Whether you’re a fan of the books, the movies, or both, there’s no denying that Conan is one of the most iconic and popular fighting fantasy characters in history. Created by Robert E. Howard in the 1930s, Conan the Barbarian also referred to as The Cimmerian was to appear in 17 published stories by Howard before he died in 1936. The Conan book world has been expanded by a number of authors over the years and in this feature we take a brief view at the publication history of Conan, some of the authors of the books and take a look at Collecting Conan Paperbacks.
Conan in Weird Tales
Robert E. Howard was one of the most popular authors to be published in Weird Tales, thanks to his Conan stories. Howard began writing Conan stories in 1932 and continued until his death in 1936. In total, Howard wrote 17 Conan stories, which were published in Weird Tales between 1932 and 1939. The stories were extremely popular with readers and helped to cement Howard’s reputation as a master of sword and sorcery fiction.
The first Conan story to appear was The Phoenix on the Sword and was originally published in the December 1932 edition of Weird Tales. The story is set in the fictional world of Hyboria, and follows the adventures of Conan, a barbarian warrior. In the story, Conan is hired by an evil sorcerer to kill a rival wizard. However, when Conan learns that the sorcerer plans to use him as a sacrificial victim, he turns against his employer and defeats him. The Scarlet Citadel was published the following month.
The Conan stories are set in the “Hyborian Age”, a fictional time period that Howard created himself. In these stories, Conan is a barbarian from the northern kingdom of Cimmeria who becomes involved in the politics and wars of the civilizations of the Hyborian Age.
One of the Editors of Weird Tales Farnsworth Wright asked Howard to write an 8,000-word essay for personal use detailing “the Hyborian Age”, the fictional setting for Conan. This essay expanded the Conan world and was used for Howard’s next story “The Tower of the Elephant”.
The Tower of the Elephant follows the exploits of Conan the Cimmerian as he breaks into a mysterious tower in search of treasure. Although the story is brief, it is packed with action, suspense, and atmosphere, making it one of Howard’s most popular tales. In addition, the story showcases Howard’s talent for creating memorable characters, such as the elephant-riding Jhalkari nomads who serve as Conan’s allies. The Tower of the Elephant is a quintessential example of Howard’s Conan stories and remains one of the most beloved tales in the entire genre.
Conan After Robert E. Howard
Conan has endured for decades and prompted numerous writers to continue Howard’s tales after his death, including Lin Carter, L. Sprague de Camp, Robert Jordan, Björn Nyberg, Andrew J. Offutt, and others. Some of these writers completed incomplete Conan novels or rewrote Howard stories about different characters. The majority of post-Howard Conan stories are entirely original works. More than fifty novels and dozens of short stories featuring the Conan character have been written by authors other than Howard.
Following Howard’s death, the copyright of the Conan stories passed through several hands. L. Sprague de Camp was eventually given charge of the fiction line, beginning with 1967’s Conan published by Lancer Books, and oversaw a paperback series collecting all of Howard’s tales (Lancer folded in 1973 and Ace Books picked up the line, reprinting the older volumes with new trade dress and continuing to release new ones).
The De Camp reworkings of Robert E. Howard’s original tales were supplemented by further editing by de Camp, who also chose to write additional Conan stories to go with the originals, collaborating with Björn Nyberg and especially Lin Carter. These new works were constructed from a mix of previously completed Robert E. Howard tales with different settings and characters that were changed so as to include Conan and the Hyborian world, incomplete fragments and outlines for Conan adventures that were never written by Howard, and all-new pastiches.
Lancer Publications and Ace Publications Paperbacks
The Lancer Publications and later Ace Publications series of Conan books published from 1966-1977 were the first comprehensive paperback edition, which compiled the existing Howard and non-Howard stories together with new non-Howard stories in order of internal chronology, to form a complete account of Conan’s life. The Lancer Books publishing sequence initially adopted a chronological number for volumes issued later and reprints of earlier volumes, then reverted to an order of publication.
Conan entered popular culture with the publication of this collection of tales. It contains all of the original Howard material, including that which he left unpublished during his lifetime as well as fragments and outlines, and was carried out under the leadership of de Camp and Carter. De Camp edited a large portion of the content, and he and Carter finished the unfinished stories.
They also included new stories that they wrote themselves. Of the 35 stories in the last eight volumes, 19 were published or finished by Howard while he was still alive, 10 were reworked or finished using his manuscripts, scraps, or synopses, and six were the exclusive creation of de Camp and Carter.
Other Publishers of Conan Books
Bantam Publications published 6 non-Howard Conan books including Conan the Sword of Skelos by Andrew J. Offutt.
Tor Publications released a new series of stories from 1982-2004 by various authors including Robert Jordan, Leonard Carpenter and Steve Perry. Tor also reissued most of the previous non-Howard volumes originally published by Bantam.
The Tor editions jumped around to present random episodes from various stages in Conan’s career rather than publishing them in chronological order. Periodic chronological essays—first by L. Sprague de Camp, then by Robert Jordan—included in some of the older volumes helped readers place the episodes in the right perspective. Tor also reprinted some of the Bantam Conan books.
Collecting Conan Paperbacks
The Conan paperback books have a growing market in the USA and UK and most can be picked up from $5 to $15 depending on condition. The books have some great covers including eight of the Lancer Publications featuring cover paintings by artist Frank Frazetta. The Conan books are a great subset of the Sword and Sorcery genre and assembling a good collection is possible and affordable. Hopefully, you like the stories too!