Fiction Reviews

Conan the Barbarian

(2011) Robert E. Howard, Gollancz, pbk, 7.99, 398pp, ISBN 978-0-575-11349-7


I am not sure that anyone needs an introduction to Conan but in case you do he is an independent warrior from land of Cimmeria the mythical Hyborion age: a time that is a sort of a post Iron Age crossed with Roman era period. It is a time not just of early civilisation but also magic and monsters. To survive in such trying times it helps if you have someone like Conan by your side. Not only is he strong but seems to have a strong moral code of his own, but he is also fiercely independent.

This collection brings together 8 of the 21 original short stories by Robert E. Howard that date from the early 1930s:-
'The Tower of the Elephant'
'Rogues in the House'
'The Frost Giant's Daughter'
'Queen of the Black Coast'
'A Witch Shall Be Born'
'The People of the Black Circle'
'Red Nails'
'Beyond the Black River'

In addition to these there is a fascinating essay on the fictional Hyborian Age by Donald A Wollheim, and a Conan verse 'Cimmeria' to round things off.

If perchance you are unfamiliar with the original stories but are aware of the Conan character, these originals do read very much like the Conan comics of the 1970s-1990s. This is not to do down Robert Howard's style: on the contrary, it is a sign of fine writing that he can convey so much vividly, economically.

Of course with the recent new Conan film (which was not that good it has to be said) there will be renewed interest in this classic fantasy hero. This collection is released to tie in with the film and is a good place for newcomers to Robert E. Howard (who also gave us Solomon Kane and King Kull) to start. Howard is a master of the genre. Recommended for sword and sorcery fantasy fans into bulging biceps by Crom.

Jonathan Cowie

See also Tony's review of The Complete Chronicles of Conan.

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