When people think of sword and sorcery, the first think that pops into their head are the tales of Conan the barbarian from the Northern wastelands known as Cimmeria, as originally written by Robert E. Howard.
But it is possible that those stories might have faded into the distant past as the majority of stories did that were published back in the halycon days of pulp fiction had it not been for the diligent investigations of L. Sprague de Camp. Howard’s legacy had been passed on from his father, who continued to work with REH’s literary agent after Howard’s death. But then things got convoluted and confusing. Dr. Howard passed the rights onto a friend, who passed them on to his wife and daughter. From there they ended up with a cousin’s widow, who passed them on to her children. Today, the rights are allegedly held by a Swedish Company, Paradox Entertainment Inc., although questions of copyright renewal arise.
But the point is, had it not been for the de Camp ferreting out Howard’s Conan stories, editing them, rewriting others, and publishing them in fiction magazines and in book collections in the 1950s, today when we speak of Conan, we might all just think of the late night talk show and not our beloved sword swinging barbarian.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m working my way through the Lancer/Ace Conan series of books that were released in the late 1960s and 1970s and blogging about each. I’ve finished the second book in the Lancer/Ace collection of Conan printed in the late 1960s and 1970s, Conan of Cimmeria.
First, here’s the book’s cover, illustrated by Frank Frazetta. This is one of my favorite illustrations of Conan by Frazetta. I had a reproduction of it on my wall back when I was a teen and first reading this series. Not sure what ever happened to it. Looking at it now, I think I’d like to purchase another, frame it, and put it in my library.
The piece is titled, “The Snow Giants,” and also was used as the cover for the American rock band, Dust on their second album release, “Hard Attack.”
Conan of Cimmeria (1969) (by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, and Lin Carter)
“Introduction” (L. Sprague de Camp)
“The Curse of the Monolith” (L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter)
“The Blood-Stained God” (Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp)
“The Frost Giant’s Daughter” (Robert E. Howard, edited by L. Sprague de Camp)
“The Lair of the Ice Worm” (L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter)
“Queen of the Black Coast” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Vale of Lost Women” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Castle of Terror” (L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter)
“The Snout in the Dark” (Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter)
Introduction. A brief essay on Howard and his writings on Conan and his creation of The Hyborian Age, an essay on the prehistory of Conan’s world.
The Curse of the Monolith. First publication was in Worlds of Fantasy Vol. 1, No. 1 in 1968 as “Conan and the Cenotaph” Later publication: Warlocks and Warriors anthology (Mayflower, 1971, ed. Douglas Hill) and The Conan Chronicles (Sphere Books, 1989). The story was also adapted in Marvel’s black and white graphic magazine, The Savage Sword of Conan #33, scripted by Roy Thomas, penciled by Gene Colan, and inked by Pablos Marcos.
A non-Howard story. Conan is a Captain in the Turanian army on a diplomatic mission to Kusan. Returning, Duke Feng, a high noble of the court of Kusan, takes Conan into his confidence: there is an ancient, hidden treasure in a king’s tomb only he knows the whereabouts of. Conan agrees to help him and at the Duke’s behest because of all the dangers, dons all his armor. When they arrive at a tall stone monolith and all the metal digging tools are snatched from Conan’s grip and quickly he becomes ensnared in the unseen magnetic force until he too is stuck fast to the stone. Feng plays a weird tune on a pipe and an amoeba-like creature materializes at the top, slowly oozing it’s way down to devour Conan. As a de Camp/Carter story, it isn’t bad and has enough of a Howardian feel to it that it fits in just fine.
The Blood-Stained God. This is from an unpublished story by Howard, found and rewritten by de Camp, called “The Trail of the Blood-Stained God” that was set in modern Afghanistan featuring another Howard character, Kirby O’Donnell. In rewritten form, as a Conan tale, it was first published in 1955 collection Tales of Conan (Gnome Press, 1955).
The story concerns Conan seeking out the people who stole a treasure map from him. He comes upon a Kezankian prisoner being tortured and intervenes. In the process he is knocked unconscious but awakens in the company of an Iranistan named Sassan. They agree to become partners, until such time as it’s convenient that one kills the other, to find the treasure in an ancient, hidden temple in the mountains. As a modern middle eastern story crammed to fit into the Conan mold, it isn’t badly done, and in fact, has an interesting middle eastern flavor to it that, I’m guessing, de Camp couldn’t completely eliminate without totally rewriting the entire story. My only issue with the story is the supernatural element, which is a statue of a god coming to life and just sort of smacks of the story, “The City of Skulls” from the first book in this series, Conan.
The Frost Giant’s Daughter. An REH story that was rejected Weird Tales. Howard rewrote it, changed the character from Conan to Amra of Akbitana and retitled it, “The Frost King’s Daughter.” It was published in the March 1934 issue of The Fantasy Fan under the title, “Gods of the North.” L. Sprague de Camp found the story and rewrote it. The new version was published in the August 1953 issue of Fantasy Fiction. It was also published in The Coming of Conan (Gnome Press, 1953). Later publications were in The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003). The story was also adapted by Marvel in Conan the Barbarian #16 by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith.
Conan is on a battlefield facing the last Vanir. Conan defeats him but is exhausted and collapses. He is surprised to hear a woman’s laugh and he sees a beautiful, nearly naked woman. She taunts him and he rises to give pursuit. She dances just out of his reach as they travel miles toward the mountains, until she leads him into a trap set by her two frost giant brothers. (See cover illustration.) I’ve always enjoyed this story in the various incarnations of it I’ve read. I think its the dream-like quality of the story that even Conan isn’t sure any of it happened. In the end, he’s found half-frozen in the snow by his comrades who do their best to thaw him out as he tells his story. They disbelieve him until they manage to open his hand and find a gossamer raiment from the girl.
Conan the Barbarian #16, July 1972, cover by Barry Smith
The Lair of the Ice Worm. This De Camp/Carter stories appears in print here for the first time. It is later republished in The Conan Chronicles (Sphere Books, 1989). I think the term “filler” is fitting here. It is a forgettable story and is thrown in simply to show what a 23-year-old Conan did between the previous story and the next.
Queen of the Black Coast. This story first appeared in the May 1934 issue of Weird Tales. It was reprinted in Avon Fantasy Reader No. 8, 1948, and The Coming of Conan (Gnome Press, 1953). Later publications were in Sword & Sorcery annual (Ziff-Davis, 1975), The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003). It has also been adapted by Marvel in Conan the Barbarian, with a story arc about Bêlit introduced in issue #57 and continued until #100. Most recently, it is the basis for three issue story presented in Dark Horse Comics’ Conan the Barbarian #10 – #12.
Bêlit! This is as classic a Howardian epic as there is. The ship Conan has hitched a ride upon is beset by pirates. Conan, the only real warrior on the ship and the only one wearing armour, is the sole survivor, and he battles the pirates like a living hurricane, until:
Befit sprang before the blacks, beating down their spears. She turned toward Conan, her bosom heaving, her eyes flashing. Fierce fingers of wonder caught at his heart. She was slender, yet formed like a goddess: at once lithe and voluptuous. Her only garment was a broad silken girdle. Her white ivory limbs and the ivory globes of her breasts drove a beat of fierce passion through the Cimmerian’s pulse, even in the panting fury of battle. Her rich black hair, black as a Stygian night, fell in rippling burnished clusters down her supple back. Her dark eyes burned on the Cimmerian.
Conan meets Bêlit the pirate and it’s love at first site. If you want to read it now, it’s available for free at Gutenberg Project. And lest I forget a chance to rip on the 1982 schlockfest known as Conan the Barbarian starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. That movie took a small piece of this story and incorporated it rather poorly (Warning: SPOILER): the idea where Bêlit dies, promising to return to protect Conan in time of need. It was an embarrassing scene with Sandahl Bergman all silver, sparkly, and silly, saying, “Do you want to live forever?” Well, yes, if dying means I have to dress like that. Adapting “Queen of the Black Coast” as written would make a glorious movie, but as usual, Hollywood thinks they can write better than Howard and just pick and choose concepts instead of adapting stories whole cloth.
The Vale of Lost Women. An original Howard story that was published posthumously for the first time first published in The Magazine of Horror, No. 15, Spring, 1967. Later publication came in The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003). It was adapted by Marvel Comics in Conan the Barbarian #104.
More of Howard’s wonderful prose, but although this is a Conan story, it’s told from the point of view of Livia, a woman held prisoner by a Bakalah jungle tribe. Enter Conan, who is chieftain of a rival tribe at this point. Livia sneaks out of her tent (not much of a prisoner) and enlists Conan’s aid to free her, promising if he kills the king, he can have his way with her. Conan agrees and the next day his warriors launch their attack. Livia, not wanting to be ravished, escapes in the confusion, but ends up lost and wanders into an ancient valley that legend says is filled with ghost women. It is and they capture her to sacrifice to their giant bat-god. Will Conan save her?
The Castle of Terror. Another de Camp/Carter Conan pastiche that appears here for the first time and is reprinted in the The Conan Chronicles (Sphere Books, 1989).
Another filler piece that is part “The Thing in the Crypt” and part “The Vale of Lost Women” in that here Conan is traveling across the plains, being pursued by lions this time instead of wolves, and he comes upon an ancient citadel this time instead of a rock cave, that is filled by male spirits this time instead of female. Anyway, the spirits are energy suckers, but they’ve been starved for so long, they can’t suck Conan’s energy. So they start to coagulate into one monstrous spirit being while Conan sleeps just as a group of Stygian slave traders enters to escape the rains. The spirit monster is attracted to them because there is more “food” upon which to eat. The monster made up of hundreds of heads, arms, and legs, attacks and in the confusion, Conan makes his escape.
The Snout in the Dark. This story was rewritten by de Camp/Carter from an outline and the first half of a rough draft started by Howard. It is published here for the first time and later reprinted The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).
It’s a story of political intrigue and murder that takes place in Kush within the walled city of Shumballa. The city is inhabited by the Gallahs, but ruled by arristocratic rulers called Chagas. The Queen is Tanada, but a noble, Tuthmes, wants the thrown. So he plots to overthrow her using a wizard who uses a pig-like demon that can materialize out of thin air. The queen has thrown Amboola, a person loved by the Gallahs into prison. Tuthmes kills him using the demon, then blames Tanada for his death. While Tanada is out riding in the city, the angered Gallahs attack. Just as Conan appears, who saves her life and is rewarded by becoming her Captain of the Guard and lover. In the end he thwarts Tuthmes plans but the Gallahs rise up and kill all the Chagas and Conan is on the road again.
All in all, Conan of Cimmeria was a fun read, pastiches and all. If you enjoy Conan no matter what, it might be fun to seek these books out. They’re available online inexpensively (unless you’re looking for first editions) from various used book outlets and to me, with the Frazetta covers, they make a fine addition to anyone’s Conan collection.
Otherwise, if you just want your Conan as written by Howard, the Del Rey additions of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Conquering sword of Conan, and The Bloody Crown of Conan are mandatory. They present every Conan story as it was originally written, plus all of the fragments and outlines Howard wrote on his famed barbarian. Well worth seeking out.
So, until I finish Conan the Freebooter, remember: To crush your enemies — See them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women! (Which, not surprisingly, is actually a quote that Conan the Barbarian movie lifted from Harold Lamb’s book, Genghis Khan: The Emperor of All Men.)