Conan the Wanderer is book 4 in the Lancer/Ace series of Robert E. Howard’s Conan published back in the late 60s and 70s. It is a collection of four stories edited by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. This was one of the non-Frank Frazetta covers and was illustrated by John Duillo.
As I’ve stated in the blog posts for the previous books in this series, these are Conan’s stories as published in chronological order, not as they were written and published by Robert E. Howard, who had a tendency to jump around the Cimmerian’s life and write stories out of sequence. But L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter put the stories in order according to a chronological timeline as proposed by P. Schuyler Miller and Dr. John D. Clark, who had discussed it through letters with Howard. De Camp and Carter also wrote stories to fill the gaps in Conan’s life.
This was not one of my favorites in the series. Much of that, as explained in my review of Conan the Freebooter, has to do with the fact that Frank Frazetta did not do the cover. I guess, for me, I do just a book by its cover. The stories here aren’t bad. For example, “Shadows in Zamboula” is a strong Howard effort and “The Flame Knife” is a rousing rewrite of a Howard Oriental tale to suit the Conan chronology. But I was fifteen at the time, reading Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Philip Jose Farmer, Michael Moorcock, John Jakes, Fritz Leiber, John Silverberg, John Brunner, and many other wonderful writers of fantasy and sci-fi, and in the over scheme of things, this particular anthology just sort of fell short of the others.
Reading it again, however, I enjoyed it now much more than I did then.
Conan, as the preface to the first story states, “is about 31-years old at this time and at the height of his physical powers.” Let’s get into it, shall we?
Conan the Wanderer (1968) by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
“Introduction” (L. Sprague de Camp)
“Black Tears” (L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter)
“Shadows in Zamboula” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Devil in Iron” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Flame Knife” (Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp)
Introduction. As always, de Camp starts things off with a little essay on Howard and Conan.
Black Tears. A pastiche written by de Camp and Carter. First published here. Later reprinted in The Conan Chronicles 2 (1990) by Orbit Books.
Conan and his band of Zuagirs are chasing Verdanes, the man who betrayed them to the Turanian army but managed to turn around the surprise and slaughter the Turanians, across the desert. His men ask Conan to stop the pursuit because up ahead is the cursed Land of Ghosts. Conan won’t be put off and his men desert him in the middle of the night leaving not enough water to return, so he decides to continue on.
Conan reaches the mythical city of Akhlat the Accursed and is caught and dragged into the city, where they cleanse his wounds and heal him. Conan is brought before Enosh, who explains that his people are held prisoner of a demoness, but there is a prophesy that the city will be liberated and Conan is that liberator.
Meanwhile, Verdanes, also captured by the city dwellers, has been thrown into a room with several realistic looking statues. Statues that cry and moan. He sees a mummy on a throne with a bejeweled mask. His greed gets the best of him and he grabs the mask, but the mummy is alive and awakened, and Verdanes begins to feel himself turn to stone.
Conan decides to help Enosh and enters the hall that Verdanes had entered. Will Conan survive the now youthful gorgon? You’ll have to read for yourself. If you can find a copy. It’s not a bad story despite not being written by Howard, but then, I’m a fan of both de Camp and Carter.
Shadows in Zamboula. Originally published in Weird Tales in 1935 as “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula.” Republished as “Shadows of Zamboula” in Conan the Barbarian (Gnome Press, 1954), The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000), and in Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Three (1935-1936) (Del Rey, 2005) under its original title, “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula.”
Conan is warned by an old beggar to not return to the inn he has paid for a night’s lodging at, but Conan goes to the inn anyway and finds out the awful truth of being a lodger at the inn run by Aram Baksh. I don’t need to go into too much detail. It’s a Howard original and the original title gives away some of the storyline. Go read it.
The Devil in Iron. First published in Weird Tales in 1934. Republished in Conan the Barbarian (Gnome Press, 1954), The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).
When I was reading this story I thought it was a pastiche by de Camp and Carter because it seemed to borrow heavily from another Conan story, “Iron Shadows of the Moon” that appeared in Conan the Freebooter. Turns out, it actually is a Howard story. It’s not badly written, but as I said, it seemed to have a lot of elements from the previous story, including taking place on an island in the Vilayet Sea, the supernatural elements, and the similarity in the names of the girls, both who have escaped their captors to be protected by Conan, Octavia in this story and Olivia in “Iron Shadows.”
The Flame Knife. Revised by de Camp from an unpublished Oriental Howard tale featuring Francis X. Gordon titled, ‘Three-Bladed Doom.” It was published as a Conan story in Tales of Conan (Gnome Press, 1955).
It’s a rousing adventure tale where raiders kidnap Conan’s then flame, Nanaia, and Conan pursues them into their hidden city. It is filled with lots of military action as Conan’s men clashed against two other factions and runs into his old enemy, Olgerd Vladislav, who had freed him from the cross back in the story “A Witch is Born.”
Next up, Conan the Adventurer, which is the fifth book in the series, but was actually the first book published, and also the first of the series I read.