Showing posts with label L. Sprague De Camp. Show all posts
Showing posts with label L. Sprague De Camp. Show all posts

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Conan - The Thing in the Cave

We've proven time and again that nothing is really off the coffee table here at Paperback Warrior in terms of books. We've covered graphic novels, magazines, paperbacks, hardcovers, and even audiobooks. So, why not a Little Golden Book review?

Chances are you've probably held a Little Golden Book at some point in your life. There are thousands of them. The first one was published in 1942 as a project of Georges Duplaix, then head of Artists and Writers Guild Inc. as a follow-up to the publishing concept of A Children's History. At the end of the first year, Simon & Schuster had a runaway hit with 1.5 million books sold. In 1958, Simon & Schuster sold Little Golden Books to Western Publishing, which then later sold it to Random House. 

I remember owning a lot of second-hand Little Golden Books, including some that were Golden Melody Books that played songs. But, my fascination was on the Golden Books special line of male-oriented titles published as A Golden Super Adventure. These special books, published in the 1980s, focused on toy-line franchises that often shared an animated children's television show. Brands like Masters of the Universe, Princess of Power, Centurions, Mask, Defenders of the Earth, and Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers

As a fan of Conan, I stumbled upon the lone Golden Book dedicated to the barbarian hero, The Thing in the Cave. It was originally published in 1986 as part of the Golden Super Adventure line. The book's cover was painted by the great Gino D'Achille (Fu Manchu, Barsoom, Flashman) while the interior pages were illustrated by the equally great Dan Adkins (Doctor Strange, Eerie, Creepy). 

Conan fans may remember a short story titled “The Thing in the Crypt”, which was authored by Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp and first published in the 1967 Lancer paperback Conan. This Little Golden Book publication, The Thing in the Cave, is a reworking of that story. It was authored by Jack C. Harris, a prolific comic book author and editor that worked for DC Comics penning titles like Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Robin, and the graphic novel Batman: Castle of the Bat. After leaving DC, Harris freelanced for DC, Marvel, and Darkhorse while also working for a trade magazine for the licensing industry. It was here that Harris received a press release from Golden Books about a series of Masters of the Universe publications being created for the Golden Super Adventure line. Harris connected with a colleague that led him to penning a number of Golden Books including Masters of the Universe, Batman, Dino-Riders, Super Mario Bros., Garfield, and this Conan book.

I would encourage you to read my review for the original “The Thing in the Crypt” (or just read that story). This Golden Book variation stays mostly true to form, but retains some safety measures for the sake of the young reader. In this version, Conan uses the chains to crack the hardened ice, thus allowing the snarling wolves to simply fall away into oblivion. In the original story, these snarling wolves chase Conan to the cave. The cave itself is substituted for the more sinister-sounding “crypt”. Also, the giant sword-wielding monster isn't so much a mummy, but instead is simply an animated statue made from rock. 

At 25-colorful pages, this was a fun little visual jaunt into “The Thing in the Crypt”, a fun, yet criticized story inspired by Robert E. Howard's literary work (mostly because it is the first story in the Conan paperback and is missing REH). My guess is this Conan title was inspired by the many Golden Book publications featuring He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Nonetheless, this is a great collector's item and worth a couple of twenty-dollar bills for the pure nostalgia.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Conan - Black Tears

The 1968 Lancer paperback collection Conan the Wanderer begins with “Black Tears”, a short story by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. It was also featured in Orbit Books omnibus The Conan Chronicles 2. The story was later adapted by Roy Thomas and Ernie Chan in issue #38 of The Savage Sword of Conan

The story picks up right after the events in “A Witch Shall Be Born”. Conan is the chief of the Zaugir, an outlaw band of Kozak horsemen, a role he obtained by usurping their former leader Vladislav. Unbeknownst to Conan, the Zuagir have a traitor in their ranks, a former blood brother of Vladislav named Vardanes. Off page, Vardanes makes a deal with the rival Turanians to have the Zuagir ambushed on a mountain pass. 

The story begins with the Turanians lying in wait for Conan and the Zuagir to reach the pass. Once Vardanes reaches safe passage through the pass, the sky is filled with arrows as the remaining Zuagir are attacked. Thankfully, the Zuagir possess the fighting spirit to charge up the hill and crush the weak Turanians. Seeing the disaster, Vardanes rides off to escape the carnage. One enemy is left behind, a former acquaintance of Conan's named Boghra. Conan tricks Boghra into revealing that the traitor was Vardanes.

Conan is later drugged by the Zuagir and left to die in the desert. His Hellbent quest for vengeance against Vardanes wasn't widely supported by his men. After five days of riding, Conan stumbles upon a city rumored to be a myth, a place called Akhlat the Accursed. Dehydrated, Conan falls from exhaustion and is nursed back to health by two of the city's residents. They explain that the city has been cursed by a vampiric force that drains the life from every living thing. Supposedly, their religion states that a man will come to liberate the city, thus Conan is assigned a task. He must destroy the ancient enemy while also finding and killing Vardanes (who just happens to be in the city as well).

Parts of this story reminded me of Robert E. Howard's “The Scarlet Citadel”, especially the inevitable boss-fight in the city's underground tunnels. The stone statue part of the story was reminiscent of “Shadows in the Moonlight”, with a little bit of “Red Nails” thrown in with the inner-city stuff. I really enjoyed the story and found it to be a perfect companion to “A Witch Shall Be Born”. The descriptions of mountains, tunnels, and the “beast” were executed very well. I know some Conan fans really don't like Carter or de Camp's pastiche style, but as I've stated in numerous reviews, I find their work to be enjoyable. 

Depending on your timeline, this story is followed by “Shadows in Zamboula” or John Maddox Roberts' Conan and the Manhunters, which takes place in southwest of Turan.

Buy a copy of this book HERE. 

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Conan - The Castle of Terror

Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp teamed together to author “The Castle of Terror”, a short story starring Robert E. Howard's Conan. The story was first published in the Lancer paperback collection Conan of Cimmeria (1969), which was later reprinted by Ace. Additionally, the story was featured in Sphere Books omnibus collection The Conan Chronicles (1989). The story was adapted into comic format in Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #105. That comic story was also collected in Dark Horse's The Chronicles of Conan Vol. 13: Whispering Shadows and Other Stories (2007).

What I enjoyed about this story is that the authors wanted to expand on Howard's “The Vale of Lost Women”, which was never published in the author's lifetime. This era of Conan's life begins after “The Queen of the Black Coast”, with the titular hero in the jungles of Kush. It is here that he becomes the tribal chief of the Bamulas, which is outlined in “The Vale of Lost Women”. Carter and de Camp further explore that concept in the beginning of “The Castle of Terror”.

In the story's opening pages, Conan is on the run across the flat prairies of Kush. It is revealed that Conan was the Bamula tribal chief for approximately one year. But, a harsh drought occurred in the region and the tribe felt that Conan was the reason for the hardship. Ousted from power and forced into exile, Conan now finds himself with dwindling supplies and chased by lions. At dusk, Conan stumbles onto a strange scene, a crumbled Gothic-styled castle atop a stretch of dead grass. The pursuing lions stop their pursuit and refuse to go near the old house. Hoping to escape the rain, Conan goes inside.

While Conan is seeking shelter in the house, a band of Stygian slave raiders is also seeking shelter from the elements. They too go inside the cavernous house. Inside, Conan has an experience of astral projection, seeing himself outside of his body. Spiritually, he's attacked by hundreds of ghosts before awakening from his trance. At the top of a staircase, Conan witnesses the slaughter of the Stygians by a hideous hundred-headed spider-like creature. Escaping the house, Conan is forced to kill the remaining Stygian.

“The Castle of Terror” includes Conan reflecting on the old stories he heard as a child about King Kull of Atlantis, one of Robert E. Howard's other characters, the prototype for Conan. Conan recalls the stories of Serpent People inhabiting the land prior to mankind, an element that plays into the Kull mythos, including the very first sword-and-sorcery story in the US, “The Shadow Kingdom”, featuring King Kull. Additionally, the idea of natives refusing to follow Conan across a type of forbidden or sacred ground was used in Howard's “The Black Stranger”, which later was morphed into Treasure of Tranicos. But, instead of natives, “The Castle of Terror” uses lions. Arguably, the Kull short story “Skull of Silence” has comparisons as well, complete with Kull charging into a monolithic black house reportedly haunted by a cosmic horror.

This may be one of my favorite stories by Carter and de Camp. I love the eerie atmosphere and its similarity to an old Hammer Horror or Universal vampire flick. The concept of weary travelers attacked by a supernatural entity in a dark castle is sometimes overused, but in this story it works really well. The descriptions of the house, the creepy atmosphere, and the sense of urgency placed on the character to escape the lions was perfectly crafted. It's a remarkable combination and a mandatory read for fans of dark fantasy and horror.

Buy a copy of this book HERE. 

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Conan - Lair of the Ice Worm

“The Lair of the Ice Worm” was authored by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. It was first published in Conan of Cimmeria, a 1969 omnibus published by Lancer Books, then later by Ace. The story was also published in the Sphere Books collection The Conan Chronicles and adapted into comic book form in Savage Sword of Conan #34

The story picks up after the events of "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" as a twenty-something Conan is trudging through the snowfall in Aesir. A short distance away, Conan sees a young woman being attacked by savage men resembling Neanderthals. Soon, Conan is slicing his way to the woman's rescue, but his horse is killed in the battle. In an eerie premonition, the girl warns Conan of something ominous called a Yakhmar, but Conan (and readers) isn't sure what that is.

Finding shelter in a cave, Conan makes love to the girl by the firelight. He awakens to discover the girl is no longer in the cave. With the icy conditions outside, Conan fears something may have happened to her. Outside, he follows a trail that leads to two skeletons, one of the girl and another of his horse. Both have been picked clean of all flesh and oddly enveloped in ice. Conan begins to think that this Yakhmar thing is actually a Remora, a giant vampire-like worm. Feeling responsible for the girl's death, Conan tracks the worm's trail to an icy cave. Will he escape this fiendish assault of Remora?

An eerie atmosphere and ambiance prevails throughout this short fantasy story. There's the obvious elements of horror, complete with a worm-like creature squirming under the icy tundra. It was this sort of vibe that made me think of Lovecraft in a broader horror sense. The early battle with the savages was written well and contained the sweeping adventure that REH's Conan stories frequently possessed. As an aside, the brawny hero had no resistance in bedding down the beauty of the story, another obvious trope of Conan storytelling.

Overall, this was another great short story told by de Camp and Carter. It certainly fits into the Conan of Cimmeria collection alongside "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" and "Queen of the Black Coast" in terms of extreme locations. There's nothing about the story to really dislike. Recommended.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Conan - The Blood-Stained God

Robert E. Howard created a fictional character named Kirby O' Donnell in the 1930s. O' Donnell was a treasure hunter from the U.S. that disguised himself as a Kurdish merchant. There were two published stories starring the character, “Swords of Shahrazar” (Top-Notch, October 1934) and “The Treasures of Tartary” (Thrilling Adventures, January 1935). The third story, “The Curse of the Bloodstained God”, was not published during Howard's lifetime. Instead, it was discovered in Howard's unpublished manuscripts. It was revised by L. Sprague de Camp and replaced O' Donnell with Conan. It was re-titled “The Blood-Stained God” and was first published in Tales of Conan (Gnome Press, 1955). The story was also featured in Fantastic Universe (April 1956). Additionally, it was reprinted in the paperback Conan of Cimmeria (Lancer, 1969). Howard's original O'Donnell version was published in Swords of Shahrazar (Orbit, 1976). As clarification, my review is de Camp's Conan version of the story.

After serving for approximately two years as a soldier in Turan, Conan sets off solo in search of a fabled treasure in the Kezankian Mountains. Before the rugged action begins, Conan is in the city and sees a man being tortured by a group of men. After a scuffle that knocks Conan unconscious, he awakens to meet an Iranistani named Sassan. This man reveals to Conan that he is in search of the treasure and that a former prince and his companion were the torturers (this was rather confusing). Sassan and Conan decide to team together to search for the treasure.

In the mountains, Conan and Sassan are attacked by the prince and his companion, who are then attacked by a small army of Kezankians that are protecting the treasure from invaders. This fight ends up with everyone dead except Conan, Sassan, and the prince. The three find the temple and Sassan is killed by a booby trap. In an obligatory fashion, the prince attempts to kill Conan and is shocked when the real guardian of the treasure reveals itself. 

I feel like these treasure-hunting Conan stories all end in the same fashion - the hero never gains the gold. The protective baddie always prevents wealth and prosperity, forcing Conan to live his wild and restless lifestyle. What saves “The Blood-Stained God” is the action sequences that escort Conan and Sassan through the dangerous mountain pass. The oncoming army and two key criminals (not Conan and Sassan!) let the arrows fly, increasing the need to find the treasure by destroying each other. I also enjoyed Conan's easy problem-solving to avoid a similar fate that killed Sassan. The treasure’s protector was a lot of fun, but predictable. Recommended, but there are better Conan stories out there.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Conan - The Road of the Eagles (aka Way of the Swords, Conan Man of Destiny)

The December, 1955 Fantastic Universe issue featured an L. Sprague de Camp Conan story called “Conan, Man of Destiny”. This story was taken from a Robert E. Howard manuscript, originally titled “The Road of the Eagles”, discovered by Glenn Lord, about the Ottoman Empire featuring a hero named Ivan Sablianka. Howard's original version was edited by Lord and published in the Donald Grant collection Road of Azrael as “The Way of the Swords”. de Camp changed the title “Conan, Man of Destiny” to “The Road of the Eagles”. That story – de Camp's version – was later published in Lancer's 1968 collection Conan the Freebooter as by both de Camp and Howard. The comic adaptation appears in The Savage Sword of Conan #38

“The Road of the Eagles” continues where “Shadows in the Moonlight” leaves off. Conan and his pirates, now referred to as the Red Brotherhood, are attacked by Yildiz, the king of Turan and his General Artaban. Meanwhile, a young woman named Roxana escapes the ransacking and destruction of her village by a man named Kurusk Khan. Roxana, and a small army of Hyrkanians, runs into Artaban and he explains to her that he was in debt to Yildiz and basically attacked Conan's pirate crew to just pay off debt. Now, he is sort of rethinking his decision to serve Yildiz and wants to go independent and do his own thing with his army. 

With Artaban's change of heart, Roxana also reveals that the chief rival to Yildiz is Prince Teyaspa, her lover. She tells Artaban that Teyaspa is in a dungeon jail and he agrees to assist her with liberating him. While this is happening, Conan, nearly playing a bit part by this point, is running around with his surviving pirates trying to find and kill Yildiz. Here is where the story becomes very complicated and rather convoluted. Which, seems to be a pattern now with de Camp's reworking of Howard's stories that were never meant to feature Conan or The Hyborian Age. 

My understanding is that the castle where Teyaspa is imprisoned is simultaneously attacked by the Hyrkanians wanting revenge for their village destruction and Conan and his Red Brotherhood that want to find and kill Artaban before they seek Yildiz. Then, you have Artaban and Roxana attempting the prison break for Teyaspa. Honestly, this is like Game of Thrones on drugs that just leads to a Shakespeare-styled tragic ending. But, before the suicides (yes, they happen) the best part of the story reveals itself. Conan vs vampires!

Inside the dark cavernous tunnel system below the castle are ravenous hairy cave creatures called brylukas. They are vampiric in nature and attack Conan and his crew. This portion of the narrative is just brimming over with intense action-adventure as the titular hero attempts to climb through the cave's passageways while fighting off these savage monsters. This is more of what I want from Conan – brawn versus monsters, evil men, and sorcerers. Unfortunately, this exhilarating story within the story of Conan's escape from the creatures comes at the very end and is very short-lived. 

“The Road of the Eagles” is an okay read, but requires patience and pen on paper (or a handy phone notepad) just to keep up with who is chasing whom and for what reason – revenge, power, loot, women, etc. If you can dedicate 45 mins of heavy concentration, then the story totally works. If you are looking for just casual escapism, look elsewhere.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Conan - The Hand of Nergal

The Conan paperback published by Lancer in 1967 is a treasure trove of excellent short stories starring Robert E. Howard's brawny hero Conan the Cimmerian. Along with Howard shorts like “Rogues in the House”, “Tower of the Elephant”, and “The God in the Bowl”, the book also features stories outlined or half-completed by Howard and finished by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. One of the second to last stories in Conan is “The Hand of Nergal”. It was originally a fragmented story authored by Howard  in the 1930s. Lin Carter completed the story and titled it. Along with appearances in Conan, “The Hand of Nergal” was also featured in The Conan Chronicles (1989) and Beyond the Gates of Dream (1969). 

What I really enjoy about Conan stories and novels is that the environment and time period is variable. Conan could be a thief, soldier, gladiator, or royalty. In this story, Conan is a mercenary warrior fighting in Turan's civil war. Serving Turan, Conan is thrust into a planned battle to defeat rebellious forces led by a guy named Khan. In the heat of the fight, an army of large, demonic bats swoops down to the battlefield and begin to attack the Turan forces. 

Among the chaos of death and destruction, Conan locks into a fierce battle with one of the bats. Magically, the bat nearly places Conan into a cold-induced coma, but a strange amulet that the hero picked up days before seems to repel the creature. Later, Conan meets a bloody and battered female and they are ushered to the city of Yaralet to assist with killing the rebel leader Khan. 

Through a sorcerer, Conan learns that Khan controls these bat creatures using a precious stone known as Hand of Nergal. Conan and others eventually find Khan's throne room, deep in the bowels of a cave system hidden under the city, and a final battle ensues. There's a touch of cosmic horror and a lot of magic as Conan's forces eventually break Khan's curse and free Turan (I think). 

I really enjoyed this story and found Carter's stroke of science-fiction and fantasy a great blend with the more “on the nose” carnage that Howard's Conan typically creates. The Carter and Howard chemistry worked well, in my opinion, on the Kull stories, and I got that same sense of adventure, dark sorcery, and utter doom here. The balance of brawn and pure strength contending with magic is a recurring theme in Conan literature, and this story is a showcase of that strong storytelling. 

Many Robert E. Howard readers and fans aren't thrilled with the pastiche authors like Carter and de Sprague, but I'm definitely enjoying my voyage through all of these old paperback collections. It is pure escapism and I'm loving it because of stories like “The Hand of Nergal”.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Conan - Shadows in the Moonlight

Robert E. Howard's “Iron Shadows in the Moon”, starring Conan the Cimmerian, was published in Weird Tales in April, 1934. The story was renamed to “Shadows in the Moonlight, and appeared in the Gnome Press volume Conan the Barbarian in 1954. It was later edited by L. Sprague de Camp for inclusion in Swords & Sorcery, a 1963 collection published by Pyramid that featured authors like Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. The story can be found in the Lancer 1968 paperback Conan the Freebooter and future collections by Gollancz and Del Rey. It was later adapted into comic format in Savage Sword of Conan #4 and Conan the Cimmerian #22-25

“Shadows in the Moonlight” reads as if it is a hybrid of atmospheric horror and action-adventure. With Howard's association with Lovecraft, E. Hoffman Price and Clark Ashton Smith, his darker passion was stirred to author hair-raising tales like “Pigeons from Hell” (Stephen King named it one of the finest horror stories of the 20th century). But, beyond Conan battling evil sorcerers, snake behemoths, and the undead, how does “Shadows in the Moonlight” incorporate a less “on the nose” horror element? 

By placing Conan, and a damsel in distress, Olivia, on a deserted island, Howard branches this story off into new directions. First and foremost, this deserted island that Conan and Olivia sail to is deathly quiet, an atmosphere that the always colorful Howard is able to describe in an eerie fashion. When exploration begins, out of both boredom and hunger, the two find a crumbling, ancient ruin. Inside, they discover lifelike black statues that are placed in a half-circle. Finding no other shelter, the two decide to spend the night at the ruins (terrifying!) and Olivia has a nightmare that these statues come to life. I found this entire section of Howard's story to be chilling in its total abandonment of this archaic art. 

But, the horror element is temporarily swept aside as Conan and Olivia see a pirate ship on the shore. Hoping to gain passage, Conan fights the pirate captain and wins. But, these pirates are a bad lot (even for pirates) and they soon overtake Conan while Olivia runs into hiding. With Conan beaten and unconscious, the pirates take him to the ruins. But, there's a surprise with the statues, and I'm not going to ruin it for you here. 

“Shadows in the Moonlight” is set during the buccaneer era of Conan's life. In the story, Conan reveals to Olivia that he was in a a brigade called Free Companions, raiding the borders of Koth, Turan, and Zamora for a prince in Eastern Koth. Apparently, all of the Free Companions were killed except for Conan. By the story's end, Conan has become a pirate captain, complete with his own crew and ship. In the grand Conan mythos, this sets up his life under the alias Amra and his pirate empire in the Vilayet Sea. Details of this period make up the narrative of Leonard Carpenter's 1994 novel Scourge of the Bloody Coast

Sitting aside all the horror and pirate talk, “Shadows in the Moonlight” is a barbaric tale with plenty of sword fights and heroic saves set in an exotic location. As a men's action-adventure novel, there's nothing to dislike here. Robert E. Howard was in top form when he wrote the story and it's entertainment value has yet to dwindle. Highly recommended!

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Conan - Hawks over Shem

If you look online for the definition for “convoluted”, it should just provide a link to Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp's “Hawks over Shem” short story. In my quest to absorb as much Conan literature as humanly possible, I read half of this particular short story and found myself so confused that I re-read the first half again, which led to even more confusion. What in the Hell is going on here?

Perhaps the problem with this jumbled, fragmented, mess of a story is that it was originally a manuscript that Howard wrote about ancient Egypt called “Hawks over Egypt”. This version of the story was written by Howard in the 1930s and was first published in The Road of Azrael, a 1979 collection by Grant and later Bantam. It later appeared in Sword Woman and other Historical Adventures in 2011 by Del Rey. 

By 1955, L. Sprague de Camp had re-written “Hawks over Egypt” into a Conan the Cimmerian story with a new title of “Hawks over Shem”. It first appeared in Fantastic Universe's October 1955 issue. It was also included in the Gnome Press collection Tales of Conan the same year. The 1968 Lancer paperback Conan the Freebooter contains the story and its comic adaptation is featured in The Savage Sword of Conan #36

It's a fool's errand for me to try and review the story properly considering I received it in a dense fog of endless characters and alliances. Here's my best attempt: Conan and a stranger name Farouz are attacked by four Kushites. After Conan and Farouz kill the assailants, they scamper to a bar (where no alcohol is served) where a discussion happens that serves as plot development. A guy named Othbaal is contending for leadership of Asgalun. He's the cousin of King Akhirom, a lunatic. Othbaal is fighting a commander named Mazdak and a Kushite general, Imbalayo. It's a triangle of politics, backstabbing, and a lot of alliances.

This was just a nightmare to read and I couldn't gather which character was representing which country and who the enemy was. Thankfully, Conan's elementary role was to kill Othbaal and form a friendship with a mistress named Rufia. Together they attempt to leave the city among the factions of Anakim solders, Asgalun citizens, Imbalayo's power-heave, the Hyrkanians, a witch, a bonesucking creature, the crazy King Akhirom, and a Kushite captain. There's some connection to Conan's pirate days, but by the story's end, both Conan and Rufia flee north and this story thankfully ends. 

At 50ish pages, there's a backstabbing and an alliance formed over some minor backstory on nearly every page. I haven't read “Hawks over Egypt”, but I can imagine it must be better and more restrained than this over-indulgent nonsense. Out of the Conan stories I've recently read, this was the worst of the bunch. Avoid this headache.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Conan - A Witch Shall Be Born

“A Witch Shall Be Born” was published in the December, 1934 issue of Weird Tales. This Conan story, authored by Robert E. Howard, was written on a tight, fast-paced schedule that prior summer. It was published again in Avon Fantasy Reader #10 in 1949,  and was later grammatically edited by L. Sprague de Camp for Conan the Barbarian (Gnome Press) in 1954 and Conan the Freebooter (Lancer) in 1968. While not a terrific Conan story, it does feature one of the most iconic scenes in the character's long history.

Khauran's Queen Taramis becomes awake inside her chamber and finds an image of her twin-sister Salome. This is seemingly impossible because Salome died as a baby. However, Salome advises Taramis that she is indeed alive and well because she was cursed at birth with a crescent shaped birthmark on her chest. In a brief backstory, it is explained that Taramis and Salome both come from a lineage of witches. When Salome was born, she was placed in the desert to die a cruel death by the elements. But, a magician named Khitai found the baby and nursed her back to health while teaching her the fine art of sorcery. 

As a way to destroy her rival sister, Salome teams with a mercenary named Constantius to allow his military to infiltrate Khauran. Conan, who just happens to be the Captain of Taramis' Royal Guard, catches on to the plot. He fights against the infiltration, but is overcome by too many blades. In one of the most iconic, visually descriptive scenes in the Conan mythos, the titular hero is crucified on a large wooden X. This scene was used in the Conan the Barbarian film as a remnant of Oliver Stone's original screenplay based on this story. After Conan's removal, Salome throws Taramis in the dungeon and carries on ruling Khauran for seven months as the fake Queen. 

Conan is pulled from the clutches of a cruel death by a brutal raider named Olgerd Vladislav. Among Vladislav's vast army of raiders, Conan rises to power and eventually usurps Vladislav as the group's new leader. In a bid for revenge against his original tormentors, Conan leads his men back to Khauran to face Constantius, Salome and a dungeon monstrosity. 

Overall, the build-up and momentum to have Conan rescue Taramis and fight the monster is quickly dismissed at the story's end. Unfortunately, Conan is replaced by a different hero, lending a dose of disappointment to what is an average story at best. While this is surely a Conan story, it doesn't feature the hero in a majority of the narrative. In fact, a good portion of the story is simply a letter explaining Khauran's downfall under Salome's rule. 

If you are a Conan enthusiast, then the story is essential to a future work by de Camp. In “The Flame Knife”, Olgerd Vladislav returns for revenge against Conan as a follow-up to the events in this story. “The Flame Knife” is featured in 1968's Conan the Wanderer (Lancer) and became its own novel, Conan: The Flame Knife, in 1981.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Conan - Wolves Beyond the Border

I questioned whether to place “Wolves Beyond the Border” in the Conan category. Technically, it's in the same fictional universe and mentions the hero, but Conan doesn't actually appear in the story. Yet, it first appeared in the 1967 Lancer paperback Conan the Usurper, alongside other Conan classics like “The Scarlet Citadel” and “The Phoenix on the Sword”. By association alone, it seems mandatory. In fact, Howard began the story in the 1930s, but it went unfinished and unpublished. It was located in 1965 by Glenn Lord and then passed to L. Sprague de Camp to finish writing the story based on Howard's notes and summaries.

“Wolves Beyond the Border” takes place along the Pictish border. For Hyborian Age rookies, the Picts are similar to the Native American tribes of the North American continent in the 1500-1800s. If you read early frontier novels by the likes of James Fenimore Cooper (Leatherstocking Tales) or later, traditional westerns by Zane Grey (his Border Trilogy for example), the narratives mostly consist of early settlers and pioneers struggling to live in the same territorial regions as Native American tribes. So, Robert E. Howard used this as a blueprint when creating Conan stories like “The Treasure of Tranicos” and “Wolves Beyond the Border”. The Pictish borders are similar to the surrounding areas of North America's early Ohio River Valley.

This story is told in first-person narrative by a border ranger. In the early pages, this ranger (unnamed and referred to as Gault Hagar's son) witnesses a bizarre ritual by the Picts, where they torture a man and then magically place him in the body of a snake. It is a disturbing, horrific passage that surpasses even the mad-scientist terrors lurking in “The Scarlet Citadel”. This ranger sees that an Aquilonian named Lord Valerian is conspiring to secretly ally with the Picts. This is important because the story is set during a time when Conan was attempting to overthrow Aquilonia's leaders and become the new king. An alliance of Picts and Aquilonian noblemen doesn't promise success for Conan. 

At nearly 60 paperback pages, the story becomes bogged down and convoluted in the middle. The ranger hero confronts Lord Valerian and Pictish leaders at a swamp cabin and there's a fight and a capture. The beginning and end are exciting skirmishes and chase sequences, but overall I found the story to be of middling quality. From what I understand, Howard wrote the story up to the cabin meeting, and then the reigns were handed to de Camp to complete the manuscript from there. 

In the big picture of the Conan mythos, “Wolves Beyond the Border” is like the Star Wars film Rogue One. It is a separate story without the major heroes like Skywalker and Solo, but adds to the trilogy that began with Star Wars. Same principle here. While Conan isn't around, this is a behind-the-scenes political/military strategy that contributes to the events leading to Conan capturing the Aqulonian throne. If that's your type of story or if you are a Conan collector, then I'm sure there is plenty of enjoyment to be found here. Otherwise, skip it.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Conan - Black Colossus

“Black Colossus” is a Robert E. Howard story starring Conan the Cimmerian. It originally appeared for the first time in Weird Tales, June 1933. It was reprinted in the 1954 Gnome Press collection Conan the Barbarian with edits made by author L. Sprague de Camp. The website spraguedecampfan points out that de Camp's edits were very minor. Additionally, the de Camp's edited version appeared in the Lancer collection Conan the Freebooter (1968) and subsequent printings by Sphere, Prestige, and Ace. Howard's original version, without de Camp's edits, appeared in Black Colossus (1979), The Conan Chronicles Vol. 1 (2000), Conan of Cimmeria Vol. 1 (2003), and The Weird Writings of Robert E. Howard Vol. 1 among others. 

Shevatas is a legendary thief that readers are introduced to in the early pages. He possesses a special combination that will open a long sought after room in an ancient, abandoned Stygian temple. Once inside, Shevatas is nearly blinded by the glare of gold, silver, and heaps of diamonds. But, a recurring theme in Howard's books, is that the thief never gets the precious goods. In this case, a primeval Stygian sorcerer named Thugra Khotan awakens from a 3,000 year slumber and readers are left to their own conclusions that Khotan kills the thief.

By saying his last name backwards, Khotan takes on the name Natohk (clever, right?) and begins building an evil empire. He crushes and conquers Hyborian nations one by one, amassing their armies into his. The next destination is Khoraja, a country that is led by a brother-sister combination. The king becomes a prisoner in nearby Ophir and the queen, a beauty named Yasmela, hits the streets and pubs seeking a new military leader based on the wisdom she receives from her god Mitra. 

Yasmela, spiritually guided, locates a very drunk Conan at a local bar and convinces him to follow her back to her family's castle. There, she offers Conan the job of leading her royal armament, military, and commanders into a fierce battle with Natohk's controlled forces. A Lord Thespides (a general), is shocked by Yasmela's choice in Conan. Thespides defiantly contends Conan's leadership, but the entire military might of Khoraja soon arrives at the Well of Altaku to battle Natohk's forces. In grand fashion, the field of battle spills onto the page as Howard describes the chaos of the fight and the technical aspects of this confrontation. 

“Black Colossus” is a near-masterpiece of extraordinary battle scenes, large-scale invasion, and a classic showdown between Conan and the evil Natohk. Howard's imagination runs wild with vivid imagery, exceptional descriptions of these barbaric, iron-clad warriors, and a sense of quick plot development considering the short length. I can imagine “Black Colossus” as a full-fledged 500+ pager. 

There are a couple of interesting aspects to the story. The first is Howard's use of Biblical history, particularly Moses. In this story, Natohk throws a spear or staff on the ground and it transforms into a serpent. This mirrors the account in Exodus when the Lord asks Moses to throw his staff to the ground. When Moses obliges God, the staff turns into a serpent. On a much higher level, I believe Howard used Exodus as a blueprint for this story. When Yasmela asks Conan to lead Khoraja's military, the muscular hero questions her choice. He's a lone-wolf, inexperienced leader and the most unlikely military commander. The same could be said for Moses. God asks Moses, an unlikely leader lacking experience, to lead the nation of Israel. The similarities are striking. 

As an enjoyable reading experience, “Black Colossus” provides plenty of action-adventure, sorcery, chase sequences, and steel-meets-steel rallies. It's nearly perfect, flawed only by complicated character names and unnecessary backstory. Further, it is Conan's early development as an emphasis of the story. This work is forming the origins of Conan's eventual rise to King of Aquilonia, so it's important to the overall Conan mythos. Just as a stand-alone story, with no inkling of past or future events, it's still a rip-roaring good time. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Conan - The City of Skulls

In the very first edition of the Lancer Conan (1967) paperback, the table of contents lists a Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp story “Chains of Shamballah”. But, on page 189 the story title appears as “The City of Skulls”, and in future editions of the book, both the TOC and page 189 both lists “The City of Skulls”. It's one of those oddities in Conan literature. But, drilling down to the review of the story, this is only one of two stories in Conan that is authored by both Carter and de Camp. The other story is “The Thing in the Crypt”. All of the remaining stories in the collection are combinations of Robert E. Howard/Carter or de Camp. The story is also included in Sphere's 1989 omnibus The Conan Chronicles (pictured).

Like “The Hand of Nergal”, Conan is serving as a mercenary soldier for Turan's military. His detachment has been assigned the duty of escorting Princess Zosara to her wedding date with a powerful nomad. As the entourage crosses the plains at the base of a large, and snowy, mountain range, they are overrun by a tribe of savage warriors. Conan's entire squad is massacred, leaving him with two survivors, his friend Juma and the Princess Zosara. 

In an epic, short-lived 20ish pages, the three are forced through bitter cold winds, across the mountains, and into a warm jungle environment called Shamballah, the City of Skulls. It's here that Zosara is promised to a Toad-God-Thing named Jalung Thongpa and Juma and Conan are sold into slave labor aboard a ship. In a violent, brutal struggle, Conan is forced to row for days as he's whipped by a slave master and nearly starved. In an upheaval, Conan and Juma escape the ship and head back to save Zosara. 

In a book that contains Howard classics like “The Tower of the Elephant” and “Rogues in the House”, I'm surprised at how much enjoyment the two Carter/de Camp stories brought me. “The City of Skulls” feels epic, which is really impossible considering it's 33 pages. The story locations are described so well and thrust these characters – unwillingly – into the heart of madness with high altitudes and low temperatures. Mix in the ruthless rowing expedition as testaments to Conan's internal fortitude to soldier on. That's why we read these harrowing adventure tales. Carter and de Camp can tell a great story and I feel like “The City of Skulls” is a worthy addition to this stellar Conan collection. Recommended. 

* An interesting addition to the story is the introduction of a regular character in Juma. His backstory is explained in detail, placing him on the same path as Conan in terms of tragic childhood and harsh lessons in the terrifying wastelands of the Hyborian Age. Juma is featured in both Conan the Buccaneer and Conan the Hero novels. I believe he is also featured in many issues of Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan

** “The City of Skulls” was adapted into comic form in the Savage Sword of Conan #59 and very loosely in Conan the Barbarian #37.

*** The Conan: The Adventurer animated television show used a portion of this story, specifically the "Ship of Blood" chapter for Season 1/Episode 2/"Blood Brother". The episode was written by Christy Marx, who had previously provided comic writing for Red Sonja, Conan the Barbarian, and Savage Sword of Conan. The show swaps out the story's character of Juma with an ongoing character named Zula. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Conan - The Hall of the Dead

As most Robert E. Howard fans know, literary agent Glenn Lord located several boxes of the author's unfinished manuscripts in 1966. In an effort to collect the manuscripts into printable short stories, Lord acquired the talents of Howard scholars Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp to assist in editing and re-writing these stories. 

One of these stories, “The Hall of the Dead”, was a fragmented Conan the Cimmerian document created by Howard and then re-worked by L. Sprague de Camp. This version was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science-Fiction's February 1967 issue. It was also placed in the popular Conan paperback published by Lancer in 1967 and later reprinted by Ace. It also appears in 1989's Sphere publication The Conan Chronicles. Howard's original version, unedited by de Camp, was later published in the 2000s in two separate omnibus editions, The Conan Chronicles Vol. 1 and Conan of Cimmeria Vol 1.

Like many other stories, the era of “The Hall of the Dead” is set during Conan's thieving years, around 18-20ish. It picks up when Conan enters an abandoned, ancient city called Larsha. In a hot-pursuit is a group of Zamorian soldiers who have been assigned to arrest Conan for theft. These soldiers are led by Captain Nestor, who somehow escapes a trip-wire that befalls the entire group of men with an avalanche of rocks. With Conan in the abandoned city, Nestor enters hoping to solely capture him. 

de Camp is often criticized for not “getting” Conan, and there may be sufficient evidence for that argument, but in stories like “Hall of the Dead”, it is all about telling an exciting story. Whether it was Howard or de Camp describing the empty streets, desolate houses, crumbled buildings, etc., the visual imagery is very evocative. It sets up the story and the atmosphere quite well. 

As Conan engages in urban exploration, a giant slug squirms into the narrative to wreak havoc on the trespasser. This is typical “boss level” writing for sword-and-sandal or fantasy, when the hero matches power and strength with a big baddie. But, alas, this isn't the final boss. When the two characters decide to team-up and steal precious, forgotten treasures in Larsha's Royal Palace, a host of scary monsters appear to harass the thieves. This sets up the final boss battle.

There's nothing to really dislike about “The Hall of the Dead”, but loyalist complaints favor Howard's original version, which is shorter and features some differences in Nestor's actions in the story and the disappearance of the giant slug. In essence, I felt the story as a whole, regardless of writer, effectively placed Conan in a gloomy post-apocalyptic setting of an abandoned city, albeit a very short visit. Fans of Conan literature will easily recognize the moral preaching – bad things come to thieves. It's a recurring theme for these stories that feature a criminal-minded Conan on a self-serving mission to steal treasure. But, the fun is watching the struggle and inevitable loss. For that reason alone, “The Hall of the Dead” is worth the price of admission. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Conan - The Treasure of Tranicos

The first issue of the short-lived Fantasy Magazine was published in February, 1953. It's a notable issue  due to the inclusion of a previously unpublished Robert E. Howard story, “The Black Stranger”. The backstory on how this story appeared in the magazine, and its evolution into the later, novella-length version, The Treasure of the Tranicos, is interesting. 

“The Black Stranger” in the 1930s:

Like many of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, “The Black Stranger” was submitted to various publishers in the 1930s, but wasn't purchased for print. Re-working the story without Conan, Howard morphed “The Black Stranger” into “Swords of the Red Brotherhood”, a pirate story featuring one of his lesser known heroes, a 17th century Irish peasant named Terence Vulmea, or simply Black Vulmea. This story wasn't published in Howard's lifetime, instead first appearing in the 1976 hardcover Black Vulmea's Vengeance in 1976 by Donald M. Grant.

“The Black Stranger” and “The Treasure of Tranicos”:

According to L. Sprague de Camp's introduction in Conan the Usurper, a 1967 Ace paperback collection first featuring “The Treasure of Tranicos”, de Camp discovered unpublished manuscripts written by Howard in 1951. With one of the manuscripts, “The Black Stranger”, de Camp took the liberty of editing and re-writing the story as an adaptation into the Conan saga, specifically Aquilonian revolution. Lester del Rey, editor of Fantasy Magazine, made further additions and deletions and published the manuscript as “The Black Stranger”. The story was re-titled to The Treasure of Tranicos and included the same year in a Gnome Press hardcover omnibus called King Conan. de Camp explained that the title change was a result of too many of Howard's Conan stories containing the word “black” in their titles.

The Treasure of Tranicos after 1953:

In Conan the Usurper's introduction, de Camp further explains he edited and revised the original “The Black Stranger” manuscript again for its inclusion into Ace's collection. He elaborates that he omitted del Ray's edits and additions to align the story even more with the Conan mythology. It was this version that was released as an Ace paperback in 1980. Howard's original manuscript, before any of de Camp's edits, was included in the Tor novella collection Echoes of Valor in 1987. It has since appeared in numerous collections and omnibus editions.


My review of The Treasure of Tranicos is based on the story's appearance in Conan the Usurper. It is essentially the “truest” version that relates to Conan. In the story's beginning, the titular hero is running through the Pictish Wilderness, crossing Thunder River and brushing up against the Western Sea. Chased by Picts, Conan is shocked when the painted, savage warriors refuse to venture forward. Instead, as if scared of this part of the mountainous shoreline, they retreat. Conan, puzzled by the experience, finds a wooden door recessed into the mountain. Forcing it open, he discovers a dark cavern filled with preserved bodies and shiny piles of hidden treasure. But, he's quickly choked by hands that appear out of a dark mist. Then, Conan disappears for the bulk of the narrative's first half. 

In the next chapters, readers learn that this shoreline is a residence inhabited by Count Valenso. The Count, and his people, became shipwrecked and trapped on the shore months ago. Caught between the ocean and the savage Picts, the Count built a fort and has defended it since. Two rivals appear before the Count's fort, both greedy, savage pirates with a multitude of nefarious crewmen. It turns out that they have read pieces of a treasure map that points to the shoreline's location as home to hordes of precious loot. But, as Conan learned, it might come with a deadly price.

I can see that Howard's original manuscript was borderline Conan material. The Cimmerian isn't necessarily integral to the story, but by adding in a few descriptive details, and a brief mention of Aquilonian history, it works as another installment of the Conan mythos. As an aside, Howard scholars have previously noted that Howard's story has a western-frontier feel to it. Conan is mentioned as a “white man” and it isn't lost on readers that the Picts could be Native Americans. The shoreline fort is similar to the American southeast, notably the Carolinas and Floridian forts braced for French, Spanish, and English invasions. 

If you enjoy a rousing, men's action-adventure story or novella, then The Treasure of Tranicos is sure to please. Conan fans, like myself, will obviously flock to anything written, or partially created, by Robert Howard. As a Conan tale, it's a little off-center, but possesses enough villains, sorcery, and barbaric action to keep it within the realm. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Conan - The God in the Bowl

Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian short story “The God in the Bowl” wasn't published in the author's lifetime. It was rejected by pulp magazine Weird Tales, and after Howard's death, went undiscovered until 1951. It was then edited by L. Sprague de Camp and first published in Space Science-Fiction's September, 1952 issue. It has since appeared in collections like The Coming of Conan (1953), Conan (1967), and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (unedited, 2022) among others. 

Of the Howard Conan short stories, “The God in the Bowl” is easily one of the strangest. It doesn't really feel like a Conan story and fails to represent what we all know and love about the savage hero, or anti-hero. The premise reveals that “thief” Conan accepts a job from Nemedia's Governor's son to break into an antique house to steal a precious diadem. This diadem is being kept in a sarcophagus that was apparently discovered in the dark realm of Stygia. But why hire Conan? I assume the nobleman owes money for gambling debts or whoring and he wants the job done discreetly and efficiently. 

There's a sense of Golden Age Detective fiction when the antique house's overnight clerk is found dead. All fingers point to Conan as the murderer, and in a unique twist, the titular hero is forced to defend himself verbally. The accusation that Conan killed the clerk is hotly debated inside the museum, but as the discussion intensifies, things seem to be amiss. Between the police, the nobleman, and Conan, lies a monster in waiting. By the story's end, Conan is the victor, but it's an odd trip to get there. 

Other than the boss fight at the end, and a well-timed decapitation, this isn't your typical Conan story. Howard depicts Conan in a way that makes him seem weak, indisposed, and timid. At one point, the hero struggles with the conversation and is described as just shaking his head in puzzlement. It's similar in the way that Howard describes Conan in “Rogues in the House”. In that story, there's a scene where this priest is explaining a series of tubes he created that uses mirrors to create an illusion. Conan doesn't understand it and dismisses it as witchcraft. There's a difference between savagery and neanderthal dumbness, which is sometimes blurred in these stories, but I also understand that a hint of humor is injected through the befuddlement. That was Howard's intent, but I thought it cast a poor light on the hero here. 

Overall, I can recommend “The God in the Bowl”, but there are plenty of other Conan stories you should be reading before this one. Your mileage may vary. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Conan - Rogues in the House

The Conan the Cimmerian short story “Rogues in the House” first appeared in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in January, 1934. That same year, it was also featured in a short story collection, Terror by Night, published by Selwyn and Blount. Other appearances of the story can be found in Skull-Face and Others (1946), More Not at Night (1961), Conan (1967), and The Conan Chronicles (1989). Additionally, the story was adapted into comics by both Marvel and Dark Horse. 

A lot of Conan scholars and fans point to “Rogues in the House” as a prime example of Robert E. Howard's literary greatness. Visually, Frank Frazetta's  cover art for the 1967 Lancer paperback Conan depicts the famed scene from the story when Conan is fighting Thak, the hideous ape-creature. That may resonate in some way with fans gravitating to the story as well. But, there's no denying that it is a fantastic Conan offering and one that is certainly treasured for specific reasons.

The premise is that an aristocrat named Murilo has committed illegal affairs with foreign powers. A priest named Nabonidus, who is probably involved in the corruption as well, threatens Murilo by gifting him a box containing a co-worker's bloody ear. Murilo understands that he could be on a hit list and needs protection. Murilo visits Conan, who has been arrested for public intoxication, in the local jail. He bribes him that he will provide an escape as long as Conan agrees to kill Nabonidus that night. 

Things don't necessarily go as planned, and the subsequent events all culminate with Murilo, Conan, and Nabonidus all meeting at the priest's cavernous house. In a wild exchange, Conan and Murilo learn that Nabonidus has laid out a number of deadly traps throughout his house to enslave or kill rivals. One of these traps is a large enclosure where Thak, a wild ape-creature, prowls around. When Nabonidus' and Murilo's rivals arrive at the house, the trap is set for Thak to kill them. Again, things don't go as planned and the three are caught in their own trap with the savage Thak.

As I mentioned above, this is a great Conan story with a well designed plot considering the story's length. The political intrigue at the story's beginning propels the story, which leads to a familiar exchange between a government leader and Conan. In stories like “The Hall of the Dead” and “The God in the Bowl”, readers see that Conan is often sought after by government officials or becomes a partner in some sort of heist. This extends that theme with Conan and Murilo's mutual agreement that each needs something the other has – assassination skills and freedom. It's a wonderful criminal balance.

The complex housing structure that Nabonidus has created hosts the bulk of the story. With the addition of Thak, a wild creation by Howard, the story features the inevitable showdown between man and beast. The action is blood-soaked as Conan battles Thak with a razor sharp poniard, a scene that seemingly channels Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, which was published 22 years before this Conan story. The government treachery, dialogue, and awe-inspiring action is a great blend that easily catapults “Rogues in the House” into the top echelon of Howard's Conan stories. Highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 96

The boys are back in town! On Episode 96, Tom brings you all of the action at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Con from Lombard, Illinois and reviews a vintage Robert Colby paperback called Kim. Eric examines the birth of the Sword & Sorcery genre with Robert E. Howard's Kull character. He also delves into the Lancer paperbacks, Conan, graphic novels and magazines. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly:

Listen to "Episode 96: Windy City Pulp & Paper and Robert E. Howard's Kull" on Spreaker.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Conan - The Thing in the Crypt

"The Thing In The Crypt", authored by L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter, appears in the 1967 Conan book by Lancer. The story was later reprinted by Ace after Lancer's business operations ceased. 

If we were to view Conan's life chronologically, I believe "Legions Of The Dead" is right before "The Thing in the Crypt." At the closing of that story, Conan is in chains, snared by the Hyperboreans after a raid in Asgard. This short story begins when Conan finds a way to break his chains, thus escaping to the south. Once there, he discovers a pack of snarling, hungry wolves on his trail. In one captivating scene, Conan fights the wolves with a length of broken chain. Fearing certain death, he escapes into a mountain cave for protection. The wolves become frightened in the doorway of the cave and refuse to go in.

Inside, the Cimmerian finds darkness, bones and a mummy seated on a throne holding an iron sword. Looking for a means to arm himself for the coming danger, Conan takes the sword, triggering something that animates the mummy. Conan is thrust into a fight with this "thing" and at the end emerges from the cave with his new iron sword.

These scenes are in the original Conan The Barbarian film, albeit minus the mummy fight. In the movie, Conan simply picks up the sword and the mummy continues his corpse slumber. I can't find any fault with the story's presentation and deliverance. I know these authors receive tons of heat from the fans and some of it might be valid. "The Thing In The Cryp"' is basically one long action sequence and the descriptive detail regarding the snow capped mountains, the crunch of bones in the crypt and the snarling wolves are certainly eye candy for the adventure hounds. Recommended.

Conan - Legions of the Dead

The short story "Legions of the Dead" is by Bjorn Nayberg with assistance from Lin Carter and L. Sprague De Camp. I believe the original unfinished manuscript was started by Robert E. Howard. The story can be found in the 1978 compilation book Conan The Swordsman.

The story's time-period features Conan at a young age, possibly seventeen or eighteen. This is of course after the events of Venarium and finds our hero running with a band of raiders known as the Aesir. The leader of these raiders is Njal, who awakes to find that his daughter Rann has been kidnapped by Hyperboreans. Njal sends out thirty scouts to a castle called Haloga. Conan, Njal and a handful of raiders depart to recover Rann and also to discover the whereabouts of the missing scouts. 

In one graphic scene, we find that the scouts have been hung on hooks and displayed around the top of Castle Haloga. The perpetrator? A wicked queen called Vammetar and her sinister Witchmen. Conan penetrates the fortress only to find that the dead have risen and are on the hunt for the raiders. 

Interesting enough that the story ends with Conan in chains, a slave to the Hyperboreans. This "slavery" is shown at the beginning of the film Conan The Barbarian and also recalled in the next Conan entry entitled "The Thing In The Crypt". Overall, I thought this was a decent read filled with action and occult. I am not sure who to credit the writing too, but overall it was a really good literary piece to fill in the young adult era of Conan's life.