Posted on March 19, 2008 by Flames
This is it, all your Conan stories all in one spot accompanied by an able and long article on the author, a nice long introduction to the world of Hyboria and a smattering of black and white art – both endpieces and plates – to bring some of the old feel of the mystery magazines back in. This is what it says on the tin, a full on compilation of everything Conan behind a nice looking inlaid cover.
Like a lot of people it seems these days, I like pulp. I got into pulp via John Carter and Cthulu though, rather than Conan or The Man of Bronze and somehow Conan pretty much passed me by, except for the Arnold film. Eventually I got around to reading a couple of the stories from somewhere, The Tower of the Elephant was my first I think and while ably told I didn’t get the same grip of fascination and excitement I got from the other pulps. Nonetheless, when the opportunity came along to get this book, I jumped at that chance.
It’s an impressive book, a heavy, black, mock-leather cover with a gold leaf style inlay. I for one was glad to see that there wasn’t a slip over the cover as I find them to be an enormous pain in the arse. The book is a hefty thing at over 900 pages, probably thick enough to stop one of Conan’s sword blows and it’s chock full of Conan stories, fragments, verse and explanation.
The stories vary in quality but I have to say that, unfortunately, I wasn’t lit on fire by the books. I feel like a traitor to geekdom for saying so but while a few of the stories did manage to grab me for the most part it was an anticlimax after hearing them raved about for so often. There’s a peculiar coyness to what was daring at the time, a latent racism that makes the reader a little uncomfortable and… well ‘frustration’ is the only possible word I suppose when looking back from a more liberated era and wondering quite why a polite veil is drawn over quite what Conan gets up to with all these dusky temple maidens. Still, there’s always Gor if you want something a little more titillating in a similar vein I suppose.
While there is a good chunk of extra material here ‘The Hyborian Age’ and a long illustrated essay on Howard’s life and career I couldn’t help but compare it to the gold standard of extraneous fantasy appendices, The Lord of the Rings. There is a map – that forms the endpieces front and rear but a little more detail on Conan’s world would have been extremely welcome, especially from the viewpoint of a fantasy gamer who can’t help but be desirous of truly anal levels of detail.
Mild disappointment on these two fronts aside this is a great edition, built to last and take a few knocks and to form an impressive part of your library, something you can hand on down to others as the original stories were handed down to you, it’s a beautiful object to own.
I was a bit let down and felt that Conan didn’t really live up to the hype he receives, but history has already judged on that matter and who am I to contradict millions of Conan fans? It was good, great even, just not quite the transcendent work of genius that it was made out to be. Still, if you’re going to get a Conan book this is the one to get, a masterful compilation and a fine example of book crafting.
Review by James ‘Grim’ Desborough