Barbarian

Conan the Barbarian: The Complete CollectionConan the Barbarian: The Complete Collection by Robert E. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Conan. It took a barbarian’s strength to push through this whole thing. It was a test of endurance for me. Not because I didn’t like the stories, just because there was so much of the same thing stacked up in one place!

This collection was assembled (as I understand it) from multiple novels that were not originally part of the same work. What happens when they are lumped together is that you get a repetition of phrasing you might not otherwise notice. Comparisons to wolves and tigers using the same descriptors gets really old – quickly.

I see clearly where the inspiration for Frazetta and so many others comes from. This is a cornerstone in the building that is modern fantasy. There are many, many things that clearly descend from this ancestor.

At the same time, it does have issues. IF you decide to take the challenge and plow through this whole thing, be prepared for turns of phrases that are out of date. Prepare for the use of language that has developed different connotations over the intervening eighty years or so – giving an odd flavor to the text despite the technically correct usage of certain words. Also be prepared for characters that are placed / labeled or otherwise called out based on their physical descriptions. Any non-white persons in this book are judged and categorized based on that fact. I don’t know if that was the opinion of the author or a shorthand sort of cheat. Why develop a villain when all I need to say is “he was of the darkest jungle with fuzzy hair and sharpened teeth”? It’s uncomfortable and makes certain aspects of the book less enjoyable for it. Females fall directly into either weak and lust worthy or strong and lust worthy – either category to be part of the conquest. There really are women of power in here, just don’t expect them to take on significant roles.

I would say it’s important to read this original Conan material to learn where so much of today’s fantasy comes from, but read it with the age and context in mind.

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