Robert E. Howard Deep Cuts
By Howard Andrew Jones
Robert E. Howard is justly famous for creating Conan of Cimmeria, probably the best known of all sword-and-sorcery characters. But the best of Robert E. Howard doesn’t begin or end with the world’s most famous barbarian, because there’s an astonishing amount of excellent fiction that the talented Texan created over the course of a few short years.
Here’s a quick look at some excellent yarns he wrote featuring other characters. These should by no means be taken as the only other good REH to be read. Consider these starting points. If you try these Solomon Kane adventures and like them, there are more, and so on.
If you’re looking for sources, your simplest and the best source is the current line of Del Rey books. Although many of these stories have been collected multiple times, the Del Reys have the definitive, unedited texts. Unless otherwise noted, the Del Rey volume in which the tales appear is named after the Robert E. Howard character.
The dour, avenging Puritan swordsman Solomon Kane stalks his way through a small cycle of exciting adventures, frequently in darkest Africa. This third title is a poem and a mighty fine one. REH could tell a tale with his poetry. This one is one of his very best and happens to be one of my all-time favorite poems.
- The Moon of Skulls
- Wings in the Night
- The Return of Sir Richard Grenville
While King Kull is a barbarian who seized the throne of a kingdom, he isn’t simply a Conan knock-off, or, rather (because Kull was created first) Conan isn’t a more refined Kull. THIS barbarian has a philosophical bent, and Howard wrote him with a sort of dreamy languor, albeit one that gives full vent to pulse-pounding action.
- The Shadow Kingdom
- By This Axe I Rule
Bran Mak Morn
Like Kane, Bran Mak Morn is one of Howard’s earliest continuing characters. There are fewer stories that feature him, but these three usually rank high on REH best-of lists. “Kings of the Night” is actually a crossover story featuring both Kull AND Bran Mak Morn, and in “The Dark Man,” Bran is a mere statue, albeit perhaps a lucky one, found by one of my very favorite minor Robert E. Howard characters.
- Worms of the Earth
- The Dark Man
- Kings of the Night
Historicals – ah, I love the historicals. Apparently so did REH himself, who wished he could write more of them. Unfortunately, there weren’t many markets, and it took him much longer to generate the tales because he cared about getting the research right. But the best of Howard’s historical fiction is some of the finest work he ever did, and in my estimation stands up there with the very best Conan tales. Sure, there’s no supernatural, but the action and the stunning imagery and the exotic places are very similar to what you’d find in a fantasy tale.
While Howard did have at least one continuing character, I think these standalones are the best place to start. They can all be found in the Del Rey collection Sword Woman.
- The Lion of Tiberias
- Gates of Empire
- The Sowers of the Thunder
- The Shadow of the Vulture
- Lord of Samarcand
- The Road of Azrael
To a fantasy reader, enjoying the adventures of an early 19th-century westerner wandering around Afghanistan may seem like a bigger leap to make even than reading historicals, but the tales of Francis Xavier Gordon are not to be missed. Robert E. Howard was drafting most of these when he was at the height of his powers and almost every single one is top-notch, full of action, treachery, bold deeds, and clever tactics. Some were adapted into Conan stories by L. Sprague de Camp a generation ago and were thence converted by Roy Thomas into some truly excellent Conan adventures that appeared in The Savage Sword of Conan.
At the least, check out these two, and don’t miss the adventures of Kirby O’Donnell, another westerner adventuring at about the same time. His three adventures can be found at the back of the El Borak volume.
- Blood of the Gods
- Son of the White Wolf
But wait! There’s more! So much more… I could extend this list indefinitely. You can always check out the two Del Rey volumes of The Best of Robert E. Howard, or the single volume Conan’s Brethren from Gollancz (which is a very fine collection that contains almost everything on this list). Therein you can find these tales, and other gems besides.
- The Gray God Passes
- The Valley of the Worm
- The Garden of Fear
Howard Andrew Jones lives in a tower beside the Sea of Monsters with a wicked and beautiful sorceress. When not spending time with her or their talented children, he can be found hunched over his laptop, mumbling about flashing swords and doom-haunted towers. St. Martin’s recently published his newest fantasy novel, Upon the Flight of the Queen, the sequel to For the Killing of Kings. Paizo has published four of his Pathfinder novels and St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne two of his critically acclaimed historical fantasy novels starring the Arabian sleuth and swordsman team of Dabir and Asim. He edits Tales From the Magician’s Skull and the new line of Robert E. Howard fiction for Perilous Worlds. He knows karate and wrote this while eating stale popcorn.