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The Conan Chronicles
Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle

Robert E. Howard
Victor Gollancz Millennium, 640 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. Howard was born in Peaster, Texas, and at the age of 13 moved to the central Texas town of Cross Plains, where he would live the rest of his life. As a boy Howard was small and bookish, and formed a very close relationship with his mother, staying home to avoid being the prey of local bullies. Howard discovered what would now be termed bodybuilding and boxing and remained a sports and exercise enthusiast the rest of his life. The bullying of the now 5'11", 200 lbs (1.8 m, 90 kg) teenager ended, and while Howard did not retaliate he maintained lifelong grudges and developed quasi-paranoid notions of lurking enemies.

Howard was variously described as moody -- ranging from quickly angered to having gloomy black moods -- introverted, and living in a fantasy world where at times real life became trivial. While Howard took some business classes after high school, as early as the age of 15, he had expressed his desire to write for a living. Howard sold his first story to Weird Tales in 1923 and the rest of his literary output is history. In 1930, despondent over the death of his dog "Patch," Howard was sent on a vacation by his parents who feared he might kill himself if left to brood at home. Six years later, on June 11, 1936, despondent over his mother's impending death, Howard went to his office and typed out:

All fled -- all done, so lift me on the pyre;
The feast is over and the lamps expire.
He then went out to his car, took his gun out of the glove compartment and shot himself in the head.

ISFDB Bibliography
R.E. Howard Site: 1, 2, 3, 4 (in French)
Robert E. Howard Museum, Cross Plains, TX
Conan the Barbarian movie fan site: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Conan fan site: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18
SWORD a Conan fan magazine
The Hyborian Review a Conan fan Magazine
Red Sonja fan site: 1, 2
Comic books available
Books available: 1, 2, 3
Bibliography of Conan in Finnish
The Whole Wide World biographical movie on R.E.H.
Review of The Whole Wide World
Interview of The Conan Chronicles: Vol. 1 People of the Black Circle editor Stephen Jones

    Some offline information on Howard:
  • De Camp, L. Sprague. 1976. The Miscast Barbarian: Robert E. Howard. p. 135-177. In Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers. The Makers of Heroic Fantasy. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House.
  • De Camp, L. Sprague; De Camp, Catherine Crook; Griffin, Jane Whittington. c. 1985. Dark Valley Destiny, The Life of Robert E. Howard the Creator of Conan. New York: Bluejay. 402 pp.
  • Ellis, Novalyne Price. 2000. One Who Walked Alone: Robert E. Howard the Final Years. Hampton Falls, NH: D.M. Grant Books.
  • Lord, Glenn. 1977. The Last Celt. New York: Berkley. 416 pp.
  • Lord, Glenn (ed.). 1976. The Book of Robert E. Howard. New York: Zebra, 345 pp.
  • Lord, Glenn (ed.). 1976. The Second Book of Robert E. Howard. New York: Zebra, 368 pp.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

   John Howe
The Conan Chronicles.  Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle [Editor's Note: Here you will find the other collections of Robert E. Howard stories].

To many people the character of Conan is the one they know from two films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger; for others Conan is the barbarian character of comic book fame; for others still the literary character written of by a host of modern would-be sword and sorcery authors. What is presented in The Conan Chronicles, Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle are the original unadulterated Robert E. Howard Conan tales, directly from the pages of Weird Tales and original manuscripts. Stephen Jones, editor of this volume and the second part to come, points out in a recent interview that no attempt was made to create a critically definitive edition of Howard's Conan tales, and that Howard purists may squabble over the particular version of certain of the more obscure texts reprinted. However, these tales do not have the emendations, additions, completions of fragments by diverse hands, or outright pastiches and adaptations of non-Conan Howard tales to the Conan canon characteristic of the earlier mass-market Ace and Lancer editions (amongst others). Just the originals from the master himself.

I first read the dozen Ace paperbacks of Conan (edited and expanded by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter and Bjorn Nyberg, with covers by Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo) when I was about 16 years old, and naturally loved them. I went on to devour another three dozen Howard titles in the next couple of years. However, there are several books which I read and admired as a teenager which I have found myself incapable of plodding through again now that I am 40. I had some apprehension that this would be the case for the Conan stories -- after all, these are the epitome of pulp literature. I was most pleasantly surprised, even entranced. So maybe there is a reason for the large number of web sites devoted to Howard and in particular to Conan (see to left). Howard was, as numerous others have pointed out before me, a consummate story-teller -- a quality that transcends even the poorest of writing skills -- but Howard was certainly a very competent writer besides. The Conan stories are pure escapism, and work now just as well as they did in the early 30s... and they are the foundation of all the sword and sorcery written today. Perhaps the only thing the publishers could have done better would have been to reprint the Weird Tales stories in a facsimile edition, so one could have the full experience of reading the stories in the original.

Are Conan stories somewhat predictable? Sure, but then a young Robert Bloch pointed that out some 70 years ago. Rather than go on endlessly about the virtues or flaws of the literary Conan as hundreds have before me, or ending with a glib little "reading-byte" about the book, bear with me as I tell you a little story. A few weeks ago I travelled to Ottawa and was rummaging through the wares of a large second-hand bookstore. An older teenage girl dressed in the "grunge" style and striking me as somewhat of a loner-outsider (something which, while conservative and unrebellious in outward appearance, I certainly was at the same age) was beside me looking through Moorcock and older fantasy authors, as well as some non-Howard Conan titles. We struck up a conversation and discussed some of our likes and dislikes, in particular the works of Howard. I was pleased to see that some young people (i) still read, (ii) have a sense of history and of the contribution to the fantasy genre of authors dead long before they were born, and (iii) like to haunt second-hand bookstores. I had received my review copy of The Conan Chronicles the day before so hadn't gotten much past the introduction on the way to Ottawa. At the cash, I pulled it out of my bag to show it to her as she counted out the last of her change to pay for two older fantasy books. I could see her eyes light up as she looked it over... in retrospect I really regret not simply giving it to her (if you're out there send me an e-mail, I'll send the book along). I think that the fact that readers in the 30s loved the stories, but even more so that a teenage boy in the 70s, and an adult man and teenage girl in the first decade of the new millennium could still prize these stories so highly is a testament to their enduring quality.

Contents (alphabetically)

"Black Colossus (Weird Tales, 06/1933)
"The Devil in Iron (Weird Tales, 08/1934)
"Drums of Tombalku" (draft)
"The Frost-Giant's Daughter" (Fantasy Fiction, 08/1953)
"The God in the Bowl" (Super Science Fiction, 09/1952)
"The Hall of the Dead" (fragment)
"The Hand of Nergal" (fragment)
"The Hyborian Age" (The Phantagraf, 1936)
"The People of the Black Circle (Weird Tales, 09- 11/1934)
"The Pool of the Black One" (Weird Tales, 10/1933)
"Queen of the Black Coast" (Weird Tales, 05/1934)
"Rogues in the House" (Weird Tales, 01/1934)
"The Slithering Shadow" (Weird Tales, 09/1933)
"Shadows in the Moonlight" (Weird Tales, 04/1934)
"Shadows in Zamboula" (Weird Tales, 12/1935)
"The Snout in the Dark" (draft)
"The Tower of the Elephant" (Weird Tales, 03/1933)
"The Vale of Lost Women" (Magazine of Horror, Spring 1967)
"A Witch Shall Be Born" (Weird Tales, 12/1934)

"Afterword: 'Robert E. Howard and Conan: The Early Years'" by Stephen Jones

Copyright © 2000 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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