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What it is that makes Howard so muchcompelling than his many imitators To the untrained eye, it may be hard to see differences, since his faults are sometimesreadily apparent than his virtues, though he has plenty of both Some might try to salvage him from his pulp origins, but despite all his literary aspirations, I m happy to call him a pulp author, and one of the best.I have a great deal of praise for this edition in particular, volume one of a three part series which collects for the first time Howard s Conan stories as he originally wrote them, without the meddling of either magazine editors or De Camp who shamelessly rewrote Howard s unfinished stories to match his own views, and released them as originals It is also first to publish them in pure chronological order, eschewing all and sundry attempts to produce an official internal chronology.Howard meant the order to be somewhat ambiguous, mimicking the epics and histories that inspired the names and events of his stories Our delightful editor plays the old Lit Crit game of connecting all the dots from the Conan tales to their origins in Plutarch, Bullfinch s Mythology, Lovecraft, or Bierce I m indebted to her for helping me to see Conan with new eyes by lending me the perspective of the Howard scholar.Seeing the way his world sprang up from notes, sketches, and maps is fascinating, and the critical essays try to get a littlemileage out of Lovecraft s misunderstanding of Howard s pseudo historical names They are meant to be evocative of a world that, while familiar, still holds surprises We can recognize a type, a historic conflict, terrain, and temperament without being tied down to the specificity of true historical fiction.Howard did not want so narrow a view, and was never a stickler for small details, as evidenced by the singular madness his chronologers develop trying to account for the appearance and disappearance of Conan s red cloak and horned helm throughout the stories Howard liked an underpinning of consistency, but excitement and story always took precedence, which is why, despite drawing names and plots from history much as Shakespeare did , he never let them bog down his stories, always aiming, above all, to entertain.When I say that we get Howard without editorial meddling, we must still understand that he was writing for an audience, and that much of the excitement and titillation in his tales was a sugaring of his pill for the lower denominator Yet for all that, much of his psychology and sexual politics is deceptively complex It is easy to dismiss him as a cliche strong man with an endless following of swooning women, but there is somethingsubtle at work.Firstly, each story that shows Conan in a relationship is written from the point of view of the woman Often, Conan does not even appear until after her character and situation are already developed We rarely get an emotional insight into Conan, into his plans or emotions, but we do see into his heroines, which is the reverse of most fantasy romances.In addition, Conan is often painted as the object of desire The author s vision rests equally on the desirability of Conan and of the women, showing how and why feeling might develop between them Conan, having been raised outside of civil society, cannot charm the women, bargain with them for favors, or fool them His appeal is not that he has wealth, prestige, or grooming, but that he is attractive, confident, physically powerful, guileless, and does not mingle his desires with ulterior motive He is part bad boy , but he is also attractive because he lies outside the arena of sexual politics something like dating someone outside your high school to avoid the judgment, name calling, in groups, and jealousy that would otherwise result.The women are often the victims of civilization that is to say, they have been carefully bred to be beautiful, desirable, and controlled They rarely have power in their own cultures, often finding themselves at the whims of powerful men, and so it makes sense that they would seek out Conan, who is not a part of this unbalanced social system, and who has the physical and mental strength to protect them from reprisal when she abandons that culture.On the surface, The Vale of Lost Women is the story which most condemns Howard as a chauvinist and racist , but there is a subtle subversion within the tale that shows Howard as a muchcanny student of the human condition than most give him credit for The premise of the story doesn t do Howard any favors, and certainly hasn t aged well a well bred white woman has been captured by a barbaric pseudo African tribe by whom Conan has found himself employed.He finds the woman accidentally, during a revel, chained up in a tent, and she begs him to release her, saying that surely not even a barbarian like him would leave a white woman in the hands of the cruel black chief It s hard to read without feeling a lump of political correctness rise in our throats but socially and historically, it s neither and absurd statement, nor an insulting one Odalisques or white, virgin girls were the most valuable in trade for Barbary pirates to Moorish harems Even today, Black women get fewer responses in online dating than any other race sex group Just because it s unpleasant doesn t mean that it isn t socially true, and just because it is a current social fact doesn t mean that it is an ultimate, universal truth We can say it is a social fact that women have been historically controlled and judged by the slut virgin dichotomy, but that doesn t mean that they desire to be controlled, or to be sluts or virgins It also doesn t mean that stories which portray this unfortunate dynamic necessarily support it As students of Nietzsche and Machiavelli know, saying this is how the world is is not the same as saying this is how it ought to be.Let me say that again just because a writer presents white women asculturally valuable doesn t mean that they are anyattractive, intelligent, or worthwhile than any other person Cultural values are funny things, and don t necessarily align with real values Just because someone is willing to pay 500 for a rare Beanie Baby doesn t mean that a Beanie Baby is somehow intrinsically better than a comparatively cheaper encyclopedia or road atlas.It s easy to get hung up on what the author is specifically saying, and hard to step beyond it and look at how and why it s being said A character s statement is different from an author s, and Howard is surprisingly careful to keep social observations in the mouths of characters, and out of the omniscient narrative voice After her appeal to racial loyalty, the woman offers herself to Conan in exchange for being freed from the tribe aghast at the lengths to which she must go But Conan laughs.He laughs and tells her that she is sadly mistaken if she assumes that she can merely trade sex for favors, as she has been taught to do in civilized society It s this simple observation that shows that Howard and Conan are better students of the human condition than they get credit for For Conan, sex does not have this connotation of a social trade, it is an act engaged in out of desire, not coercion He scorns the civilized notion that women are property to be bargained for This separation is the same conclusion Angela Carter makes about De Sade in her incomparable Sadeian Woman that the trade value of sex must be unveiled and demystified in order to approach any kind of sexual equality.We must recall that this understanding of sex is enforced on both sides, and that if women have an artificially increased value in sexual social trade, it will eclipse any other value they have, or that they might wish to have, and few will consider them as anything else.But Conan, being outside of that system, values women differently After his moment of insight, he shocks us back with his barbarism, saying he really couldn t leave a white girl like her in the hands of the chief, and that he s tired of black sluts , which is unpleasant and unsympathetic enough to clamp our minds shut again, though whether it might be true to the world or the character who has hang ups with his own racial identity , I leave up to you After all, it is rare that a person raised under one set of signifiers for attractiveness learns in later life how to appreciate a completely different idea of beauty.He does decide to save her, but not in trade for sexual favor, which once again separates Howard from the thud and blunder writers who followed him Again and again, if we look at Conan s scattered romantic relationships, we see that he is only interested in the fulfillment of mutual desire, and that the woman s side of the relationship is often the one Howard chooses to explore Conan rejects the notion of coercing women, let alone forcing them, as beneath him.He doesn t pressure women, or conquer them, or trade for sex, and the women are constantly surprised at his lack of overture, his refusal to make a game out of the whole thing or a schoolboy s lovesick obsession But then, Conan is less interested in an erotic victory than in mutually beneficial pleasure, even if that pleasure is not socially condoned, and is, instead transgressively focused on female desire Conan s outsider status as a barbarian allows him to approach women onor less equal terms, giving them an opportunity to reject the values which otherwise bind them and to choose for themselves.Sure, the relationships and their consummation might be idealized and romantic they re still pulp and I m not claiming Howard didn t harbor certain racist and sexist opinions, but the way these themes develop psychologically in his work is rarely so simple Howard, like Conan, was a man of contradiction and surprising subtlety.His language also makes his work stand out from the pack high energy, evocative, and well paced, his world and characters are always alive and active on the page He takes generously from his historical and literary influences, playing with vocabulary and style to evoke a far off period without growing so distant that he risks losing the uninitiated, as an eccentric linguist like Eddison is liable to do One thing the reader must come to terms with in order to enjoy him is Howard s repetition He has favored words, phrases, and descriptions that come up again and again throughout the stories, and sometimes they feel like crutches Part of it is that these were to be consumed as single stories, so some repetition would not likely have been noticed but it happens even within a story At these points, I am tempted to compare Howard to the deliberate repetition of the epic tradition of the Homeric Epithet , an oft repeated poetic phrase that becomes part of the rhythm of the text, such as wine dark sea or long haired Acheans or the way every warrior in the Shahnameh is described as a lion, and every beautiful woman is a cypress Howard knows that there is power in phrases, and by repeating them, he creates motifs, identities, and connections But, as usual for Howard, it s a combination of highs and lows we get glimpses of his powerful, poetic language intermixed with his less effective, florid attempts.Butthan even his most effective prose and occasional, surprisingly unoffending poetry , what sets Howard apart is his pure storytelling His sense of pacing is admirable, often cutting out unnecessary scenes that other writers would not have realized were redundant The stories flow along, drawing equally from the verisimilitude of historic tales and the archetypal form of the adventure story.He moves fluidly through themes and styles, combining romance, war stories, supernatural horror, political thriller, and treasure hunting all in one story, maintaining a lilting, surprising pace without losing the story s center His stories as a whole also work to build a grander world, much of it left for the reader to complete between hints and loose threads There is a definite sense of historical discovery in this style, and the first three Howard stories give us Conan as a king, as an untried youth, and as a wary reaver.Read a hundred pages of Conan and you will get a picture of a whole life, a man in different stages, changed by the world We also get a glimpse of that world, and understanding of its places and ways without being explicitly told what they are Compare this to almost any other fantasy writer, and they will come up short.A hundred pages of Tolkien, Jordan, Goodkind, or Wolfe, and you haven t even left the protagonist s home You won t get a view of the world, nor character growth You might read a thousand pages of a fantasy series and see less growth than you would in a few Conan stories.My question has always been what do we gain from those thousands of extra pages Aexciting story Acomplex world A deeper character Sadly, the answer is often no Few authors seem to have taken Howard s lesson that sayingisn t as easy as simply writing .But then, Howard set the bar pretty high There s nothing wrong with pulp, because pulp is written for an audience Too often, these days, one seems to find authors obsessed with a kind of pure writing that refuses to bow to any audience, editor, or sense of fun, and all you re really left with is pretension.Pulp often gets a bad rap the unshy way that it approaches sex, race, and politics can make a modern reader feel awkward, but at least these stories are actually, in a very real way, confronting and exploring those issues and forcing us to do so, as well Though the next two volumes of Conan stories never quite reach the vivacious heights of these early outings, I have to say for all his flaws, it s still hard to find a fantasy writer who can better Howard.My List of Suggested Fantasy Books I ve now discovered that the best way to read Robert E Howard s Conan stories is in big, undiluted doses Do yourself a favor and avoid any of the stories completed or edited by L Sprague de Camp Trust me, you ll be glad you did And don t dip your toes into Conan s world, plunge into it headfirst and stay a while Taken as individual snacks, each Conan story has its sweet spots and its bitter bits But taken as a meal, several Conan stories can provide a rich feast The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian provides enough Conan to satisfy, but not so much to over stuff yourself on the macho barbarian The stories in this volume are presented in the order written, not in the false chronological order that de Camp was so fond of using in his collections of Howard s work interpolated with his own writing, one must note In this order, one can see Howard s writing evolve as the book marches on Howard repeats himself, both in characterization and plot, a few times But this is actually a virtue in this case, as it thickens the character of Conan If the reader is limited to only a few Conan stories, he or she misses the deepening of Conan not growth, necessarily, as he is, at his base, the same throughout But Conan is a deeper character than you might imagine if you have limited your view of him to only a few stories.There are a number of excellent stories in this volume, though none are without fault The Tower of the Elephant, for example, is a great mystical story, unfortunately marred by the unlikely and highly unbelievable encounter with the master thief, Taurus of Nemedia Queen of the Black Coast is as close as you ll get to romance in a Conan tale, a romance that is helped along by Belit the Queen spoken of in the title and her incredible hormonal drive This story really shows Howard at his worst, as evidenced by a huge info dump mid story from the lips of Conan himself I like Conan better when he s talking less, to be honest But Queen also shows Howard at the height of his prose prowess Rising above the black denseness of the trees and above the waving fronds, the moon silvered the river, and their wake became a rippling scintillation of phosphorescent bubbles that widened like a shining road of bursting jewels.It s a little purple, admittedly But any author should be happy with such a vividly descriptive sentence In the end, Queen of the Black Coast is representative of all that makes a Conan story a Conan story mystery, sorcery, lust, and vengeance If you can look past the racism and sexism on display, or at least suppress the urge to stop reading out of sheer disgust at the dated attitudes, there is some good, even elegant, story telling in there Black Colossus might contain the best description of why the barbarian s attitude is sowell, barbaric Conan listened unperturbed War was his trade Life was a continual battle, or series of battles since his birth Death had been a constant companion It stalked horrifically at his side stood at his shoulder beside the gaming tables its bony fingers rattled the wine cups It loomed above him, a hooded and monstrous shadow, when he lay down to sleep He minded its presence nothan a king minds the presence of his cup bearer Some day its bony grasp would close that was all It was enough that he lived through the present. Rogues in the House was one of my favorite stories in this volume, but not because of Conan, who really only played a peripheral role in the story until its climax This story was full of mystery and treachery, with a demonic man beast as the most obvious villain and a bevy of technological tricks disguised as sorcery that lent a refreshing quirkiness to the plot Whatcould you ask for in a Sword and Sorcery tale The Devil in Iron seemed to collate many of the tropes found in earlier stories and is the appropriate culmination of the volume It s as close to a dungeon crawl as Conan ever gets, so if you must get your roleplaying geek on , this is the story for you.A rather lengthy Miscellanea section wraps up the book, but is kind of an anticlimax, if read straight through I would, from time to time, toggle back to this section when I felt reader s fatigue setting in I found that the pieces there on the Hyborian age and on the genesis of Howard s career were welcome temporary diversions that left me recharged to tackleof the stories The two rough maps also helped to contextualize the stories within geographical bounds.I ve missed mentioning many of the stories in this volume This is intentional You may or may not like the same stories I did, but I believe there s enough in The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian to warrant a good, long stretch of your reading time It might be a while before I dive into Conan like this again there are other volumes in the same series , not because I didn t enjoy the journey On the contrary, I liked it so much that I need to be sure to have a good block of time to chew up at my leisure, to really savor the hearty meal that Howard has cooked up Me Like Me Some Yummy Barbarian Cimmerian for Breakfast Buddy Read MLMSYBCfBBR with the Scarlet Citadel Hordes of Doom SCHoD , namely My One and Only Male Hatchling and The Most Dreaded Overlord Mathematically Computed Overall Rating 3.917640615 stars.So Before reading this Slighty Very Bloody Shrimping Entertaining Collection SVBSEC , my knowledge about Conan was limited to this Yes yes yes, I know, I should be disgustingly ashamed of myself And I am, actually Most revoltingly ashamed indeed And I think I deserve to be ruthlessly punished By Conan himself, obviously Ergo, I am officially surrendering my Appropriately Scantily Clad Nefarious Little Lithe Self of the Supple Limbs ASCNLLSotSL in grand Robert E Howard style, thank you very much to the Cimmerian Sweetie Pie, and throwing myself on his Barbarian mercy and stuff view spoiler hide spoiler NOTE Lesson number 4 above was inspired by Ceridwen s legendary review of Ulysses and the evenlegendary comment section following it.The Guest Speaker doesn t know it but the real goal of lesson 4 is to help the instructors spot and weed out incurable ASSHATS.5.0 stars This was my first in depth experience with Robert E Howard s Conan and IT.WAS.PULPTASTICALLY DELICIOUS However, not only was itfun than a dungeon full of giant snakes, but it was also very instructive I learned an awful lot about both myself and the imaginary world around me In fact, throughout the process of reading these wonderful stories, I continued to grow as a mythical figure within my own head until now I believe I am truly ready to sack my first city Now since I live in Las Vegas, my plan is to start with a smaller nearby city that has strategic resources around which I can consolidate my power base I have decided on Pahrump, Nevada which is only about 20 minutes away and has both a Wal Mart and legal brothels Definitely a two birds one stone thing Anyway, from there, I should be able to lay siege to several of the outlying casinos that maintain 24 Hr buffets and from there, by Crom, it is only a matter of time..Sorry about that, my med dosages are all out of whack and I have a tendancy to wax maniacal before they kick in..better now Anyway, when I first started reading these stories, I didn t have really high expectation, despite the glowing reviews from others I assumed the stories would be dated and loaded with several different kinds of cheese However, given the significant influence Robert E Howard and Conan on the fantasy genre, I thought it was appropriate to read at least a few for historical purposes Well, so much for my expectations because I absolutely loved these stories Robert E Howard s writing is lush and descriptive and filled with scrumptious helpings of phasmatastic melodrama The stories are like violently psychotic poetry Add to the wonderfully fun prose world building smoking enough to set your naughty bits on fire and a main character so badass that he picks chunks of guys tougher than Frank Sinatra out of his stool.obscure reference to Phil Hartman on SNL for those of you following along at home Bottom line, these stories are just a blast My only caveat would be that the tone of the stories are similar enough that I found I enjoyed themwhen I only read two or three at a time before going on to something else The following is a brief description of the stories and how I would rate them along with a few notable quotes and some cool pics.THE PHOENIX ON THE SWORD First appearance of Conan in printHither 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 feetTaking place at a time when Conan was King of Aquilonia, plot concerns a group of four conspirators plotting to assassinate Conan and take the crown Notable as the first appearance of the dark wizard Thoth Amon 5.0 STARS THE FROST GIANT S DAUGHTER Arguably the earliest Conan story from a chronological standpoint, the story begin shortly after Conan is the lone survivor of a brutal attack in which over 80 men died As Howard describes the scene The clangor of the swords had died away, the shouting of the slaughter was hushed silence lay on the red stained snow The bleak pale sun that glittered so blindingly from the ice fields and the snow covered plains struck sheens of silver from rent corselet and broken blade, where the dead lay as they had fallen The nerveless hand yet gripped the broken hilt helmeted heads back drawn in the death throes, tilted red beards and golden beards grimly upward, as if in last invocation to Ymir the frost giant, god of a warrior raceConan meets a mysterious woman who takes him to the far North into the legendary realm of the Frost Giants 4.5 to 5.0 STARS THE GOD IN THE BOWL This superb story is a true highlight It is a kind of murder mystery in which Conan has broken into a museum to steal a priceless treasure The story does a create job of expanding on the mythologies of Conan s world and invoking images and possible connections to H.P Lovecraft s Cthulhu mythos It is that connection that I think makes the Conan world building so incredible 5.0 TO 6.0 STARS THE TOWER OF THE ELEPHANT Widely considered one of the single BEST Conan stories, I would certainly agree This story is unique in that the mythology of Conan is expanded to include some significant science fiction elements similar to what HP Lovecraft s At the Mountain of Madness did for the Cthulhu mythos Absolutely sensational story 6.0 STARS THE SCARLETT CITADEL Another superb Conan story In this famous tale, King Conan goes to the aid of a neighboring ruler who tells Conan that a rival King is threatening his border In fact, the two kings have set a trap for Conan with the aid of Conan s archenemy, the wizard Tsotha lanti Conan is imprisoned Tsotha lanti s dungeon, a place where evil experiments are conducted on prisoners and the real meat of the plot is a tour of the dungeon and Conan s attempt to escape Outstanding story 5.5 Stars A notable quote from the story has Conan explaining why his rule islegitimate than the rule of someone inheriting the throne You sit on satin and guzzle wine that the people sweat for, and talk of divine rights of sovereignty BAH I climbed out of the abyss of naked barbarism to the throne and in that climb I spilt my blood as freely as I spilt that of others If either of us has the right to rule men, by Crom, it is I. QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST Conan takes to the seas as a pirate alongside Belit the Queen of the Black Coast A great story and one in which Conan has a true love interest 4.0 STARS BLACK COLOSSUS Conan battles another nasty demon wizard, this one named Thugra Khotan in another superb Conan story 5.0 STARS.IRON SHADOWS OF THE MOON Conan finds himself on a dark island surrounded by cursed soldiers made of iron and has to do a little Barbarian welding on their metal asses A great Conan story 4.5 to 5.0 STARS XUTHAL OF THE DUSK One of the weaker stories in the collection has Conan fleeing with a princess across a desert after surviving a battle and encountering a legendary city and its other worldly inhabitants 3.0 STARS THE POOL OF THE BLACK ONE Another personal favorite of mine We again see Conan playing pirate and he finds himself along for the ride as crew for a ship heading for a mysterious island that is supposed to contain a legendary treasure Unfortunately, it also contains some real nasties or as Howard describes it Conan glared frozen with repulsion and shaken with nausea Himself as cleanly elemental as a timber wolf, he was yet not ignorant of the perverse secrets of rotting civilizations He had roamed the cities of Zamora, and known the women of Shadizar the Wicked But he sensed here a cosmic vileness transcending mere human degeneracy a perverse branch on the tree of Life, developed along lines outside human comprehensionYeah.those kind of nasties 5.0 to 5.5 STARS ROGUES IN THE HOUSE A good story in which Conan is once again caught in the middle of the scheming of two rival princes One of my least favorite from the collection 3.5 to 4.0 STARS.THE VALEOF LOST WOMEN All I am going to say about this one is that if you take the racism, sexism and homophobia and laugh at it because of its absurdity then you might get some real chuckles out of this one Otherwise, good ole REH kinda went off the deep end on this one 2.0 STARSTHE DEVIL IN IRON Conan finds himself sidewise again with a nasty demon named Khosatral Khel Khel having recently been awakened recreates his old fortress complete with giant snakes and zombies Time for a little Conan smack down An excellent way to end the collection 4.5 to 5.0 STARS. Collection of early Conan stories by his late creator Robert E Howard, including Cimmeria 3 5 brief poem describing Conan s homeland The Phoenix on the Sword 4 5 Conan s first appearance is a Game of Thrones esque plot to overthrow the barbarian king The Frost Giant s Daughter 3 5 initially rejected for publication and eventually published posthumously, this brief tale exhibits mythological elements of Conan s world God in the bowl 3 5 Also rejected during Howard s lifetime, this story isa locked room mystery starring Conan the Barbarian The Tower of the Elephant Conan, 3 4 5 Conan the Thief plunders the tower of a powerful magician The Scarlet Citadel 4 5 Conan the King faces a threat to his reign from nearby kingdoms and an evil magician is there any other kind Queen of the Black Coast 3 5 parts of this pirate story are really good, other parts are just laughable Black Colossus 4 5 yet another evil magician threatens to upset peace and happiness in the Hyborian Age Iron Shadows in the Moon 3 5 feels rushed even though all the elements of an interesting story are present Xuthal of the Dusk originally published andoften known as The Slithering Shadow 3 5 Fritz Leiber hated this one, and it is a bit disappointing The Pool of the Black One 3 5 lots of action but overall not one of the best Rogues In The House 4 5 who s run amok in the house of a powerful wizard The Vale Of Lost Women 3 5 sexist, yes, and also a bit silly for a Conan story The Devil in Iron 3 5 Enjoyable, but seems pretty similar to some of the prior stories has the formula started to wear thin But wait, there slet s call it 3 5 stars for all the extras The Phoenix on the Sword first submitted draft interesting to read the originally rejected draft, but the final edit is a tighter,satisfying read Notes on Various Peoples of the Hyborian Age The Hyborian Age a dry but thorough history of Conan s fictitious era Untitled Synopsis Untitled Synopsis The Scarlet Citadel interesting that the entire last half of the story is summed up in 2 3 sentences Untitled Synopsis Black Colossus Untitled Fragment Untitled Synopsis Untitled Draft Hyborian Names and Countries Hyborian Age Maps You ll also get Appendices Hyborian Genesis by Editor Patrice Louinet an interesting essay about the likely inspirations for various Conan stories and also covers some of the changes in each story from the time of writing to time of publication Notes on the Conan Typescripts and the Chronology Notes on the Original Howard Texts Not to mention illustrations throughout by Mark Schultz who also wrote the Foreword, and an Introduction by Editor Patrice Louinet. Conan is one of those great literary characters whose true nature has been swallowed up in the morass of media reinterpretation Howard s Conan the Cimmerian is a giant of a man, yes, but he is not the lumbering bear he later became in the popular consciousness Schwarzenegger is not to blame for that, as this understanding had become the common one long before his films were made check out the earlier comic book versions , and he merely played the character as the script demanded Howard s Conan is muscular, yes, but also dark and lithe and precise he is likened to a panther repeatedly due to his speed and agility Howard s Conan is uneducated and uncivilized and savage, but he is not a bumbling brute he is cunning and clever and feral He is no Aryan demigod, but rather a proto Celt hence his name with jet black hair and dark brown skin He is not trying to avenge his family s slaughter, but simply trying to live in a brutal world in fact, he left his family alive and well because he grew bored with the opportunities available to him among the Cimmerians He kills because he likes to and because he is good at it.Howard is a lot like his most famous creation in that the popular understanding of him does not always match the reality On the one hand he appears to have been a miserable racist, typical of his own cultural milieu but on the other hand he writes stories in which a black prince calls white men dogs and says only a white man would be so soulless as to kill others for money He writes stories of fictional barbarians and witch hunting puritans, but he writes with a beauty and power at which even our most sophisticated modern authors can only marvel If i could be even half the writer Howard was, I would be content. You know, I used to think I hated Conan stories That was before I realized that what I had read were in fact imperfect pastiches written by other writers in the 60 s and 70 s who hoped to cash in on the iconic popularity of the character.This volume presents the stories of Conan the Cimmerian as they were written by his creator, Robert E Howard, and a better group of dashing, creepy, brooding sword sorcery tales couldn t be wished for The stories are presented in the order they were written by Howard, which give us glimpses into various parts of his career from King to freebooter, from thief to warrior, we see Conan forging his way through the Hyborian Age after Atlantis fell There are a load of classics in this volume from The Phoenix on the Sword , a tale of King Conan fighting against rebellion The Tower of the Elephant where Conan, a young thief, meets an otherworldy prisoner when trying to steal a fabled treasure and Queen of the Black Coast a rousing pirate tale in which Conan meets his match andbesides in the female captain B lit It s great stuff Howard s talent proves to be much greater than many of his pulp contemporaries, and while these stories may not win the pulitzer prize any day soon, they give an excellent dose of adventure and fantasy when you re in the mood Conan might even surprise you with a few philosophical words of wisdom, by Crom Great series of books I love the Conan character Conan what is best in lifeI ll be back Oops Right actor wrong character My two favourite characters Arnie played on screen I love the Conan books and the first film not the rubbish remake with the Game Of Thrones actor in it Conan The Barbarian starring Arnold Swartzenegga in it was brilliant Shame he never made a third film before he got all wrinkly like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky 37 Oh That was a pun in the film aeroplane 2 Showing my age now. (E-pub) ì The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Conan the Cimmerian #1) á Poem And FirstTales, In Order Written, Plus Miscellanea Drafts, Notes, Maps By Author Cimmeria Poem The Phoenix On The SwordThe Frost Giant S DaughterThe God In The BowlThe Tower Of The ElephantThe Scarlet CitadelQueen Of The Black CoastBlack ColossusIron Shadows In The MoonXuthal Of The DuskThe Pool Of The Black OneRogues In The HouseThe Vale Of Lost WomenThe Devil In Iron Conan the Barbarian is undoubtedly the best known of the several series protagonists created by pulp era giant Robert E Howard his corpus of Conan stories essentially created the whole sub genre of swords and sorcery fantasy I came to REH s work relatively late in my reading life though I now count him as a favorite author , and was introduced to Conan through the collection The Essential Conan My review of that book is here , and many of the comments there are relevant here Most of the stories assembled here, however, are earlier than the ones in the former collection editor Patrice Louinet has brought together the first 13 Conan tales, arranged in the order that they were written which isn t the same as the publication order and some of these in fact were first published posthumously The only material that appears in both volumes is the last story here, The Devil in Iron, and Howard s essay The Hyborian Age, which provided the pseudo historical and geographical background for his Conan and Kull stories These are set in a world of pagan cultures and civilizations which supposedly long preceded the historical ones in our real world, and which were allegedly destroyed in the latest of a series of apocalyptic cataclysms that altered the shape of the continents, but whose survivors were the ancestors of various races and cultures in our ancient world REH wrote the essay fairly early in Conan s literary life, and the rough outlines of the history and geography it sketches were already in his mind when he typed the stories that preceded it In writing about him and his adventures in the various kingdoms of his Age, Howard wrote, I have never violated the facts or the spirit of the history here set down, but have followed the lines of that history as closely as the writer of actual historical fiction follows the lines of actual history I have used this history as a guide in all the stories in this series that I have written In terms of their literary quality and style, IMO all of the stories here are remarkably consistent, and they exhibit craftsmanship of a high order Conan is a very well realized, round and vibrant character the supporting characterizations are not typically as deep, and some represent types, but they are effectively drawn and differentiated Howard excels at inventive, consistently interesting story telling, excellently paced and with skillful use of scene breaks A lot of action is provided, and it can be grisly gory action While his world building doesn t quite equal Tolkien s he never created actual languages for his various cultures , it comes close, with a highly textured imaginary world resting on a complex, eons spanning back story Personally, I consider him one of the best English language stylists I ve ever encountered his prose is lush, richly descriptive and artistic A number of the Conan stories here consciously incorporate elements of his pen pal H P Lovecraft s Cthulhu Mythos cosmology, with its uncritical evolutionism and its Elder Gods from outer space or other dimensions but Howard is very much his own man, not a Lovecraft clone Lovecraftian motifs are adopted as adjuncts to a decidedly different type of story telling.Reading these stories helps to greatly flesh out Conan s character development, although they re not told in the chronological order of his life The first Conan story, The Phoenix on the Sword, is actually set in Conan s later life, after he has become king of Aquilonia and reigned for some years He s not an amoral thug he has as I noted from the stories in the other collection I read his warrior code of honor, fairness, and loyalty where he thinks it s due, he won t betray a friend, and he notes in The Vale of Lost Women that I never forced a woman against her consent In both that story and the lead story, we also see that he grows morally from the experiences he undergoes But his morality is basically the primitive morality of in group clan, ethnic group, war band against out group loyalty and moral considerations apply to one s own circle, but those outside it, in theory and sometimes in practice, are fair game for violence and predatory behavior He s not an exponent of Christian moral sensibilities not surprisingly, since he lives in a pre Christian world That s why, among Howard s heroes, though I like and respect Conan, I personally prefer Solomon Kane over him, although that s not a majority position In this bookso at least to my perception than in the other one, valid criticisms can be made on the grounds of racism and sexism Portrayals of black characters aren t generally invidious, but Conan s remarks in The Vale of Lost Women, where he explicitly grounds his willingness to rescue a white woman from a black man on their relative skin colors, is frankly racist, as is his black sluts comment Conan s attitudes, of course, are not necessarily Howard s in this and other respects, the author is creating a fictional character who s shaped by his milieu A world in which the white and black races live physically apart and only encounter each other as foreigners, and often as hostile foreigners, is apt to breed negative racial stereotypes, on both sides But it s still off putting and cost the book a star From references elsewhere to the story Queen of the Black Coast, I d formed the impression that pirate queen Belit was black Actually, although her crew is black and she operates off the coast of what is today Africa, she s herself a white Shemite Her backstory is never explained, and to me her whiteness felt like an anomaly resorted to in order to keep Conan from having a romantic relationship with a black woman so an opportunity to break literary ground was wasted there.Also contrary to my previous assumptions, Belit isn t an action heroine type she directs physical action by her crew, but she doesn t take part in it herself, and she svillainess than heroine she s a self servingly predatory pirate apparently in the game for the plunder, generally in the habit of slaughtering all the victims of her depredations with no mercy, and not particularly solicitous for the lives and safety of her own men, either In his pastiche Conan at the Demon s Gate, set not long after the events of this story and including several references to Belit, Roland Green endows her with an anti slave traders agenda, but there s no indication of that here She s pretty much an incarnation of the pulp era stereotype of the manipulative female villain, as is the title character of The Frost Giant s Daughter and Thalis in Xuthal of the Dusk The good females, on the other hand, are largely passive damsel in distress types, also common in the pulp fiction of that day I agree with Louinet that the Xuthal story is a sort of inferior prototype of the last Conan story Howard wrote, Red Nails, but Valeria s character there is a considerable advance over Natala s Several stories provide Conan with a romantic interest and an implied or stated sexual relationship there s no explicit sex in the stories, however , but the female changes in each story, which creates the impression that females exist to be interchangeable transient partners for the male of the species In fairness to Howard, the racial and gender portrayals here have to be considered as only a part of his corpus for example, his Dark Agnes stories present a muchproto feminist view of womanhood and its possibilities, as the shaman N Longa, a valued friend and ally of Solomon Kane, embodies a distinctly different andequalitarian view of blacks.These caveats aside, I did really like and appreciate the stories here for the most part Xuthal of the Dusk, in particular, gives a markedly prescient picture of a community where virtually all of the populace live in aor less constant state of stoned drug dependency, preferring soporific dreams of illusory bliss to any actual constructive activity in other words, the exact vision that much of our political class and punditocracy want to visit on us It s hard to pick out a single favorite selection but if I had to, it would be The Tower of the Elephant This collection also includes Howard s haunting poem Cimmeria, written before any of the Conan stories and not mentioning Conan, but which can clearly be seen as a precursor of the literary vision behind the stories From what I ve read of his poetry, I d say REH had a major poetic talent I agree with Lovecraft that a complete book length collection of his poetry would be a worthwhile publication, but to my knowledge nobody s ever attempted it, even today The considerable appended material of first drafts or incomplete fragments of Conan stories is of interest to Howard scholars, but probably not to ordinary Howard fans at least not to this one and the several reproductions of Howard s sketches of maps of the Hyborian world aren t as clear or easy to refer to as the map in The Essential Conan based on them But Louinet s Introduction and his appended Hyborian Genesis, which explains the background of the corpus as a whole and the individual stories, are fascinating and informative I was particularly interested, among other things, in the influence on Howard of both Plutarch and Bulfinch s The Outline of Mythology where both the name Conan and the place name Cimmeria appear The many illustrations here by Mark Schultz who discusses them in the Foreword are also outstanding.This is a thick, beautiful trade paperback volume, with production values that shout QUALITY In short, this is a must read for serious Howard fans, and indispensable for Howard scholars.