So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian. Robert E. Howard

I saw Renee Zelweger and Vincent Dinofrio in The Whole Wide World and was fascinated by the story of Robert Howard. My only contact with the Conan stories have been through the late 20th century caricatures rather than the author's original works. Having felt that Conan has become such a cultural stereotype, I wanted to see the source material.

Howard portrays Conan as a man outside of the civilization of his time. Cimmeria is portrayed geographically as being where Scotland is today, only at some remote time in Prehistory before the forming of the North Sea. His normal costume is a silk loincloth and a sword. When it is cold he will take up a red cloak and in battle, he often adds chain mail.

In Black Colossus, Howard describes him as tigerish, elemental, and untamed. His profession in these stories is predominantly a mercenary. When he can't find work fighting, he tends to resort to thievery. Occasionally his leadership skills propel him into the role of King, Pirate Captain or War Chief, but his direct approach doesn't find a happy home in situations where diplomacy and discretion are important traits.

He appeals to women through his elemental nature and his protective strength. Women of his acquaintance normally wear fairly revealing and diaphenous clothing that they tend to lose a lot. Nudity seems to be a fairly common situation for women of his time since this lack of attire seldom causes much of a stir.

Then there is the swashbuckling. Do not read these stories if you're not a big fan of it. Conan tends to fight his way out of most situations, and the combination of his large broadsword and his amazing strength causes a lot of bloodshed and dismemberment. I had to take these stories in small doses for this reason.

The end of the book has some really wonderful items for those who want something more. The editors have included an early draft of the first Conan story, The Phoenix on the Sword, an untitled draft, and a couple of synopses written by Howard. There are also some writings by Howard on the Hyborian Age, the mythic time he created for these tales. These added touches make this a wonderful book for the more serious reader. However, all fans of this genre will find these stories essential reading. The black and white illustrations by Mark Schultz are wonderful additions to these stories which bring the Hyborian Age to life.


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