Episode 2 – Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, & Lin Carter’s “Conan”

It’s time to pull the divan by the fire (or to turn on the lava lamp inside your wizard van), crack open an old paperback, and join us as we explore the fiction of the Appendix N….

Downloadable episode available here.

Conan (Lancer Books, 1967) by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, and Lin Carter was part of the first comprehensive paperback edition of the Conan saga. Conan was the fifth volume published, although it is first in the internal chronology–later printings of the series numbered the books in chronological order. When Lancer went out of business in 1973, Ace Books picked up and completed the series, keeping it in print until the mid 1990s.

In a now controversial move, series editors de Camp and Carter filled in gaps in Conan’s timeline by expanding Howard’s unpublished notes and fragments, re-writing non-Conan stories, and writing entirely new stories, thus jump-starting the Conan pastiche era.

For the purist, the Howard-only stories in this collection are “The Hyborian Age, Part 1” (1936), “The Tower of the Elephant” (1933), “The God in the Bowl” (1952, Howard’s original version first published 1975), and “Rogues in the House” (1934).

Regardless of the editorial controversies, the Lancer/Ace series was the only widely available source of Howard-penned Conan stories for nearly three decades, sustaining the sword and sorcery boom from the late ‘60s to the mid ‘90s. Robert E. Howard’s furious prose and the now-iconic Frank Frazetta cover illustrations on many of the volumes have cemented Conan the Cimmerian in popular culture. Frazetta had clearly read and internalized the dynamism of the Conan stories, as shown by his cover painting of Conan’s epic struggle with Thak the apeman from “Rogues in the House”:


As Dungeons & Dragons was created in the era of peak Conan, it is natural that Conan’s presence would be felt, starting with a write-up in Robert Kuntz and James M. Ward’s OD&D supplement Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976). Gary Gygax himself would write up Conan as he appeared in various stages of his career in Dragon magazine issue 36 (1980)–a treatment that presaged the eventual AD&D Barbarian class in Dragon issue 62 (1982) and Unearthed Arcana (1985).

Conan the Cimmerian has since remained a perennial roleplaying game property, both with TSR and other publishers, but that’s a story for another day….

Reading Resources:

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Conan of Cimmeria Book 1) (Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 2003) is the first of a 3-book trade paperback series collecting the Conan stories in the order they were written by Robert E. Howard, often going back to his original typescripts. Also included are many of Howard’s Conan story drafts, note, and fragments, but none of the posthumous revisions and new stories by de Camp, Carter, et al. This volume also features numerous evocative interior illustrations by Mark Schultz.

http://freeread.com.au/@RGLibrary/RobertEHoward/REH-Conan/@Conan.html is an online public domain repository of all of the Conan stories that were published during Robert E. Howard’s lifetime and several posthumously published works that are out of copyright.

Gaming Resources:

Daniel J. Bishop’s terrific write-up of Conan the Barbarian and Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is here.

Update 07/16/2017 – I mentioned Talbot Mundy and Howard Fast as adventure fiction predecessors to Robert E. Howard, but I was thinking of Mundy and Harold Lamb. This won’t be the last time that I’m wrong on the internet:-) – Hoi


If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.

3 thoughts on “Episode 2 – Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, & Lin Carter’s “Conan””

  1. The Tritonian Ring is a good option for a solo, sword and sorcery L. Sprague de Camp book. I loved it, but it is a very different story than Conan. The protagonist is very much a modern man in mindset, and very snarky. The worldbuilding is also much more rooted in Bronze Age history, to The Tritonian Ring’s benefit. I like his writing, but he doesn’t compare to Howard.


    Lin Carter wrote a really fun far-future sword and sorcery series called the Gondwane Epic. It’s enormously fun and absolutely overflowing with ideas. But Carter clearly comes down on the side of civilization over barbarism. His Ganelon is a literal superman in a way that Conan is not, but also not very bright (or at least naive). And while Gondwane is sort of a sunny Dying Earth, Carter isn’t a quarter the stylist Vance is.


    I wrote a post on the first volume of the Del Rey collection of the Conan stories this past week. I’m posting on his writing this week. He really was a tremendous stylist.


  2. Now that I’ve read a number of the Lancer/Ace paperbacks, I think I can say this is my favorite so far. “Rogues in the House” and “The God in the Bowl” are great roleplaying adventure inspiration. “Tower of the Elephant” is iconic to the point of being the one story that friends of mine bring up when I mention Conan (“You ever read that one where Conan goes up in the tower and meets…?”). I think the Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp stories are weak offerings, but “The Thing in the Crypt” is one that definitely stuck with me in the thirty years since I read it. I think Jeff and Hoi talk about this (but I’m writing this well after listening to the episode), but I’m pretty sure the Schwarzenegger movie has a scene inspired by this, which also had a profound effect on me when I was a kid.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. With regards to Howard’s world building, the setting for Conan was clearly influenced by Theosophy and the list of precursor races to humanity which include Hyperborea, Atlantis, Lemuria and Mu. I’m not sure Howard had any belief in Theosophy, rather than just using it as an inspiration.

    Sorry for the necromancy, I’ve just started listening on a recommendation from Levi Nunez and I thought I’d start from the beginning.


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