Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Coming Of Conan The Cimmerian!

As can be evidenced by many a post here, one of my favorite characters is Conan the Barbarian. I was the ideal age when the Marvel comic hit the stands and almost at the same time or even perhaps before (I forget) I found a copy of Lancer's Conan the Conqueror in my local library. Since then I've read and followed the creation of Robert E. Howard here and there and most everywhere.

When I first got hold of Ballantine's trade paperback edition The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, I was most pleased the stories were presented in the order in which Howard created the stories. I've never read them in this fashion, so it's been fascinating to watch the development of the character as Howard came to fully realize the aspects of the character which he claims came to him almost unbidden and demanded the stories be told. It's a great yarn, but these collections reveal that Conan is the product of a professional writer who is trying to make a sale in tough economic times and casting about for a formula which will win over his reluctant editors.

These earliest Conan stories showcase the barbaric hero as an seasoned adult in "The Phoenix on the Sword", a story of his kingship in Aquilonia derived from an unsold Kull story title "By This Axe I Rule", or a callow and reckless youth fighting in the far North as a mercenary who encounters a goddess and her bloody brothers in "The Frost Giant's Daughter". This latter story along with "The God in the Bowl" did not sell for Howard, but he did find a sale with "The Tower of the Elephant", a story of Conan's thieving days in Zamora which firmly established the character as something of a hit for Weird Tales. This was soon followed by "The Scarlet  Citadel", another sweeping story of Conan as king which would later inform the only Conan novel. "Queen of the Black Coast" shows us Conan the freebooter who finds true love in the warrior goddess Belit, a story which showed the true potential for the character. "Black Colossus" is a trim Conan story, now an established character finding the sure-footed barbarian battling black magic in remote parts of Hyboria.

What followed are a trio of tales written in quick succession which establish a formula for Conan which include remote ruins, barely-dressed babes, and creepy magical monsters. "Iron Shadows in the Moon", "Xuthal of the Dusk", and " Pool of the Black One" are rip-snorters, but rather predictable stories with some dandy moments. "Rouges in the House" offers up a vivid portrayal with Conan getting side characters worthy of him and a most memorable monster to battle. "Vale of the Lost Women" and "The Devil in Iron" finish off this collection  in fine form. Conan is firmly established, and Weird Tales has an ample supply. Howard has a bonafide hit on his hands.

This volume has some dandy behind-the-scenes documents, drafts, and such which show how Conan came to be, the result of work and some inspiration, not the more mythic origin Howard sometimes touted. We see really in this volume how one of the iconic heroes of the modern culture came to be.

The artwork in this volume by Mark Schultz is vivid and enhances the pure pulp feel of many of the stories. 

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  1. A friend gave me the first Conan paperback (a new edition) back in 1979 or '80, and it was a great little read. I've still got it, so one day I'll dig it out and enjoy it all over again.

    1. Howard's material holds up well. Some of the pastiches don't read as well to me today as they did once upon a time, but the pure stuff is still quite potent.

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