Hither Came Conan: Bobby Derie – The Phoenix on the Sword

Monday, January 14th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_PhoenixFightOur Hither Came Conan series gets well and truly underway this week with Bobby Derie presenting the case for “The Phoenix on the Sword.” Grab your loin cloth and tulwar (or zhaibar knife, if you prefer…)  and tread upon some jeweled thrones!

“Know, oh prince…”

The Texas pulpster sat at his typewriter, pounding away at the keys, talking the story out loud as he typed. The long novella of King Kull, “By This Axe I Rule!” written some years earlier remained unsold, rejected by Argosy and Adventure. Already the Texan was working over the history in his mind, weaving together bits of fact and legend of the “Age undreamed of.”

Thinking back to just months ago when he had been down south, in a dusty little border town of the Rio Grande valley, and a character had come into his mind…a raw conception with an old Celtic name, and…

“Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.”

The opening to “The Phoenix on the Sword” is the greatest incipit in pulp fiction, an invocation to the muse of artificial mythology, a sketch of a world and a character all at once. It ran as the banner across the Marvel Conan comics for decades, and an abbreviated version opened the 1982 film which introduced the Cimmerian to a whole new audience. It almost didn’t happen.

“But “The Phoenix on the Sword” has points of real excellence. I hope you will see your way clear to touch it up and resubmit it. It is the first two chapters that do not click. The story opens rather uninterestingly, it seems to me, and the reader has difficulty in orienting himself. The first chapter ends well, and the second chapter begins superbly; but after King Conan’s personality is well established, the chapter sags from too much writing.”
—Farnsworth Wright to Robert E. Howard, 10 Mar 1932

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Hither Came Conan: The Best Conan Story Written by REH Was….?

Monday, January 7th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Conan_FrazettaFrostGiants

Welcome to a brand new, Monday morning series here at Black Gate. Join us as a star-studded cast of contributors examine every original Conan story written by Robert E. Howard: and tell you why THAT is the best of the bunch. Read on!

“KNOW, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars—Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen- eyed,sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.”—The Nemedian Chronicles

And so it began. In the December, 1932 issue of Weird Tales (a good month for pulps! Black Mask included stories by Frederick Nebel, John Carroll Daly and Erle Stanley Gardner), Conan of Cimmeria, a barbarian who had wrested the kingship of the mighty kingdom of Aquilonia with his sword, struggles mightily with…paperwork! Truly, heavy is the crown…

But Robert E. Howard, creator of Kull, Solomon Kane, El Borak and others, had come up with what would become the most recognizable character in the Fantasy genre. No silly Hobbitses here!

It wasn’t all mead and concubines from the get go, however. Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, and who remained intertwined in Howard’s life to the end, rejected two (“The Frost Giant’s Daughter” and “The God in the Bowl”) of the first three tales. Not exactly a stellar start.

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Hither Came Conan: The New Weekly Robert E. Howard Series at Black Gate!

Wednesday, December 26th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

frank-frazetta-conan-the-barbarian1_smallHither Came Conan. Indeed. The iron-thewed Cimmerian trod the thrones of the earth under his sandaled feet. Usually, while wearing nothing more than a loincloth…

Robert E. Howard completed twenty-one tales of Conan, as well as a few more fragments. Of course, some stories were better than others, but even those generally considered among ‘the worst’ offer evidence of Howard’s expertise as a story teller. “The God in the Bowl” rarely makes anybody’s Favorites List, but I wrote an essay, positing that it was a very early example of a police procedural; before the term even existed.

Which might leave the average reader wondering, “What are the best stories in the Conan Canon?” Black Gate is here to tell you… ALL OF THEM! in a brand new weekly series.

Black Gate was proud to round up some of the best Howard scholars, and biggest fans (hey, there’s no shame in that sobriquet – I’m one!), for our award-nominated Discovering Robert E Howard series.

Reaching far beyond the stories of the sword (and axe, and dirk, and torch, and furniture, and…) swinging northern barbarian, almost two-dozen essays delved into the works and life of the pride of Cross Plains. It was a fantastic series that truly paid tribute to the man I consider to be the best fantasy writer I’ve yet read.

Well, Black Gate sure as heck didn’t win a World Fantasy Award for my posts on Sherlock Holmes and hard boiled pulp! Swords and sorcery, epic fantasy, and imagined worlds are what the visitor comes here for. And until they change the password and I can’t log in anymore, I’m going to do my best to keep the Robert E. Howard content flowing. And this time, it’s all about Conan!

Beginning on Monday morning, January 7th, an absolutely All Star roster of guest contributors and Black Gaters (and me. Hey, it’s my series!) is going to be presenting you a cogent argument on why that week’s story is the best Conan tale written by Robert E. Howard.

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