The Newcomer's Guide to Robert E. Howard

Everything you need to know

Robert E. Howard’s Conan Stories

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Cool, what Conan novels should I start with?

Howard only wrote one Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon. In addition, he wrote twenty short stories and novellas, though there are four incomplete fragments and synopses.

Alright wise guy, what Conan collections should I start off with?

In my opinion, the best Conan collections by a substantial margin are those published by Del Rey: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Bloody Crown of Conan, and The Conquering Sword of Conan. These three books are affordable, easy to find, and filled to the gunwales with extra material – drafts, synopses, fragments, and the fantastic “Hyborian Genesis” essay by noted Howard scholar Patrice Louinet, which charts the creation of the stories.  As a bonus, there are some exquisite interior illustrations by Mark Schultz, Gary Gianni and Greg Manchess respectively.  They are, simply put, the essential Conan collection.  The format, text and illustrations used in the Del Reys were utilized in a series of lavish and extremely limited edition tomes: Wandering Star’s Complete Conan of Cimmeria Volume 1, Complete Conan of Cimmeria Volume 2, and Book Palace Books’ Complete Conan of Cimmeria Volume 3.  Those who wish to enjoy Howard’s work on audiotape need not fear, for Tantor Media have translated the Del Rey books to audiotape.

Alternatives to the Del Reys exist: in the UK, Gollancz’s The Complete Chronicles of Conan: Centenary Edition collects all the completed stories and five fragments, synopses and drafts in one attractive, leather hardback with gold foil emboss, along with an excellent essay by veteran anthologist Stephen Jones. Like the Del Rey collections, this volume places the stories and fragments in the order Howard wrote them. Unfortunately, the Centenary Edition lacks some of the apocrypha found in the Del Rey volumes, such as early drafts and synopses of finished stories. In addition, in the case of stories which appeared in Weird Tales, Jones uses the typescripts and titles as they were published, not from Howard’s original documents.  In the case of the stories and fragments which did not appear in Weird Tales, versions edited by De Camp were used.  All in all, I consider the Centenary Edition a good alternative to the Del Reys collections.

The stories, fragments and Stephen Jones essay were also collected in Gollancz’s Fantasy Masterworks dualogy The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle and The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon. The first volume was later re-released as The Conan Chronicles Volume 1.  These are not to be confused with the similarly-titled The Conan Chronicles, which collects three Robert Jordan stories, or The Chronicles of Conan, which are trade paperback collections of the Marvel comics. However, it should be noted that these editions arrange the stories in a speculative chronological order, not in the order in which they were written: this leads to certain problems, such as an unfortunate sense of repetition in stories that would originally have been read months apart.  An additional problem resulting from the chronological ordering is that the first volume has almost all of the mediocre Conan stories, several of them in a row at the end of the book, which might damage expectations of the second volume.

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Written by alharron

22 December, 2010 at 7:54 pm

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