The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I have so many mixed feelings on this collection of Conan stories. On the one hand many of them are massively influential on the fantasy genre, contain really poignant moments and powerful action sequences. Conan is a visceral brock sampson like force of nature who has his epic of a life told out in viking saga style stories of bravery. I did like some of the imagery of lost civilizations, poetic speeches, villainous wizards and priests, and gritty as fuck interactions which dont really leave you feeling that anyone is a good guy. (and most of these were written in the 30s, so its before the genre was really fleshed out.)
On the other hand there are moment of serious racism and sexism which are really hard to ignore. In particular, is the trash of a story towards the end of the book, "The Vale of lost women" which literally includes the quotes from a racist and "helpless" white woman captured by a Black tribe:
"You are a barbarian like these others- only your skin is white, your soul is black as theirs...you care naught that a man of your own color has been foully done to death by these black dogs - that a white woman is their slave!"
and "Am I not fair? Am I not more desirable than these soot-colored wenches? Am I not a worthy reward for blood-letting? Is not a fair skinned virgin a price worth slaying for?" [the craziest thing about this story in particular is that its the most racist and sexist and is also written in 1967, 40 years after most of the others]
Now granted, Conan himself doesn't say these racist things, but the book portrays characters of Black men as rapists, violent, and utterly uncivilized. With white women being objects of desire who seems to often be lording over or captives of Black men.
Lastly, the stories differ in Conan's role: pirate, thief, king, warrior, wanderer, mercenary, etc... but they seem to have a similar style to HP Lovecraft (they were friends, which also explains the racism), which usually involves some woman or weak lord is in distress, bumps into Conan by accident, Conan agrees to help, kills lots of enemy people, then some crazy creatures show up scaring everyone and conan fights the thing, killing it and getting fucked up in the process.
I swear, with the amount of wounds conan takes, its amazing he doesnt end up crippled after each story. There is even one battle where his ear is half hacked off and his skin peeled off his whole back.
My take away. The first few stories are an interesting read and i enjoyed qualities of them. If you enjoy HP lovecraft, Brock Sampson, and Beserk, this is right up your alley. Some of it is too formulaic and racist for me though and I dont think Im going to read the second of the Anthology.
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