After reading the third Conan treasury, published by Del Ray, I just had to go back and read the other two. The first, The Coming of Conan the Cimmarian, is a collection of short stories about Conan. They don’t follow any type of chronological order, however it is interesting to see how Robert Howard’s depiction changes over time. These earliest stories almost obsessively contain women as sexual conquests of Conan’s, and also have an extremely negative viewpoint towards the blacks in the stories. I understand Howard is a product of his times, and the fantasy aspect of the women, but it is heartening to see him become less pejorative as his writing progresses.
That said, these stories are excellent, but don’t provide a whole lot of development of the Conan character. On the contrary, the three stories in the second collection, The Bloody Crown of Conan, do a great job of fleshing him out. This treasury of novellas really delves into who Conan is, and shows him to be a very intelligent man, with subtleties not expected of a barbarian. Oh, he’s still the toughest mofo to ever swing a sword, but he also expresses great leadership and diplomacy too.
I’m sure there must be collections that put the stories in chronological order (to Conan), and I am anxious to check them out sometime, but for Conan the way the author originally wrote, the three books of this series are the way to go.