Conan (Conan #1)

Conan - Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter Yes, it's that Conan--the one that inspired the Schwarzenegger film, Conan the Barbarian. The best way to give you a flavor of the stories and the character is to quote you a bit that appears above the first story published and familiar from the film: Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars... 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 sandalled feet."--The Nemedian Chronicles. As it turns out, the character wasn't established in a novel, but in 17 stories by Robert E. Howard published in Weird Tales from 1932 to 1936, most of novelette length, and only one was a novel. There were four other Conan stories published posthumously and three fragments and a synopsis. This particular book is part of a series that puts the tales in chronological story order, with the unfinished stories completed by others and pastiches--basically fan fiction by pros--used to fill in the gaps. So this isn't a novel, but a collection of shorts, and not all by Conan's creator. This book features seven stories, and only "The Tower of the Elephant," "The God in the Bowl" and "Rogues in the House" were completed by Howard. "The Hall of the Dead" was written from Howard's synopsis by L. Sprague de Camp and "The Hand of Nergal" was completed from a Howard fragment by Lin Carter. Two pastiches by Carter and de Camp bookend the Howard stories. That primarily is why I wouldn't recommend this particular book, especially since the Howard ones are much more striking. I'd seek out instead a collection only of the Howard stories. I saw one titled Conan the Barbarian in Barnes and Noble recently that purportedly included those Howard stories that inspired the film. This is pulp fiction, sure, but although Howard's style is colorful, unlike say a recent read in the genre, A Merritt's The Ship of Ishtar, it wasn't so purple to be off-putting--just seemed to very much set the right atmosphere, which reminded me of nothing so much as a video game at times--one of those role playing ones where you get to play a sword-wielding barbarian fighting monsters and mages. Howard himself according to the introduction said he liked characters like Conan because they're "simpler... They are too stupid to do anything but cut, shoot, or slug themselves into the clear." Not admittedly ordinarily my sort of hero. None too bright in these stories, beyond a facility in languages, and no more dimensional than onion paper, although Conan does have some compassion and a sense of honor. It's a fun world with hints of our own historical times, but Conan is too much the loner for my tastes--no continuing love interest or close friend or family or loyalties. That might change in the later books, particularly since I've read he does later take on a leadership role. I liked this book enough to at least go on and read the one other in this series on my bookshelf, the one Conan novel by Howard, Conan the Conqueror.