Scott Gray's Reviews > The Complete Chronicles of Conan

The Complete Chronicles of Conan by Robert E. Howard
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Oct 17, 11


It's hard to make adequate comment on a writer whose work created an entire genre and the larger creative industry that genre spawned. Conan the Barbarian means different things to different people, because the character exists in so many different versions — the original Robert E. Howard stories; the de Camp and Carter pastiches that expanded on Howard's vision and popularity; the new generation of books that the original pastiches inspired; the Marvel comics that pushed sword-and-sorcery into the pop-culture mainstream; the Dark Horse comics that revitalized and revisualized the character; the 1982 film that first set Arnold Schwarzenegger on the path to pretending to be an actor. As a result, it's entirely possible to "know" Conan without really knowing the original stories in their original forms — a problem that this weighty collection addresses nicely.

The Complete Chronicles pulls together all of the original Howard stories in their original forms (including those edited as a part of the Howard/de Camp/Carter paperback collections that cemented the character's popularity). Unlike previous multi-part Conan collections, this book anthologizes the stories in the order Howard wrote them, rather than in chronological order according to the character's history. This means a lot of jumping around through the different ages of the character (the first two Conan stories Howard published are actually two of the last Conan stories, both taking place when Conan is king of Aquilonia; the familiar thief, barbarian, slayer, et al came later). However, i prefer this arrangement because it shows off how Howard's own understanding of the character changed and grew over time, the narrative and the character becoming more and more complex.

Some of the Howard stories are better than others; some are more properly about the world than the character. (A surprise to a lot of people who read the Howard pieces for the first time is how often Conan appears only after other secondary characters have set the story up.) Many of the stories show their 30s pulp origins a little too strongly (most commonly with lines like " 'By the gods!" Conan ejaculated.'). But taken all in all, the Howard canon creates a haunting and memorable mythology that stands the test of time, and which can't help but make one wonder to what greater heights Robert E. Howard might have taken the character and the world of the Hyborian age if he'd had more time.
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