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Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Bloody Crown of Conan

Title: The Bloody Crown of Conan
Author: Robert E.Howard
Publisher: Del Rey (November 23, 2004)
ISBN: 0345461525

The Bloody Crown of Conan is the third in a series of five collections of REH’s work being published by Del Rey. Three of those volumes feature Howard’s original,unedited Conan stories. The other two cover different fantasy heroes of Howard’s,namely Bran Mak Morn and Solomon Kane. Apparently, I never reviewed the first Conan collection, the Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, but I liked it. And guess what. I liked this too.

Bloody Crown of Conancontains only three stories: “People of the Black Circle,” “The Hour of the Dragon,”and “A Witch is Born.” While it may not sound like much, “The Hour of the Dragon” is the only full length Conan novel that Howard ever wrote. It’s a very neat story, set during the time when Conan is king of Aquilonia. In short, Conan is disposed by an evil necromancer and the mortals he conspires with, and must go on a quest to retrieve something that can kill the necromancer and allow him to reclaim the throne. Lots of high adventure, sword-fighting, strange, otherworldly horrors, and no small amount of intrigue. The other two stories are shorter(obviously), but still packed with good stuff.

I really enjoy Howard’s writing style. It’s very straightforward, but evocative at the same time. He does get into some purple prose on occasion, but it’s the sort of purple prose that’s fun to read. My only real complaint would be that he sometimes over-uses certain descriptors,particularly those involving wolves and panthers. Still, he treads a line between cliché and epic epithet enough that it only rarely bothers me. Oh, and occasionally he starts to drift into the Lovecraft “it was so horrible, I cannot describe it, except in horribly vague terms” trap, which is kind of annoying,especially because Howard’s descriptions of everything else are wonderful. Conan’s crucifixion in “A Witch is Born” had me shuddering on the T. Powerful stuff.

Yes, Conan does get crucified. One of the interesting things about reading these stories is seeing where the Schwarzenegger movie cribbed certain scenes or ideas to create the story it did. In the end, the Schwarzenegger Conan is substantively different from the actual Conan, but I still love the movie, and think it’s very well done. Of course, I’m an unrepentant Schwarzenegger fan for a variety of reasons, so take that for what you will.

Bloody Crown of Conan,and indeed, all the Conan stories, really are required reading for fantasy fans. There’s a good reason why the character has survived this long…he’s awesome.

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