Watch young Conan take on a band of Picts
The movie is still looking worthwhile. Cimmeria looks like Cimmeria, and there's thankfully no Conan being carted off to slavery as a young lad. Instead, he's a real bad-ass right from the start - just like Howard describes him.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Once I saw the latest trailers for the upcoming Conan movie, that got me started on a return to the classics of the genre. First, I rummaged through my attic and dug out some of my old Lancer edition Conan books edited by L. Spraque De Camp – you know, the ones that included this iconic fantasy cover by Frank Frazetta:
What I hadn't realized is that the Robert E. Howard stories in these volumes were actually edited by De Camp, and were not in the form the author had originally intended. Also, a significant number of pastiches were included, of varying quality by De Camp, Lin Carter, and several other authors. What this realization did is send me to the relatively recently published Del Rey volumes. These three books (“The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian”, “The Bloody Crown of Conan”, and “The Conquering Sword of Conan”) are simply fantastic. Inside them are contained everything that Howard ever wrote about the Hyborian Age, in their original form, and in the order the stories were actually written. I was concerned when starting that my teenage memories of these tales were rosy tinted, but going back to them as someone who has now passed his middle-aged years, I have found that not only do the best stories hold up in comparison to the more modern fantasy literature, but a more mature reading has found added depth and thrills galore. The pacing is always crisply breathtaking, the narrative is savage and brutal, but the rapid fire characterizations and cultural descriptions are much more finely fashioned than what I had recollected. Besides the stories themselves, the volumes are richly illustrated and also include introductions, essays, drafts, synopses, and correspondences. Considering that some of these stories are seeing print for the first time in the form intended by the author, the Del Rey Conan collection is a must have for any fantasy fan. Very highly recommended.
Having latched onto the Del Rey collection, that also got me looking for some more Conan literary material, and I remembered Roy Thomas' comic version of Conan from the 1970's - “The Savage Sword of Conan”. Well, it turns out that since 2003, Dark Horse Comics has revived the Conan comic franchise. I haven't seen any of their monthly books, but I have picked up some of their collections published in a graphic novel format. These are great! Each book has a storyline wrapped around an original Howard tale, with additional pastiche material that is nicely written and respectful of the original work, filling in the gaps that Howard left in the story. The books tell the life story of Conan chronologically, starting with his early years in Cimmeria (“Born on the Battlefield”), moving on to his early adventures (“The Frost Giant's Daughter”, “The Tower of the Elephant”), and has now found its way up to Conan's time with the steppe kozaks (the most recently published collection) and his time as a buccaneer (the series now in monthly publication - “The Road of Kings”). My understanding is that the next collection, starting next year, will be centered on “The Queen of the Black Coast”. Check these out – they are a lot of fun. Great illustrations too. I just picked up the “Black Colossus” collection, and found it particularly appropriate reading for an Ancients wargamer. Especially the scene of the climatic battle with Conan in command of mercenary forces opposing a sorcerer led desert army, arraying his bow armed medium infantry on the flanking heights, positioning his pikemen in the center of the line, and then leading a flank march attack with his armored heavy cavalry against the rear of his enemy. The scene with the plate-armored knights rushing off on an impetuous charge against a battleline of Stygian chariots is one that I'm sure will be familiar to anyone who has played in a typical open format Ancients tournament, and right in line with those critics of these kind of competitions who say such matchups are really just fantasy games instead of historical ones.
Hopefully I will get some time soon for painting and gaming so I can post more of that material instead of subjecting people to these kind of reading reminiscences.