I am currently reading a good novel by John Darnielle entitled Wolf in White Van. Within the narrative there are several allusions to Robert E. Howard and one of his most famous creations, Conan the Barbarian. These references immediately whisk me back to my junior high days when reading Conan was all I cared about. Conan was by far my favorite fictional hero and it did not matter if it was in a novel or a comic book- if Conan was in it- I read it.
I discovered Conan by accident. Robert E. Howard created this character and started publishing stories featuring him back in the 1930s. It was not until the early ‘80s when I was impatiently looking through the bookshelves as a local thrift store that I stumbled upon a worn paperback with the word CONAN in bold red letters on the cover. Under the title was a muscle bound warrior wielding a huge dagger while he jumped on the back some sort of demon creature – naturally, fighting with all of his strength. I took a chance (not much of one, really, the book costs me 50 cents) and that book would dictate my reading habits for the next five years.
I quickly finished that book. I was absolutely enthralled with the young, sword-wielding warrior from Cimmeria. Conan was afraid of nothing except magic. He would fight any monster, demon, animal, or man. He shied away from magic and magicians because he couldn’t see what was coming at him. Naturally, women desired him. After finishing my first Conan book, I was pleased to discover that there were more books! I quickly went searching for more of Howard’s tales about my new solitary hero.
As it turned out, I discovered that there were twelve original novels featuring Conan written by Howard. I found most of them in science fiction catalogs and ordered them right away. But I had to wait for them to arrive weeks later -we are truly spoiled by online ordering today. Unfortunately, Robert E. Howard committed suicide in 1936 at the age of thirty. Luckily for me, I discovered that other writers had continued to write adventure novels with Conan as the main character. Conan was such a great hero that several others saw the value in continuing his legacy.
Then came the comic books. The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian quickly became a required purchase for me each month. This comic was in a large format with excellent black and white artwork. Some of the stories were adapted from Howard’s novels, but there were many original adventures just waiting to be experienced. Marvel also has a few color comic book publications that I read regularly. I did not like them as much as Savage Sword, but Conan was Conan.
Recently, in my nostalgia for my boyhood hero, I have been able to purchase several omnibus editions of reprinted and collected issues of Savage Sword (all available at barnes and noble.com). Maybe it is because of my present age or that I have become a very demanding and picky reader, but I have not continued reading any of the new Conan novels- I do not want my hero ruined.