In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads about one of Conan the Barbarian’s literary offspring
When I was a teenager devouring every fantasy book I could find, one of my favourite writers was Robert E. Howard. His Conan Chronicles – reprinted by Gollancz in a glorious two-volume edition as part of their Fantasy Masterworks series – sound rather crude and even unpromising when you try to explain to people what happens in a Conan story. Essentially, a barbarian with huge muscles goes about the world in search of treasure, finding abandoned cities and rescuing damsels and battling evil sorcerers and sorceresses, as well as encountering weird creatures including large spiders and giant snakes (Howard’s own bete noire). The stories sound like adolescent male wish-fulfilment – ‘fantasy’ in more ways than one – and on one level they are. But this is not all they are. And reading these fast-paced tales of ‘sword and sorcery’, as the genre became known, was an experience that always transcended whatever a summary of their plot might otherwise imply.
This was because of the electrifying energy of Howard’s writing.