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The Complete Chronicles of Conan
Robert E. Howard
Gollancz, 927 pages

Robert E. Howard
Robert Ervin Howard (1906-1936) is best remembered for his classic sword and sorcery tales of the brawny Cimmerian swordsman Conan, though he wrote stories in a number of genres: horror (Pigeons from Hell, Worms of the Earth), oriental adventure (The Lost Valley of Iskander, Swords of Shahrazar), westerns both humorous (A Gent from Bear Creek) and conventional (The Last Ride, The Vultures of Whapeton), boxing (The Iron Man), and others. Howard's tales of Conan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Turlogh O'Brien and Solomon Kane created and defined the sword and sorcery genre, leading to innumerable pastiches and outright ripoffs of Howard's characters.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Riot at Bucksnort
SF Site Review: The Lord of Samarcand
SF Site Review: The Black Stranger
SF Site Review: Boxing Stories
SF Site Review: The People of the Black Circle
R.E. Howard Site: 1, 2, 3 (in French)
Robert E. Howard Museum, Cross Plains, TX
Conan the Barbarian movie fan site: 1, 2, 3
Conan fan site: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
SWORD a Conan fan magazine
Red Sonja fan site
Books available: 1, 2
The Whole Wide World biographical movie on R.E.H.
Review of The Whole Wide World

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

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The Complete Chronicles of Conan If you only know Conan the Barbarian from the dreary Arnold Schwarzenegger films or from the colorful Marvel Comics version, you don't know Conan. The character created by Robert E. Howard to traverse the breadth of lands during the Hyborian Age is much more complex and nuanced than either of those versions, or of the popular image. All of the stories Howard managed to finish about Conan appear in the centenary edition of The Complete Chronicles of Conan, published to recognize the hundredth anniversary of Howard's birth.

This volume contains all twenty nine Conan stories Howard finished during his lifetime as well as some of the stories which were completed by L. Sprague de Camp, who perhaps more than anyone else was instrumental in keeping Robert E. Howard's legacy alive. For the most part, the stories are arranged in chronological order by their first publication. While de Camp attempted to provide an internal chronology when he edited the stories for Ace Books, his chronology isn't canon. The order published in The Complete Chronicles of Conan allows the reader to see some of Howard's growth as a writer.

Rather than being the hilt-happy ignorant savage which is the public perception of Conan, in many of the stories, he demonstrates his intelligence and willingness to wait. This patience and ability to observe saves Conan's life repeatedly throughout the stories as his comrades rush in, even, perhaps, take care, only to die through bestial or magical means.

Magic, gods, and strange creatures are rife in the Hyborian stories. While they may play to the reader's sense of wonder, even after many of Howard's ideas have become clichéd, Conan accepts their presence as befits someone who was raised in the milieu. When he is faced with monstrous serpent-folk, ape-men or ancient gods, Conan accepts them for what they are and deals with them in an intelligent manner, whether through negotiations or swordplay.

Ultimately a king of Aquilonia, Conan also has a career as a thief in some of the earlier stories and a soldier of fortune. Rather than staying a perpetual youth, Howard allows his hero to grow and mature, changing his own status. While it is clear that Howard never accurately or completely mapped out Conan's life and although the stories can be taken to fit, somehow, into a chronological order, it might be best simply to enjoy each of them without trying to figure out their internal relationships.

At times, the stories of Conan seem dated, either in their language or the situations Howard uses. His language is often flowery, adding a sense of archaism to the stories, especially in the modern period where the language of the story is often seen as something which should be transparent to the reader. His clichés, on the other hand, are often because he originated the concept or situation which has been used by subsequent generations of authors.

Readers who have not had the experience of reading Robert E. Howard's Conan owe it to themselves to look at the stories Howard, rather than his imitators, continuers, or simply the popular perception of what makes the Cimmerian tick. The Complete Chronicles of Conan presents Howard's hero in all his glory and all his weaknesses.

Copyright © 2006 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a five-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.


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