Monday, September 18, 2006


I've finished reading the final volume of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, The Conquering Sword of Conan. This is what an action story should be like. I thought it was a far better book than Haggard's King Solomon's Mine.

Like Haggard's book, Howard's works do have one problem that annoys me: racism. It is particularly noticeable in the short story "The Man-Eaters of Zamboula" in which blacks are depicted as horrific cannibals. The Picts are a bit of a problem too. They are referred to as a "white race," but they are, confusingly, also referred to as not being white. In general, they seem to be based on a stereotype of Native Americans as savages.

Unlike in King Solomon's Mines, I am willing to forgive this fault in Howard's work. Why? Because the white peoples aren't portrayed as being inherently superior. In Howard's universe it is the barbarian who is superior not the civilized man. The barbarian, Conan in this book, is a mighty warrior and follows a code of a sort, but the civilized people, like Aram Baksh in "Man-Eaters", will do anything for money (Aram Baksh attempts to sell Conan to the cannibals).

This book contains "Beyond the Black River" and "Red Nails," which are regarded as the best of the Conan stories. "Beyond" is based largely on the history of the U.S.A. and could easily be a tale of frontier life if the Picts became Native Americans and Conan a cowboy (or whatever). "Red Nails" is pretty damn creepy.

If you've never read Howard's Conan stories, you should. This book and the other two volumes in the series are well worth getting. Unlike most other volumes of Conan tales they do not contain any pastiches or "posthumous collaborations" or any of that nonsense. Nor do they attempt to put the Conan stories into some sort of chronological order; they are presented in the order Howard wrote them. Buy this book! It gets a very well deserved five yo-yos.

Five yo-yos

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