Michael's Reviews > Conan

Conan by Robert E. Howard
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's review
Dec 04, 2013

really liked it
Read in January, 1981

Based on a recommendation from my dad, I first read this series when I was eleven. I was pretty much sold as soon as I saw the cover paintings by Frank Frazetta. So, I decided I would re-read all 12 books to see if my general impressions had changed at all since then. Here’s some observations about the 7 stories that appear in book 1.

The Thing in the Crypt

As a kid, I only had a vague notion about why three different authors were credited on the cover. Over the years, I think I tried to block out the fact that L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter had partially written some of the stories based on unfinished manuscripts, and in some cases, crafted entire stories on their own. So, it was definitely a surprise to me to realize that what I always thought was the definitive Conan story was not even written by Howard! It’s the very first story in the series! A young Conan is being pursued by wolves; he seeks refuge in a cavernous tomb, and awakens an undead warrior after stealing his sword. It hooked me right away when I first read it, and it holds up very well today.

The Tower of the Elephant

Entirely written by Howard, it begins as a heist story and wraps up with an unexpected cosmic origin story. I didn’t recall there being any Sci-Fi elements in these stories at all, although Conan seems unfazed to learn there are worlds other than his own that sustain life. Being the barbarian that he is, he only shows interest in drinking wine, eating meat, and hacking his enemies to death.

The Hall of the Dead

This one features a giant slug. I’m sure if I were seconds away from being killed by a giant slug, I would cry real tears, but reading about it just wasn’t doing it for me. There’s also the hall full of dead people that come back to life, which seems redundant so soon after The Thing in the Crypt. Written by Howard and De Camp.

The God in the Bowl

Howard is credited as the sole author. This one starts out as a murder mystery, and features the first reference to Thoth-Amon, the Stygian sorcerer who became Conan’s arch nemesis in later stories written by other authors, as well as the Marvel comic series. In one standout sequence, Conan disables a group of attackers by removing a head, ear, eye, and a mouthful of teeth.

Rogues in the House

This is another Howard story, and is interesting because Conan starts out as a supporting character. It features Thak, the man-ape from the cover, and also the 2nd appearance of the deadly gas made from black lotus blossoms first used in The Tower of the Elephant.

The Hand of Nergal

Written by Howard and Carter, it features one of my favorite descriptions of Conan so far:

“Naked, splattered from head to heel with reeking gore, he held a mighty longsword in one great, scarred fist. His voice was like the deep growl of thunder.”

The Hand of Nergal is a Lovecraftian artifact from the stars that has been the source of all sorts of mayhem for thousands of years. The story climaxes with a battle between good and evil in the form of an awe-inspiring light show. It’s the kind of finale I hate, but I’ll cut them slack since it’s an early example of what is now so common place in contemporary genre book and movies.

The City of Skulls

This was my least favorite story, and it was written completely by De Camp and Carter. A brief stint on a slave ship was okay, but I was less impressed by the living statue made of gemstones, and Conan’s closing joke about impregnating a rescued princess. You can picture the freeze frame of Conan and his warrior buddy laughing it up, or even high fiving each other. Thumbs down.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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David Is gray lotus the same as black lotus? And wasn't the story, 'God In The Bowel' taken from Howard's manuscripts as stated in de Camp's introduction?

Michael You're right, it is gray lotus in Rogues in the House, and black in The Tower of the Elephant. As to God in the Bowl, I guess I was just going by who was credited in the Table of Contents. In the intro, de Camp writes:

"For the present edition, however, I have gone back to the original manuscript and produced a version much closer to the original, with a bare minimum of editorial changes"

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