Last Friday two library colleagues and I donned our loincloths and went to see Conan the Barbarian: The Mask of Acheron. Despite the histrionics of critics down on the film for not presenting some sort of universally accessible, Hollywood puff-piece, the new Conan movie delivers the goods. Director Marcus Nispel and lead actor Jason Momoa hit all the right notes. Incredible levels of violence and gore? Check. Amazing sets, costumes, and weaponry? Check. A Conan who is at once powerful and dynamic? Check.
In honor of Conan’s return to the big screen, here’s a quick list of some newer and classic material from the steely-eyed barbarian’s long career.
The Coming Of Conan The Cimmerian / Robert E. Howard ; illustrated by Mark Schultz.
New York : Del Rey, 2005.
Frankly, no list of Conan stories should start with anything but this amazing volume. Featuring classic tales like “The Phoenix on the Sword” and “The Tower of the Elephant,” Del Rey’s Coming of Conan offers the very best of Robert E. Howard’s Cimmerian adventurer. Mr. Howard’s prose possesses a unique voice, at once muscular and erudite, that fearlessly uses language to deliver pulse-pounding action. It is a style often imitated, but rarely duplicated.
Conan And The Songs Of The Dead / writer, Joe R. Lansdale ; artist, Timothy Truman.
Milwaukie, OR : Dark Horse Books, c2007.
Whenever you combine the creative talents of Joe Lansdale and Tim Truman, you’ve got a chance for magic. Fewer non-superhero characters have enjoyed greater coverage in comic books and graphic novels than Conan, but these two creators managed to wring something new and exciting out of Howard’s barbarian. Replete with desert themes and imagery, Conan and his wise-cracking companion, Alvazar, must survive the schemes of a vile wizard in this tale of sex, swords, and sorcery. This story is gritty, and its unvarnished portrayal of life and death in Conan’s Hyborian Age embodies the essence of Mr. Howard’s original work.
Conan. Volume 1 / written by Roy Thomas ; illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith ; colored by Peter Dawes … [et al.].
Milwaukie, OR : Dark Horse Books, c2010.
This amazing hardcover collects the original 1970s Marvel Comics Conan stories, and features the one-two creative punch of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor Smith. This collection features my favorite story from this period, “Rogues in the House,” where Conan must tangle with Thak, a massive ape who walks like a man!
Conan and the Spider God / L. Sprague de Camp.
New York : Tor, 2002.
A lot of Conan purists get down on the pastiches written by guys like De Camp, Carter, and even Robert Jordan, but Conan and the Spider God was one of the first paperback novels I recall buying. I remember mowing a few lawns one hot Friday afternoon, then hopping a bus down to Atlantic Books in Downtown Pittsburgh and picking this up for a cool $2.95. Those were the days. De Camp’s Conan relies a bit more on plots and plans than Howard’s elemental force of destruction, but the the story still possesses all of the necessary attributes. Weird cults? Yes! Gorgeous maidens? Yes!! Giant spiders? Yes!!!
There’s plenty more barbarian action where this came from, but these selections will get you well acquainted with the genre, allowing you too to “tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under your sandalled feet.”