Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Lost Conan Adventures: Introduction

This is part of yet another new series I'd been working on in the background, but the announcement that Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan would be working on "Queen of the Black Coast" galvanized me into action. While Wood emphasises that most of the 25 issues will be used to fill out the 2 years between "Queen of the Black Coast"'s "bookends," he shouldn't forget that Howard provided enough inspiration to fill an entire saga within the tale itself.  I guess I'm just hoping that if either Wood or Cloonan are reading what the rabid REH fanboys are writing about their comic, then they'll either take some of the ideas I bring up here into the comic, or that they've already come up with them.  Some elements might have been already used by Roy Thomas in either the past Marvel comics, or even in the recent Road of Kings arc: some might not be used at all.  All I can do is get my thoughts out there, so I can say that I did.

So, here's my latest Toad-of-Toad-Hall Mania.  I'd already done a lot of these in-between the Encyclopedia, but I figure it would be a good time to bump up this particular entry.

The Lost Conan Adventures

Every work of fiction has at least one allusion, one mysterious reference, which sends the audience's mind wild.  It may be an off-the-cuff remark about some mysterious incident of the distant past, referencing a legendary figure or iconic individual, or recalling a distant location: a skilled author can offer glimpses of countries, histories and myths with a few words.  The audience would debate and discuss just what these riddles mean, each with their own ideas and conceptualisations they inspired.  With some of the great mythmakers, it goes beyond enthusiastic amateurs to professional admirers, as dozens of authors could follow the originals with new adventures and novels: Tarzan, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, and more have had new chronicles published, while the Cthulhu Mythos remains a popular playground for Lovecraftian authors.

So it is with Robert E. Howard's Conan. Who doesn't wonder just what the destruction of Venarium was like?  What were the secrets ensconced in the Iron-Bound Book of Skelos?  Just what manner of lands were those south of the Black Kingdoms of Kush?  In the pages of Weird Tales, Howard left all these plots hanging, tantalizing readers while amply expanding the richness and variety of the Hyborian Age with economic poetry.  Sure enough, many of those hints were the germs of entire books: Harry Turtledove chronicled Venarium's fall in Conan of Venarium, the mysterious Skelos became a focus in books by Andrew J. Offutt and others, and the lands south of Kush were explored in a number of de Camp and Carter pastiches. Over the years, there have been multiple interpretations of these elements in the Conan canon across multiple media: the Marvel comics, Dark Horse comics, and De Camp/Carter pastiches all have different accounts of many of them, and no doubt many more will come in the future.

With so many interpretations, it can be easy to get lost in the labyrinthine continuities of Conan and the Hyborian Age. However, Howard always remained the core, as he should, and so any future pastiches should generally look to Howard for inspiration, first and foremost, as it provides the most common ground.  Having a Howard-created character appear in a pastiche merely means the story is in-canon with the Howard stories, but if one included, for example, Skulkur from "Conan the Adventurer," does that mean the rest of the cartoon is canon?  What about Xotli from Conan of the Isles, Hissah Zuhl from "Conan: The Adventurer," Wrarrl from the Marvel comics?  Ultimately, it's better when starting a new line of pastiches to start from scratch.  Leave the Hyperborean Witch-Men in "Legions of the Dead" and Bombaata in Conan the Destroyer: there are enough clues and hints in Howard to fuel enough new creations.

So we come to The Lost Conan Adventures.  At it's core, The Lost Conan Adventures will look at the Conan stories, and search for those inspirational launching points for Conan tales.  Some I've discussed before, in my reports on the progress of the Encyclopedia Hyboriana; others have been expanded into the Hyborian Age Gazetteers; still more could be developed into biographies, histories, chronicles and the like.  However, for the purposes of the TLCA, the focus will be on possible adventures.  These will be divided into
the following categories:

Before Our Story Begins
These are those events which happen before the story begins, which are not directly chronicled in other Howard stories.  Some refer to a distant time in Conan's past, such as the sacks of Abombi and Venarium in "The Scarlet Citadel" and "Beyond the Black River" respectively.  Others take place just prior to the beginning of the tale, such as Conan's betrayal in "Rogues in the House" and the destruction of Almuric's army in "Xuthal of the Dusk."  The most flexible and tantalising are those which could have happened at any time or any place: Conan reading the book of Skelos before "The Devil in Iron" allows for Conan to encounter that tome just about anywhere and any time before the tale begins.

Stories Within The Story
Howard's economy of writing meant that a great deal could be described in a few words, but there are times when one could imagine any number of things happening.  Sometimes, it's a few months condensed into a paragraph, as frequently happened in The Hour of the Dragon; others, entire years go by between chapters, most famously in "Queen of the Black Coast."  Other possibilities include what happens to other characters over the course of a tale, explanations for seemingly incongruous anomalies or plot holes, reconciliations with other stories - anything.

Weaving a Tapestry
Just as any one story can inspire future adventures, sometimes a story can be tied into earlier or later tales in Conan's life. Howard would develop the reference to Conan's adventures as Amra of the Black Corsairs in "The Scarlet Citadel" into an entire story, "Queen of the Black Coast."  "The Phoenix on the Sword" has references to Conan's thieving in Zamora, fighting with the Aesir, and as a mercenary soldier would be expanded into "The Tower of the Elephant," "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," and "Black Colossus."  Other examples are more abstract: Conan's reference to having seen "death strike a king in the midst of thousands" may technically apply to a previous story, or it could be an original adventure.

But That's Another Story
Every Conan story leaves a few loose ends before the end.  Sometimes they're obvious, like Olgerd Vladislav in "A Witch Shall Be Born": the last time we see him is his ominous ride into the desert.  Others are more subtle: the fate of Altaro, Orastes' acolyte in The Hour of the Dragon, is never explicated.  The roots of future adventures are ripe for exploitation, as Olgerd and Conan crossing paths once again could form the core of an entire story, while Altaro could be biding his time and consolidating his power for future malevolence.  Sometimes, it's as simple as wondering what happened when the story ended: what did Murillo get up to after "Rogues in the House"? Did Conan and Muriela go to Punt to continue their little con game after "The Servants of Bit-Yakin"?  Where did Conan take the Wastrel after "The Pool of the Black One"?

It's always possible, likely even, that I've missed some bits and pieces out there.  So, I invite anyone who's read the stories and thought "I wonder..." to contribute.  Be it fairly reasonable things, like "did Conan ever ransom the Star of Khorala" to wild ideas like "what if the Kings of Yag came to earth in a search for Yogah," anything goes.  The more the merrier.

I had originally started with "The Phoenix on the Sword," naturally, but due to the coming of "Queen" to Dark Horse, I decided to march it forward. The post will be up sometime this week: in the mean time, why not post your own ideas and ruminations inspired by Howard's stories?

1 comment:

  1. hey what an interesting idea, I hope it has continuation, ehem... do you remember the Frazetta covers? I think Marvel comics used Olgerd Vladislav for a story after A witch shall be born, and I have an idea, could it be that Constantius was still alived after being helped by some survivor of his band of mercenaries when he was crucificated? the story of Wolves beyond the border could be interesting too, the origin of the alliance between Lord Valeriano and the picts for instance