Book Review: Conan the Barbarian by L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter

The novel Conan the Barbarian by L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter is the official motion picture adaptation of the movie released starring Arnorld Schwartzenegger, directed by John Milius, and written by Milius and Oliver Stone. The character of Conan the Barbarian was created in the 1930s during the Golden Age of pulp fiction by Robert E. Howard. From the time of Howard’s death at the age of 30 from suicide in 1936, and for many decades after, various writers wrote Conan stories. The task finally rested most firmly with  L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter who wrote the bulk of the Conan novels and who are responsible for most of the mythos as it is described today.

For the most part, the book is exactly what it claims to be; a slightly fleshed-out version of the movie from 1982. There are a few changes to the narrative from the film; they are small, but help propel the story forward. Conan is born among the Cimmerians, ancestors of the Atlanteans, whose land was destroyed. The Cimmerians are nomadic and expertly skilled at crafts such as that of sword-making. Conan’s home is attacked one day by the followers of Set, a snake cult that is slowly slithering across the land. Both of Conan’s parents are slain in front of him, and his father’s beloved sword is taken by the leaders of Set.

Conan is thrown into slavery for most of his childhood. He is then recognized for his enormous strength and sold to a group of pit fighters who roam the land making their livings by staging fights across the country. Conan, surprise surprise, is an excellent pit fighter. Conan is joined by the thief Subotai, and a female ex-pit fighter named Valeria. The trio breaks into a palace of Set and steals many valuable gems. They are enjoying their findings when they are captured by men belonging to King Osric. He wants to pay heavily for Conan, Subotai, and Valeria to sneak into the depths of the Set stronghold and steal back his kidnapped daughter, Yasamina. Whether or not Conan and his friends can pull off such a task makes up the second half of the novel.

When reading fantasy, we are to expect magic, wizards, cults, and all sorts of surprising plot points that push our ability to believe. For the most part, Conan the Barbarian sticks to the formulas and is action-packed throughout. There is an extended scene in which three heroes appear to stave off an approaching army that strains credibility as far as it can go, but this is Conan, and we should expect the impossible. The novelization of Conan the Barbarian is part of Titan Books’ Heroic Signatures line of books. If it has been a while since you saw the movie, it is time to crank up the soundtrack and read the book.

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Greg Hammond

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