Monday, June 07, 2010

The Conquering Sword of Conan

Until recently the bulk of my knowledge of Conan the Barbarian was from the comic book that was popular in the seventies and the epic movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the eighties. That is, until I was introduced to Robert E. Howard's original Conan the Cimmerian in this treasury showcasing the last five Conan stories in the order they were written.  This collection is the third of three published by Del Ray covering the entire span of Conan's adventures.  It also includes such extras as author's notes, early drafts and a map of Conan's world.

This is not your Governator's Conan: this marauder is not just some monosyllabic barbarian, hacking his way across the world leaving piles of bodies in his wake. Rather, he is at heart a barbarian, having been brought up as one, but also a learned man, gaining a wide knowledge throughout his travels.  Conan speaks (and reads) many languages, knows customs from a great range of cultures and has done many things for a living, including thief, corsair, soldier, trader and mercenary.  He is also a leader of both strength and subtlety.

The Conan stories are considered heroic-fantasy, as they focus mainly on the hero as human, but also include some supernatural elements that do not dominate the plot.  In some ways I prefer this style to more pure fantasy stories because it is easier to identify with the human element than it is to relate to magical creatures.

I will absolutely go find the first two books of the series, as I greatly enjoyed this one, even though it is not my usual fare.  It has also inspired me to go back and re-read some of Edgar Rice Burroughs' works, as the historical legacy of Tarzan's has suffered a similar fate as Conan's: the mass media representations are what people remember, and not the original intent of the authors.

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