Howard, Robert E.

About the Author:

 

Born in Texas, USA in 1906, Robert Ervin Howard created one of the most enduring fantasy heroes.  Written between 1932 and 1935 his tales of Conan the Cimmerian have spawned comics, spin-off novels, cartoons and movies.  Howard committed suicide in June 1936 after learning that his beloved mother had fallen into a terminal coma.

 

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:

4.5 out of 5

(2 books)

The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People Of The Black Circle

An omnibus collecting nineteen of Howard's stories of Conan and the Hyborian Age.  Part of the Fantasy Masterworks series, this collection has been arranged according to a rough chronology of Conan's life, as opposed to when they were written, which helps to give some structure to the book as a whole. 

Howard is one of those unfortunate writers (like Bram Stoker) whose work has been so distorted, rehashed and robbed over the years that his exceptional talent has been somewhat forgotten.  These days when we think of Conan, we think of comics, cartoons and Arnold Schwartzenegger, when we should think of a writer who helped to shape modern fantasy literature. 

Howard has a great talent for prose and manages to perfectly evoke crumbling ancient ruins and sinister dark magics.  The reason I've only given this book a rating of four is simply that, due to the nature of the Conan stories, having them collected together makes for fairly repetetive reading.  My recommendation would be to read a story or two at a time, between reading full-length novels.  My favourite story here is definitely 'The Frost-Giant's Daughter'.

4 out of 5

 

The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour Of The Dragon

An omnibus of ten of Howard's stories of the Hyborian Age, this member of the Fantasy Masterworks series picks up where the previous volume left off, telling Conan's stories in chronological order. 

A master of telling tales of abandoned temples and ancient cities, here Howard diversifies the backgrounds to his stories.  We get several tales of the bitter fighting in the Pictish Wilderness, putting fantasy trappings on the North American frontier wars.  This makes for some great drama, but sadly also leads to some uncomfortable depictions of the Picts, AKA the Native Americans.  However, this new setting leads to Howard's best story, in my opinion, 'Wolves Beyond The Border', which is actually the only story not to directly feature Conan himself. 

Speaking of the big brute, this anthology features (I forget in which story) the expression of why Conan has such appeal.  Howard writes that Conan is a man of action, who will move to confront a mysterious sound in the dark rather than flee from the unknown.  It is in this and his unashamed passions that Conan touches upon something that resonates within the majority of us, because we are often quite the opposite but wish we weren't. 

Also in this anthology, as by his later life Conan has fulfilled his ambition of becoming a King, Howard turns his hand away from pulp fantasy, towards epic fantasy.  The novel-length 'The Hour Of The Dragon' is a brilliant such epic and perfect to end the omnibus with.  With 'The Hour Of The Dragon', Howard shows us just how much promise he had as an author and makes his suicide seem all the more tragic.

5 out of 5

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