Episode 28 – Robert E. Howard & L. Sprague de Camp’s “Conan the Freebooter” with special guest Diogo Nogueira

(Please also see the Episode 2 and Episode 17 show notes for additional details about the Lancer/Ace Conan books.)

Conan the Freebooter (Lancer Books, 1968) by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp, was part of the first comprehensive paperback edition of the Conan saga. Conan the Freebooter  was the eighth volume published, although it is third 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.

As with the other Lancer/Ace Conan books, series editor de Camp filled in gaps in Conan’s timeline by expanding Howard’s unpublished notes and fragments, re-writing non-Conan stories, and writing entirely new stories. For the purist, the Howard-only stories in Conan the Freebooter are “Black Colossus” (1933), “Shadows in the Moonlight” (AKA “Iron Shadows in the Moon”, 1934), and “A Witch Shall be Born” (1934).

In 1955, L. Sprague de Camp rewrote the then unpublished Howard story “Hawks over Egypt” as “Hawks over Shem”, changing the setting from Cairo in AD 1021 and adding the fantastic elements to turn it into a Conan tale. “The Road of the Kings” received the same treatment, being transferred to the Hyborian Age from the Ottoman Empire in AD 1595. Both of the original Howard stories were suppressed after de Camp’s rewrites and would not see print until they were collected in the small-press hardcover The Road of Azrael (Donald M. Grant, 1979).

John Duilo contributed possibly the worst Conan cover ever, an anatomically nonsensical depiction of Conan’s battle with the great gray man-ape from “Shadows in the Moonlight”:

1 - Conan_Freebooter_Lancer_1968

The sad thing is that Duilo was normally an exceptional illustrator, as evidenced by the moody romanticism of his Western art and the sleazy verve of his men’s magazine covers.

The later Boris Vallejo cover interpreting the climax of “A Witch Shall be Born” is much better, but static in comparison to the furious energy of Frank Frazetta:

5 - Conan_Freebooter_Ace_1986

In both “Black Colossus” and “A Witch Shall be Born” we see Conan as a cunning strategist who leads thousand of men into battle. It’s easy to imagine Gary Gygax and company playing out these Hyborian Age conflicts in the pre-Dungeons & Dragons miniatures wargame Chainmail (1971) or in the later Swords & Spells (1976) ruleset. Other story elements from Conan the Freebooter that stand out as being proto-D&D include Shevatas the “thief among thieves” from the prologue to “Black Colossus” and gray man-ape of “Shadows in the Moonlight” is certainly the “APE, Carnivorous” of the AD&D Monster Manual (1977). As always, Robert E. Howard’s stories remain the motherlode of swords & sorcery inspiration….


Reading Resources:

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Conan of Cimmeria Book 1)

The Bloody Crown of Conan (Conan of Cimmeria Book 2) TPB (trade paperback)

The Bloody Crown of Conan (Conan of Cimmeria Book 2) (Kindle ebook)

These books are part of the Del Rey/Ballantine 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. “Black Colossus” and “Iron Shadows in the Moon” both appear in the first volume and “A Witch Shall be Born” appears in the second volume.

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.


Additional Reading:

Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures collects Robert E. Howard’s original versions of “Hawks over Egypt” and “The Road of the Eagles”, untouched by L. Sprague de Camp.


Gaming Resources:

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells (PWYW RPGNow affiliate link)

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells Addendum (PWYW RPGNow affiliate link)

This is Diogo Nogueira’s rules-light, fast and furious swords and sorcery roleplaying game. It’s available as Pay What You Want in PDF and at-cost in print, so please check it out!

Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age (RPGNow affiliate link) is a 1975 ruleset from Fantasy Games Unlimited for wargaming in the Hyborian Age. The setting information was written by none other than Lancer/Ace Conan series co-editor Lin Carter.


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.

2 thoughts on “Episode 28 – Robert E. Howard & L. Sprague de Camp’s “Conan the Freebooter” with special guest Diogo Nogueira”

  1. All day long, wearing a mask of false bravado
    Trying to keep up the smile that hides a tear
    But as the sun goes down, I get that empty feeling again
    How I wish to God that you were here

    Baby come back, any kind of fool could see
    There was something in everything about you
    Baby come back, you can blame it all on me
    I was wrong, and I just can’t live without you


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