Robert E. Howard’s Conan

Red-NailsI grew up devouring the Conan novels, both those written by his creator and the many pastiches that followed. Indeed, it was really Conan that inspired my lifelong love the pulps — which is kind of strange, when you think about how my writing career has been devoted almost entirely to the ‘hero pulps’ and not the sword & sorcery genre that Conan belongs to.

Over the years I’ve dived back in here and there to re-read my favorite Conan tales but recently I set out to make my way through the entire REH canon and it’s reminded me of which tales are my absolute favorites.

Topping the list is “Red Nails” (1936). This story has so much great action, a wonderful female foil for Conan and is just a wonderful ‘meat and potatoes’ adventure story. Coming in close behind, though are several others that deserve special mention: “The Tower of the Elephant” (1933), “Black Colossus” (1933), “The Slithering Shadow” (1933) and “Queen of the Black Coast” (1934). Really, there’s not a bad one in the whole bunch but my least favorite tales are probably the ‘King Conan’ era stories… something just doesn’t feel as lusty and bold in those tales. “The Slithering Shadow” isn’t one that I see pop up on many ‘best of’ lists but I quite enjoyed it – not one but two sexy females in the tale, a ‘lost city’ setting that is slightly reminiscent of the one in “Red Nails” and some terrific descriptive writing from REH.

The only downside to reading so much REH? Realizing how badly my own writing stacks up against his! The man was a master when it comes to adventure, suspense and on-the-fly characterization. He could make you feel like you understood a character in just a few lines. Yes, they tended to be rather simplistic characters but you still felt like there were depths to them that you just weren’t seeing.

Great stuff.