Happy Birthday, Conan.

I’m a little late getting this post up, but this month marks the 80th anniversary of the first appearance of Conan, the man from Cimmeria.  Conan first appeared in “The Phoenix on the Sword”, a rewrite of an unsold Kull story, “By This Axe I Rule!”  I blogged about both pieces here.  That’s the cover of the issue, December 1932, there on the right.  And, no, Conan wasn’t featured on the cover.  But he soon would be.

It’s been a while since I last wrote a piece dedicated solely to Conan.  No, don’t go looking it up; all you’ll do is embarrass people, namely me.  I’m going to look at three more Conan stories, maybe more.  The stories I’ll definitely look at are “Rogues in the House”, “Queen of the Black Coast”, and “Red Nails.”  There are a few other Conan tales I will try to get to, but those three are, in my mind at least, major stories that every Howard fan should read.

Howard wrote that Conan seemed to spring into his mind as a fully fleshed character.  There’s good evidence that wasn’t literally the case.  Still, Conan is arguably the most fully fleshed out character Howard put to paper.  The world he inhabits is by far the most complex and detailed of any Howard created.  Mark Finn argues in his biography, Blood and Thunder (reviewed here), that Conan was the most commercial of Howard’s Weird Tales creations.  He makes a good case.  Whether or not Finn is correct, it was Conan and the classic tales in which he appeared that gave us those gorgeous Margaret Brundage covers.

Conan was the first Howard I read.  As a result, he holds a special place in my heart.  I was a freshman in college when I started reading Conan, in the Ace reprints of the de Camp and Carter edited Lancers.  I soaked it all in.  When I think of sword and sorcery, Conan is usually what comes to mind.  A loner who lives by his own code in an exotic world filled with danger, monsters, and magic.  Along with a few scantily clad females.

A lot of the appeal for me of the Conan stories are the fact that they are stand-alones.  Yes, there are some that obviously take place later in Conan’s life, but for the most part they can be read in any order.  Whether you read a whole volume at once or only a single tale, these stories still take me to a land of adventure. 

This is the mental template I have for a sword and sorcery character or series.  Self contained adventures full of the exotic and wonderful with a dash of horror, where the swords are fast, the magic is dark, and the heroes are both larger than life and flawed.  And anything is possible.

These are the qualities I look for in sword and sorcery.  Fortunately those qualities are still around.  So happy 80th, Conan.  Here’s wishing you many more.

7 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Conan.

  1. Paul R. McNamee

    I do enjoy Conan but I’m not sure if I enjoy him the most of Howard’s creations. Probably.

    The first Howard fantasy tales I read were the Baen non-Conan collection, Eons of the Night. “Marchers of Valhalla” blew me away.

  2. Keith

    Paul, those Baen volumes are a great introduction to Howard’s non-Conan fantasy. And “Marchers of Valhalla” is awesome.

    Charles, I enjoy the lesser characters a great deal. The thing that frustrates me about them is what you point out: Conan is probably the most fully fleshed out character Howard created. When I read some of the other characters, I get annoyed there aren’t more stories about them. I have that reaction to Conan as well, but in his case, there’s quite a bit more of him.

  3. Charles R. Rutledge

    Though I’m fond of Solomon Kane, Conan is far and away my favorite of REH’s characters, and like you Keith, his adventures are what I think of when I think of sword & sorcery. A happy birthday to the big guy.


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