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 Reading the REH originals again

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perfectpawn
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PostSubject: Reading the REH originals again   Wed 4 Mar - 17:56

I read many of the Ace paperbacks back in the '80s -- I recall they were tough to find at my local bookstore (this was in the prehistoric days before the internet), but I do know I had the first few. At the time I realized they contained "pastiches" by Carter and De Camp, but I didn't realize how much the originals themselves had been edited.

My library has the three recent REH Conan collections (Coming of Conan, etc), so I picked up the first one. I'm halfway through, up to "Black Colossus." I always had a high esteem for REH's writing -- the last of his I read was "Hour of the Dragon" when I was in college -- but I'd forgotten how GOOD these really are! It's the best of all worlds -- indulging in a little nostalgia by re-reading these stories I haven't read since I was 11 or so, discovering new ones that I'd not read before, and realizing once again what a fine writer Howard was.

He skirts a line between literature and pulp -- no doubt due to the demands of meeting deadlines. His descriptive powers are fantastic, especially when describing jewels and the fruits of plunder. My only problems so far are his dialog (most of which comes off like a bunch of Pennsylvania Dutch speaking -- "Sit you down.") and his characterization for supporting characters. And, as the Washington Post reviewer so aptly put it, "The darker the character's skin, the more evil he is." But hey, Howard was a Texan writing in the 1930s, so what can we expect.

I've lived in Dallas for the past 13 years and I've often thought of a trip down to Cross Plains to see the Howard estate. Has anyone here been there? Anything noteworthy?

One other thing -- and this is something I noticed as a kid. Howard clearly writes Conan's world as a high middle ages-type of place, with plate armor and other weaponry of the times -- pikes and such. Yet artists insist upon drawing him in the basic loincloth, etc. At the very least he's always in "black chainmail," which seems to have been Howard's preferred "look" for Conan. Yet we never see this, especially in the comics. Another example -- "Black Colossus" features Conan being outfitted in plate mail before he's given command of the legions, and Howard specifically writes that the helmet has a "vizor" -- again, total high middle ages. Yet Schultz draws Conan in an Eastern-looking armor with a spire-like helmet with no vizor. It's like artists refuse to accept that Conan's world, armor-wise at least, was a bit advanced. I remember once I actually wrote to Marvel Comics about this -- to Savage Sword -- asking why they never showed Conan in armor. I believe my letter was printed (anyone seen it? It would've been in an issue sometime from 1993), because some guy wrote me a letter back, saying he agreed with me.

Anyway...long post short, I'm enjoying the hell out of these stories, and plan to continue through the next two volumes.
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vzd963
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PostSubject: Re: Reading the REH originals again   Wed 4 Mar - 21:50

Pawn, you're right about REH being a good writer - but he's also an incredibly influential one - he pretty much single-handedly invented the Sword + Sorcery genre - I know Burrows was doing an early form of it - Tolkein - heck, even Flash Gordon has a lot of the elements, but what would modern "fantasy" be without Bob Howard?

The "when did Conan live/in what clothes should we draw him?" thing is interesting. It doesn't actually matter how Howard described him - it doesn't matter! (Shock! Horror! Who is this infidel???) See, the first image Frank Frazetta painted of Conan was alchemical - it CHANGED Conan into that man, that specific half-naked, animal-eyed predator.



It's odd that that one painting should overwrite Conan's image to the point where his creator's own descriptions become irrelevant - but 'tis true.
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perfectpawn
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PostSubject: Re: Reading the REH originals again   Wed 4 Mar - 22:17

A great point -- and not to sound too pedantic, but one I meant to include in my post. I think the book "Conan the Phenomenon" even mentions this -- that Frazetta was the first artist to "get" Conan, and every successive artist has followed his lead.

Another thing I meant to mention -- I really enjoy REH's use of unexpected words. Verbs like "honeycombed" (in "Phoenix on the Sword"), his specific terms for pieces of armor ("gorget," "sollerets"), his use of unusual words like "teocallis," for little golden pyramids.
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Flaming Turd
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PostSubject: Re: Reading the REH originals again   Wed 4 Mar - 22:45

Yep.

And you are right, Conan was often described with chain mail ala medieval style, including a hood just like this:

http://www.freewebs.com/excalibur-1981/Excalibur.jpg

Buscema sometimes draw him using a chainmail shirt though nothing like the description from the original tales:

http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Coffeehouse/5065/zuniga4.html


Strange as Howard was familiar with Copper, Bronze and Iron Age archeology and he described celts and romans pretty accurately, yet in the Hyborian Age which was even more prehistoric he created as you say a middle-ages technological enviroment mixed with stone age and neolithic touches.

I think at some point I wondered the same as you did, man, and in some comic the publishers answered that they prefered showing Conan in full naked splendor, because the bodybuilder's shape was the main reason people feel interested in the character. Some kind of phylisophy pretty close to qhat Richard Fleisher believed and did in THE DESTROYER bullshit.

Truth is Frazetta changed the prototype, and it's the definitive Conan. Still, is not the seminal which would be, maybe, closer to the look of a pro boxer or athlete of the 30's. If i'm not wrong REH never said Conan had "heavy metal long hair", still you will never find a short haired Conan but in illustrations from the 20's pulps, which look kinda ridiculous (some kind of handsome actor of Hollywood, not a warrior at all). Besides, B.W.Smith didn't made an hypermuscled Conan but an agile athlete with hippy looking. Buscema came and pees over it all, and takes again the Frazetta prototype hyperbulking him into Arnold Schwarzenegger-like.
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perfectpawn
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PostSubject: Re: Reading the REH originals again   Wed 4 Mar - 23:09

Exactly -- I've always felt that BWS' depiction of Conan in "Red Nails" was the definitive one -- lithe and "wolf"-like, just like REH described him. And yet, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that Frazetta's Conan catches hold of me even more. I read somewhere that Frazetta regretted REH never got to see his interpretation of Conan. I wonder what REH would've thought, if it was anything like the picture he had of Conan in his inner eye?
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Flaming Turd
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PostSubject: Re: Reading the REH originals again   Wed 4 Mar - 23:36

I think REH would have been fond of Frazetta as they both were sportsmen and praised action and virile attitude, and prefered individualism over the stablished beliefs.

Still I don't know if REH would have identified his creation with Frazetta's. Really, not sure. He would have liked the power in Frazetta's painting, probably.
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Flaming Turd
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PostSubject: Re: Reading the REH originals again   Thu 5 Mar - 0:42

To read online the stories:

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Robert_E._Howard


PD: as a trivia, Milius' favourite stories were, over Conan's, the ones with BRAN MAK MORN and also BY THIS AXE I RULE, with Kull. study
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maelstrom
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PostSubject: Random thoughts of a lunatic...   Fri 6 Mar - 7:25

Hey, Perfectpawn!...

I'm in the DFW area too! I've been to Cross Plains, TX once a couple of years ago for the R.E.H. days weekend. I didn't know anything about it until I had read about it in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram that week. Anyways, I thought I'd go check it out and I took a friend along for the ride. The problem is, I didn't know anything about registering or what the schedule of events was. I arrived on a Friday evening to find that the town seemed totally dead, there were chairs in the pavillion next to R.E.H.'s house, but not a soul was in sight and the house/museum was closed for the evening. I was totally bummed out, but instead of giving out and heading back home, we went and ate at a local Mexican restaraunt. I inquired of our waitress if she knew anything about R.E.H. Days and she kind of rolled her eyes and started talking about how most of the townspeople were never too excited about celebrating an author who committed suicide and how Howard was in love with his mother and a homosexual as well...etc.,etc.,etc....Let's just say she didn't know or care anything about the whole thing. Anyways, I found out that the reason no one was around was because (as part of the schedule of events) there was some auction going on somewhere. The so-called "Barbarian Festival" (which apparently is a big draw for bikers) was to be held the next day at the local fairgrounds. Anyways, by the time we had done eating I was tired and kind of disappointed and decided to cut my losses and head home. I would like to actually register and go for the whole weekend some year, but it seems like my work schedule or personal matters always conflict with the time of the festival...I always check to see who the honored guests are each year though, who knows, if someone like say Frank Frazetta is scheduled to appear...

In Howard's writings, Conan went through various stages and in like manner wore various attire. Most of Howard's writings about Conan when he was a thief depict him in a "sort of loin-cloth", while the writings of Conan as a Mercenary, Soldier, or King are usually the only ones that depict him wearing armor. Howard does describe Conan in many different types of dress, even to include wearing silken breeches or standard pirate attire along with a lacquered tri-corn hat (now that is hard to imagine for Conan). I'm certain that Howard intended some of Conan's armor to be "advanced" as with the visored helmet. This kind of advancement however would not dictate that the Hyborean age would be set in the middle ages. We all know that many ancient civilizations which are now expired/defunct were extremely advanced in their times and perhaps even more so in some ways than we are today. Howard's stories revolve around a central theme of splendid civilizations which crumble and decay into "barbaric" states to be forgotten by history. And along with history, the advances of those civilizations are forgotten as well. I believe Howard intended Conan's Hyborean age to be a fictional "pre-history" set long before the middle ages or any actual recorded history. I would submit that it rests somewhere between the "Stone Age" and the "Bronze Age", but that's not to say that a method of forging cold hard steel was not developed in an earlier age than what is commonly believed.

As far as Conan's physical appearance goes, well, he had to be a badass. He probably would not have the physique of a modern day body builder, but perhaps he had a body similar to a Herculean statue by the likes of Michaelangelo or Donatello. And as far as the hair goes, I don't recall Howard describing the length in depth, but he often refers to Conan's hair as a square-cut mane. The mere word "mane" evokes the image of quite a shock of hair to me...

I practically worship Frank Frazetta, so I am particularly biased, but his iconic portrayals of Conan will always be the ideal representation of Conan as I imagine him. And, like Howard...Frazetta depicted Conan in various types of attire as well.

Wow, I kind of rambled on there...anyways, enjoy reading the new volumes and may I suggest trying the volume on Solomon Kane? If you have never read any of the SK tales you will be in for a pleasant surprize!
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Flaming Turd
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PostSubject: Re: Reading the REH originals again   Fri 6 Mar - 18:54

If i'm not wrong (i might be, more than a decade since I don't read the guy) REH described Conan sometimes using a loincloth made of true cloth, like those egiptians:



Probably the manipulation of the image of Conan came from the seminal prototype of Tarzan. Frazetta indeed painted Tarzan years ago before coming with his definitive Conan. Conan (visual prototype) in fact is a mixture of a couple of prototypes of the "american atavic man", the troglodite (like Tarzan, Ka-Zar, Cro-magnon heros), the mythic warrior (Hercules, Perseus, Arthur) and the historical barbarian (Viking, Mongols).

Frazetta's version has it all: the troglodite (animal skin loincloth, brute attitude, long animal hair, fangs necklace), the historical barbarian (jewelry, horned helmet, golden ear rings) and the mythic hero (the fact that he defeats hordes from hell and is able of defeating the vcery same Death, the god-like quality, and finally the Sword as a symbol like excalibur).
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Cromulus The Destroyer
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PostSubject: Re: Reading the REH originals again   Sat 7 Mar - 0:42

Weird tales covers he was quite Roman dressed. He wears one of his greco-Roman cloths here,lol:



Those King Kull statues depict him more Roman like as well:




Movie Conan was generic hollywood Germanic barbarian.
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perfectpawn
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PostSubject: Re: Reading the REH originals again   Thu 19 Mar - 14:35

Maelstrom, just saw your post -- somehow I missed it earlier. That's funny you went to Cross Plains and nothing was there...reminds me of the time I went to Munich and asked for directions to the Dachau prison camp. The locals just didn't seem very interested in telling me.

So you skipped the actual house? I wonder what it was like. On my honeymoon back in 2002 I went to Virginia Beach, and while looking for local attractions I saw the Edgar Cayce house was there (aka "the Sleeping Prophet"). We went -- the place was open and basically empty. Felt like I was trespassing in someone's home. They did of course have a fully-stocked souvenir room, so I imagine the REH house is the same.

Anyway...I'm taking a break from REH for now. I read through to the third Conan volume, "Conquering Sword," and just got burned out. I also read the "Lord of Samarcand" collection on the side. I've discovered that too much REH at once is not a good thing...the constant barrage of too-perfect lead characters, the re-use of plotlines throughout the stories, the constant tale-revealed-by-some-character that occurs in every story. "Hour of the Dragon" especially suffered in this re-reading. I first read it back in college, and loved it. BUt reading it again, I couldn't help but notice how REH had cobbled it together from early Conan stories, and the bit where Conan's squire relates the ENTIRE battle to the bedridden Conan was just laughable. I mean, that squire must've had one hell of a view from Conan's tent. I think it's the "Samarcand" collection which made me say "enough for now." Reading those stories, one after another, I kept wanting to scream -- "Try something different, Howard!" Because they were all the same.

It's for this reason I've discovered I much prefer the earliest Conan stories. "Queen of the Black Coast" has emerged as my favorite Conan story yet (though I've not yet read "Red Nails"). It's just perfect, and it's a shame REH didn't do more stories like it than what became the "typical" Conan tales -- something the editor too bemoaned in the "Hyborian Genesis" section. It seems REH discovered the "secret" to selling a Conan story and so followed that format from then on.

And finally...others will disagree, but as far as I'm concerned Milus's presentation of Conan was the best ever, even better than REH. It seems he was able to grasp the mythic nature of the character more fully, and he was able to give Conan more "heroic" moments than REH ever did. I mean, Conan and Subotai taking on an entire army -- an army which alone wiped out a Cimmerian village -- was more thrilling and dramatic than anything REH had Conan do. That's why I'd say of all the Conan "pastiche" writers of the past several decades, Milius was the only one who was equal (and some ways better) to REH.
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Flaming Turd
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PostSubject: Re: Reading the REH originals again   Mon 23 Mar - 14:33

I agree with you, man, because the "too perfect", almost god-like characters of the man make the plot ultimately uninteresting -you just know the dude is gonna win, kill them all, and rescue the hottie-. Boring. Milius by change made the guy vulnerable, he was almost killed by the first black motherfucker in the pit, then he is so naive and even absurd that he is almost beaten to death like a dog when searching for Doom, then has to hide and built traps when fighting against an army... I specially like the removed scene where he say he would stop fighting, if he could. That is a totally human character. Great in Milius was also the fact that he could create a human character without denying the mythical root which made him greater than life, in a serious way.
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darkduan
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PostSubject: Re: Reading the REH originals again   Tue 24 Mar - 12:54

Hairy chest for god's sake. Why does nobody ever do him with body hair? REH described it. He mentions it in a number of stories. I wrote to Dark Horse complaining and got printed. they still didn't do it. Arses. Even when I said he must have waxed like a porn actor.
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Gunderman
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PostSubject: Re: Reading the REH originals again   Tue 24 Mar - 13:20

Conan's hairy on the inside, to keep him warm on cold Cimmerian nights.
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Flaming Turd
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PostSubject: Re: Reading the REH originals again   Fri 17 Apr - 12:09

A pic signed by the Governator himself, a gift he left when he visited ROBERT'S house-museum in Cross Plains. Apparently, it's hanged in a wall of the house:



Guess you guys who have been there, saw that?




Now that I think, he could have chosen a Milius' movie one, better than that from The Destroyer. Rolling Eyes
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