he seeks refuge in a cavernous tomb, and awakens an undead warrior after stealing his sword. It hooked me right away when I first read it, and it holds up very well today.

    The Tower of the Elephant

    Entirely written by Howard, it begins as a heist story and wraps up with an unexpected cosmic origin story. I didn’t recall there being any Sci-Fi elements in these stories at all, although Conan seems unfazed to learn there are worlds other than his own that sustain life. Being the barbarian that he is, he only shows interest in drinking wine, eating meat, and hacking his enemies to death.

    The Hall of the Dead

    This one features a giant slug. I’m sure if I were seconds away from being killed by a giant slug, I would cry real tears, but reading about it just wasn’t doing it for me. There’s also the hall full of dead people that come back to life, which seems redundant so soon after The Thing in the Crypt. Written by Howard and De Camp.

    The God in the Bowl

    Howard is credited as the sole author. This one starts out as a murder mystery, and features the first reference to Thoth-Amon, the Stygian sorcerer who became Conan’s arch nemesis in later stories written by other authors, as well as the Marvel comic series. In one standout sequence, Conan disables a group of attackers by removing a head, ear, eye, and a mouthful of teeth.

    Rogues in the House

    This is another Howard story, and is interesting because Conan starts out as a supporting character. It features Thak, the man-ape from the cover, and also the 2nd appearance of the deadly gas made from black lotus blossoms first used in The Tower of the Elephant.

    The Hand of Nergal

    Written by Howard and Carter, it features one of my favorite descriptions of Conan so far:

    “Naked, splattered from head to heel with reeking gore, he held a mighty longsword in one great, scarred fist. His voice was like the deep growl of thunder.”

    The Hand of Nergal is a Lovecraftian artifact from the stars that has been the source of all sorts of mayhem for thousands of years. The story climaxes with a battle between good and evil in the form of an awe-inspiring light show. It’s the kind of finale I hate, but I’ll cut them slack since it’s an early example of what is now so common place in contemporary genre book and movies.

    The City of Skulls

    This was my least favorite story, and it was written completely by De Camp and Carter. A brief stint on a slave ship was okay, but I was less impressed by the living statue made of gemstones, and Conan’s closing joke about impregnating a rescued princess. You can picture the freeze frame of Conan and his warrior buddy laughing it up, or even high fiving each other. Thumbs down.

  5. says:

    Some relatively pure Howard Conan stories mixed with pastiches. 2 and a half stars.

  6. says:

    I read Robert Howard’s Conan something on a whim. That probably means that at the time I had something really important to do that I really didn’t want to do. However, let’s pretend that I had been wondering what the book would be like, having seen some of the films when I was younger during the age when Arnold Schwarzenegger was an object of my masculine admiration as I made my way up the foothills to the Land of Men. But still, reading the book as a man, would such a series of stories involving mere barbaric might and swashbuckling heroism appeal to me despite my having long since cloaked myself in the high thoughts of the very different form of philosophic heroism? Indeed, it rather did, and somewhat to my surprise. And in fact, it led me to read several of Howard's Conan books and, time permitting (that is, should I find myself in a position to want to avoid more important work enough again in the future), I will very probably read more of them in time. You see, the thing about Conan that I came to admire so much, something that I have no recollection of its being depicted in the film or two that I had seen, is that his manly ranging has a kind of simplicity that earns extra marks because Howard so often sets it against forces of sinister, magical cunning. If I can rudely intrude with the some basic elements of Nietzsche’s thought, one might consider Conan’s adventures to depict a kind of master morality pitted against the forces of slave morality, something like a noble simplicity grounded in bodily strength assailing the forces of revenge. There’s something admirable about Conan’s chronic reluctance to make use of occult forces—even when they are available to him, even when they would almost certainly assist him—and his constant battles against the use of those forces by others. To be sure, Conan is still a cunning warrior, but his cunning seems to me to be sourced in cleaner headwaters.

    Interestingly, …—I’m sorry, let me begin that thought again. Depressingly, as we move forward among Howard’s Conan writings as his literary executors began finishing his unfinished work, Conan begins to take on a very different quality: he begins to become not just more eager to trade in his warrior’s sword for the wizard’s staff, but also to become increasingly dependent on those forces as well.

  7. says:

    I had several series of fantasy books that I read with friends and loved when I was a young teen. As I re-read some of these authors in my thirties I am sorely disappointed at their quality. Piers Anthony and Terry Brooks come to mind (although I do still like Magic Kingdom for Sale despite its faults). I have been lugging the original 12 Conan books with me back and forth across the country for 20 years now and decided it was time to actually read them again--put them to the test, as it were. And you know what? The pulp fiction writer from East Nowhere, Texas, is actually a halfway decent writer. Sure Conan is this massive stud, running around hacking up the baddies, but he has faults. He evolves as a person and warrior throughout his adventures. He always comes out alive, but not always on top. And the whole concept of a pre-history Pangea of warring nations is perhaps one of the great innovations of fantasy writing. Why three stars you ask? In this particular collection, you get the sense that Mr. Howard was feeling out his character and the land he travels. There isn't a lot of variety in either the plot lines or the setting of these adventures. Conan takes to thieving in lands that roughly correspond to modern Italy, Spain, or Greece, he bands up with a fellow thief, the other thief dies, Conan battles supernatural being, Conan wins or escapes by a whisker--sometimes richer, sometimes poorer. Still, there was enough here to keep me going into book 2 and certainly a well deserved 3 stars, probably more like 3.5 stars.

  8. says:

    First time reading any of the Conan books. I liked it.

    Maybe because they're short stories, or because they were written so long ago, I kept getting the feeling like I was sitting around a campfire listening to someone tell a story -- instead of being inserted into the story as if I were there. Something kind of auditory/oral about them.

    Conan is described as having a thick alien accent. This made me wonder if the decision to not dub over Arnold Schwarzenegger's voice acting was a conscious decision.

    Conan seems to have two states of dress:
    1. Naked, but for a loincloth and sandals
    2. Naked
    In the very first story, a naked Conan fights a naked ancient-dead-king-thing. It's very naked. Conan's physique, nakedness and "smoldering eyes" are constantly described. I very much enjoyed moment such as:

    He thought his heart would stop when a voice hissed in a barbaric accent: "Murilo! Is it you?"
    "Conan!" Limp from the reaction, the young nobleman groped in the darkness, and his hands encountered a pair of great naked shoulders.

    But never fear, there are women with very little point or dialogue, who share Conan's clothing philosophy, and tend to nuzzle Conan and/or be carried away with him... to never be heard of again.

  9. says:

    Unabashed pulp fiction that doesn't fail to entertain.

  10. says:

    Still the best. Timeless.

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