Conan the Adventurer
Continuing the swords and sorcery revival reading tour, I knocked out Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Adventurer. Similar to Conan of Cimmeria, Adventurer is a collection of short stories. Three are Howard originals, while one, Drums of Tombalku, was completed from a posthumously discovered partial draft plus outline. L. Sprague De Camp did the writing honors to complete this fourth story.
Three of the four stories are straight up pulp fiction from the mid-30’s. (This is really old stuff!) The People of the Black Circle, The Slithering Shadow, and The Pool of The Black One are all emblematic of Howard’s style. Conan gets into scrapes amongst dark, ancient civilizations, faces some obscene horror, kills the beast, rescues the girl, and manages to win the day. This also includes Howard’s florid expository prose such as the following from his half of Drums of Tombalku:
The house of the god — the full horror of the phrase filled his mind. All the ancestral fears and the fears that reached beyond ancestry and primordial race memory crowded upon him; horror cosmic and unhaman sickened him. The realization of his weak humanity crushed him as he went through the house of darkness, which was the house of a god.
Interestingly, each story also prominently features a female character. While in Howard’s writing they’re of various depths, each woman is at least as well developed as Conan. Often moreso, since Conan is such an archetype he really doesn’t need much detailing.
Where De Camp falls down is in matching Howard’s stylings and in character development, especially women. Drums of Tombalku brings this in sharp relief, where half was written by Howard, and half by De Camp. The first half moves, projects an air of menacing doom, and is entertaining. The second half just sort of moves the players around in a lame palace intrigue plot. Lissa, the female character, simply disappears in the second half. Plus there’s some cheesy pastiches of Africans and Arabs masquerading as characters. Guess which author wrote which?
I’m actually starting to appreciate Howard’s style. It’s definitely from a different era, but it really does represent the pulpy flavor of the times. And his stories are a pretty easy read to boot.
Eight books down for the year.