Conan the Warrior is book 7 in the Lancer/Ace series of Robert E. Howard’s Conan published back in the late 60s and 70s, even though the top of the cover says “Volume Two of the Complete Conan.” It is a collection of three stories edited by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter.
This novel again is adorned with a beautiful piece of art by Frank Frazetta. I assume it’s from the story “Beyond the Black River” showing Conan battling a horde of Picts.
All three stories in this collection were written and published by Howard in his lifetime, so if you pick this one up you will be pastiche-free. These are his stories; maybe not his words, not completely, because de Camp and Carter were supposedly editing whores when it came to the Conan stories, at least according to the Howard purists. I don’t know how true that is, I haven’t compared these story versions to the clean Del Rey versions from 2005. Suffice to say, however, these aren’t fragments or unfinished stories. The man wrote them in their entirety himself.
Of the three stories, “Beyond the Black River” is the best of the three, yet I have always had a soft spot for “Red Nails” despite its flaws as I’ll explain below. It was adapted most admirably by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith in the black and white magazine, Savage Tales.
Conan, at this point, is in his late thirties.
Conan the Warrior (1967) by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
“Introduction” (L. Sprague de Camp)
“Red Nails” (Robert E. Howard)
“Jewels of Gwahlur” (Robert E. Howard)
“Beyond the Black River” (Robert E. Howard)
Introduction. As always, de Camp starts things off with a little essay on Howard and Conan.
Red Nails. First serialized In Weird Tales, July through October 1936. Republished in The Sword of Conan (Gnome Press, 1952), Conan the Warrior (Lancer Books, 1967), The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) and The Conquering Sword of Conan (Del Rey, 2005). It was also adapted in Marvel’s comic magazine, Savage Tales issues #2 and 3, by written by Roy Thomas with art by Barry Smith.
This is probably one of my favorite Conan tales and mostly because it introduces us to Valeria of the Red Brotherhood, one of Howard’s great female protagonists and in my mind, a much better character than the bastardized Red Sonja the comics created. Never made any sense to me why they had to create a warrior woman within Conan’s world when they already had one in Valeria.
The story opens with Valeria, stopping at a pool to slake her and her horse’s thirst. She then climbs a promontory to get her bearings. She sees a distant city beyond the jungle. As she descends, she runs into Conan, who had followed her after she had repulsed the advances of a Stygian officer and killed him. Good thing he did, too, because the officer’s brother had been tailing her, but was no more.
Then they hear the sound of the horses being torn apart by what Valeria thinks are lions, but Conan doesn’t think so. It turns out to be a dragon that chases them back up the promontory. Conan poisons the dragon with some deadly apples and while it drinks from the pond, they race for the city, but enroute, the dragon reappears, blind from the poison, but alive and following their scent. Conan battles it and it ends up slamming into a tree and dying.
The city seems deserted and they get in through a rusting entrance. Inside they soon discover there are two rival populations that have been feuding for 50 years. Conan and Valeria aid a city native, Techotl, from rival clan members and here it gets kind of muddy. He’s of a group called the Tecuhltli. The rivals are called Xuchotl. And there is an extensive infodump (of who lived in the city before these clans arrived, how a slave named Tolkemec helped the newcomers overcome the city and how he and two brothers ruled the city until they came to blows over a beautiful woman, Tascela, which started the feud) blah blah blah. I hate to say it, but I think I fell asleep during that. Too many new names with Ts and Cs and such.
Conan and Valeria are welcomed as heroes for killing the Xuchotl and they meet Prince Olmec and his consort Tascela, but the welcome is short-lived and the pair are separated and many bloody battles ensue until the end.
It’s a shame that this was one of the last Conan stories Howard wrote because I’m sure he would have done more with Valeria than just this lone story.
Jewels of Gwahlur. Originally published in Weird Tales in March 1935 as “The Servants of Bit-Yakin.” Republished in King Conan (Gnome Press, 1953), Conan the Warrior (Lancer Books, 1967), The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) as “Jewels of Gwalhur” and The Conquering Sword of Conan (2005) under Howard’s original title, “The Servants of Bit-Yakin”
Conan is searching for the Teeth of Gwahlur, sacred jewels kept in the abandoned city of Alkmeenon, ahead of several other factions who all want the jewels as well. It’s a race to find them, then a race to stay alive as people begin to die mysteriously.
It takes all of Conan’s intellect and his ability to read and understand different languages to survive.
Beyond the Black River. First published in Weird Tales in May and June of 1935. Republished King Conan (Gnome Press, 1953) and Conan the Warrior (Lancer Books, 1967), The Mighty Swordsmen (Lancer Books, 1970), The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Three (1935-1936) (Del Rey, 2005). The story was adapted in Savage Sword of Conan #26 and #27 by Roy Thomas, with art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala.
Conan is a scout for an Aquilonian outpost on the edge of civilization. He meets, and saves, a settler named Balthus from a Pict and together the two become embroiled in the beginning of a border war involving a Pictish witch doctor, Zogar Sag, who is gathering all the Pictish clans to sweep over the outpost and settlers on their way to wiping out the Aquilonian intrusion into their lands.
Many regard this story as one of Howard’s finest and it is a rip-roaring yarn the equal to any Conan story he wrote.