Thank you for this review! I had forgotten how much I loved reading Conan stories in my teen years. I grew up with the Frank Frazetta illustrations, probably part of the edited versions you discussed. I had no idea such liberties had been taken. And I even saw both Conan movies that Arnold made, although not really that impressed by them. However, one line did stick in my brain, and I repeat it out loud (in character voice) every time I drive past the exit along I-5 in Northern CA: “Zamora”. Yes my family thinks I’m crazy and has no idea what movie I’m referencing! 🤣

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> My industry friends blame Save The Cat! and my lit theory friends blame Joseph Campbell; I just know it sucks.

Thank you for saying this!!

Only thing to add-- even Joseph campbell thing is a Hollywood invention, as it was another book by a hollywood guy that made sure that **every** goddamn story now has to follow the Heros Journey.

And great point about iconic heroes-- another thing I hate about modern stories but Hollywood in particular-- the heroes(heroines?) have no moral or value system. They are all tortured souls punching the bad guys to get cheap psychotherapy.

The old school heroes like Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, even the Bronze Man-- these heroes had a value of justice and truth. They solved crime because it was the right thing to do.

I find these modern "tortured" heroes trying to find "redemption" very whiny, narsicisstic and hypocrite. Since they have no values they can do what they want, which is whatever is needed to move the plot forward.

I hadnt read the Conan stories, but I've added the book to my list now

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Jul 10, 2023Liked by Jane Psmith

There is apparently a screenwriting truism "Villains Act, Heroes React":


I responded by noting that makes perfect sense in the horror genre, where the status quo of being alive is what's at stake.

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>When Conan battles evil, it’s typically not because it’s harmed or threatened him personally but because it’s there and he’s the one who can. This isn’t an ethos that one finds in much fiction these days

That's pretty much how Lee Child describes his Reacher series. He typically compares Reacher (the character) to a knight errant or ronin.

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> men like that any more, possibly because men like that don’t exist any more.

It was an extremely disappointing moment when I discovered that Robert Howard shot himself when his mommy was dying. But that's nothing; he also fretted about his genitals shrinking, and ran away when his dog Patch fell ill. Set against the backdrop of Howard's heroes, his own foibles and sensitivities are an embarrassment and a disappointment. You ask if men like that exist anymore; better to ask if they ever existed! For if they did, Howard Was Not One.

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If Howard has a self-insert at all, it’s pretty clearly Balthus in “Beyond the Black River,” down to the dog.

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This is wonderful, thankyou. I picked up "The complete works of Robert E Howard" for my kindle a few months ago and have been sampling the stories. (Costs only a few dollars, but no pictures.)

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This is a great review! I have been re-reading the complete works of Howard the past 4-5 months (my god, but there are a lot) and you really encapsulate the feel and wonder of the Conan stories, as well as his similar characters. (Like Bernard Cornwall, all his leads are very similar, whether Conan, El Borak, Godwin, etc. One or two of the historical stories are just straight copies with characters swapped.) The notion that people act in addition to being acted upon is sorely lacking these days, and I think your analysis applies well to the good and bad of modern writing.

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Which of his other heroes have you been enjoying? I've read a couple of the Solomon Kane stories but that's about it. Thinking about picking up a collection of those or Kull in the new year.

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Kull strikes me as sort of a discount Conan, like almost a rough draft. There are some differences, with Kull focusing more on dream or time travel, but if one just find/replaced Kull with Conan it would read a bit like "This is the story of Conan when he got really bored being a king and started to experiment with LSD." Not bad, but not as good. That said, I only have maybe 4-5 stories of Kull, so maybe there are some that didn't make it into the complete works?

James Allison does like two similar adventures, the idea being he remembers all his past lives so you get I think a cave man tale and another bronze age one. Kind of a reframing of the normal stuff.

El Borak is fun, a WW1 era American hero in Afghanistan. No sorcery, and heaving bosoms are almost entirely absent, but the period makes for some interesting stories. Russian agents trying to destabilize British India, the re-emergence of the Hassassin, tribal feuds solved at the edge of a Khyber knife. Just modern enough to start being recognizable but with that savage edge, like Indiana Jones or the Mummy, except rated R for "split his skull to the teeth".

Solomon Kane is good, and strangely linear in the stories for Howard. I had read a couple random ones before and been a bit on the fence, but reading them in order really adds an interesting arc to the character. One I might be entirely making up in my head, mind you, but it has a feel of the civilized man's descent through the veneer of civilized, properly religious world into the real realm of supernatural horrors beneath.

Black Vulmea is Conan the Irish Pirate. (One of the stories is literally the same as a Conan story, word for word, with the names replaced.)

Cormac Fitzgeoffrey is Conan the Crusader.

Kirby O'Donnel is Conan the El Borak.

Helen Tavrel is a really charming story or two about a female buccaneer. Sort of an expansion on... what was her name, Valeria of the Red Brotherhood? In the story with the dinosaur chasing them to a sealed city where the degenerate inhabitants were locked in a blood feud and there was a vampire?

Writing that last sentence makes me marvel again at the fact that there has been exactly one decent Conan movie. These things are practically treatment screen plays for summer blockbuster films, yet no one has managed to just run their finger through the contents, pick one at random, and profit.

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I don't feel so bad now about the Party of the Right endorsing Conan the Barbarian in preference to either me or now-Prof. Steven Calabresi for Secretary of the Yale Political Union. Calabresi won anyway, and went on to found the Federalist Society.

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