Six months ago Bill Ward and I began a re-read of every Conan story that Robert E. Howard ever wrote and completed. Today we’re posting our discussion about the final one, “Red Nails.” We hope you’ll join in.
Bill: “Red Nails” is the last Conan story Robert E. Howard wrote, and it is perhaps a little difficult to look at it without that fact coloring the discussion to some extent — particularly after reading and talking about every other story in the Conan canon! A lot could be (and has been) said about REH’s state of mind at this time, the period leading up to the final year of his life, a year in which he wrote no fantasy at all. Arguably, the final Conan stories seem to show a bit of a distancing between REH and his creation, either through characterization such as in “Beyond the Black River,” or by focusing on other point-of-view characters such as in “The Black Stranger” or, most starkly, “A Witch Shall Be Born.” I think anyone reading “Red Nails” who has some awareness of REH’s life will at some point stop to ponder the question of whether or not he ever intended to return to Hyboria, or if perhaps the Cimmerian himself had run out of stories to dictate at REH’s shoulder. Whatever the answer, “Red Nails” does serve as a fitting farewell to the character and world that have become so dear to so many, offering a story of adventure, intrigue, and exoticism that, while it may not quite be up to the standards of the very best in the series, delivers on all of the promises inherent in a Conan yarn while at the same time offering a few surprises as well — most notably in the character of Valeria.