The barbarian adventurer Conan, created by Robert E. Howard in the 1930’s, has continued on from his short story roots to be featured in novels, movies, role playing games, cartoons, live-action television shows, and comic books on his way to becoming the single most iconic sword and sorcery character ever. While these further exploits penned by other writers have often been a lot of fun, none compare to those helmed by his creator.
1. “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” or “Gods of the North” (1932) – Conan finds himself the lone survivor of a bloody conflict in an arctic wasteland when he encounters a beautiful woman who taunts him. Her supernatural allure drives him to chase after her bringing him into conflict with a group of giants.
2. “The Phoenix on the Sword” (1932) – Here Conan is serving as King of Aquilonia which doesn’t set well with the locals since he’s a foreigner. Political maneuverings are set in motion by usurpers to assassinate him. The dark wizard Thoth-Amon is a pawn in this plot, relegated to the role of servant since losing his ring of power. Thoth-Amon isn’t one to take such a role casually, however.
3. “The People of the Black Circle” (1932) – Conan kidnaps a beautiful princess from rivals in order to trade her for the release of seven of his own captive men. He ends up working to prevent a plot of the powerful Black Seers of Yimsha to take over the world. To make matters worse Conan’s own men, believing he’s betrayed them, seek to hunt him down to exact revenge. With enemies on all sides and dark magic in play, Conan struggles to win back his followers, the affections of his captive princess, and to stay alive against all odds in this novella.
4. “Shadows in the Moonlight” (1934) – Saving a woman of royal blood named Olivia, who’s fleeing to escape an arranged marriage, Conan takes her aboard a boat to an abandoned island filled with giant humanoid statues and ancient ruins. Soon a pirate ship lands there as well, captained by a man who hates Conan. Strange creatures and strange powers are at work on the island.
5. “Queen of the Black Coast” (1934) – The trade ship Conan is serving on is taken over by the beautiful female pirate Bêlit. Instantly infatuated with Conan, she spares his life. He decides to join her crew, and with him at her side, they terrorize the coastal villages, eventually coming across a mysterious island which Bêlit believes contains great treasure. Going to search for it, pits them against a pack of murderous were-hyena, traps and plant-life, as well as a giant, winged beast.
6. “Shadows in Zamboula” (1935) – Ignoring a warning to stay away from a cheap inn, Conan finds himself attacked at night by a Zamboulian cannibal. Surviving the attack, he saves a beautiful woman from more of the cannibals only to have her enlist his aid in saving her lover who’s been driven mad by a potion. She also asks him to help her eliminate the high priest of Hanuman who tricked her into giving him the potion. Conan must fight his way through traps and an extraordinarily strong strangler with hypnotic powers to reach the high priest inside the opulent temple. This is among my favorite Conan stories.
7. “Beyond the Black River” (1935) – Conan works as a scout in the Bossonian Marches for Fort Tuscelan on the Black River. The fort comes into conflict with Hyborian Picts, led by the wizard Zogar Sag. Conan meets and befriends a young settler named Balthus, whose story proves as interesting as Conan’s. The story takes place in the wilderness as the pair (who are joined by a wild dog bent on revenge against the Picts) work to make their way back to the fort to warn them of Zogar Sag’s approaching armies. Aside from fighting their way through Pict warriors, the pair encounter swamp demons, giant snakes, and a ghostly wizard along the way.
8. “Hour of the Dragon” (1935) – This novel also takes place during the time when Conan was King of Aquilonia after slaying the former ruler. Unfortunately for him, factions loyal to the heir of their deposed former ruler are scheming in the background to rid themselves of their new king. They manage to resurrect a powerful sorcerer known as Xaltotun who lived in the ancient, lost empire of Acheron. When Conan’s men go to war against their enemies the Nemedians, they are soundly defeated thanks to the undead sorcerer’s assistance and Conan is taken captive to await execution. With the help of a beautiful slave girl named Zenobia, he escapes and the two embark on a sprawling quest to attain The Heart of Ahriman, an artifact needed to confront the necromantic powers of Xaltotun. This is another of my favorite Conan tales.
Article by Matt Cowan