Here’s a few of my favorites culled from his Conan, Kull, and Solomon Kane stories. There’s so many to pull from but I chose these because they capture the ferocity, humor, and poetic qualities of Howard’s writing.
If you got any favorite passages to share, post ‘em here.
There comes, even to kings, the time of great weariness. Then the gold of the throne is brass, the silk of the palace becomes drab. The gems in the diadem and upon the fingers of the women sparkle drearily like the ice of the white seas; the speech of men is as the empty rattle of a jester’s bell and the feel comes of things unreal; even the sun is copper in the sky and the breath of the green ocean is no longer fresh.
–“The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune”
“Oh, I’ve dreamed of such a meeting as this, while I crawled on my belly through the brambles, or lay under rocks while the ants gnawed my flesh, or crouched in the mire up to my mouth — I dreamed, but never hoped it would come to pass. Oh gods of Hell, how I have yearned for this!”
–“Iron Shadows in the Moon”
Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.
–“Beyond the Black River”
“Crom and his devils!” he swore. “When the oceans drown the world, women will take time for jealousy. Devil take their conceit! Did I tell the Stygian to fall in love with me? After all, she was only human!”
–“Xuthal of the Dusk”
Suddenly the slim form went limp. The man eased her to the earth, and touched her brow lightly.
“Dead!” he muttered.
Slowly he rose, mechanically wiping his hands upon his cloak. A dark scowl had settled on his somber brow. Yet he made no wild, reckless vow, swore no oath by saints or devils.
“Men shall die for this,” he said coldly.
“I am either king or corpse!” he roared, his corded muscles bulging, his terrible eyes blazing. “If you like not my kingship—come and take this crown!”
–“By This Axe I Rule!”
…for all men wore masks, and many a different mask with each different man or woman; and Kull wondered if a serpent did not lurk under every mask.
–“The Shadow Kingdom”
“You fool”! He all but whispered. “I think you never saw a man from the West before. Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man—like this!”
–“The Man-Eaters of Zamboula”
When I was a fighting-man, the kettle-drums they beat,
The people scattered gold-dust before my horse’s feet;
But now I am a great king, the people hound my track
With poison in my wine-up, and daggers at my back.
–“The Phoenix on the Sword”
“There is always a way, if the desire be coupled with courage.”
–“The Tower of the Elephant”
Again dawn tinged the ocean. A redder glow lit the river-mouth. Conan of Cimmeria leaned on his great sword upon the white beach, watching the Tigress swinging out on her last voyage. There was no light in his eyes that contemplated the glassy swells. Out of the rolling blue wastes all glory and wonder had gone. A fierce revulsion shook him as he gazed at the green surges that deepened into purple hazes of mystery.
Belit had been of the sea; she had lent it splendor and allure. Without her it rolled a barren, dreary and desolate waste from pole to pole. She belonged to the sea; to its everlasting mystery he returned her. He could do no more. For himself, its glittering blue splendor was more repellent than the leafy fronds which rustled and whispered behind him of vast mysterious wilds beyond them, and into which he must plunge.
No hand was at the sweep of the Tigress, no oars drove her through the green water. But a clean tanging wind bellied her silken sail, and as a wild swan cleaves the sky to her nest, she sped seaward, flames mounting higher and higher from her deck to lick at the mast and envelop the figure that lay lapped in scarlet on the shining pyre.
So passed the Queen of the Black Coast, and leaning on his red-stained sword, Conan stood silently until the red glow had faded far out in the blue hazes and dawn splashed its rose and gold over the ocean.
–“Queen of the Black Coast”