Top 100 Sf and Fantasy. Conan. Robert E Howard, These Fantastic Worlds

100 Top SF & F Books. Conan the Conqueror. Robert E. Howard

Conan the Conqueror, Robert E Howard, These Fantastic Worlds

Conan: adventurer, mercenary, reaver, butcher of wizards and demons, in this short paperback we meet him late in life, as King of Aquilonia, his rule threatened by dark forces beyond the understanding of humankind. Howard delivers Conan’s trademark taciturnity, a warrior who doesn’t think or emote too much, but acts decisively and lustily.

This was my first introduction to the gritty realism of Conan and the sweeping tales of Hyboria. I picked up this edition in the 70s during what I now know to be the first Robert E Howard Boom. I read the comics, all the books, saw the bombastic Kull movie, then later, the moody Schwarzenegger film. Conan’s world was so far from my own it gripped me with its thrilling, dirty fingernails. Now I can blame it on the rejection of a picture I submitted to the school magazine with an ill-advised scene of Conan flavoured mysogyny. Thankfully, I’ve grown up now…

The Hour of The Dragon

Weird tales, Hour of the Dragon, Robert E Howard, These Fantastic Worlds

Weird Tales 1935 Hour of the Dragon by Robert E Howard, and a Clark Ashton Smith contribution.

Originally published as Hour of the Dragon, in serial form in the Weird Tales from December 1935, just before Howard’s death a year later. Conan the Conqueror, along with others published in the 1960s and 70s, is interesting because it’s not entirely Robert E Howard. Somehow that revisionist fraud L. Sprague de Camp had inveigled himself into the literary crevices of the father of Sword and Sorcery and ‘cleaned him up’, tidied what he saw as inconsistencies and other infelicities, and, even, claimed copyright. Such hubris!

Conan, Krenkel, Frazetta and Howard.

Anyway, at the time, the Frazetta cover (and the reference to the masterful Roy J. Krenkel as adviser), the discovery of this dangerous new world (more savage even than Tarzan) pricked at my young head and filled it with reavers and desert plains, ancient gods of Cimmeria, and a feverish swirl of heroic fantasy, black magic and a very male form of misplaced determination. I loved it, and part of me still leans heavily into sword and sorcery which seems to go in and out of fashion every decade or so.

I thought long and hard about this. Subsequently I’ve read Howard’s originals, but this book, along with Conan the Avenger and others in the series, must be part of my 100 best because they formed an indelible influence on my mental landscape. Probably in the top 10, unless Orson Scott Card’s Ender series edges him out, or Bradbury’s Illustrated Man. We’ll see.


Front cover photograph by Elise Wells, 2016