I suspect a lot of men my age had some exposure to Conan stories in their youth, either through the books, comics, or movies (I had a crush on the blonde girl in Conan the Destroyer).
I remember reading some stories and watching the Arnie movies (and the blonde). I really enjoyed the movies (ahem, blonde), even though they look corny now. The stories? I seem to remember thinking, eh, I’d rather read Tolkien.
That was sometime in the early 80’s, and the fantasy genre is so-filled with Tolkien-esque “epic” fantasy now, that it may as well just be called the Tolkien genre. I’ve pretty much given up on reading these brick door stoppers (with the occasional exception of Steve Erikson’s Malazan novels). But I am becoming more interested in the Sword & Sorcery predecessors to the Tolkien phenomenom.
If you’re interested in these roots, you must check out Robert E. Howard’s Conan. So, when I found the first couple of the Conan collections that were edited and supplemented by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter at one of our friendly local used booksellers, I snatched them up and decided to re-acquaint myself with Howard’s mighty Cimmerian.
As I make my way through the stories, I’ll comment on them here. (And I won’t be exclusively reading Conan. So, if I share other reading thoughts, don’t fret. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve abandoned Conan).
The Thing in the Crypt
Volume One opens with the standard editor’s intro, plus some letters the Howard wrote to fans regarding Conan, and a Howard penned essay on the creation of Conan’s world and the Hyborian Age. Reading about world building bores me to tears. So, I only skimmed over this essay and jumped straight to the first story.
Which…unfortunately wasn’t a Howard penned Conan story. The collection (all volumes, I understand) is sprinkled with pieces of Conan’s story told by de Camp/Carter to fill in gaps in the chronology. Some stories are also unfinished Howard manuscripts that one of these editors picked up and completed. Why open the collection with one of the non-Howard stories, though?
Fortunately, I liked the story fine (and for future reference, I won’t write about something I don’t like. Life is too short.).
It tells the story of Conan, newly escaped from enslavement, chased by wolves into a cavern in the side of a hill. The cave is pitch black. So, Conan must figure a way to illuminate his quarters (the influence on Dungeons and Dragons is right there in the first story). Only to find out that he’s made his way into a giant Mummy’s crypt. Said Mummy has a bad-ass sword, which Conan must have. Except when he removes the sword, all hell break’s loose with the Mummy.
And that’s it. The whole story. About 15 pages. Yet, it was still fine.
The one thing the story lacks, in my opinion is an intelligent antagonist for Conan to interact with. But hey… I still liked it. Maybe there is something to be said for Hack & Slash?
As to my initial question as to Why start with a non-Howard story, my only guess is that de Camp / Carter felt the need to tell an origin story for Conan’s sword.
Next up is Tower of the Elephant, which is a Howard yarn.