Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Five Favorite Howard Yarns

On Robert E. Howard’s birthday yesterday, I was thinking about my favorite stories by him. It can be tough to choose--there are a lot of good ones to consider. Here, in no particular order, are what I think are my top five:

"Worms of the Earth": Bran Mak Morn, King of the Picts is (almost literally) willing to make a deal with the devil to get revenge on the hated Roman conquers. This is a tour de force by Howard with some great elements--the clash of cultures Howard loved in his historical fiction, a brooding hero, and weird horror.

"Xuthal of the Dusk": Also called "The Slithering Shadow." This may not rank among the best of the Conan stories for most folks, but I love the setting of a lost city full of drug-addled inhabitants awaiting an inevitable--but unpredictable--death from a weird menace. The original title is suitably enigmatic, too.

"Blades of the Brotherhood": Apparently, Howard’s original title was “The Blue Flame of Vengeance,” but I first encountered it under this title in the Marvel 1986 comics adaptation, with great art by Bret Blevins. Solomon Kane takes on a gang of pirates he’s been dogging, as he’s wont to do. Kane gets some great, badass lines, and deeds to match.

"The Shadow of the Vulture": My favorite of Howard’s historical actioners, its got an epic plot that would make a great film. It's got German Ritter Gottfried von Kalmbach with Howard’s real Red Sonya (no “j” or chainmail bikini) against the Turkish Empire, culminating in the siege of Vienna, 1529.

"Queen of the Black Coast": While there are plots, and settings I like better in other Conan tales, there are spots in this story where Howard’s writing really soars, and Conan’s musing on philosophy are great.

Close to these are “Pigeons from Hell,” “Red Nails,” and “People of the Back Circle.” I fact, ask me in a week and one of those will have bumped one the ones above out of a top spot. In fact, in most of Howard’s fantasy stories I find some elements I like even when the whole thing may not work for me.

Happy belated birthday, Bob!


Brian Murphy said...

Great choices. My personal favorite REH story is probably "Red Nails": An ancient city that hosts two warring tribes bent on extermination, a crawling monster from the dark, and a mad sorcerer. Oh yeah, and dragons/dinosaurs outside the walls.

GrayPumpkin said...

Great choices indeed. If I had to pick a favorite it would probably be "People of the Black Circle", great story, good villains, including a somewhat sympathetic one. Also it was the first Conan story I read, first through the Marvel's "Savage Sword" adaption, quickly followed by me picking the book from the Science Fiction Book Club.
But like you my favorites might change from week to week.

Porky said...

Worms of the Earth is an oddly menacing title given the mundane meaning it could have. Conan musing on philosophy - how long is that tract? Surely a good read.

Trey said...

@Porky - The worms in this case aren't mundane, but are indeed menacing. :) Conan's existential musings are but a few sentences, but they're interesting nothingtheless.

@GrayPumpkin and @Brian - Huh, so you guys' tops were in my "almost top" category. I wonder if there could actually be a general consensus on the best of REH's tales?

Unknown said...

Blades of the Brotherhood, Pigeons from Hell and Tower of the Elephant. Those are my favorites.

Akrasia said...

I've never read "The Shadow of the Vulture" or "Pigeons from Hell", but all of the other stories that you list are excellent.

"The Worms of the Earth" is probably my all-time favourite Howard tale.

"Hour of the Dragon" is probably my favourite Conan story (although "Red Nails", an many other stories, come close).

netherwerks said...

Red Nails is still one of my all-time favorite Howard tales. Have to read Shdow of the Vulture yet.

Pigeons From Hell is fun, but not enough to topple Queen of the Black Coast...

Trey said...

You guys should check out "Shadow of the Vulture."

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

Oh, man. So hard to choose. "Beyond the Black River" is lately a fav of mine.