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Reader’s Den, Biblio File

December Reader's Den: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian


Conan the Cimmerian

“Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.” That's a guy who needs no further introduction. Conan the Barbarian has been part of the popular imagination for nearly a century, with a legacy stretching into everything from literature to cinema.

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian's publication marked the first modern effort to publish Robert E. Howard's classic sword and sorcery stories in their original, unedited glory. Writers like Howard were writing gritty and gruesome fantasy before George R.R. Martin made it cool.  Credited by some as the inventor of sword and sorcery, Howard published most of his Conan shorts in the famed Weird Tales magazine before his suicide in 1936.

This collection comes with an essay by editor Patrice Louniet, discussing the racism present in nearly all of Howard's works. Some of it was subtle, some not so subtle. Howard's stories frequently featured villains with dark, dusky or black skin.

Conan the Barbarian
Not pictured: Wenching and Pillaging

The stories themselves, particularly the Conan works, are fierce and enjoyable reads but that racist spectre is something all the fans must grapple with as they read. Louinet ties in Howard's correspondence and friendship with virulent racist H.P. Lovecraft. Indeed, the two men often shared ideas, stories and even some friendly competition in their writing. You will find echoes of Lovecraft in some of the Conan stories here.

As you begin reading, consider not only the energetic narrative and fantastic imagination; think also of the milieu that produced Howard, along with his racist attitudes. It might cast a shadow over the writing, but what's a good, grim fantasy without some darkness both real and imagined? Join us next week when we discuss Howard's influence on modern fantasy. Until then, enjoy the sullen Cimmerian's exploits as he fights, wenches and pillages his way through the Hyborian Age.



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I never knew anything about Conan's creator before or about the racism in the Conan stories. Enlightening!

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