Carter & de Camp Pastiche

savage-sword-4A few months ago I pulled down my old Conan paperbacks to re-read what I’d remembered as a pretty decent pastiche, de Camp’s “Halls of the Dead.” The bones of the story were pretty good, most likely because they were from a very detailed outline Robert E. Howard himself had set down (now popularly known as “the Nestor fragment”). But man, was the execution terrible.

And in the past few months I’ve been exposed to more de Camp pastiche than ever as I worked through various Savage Sword of Conan volumes. On the whole, they’re just not very good, even in outline form.

The only exception I suppose I have is when de Camp changed names and settings in one El Borak story and turned it into a Conan tale. Even that isn’t entirely successful — until it makes its way into comic form in a Savage Sword story, at which point, in the hands of Buscema and Thomas “Sons of the White Wolf” kicks an awful lot of sword-and-sorcery butt.

Do any of you enjoy the de Camp and Carter pastiches? If so, which ones?

14 Comments on “Carter & de Camp Pastiche

  1. The De Camp and Carter stories were as dull as dishwater. Carter was very important as an editor, but not much of a writer. Some of De Camp’s other fiction was okay and some of his non-fiction pretty good, but his Conan stories were not worth bothering about.

    • I have semi-good recollections of some of Carter’s Conan stories but haven’t revisited. I know I DID like a handful of his short stories, one of them quite a lot, and two of his books. I found most of the rest unremarkable. I certainly have a great deal of respect for him as an editor. Oh, and I recently discovered a poem he wrote about Conan, in one of the Savage Sword volumes, which I thought pretty moving, actually.

      I have less love for de Camp’s fiction, which usually strikes me as a little bloodless, if sometimes interesting. On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed some of his non-fiction.

  2. “Sons of the White Wolf” is one of the few stories that sticks in my head from Savage Sword. I’ll have to revisit it and see if it lives up to my teenage memories.

    • Yeah, it was pretty darned good — stand up and take notice kind of good. One of the best arguments I have for holding onto some of the Savage Sword volumes. If I was going to convince someone interested but skeptical to see how good they could be, I’d hand them that adaption.

  3. I rather enjoyed Conan of the Isles, in a light, fun manner. Some of the stuff in Conan the Swordsman was ok. The Liberator and The Spider God are truly horrific…

    • See, I’ve just sold off my copy of Conan the Swordsman. should I speed read it before I send it away? Hmm. Never tried Conan of the Isles, although I retain my copy to this day… You’re not the first person to suggest that it has some moments worth a look. Maybe this winter I’ll finally try it.

      • They are both worth a quick read, but don’t expect too much. Kinda like later Savage Sword issues; ok stuff. I think the Howard purists are too harsh on pastiche sometimes, although not always incorrect. Keep an open mind, expect little, and then it’s ok fun. Of course, you’re mileage may vary…

  4. I remember (long ago) liking de Camp’s reworking of the El Borak story “Three-Bladed Doom” into a Conan story (“The Flame Knife”). And then I read the original version a few years ago, and… it just didn’t work. The main reason, I think, was that while the trope of the the “Old Man of the Mountains” and his Ismaili Assassins hatching sinister plots on their mountaintop lair (which shows up in Elizabeth Bear’s “Eternal Sky” trilogy) fit pretty well into the hodgepodge, pseudo-medieval setting of Conan, dropping it into the 20th Century — and expecting us to see the Neo-Assassins as somehow a legitimate threat to world order — was just too anachronistic and silly.

    • I read too many El Borak stories in a row, and they’ve kind of blurred together for me, so I can’t comment on that one. Maybe I”ll take a look at de Camp’s adaption of “The Flame Knife” again. Didn’t he do that in a separate book that wasn’t part of the massive Conan paperback collection?

      You ever read “Alamut,” Harold Lamb’s take on the mountain stuffed with assassins? I think it was that story that really made me a fan

      • I remember that “The Flame Knife” appeared in one of those heavily illustrated Ace paperback formats. It’s possible that if I re-read it now, I wouldn’t be impressed, and my memories may also be colored by the illustrations.

        No, I have yet to read any Harold Lamb, but I’ve made notes to do so based on your recommendations; I’ll add “Alamut” to the list!

  5. I read the Flame Knife several years ago. I was going to comment on how good or bad it was but i can’t hardly remember a thing about it. Except for a small part of the end and the beginning. So i guess that means it wasn’t very good.

    I still remember most of the Howard stories i only read once.

  6. I read one of the Carter/de Camp pastiches as a teenager. I don’t remember which one. Unfortunately, because I hadn’t read any of Howard’s work at that time, I assumed the quality of his writing was similar. As a result, I avoided anything by Howard for a couple of decades. When I finally did read his stuff, I realized, of course, that it was miles above the pastiche. So, though I have enormous respect for Carter as an editor, I have to say he did me a disservice in that regard.

    Nice website, by the way. I’ve been using it as a model as I redo my own site. I hope that doesn’t make my website another “Howard pastiche.”

    • Hey James! Great to see you here. I’m glad you like the design. Did you see that I purchased it from Organic Themes, and was then able to modify their template via their programmed options?

      I was delighted to see that there was a third Evenmere book. The moment I saw that Black Gate article on it, I purchased both the revised False House and Evenmere along with it. (I already own two copies of The High House — I wanted a copy in hardback!)

  7. Curiously, SSoC #37 was one of the very few of the first 60 issues of SSoC that were not reprinted in Conan Saga. I own a complete run of the latter but had to snatch an original of SSoC #37 during my quest to amass all of the Roy Thomas Marvel Conan material.

    The other few that were not reprinted were:
    #45 The Gem in the Tower (excellent)
    #46 Moon of Blood (excellent)
    #59 Wolves Beyond the Border (OK), although the main feature in that issue (City of Skulls) did see a reprinting in CS #64.

    After Roy left, some stories which he had probably already written before leaving, were published in SSoC #66 through #69 after Michael Fleisher had already started soiling, excuse me, writing regularly for the mag. Of those issues, #68: Black Cloaks of Ophir, stands out.

    And here concludes my random interjection.

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