~EBOOK ☮ Conan of Cimmeria: The Conquering Sword of Conan (Book 3) ☩ PDF or E-pub free
~EBOOK ☤ Conan of Cimmeria: The Conquering Sword of Conan (Book 3) ⚖ From Robert E Howard, the master of heroic fantasy, come five classic adventures featuring Conan, the legendary CimmerianListen to The Conquering Sword of Conan on your smartphone, notebook or desktop computer
here we go then, the last of the three Conan anthologies Everything in these has been presented in the order they were written (not necessarily published) rather than in any attempt to create a chronology for Conan's stories I like this for two reasons: Firstly it allows us to see how Howard developed and exactly when he fell into a formula, and when he again tried different things to still make that formula interesting; and because it feelsnaturalistic this way, like we're listening to an old bard tell us stories from various points in Conan's life, in a nonlinear fashion depending on his mood and disposition.I noticed something when reading the stories in this order, too They start out really surprising and fresh You really don't expect The Tower of the Elephant to turn into borderline science fiction by the end, but when it does it just fits perfectly and you just nod and accept it The Frost Giant's Daughter is a moody, atmospheric piece of writing involving a very young Conan on the battlefield It has no plot to speak of and basically reads like the delirious dream of a mortally wounded warrior Queen of the Black Coast has the qualities one of those sad, heroic songs of old that unites men of different nations and creeds while they quaff ale and prepare to march into the fray As the first book goes on though you sort of feel Howard settling into his groove and the stories become just a little bitpredictable They're still loads of fun, mind you, but sometimes I can't remember which snake or which ape goes in which story, and which is the Roman one and which the Arabic one, if you know what I mean The second anthology largely avoids this problem by being devoted mostly to the novel The Hour of the Dragon What of this one, then?By now, it was probably clear to Howard that the Conan stories were very popular items He was interested in a number of different genres but Conan was a guaranteed sale for Weird Tales I'm sure some of those lurid covers helped! By this time though, near the end of his sadly curtailed career, Howard is really confident and is able to tell a yarn with style and zeal to spare Thus, something like ManEaters of Zamboula, while being in many respects a standard Conan romp, comes off really rousing and strong Servants of binYakin might have fit in well with the first book, but the cynical observations about religious institutions and Conan's almost amused attitude about the oracle lifts it above its conventions.We also have something I alluded to in my review of the previous volume going on here, and that is Howard's detachment from Conan as the main point of view figure in the narratives This is a really good thing because it well supports the notion of Conan as a sort of primal force of nature Oh, he isn't, of course; he's a living being with hot blood in his veins who is passionate and at times surprisingly thoughtful, but this brutishness is often what others see in him, sometimes to their detriment as they tend to underestimate him In Beyond the Black River this is taken to its extreme and the result is absolutely one of the best Conan stories, and certainly the grimmest Conan will get out alive because he's Conan, but you're not sure who else will, and now Conan is a protector, of all things, taking inexperienced men under his wing on the frontier You wouldn't want to be on that frontier without some kind of protection, if you are a civilized person This story is basically one of those oldstyle westerns: it's settlers versus Indians, with natives replaced by Picts, and a helping of dark magic The end of this story is really something special.Red Nails is the last written Conan piece, and it's quite ambitious The decadent, crumbling ancient civilization and lonely city full of strangeness motif has been done by Howard before, but probably never to this extent The level of decadence on display even reminds me of Howard's contemporary, Clark Ashton Smith, and yes, that's certainly a compliment to Howard as CAS was probably the best writer of the three infamous regular Weird Tales scribes here we have another Evil Witch Queen, two warring factions culling each other within the deserted promenades and crumbling edifices, and Conan and a female companion caught in the middle there's even a ray gun at the end! So we're getting into sword and science territory now, a mantle that would later be picked up by Michael Moorcock and Jack Vance with very interesting results.The same caveats apply here as to the other two volumes and I'm not really going to address them again, except to remind readers that though the Picts are shown to be savages by Conan's time, they were proud and noble warrior peoples at earlier points in Howard's Hyborean Age This is really the crux of his philosophy of cultures: Each one has its day in the sun, its moment of glory, its rise of empire and each must, ultimately, fall into decay and corruption and savagery It may take hundreds of years, howard seems to be saying, but this will happen to the European peoples, too I know, it doesn't exactly make itpalletable, but it's worth trying to understand, I think, where the man was coming from.If you're going to go this route and read all the Conan stories, definitely start with the first book However, Red Nails, Beyond the black River and The black Stranger are all mandatory, and while it's arguably a lesser piece I'm quite enamoured of ManEaters, too. The Conquering Sword of Conan is the third and final volume in Wandering Star's Robert E Howard collection of Conan stories I'll be reviewing them as I read them That's the plan, anyway.The Servants of BitYatkin: The Servants of BitYatkin is a story about Conan scouring a ruined temple in the jungle for the Teeth of Gwahlur, a cache of priceless jewels Complicating matters are the priests who have come to the temple to consult the oracle, as well as the deceased BitYatkin's servants.I always forget how flowery Howard's descriptions are compared to other pulp writers The man can paint a picture with words Servants is a pretty good story with a good amount of action and a twist or two On a side note, are their any Conan stories that don't involve a giant snake and/or an ape man of some sort?Beyond the Black River: Conan leads a foray into Pictish territory in order to defend a fort Unfortunately, his raiding party runs afoul of a Pictish shaman who's unifying the local tribes in order to overrun the fort.BBR reads like a story of white settlers against the Indians I liked some of the ideas regarding the Pictish shaman and his speaking with the animals The suspense around Balthus trying to warn the people at the fort was well done The Black Stranger: Two pirate factions come to a secluded island for lost treasure and a selfexiled noble is caught in the middle Unfortunately for the pirates, a certain Cimmerian has already found the treasureThe Black Stranger was well written but didn't grab me like the previous two stories For a Conan story, there was a noticeable lack of Conan for a long stretch of it.The ManEaters of Zamboula: Conan stays at an inn where the guests regularly disappear, only to find cannibals kidnap the occupants Conan's on the trail of said cannibals when he rescues a woman from a gang of them It seems she has a job for the Cimmerian to undertake for herThe ManEaters of Zamboula is an actionpacked tale of wizards, cannibals, and a damsel in distress While I enjoyed it, never has it beenapparent that Conan is very much a product of the time it was written There is an undercurrent of racism and sexism that might be hard for modern readers to get past.Red Nails: Conan and Valeria fight a dinosaurlike monster, then take refuge from it inside a nearly deserted city where the inhabitants have been butchering one another for a century in a pointless war Little do they know that the queen of one of the factions isn't what she seemsRed Nails was easily the best story in the book with intrigue, violence, and plot twists a plenty.Thus concludes my reading of the Wandering Star series of Robert E Howard Conan stories I recommend them to all fans of pulp fantasy with two caveats First, Howard's prose isn't as breezy as people might speculate due to it's pulp origins Secondly, they are very much a product of the time in which they were written, sexism and racism being what they were in the 30's Still, Howard writes stories of adventure like no other. I have lived in the Southwest all my life, yet most of my dreams are laid in cold, giant lands of icy wastes and gloomy skies, and of wild, windswept fens and wilderness over which sweep great seawinds, and which are inhabited by shockheaded savages with light fierce eyes With the exception of one dream, I am never, in these dreams of ancient times, a civilized man Always am I the barbarian, the skinclad, touslehaired, lighteyed wild man, armed with a rude ax or sword, fighting the elements and wild beasts, or grappling with ard hosts marching with the tread of civilized discipline, from fallow fruitful lands and walled cities This is reflected in my writings.Robert E HowardAll fled, all done, so lift me on the pyre;The feast is over and the lamps expire.Suicide note of Robert E HowardEnough said Go read some Conan! Red Nails 4/5Wandering across the scorching desert in search of adventure, Conan stumbles upon the beautiful and fearsome pirate Valeria After narrowly escaping from a dragon by making clever use of a poison fruit, Conan and Valeria take refuge in an entirely walled and enclosed city named Xuchotl where generations of inhabitants have waged war against each other for hundreds of years Conan and Valeria get swept up into some nasty affairs between the two warring clans, a storm of swords and demonic sorcerey rages throughout the city until the warriors put an end to the insane clans war once and for all It's a haunting and visceral story with lots of bloody action on par with Hour of the Dragon.***Jewels of Gwahlur 3/5Conan battles his way through Gwahlur in search of ancient jewels and riches but ends up empty handed Although his original mission ended in failure, he got to experience the thrill of bloodshed and brought a girl that resembled a real goddess back home with him, so perhaps his journey for treasure wasn't a total waste after all Not the best of Conan, but still a fun and quick read.***Beyond the Black River 3.5/5Conan teams up with a warrior named Balthus in an attempt to thwart the conquests of the Pictish sorcerer Zogar Sag Just like People of the Black Circle, it's a nonstop adrenaline fest with lots of blood and guts.***The Black Stranger 3/5The story begins with Conan fleeing for the hills after being pursued by a flock of angered tribesman While fleeing, the tribesman give up their chase upon reaching a peculiar hill that stands out from all the others The hill turns out to hold a treasure cave along with the preserved bodies of a pirate captain, Tranicos Conan's attempt to remove the treasure proves futile, as a demon of mist appears and attempts to strangle him He barely escapes with his life, leaving the treasure undisturbed.After getting away, Conan forms a thieves pact with several groups of feuding pirates to steal the forbidden treasure Little do they know however, each person involved in the pact are manipulating each other and have a plan to dispose of each of the opposing groups once they've gotten their hands on the treasure Debauchery, betrayal and cunning pirate trickery ensue until the last man gets away with what they came for.***Shadows in Zamboula 3/5Conan helps a dancer named Zabibi save her insane lover from a flock of cannibals and evil priests that are terrorizing her desert town Conan fights his way through the cannibal horde does what he does best The action was good and the setting was interesting, but the story was often ruined by a lot of unnecessary racist undertones. Howard's Conan stories have a legendary aura around them, but some of their mystique comes from the horrible pastiches written like Conan and later stuff like DeCamp's actual Conan stories themselves, most of which are subpar DAW's third book concludes the Conan cycle with the last bits of uncut, completely raw stories, all as Howard would want them.Conan stories are best when they capture and magify the gloomy, headstrong personality of the creator, and two of the stories in here, Beyond the Black River and Red Nails do it perfectly But the name of Howard's game is passion and lust for life, and since it's something none of his emulators even come close to achieving, the source is the only way to go. After reading this book, I have now read all 21 of the original Robert E Howardpenned Conan stories Some were good, some were bad, and some were excellent I'll review the stories from this volume individually.The Servants Of BitYakin: A mediocreatbest Conan story, and one which I've read a number of times over the years, usually under the title Jewels Of Gwahlur It contains the usual Howard racism and simperingly idiotic female companion without much of Howard's typically highly charged action Some of the early scenes in the temple were the best of the story, as Howard by this point in his career had really developed a fairly lush prose style (well, as lush as the pulp medium would allow, anyway) At the end of the story, Conan is forced to choose between saving his newfound lady friend and saving the priceless Teeth Of Gwahlur and, rather surprisingly, he chooses to save the woman, somewhat redeeming an otherwise lacklustre story.Beyond The Black River: This is a really great Conan tale It was my second time reading it, and I think I enjoyed itthis time around The scenery is welldescribed and yet not overdone, and the combat is some of Howard's best One of the main characters in this story is an Aquilonian named Balthus who tags along with Conan, and I find that the Conan stories of this type tend to be my favourites the ones where Conan and his deeds are seen through the eyes of others who stand in awe of his prowess I also liked the undercurrent of Lovecraftian influence as seen in Jhebbal Sag, the forgotten god.The Black Stranger: This one was a lot better than I thought it would be, as I had heard that it was originally written as a Conan story and later rewritten as a story about another character in order to find publication I was therefore expecting a rather subpar and forgettable Conan outing, but The Black Stranger was fairly strong, with a siege, some piratical backstabbing, demons, and even a female character who isn't a sex symbol (a rarity for Howard) It starts with Conan fleeing the Picts, having crossed a vast expanse of Pictish wilderness (a tiein to Beyond The Black River) and ends with Conan most likely becoming a pirate again, this time with a little girl in tow Too bad Howard never got to expand on that plotline.The ManEaters Of Zamboula: This is one I had previously read under the title Shadows In Zamboula, and it hasn't really gotten any better in the time between readings This story simply doesn't do anything really unique or memorable, which unfortunately allows Howard's racism to come through loud and clear Conan fights a professional strangler at the end, which lacks the gravitas of fighting giant snakes, iron golems, or swamp demons.Red Nails: This is another classic Conan yarn, and possibly one of the darkest and most violent It features not just the decay of a civilization, but the actual annihilation of the last members of an isolated society Howard really goes fullout in this one, making it his definitive statement on societal decay, and whether you agree with Howard's conclusions or not, it makes for a very compelling story It also has the benefit of being told for the most part from the point of view of a female warrior character named Valeria, which as I said before, I believe adds to the mystique and majesty of Conan.There was also a lot of bonus material at the end of this volume, but I'll admit that I skipped the majority of it after reading through some of the miscellanea and finding that it wasn't really holding my interest All told, some great stories in this one, making it definitely worth the time of any true Conan fan. The Conquering Sword of Conan is the final volume in Del Rey’s threevolume collection of every Robert E Howard Conan story Gregory Manchess provides the illustrations for this volume, and they may be my favorite of the three There is again a foreword by the illustration, as well as an introduction (by Patrice Louinet), notes, synopses, and drafts, a letter, and the final part of Louinet’s Genesis of the Hyborian Age essay The letter, in particular, is interesting It tells us essentially everything we know about Conan’s early and later years.The Conquering Sword of Conan is probably the strongest volume of the three At least two stories—Beyond the Black River and Red Nails—are frequently cited among Conan’s best, a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree But Howard was growing tired of writing Conan stories, or at least disassociated with the character He wanted to write stories in new settings and it shows Beyond the Black River could have been set on the Texas frontier, The Black Stranger the coast of North Carolina during the Golden Age of Piracy, Red Nails Aztec Mexico at the discovery of the New World.George R.R Martin has been called the American Tolkien He isn’t, but if he were, Robert E Howard would be the Texan Tolkien I don’t say that because of how good he was, or because of his influence, though, if you were to name a “Big Three” of fantasy, the list has to include Burroughs, Tolkien, and Howard I say that because Tolkien’s work was quintessentially English and created an English mythology of sorts He isn’t acting nearly as intentionally as Tolkien was, but Howard does something much the same for Texas.Take Conan’s love interests If Conan fills the American archetype of the backwoodsman, his love interests tend toward the pioneer woman In Beyond the Black River it isn’t just the love interest.Warning settlers of the impending Pict invasion, the first cabin just holds one woman She answers the door in nothing but a shift, holding a candle in one hand and an axe in the other She is terrified but wants to hold the cabin and fight At the next cabin, an old woman puts a young woman on a horse before her She explains that the woman is pregnant, and that she “can walk—and fight, too, if it comes to that.”Table of StoriesThe Servants of BitYakin, first published in Weird Tales, March 1935Beyond the Black River, first published in Weird Tales, May and June 1935The Black Stranger, original version first published in Echoes of Valor, Tor, 1987The ManEaters of Zamboula, first published Weird Tales, November 1935Red Nails, first published Weird Tales, July, AugustSeptember, and October 1936 It's disappointing the way modern critics often fail to address issues of race as they are presented in books from earlier time periods Sure, when writing of Howard and Lovecraft (or even Twain and Poe) critics will not fail to repeat some notion that their racism is 'an unfortunate artifact of that time and culture'but that is not the same as actually meeting the issue of race head on and dealing with what it means in a text.The way an author approaches race is an integral part of their worldview, of the philosophies they explore and the ideas they present But, it is also an issue that continues to be contentious, and critics rightly fear the harsh response that often comes when we open up that Pandoran box So instead, we excuse it, or condemn it (it amounts to the same thing), as if by merely pointing it out we can diffuse it, absolve ourselves of actually doing the dirty work of unpacking it: 'I acknowledge that the author was Racist, and that it was Badso having got that out of the way, let's move on to my real analysis 'But critics cannot be allowed to let themselves off so easilywe much be brave, and push on In talking about Howard's racism, it's not with the notion that I should defend him , or repair himor least meaningfully, condemn himbut that, in order to understand Howard, it is necessary to understand how he conceptualized race, how he used it, and what it means to his stories.As ever, with Howard (not only with his presentation of race, but also sexuality and politics) the surface tends to be grim, resembling familiar forms of prejudice: darkskinned, menacing foreigners, scantyclad maidens to be rescued, all problems solvable by a combination of fascist force and Nietzschean willbut beneath that, there is alwayssubtlety,awareness, andirony than Howard tends to get credit for.In this collection, the racist hypocrisy is actually laid bare in a single narrative moment: “The Picts were a white race, though swarthy, but the border men never spoke of them as such.” This is not race as some inescapable, godgiven aspect of identity, an inherent piece of the human soul, but as selfidentity, selfcreation, an act undertaken by men to separate themselves from one another Conan himself makes the same separation, both in his own words: “ we can’t have the cursed devils making so free with white men’s heads” and in the view of others: “These barbarians live by their own particular code of honor, and Conan would never desert men of his own complection to be slaughtered by people of another race He’ll help us against the Picts, even though he plans to murder us himself ” Yet again and again, Conan’s own cultural background is equated with that of the Picts: he is a barbarian, like them, a wild creature born in the wilderness The events of Beyond the Black River show Pictish lands being colonized, the natives driven out and replaced by Aquilonian farms and fortsuntil finally, civilization pushes too far, and the Picts unite and fight back The Picts are then compared to Conan’s people, the Cimmerians, who also eventually rose up and attacked the Aquilonian fort built in their own lands, destroying all the settlersa battle where a young Conan fought against the White invaders.So Conan shares a great deal with the Picts: he is wild like them, not tame like the Aquilonians, and yet he goes to great lengths to differentiate himself from themusing the tool of race to ally himself not with his fellow barbarians, but with ‘civilized men’while at the same time scorning the softness and ineptitude of the cityborn.Though built in the same mold of ‘Mighty Whitey’ characters like Natty Bummpo or Tarzanthe White man who is both better at woodcraft than the natives and able to outsmart the civilized menConan is actually born to it, actually a tribesman who has ‘lifted himself up’ It is unfortunate that Howard does not doto explore what is clearly a deep internal conflict for Conan, trapped between these worlds, competent in both, and yet unsure of his own racial and cultural loyalties.The conclusion of the story does provide a kind of resolution, and one which should surprise no fan of Howard'sin his work, it is always barbarism that wins, because barbarism is thepure, thenatural state of man For Conan, as much as the trappings of civilization might tempt him, as much as he lives off of it as a scavenger, as a predator, the civilizing influence is always tainted, always stagnating, rotting away at the core, unable to sustain itself against animal man.It might seem an odd tack to take, for a modern White writer in postColonial Americain many ways, civilization had already won, and won bigbut that's precisely the point, and Howard's portrayal of this romantic, somewhat tragic figure of the noble primitive adds another wrinkle altogether to his portrayal of race.By the time of these later tales, Howard was having trouble keeping himself interested in Conan stories This tended to happen with all his characters as he went on: he would gradually find himselfdrawn to the supporting characters, or the politics of the world, or just telling a different kind of story altogether Hence, these final Conan stories mark a deliberate change on Howard’s part In his own words, he’d ‘abandoned the exotic settings of lost cities, decaying civilizations, golden domes, marble palaces, silkclad dancing girls, etc., and thrown my story against a background of rivers, log cabins, frontier outposts, buckskinclad settlers, and painted tribesmen’.In short, he was trying to write tales of the American frontier, with the Picts and Cimmerians as the native tribes, and the Aquilonians and Zingarans as then English and Spanish, respectively Of course, choosing the painted Picts is natural, since they were the rebellious natives whom the Romans pushed out, clearing the forests for lumber and building farms and forts in their place There is certainly a place for such stories in the ancient world, but unfortunately, Howard’s attempts don’t draw on those earlier portrayalsthey are too modern, too American, and the character and world of Conan seem to be a bit lost in this fresh setting.The ancient empires, strange magics, cosmic horrors, crumbling temples, immortal priests, sensuous ports, and Atlantean curses of Ashton Smith are left behind, as are the stoic Norse sagas which mark Conan's originsand along with them, the majority of the tone and depth of Hyboria also dissipates, until we’re left with Howardian versions of Hawthorn’s Leatherstocking tales or Sabatini's Captain Blood, inexplicably featuring Conan at their centerwell, perhaps not inexplicably: after all, Howard knew that Conan stories would sell.Indeed, The Black Stranger is actually written along the lines of a Gothic novela disgraced count in exile on a desolate island with his beautiful niece, a roguish courtierturnedpirate after a lost treasure, a deadly and unseasonable storm, and that shadowy threat, looming over all, of the stranger, himself Conan himself barely shows up through the first half of the storyand when he does, he's dressed in full 17th Century pirate regalia Perhaps sensing the ill fit, Howard later changed out Conan for a different lead character and updated the setting.These stories are considered some of Howard's best by a number of critics, as the essays included in the Del Rey edition demonstrate, and they certainly do have some things going for them As he enters his thirties, Howard's prose becomes tighter, his vocabulary bothvaried andspecificno longer do we see the same crutch words and repetitions that marked the earlier tales But also gone are the tone and vibrance which set the Conan stories apart.The actual structure of the stories also leaves something to be desiredthey are somewhat piecemeal and meandering, the conflicts often solved by convenient interruptions, and with a general lack of interesting set pieces and standout scenes In quite a few instances, characters act in ways that make little sense in contextin the last story, for example, Conan and others keep switching sides in the middle of combat.That isn't to say that this new, crisp style of prose couldn't have worked for Howard, were he just writing pirate tales and frontier stories, but adding the additional layers of ancient Hyborea and Conan stretch them too thin, setting them tonally at odds with themselves Certainly, there is muchof Howard the American in themthe stories arepersonal to his experiences, but mixing them with the Conan mythos does them no favors.Beyond that, the wild Picts, a 'White race who are not called White' become just another example of overromanticized natives, that Whiteguilt urge to go 'back to nature', while at the same time painting the natives as both less andthan human, both pitied and put on a pedestal, but never actually considered asthan an image, a grand symbol for the spiritual enrichment of Whiteness.The sexual politics are likewise troubled: though Valeria is in some ways a refreshing figureshe is actually competent, seeks her own equality, is skilled with a swordin other ways she’sconstrained than many of the other female figures in Conan stories Simply being strong of arm and having masculine traits does not make a female figure a strong characterand beyond that, it takes for granted that the only way to add strength to a female character is by making herlike a man.What is missing in the romances of these stories is the woman’s pointofview which made earlier Conan stories intriguing: that we got to see those women from the inside They may have been constrained socially, they may not have been physically powerful, but they still chose to act out despite thiswhat made them strong was the fact that they were willing to question their society and to oppose it What attracts such a woman to Conan is that he is outside civilization, he is not simply another man who leers over her, seeking to control or purchase her He is interested in women in amutual way.Unfortunately, with Valeria and dancinggirl Zabibi, we instead get only Conan’s point of view, and he leers and gropes after them unpleasantly as they try to avoid his advanceshe even agrees to help Zabibi in exchange for sexual favors, thereby fulfilling the cliche which Howard earlier subverted in ‘The Vale of the Lost Women’ (though given the conclusion, it’s hinted that he never intended to collect on the bargain, and that it was likely just a ploy on his part to put her off guard) These later stories are less subversive andclichethe sort of thing you’d expect from a piece of unremarkable sword sorcery.It seems that, much like Leiber, the later, personal experiments Howard made with his bestknown series were much less effective than his early outings Perhaps it has something to do with the freshness, the wildness of an early writer being a better match for the rollicking adventures of Sword Sorcery With time comes polish and ponderousness, which do not match well with the genre, and even in the few examples where Howard does return to the earlier themes, the presentation is lackingit just feels like old ground retread.I guess that, for me, the earliest Conan stories are the bestperhaps because, like Conan himself, Howard was still finding his way, still discovering new places, still capable of surprising himself, of being delighted merely to be on the road, weapon in hand, unsure of what might be found over the next hill.My Suggested Readings in Fantasy By finishing this book, I have now read all of the original Conan stories by Robert E Howard It was not always the easiest journey as some tales are certainly better than others But the publisher’s decision to present these stories over three volumes in the order they were written instead of chronological order was the right one, I believe, as it is wonderful to see Howard’s skills as a writer grow.This volume, the final set of the Conan saga, includes only five stories, evidence of the lengthening and growing complexity of the plots and character The final story, a short novella really, is Red Nails, considered by many to be the finest Conan tale ever penned by Robert E Howard I would agree, and not just because it is the longest (and bloodiest and sexiest) story of all, but it is also the most satisfactory Howard’s suicide just prior to Red Nails being published in serial form in “Weird Tales” just adds to the mystique of the tale.