Most have heard of Conan the Barbarian, but do they know the literary character and not the movie or comic books character? There is a world of difference, and Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, was one heck of a writer.
This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced one fantasy author.
Conan of Cimmeria
by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
The Thieves’ World collection of short stories might have been my original introduction to the fantasy sub-genre of Sword and Sorcery, but I wasn’t about to start there. As a boy and young teen in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I yearned for more fiction of sword-slinging heroes, evil wizards and things that skulked in the night.
Fortunately, I discovered a little paperback book in a used book store in my hometown. The title was “Conan of Cimmeria.” It was a collection of original short stories by Conan creator himself Robert E. Howard with some additional editing and writing by authors L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter.
It was like doing crack for the first time. Or maybe heroin. I don’t know. Never did either. But still, it was awesome discovering not only Conan, but more importantly the writing of Robert E. Howard.
Howard is a damn good writer. He knew how to spin action just right, how to weave intriguing plots. He was awesome, and even today, his writing stacks up quite well against even the best of today’s fantasy authors.
Of course I had heard of Conan and Howard before finding “Conan of Cimmeria.” The Conan the Barbarian comic books had been popular when I was a kid in the 1970s, though I had always leaned towards the super hero comics myself. Then the first Conan movie came out in 1982 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and though that movie isn’t completely true to the Conan character, it’s still a fair fantasy flick.
Over the years, I’ve delved into more and more of Robert E. Howard’s writing. I’ve read many of his Conan tales, as well as a good number of stories about his other fantasy characters such as Bran Mak Morn, Kull, Cormac Mac Art and others. What has impressed me more, however, were the non-fantasy stories of Howard I’ve read. From the Steve Costigan character in boxing tales to Howard’s Western adventure writings, it soon becomes apparent this fellow could write and write well, even outside the fantasy genre which has embraced him for the last century.
If you’ve not discovered Howard’s writings, I suggest you do. Or if you’re a fantasy fan who has only read Howard’s Sword and Sorcery tales, I suggest you read his other works. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t.
Up next: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, by Alan Dean Foster