Sunday, 26 September 2010

Robert E. Howard for Newbies

There are a few Conan and Howard FAQs out there, but I don't think one more would hurt.  I've been working on one about the Conan film for Conan Movie Blog, but it quickly grew into one that encompassed the Conan franchise and Howard himself.  It'll tackle all the silly myths, misconceptions and confusion about the character and his creator.  Sort of a mix between QI, Mythbusters and a general FAQ.

So here's the template of questions I'm working on answering.  If there are any that you fine folks think I should add, let me know!

Robert E. Howard

  1. Who's this "R.E.H." I'm hearing about?
  2. Who's Robert E. Howard?
  3. Cool, what Conan novels should I start with?
  4. Wait a minute, I've seen whole rows of Conan novels on bookshelves: who wrote them?
  5. So Howard wrote only twenty-one stories and one novel?
  6. Did Howard write anything other than Sword-and-Sorcery?
  7. Since he was writing in the 1920s and 1930s, wouldn't his stories be... you know, awfully racist to modern readers?
  8. What about the treatment of women, aren't his stories horribly sexist and misogynistic?
  9. You know, all those descriptions of "mighty thews" and "rippling muscles" makes me wonder: isn't the Conan literature pretty homoerotic?
  10. I heard Howard was a Mama's Boy who was overly attached to his mother -- is that true?
  11. In "Conan Unchained," Oliver Stone said that Howard boarded up his windows at night because he feared his enemies would come and get him, and John Milius said that he actually believed the ghost of King Conan was coming to him at night, forcing him to write his adventures or he'd kill him. What's that all about?
  12. Did Howard ever leave his hometown?

Conan (2011)

  1. Is this the King Conan movie I've been hearing about?
  2. Right, so what's this film then? Is it a sequel to Conan the Barbarian?
  3. Is it a remake of Conan the Barbarian?
  4. But if it isn't a remake, why does the plot sound just like Conan the Barbarian?
  5. If Howard didn't write an origin story for Conan, why are Howard fans so bothered by it?
  6. So how faithful is the film to Robert E. Howard's original stories?
  7. Couldn't they have just waited for Schwarzenegger to leave office and make King Conan: Crown of Iron with John Milius?
  8. So who's playing Conan?
  9. Isn't Jason Momoa black?
  10. Well, if they couldn't get Arnold, why didn't they cast Roland Kickinger/The Rock/Triple H/any other bodybuilder or wrestler?
  11. Will Arnold at least make a cameo in the film?
  12. Who's playing Thulsa Doom, and Valeria, and Subotai?
  13. So who else is in the film, then?
  14. Will they use Basil Poledouris' themes?
  15. Who's directing?
  16. I thought it was Brett Ratner?
  17. What production studio is making the film?
  18. When is it coming out?
  19. If you hate the film so much, how come you're running a blog about it?

Conan in General

  1. Is Conan the Barbarian a good introduction to Howard's stories?
  2. Are any of the Conan books by other authors any good?
  3. How about the comics, should I check them out?
  4. Do you have any particular recommendations?
  5. What about the video games, are they good?
  6. Wasn't there a cartoon in the '80s? Conan the Adventurer, I think?
  7. Come to think of it, wasn't there a '90s tv show too?
  8. There are a few RPGs out there, are they good?


  1. The Conan the Adventurer cartoon and its sequel Conan and the Young Warriors aired in the '90s, not '80s.

    Perhaps under Conan in General under the appropriate questions, you could bring up how the real stories differ from other fantasy works by not having special weapons for characters. As you know, the real Conan doesn't depend on an Atlantean or starmetal sword, or an Andúril or Excalibur or whatever, but just uses what comes to hand. Discovering the stories after reading high fantasy, that detail was refreshing.

    But you know what to do. Thanks for your work for The Cimmerian, on here and the movie blog.

  2. That's exactly true: however, you'd be surprised how many people do think Conan the Adventurer was an '80s cartoon. That's why I frame the question like that.

    Excellent idea about the weapons. I might have to do a whole section on adaptations in general.

  3. I ran across this blog when you linked to my little fit of pique about the AV Club's "Gateway to Geekery." This is relevant to my interests. :)

    I'm about to re-read the stories in The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian. Oddly accessible entry point, that ... almost a "gateway" of sorts.

    Anyway, I think this FAQ is a fine idea, and the presence of some of the questions is depressingly humorous.

  4. Ahoy Scott! You said it better than I could. The Del Reys will be the primary gateway of choice, followed by the Orion Centenery edition, along with any others that come to mind.

  5. Perhaps something touching on the Kull movie with Kevin Sorbo. Not sure it would be appropriate, but I think it was the only 90's entrant in the Hollywooding of Howard.

  6. We do not speak of that... film.

    Though admittedly, it might be necessary to mention it. Valka, but I hate that film...

  7. I'm not sure if milius was being so literal about conan threatening him( i never took it that way anyway) I always thought it was just his way of saying how conan consumed howard for a period of time.though it makes an excellent premise for a horror movie or tales from the crypt type anthology story( if it hasnt already been done: aspiring pulp writer is visited byone of his own creations threatening his life if his stories are not told. there's something to that, unfortunately there would be parallels to howard that may put him in a bad light. entertaining thought though.)Oliver stone was definitely talking out of his ass though, and it's not really fair to howard. THe conan general info is gonna be a great help as is the howard misconceptions, the new movie I would imagine may be tough cause new reports have been scarce and as much as is known, there is still alot unknown . But a noble undertaking and I couldnt think of a better man to do it! best of luck....... yeah no need to mention kull though I would like to know whats up with this new version alledgeldly being made....mario

  8. How about: "What ever happened to "Red Nails"? Wasn't that supposed to be released by now?

    Speaking of R.E.H. being a crypto-homosexual, Harlan Ellison was just in my town. I wasn't going to pay $75 to go to the con, but I wouldn't have minded meeting Gene Wolfe. Sophie Aldred from Dr. Who was also there, I met her a few years ago.

  9. Mario, I think it's *possible* that's what Milius was meaning, but the way he said it was just too ambiguous: as a result, people could easily have misinterpreted it in a way they wouldn't from reading the original letter. Either way, it needs clarification.

    Good catch on "Red Nails," Atom Kid. I think it was Harry Harrison who talked about Conan the Crypto-Homosexual, but given the stuff Ellison's said over the years I wouldn't be surprised.

  10. this faq is for this blog or for the one about the film...? when will be it ready...?

  11. Ah, Harry Harrison! I misattributed the wrong slur to the wrong author. :P

  12. Francisco, I plan to have it here and at Conan Movie Blog. Not sure when it'll be ready, probably a few days or weeks.

    No problem Atom. Ellison and Harrison aren't too dissimilar phonetically!

  13. haven't read Harrison I bet in quality and prose work they are very dissimilar... this comment is in favour of Harlan Ellison, he is very ill and I'm afraid he is dying...

  14. Harrison gave us the excellent Make Room, Make Room! which was filmed as Soylent Green, and I think a few other straight SF stories. Most of the time, though, he sticks to comic SF like the Stainless Steel Rat, which is great fun.

    I heard about Ellison's health problems, and I only hope things improve, or if the worst comes to the worst, that he passes peacefully. "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream" is one of the the darkest, bleakest stories I've ever read, and his screenplay for I, Robot was absolutely fantastic.

    In prose the two are certainly dissimilar. Quality, I'd go with Ellison myself.

  15. I know Harry Harrison wrote the Stainless Steel Rat but I didn't remember he wrote Make room, Make room! a bit like Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner, isn't it? by the way have you read this one...?
    Harlan Ellison have in Cthulhu 2000 a version of the myth of Prometheus absolutely great...

  16. This could be too in-depth for newbies perhaps, but it could be fodder for a blog post on its own ;-)

    - Did J.R.R. Tolkien really like the Conan stories as L. Sprague de Camp claimed?

    I remember reading somewhere that there are good reasons to doubt this.

  17. I'd love a recommendation as to what editions to read. I've read a little Howard here and there, and enjoyed him, but I've always been a bit wary of buying a collection, as the history of the texts seems to include a lot of meddling and confusion.

  18. Jonas, read the Del Rey editions. Those are the pure REH text versions.

    (hell, grab ANY Del Rey Howard collection--ALL are awesome!)

  19. this idea came to me late but i was thinking ,how often does conan actually taste defeat or loss or suffer? there is a misconception out there that he is this unstoppable killing machine that always wins and never pays a price, but how often was he the last one standing in a battle? or is captured or lost a lover or comrade. what affect does it have? it reminds me of the differences in the james bond flicks to the literary character who is often put through his mental and physical paces, in the movies he blows things up, makes a smug comment and fixes his tie....mario

  20. Might you include something about the "purist" controversy surrounding Howard's original text vs. the changed versions done by de Camp & others?

  21. Francisco, I haven't read Stand on Zanzibar. I have a lot of SF catching-up to do.

    Anonymous, the Tolkien argument is ultimately unprovable, in that there isn't any documented evidence of Tolkien saying in print or in film that he read and enjoyed them (that we know of). However, there is a boatload of compelling circumstantial evidence, and aside from De Camp's testimony, there are other reasons beyond mere wishful thinking to believe that Tolkien did read and enjoy Howard.

    Jonas, that's a good idea. I'll do a breakdown of the best collections to get, in order of thoroughness/completeness/fidelity to Howard's writings. As Tex says, the Del Reys (The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Bloody Crown of Conan, and The Conquering Sword of Conan) are the current definitive Conan collections, but the Centenary, Fantasy Masterworks and a few others are good if you can't get the Del Reys, though I don't see how anyone could have a problem getting them.

    Mario, some excellent suggestions. There are more instances of Conan being defeated than one might suppose.

    Zack, a breakdown of the controversy would also be a great idea. I'll likely give examples, too (such as the "Black Stranger"/"Treasure of Tranicos" case).