I’ve been considering Robert E. Howard’s Conan. As one does, you know. I don’t need to tell my discerning and intelligent audience that there is more to the character than a violent savage in a hairy diaper. But I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts.
I’m waiting for my paperback copy of Mamelukes to arrive, sometime in May, so I can finish reading Jerry Pournelle’s Janissaries series. I began reading these books in the 80s. I think I’ve waited about long enough. Sitting here and waiting I have mercenaries on the mind, given the premise of that series: human mercenaries sent off-planet to fight an alien conflict. (That’s not an entirely novel concept, now that I think about it.)
What are the best taverns in fantasy? Where do you imagine yourself sipping a pint in rather unusual company? The genre is full of these joints, though most, sadly, go nameless. Of course, some of these you’d probably just as soon avoid, like a den of merriment in Arenjun’s Maul, in Zamora.
‘Tis the month of Halloween, during which we make light of death, the supernatural, and terror. What fun.
For me, the quintessential Halloween book is Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October. (What, you haven’t read that yet? Go hence and remedy that deficiency post haste.) But is it quintessential by default? Are there other Halloween fantasy/science-fiction novels?
Let me tell you tales of labor of high adventure. Or, maybe not. I mean, you’ve got your Labors of Hercules. But let’s face it, those weren’t so much lunch pail jobs as they were quests. And Hercules was hardly a blue collar fellow.
There is Sam. Samwise Gamgee, that is. He provides, probably, the quintessential exemplar of the working class hero. A gardener on a heroic quest. A participant at least. The only of the Fellowship with a job. The rest of the Fellowship consisted of aristocrats or demigods. Good work, if you can get it.
Garrett, P.I. is self-employed. In fact, he’s employed as little as possible, preferring to loaf rather than labor. And now that he’s got people on his payroll, he is management, not labor. The boss.
Neither Conan, Fafhrd, or the Gray Mouser ever worked a steady job if they could help it. Why would we want them to? Those of us bringing home a paycheck who also read heroic fiction do so to forget about the job for awhile. We don’t want to read about Conan’s day at the office, or the Gray Mouser’s panel van breaking down along his route. We want to read about them breaking heads in a tavern brawl.
Look, there is nobility in work, in doing your job well and taking care of your family financially. But it isn’t the stuff of legend. I understand there is a market for business novels in Japan. Good for them, but I can’t say it sparks my interest. No, when I get home from work I’d rather open a book to swashbuckling adventure, not to salary negotiation and the copier malfunctioning again.
So happy Labor Day, all. Have a cold one, toss a dog on the grill, and read a tale of high adventure.
I approach this entry with some trepidation. I knew I’d need to write about Robert Ervin Howard at some point. But I’ve been reluctant to do so because, really, what more is there to say about the man? More ink has been spilled critiquing REH than any other Appendix N author save J.R.R. Tolkien. There are dedicated Howard scholars contributing to journals. The late, lamented blog “The Cimmerian” curated years worth of commentary. The annual Howard Days in Cross Plains, Texas, offers panel discussions. The topic of Robert E. Howard has been covered.
But, I’ve taken on this labor of Appendix N commentary, and by Crom’s beard, I’m going to write about REH. Adding a few more drops of digital ink to the ocean.
I think the pages of Sherlock Holmes pastiche I’ve read equals or surpasses the volume of “The Complete Sherlock Holmes” I have on my shelves. And I’m certain I’ve barely scratched the surface of the short stories, novels, comic books, etc. featuring Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation. I’ll be able to skip three of the stories in the anthology of Holmes stories I’m currently reading since I read them already in another anthology I own. Has anyone ever performed a count of non-Canon Sherlock Holmes stories? I imagine the tally would be obsolete by the time it was completed. And the number is even larger if we include anonymous appearances by the great detective, e.g., Roger Zelazny’s “A Night in the Lonesome October.”
It is a rare and wonderful feat for a character to outlive its creator. Few characters capture the imagination of large enough swathes of the reading public to inspire new adventures after the original author dies.
I come to praise L. Sprague de Camp; let others bury him in undeserved, virulent dudgeon.
The man’s fingerprints are all over science fiction and fantasy from the Golden Age of science fiction up until the end of the Twentieth Century. He more than earned his place in Appendix N. He was prolific, fighting in the Isaac Asimov weight category (though, let’s face it, Asimov remains undefeated for sheer volume of publication.) De Camp’s writing was urbane, learned, witty, and full of clever innuendo. I, for one, love it.
There’s a festive air in Bag End. Bilbo has broken out a couple bottles of the Old Winyard and is mulling them in a pot hung over the fire. Gandalf is carefully igniting tiny candles placed on branches of the tiny fir tree in the parlor, applying the tip of his staff and muttering a spell to spark each one. Sam is wiring together a wreath, while Frodo attempts to keep Merry and Pippin from opening all the presents.
In a harborside tavern, Conan, with great mirth, employs the heavy bone of a joint of beef to club an insolent potboy who is imposing bawdy lyrics on the tunes of old Cimmerian carols. This he does without spilling a drop from his tankard or the saucy tavern wench from his knee.