The Conan and Robert E. Howard Website


Literary Studies and
Criticism: Sources

The Work of Robert E. Howard

Literary Study and Criticism is essential to understanding the greater significance and meaning of Howard's work. Below are volumes that contradict with eloquent and concise writing the corporate party-line that Howard's work has no other significance than entertainment and adventurous fun. Howard's work is steeped with meaning and depth in the guise of adventure. The author's great skill as a storyteller and poet, his stunning ability to convey emotion and excitement, his inventive uses of the past to illustrate his insights into human nature, and many other aspects of his work, all may be found discussed in the pages of these critical works. The following list of books is not the sum total of literary criticism on Howard's work. There have been numerous chapbooks and fanzines that have published important criticism, but they are rare enough to warrent exclusion from this list (for now). Besides, this list is meant for individuals who are just begining to explore Howard's literature and life.

For those who need a bit more prodding to become interested in literary criticism... By reading these volumes you take a short-cut to understanding Howard's work. If you have ever wondered what REH meant by "barbarism", why Solomon Kane continued to hunt evil, why Conan came from a land called "Cimmeria," and how Howard wrote with such passion and ability, drawing his readers inexorably into his fictional world, then these are the books for you! Here you have scholars and fans who have already gone through the difficult task of beginning to grasp Howard's work, and they are generous enough to spell their thoughts out for all to read! Most of these books are highly recommended for anyone interested in trying to understand and grasp Howard's work.


Robert E. Howard: Starmont Reader's Guide 35 by Marc A. Cerasini and Charles E. Hoffman gives the reader an excellent overall understanding of Howard's work. The book first presents an acceptable biography on Howard's life, and then examines his stories by character and genre. The Bran Mak Morn stories come first, followed by the Solomon Kane, King Kull, and Conan stories. After these, Cerasini and Hoffman examine Howard's other fantasies, horror stories, and remaining prose and poetry. An excellent annotated bibliography is also presented.

Published in 1987, the information in the book is a slightly outdated. Since that time, new discoveries have been made that further our understanding and appreciation of Howard's work. Even though everything in the book should not be taken as gospel, it is far more accurate than not. Simply put, it is the best work of criticism yet written that attempts to examine the entire breadth of Howard's work, and is an invaluable resource for the Howard and Conan enthusiast. The book is currently out of print.

Highly recommended!    A+

The Dark Barbarian: The Writings of Robert E. Howard, A Critical Anthology edited and compiled by Don Herron has been quoted and re-quoted by REH fans since its publication in 1984. This work was the first book of literary criticism to seriously examine the work of Robert E. Howard (REH). It features essays and articles on Howard's writing style, profession, and literature. The famous essay, "Howard's Fantasy" by renowned fantasy author, Fritz Lieber, is contained within this book, as well as Don Herron's excellent summary of Howard's literature titled, "The Dark Barbarian." Steve Eng's brilliant essay, "Barbarian Bard: The poetry of REH," may well be the finest ever written on REH, certainly the best thing on his poetry. Other essays include, "REH: Frontiersman of Letters" by Donald Sidney-Fryer, "Through Black Boughs: The Supernatural in Howard's Fiction" by Dennis Rickard, "The Western Fiction of REH" by Ben P. Indick, "REH: Hard-boiled Heroic Fantasist" by George Knight, and "REH: Professional Writer" by Glenn Lord. The Dark Barbarian also contains an invaluable catalogue of books that were in Robert E. Howard's personal library, a short note on REH's suicide, and a short bibliography with recommendataions.

All in all, The Dark Barbarian is an excellent anthology, and well worth whatever toils and price to hunt it down. The book has been long out of print but is finally back in print and published by the Wildside Press in trade paperback.

Highly recommended!    A+


The Barbaric Triumph: A critical Anthology on the Writings of Robert E. Howard edited and compiled by Don Herron, published in June 2004 by Wildside Press, is a long awaited sequel to Herron's first, groundbreaking book, The Dark Barbarian. This new book examines aspects of the life and work of Robert E. Howard -- from the phantoms of Hate simmering beneath Howard's blood-drenched prose to Howard's personal philosophy -- and from Howard's visionary use of the American Frontier Myth to his rambunctious tales of boxing.

The book features 11 essays including the prophetic 1943 fan article "A Voice from the Past" by Paul Spencer; a reprint of one of the first essays that unveiled the profound thought that is found in Howard's work, "Conan the Existential" by Charles Hoffman; an excellent article on Howard's love of boxing and its manifestation within his work in "Fists of Robert E. Howard" by Mark Finn; "The Shadow of a Soul on Fire" is a wide ranging examination of Howard's philosophy and trend of thought stemming from the Romantic Age by Edward A. Waterman; "Heritage of Steel" by Steven R. Trout on Howard's use of the frontier myth; the insightful "Barbarism and Decadence" by renowned French scholar Lauric Guillaud; "Twilight of the Gods" by Scott Connors on Howard and fascism; a cosmic exploration of "Gigantic Gulfs of Time" in Howard's Conan and Kull stories by Steven Tompkins; "Lands of Darkness and Nightmares" by George Knight; "The Reign of Blood" by Leo Grin on Howard's use of hate in his work; and culminating with a survey of the current state of affairs in the Howard literary field, "The Barbaric Triumph" by Don Herron.

This book represents the cutting edge of today's critical thought about Robert E. Howard and his work. It is currently in print and available through Wildside Press and

Highly recommended.      A


The Fantastic Worlds of Robert E. Howard edited, compiled, and published by James Van Hise is another excellent anthology of literary criticism and study. Most of the articles featured in this soft-bound book are the best articles and essays recently published in the Robert E. Howard United Press Association (REHUPA). Essays on Conan, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, King Kull, and Howard's life and writing style make their way into the book. Of particular note is Rusty Burke's "Purist Manifesto" which spells out the "REH Purist" position, and stands as a bastion around which REH fans muster to uphold the integrity and respectability of Howard's work.

Published in 1997, The Fantastic Worlds of REH contains some of the most recent literary analysis and breakthroughs regarding Howard's life and work. Having sold out the first print run, a second printing has been made to keep the book in print. It is available through most comic book stores or ordered directly by contacting James Van Hise. It is an excellent addition to any library.

Highly recommended!   A

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The Hyborian Heresies is an excellent soft-bound book that features articles by Dale Ripkke. Inventive, creative and insightful, these articles closely and meticulously examine Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age of Conan. Gleaning from the Conan stories small details that have tremendous implications for the saga, Ripkke concocts fascinating theories and draws intriguing conclusions about Conan's world, history, and the stories themselves. Although much of the book is conjecture and speculation, Ripkke's insighful exploration unveils background material that Howard included in the stories that no one had noticed before -- making Howard's Conan stories a deeper and even richer literary tapestry than has been previously considered.

Published in 2004 by Wild Cat Books, The Hyborian Heresies contains some of the most intriguing recent analyses of the Conan saga and is a must for any Conan fan.

Highly recommended!   A

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The Dark Man: The Journal of Robert E. Howard Studies is a small magazine that features non-fiction articles by respected writers and scholars, as well as rare Robert E. Howard (REH) material. The Dark Man consistently features articles that break new ground, and further our understanding of REH and his work. This journal represents the "state of the art" in REH studies and criticism.

The first four issues of this journal were published by Necronomicon Press and edited by Rusty Burke, the next two issuus were published by Iron Harp Publications and edited by Associate Professor Frank Coffman. Currently, the journal is published by Seele Brennt Publications and is edited by Professor of History Mark Hall. This chapbook contains information absolutely essential for anyone interested in Conan and other REH stories.

Highly recommended!    A+

For more information about The Dark Man, click on this link...

The Annotated Guide to Robert E. Howard's Sword and Sorcery, by Robert Weinberg. Copyright 1976 by Starmont house. Paper, 152 pp + vii. Out of print.

This author, the present owner of all that remains of the classic pulp magazine Weird Tales, has written a comprehensive guide to the Conan, Kull, and Kane stories. He says in his introduction that the guide is intended to serve new readers of Howard's work and of the genre, and to provide some critical commentary in a area of fiction not often examined. The book does this, and more. Weinberg's insights into the meaning, tone, and technique of Howard's work are the opinions of an acute professional writer, who has both the acquired understanding of the genre that a writer in it must have, and the instinctive understanding and affection of one who enjoys the field for its own sake. From his familiarity with the subject matter, Weinberg also provides history and background on the author and his work.

Weinberg's format for the examination of each story consists of a character list, followed by an accurate and thoughtful plot summary, followed by comments. This does provide useful information for all new readers of Howard, but Weinberg's comments would be valuable even to readers who knew the stories by heart. Weinberg recognizes and articulates the important underlying mood of epic grimness that plays the light and shadow of fate upon the subject matter of Howard's stories. He calmly identifies what he finds admirable and what he finds predictable or trivial in these pulp adventure stories. And it clearly would please him to find his readers disagreeing with him and thinking for themselves, for part of his purpose is to provoke thought. Weinberg's commentary is confident and competent. He is especially successful in recognizing quotes that illuminate Howard's intent, and that show the nature of his characters.

Very good!    B+

The Blade of Conan and The Spell of Conan edited by L. Sprague de Camp are paperback volumes that feature articles from the famous Conan fanzine, Amra, which was the magazine for the very first Conan fan club, The Hyborian Legion. These books are actually a slightly re-organized reprint of most of the articles from three earlier hardback editions: The Conan Reader (Mirage Press, 1968), The Conan Swordbook (Mirage Press, 1969), and The Conan Grimoire (Mirage Press, 1972).

The Blade of Conan and The Spell of Conan are a fascinating compendium of articles on Robert E. Howard's Conan stories and other fiction. Too numerous to list here, the book contains essays on Hyborian technology, the editing of the Conan stories, REH's orientation toward races, Howard's Solomon Kane stories, and much more. They are excellent anthologies, and though some information contained within the volumes is out of date, the two books are more than worth seeking out.

Published by Ace Books in 1979 and 1980 respectively, these two paperbacks are an invaluable resource for any Conan or REH fan. Both books are currently out of print and only available through used book dealers.

Highly recommended!   A


The Gazeteer of the Hyborian World of Conan compiled by Lee N. Falconer is a travel guide of Howard's fictional Hyborian world. It describes and lists all the kingdoms, provinces, cities, and geographical formations of Conan's Hyboria and cross-references them with the Conan stories. Also included in this book is a similiar gazeteer of the world of Howard's other barbarian, King Kull; and "An Ethnogeographical Dictionary of the Principal Peoples of the Era".

This book is the most accurate travel guide of Howard's Hyborian world that we have yet seen. However, because Ms. Falconer used the Lancer/Ace edition of Conan books as the basis of her gazeteer, and included the pastiches, the work is flawed. Still, it is obvious that a lot of effort went into writing this book, and it is a somewhat useful reference tool.

First published in 1977, the book is currently out of print.

Recommended.   C+


Conan the Swordsman is a Conan pastiche written by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, and Björn Nyberg. It is included in this list only because the book contains an excellent list of proper names found in Howard's Conan stories, with their definitions, and cross-referenced with the stories. This list titled, "Hyborian Names," was compiled by L. Sprague de Camp, with a contributing article from George H. Scithers. The work was originally published as an ongoing work in progress in the fanzine, Amra. At that time the article was titled, "An Exegesis of Howard's Hyborian Tales." The essay was revised and reprinted in The Conan Reader (Mirage Press, 1968). Later, another article written by de Camp and published in Amra (1969) titled, "An Exegesis of Names Discarded by REH," was added to the essay which was eventually expanded into its current form now known as "Hyborian Names".

Flawed by the inclusion of proper names from the Conan pastiches and bowdlerized Howard stories found in the Lancer/Ace edition of Conan books, "Hyborian Names" is never-the-less a very valuable reference guide. Published in 1978 by Bantam Books, Conan the Swordsman has been long out of print, but can now be found in the anthology titled the Sagas of Conan published in 2004 by Tor Books that also includes the article "Hyborian Names."

Recommended!   B+



Conan's World and Robert E. Howard by Darrell Schweitzer is Volume seventeen of the Milford Series: Popular Writers of Today, and was first published in 1978. The book attempts to examine, critique, and evaluate Howard's Conan fiction.

Obviously prefering less adventurous fiction that is "...clever, scholarly, frequently very witty, [and] a good observer of human foibles..." Mr. Schweitzer unjustly saddles Howard's fiction with a biased and nearsighted evaluation. It is not the fact that Mr. Schweitzer gives a poor review of Howard's Conan tales that is disconcerting, but rather the complete lack of originality and the seemingly mindless reiteration of the corporate party-line, coupled with inacurate facts about Howard's life and work, that makes this book worth less than the paper it is printed on. For example, on page 6, we find that Schweitzer adheres to the erroneous belief that Howard "...wrote only for money." On page 58, Schweitzer falsely writes, "His stories contain thrilling action, vivid description, and sometimes first-rate fantastic invention, but not much else." An attribution for Mr. Schweitzer's failure to discern the deeper, artistic, sometimes symbolic meaning of Howard's Conan stories escapes me. However, it is interesting to note that Mr. Schweitzer's and L. Sprague de Camp's opinion of the Conan tales, and the stories' author, coincide almost perfectly.

Currently out of print, Conan's World and Robert E. Howard has the dubious honor of being the worst work of literary criticism ever written about Howard's literature.

Avoid at all costs!   F

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