“The Phoenix on the Sword” (1932)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Extent

Read in 2016.

Commentary

A rehash, but still an excellent outline of what was to come.

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Prequel:

“Black Colossus” (1933)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Commentary

This crucial point in the career of Conan the Cimmerian gets him noticed in high circles and associated with Mitra, explicitly leading to his becoming king—and penetrating a mystery of Mitra’s cult—in the first story about the character. This upswing, together with the epic plot, provides a greater sense of societal momentum than is customary in Howard.

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Prequel:

“The Pool of the Black One” (1933)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

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Prequel:

“The Slithering Shadow” (1933)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Commentary

Interesting mainly for another relatively Lovecraftian monster and for Conan getting very near death; alas he is saved by a health potion.

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Prequel:

“The Tower of the Elephant” (1933)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

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Prequel:

“A Witch Shall Be Born” (1934)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Commentary

The crucifixion doesn’t seem to support the character. In the best stories he survives by his wariness, bravery, cunning and explosiveness, none of which are the qualities that get him safely off the cross. Here he’s just Christ, a superhero holding all the cards.

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Prequel:

“Queen of the Black Coast” (1934)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Commentary

I wish Howard had written more stories like this: An adventuring party, albeit with a bunch of NPCs, on a doomed voyage of discovery, thick with atmosphere.

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Prequel:

“Rogues in the House” (1934)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Commentary

A D&D blueprint.

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Prequel:

“Shadows in the Moonlight” (1934)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

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Prequel:

“The Devil in Iron” (1934)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

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Prequel:

“The People of the Black Circle” (1934)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

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Prequel:

“The Valley of the Worm” (1934)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

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Prequel:

“Shadows in Zamboula” (1935)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Commentary

Weakly plotted.

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deep prequel:

“The Hyborian Age” (1936)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Commentary

Crude and ethnocentric, as expected of pre-Tolkien worldbuilding.

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Prequel:

“The God in the Bowl” (1952)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Extent

I read the version published in The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle.

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Prequel:

“The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” (1953)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Commentary

Possibly the first Conan story, diegetically, and interestingly light on action. Unfortunately it’s one long attempted rape. Howard’s grasp of mythological thinking wasn’t historically accurate.

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Spin-off:

“Drums of Tombalku” (1966)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Extent

I read the draft published in The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle.

Commentary

Conan’s barely in it. An example of the unfortunate tendency to emphasize the childlike mental and physical traits of the idealized, sexually objectified women of Conan’s universe. Appropriate to this, the last line implies a protective love, like moe.

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Prequel:

“The Vale of Lost Women” (1967)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Commentary

A strange one: A lurid sexual theme in lyrical language, focalized by the would-be victim, eventually punctured by the “barbarian” protagonist taking a clear stance against non-consensual sex and calling the whole thing off. The bat-like monster is a tiny bit more Lovecraftian than the norm for Howard, but aside from the “soulless joy” of its worshippers, it’s no more scary.

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Prequel:

“The Snout in the Dark” (1969)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Extent

Posthumous publication date. I read the draft published in The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle.

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Prequel:

“The Hall of the Dead” (1976)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Extent

The date of publication is posthumous. I read the synopsis published in The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle.

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Prequel:

“The Hand of Nergal” (1976)

Creators

Robert E. Howard (writer).

Extent

Posthumous publication date. I read the fragment published in The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle.

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