Archives: Conan Re-Read

Later Savage Sword of Conan Volumes

savage sword 13I’m a late comer to The Savage Sword of Conan. You’d probably have figured that, much as I like sword-and-sorcery, I’d have a huge stack of old sword-and-sorcery comics, but I don’t. I missed out on Savage Sword when it was a mag, and I almost missed out on the Dark Horse reprints. There are 22 of the things, which is a heck of an investment. If, like me, you came upon them with little clue but were curious, you’d probably wonder where to start.

I think anyone who’s heard of these has likewise heard that only the first few compilations are good, because those were the ones with Roy Thomas and John Buscema, and only in the first three or four are they adapting actual Robert E. Howard stories. Their work actually continues on into Volume 6, although by that point they’re mostly adapting pastiche tales, and lesser writers are contributing to some comics in the collection. I have to say that sometimes there’s nothing Thomas could do to make the pastiche better, but sometimes he and Buscema really make it more Howardian than the pastichers ever managed, and occasionally they do even better than that.


Robert E. Howard

Robert E. Howard

I was delighted to learn that Bill Ward and I have been nominated for the Robert E. Howard Foundation’s Black River award for our Conan re-read series. That’s certainly not anything either of us was expecting, and it’s quite an honor. My friend Bob Byrne and Black Gate itself are among the other nominees, and I’m pleased for us all. It’s just good company to be in.

pic2786972_mdI’ve been very busy the last few days both with working on a synopsis of the 2nd and 3rd books of my new series, and, in the early morning, play testing my friend Dean’s new board game. It’s a blast, and I mean to talk about it when I’m just a little further along with it. You can click here for some preliminary details.

Friday I’ll have some details on some cool old stories I’ve been reading.

Conan Re-Read: Conclusion

conquering sword conanBill Ward and I have just finished a re-read of every complete story of Conan the Cimmerian written by Robert E. Howard.

Howard: It’s hard to believe it’s been six months since we started this re-read. But then it’s hard to believe it’s over, and it’s hard to believe that there aren’t any more Conan stories. Such a fantastic character practically begs to have more adventures told about him, which is probably why the regrettable Conan pastiche industry popped up. Well, maybe not entirely regrettable, because I’ve read some I’ve really enjoyed. What’s regrettable is that for a long time they were packaged on equal footing with the real thing, or made available even when the real thing was out of print.

Conan Re-Read: “Red Nails”

conquering sword conanSix 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.

Conan Re-Read: “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula”

conquering sword conanToday, on the 110th anniversary of Robert E. Howard’s birth, Bill Ward and I are reading through the Del Rey Robert E. Howard collection The Conquering Sword of Conan. This week we’re discussing “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula,” sometimes known as “Shadows in Zamboula.” We hope you’ll join in!

Howard: Last week I suggested that this one was a bit of a dud, and while that might not have been entirely fair, I still don’t think it’s likely to be anyone’s favorite Conan story. Unlike “The Black Stranger,” though, it was published in Robert E. Howard’s lifetime in the pages of Weird Tales, by its editor Farnsworth Wright. And you can surely feel Howard playing to Wright’s favorite themes. Namely the sexy damsel in distress. You’ll note that she begins the story entirely naked and never once dons a stitch of clothing. It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t so gratuitous. You add that to some rather uncomfortable descriptions of the cannibals, the somewhat stilted opening, and the inn/cannibal trap and the result is less than stellar. 

Conan Re-Read: “The Black Stranger”

conquering sword conanBill Ward and I are reading through the Del Rey Robert E. Howard collection The Conquering Sword of Conan. This week we’re discussing “The Black Stranger.” We hope you’ll join in!

Bill: Like “Beyond the Black River” which precedes it, “The Black Stranger” is a tale set in the Pictish wilderness of Hyboria that sees a vulnerable outpost of civilization overrun by the wild men of the wood. But this time around the threat of the Picts — still an Amerindian analog — serve as more of a backdrop to the infighting and machinations of pirate captains, an exiled nobleman, and a cagey Conan. Again REH draws on the American frontier for inspiration, but it isn’t the dominant theme of the piece, which also manages to end on a far more up tempo note despite the carnage. Wild battles, double-crossing, pirate treasure, and a mysterious demonic stranger are all skillfully woven together into a complex but nonetheless fast-paced adventure that stands solidly alongside the better Conan stories.

Conan Re-Read: “Beyond the Black River”

conquering sword conanBill Ward and I are reading through the Del Rey Robert E. Howard collection The Conquering Sword of Conan. This week we’re discussing “Beyond the Black River.” We hope you’ll join in!

“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,” the borderer said, still starring somberly at the Cimmerian. “Civilization is unnatural. It is the whim of circumstance. And barbarism must ultimately triumph.”

Bill: So concludes “Beyond the Black River,” a story that might almost be REH’s thesis on his philosophy of civilization. It is a story that introduces new elements to Conan’s world, demonstrating again how flexible and expandable REH’s Hyborian blueprint was even after sixteen complete short (and not so short) stories and a novel. But it also maintains a continuity with what has come before, giving us perilous adventure with supernatural antagonists and, of course, Conan being Conan.

Conan Re-Read: “The Servants of Bit-Yakin”

conquering sword conanBill Ward and I are starting our read through of the Del Rey Robert E. Howard collection The Conquering Sword of Conan. This week we’re discussing “The Servants of Bit-Yakin,” occasionally known as “Jewels of Gwahlur.” We hope you’ll join in!

Howard: I expected to like this one less. I try to walk into reading these stories with a pretty open mind, but in the case of Bit-Yakin I recently caught a few articulate REH fans writing about how it was their least favorite, and of course Patrice Louinet mentions, in the concluding essay to the book, that it was probably written quickly to help build up the stock of Conan stories in the Weird Tales inventory. With that in mind I thought I’d be reading more filler. Yet I ended up enjoying it a lot more than “A Witch Shall be Born” — apart from that one great scene we discussed last week — and there’s nothing in this story that touches that.

Conan Re-Read: “A Witch Shall Be Born”

conan blooddy crownBill Ward and I are continuing our read through of the Del Rey Robert E. Howard collection The Bloody Crown of Conan. This week we’re discussing “A Witch Shall be Born.” We hope you’ll join in!

Howard: I had hoped to like this one more. I’ve only read it once before, and I hadn’t remembered it being quite so frustrating. Coming as it does on the heels of a sword-and-sorcery masterpiece it’s even more of a let down, and it seems hard to believe that the man who just gave us such a spellbinding story should trip this way.

Bill: It’s like the steep initial drop on a roller-coaster, minus the exhilaration.

Conan Re-Read: The Hour of the Dragon, Part 2

conan blooddy crownBill Ward and I are continuing our read through of the Del Rey Robert E. Howard collection The Bloody Crown of Conan. This week we’re discussing the second half of “The Hour of the Dragon.” We hope you’ll join in!

Bill: It is only at the midpoint of The Hour of the Dragon that Conan learns the full significance of the Heart of Ahriman, the terrible jewel with the intrinsic power to recall the dead to life or enhance sorcery beyond the bounds of mortal power. He learns this from the priests of Asura, a cult that he has shielded from persecution during his reign, and the same priests not only shelter him and the recently rescued princess Albiona, but they also facilitate his journey southward. From this point until its conclusion, the novel is a race for the jewel as Conan travels not only through the Hyborian Age landscape, but through his own past lives as mercenary, pirate, and thief.