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The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert…
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The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (2003)

by Robert E. Howard

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This is the first of three books that collect Robert E. Howard's original stories of Conan the Cimmerian, though it is the third one that I read. This volume features the shortest stories, and the greatest number of stories. They are also, on the whole, of lower quality than Howard's later work. I wrote some overall details in my review of the second book, "The Bloody Crown of Conan," so I'll simply rate the stories here:

"Cimmeria" (poem) - 4.5 stars - This is a beautiful, atmospheric poem that conveys the cloudy, grim, wild essence of this northern country. Since none of the Conan stories are set in Cimmeria, this poem provides almost the only glimpse of Conan's homeland.

"The Phoenix on the Sword" - 3 stars - Four conspirators plot to assassinate Conan, the King of Aquilonia, by sending a band of rogues in the night. One of the conspirators has taken a powerful wizard, Thoth-Amon, as a slave, who only needs to recover his ring before he can wreak horrible vengeance on his former master. A political and straightforward tale that doesn't highlight Conan's personality very well, nor feature any particularly clever twists or unusual scenes.

"The Frost-Giant's Daughter" - 3 stars - Conan is the survivor of a bloody battle against the Vanir in the far north. He is accosted by a mysterious, white-skinned, mostly-nude woman, Atali, who leads him across the plains. Reminiscent of Ancient Greek tales of nymphs or dryads. Notable mostly for its setting and atmosphere.

"The God in the Bowl" - 3 stars - An unusual Conan story, "The God in the Bowl" plays out more like a Sherlock Holmes murder investigation than a Conan tale. Conan is found by the city prefect of police and his guardsmen in a house where a merchant was recently killed. The prefect questions Conan, a watchman, and other people who last saw the merchant alive, and investigates the house, in an attempt to identify the killer. Not a bad story, but Conan only fits into it uncomfortably.

"The Tower of the Elephant" - 5 stars - Conan, a thief in a Zamorian city, learns about an evil wizard who guards an incalculably precious jewel in a well-defended tower. He resolves to steal it, overcoming traps along the way. This is one of the best Conan stories, good for introducing both the setting and Conan's stormy, yet reasonable, character. The climax is unusual and feels like a part of the H. P. Lovecraft canon, proving contrast to the action that came before.

"The Scarlet Citadel" - 3.5 stars - Conan, the king of Aquilonia, is led into a trap by his supposed allies, captured, and thrown into a dungeon. He must navigate the dungeon and rescue a long-imprisoned wizard to escape. This story feels like an early, dry run for "The Hour of the Dragon," the only novel-length work Howard wrote about Conan. It's not bad, but it's upstaged by its longer, better descendent.

"Queen of the Black Coast" - 3.5 stars - A merchant ship carrying Conan is attacked by the pirate Bêlit. Bêlit's men kill the merchant ship's crew, but she spares Conan's life and takes him as her mate and partner in piracy. Conan takes to this life well, until their ship sails to a mysterious island to recover a treasure guarded by hyenas and a terrible, winged monster. A better-than-average story, but Bêlit is still disappointing as a character- she is not a strong enough woman to fill her role as pirate queen, and her psychology is under-developed. The action on the island is not bad, but there are no stand-out scenes.

"Black Colossus" - 4 stars - An ancient sorcerer is awakened from a long sleep and raises an army to conquer the kingdom of Khoraja. Its princes, Yasmela, prays to the god Mitra, who tells her to put her nation in the hands of the first man she sees in the street. That man is Conan, a mercenary, who is made commander of the army and entrusted with the defense of the realm. A reasonably good story, though like "The Scarlet Citadel," the key plot elements are later re-used in "The Hour of the Dragon," which is the better story.

"Iron Shadows in the Moon" - 4 stars - Conan encounters Olivia, a fleeing slave, and slays her master. The two of them flee to a deserted island, where they find ancient ruins in which rest terrible, iron statues. A band of pirates, a terrible man-ape, and the terrible secret of the statues afford danger and opportunity to the pair of refugees. This is one of Howard's better stories, with a variety of interesting antagonists, and the highly unusual situation in which Conan is captured and it's up to his woman to save him.

"Xuthal of the Dusk" (also known as "The Slithering Shadow") - 1.5 stars - Conan and Natala are the survivors of a destroyed army, who have staggered through the desert, to reach Xuthal, a city of drugged dreamers. They meet Thalis, a cruel and beautiful Stygian, and learn of Thog, a monster who devours the inhabitants. This is one of the worst Conan stories. Natala is relentlessly annoying and caricatured. Thalis is senseless. The story seems contrived to bring about a bondage scene between Thalis and Natala, followed by one that approaches tentacle porn. Even evaluated as erotica, the story fails. Amateurish.

"The Pool of the Black One" - 3 stars - Conan is found at sea by a pirate ship and joins the crew. They sail to a mysterious island, where the captain goes in search of treasure. Little do they know that the island is inhabited by strange, dark, clawed humanoids who possess a magical pool, capable of turning men into small, bone carvings. A middle-of-the-road story. The antagonists are not particularly threatening or interesting. The story is vaguely reminiscent of the episode with Circe in The Odyssey.

"Rogues in the House" - 4.5 stars - Conan, a prisoner, is caught up in the political scheming of the nobleman Murilo and the "Red Priest" Nabonidus, who possesses a house filled with elaborate traps and an ape-like creature, Thak, who is smarter than even Nabonidus suspects. This is one of Howard's better stories, filled with interesting twists, irony, and no lack of rogues. (As a side-note, it also highlights Howard's misunderstanding of the way evolution works.)

"The Vale of Lost Women" - 1.5 stars - Conan has become the chief of a jungle tribe. He leads his warriors to parlay with the Bakalah, a rival tribe. There, a white, female captive secretly contacts him and asks him to slay the Bakalahs and free her, and in return, she will be his. In the confusion, she flees to a strange valley, where legends say women vanished long ago. One of Howard's worse stories, which particularly emphasizes his racist viewpoint and has few redeeming qualities.

"The Devil in Iron" - 3 stars - Conan, leader of kozak army, is tricked by his opponents into pursuing a beautiful slave girl onto a deserted island, where they plan to trap and kill him. However, the island has recently been claimed by Khosatral Khel, an awakened demon from long ago, in a gigantic body of living iron. A relatively unremarkable story that repeats some of the themes from "Iron Shadows in the Moon," but with a less interesting plot.

While the printed version of this book included a large variety of miscellanea in the back (drafts or synopses of different stories by Howard, notes on the creation of the Conan stories by Patrice Louinet, etc.), only one was included in the audiobook that I listened to, the first submitted draft of "The Phoenix on the Sword" that didn't differ much from the final version. ( )
  jrissman | Apr 7, 2015 |
Gotta love the Conan! Did you know that Cimmeria was partially based on teh Texas Hill Country? ( )
  DougGoodman | May 16, 2014 |
The best barbarian and sword character is Conan. The imagery that come to mind when you read this book shows the skill of Robert E. Howard. These stories will still be the standard by which all others are measured for the swashbuckling fantasy genre. ( )
  Kurt.Rocourt | Jun 20, 2013 |
Conan, the ultimate Barbarian, gleefully fights civilized Man. (And yes, it is Man he fights. Conan is remarkably chivalrous with all women, even those who betray him. He gleefully fucks the young "supple" ones, but only when they consent.)
A corrupt court official describes the difference between civilized politicians and barbarian outlaws:
"'You exploit a whole kingdom for your personal greed, and under the guise of disinterested statesmanship, you swindle the king, beggar the rich, oppress the poor, and sacrifice the whole future of the nation for your ruthless ambition. You are no more than a fat hog with his snout in the trough. You are a greater thief than I am. This Cimmerian [Conan] is the most honest man of the three of us, because he steals and murders openly." Kindle location 5708

Life would be simple and grand if civilization were Conan's only foe, but the real fight in these stories is about "the cosmic tragedy of the fitful ephemera called mankind and the hooded shapes of darkness which prey upon it." location 6757
Over and over Conan stumbles upon the ruins of a lost civilization, within which lies the sleeping demon of its destruction. Unfortunately, he has this habit of arriving just as the demon awakens.
Conan describes one such monster:
"'A devil from the Outer Dark,' he grunted. 'Oh, they're nothing uncommon. They lurk as thick as fleas outside the belt of light which surrounds this world. I've heard the wise men of Zamora talk of them. Some find their way to Earth, but when they do, they have to take on earthly form and flesh of some sort." location 6201
The demons come from "ultimate horror, ... black cosmic foulness born in night-black gulfs beyond the reach of a madman's wildest dreams." location 6176
  maryoverton | Apr 28, 2013 |
You know, I used to think I hated Conan stories. That was before I realized that what I had read were in fact imperfect pastiches written by other writers in the 60's and 70's who hoped to cash in on the iconic popularity of the character.

This volume presents the stories of Conan the Cimmerian as they were written by his creator, Robert E. Howard, and a better group of dashing, creepy, brooding sword & sorcery tales couldn't be wished for. The stories are presented in the order they were written by Howard, which give us glimpses into various parts of his career: from King to freebooter, from thief to warrior, we see Conan forging his way through the Hyborian Age after Atlantis fell.

There are a load of classics in this volume from "The Phoenix on the Sword", a tale of King Conan fighting against rebellion; "The Tower of the Elephant" where Conan, a young thief, meets an otherworldy prisoner when trying to steal a fabled treasure; and "Queen of the Black Coast" a rousing pirate tale in which Conan meets his match (and more besides) in the female captain Bêlit.

It's great stuff. Howard's talent proves to be much greater than many of his pulp contemporaries, and while these stories may not win the pulitzer prize any day soon, they give an excellent dose of adventure and fantasy when you're in the mood. Conan might even surprise you with a few philosophical words of wisdom, by Crom! ( )
  dulac3 | Apr 2, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert E. Howardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
McLaren, ToddNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schultz, MarkIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The original hardcover edition by Wandering Star is titled "Conan of Cimmeria : volume one (1932-1933)". It was published in paperback format by Random House under a different title, "The coming of Conan the Cimmerian". The publications contain the same text.
The Gnome Press edition "The Coming of Conan (1953)" is also different from the Wandering Star/Random House editions.
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Book description
Collection of the Conan stories in original publication order. Foreword by the edition's illustrator, Mark Shulz. Introduction by editor Patrice Louinet sets the stage for the original stories presented as the author created them, without embellishments or rewrites from other editions.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345461517, Paperback)

“Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities . . . there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. . . . Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand . . . to tread
the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.”

Conan is one of the greatest fictional heroes ever created–a swordsman who cuts a swath across the lands of the Hyborian Age, facing powerful sorcerers, deadly creatures, and ruthless armies of thieves and reavers.

In a meteoric career that spanned a mere twelve years before his tragic suicide, Robert E. Howard single-handedly invented the genre that came to be called sword and sorcery. Collected in this volume, profusely illustrated by artist Mark Schultz, are Howard’s first thirteen Conan stories, appearing in their original versions–in some cases for the first time in more than seventy years–and in the order Howard wrote them. Along with classics of dark fantasy like “The Tower of the Elephant” and swashbuckling adventure like “Queen of the Black Coast,” The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian contains a wealth of material never before published in the United States, including the first submitted draft of Conan’s debut, “Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard’s synopses for “The Scarlet Citadel” and “Black Colossus,” and a map of Conan’s world drawn by the author himself.

Here are timeless tales featuring Conan the raw and dangerous youth, Conan the daring thief, Conan the swashbuckling pirate, and Conan the commander of armies. Here, too, is an unparalleled glimpse into the mind of a genius whose bold storytelling style has been imitated by many, yet equaled by none.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:28 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Includes thirteen stories in the order that they were originally written. Conan the pirate, the swordsman, the army commander, and the thief are all here along with a map of the Hyborian World, drawn by Howard himself. Also included are other synopsis and story fragments (many that were completed by others), a poem, and notes on the original texts.… (more)

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