Books: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian
Robert E. Howard's masterwork was Conan, a barbarian whose exploits have been endlessly copied and pastiched. Del Rey has come out with a neat new collection of the unedited, unabridged Howard stories, and I picked up Volume 1 - "The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian." It includes the first thirteen Conan stories, along with some fascinating rough drafts and previously unpublished material.
While most people are familiar with the Arnold Schwarzenegger version of the character, the original writings first published in the pulp magazine "Weird Tales" are arguably more effective at conveying a ruthless, cunning antihero. Howard's Conan is no saint - he's a thief and a killer, but he seems to have his own code of honor that sets him apart.
Predictably, the early stories are heavily influenced by H.P. Lovecraft, and most of them end with Conan encountering some nameless terror from the Great Beyond. The difference between Howard and Lovecraft, though, is that Conan actually slays these foul things, making the tone more heroic than despondent. Later stories (including "Queen of the Black Coast") introduce high adventure into the mix.
If there's criticism to be leveled, it's that the reader must keep in mind these stories were written for fantasy pulp magazines, and definitely have the rough edges that come from such parentage. But considering how popular Conan is 75 years after he was first revealed, it's safe to say these stories have some lasting value, making this volume a worthy read.