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Written in Mission, Texas, February, 1932; suggested by the memory of the hill-country above Fredericksburg seen in a mist of winter rain.
Robert E. Howard
The dark woods, masking slopes of sombre hills;
The grey clouds' leaden everlasting arch;
The dusky streams that flowed without a sound,
And the lone winds that whispered down the passes.
Vista on vista marching, hills on hills,
Slope beyond slope, each dark with sullen trees,
Our gaunt land lay. So when a man climbed up
A rugged peak and gazed, his shaded eye
Saw but the endless vista - hill on hill,
Slope beyond slope, each hooded like its brothers.
It was a gloomy land that seemed to hold
All winds and clouds and dreams that shun the sun,
With bare boughs rattling in the lonesome winds,
And the dark woodlands brooding over all,
Not even lightened by the rare dim sun
Which made squat shadows out of men; they called it
Cimmeria, land of Darkness and deep Night.
It was so long ago and far away
I have forgot the very name men called me.
The axe and flint-tipped spear are like a dream,
And hunts and wars are shadows. I recall
Only the stillness of that sombre land;
The clouds that piled forever on the hills,
The dimness of the everlasting woods.
Cimmeria, land of Darkness and the Night.
Oh, soul of mine, born out of shadowed hills,
To clouds and winds and ghosts that shun the sun,
How many deaths shall serve to break at last
This heritage which wraps me in the grey
Apparel of ghosts? I search my heart and find
Cimmeria, land of Darkness and the Night.
The Phoenix on the Sword
The Phoenix on the Sword
"Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars - Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet."
- The Nemedian Chronicles.
Over shadowy spires and gleaming towers lay the ghostly darkness and silence that runs before dawn. Into a dim alley, one of a veritable labyrinth of mysterious winding ways, four masked figures came hurriedly from a door which a dusky hand furtively opened. They spoke not but went swiftly into the gloom, cloaks wrapped closely about them; as silently as the ghosts of murdered men they disappeared in the darkness. Behind them a sardonic countenance was framed in the partly opened door; a pair of evil eyes glittered malevolently in the gloom.
"Go into the night, creatures of the night," a voice mocked. "Oh, fools, your doom hounds your heels like a blind dog, and you know it not."
The speaker closed the door and bolted it, then turned and went up the corridor, candle in hand. He was a somber giant, whose dusky skin revealed his Stygian blood. He came into an inner chamber, where a tall, lean man in worn velvet lounged like a great lazy cat on a silken couch, sipping wine from a huge golden goblet.
"Well, Ascalante," said the Stygian, setting down the candle, "your dupes have slunk into the streets like rats from their burrows. You work with strange tools."
"Tools?" replied Ascalante. "Why, they consider me that. For months now, ever since the Rebel Four summoned me from the southern desert, I have been living in the very heart of my enemies, hiding by day in this obscure house, skulking through dark alleys and darker corridors at night. And I have accomplished what those rebellious nobles could not. Working through them, and through other agents, many of whom have never seen my face, I have honeycombed the empire with sedition and unrest. In short I, working in the shadows, have paved the downfall of the king who sits throned in the sun. By Mitra, I was a statesman before I was an outlaw."
"And these dupes who deem themselves your masters?"
"They will continue to think that I serve them, until our present task is completed. Who are they to match wits with Ascalante? Volmana, the dwarfish count of Karaban; Gromel, the giant commander of the Black Legion; Dion, the fat baron of Attalus; Rinaldo, the hare-brained minstrel. I am the force which has welded together the steel in each, and by the clay in each, I will crush them when the time comes. But that lies in the future; tonight the king dies."
"Days ago I saw the imperial squadrons ride from the city," said the Stygian.
"They rode to the frontier which the heathen Picts assail - thanks to the strong liquor which I've smuggled over the borders to madden them. Dion's great wealth made that possible. And Volmana made it possible to dispose of the rest of the imperial troops which remained in the city. Through his princely kin in Nemedia, it was easy to persuade King Numa to request the presence of Count Trocero of Poitain, seneschal of Aquilonia; and of course, to do him honor, he'll be accompanied by an imperial escort, as well as his own troops, and Prospero, King Conan's right-hand man. That leaves only the king's personal bodyguard in the city—besides the Black Legion. Through Gromel I've corrupted a spendthrift officer of that guard, and bribed him to lead his men away from the king's door at midnight.
"Then, with sixteen desperate rogues of mine, we enter the palace by a secret tunnel. After the deed is done, even if the people do not rise to welcome us, Gromel's Black Legion will be sufficient to hold the city and the crown."
"And Dion thinks that crown will be given to him?"
"Yes. The fat fool claims it by reason of a trace of royal blood. Conan makes a bad mistake in letting men live who still boast descent from the old dynasty, from which he tore the crown of Aquilonia.
"Volmana wishes to be reinstated in royal favor as he was under the old regime, so that he may lift his poverty-ridden estates to their former grandeur. Gromel hates Pallantides, commander of the Black Dragons, and desires the command of the whole army, with all the stubbornness of the Bossonian. Alone of us all, Rinaldo has no personal ambition. He sees in Conan a red-handed, rough-footed barbarian who came out of the north to plunder a civilized land. He idealizes the king whom Conan killed to get the crown, remembering only that he occasionally patronized the arts, and forgetting the evils of his reign, and he is making the people forget. Already they openly sing The Lament for the King in which Rinaldo lauds the sainted villain and denounces Conan as 'that black-hearted savage from the abyss.' Conan laughs, but the people snarl."
"Why does he hate Conan?"
"Poets always hate those in power. To them perfection is always just behind the last corner, or beyond the next. They escape the present in dreams of the past and future. Rinaldo is a flaming torch of idealism, rising, as he thinks, to overthrow a tyrant and liberate the people. As for me - well, a few months ago I had lost all ambition but to raid the caravans for the rest of my life; now old dreams stir. Conan will die; Dion will mount the throne. Then he, too, will die. One by one, all who oppose me will die - by fire, or steel, or those deadly wines you know so well how to brew. Ascalante, king of Aquilonia! How like you the sound of it?"
The Stygian shrugged his broad shoulders.
"There was a time," he said with unconcealed bitterness, "when I, too, had my ambitions, beside which yours seem tawdry and childish. To what a state I have fallen! My old-time peers and rivals would stare indeed could they see Thoth-amon of the Ring serving as the slave of an outlander, and an outlaw at that; and aiding in the petty ambitions of barons and kings!"
"You laid your trust in magic and mummery," answered Ascalante carelessly. "I trust my wits and my sword."
"Wits and swords are as straws against the wisdom of the Darkness," growled the Stygian, his dark eyes flickering with menacing lights and shadows. "Had I not lost the Ring, our positions might be reversed."
"Nevertheless," answered the outlaw impatiently, "you wear the stripes of my whip on your back, and are likely to continue to wear them."
"Be not so sure!" the fiendish hatred of the Stygian glittered for an instant redly in his eyes. "Some day, somehow, I will find the Ring again, and when I do, by the serpent-fangs of Set, you shall pay -"
The hot-tempered Aquilonian started up and struck him heavily across the mouth. Thoth reeled back, blood starting from his lips.
"You grow over-bold, dog," growled the outlaw. "Have a care; I am still your master who knows your dark secret. Go upon the housetops and shout that Ascalante is in the city plotting against the king - if you dare."
"I dare not," muttered the Stygian, wiping the blood from his lips.
"No, you do not dare," Ascalante grinned bleakly. "For if I die by your stealth or treachery, a hermit priest in the southern desert will know of it, and will break the seal of a manuscript I left in his hands. And having read, a word will be whispered in Stygia, and a wind will creep up from the south by midnight. And where will you hide your head, Thoth-amon?"
The slave shuddered and his dusky face went ashen.
"Enough!" Ascalante changed his tone peremptorily. "I have work for you. I do not trust Dion. I bade him ride to his country estate and remain there until the work tonight is done. The fat fool could never conceal his nervousness before the king today. Ride after him, and if you do not overtake him on the road, proceed to his estate and remain with him until we send for him. Don't let him out of your sight. He is mazed with fear, and might bolt - might even rush to Conan in a panic, and reveal the whole plot, hoping thus to save his own hide. Go!"
The slave bowed, hiding the hate in his eyes, and did as he was bidden. Ascalante turned again to his wine. Over the jeweled spires was rising a dawn crimson as blood.
When I was a fighting-man, the kettle-drums they beat,
The people scattered gold-dust before my horse's feet;
But now I am a great king, the people hound my track
With poison in my wine-cup, and daggers at my back.
- The Road of Kings.
The room was large and ornate, with rich tapestries on the polished-panelled walls, deep rugs on the ivory floor, and with the lofty ceiling adorned with intricate carvings and silver scrollwork. Behind an ivory, gold-inlaid writing-table sat a man whose broad shoulders and sun-browned skin seemed out of place among those luxuriant surroundings. He seemed more a part of the sun and winds and high places of the outlands. His slightest movement spoke of steel-spring muscles knit to a keen brain with the co-ordination of a born fighting-man. There was nothing deliberate or measured about his actions. Either he was perfectly at rest - still as a bronze statue - or else he was in motion, not with the jerky quickness of over-tense
nerves, but with a cat-like speed that blurred the sight which tried to follow him.
His garments were of rich fabric, but simply made. He wore no ring or ornaments, and his square-cut black mane was confined merely by a cloth-of-silver band about his head.
Now he laid down the golden stylus with which he had been laboriously scrawling on waxed papyrus, rested his chin on his fist, and fixed his smoldering blue eyes enviously on the man who stood before him. This person was occupied in his own affairs at the moment, for he was taking up the laces of his gold-chased armor, and abstractedly whistling - a rather unconventional performance, considering that he was in the presence of a king.
"Prospero," said the man at the table, "these matters of statecraft weary me as all the fighting I have done never did."
"All part of the game, Conan," answered the dark-eyed Poitainian. "You are king - you must play the part."
"I wish I might ride with you to Nemedia," said Conan enviously. "It seems ages since I had a horse between my knees - but Publius says that affairs in the city require my presence. Curse him!
"When I overthrew the old dynasty," he continued, speaking with the easy familiarity which existed only between the Poitainian and himself, "it was easy enough, though it seemed bitter hard at the time. Looking back now over the wild path I followed, all those days of toil, intrigue, slaughter and tribulation seem like a dream.
"I did not dream far enough, Prospero. When King Numedides lay dead at my feet and I tore the crown from his gory head and set it on my own, I had reached the ultimate border of my dreams. I had prepared myself to take the crown, not to hold it. In the old free days all I wanted was a sharp sword and a straight path to my enemies. Now no paths are straight and my sword is useless.
"When I overthrew Numedides, then I was the Liberator - now they spit at my shadow. They have put a statue of that swine in the temple of Mitra, and people go and wail before it, hailing it as the holy effigy of a saintly monarch who was done to death by a red-handed barbarian. When I led her armies to victory as a mercenary, Aquilonia overlooked the fact that I was a foreigner, but now she can not forgive me.
"Now in Mitra's temple there come to burn incense to Numedides' memory, men whom his hangmen maimed and blinded, men whose sons died in his dungeons, whose wives and daughters were dragged into his seraglio. The fickle fools!"
"Rinaldo is largely responsible," answered Prospero, drawing up his sword-belt another notch. "He sings songs that make men mad. Hang him in his jester's garb to the highest tower in the city. Let him make rimes for the vultures."
Conan shook his lion head. "No, Prospero, he's beyond my reach. A great poet is greater than any king. His songs are mightier than my scepter; for he has near ripped the heart from my breast when he chose to sing for me. I shall die and be forgotten, but Rinaldo's songs will live for ever.
|The Phoenix on the Sword||5|
|The Frost/Giant's Daughter||29|
|The God in the Bowl||39|
|The Tower of the Elephant||59|
|The Scarlet Citadel||83|
|Queen of the Black Coast||119|
|Iron Shadows in the Moon||185|
|Xuthal of the Dusk||217|
|The Pool of the Black One||249|
|Rogues in the House||277|
|The Vale of Lost Women||301|
|The Devil in Iron||319|
|The Phoenix on the Sword (first submitted draft)||351|
|Notes on Various Peoples of the Hyborian Age||375|
|The Hyborian Age||379|
|Untitled Synopsis (The Scarlet Citadel)||401|
|Untitled Synopsis (Black Colossus)||403|
|Hyborian Names and Countries||417|
|Hyborian Age Maps||421|
|App||Notes on the Conan Typescripts and the Chronology||453|
|App||Notes on the Original Howard Texts||459|
Posted December 9, 2008
This anthology consists of the first thirteen (in chronological order of when released) Conan tales, which most literary historians agree were the start of the sword and sorcery sub-genre. The tales are well written and enhanced by terrific illustrations by Mark Schultz. Those who grew up with the Schwarzenegger films will find Howard¿s Conan a much more complete character (actually the Marvel Comic book series captured more of the original essence). The stories are exciting though they were written in the 1930s. The collection also includes much more information on the Conan tales including maps, an untitled draft and several synopses of potential future tales. The Miscellanea and Appendix sections are fun to read during spare moments as fans will gain an understanding of how creative the author truly was, but clearly the exhilarating stories is where the superb reading experience is at as that affirms Mr. Howard¿s greatness.----- Harriet Klausner
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 7, 2003
What's so exciting about a new Conan book? This is the pure stuff. Previous editions of Howard's Conan stories have been edited, posthumously completed, and presented in tandem with imitations. So this is exciting publishing! Considering Conan's decades old publishing history a little bit more historical information probably should have been included in the introduction and endnotes in this edition. It is great that this edition is concentrating on the newness and uniqueness of presenting unedited Howard, but a nod toward the men who first recognized the need to reprint the adventures of the Cimmerian is in order. Giving thanks to John D. Clark, Martin Greenburg, and especially L. Sprague de Camp (the editor of the immensely popular Lancer Books paperback series) would have been the proper thing to do. For first time readers of Robert E. Howard this book should mostly be a pleasure. Several stories here are classics deserving a far wider audience. As with all writers not every story is a diamond, but even Howard's rhinestones should please the reader a bit. Howard, at his best, was a gritty hard-boiled and cynical writer who berated the right targets: mistreatment of the different (in Tower of the Elephant) police brutality and forced confessions (in The God in the Bowl), the hubris of gods (in the Frost Giant's Daughter) imperialism and colonization (in Beyond the Black River, a story appearing in the next volume.) Sadly some of his tales have a glaring flaw. As the editor phrases it, 'violent ethnocentricism.' Hopefully, the reader can reflect on the social environment at the time these tales were written and forgive Howard for this woefully misplaced antagonism.
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Posted November 15, 2012
The first 13 of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories have been re-published in this trade paperback.
Don't judge these by the standards of the Schwarzenegger films. (I happen to like those films, but for other reasons.) Written in the 1930s, these are literally the original sword and sorcery stories, with the brutal Conan constantly encountering monsters, enslaved princesses and evil sorcerers. Anyone who likes fantasy should read at least a couple, even if only to see how the genre began. My personal favorite is "The Tower of the Elephant."
Now for the caveats.
These stories were aimed at a largely male pulp magazine audience. This was the 1930s equivalent of today's action film. Therefore, the testosterone quotient is pretty high. Women are usually depicted as weeping damsels in distress, which won't please some female readers.
The plots shamelessly cater to adolescent male fantasies and insecurities. Conan, the man of action, is always able to master whatever unexpected situation he's thrown into, usually by kicking butt all over Cimmeria, or Aquilonia, or whatever mythical country he finds himself in. Beautiful women melt at the mere sight of him. The plots are contrived so that these women are forced by circumstances to share his company. By the time the story's over, they refuse to leave him.
When you get right down to it, the sullen, inarticulate Conan is essentially a rather one-dimensional character. But I didn't care about that when I read these stories as a teenager.
After Howard committed suicide, other authors somehow took over the franchise and kept writing new Conan stories. Avoid these inferior works. I think they are now out of print, but they turn up regularly in used bookstores.
Posted September 16, 2012
Posted September 21, 2010
I Also Recommend:
The stories of Conan by Robert E. Howard are nothing short of genius. For the first time in over 50 years the unaltered publications of Howard's most iconic character are available in print. Over 30 stories collected in 3 books. These include several never before published extras and stories that have not seen distribution since their original debut in Weird Tales magazine. The foundation of the Sword and Sorcery genre lies within Conan! The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Bloody Crown of Conan, The Conquering Sword of Conan.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
this was my first conan book an i was not disappointed the excintment was constant, the threats were colossal. that is something i love dearly, overwhelming odds, i see it all the time in the legend of drizzt, Gotrek and Felix, and Malus Darkblade. There were splashes of romance here and there, which i find unique among all the fantasy novels i have read which is quite considerable.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 1, 2009
Another in the rerelease of Howards writing. The conan stories are of course among the first sword and sorcery writings. To my own opinion they are the best. The collection here has great illustrations and is a very attractive book to display on your book shelf. But the draw is the stories. Howard writing pulp fiction from the late 20's and 30's is still vital and exciting. I can't imagine any fantasy reader being without the Conan stories.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 27, 2009
I Also Recommend:
I grew up with the Arnold Conan movies, and the Marvel comics, but had never actually read the original, true Conan stories until I picked up this book. These are the unedited versions, in the order they were written, by the original author. (Further stories were written by other authors after his death.) You get to see the character in various stages of his adventurous life. He's a thief, a pirate, a mercenary, a leader of armies, and eventually a king.
I was blown away by how well these stories are written! Despite that they were created in the 1930's, the writing style does not feel dated at all. They are fun, exciting, gritty, gory, and realistic; apart from the occasional sorcery. Conan is an intelligent, clever, honorable, and altogether likable hero. The action segments are so well done that they feel fast and powerful, and I was swept up in them.
I also really enjoyed the illustrations throughout. They were beautifully drawn and painted by artist Mark Schultz. There is also additional bonus material at the end that includes the author's notes, drawings, and some unpublished drafts and synopsis. This is an edition compiled for Conan completists.
The book is not marked as such, but this is the first volume in a three volume series collecting every story of Conan in chronological order. I highly suggest that any fan of adventure/fantasy to pick this up. These are the best editions for these stories around. You get a lot of value for your money!
Posted December 2, 2008
Posted December 14, 2008
I Also Recommend:
Robert E. Howard was an extra-ordindary creative writer who in my opinion was the best! His vision, talent, creative writing, and action packed stories can and will never be replicated! To learn more about this unique man read The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard by Mark Finn. Also, read the Best of Robert E. Howard 1 & 2. Number two has my favorites Red Nails, Beyond The Black River, and scariest story EVER Pigeons From Hell! Be sure to read it at night with plenty of light. The illustrations are superb and add a lot of value. Type in the search field Robert E. Howard and get them all and Jack London's Star Rover that was REH's favorite book. Barnes & Noble carries this story along with five others in the best of Jack London. Check out the REH Foundation and Forum.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 3, 2008
This is one of the best books I have ever read. It's not like the movie at all, it's way better! Howard writes these stories in a very vivid and detailed way, setting the scene and describing all the violence that is Conan. The book is a series of short stories revolving around Conan and his heroic deeds. It is compiled like books on mythology are, a bunch of short stories put into one book. Some of the stories are only about 15 pages long, but 2 pages into each story and you get what you expect when you hear the name Conan: Savagery and bloodletting!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 6, 2008
Robert E. Howard was an extra-ordindary creative writer who in my opinion was the best! His vision, talent, creative writing, and action packed stories can and will never be replicated! To learn more about this unique man read The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard by Mark Finn. Also, read the Best of Robert E. Howard 1 & 2. Number two has my favorites Red Nails, Beyond The Black River, and scariest story EVER Pigeons From Hell! Be sure to read it at night with plenty of light.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 1, 2007
Posted September 2, 2006
Besides Tolkien, I had never read any fantasy. I picked this book up because I had seen the character in other venues¿television, movies, etc. After reading this book, I¿m afraid I don¿t see why the character has survived all these years. Some of the stories prove to be an interesting read, but Conan is a flat character that Howard used in the situation of the day. It¿s an OK read, but don¿t expect great literature.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 30, 2006
Before The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings came on to the scene, there was Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan as well as what is now known as sword and sorcery. His profound style of storytelling and of detailed locations, would make one swear that these places actually existed. Through his original writings, we can now appreciate the work of a person who was at the top of his game.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 14, 2005
I stumbled upon this book when it came out and have been reading it in my spare time. I've relished it like a fine wine. Howards Conan is unique and full of savage fury. As an amatuer writer, I admire his prose and sentence structure. Sometimes I have to go back and read lines over because they're so packed with complexity. This book is part of the new wave that has post-humorously gone back to the TRUE Conan that Howard wrote. After all these years we're able to see what he originally meant. No Arnold here. Highly recomended.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 6, 2005
I grew up loving the 'traditional' Conan and was shocked when I saw that Robert's character wasn¿t just a killing machine. How tainted Conan has become over time! The character is extremely well written and insightful. There are also underlying themes in the book that touch upon the entire human experience. The best part however, Howard is an amazing wordsmith when it comes to writing a fight scene.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 2, 2005
there werent many stories in this volume that had a decent plot. it was repetitive, and i honestly dont know how the character of conan got so famous based on this book. that being said, some of the stories were good, and some of the supernatural elements were creativeWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 12, 2004
Last year I saw the movie Conan the Barbarian, and I was blown away. I was amazed at the sheer ferocity of the character. A few months later I got this book, and I found out how poorly the movie depicted everyones favorite barbarian. My favorite stories are The Frost Giants Daughter and The Queen of the Black Coast. Even between this and the monthly comic book from Dark Horse I still can't get enough of the blood-thirsty adventurer.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 17, 2004
OK, I'm 54 but still into Conan. I just finished reading the Coming of Conan the Cimmerian. Excellent to be able to read Robert E. Howard's works in a more original format. I grew up reading the works and over the years and did not appreciate the watered down Arnold protrayalWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.