Friday, October 28, 2011

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard

My husband recommended this collection to me and loaded the audio book on my phone. I wasn't sure what to expect, or if I would enjoy it. Pulp fiction, like Conan, has a bad reputation with it portrayal of women and I was only familiar with the movie Conan, the Schwarzenegger Conan at that. It turns out much of what I know of Conan is not from the original stories, but from writers aping Howard's work and "borrowing" the character's name. 

The audio book opens with a foreword about the history of the Conan stories, and a look at the environment that created them. It is quite interesting for any bibliophile, whether they are interested in Conan stories or not. I had no idea that Howard and Lovecraft were friends, or that Howard was considered quite a "literary" writer. The book is read by Todd McLaren, who's voice is the embodiment of rough manliness. He creates a variety of voices for the various characters, and lends a quiet dignity to our hero.

This image isn't objectification in any way!
Over the years, when people have discussed Conan, I got the distinct impression that the stories objectified women as solely sexual objects. Though I can't comment on other similar works of the time, I can say that I did not get this feeling from Howard's work. Don't get me wrong, he eloquently describes the female beauties of the world in detail. It is often quite a sensual, almost erotic description. However, he takes no less care when describing Conan's physical beauty, or the bodies of other prominent males characters. Howard definitely had an appreciation for a fit human form, regardless of gender.

The volume includes 13 tales, plus the Miscellanea. Many of the stories have never been seen in this form before as they were cut for length or content on original publication. I enjoyed all the stories, though some stuck out more than others. There were tales of political intrigue, pirate adventuring, tribal war, and magical creatures. I really enjoyed "Queen of the Black Coast", a woman strong enough to match Conan's super human personality, thirst for adventure, and strength of will. "The Tower of the Elephant" showed us a bit of Conan's softer side, even if only for a second. Through out all the stories, the reader gets a sense of Conan's passion for life and all it's pleasures. He is very much a person that lives in the now, and without regrets. Conan, and his allies (no matter what their walk of life) have an honesty and integrity in all their deeds. Howard also shows a remarkable understanding of various cultures, commenting in his stories about how each place has its own ways and that one must adapt to the ways of the land you are in. Not a sentiment I expected to find in these tales, especially not stated so directly.

If you are looking for some adventure, or would like to puzzle out which fictional culture matches which real life culture, give this collection a read (or a listen).

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