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Given that Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp have both passed on, there could be no better author for "Conan: The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Savage Barbarian" than Roy Thomas. When Lancer published its Conan paperbacks in the 1960s, usually with some of the best cover art Frank Frazetta every produced, Carter and de Camp had completed several of Robert E. Howard's unfinished stories, turned some other Howard stories into Conan tales, and came up with some new ones to fill in Conan's life, all arranged in chronological order. In 1970 Conan successfully negotiated with Howard's estate to start Marvel's "Conan the Barbarian" comic book. Thomas would end up writing more than 200 issues of "Conan the Barbarian," "Savage Sword of Conan," and "King Conan" comic books and graphic novels, two years of a Conan newspaper strip, a couple of record albums, and several television cartoons, as well s being a paid consultant on the "Conan the Barbarian" movie and co-writer of the first five drafts of its sequel, "Conan the Destroyer." Just for Marvel alone Thomas adapted every single Conan story Howard wrote and ended up turning more Howard non-Conan stories into Conan stories.
This book is commemorating the centennial of Howard's birth in 1906, which is as good of a reason as any to justify putting this book together. Thomas takes advantage of the chronology suggested by the "Nemedian Chronicles" and Howard's original stories, and fleshed out by Carter and de Camp, to divide Conan's life into a baker's dozen worth of stages: (1) Conan the Cimmerian covers the Battle of Venarium and his time among the Aesir; (2) Conan the Thief includes "The Tower of the Elephant"; (3) Conan the Mercenary; (4) Conan, Corsair of the Black Coast is the period when Amra traveled with Belit, "Queen of the Black Coast"; (5) Conan the Warrior is about his time with the Free Companions; (6) Conan the Chieftain finds him among the Zugairs and involves his crucifixion in "A Witch Shall Be Born"; (7) Conan, Solider of Fortune sees him again working as a mercenary; (8) Conan, Scourge of the Seas, sees him returning to the life of a pirate and becoming friends with Sigurd; (9) Conan, South of Stygia, is about our hero in the Black Kingdoms of the South, and includes "Red Nails."
The final stages all end up representing Conan the King, beginning with (10) Conan of the Border, when he joined the army of Aquilonia as a scout and started moving up through the ranks; (11) Conan the Liberator tells of how he came to slay the tyrant King Numedides; (12) Conan the King finally gets Conan on the thrown and shows how a liberator can also be called a usurper. Conan has to deal with several plots against his life, during which he meets Zenobia, the Nemedian slave that he would make queen of Aquilonia. Two of his oldest foes, King Yezdigerd of Turan and the Stygian sorcerer Thoth-amon would both fall to him; (13) Conan of the Isles has the final story in the saga, as Conan sails over the sea for his last great adventure. Thomas then provides an Epilogue that looks a The Hyborian Age After Conan, which eventually comes to an end when the Picts make themselves masters of Aquilonia. The next result is a fairly comprehensive look at the history of the character, thereby justifying the subtitle declaring this to be "The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Savage Barbarian." Too bad we did not have this book around when Thomas was chaffing at the bit as "Conan the Barbarian" was progressing slowly through stages four and five, and using "The Savage Sword of Conan" to adapt all of the Robert E. Howard stories as quickly as possible. With Conan unstuck in time in black & white a reference book like this would have been quite useful.
The most detailed map of the Hyborian World that I have seen to date takes up a two-page spread at the start of the book, along with introductions to the Hyborian Age and the major gods of the Hyborian world. Throughout each section Thomas devotes pages to well known characters in the Conan saga, such as Yag-Kosha and Valeria, as well as key stories like "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" and "Red Nails." However, one of the things that Thomas does with this approach is that he does not distinguish between what was written by Howard versus any other writer, including himself. because the everything becomes part of the Conan saga. You will also find sidebars scattered throughout the book touching on topics like the "Tigress" that was Belit's pirate ship as well as brief profiles of dozens of characters from Queen Vammatar & The Witch Men to Epimetreus, spectral sage of Golamira. If you are looking for something in particular, the Index in the back of the book will help you out.
I do not know if Thomas had a big hand of picking the artwork for this book, but you have to love it when you are chronicling the days of Conan the Cimmerian and you can include the art of Frazetta, Barry Winsdor-Smith and Kurt Busiek (and others) for "The Frost Giant's Daughter." Except for the titles pages for each section there are multiple illustrations on pretty much every page and they also get bonus points for keeping the black & white artwork by Buscena and others from "Savage Sword of Conan" in their original black & white glory (I always loved the inking of Alfredo Alcala on Busceam's pencils in the black & white art). There are only some citations for Frazetta and a few other copyrighted artists, but otherwise there are not individual citations for the art, just a list at the back of the book that does not name all of the Marvel artists that did Conan. There is a dust jacket for this book, but when you take it off you get the exact same thing on the front (art by Alex Ross) and back cover of the actual book.