Robert E Howard

Robert E Howard portrait image to appear alongside the Robert E Howard biography.

Robert Ervin Howard was born on the 22nd of January 1906. He is best known as the creator of both Conan the Barbarian and the sword & sorcery sub-genre of fantasy.

Kevin Lane, author of the highly recommended Glammenport, explains why Howard's Conan books are a must read for any fan of sword & sorcery novels.

Robert Howard's original Conan tales are worth the read. For any fan of Sword & Sorcery fantasy they are a must. There are dozens of adventures, not to mention scores more written by later authors (Steve Perry, John Maddox Roberts, Leonard Carpenter to name a few- and even Mr. Robert Jordan himself.) For those who might be interested here is a list of my favorite Conan tales that represent Howard's giant Cimmerian at his best:

The Tower of the Elephant
This tale is perhaps the best-known Conan adventure.  Howard opens with lavish display of desperate men from across the known lands gathered together in a decadent quarter of the City of Thieves.  Each man is painted in his own felonious light.  Into this hardened den a of lawlessness very young, very brash Conan displays his north country naiveté.  In short order the room is topsy-turvy, with more than a few men dead and Conan on his way to prove his abilities as a competent burglar- robbing the Tower of the Elephant.
 
This is a vibrant adventure that will have you reaching for your sword hilt at every turn.

The Hall of the Dead
Ancient tales of fabulous wealth lure Conan to ancient ruins.  On his tail is a contingent of city guard that feels Conan must answer for his thieving ways.  That is- if they can survive the supernatural death that lurks in the Hall of the Dead.

If you love exploring haunted ruins by moonlight, this is the one for you.

Jewels of Gwahlur
Conan stumbles into a deception between local tribes in the jungle kingdoms.  A council is journeying to an abandoned, secluded city-temple to consult their oracle.  Feeling one double-cross deserves another (even if he is not directly involved) Conan changes the dupe to his own advantage.  Suspicions mount as each faction thinks it has outwitted the other.  What they all fail to realize that the city itself will have the final say about their scheming ploys.

This is a layered intrigue that combines the usual swordplay with a touch of mystery and horror.

Curse of the Monolith
As an emissary for trade from the West, Conan travels to the Far East.  Once again the lure of fabled treasure finds the Cimmerian upon ancient soil inhabited by ancient evil.  A little every-day science adds a twist that the barbarian's mind mistakes for black magic.

Monolith is one of my favorites.  Even now I can feel the chill of the monolith against my back.

The People of the Black Circle
This tale puts the 'sorcery' in Sword & Sorcery.  Another great opening scene- a king is dying from dark sorcery that no one can stop.  His sister vows vengeance.  Unlike the usual sword and sorcery match up this story does not pit the hero against one all-powerful mage- but a whole mountain top of them!

It takes a lot of killing- I mean a lot- to finish off a wizard.

Conan the Conqueror (The Hour of the Dragon)
This is the only full-length Conan novel from Robert Howard.  The opening scene is exquisite!  Shadows and mummery set the stage for a dark conspiracy.  Four plotters scheme to topple the mighty King Conan from his throne.  To accomplish this impossible feat, black magic from a bygone era is resurrected in the form of powerful sorcerer thousands of years mummified.  Naturally, such a powerful wizard feels little reason to answer to anyone but himself.

Credit must be given to L. Sprague deCamp and Lin Carter.  After Howard's untimely death (1936) these two admirers pieced together Howard's unpublished fragments into workable stories. Both went on to add a few of their own tales as well.

From here the reader may explore the other tales of Conan the Cimmerian.  Not all live up to the quality of Robert Howard's originals.  Such is the fate of any hero who can triumph over dread sorcerers, but fare not so well against the dastardly 'franchise'.

Robert E Howard books reviewed

Bibliography

Conan Chronicles

  • Tower of the Elephant and Other Stories (2003)
  • Rogues in the House and Other Stories (2004)
  • The Song of Red Sonja and Other Stories (2004)
  • Shadow in the Tomb and Other Stories (2004)
  • Riders of the River-Dragons: And Other Stories (2006)

 

Critical acclaim