Of all the stalwart heroes of heroic fantasy, the most vigorous, virile,
brawny, and mettlesome is Conan the Cimmerian. Conan was the invention of
Robert E. Howard (1906-36), born in Peaster, Texas, and for nearly all his
life a resident of Cross Plains, in the center of Texas. During his last
decade, Howard turned out a large volume of what was called "pulp
fiction" - sport, detective, western, historical, science-fiction, fantasy,
weird, and ghost stories. At thirty, he ended a promising literary career by
suicide. Howard is one of eight writers of imaginative fiction of whose books
more than a million copies have been sold - but not, alas, during his lifetime.
Howard was a natural storyteller, whose narratives are unmatched for vivid, gripping, headlong action. His heroes - King Kull, Conan, Solomon Kane - are larger than life: men of mighty thews, hot passions, and indomitable will, who dominate the stories through which they stride. They are the polar opposite of the anti-hero of recent popularity.
Howard wrote several series of heroic fantasies (also called swordplay-and-sorcery stories), most of them published in Weird Tales. This magazine ran from 1923 to 1953 and in Howard's time was the only outlet for fantasy. Of these stories, the longest and most popular series comprised the Conan tales. Eighteen Conan stories, from a 3,000-word short story to a 66,000-word novel, were published in Howard's lifetime.
Eight other stories, from complete manuscripts to mere fragments and outlines, have been found among Howard's papers since 1950. As one of the discoverers, I have edited some unpublished Conan stories for publication and rewritten four of Howard's unpublished adventure stories as Conan stories. My colleague Lin Carter and I have, singly and jointly, completed the incomplete Conan stories and fragments. In addition, my colleagues Bjorn Nyberg Lin Carter and I have written a number of original Conan stories to fill the gaps in the saga, as we think Howard might have done had he lived longer.
Readers who wish to know more about Conan, Howard, and heroic fantasy are referred to the other Conan books listed, especially to my introduction to the volume Conan. Of the works by Howard and other writers of heroic fantasy there listed, which ones are currently available can only be learned by inquiry.
There is also a periodical dealing with such matters; Amra published by George H. Scithers, Box 8243, Philadelphia, Pa., 19101. This is the organ of the Hyborian Legion, a loose group of admirers of heroic fantasy and of the Conan stories in particular. Subscription to Amra makes one a Hyborian Legionnaire. Three books of articles, poems, and other contributions to Amra have been published by Jack L. Chalker, 5111 Liberty Heights Avenue, Baltimore, Md., 21207: The Conan Reader, The Conan Swordbook, and The Conan Grimoire. The last of these, edited by Scithers and myself, is still in print at the time of writing.
According to Howard and his posthumous collaborators, Conan lived, loved, and fought about twelve thousand years ago, eight thousand years after the sinking of Atlantis and seven thousand years before the beginnings of recorded history. In this time, by Howard's calculations, the western parts of the main continent were occupied by the Hyborian kingdoms. These were a galaxy of states set up three thousand years earlier by northern invaders, the Hyborians, on the ruins of the evil empire of Acheron. South of the Hyborian kingdoms lay the quarreling city-states of Shem. Beyond Shem slumbered the ancient, sinister kingdom of Stygia, the rival and partner of Acheron in the days of the latter's bloodstained glory. Further south yet, beyond deserts and veldts, were barbarian black kingdoms.
North of the Hyborians lay the barbarian lands of Cimmeria, Hyperborea, Vanaheim, and Asgard. West, along the ocean, were the fierce Picts. To the east glittered the Hyrkanian kingdoms, of which the mightiest was Turan.
Conan was a gigantic barbarian adventurer who roistered, brawled, and battled his way across half the prehistoric world. The son of a blacksmith in the bleak, backward northern land of Cimmeria, he waded through rivers of blood to overcome foes both natural and supernatural, to rise at last, at about the age of forty-one, to the kingship of Aquilonia, the mightiest Hyborian kingdom.
Matured and sobered by responsibility, Conan put down plots at home and invasions from abroad. Previously a great womanizer, he took a legitimate queen and settled down happily to rear a brood of offspring. Of these, the eldest was a son, also named Conan but usually known by his nickname of "Conn."
This story deals with the adventures of Conan and Conn between Conan the Avenger, in which Conan recovered his queen of a year from the sorcerer Yah Chieng, and Conan of the Isles, in which the aging monarch abdicated his throne to set out for one last grand adventure in the unknown West. At the time of the present stories, Conan is nearing sixty. Save for the scars of many brawls and battles, which crisscross his mighty frame, one would take him for a much younger man. True, his square-cut mane of coarse, black, straight hair and the fierce black mustache, which he has assumed in deference to Aquilonian fashions, show traces of gray and his skin is becoming leathery. But while he is a little stiffer and slower than in his long-past youth, the strength of his massive thews is still that of two ordinary men.
L. Sprague de Camp