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Robert E. Howard

Conan

Twenty-one stories, and one poem

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Robert E. Howard’s fantasy stories are classics, and among the fantasy heroes Howard has created, Conan is by far the most popular. Much of Conan’s popularity, though, comes from movie adaptations, comic books and pastiches — derivative works that rarely do justice to Howard’s unique inventiveness, his keen assimilation of influences from writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs or Henry Rider Haggard back to Herodotus, and his bold, fast-paced, and expressive literary style.

Forget all the second-hand Conans — Howard’s gripping tales deserve to be read in the original!

Solomon Kane

Nine stories, two fragments, and four poems

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Solomon Kane is a very different character from Howard’s most famous fantasy hero, Conan. Though almost equal in physical strength, there is nothing of the barbarian’s careless and carefree vitality for Kane, the Puritan. And different from Conan, Kane has an agenda — he is out to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things, avenge all crimes against right and justice. There is a much darker force inside of him, though, which he cannot confront, and by which he is relentlessly and restlessly driven. The promise of joy and happiness at the end of Moon of Skulls is not for him, and homecoming, after all his adventures, barely offers a short repose.

In Solomon Kane we may find more of Howard himself than in any other major character he has created. But no need for us to delve into that darkness now — let us enjoy these fascinating tales!

Dreams and Ghosts and Smoke
The stories of Kull, Bran Mak Morn and Turlogh Dubh O’Brien

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This collection contains the stories about Kull, Bran Mak Morn and Turlogh Dubh O’Brien — fantasy heroes who precede Conan in Howard’s oeuvre.

The stories are set against very different backgrounds — Kull lives in a mythical age even eons before the time of Conan, Bran in the times of the Roman Empire, and Turlogh, explicitly anchored in history, takes part in the Battle of Clontarf in the year 1014. There are connections, though: Kull appears in the Bran Mak Morn story “Kings of the Night,” and Bran Mak Morn features in the Turlogh Dubh O’Brien story “The Dark Man.” And, by the way, the story in which Conan first saw the light of literature, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was a re-written Kull story, “By This Axe I Rule!” Still, each one of Howard’s heroes is an individual character in his or her own right, and knows how to fascinate us in his or her own way.

The title of this collection, “Dreams and Ghosts and Smoke,” was taken from the last words of the last story, “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth.”

Dark Agnes de La Fere
Red Sonya

Three stories

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The three stories that are combined in this small e-book are all that we have, in their creator’s own writing, of two most remarkable adventure heroines.

The two stories about Dark Agnes in particular, Sword Woman and Blades for France, demonstrate how far ahead of his time Howard was when he was at his best — even today, the uncompromising radicalness with which Agnes repudiates traditional female gender roles is stunning.

The Shadow of the Vulture, the only story written by Howard that features the fearless sword-wielding Red Sonya, skillfully weaves Howard’s fictional characters into the detailed historical account of the Siege of Vienna, in the year of 1529.

A Gibbet Against the Sky
129 Poems

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This selection of Howard’s poems, most of which were not published during the author’s lifetime, reflects the editor’s personal choices; it does not try to give a balanced picture of Howard’s poetic oeuvre, nor of the poet’s person. Not only the selection, which is arguably biased towards the dark, but also the order in which the poems are here presented, and their division in five sections, are based upon nothing but the editor’s fancy.

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About the Author

Robert E. Howard was born in a small Texan town on January 22nd, 1906, as the only child of the traveling country physician Dr. Isaac Mordecai Howard, and his wife Hester Jane Ervin. During Howard’s early years the family moved from one small Texas town to the next, relocating every year or two, until in 1919 they finally settled in the hamlet of Cross Plains, where Dr. Howard would be a well-respected general practitioner — here Howard would spend the rest of his life.

Howard started to write early — from childhood on, he had known that this was what he wanted to do — and he turned into an incredibly prolific author. Fantasy was only one of many genres in which he wrote, and even within the fantasy genre the Conan stories make up only a fraction of his immense literary output. Howard wrote to earn a living, and since the magazines that bought his stories were paying poorly, he had to make up for this by volume. He was a careful writer, usually writing outlines and several drafts of his stories before he submitted them, but he wrote fast, rarely ran out of ideas (or of older stories to re-use and improve), and above all he was an unremitting worker: “Writing is pounding out one damn yarn after another, pounding them out whether you want to or not … the only way I can get anything done is to keep pounding away” (as quoted by Novalyne Price Ellis, in her biography One Who Walked Alone).

Howard pounded away at historical fiction, fantasy, adventure, horror, boxing, western, detective and comedy stories, and also at several hundred poems — though these, he knew, would not be published by the magazines he was writing for.

All this time, Howard’s life was troubled. From early age on he suffered from depression, and then he was burdened by the chronic illness of his mother. It was she who in his childhood had installed in him the love for literature and poetry, and he felt very close to her — when she became bed-ridden, it was he who became her caregiver for many years until her death. His unsteady commercial success as a writer did not mitigate the pain of his depression, and a longstanding on-and-off love affair with the only woman he had ever been closely acquainted with was leading nowhere. When he was told that his mother would not awake from the coma she had fallen into, on June 11th, 1936, he felt released of his duty to her, walked out to his car, took a gun he had borrowed from the glove box, and shot himself.

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