Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard, 2003, Ballantine Books

Even though I have liked heroic fantasy for years, I was very late to the game when it comes to the Conan stories. In fact, before I read this book, I had never read an original Conan story by Howard himself. I had heard a lot about them, of course, and I had read some comic book adaptations and a short story written in more modern times by a different author, but nothing by the original creator. However, last year I read and thoroughly enjoyed Howard's Soloman Kane collection (also by Ballantine), so I figured it was time to give Conan a try.

After finishing this book, I have to say that I am impressed. Howard writes with a certain unique drive that just pulls you in and compels you to keep reading. I also appreciate how Conan is the hero of the stories but is generally not shown as a nice guy. He is a mean, tough barbarian who kills people without second thought and really does not fit in with civilized society at all. The only thing that bugged me about this collection, and this is a minor gripe, is the fact that the Conan stories don't really fit into any overall timeline. The way that the stories were handled really struck me like the way the TV show "Seinfeld" was written. Specifically, you have your set characters, and then they get involved in various schemes and have to deal with it. At the end of the story, everything resets back to the beginning. So, in one story, Conan will be a king, in another story he will be a pirate, and in a third story he will be a mercenary. There isn't really anything to tie all of the stories together. As I said, that is a minor gripe, but I figured I should point it out.

As far as this specific collection goes, I have no complaints. Printed in the large-form trade paperback format, the book contains excellent artwork to accompany the stories, and the text is superbly edited and typeset. The book also contains extras such as maps of the land, an original history of the Hyborian Age written by Howard, and early drafts of numerous stories, for those who are interested in how stories changed over time. Overall, this is a fine collection that any fan of fantasy fiction would be proud to own.

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