The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian

Posted by : atcampbell | On : July 18, 2006

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard

Eight people attended this discussion at Jeff and Judy’s home. Our topic was a collection of stories featuring Robert E. Howard’s iconic barbarian character. These stories were presented in the order written, with the full original text restored wherever possible. This book was chosen largely to get ourselves acquainted with the REH theme of the upcoming Austin World Fantasy Convention. All of us read at least half the book, and five had finished it.

Conan kept getting involved in dangerous situations in exotic locales, and it was fun to see him get out of them. He used his brain and sometimes his sword, but he always took charge and kicked butt. We were surprised that the stories sometimes included science fiction concepts and Lovecraftian creatures. Our favorite stories were probably “The Tower of the Elephant” and “The Queen of the Black Coast.” One reader remarked that Conan battled “lots of big honkin’ snakes” in this book.

The depth of characterization surprised us. The stories jump back and forth throughout Conan’s life, and we could see the growth and evolution of his personality. The young Conan was irresponsible and prone to action, while the older King Conan was more likely to try diplomacy first. Conan’s moral code, while different from our own, remained consistent. While this kept him from being truly likeable, his strong persona (along with a propensity to get involved in cool adventures) kept us reading. Howard did a great job of depicting Conan’s feelings in the presence of magic.

Toward the end of the meeting, we discussed this work in the context of when and where it was written. While obviously influenced by other writers of the era (particularly Lovecraft), Howard’s storytelling style was strong and unique. We were amazed that a writer with this much imagination thrived in a small East Texas environment. Howard was clearly a major influence on later writers including Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock.

Several in our group had read a lot of Howard while in high school, and they all remarked how well the stories and writing hold up today. His vivid imagery and clearly-written action scenes make reading his work a pleasure.

Nearly everyone mentioned how glad they were that the group had picked this book. After the meeting, several of us went to dinner at Jason’s Deli.

— A. T. Campbell, III