Review: Conan the Barbarian

A collection of the original stories by Robert E. Howard: the unreconstructed Conan at his best.

I’m not the world’s greatest fantasy fan, and sword & sorcery films and books have tended to be something I’ve read or watched when I’ve had to, rather than sought them out. However when reading some of Robert E. Howard’s original Solomon Kane stories while working on a project connected to the movie of that a couple of years back, I was surprised by the quality of the writing.

Sure, Howard was writing pulp, and everything is very much in a heightened reality. Of course, they’re not stories that you’d read for their literary merit. But they engage the reader from the start and make you want to see exactly how the heroes are going to get out of the situations into which they’re flung.

The collection of Conan stories published to coincide with the (much-slated) new feature film actually show just how close the creators of that film came to Howard’s original intentions. One of the key lines of dialogue in the movie comes from an early Conan story contained in this book, summing up the Cimmerian’s very simple outlook on life: laughing, lusting and fighting.

There’s also a lot more connection to the Cthulhu mythos than you might expect: Howard doesn’t just give Conan human adversaries. His foes come from far galaxies, and have been on Earth for millennia before mankind arose; or there are conduits to other dimensions. It doesn’t make any difference to Conan: if they’ve pissed him off, they’re history. And it doesn’t matter if that means the end of a species that has existed since the dawn of time.

Verdict: If all you know of Conan is the movie incarnations or the Roy Thomas comic books, the original Howard tales may come as a surprise.  7/10

Paul Simpson

Check our review of the movie out here

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