The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Robert E. Howard wrote the Conan stories (arranged above in order of internal chronology) as episodes from the life of the invincible barbarian hero. This Gnome Press collection includes all of Howard’s Conan stories, commentary regarding Conan and his world, and two tales of King Kull, another ancient barbarian king. Most of the stories were originally published in Weird Tales between 1929 and 1936, except those in the last book, Tales of Conan, which was compiled from previously unpublished manuscripts. L. Sprague de Camp edited the entire collection.

The Kull tales begin with The Coming of Conan. With his Pictish friend Brule, Kull battles the uncanny serpent men. Kull is a mighty barbarian warrior from Atlantis who has usurped the throne of the kingdom of Valusia, and Brule is a guerrilla fighter and fantastically skilled hunter. Conan is a fusion of these two characters. He is the greatest swordsman of his age, with the strength, speed, and ferocity of a beast of prey and senses so acute that he surpasses wild men and animals in tracking and stalking.

After the Kull stories begin the adventures of Conan, set in the prehistoric Hyborian Age. Although little is known of Conan’s early years, it is established that he was born in the midst of a battle, literally bred to war. At the sack of Venarium, an Aquilonian outpost in Cimmeria destroyed by the barbarians, he acquired a curiosity about the Hyborian civilizations. When he was about seventeen years old, he began the wanderings that would make him legendary throughout the world as a thief, mercenary, bandit chieftain, pirate captain, general, and ultimately barbarian king of Aquilonia itself.

The most basic plot element is Conan’s heroic character. He embodies “natural” virtues such as independence, courage, indomitability, and a simple honesty about himself and his desires. He rejects the “civilized hypocrisy” of legal abstractions, so he is often at odds with the law. Although not given to wanton cruelty, he is vengeful and merciless in...

(The entire section is 845 words.)