The Conan and Robert E. Howard Website


by Kevin Miller
from Amra, vol. 2, no. 59, February 1973

I've finally done it, finally gotten up enough courage to cross swords with the chroniclers of Conan! I believe that the order of Conan's adventures, in the early years of wandering, is not as heretofore believed.

My two conclusions are simply that:
1) "The Frost Giant's Daughter" (FD) is the first Conan tale, i.e., it records his earliest adventure abroad.
2) "The God in the Bowl" (GB) is also out of sequence, since it should be listed as following "Rogues in the House" rather than preceding it.

I also have some dark thoughts on "The Black Stranger" ("The Treasure of Tranicos") and a question why it doesn't precede "The Pool of the Black One," since "The Black Stranger" ends with Conan embarking with the Barachan pirates in Howard's original. I suspect the problem here lies in how Conan got to the beginning point of the story. Since I haven't studied the later tales as much, I'll leave it at that.

In defending my two audacious conclusions, I appeal to Robert E. Howard himself. His only discussion of Conan's chronology that I have found is his letter to John D. Clark and P. Schuyler Miller, which was published in CONAN, pp. 16-20. I draw on this heavily.

At first, FD would seem to fit into the Saga whenever Conan returned from his wanderings to his homeland. The argument for this is REH's statement that Conan returned thence "from time to time" (CONAN, p. 19). The only argument that this tale takes place after his youth is in the references to Conan as a "man" in CONAN THE CIMMERIAN, pp. 54 & 56.

For my argument that he was in his youth, I go to the end of the story FD, where an old man says that he had had a similar experience with Ymir's daughter when he was a boy, implying that Atali works her wiles on young men who survive such frays. As to why Conan is elsewhere in the story referred to as a man, Howard's letter again states that at 15, "He stood six feet and weight 180 pounds" (CONAN, p. 18), which was man enough as any Gunderman at Venarium could have testified. If he was 15 at Venarium and "about 17" entering Zamora, he would be about 16 when he joined the Aesir. In this letter REH specifically describes Conan's first journey from home:

There was a space of about a year between Vanarium and his entrance into the thief-city of Zamora. During this time he returned to the northern territories of his tribe, and made his first journey beyond the boundaries of Cimmeria. This, strange to say, was north instead of south. Why or how, I am not certain, but he spent some months among a tribe of the Aesir, fighting with the Vanir and the Hyperboreans, and developing a hate for the latter which lasted all his life and later affected his policies as King of Aquilonia. Captured by them, he escaped southward in time to make his debut in print.

What did REH mean by this last sentence? Earlier in his letter he wrote Conan "...was introduced to the public in 'The Tower of the Elephant'" (CONAN, p. 17). Surely he didn't mean that TE was the first Conan story published. He could only have meant that, to the public, TE chronicled the earliest adventures of his hero. In Howard's lifetime, FD was only published once, under a different title, in an obscure magazine, and ascribed to a "different" hero. But de Camp himself tells us that the tale was originally a Conan tale, and further, that it was " of the first Conan stories that Howard wrote..." (THE CONAN READER, p. 21). It could quite possibly be the first Conan story written as a Conan story. Although this is no criterion for its chronological position within the Saga, it seems likely that REH had this early tale in mind when he wrote that paragraph I quoted above. FD is the only Conan tale to take place in the far north! And Conan in league with the Aesir against the Vanir is more than a coincidence. Also the condition in which Atali and the cold left him at the end of the story FD could account for his falling captive to the Hyperborians immediately afterward.

A further argument against placing the tale where the Informal Biographers put it, at Conan's first return home, is Howard's saying that this first return home was for a "brief period" (CONAN, p. 19). Too brief, I would think, to go raiding as far north as he did.

Now to my second conclusion, about "The God in the Bowl," I feel this tale immediately follows "Rogues in the House" and does not precede it. Referring again to that letter, we read Howard's statement: "Shortly after [the events of 'Rogues in the House'], he Cimmeria" (CONAN, p. 19). Now even in the almost timeless Hyborian Age, two years of Turanian toil as set forth in the "Informal Biography" is a pretty long "shortly." I believe that Conan rode from the house of the rogues, along the Road of Kings, and straight into his adventures with the bowled god.

Numalia, where the story takes place, is on the way home and not out of the way, as the "Biography" makes it seem. The "Biography" has Conan leaving Zamora for Nemedia, then returning through Corinthia (through which he had to pass to get to Nemedia), and from thence to Turan! No! Howard clearly meant that Conan travelled from Zamora to Corinthia, shortly after which he headed for home (CONAN, pp. 18-19). The story "The Hall of the Dead" easily fits where the Biographers put it: in Zamora and preceding REH. But I see no reason for interpolating GB in there also, necessitating a sashay back and forth between Nemedia and Corinthia. True, Conan was a wanderer; but was he such an aimless wanderer?

Furthermore, consider the internal evidence in GB: After the excitement is over, we find Conan fleeing, "...nor did he slacken his headlong flight until the spires of Numalia faded into the dawn behind him" (CONAN, p. 130). Since the dawn usually occurs in the east, Conan must have been riding west to be riding away from it! There is now plenty of time after this first return home for the "missing Turanian years," as P. Schuyler Miller calls them in the SWORDBOOK, p. 51; although I've never seen a story by Howard himself that suggests that Conan spent two years in Turan. But what I'd really like to know is how this chronology compares with the original Miller-Clark outline approved by REH.

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