“Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.”
-Robert E. Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword
Have you heard of Robert E. Howard? While I hope that you have heard of him, you are certainly not alone if you have not. I am ashamed to admit that I did not even know about him until five years ago. Let’s try this again:
Have you heard of Conan the Barbarian?
While I love Arnold Schwarzenegger in all of his 80′s action glory, his Conan portrayal does leave a bit to be desired. Conan’s brute strength is important, but his quick wits and natural instincts are just as important to the character’s development as his ability to cleave his enemies in twain with a ginormous blade.
That leads me to wonder how Robert E. Howard’s Conan achieved lasting fame, whereas the author himself seems only be truly known within a niche audience. Whether you love (or hate) the various films versions (of highly varying quality) of Conan that have crept up over the years, you owe it to yourself to experience the character as Robert E. Howard originally envisioned him.
The Complete Chronicles of Conan is the ultimate collection of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories. Howard is the father of the “sword and sorcery” fantasy sub-genre, and his world building is truly impressive. A map of the world (an ancient version of Earth) graces the inside cover of the collection and is followed by Howard’s own essay “The Hyborian Age” which thoroughly explains his world’s history. The rest of The Complete Chronicles of Conan is full of short stories and even a couple of novella length works such as Red Nails and The Hour of the Dragon, and Howard’s poems are featured between tales.
If you are not familiar with sword and sorcery fantasy, you need look no further than Conan. Conan is a larger than life figure who leaps off the page and dominates every one of his tales. Conan is often armed with a gigantic sword of beheading (he does a lot of beheading) but is equally deadly bare-handed. The magic in Howard’s world is often very dark and costs the sorcerer (or their beautiful female sacrifice) a horrible price. Conan faces down hideous creatures (and the occasional dark god) with the same grim resolve that he leads armies into glorious battle.
For what it is worth, I wrote my master’s thesis on the Gothic elements in Red Nails, so that should indicate how highly I value Howard’s work. Conan is, as most scholars would say, crazy-pants awesome. As a barbarian, he is free to wander and adventure wherever he will. The chronicles of his adventures make for some of the very best tales that I have ever read.
Click here to purchase The Complete Chronicles of Conan