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August 28, 2011

Off the Shelf: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian

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Written by: AHudson
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Title: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian
Author: Robert E. Howard
Illustrator: Mark Schultz
Publisher: Del Rey

It’s Conan month this time around at ComicAttack.net. You’ve perhaps seen the first film, quite possibly the sequel, and maybe even that remake. But I’m willing to bet that many of you haven’t read the stories that started it all.

The first thing you should note, is that Conan is very different than the Conan in the movies (and even some of the comics). Or more accurately, Conan is different than the public perception of Conan. If you expect him to be some oafish, killing barbarian, a mere male adolescent fantasy, you’d be dead wrong. Yes, he’s a barbarian and there’s lots of violence, nudity, and all that good stuff. But here’s the difference: Conan is written with brains and depth, both the character and the story.

Another thing you might not expect from The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, is that this isn’t some long, Tolkien-esque novel. Rather, this is a huge collection of short stories. The stories cover Conan’s adventures, different times during his life. Barbarian, pirate, thief, and even a king. Which is a good thing, since it comes off as a natural character development and keeps it from being the same damn story over and over again.

Also, the story is out of chronological order, which actually makes it interesting. This spices things up, keeps with the actual publication chronology, and makes it feel like a jigsaw puzzle being put together.

It’s one thing to have a hodgepodge of Conan short stories, and it’s another to have a great collection of them. And Robert E. Howard is the one and only master of sword and sorcery. It’s not just that he’s the creator of Conan, it’s also that he has a passion for these stories and can write them like no one else can. He can paint a vivid scene, be it barren snow plains or gold encrusted palaces, without word gluttony. Or he can create a variety of fleshed out characters, playing true to their roles without becoming cardboard cutouts.

However, I believe Robert E. Howard’s greatest strength, without a doubt, is his ability to write action scenes. Before reading this collection, I used to believe that at best, action scenes were interesting in a book but could never top the excitement of a film or even a comic book. The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian has completely shattered those beliefs. The action here is detailed beautifully without slowing down the pace. Suspenseful in every turn of the page. Quite simply put, each sentence becomes a quick jolt of adrenaline that you can’t put down.

If there’s one Achilles’s Heel of Robert E Howard, it’s often his dialog. It’s not that it’s poorly written or overly lengthy. Rather, it’s more “classic” style dialog that sludges down the pace rather than giving us a bunch of insight to either the characters or situation.

The only other flaw is that like any short story collection, this is a box of chocolate. Some stories will grab you by the crotch and won’t let go, while other stories might make you scratch your head.

Despite the far and few flaws, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian is a must read. Whether you end up loving it or hating it, it’s an important read for fantasy, pulp, and literature as a whole. Don’t let any reservations get in your way of reading Robert E. Howard’s masterpiece. I can guarantee that this is any comic book fan’s introduction to literature and great reading. Also, when you do buy it, you must buy The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian version. Not only does it have some of the best Conan stories, but it has absolutely gorgeous illustrations by comic book veteran Mark Schultz. As well as a great foreword, introduction, and a bunch of other great goodies that even longtime Conan fans may have missed.

Andrew Hudson
ahudson@comicattack.net
@Hudsonian

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3 Comments


  1. Billy

    Nice! I’ve read quite a few of REH’s stories (and adaptations), and I can’t get enough. Some people find these stories tedious, but if you love action type books (like I do), you’ll love REH’s stuff. The current REH Savage Sword comic is a great way to get started as well.


  2. Aaron Nicewonger

    Fantastic write-up!!!
    Glad you mentioned Mark Schultz. His work is phenomenal!
    .
    And as for your criticism:
    “Some stories will grab you by the crotch and won’t let go, while other stories might make you scratch your head.”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. And that “crotch” bit, was priceless. And a perfect illustration of the sort of no-holds-barred stories you’re getting into when you read an REH story.



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