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Mistaken Identiy: Are you Conan?


As a Conan and Robert E. Howard fan, you have heard about both the original Conan stories written by REH and the new Conan stories written by other authors (pastiches), but have you ever heard of Howard’s historical adventure stories that were re-written into Conan stories? Have you ever wondered what happened to these stories, or what they were like before they were re-written? Well read on!

There are four stories written by REH which were re-written into Conan stories by L. Sprague de Camp in the 1950’s. These are:

  • “The Trail of the Blood-Stained God”
  • “Hawks Over Egypt”
  • “The Road of the Eagles”
  • “Three-Bladed Doom”
Gnome Press had recently published five Conan books, and they had generated enough money for the literary agent (Oscar J. Friend), the heir of Howard’s literary estate (Dr. Pere Moran Kuykendall), and their hired editor (L. Sprague de Camp), that they began to consider adding more stories to continue the lucrative Gnome Press series. De Camp suggested that many of Howard’s tales could “easily” be re-written into Conan stories, and was subsequently hired to re-write four previously unpublished historical/oriental adventures written by Howard. These stories were found by De Camp in a box that Oscar J. Friend had inherited from the previous literary agent upon his death.

The following describes a brief publication history that tells where to find both the re-written tales and the original, un-edited stories, as well as a brief synopsis describing the stories as they were originally written by Robert E. Howard.


Originally titled "The Trail of the Blood-Stained God," the story was rewritten into a Conan story and re-titled "The Blood-Stained God." The re-written version first appeared in Tales of Conan (Gnome Press, 1955) and Fantastic Universe (April 1956), and appears in the Lancer/Ace volume, Conan of Cimmeria.

The original, un-edited story can be found in the Swords of Shahrazar (FAX Collector’s Editions, 1976; Berkley Medallion Books, 1978), and was re-titled "The Curse of the Crimson God".


The original story took place in modern (1930’s) Afghanistan. Kirby O'Donnell, disguised as a Kurd, is seeking men who stole from him a map showing the location of a fabulous treasure, a jewel-encrusted idol called "The Blood-Stained God." Linking up with a Persian adventurer, he follows the thieves into the hills, where they are attacked by tribesmen. Fleeing, they run into the thieves who stole the map and they join forces to fight against the tribesmen. After a bloody battle, only O'Donnell, the Persian Hassan, and an Englishman, Hawklin, still live. They hurry to the temple of the idol, hoping to grab the treasure and run for it before the tribesmen can bring reinforcements. Hassan is crushed when the temple door falls on him, and Hawklin attacks O'Donnell, who kills him. But as O'Donnell prepares to take the idol and leave, the chieftain of the tribesmen, along with one other man, accosts him. The other man proves to be one whom O'Donnell saved from torture at the beginning of the story, and he saves O'Donnell's life by hurling the idol at the chieftain, who falls along with it into a deep chasm.


“Hawks Over Egypt” was re-written into “Hawks Over Shem.” However, Stygia was Howard's Hyborian Age equivalant to Egypt, not Shem. Howard's fictional kingdom of Shem was roughly equivalant to ancient Israel and Palestine, and was loosely modeled after the biblical Hebrew nation. The Shemites became the Semetic peoples, and the Stygians became the Egyptians over the march of time in Howard's historical mythos. The Conan version was published in Fantastic Universe, October 1955; in Tales of Conan (Gnome Press, 1955); and in the Lancer/Ace volume Conan the Freebooter. Interestingly, Howard’s working title for the story was, “The Man Who Would Be God”.

The original story, "Hawks Over Egypt", can be found in The Road of Azrael (Donald M. Grant, 1979; Bantam Books, 1980).


The story is set in Egypt in 1021 AD. Diego de Guzman, a Castillian, is in Cairo on a mission of personal vengeance. Disguised as a Moor, he seeks a man responsible for the deaths of his comrades and his own imprisonment. He learns that this man is now a high-ranking officer in the army of the Caliph, al Hakim, and learns that the Caliph, believing himself to be God Incarnate, plans to launch a jihad against Spain. De Guzman, with the aid of a Turkish ally, is able to take advantage of court intrigues and simmering rebellion among the Caliph's subjects to prevent the jihad.


"The Road of the Eagles" was actually accepted by the 1930’s pulp magazine, The Magic Carpet Magazine, during Howard’s lifetime, but it was never published because the magazine went out of business before it could print the story. Originally titled "The Road of the Eagles," this story was rewritten by L. Sprague de Camp into a Conan story which first appeared as "Conan, Man of Destiny" (Fantastic Universe, December 1955). When the story was published in Tales of Conan (Gnome Press, 1955), the original title, "The Road of the Eagles," was used, and this title was carried forward into the Lancer/Ace series in Conan the Freebooter.

When the original, non-Conan version of the story was published, it was given the title "The Way of the Swords" which can be found in The Road of Azrael (Donald M. Grant, 1979; Bantam Books, 1980).


The original story is set in the Caucasus region of what is now Turkey in 1595. Ivan Sablianka leads a band of Cossacks on a mission to avenge their hetman. Following this Turkish killer, Osman Pasha, into Armenia, he comes to learn that Osman Pasha plans to liberate a Turkish prince from captivity and set him on the path to the throne. With the aid of an Armenian, he schemes to kill Osman Pasha and capture the prince, hoping to collect a ransom. Nothing works out according to anyone's plans, though, and Ivan Sablianka and Osman Pasha are revealed to be other than what they seem.


“Three-Bladed Doom” was re-written into a Conan tale bearing the same name. Howard wrote two versions of the story, a "long version" of approximately 42,000 words, and a "short version" of about 24,000 words. The long version was rewritten by L. Sprague de Camp and appeared, under the title "The Flame Knife," in Tales of Conan (Gnome Press, 1955), Conan the Wanderer (Lancer, 1965, later Ace), and The Flame Knife (Ace, 1981).

The long version of the original, un-edited story, "Three-Bladed Doom," has been published twice in a volume bearing the same name, Three-Bladed Doom (Zebra Books, 1977; Ace Books, 1979). The long version of the story appears as summarized below; the short version was published in REH: Lone Star Fictioneer, no. 4, Spring 1976.


The story is set in the wild hills of Afghanistan circa 1930. Francis X. Gordon, "El Borak," is attempting to make peace between the Emir and a Ghilzai chieftain, Baber Khan. When the Emir is attacked by an assassin with a triple-bladed knife, El Borak and his companions steal into Ghulistan, a country feared by all the Afghan tribes. As they are camped for the night, one of the companions whom Gordon has left on sentry duty is discovered with his throat slit, the other, Lal Singh, has vanished. Gordon and his remaining companion, Yar Ali Khan, are attacked, but manage to beat off their assailants. They follow the trail of blood and discover a hidden city. Sending Yar Ali Khan to fetch Baber Khan and his Ghilzais, El Borak determines to enter the city and somehow find Lal Singh. He learns that the city is home to a revival of a medieval cult of Assassins, backed by the Russians. He must fight a giant ape and a city full of killers before the climactic battle between the Assassins and the Ghilzai.

Many thanks to Rusty Burke for providing the story summaries and most of the book publication histories. Heck, he basically wrote this thing!

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