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Top 5 Conan Stories for King Conan
Where Conan 3 could go
By Tim Janson
November 02, 2012
When it was announced recently that Arnold Schwarzeneggar would be returning to play Conan the Barbarian, the role that made him a star thirty years ago, it was met with a fair amount of derision and outrage from film fans. “He’s too old to play Conan!” they screamed. Well that is only partially true. Arnold is too old to play a Conan who is in his twenties as he did in the original film, so obviously adapting stories from Conan’s youth like “Rogues in the House” and “Tower of the Elephant” would be out of the question. But fans may not be aware that Conan’s career as an adventurer was quite long.
Conan creator Robert E. Howard had Conan usurp the throne of Aquilonia when he was about forty. He then wrote stories about rebels plotting against Conan to try and win back the throne when Conan would have been in his mid to late 40’s. In the 1950s and 1960s, fantasy writers L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter became the primary Conan writers, completing unfinished stories of Howard’s as well as writing new tales. They documented Conan’s life well into his 60’s, adventuring with his son also named Conan but generally known by his sobriquet, Conn. In fact, the final fate of Conan is never revealed. It was written that when Conan was in his 70s, he journey to the lands far to the eastern part of the world Vendyha and Khitai, Howard’s Hyborian Age versions of India and China.
Certainly Arnold will play an older, more mature Conan, likely after becoming King of Aquilonia. With that in mind, we present out choice for the five stories from Conan’s years as King that we would like to see used as the basis for the next film.
The Scarlet Citadel – “The Scarlet Citadel” was written by Robert E. Howard and first published in Weird Tales, January 1933. It was first adapted into comics in Savage Sword of Conan # 30 in 1978, written by Roy Thomas with art by Frank Brunner.
In this tale, Conan is several years into his reign as King of Aquilonia. When Amalrus, ruler of the neighboring land of Ophir pleads with Conan to help in his war against King Stradabonus and the powerful nation of Koth, Conan leads several thousand Aquilonian soldiers to the rescue. However, Amalrus and Stradabonus are in league together and spring a trap on Conan and his soldiers. Conan’s soldiers are slaughtered yet Conan remains standing, killing anyone who gets too close. Finally he is felled and paralyzed by the wizard, Tsotha-lanti.
Conan, refusing to sign over his kingdom, is tossed deep into the bowels of the Scarlet Citadel where Tsotha-lanti performs terrifying experiments and is the dwelling of a giant snake called Satha. Conan frees Pelias, another wizard and the archenemy of Tsotha-Lanti and together they escape the citadel. Conan decapitates Tsotha-Lanti but the wizard does not die, his body still moves, seeking its head. Just then, Pelias in the form of an eagle swoops down and carries off the head, laughing as the headless wizard runs after him.
The Phoenix on the Sword – Written by Robert E. Howard, “The Phoenix on the Sword” was first published in Weird Tales, December 1932. The story was actually a re-write of a King Kull story called “By this Axe I Rule!” that was rejected earlier by Weird Tales Editor Farnsworth Wright. It was adapted into comics in Conan Annual #2.
Conan would find it was much easier to usurp the throne of Aquilonia than to hold onto it. Shortly after becoming King, several rebels plot to overthrow him and get the crown back on someone of royal Aquilonian blood. Among the rebels is Ascalante who plans to take the crown for himself. Ascalante has a powerful slave in the wizard Thoth-Amon. Thoth-Amon had lost a great deal of his powers when his Serpent Ring was stolen from him. He vowed to serve Ascalante in return for his life being spared.
Conan discovers the plot against him when the ghost of Epemitreus, a sage who died a thousand years earlier, warns him and marks his sword with a magical phoenix symbol. Meanwhile, Thoth-Amon discovers one of the rebel plotters has his ring and kills him. With his power restored, he summons a demon to kill Ascalante just as he is about to kill Conan. Conan in turn slays the demon with the enchanted sword.
Shadows in the Skull – This tale was written by L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter and first appeared in Fantastic Magazine, February 1975. This was actually the fourth and final part of a story arc which was published in the Ace paperback Conan of Aquilonia in 1977.
Conan is about 60 at this time and his son Conn is a teenager. In the earlier stories, Conn is kidnaped by Thoth-Amon and the Witch Queen Louhi as they attempt to lure Conan into a trap to kill him. Conan would eventually free his son and lead his army into Stygia to hunt down the wizard. The final part of the story, “Shadows in the Skull” tells of Conan and Conn’s pursuit of Thoth-Amon to the edge of the world, deep in the south where the wizard seeks refuge with the last of the ancient race of Serpent Men.
Conan and Thoth-Amon square off in a final battle with the wizard gaining the upper hand. Just as Conan was having the life choked out of him, Conn stabbed the wizard with a blade enchanted by the Pict druid, Deviatrix. The wizard crumbles into dust and Conan hurls the Serpent Ring into the sea.
Conan of the Isles – This is a Conan novel written by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter first appearing in a Lancer paperback in 1968 and later in the Ace paperback edition in 1977.
At the time of this story, Conan is in his mid-60s. Aquilonia is attacked by a malignant force known as The Red Shadows which are literally stealing the souls of the Aquilonian people. Conan gives up the throne to his son Conn, and sets off far to the west to combat the sorcerous threat. Conan arrives at the islands of Antilla and discovers the source of the attacks…priests who worship the demon god Xotli. Conan is once again aided by the spirit of the sage Epemitreus who gives him an amulet that allows him to defeat the priests and destroy Xotli. The book ends with Conan sailing off into the sunset of the west, his final fate never revealed.
The Hour of the Dragon – “The Hour of the Dragon” is notable as it is the only full-length Conan novel that Robert E. Howard ever wrote. It was serialized in Weird Tales from 1935 to 1936. It was published in novel form by Berkley in 1977. It was adapted into comic format in Giant-Size Conan #1 – 4 and Savage Sword of Conan #8 and 10. Without question this would be my choice for top King Conan story to be adapted into a film.
Once again, Conan is targeted by rebel conspirators who wish to depose him and put Valerius, heir to Conan's predecessor Numedides, on the throne of Aquilonia. To that end the conspirators use an artifact called the Heart of Ahriman to resurrect Xaltotun, a sorcerer from ancient Acheron who has been dead thousands of years. Xaltotun is perhaps the most powerful sorcerer Conan ever faces. His power even dwarfs that of Thoth-Amon.
Backed by Xaltotun’s magic, Conan’s army is defeated when the sorcerer brings the very cliffs down upon Conan’s army killing thousands. Rather than kill Conan, however, the sorcerer takes him prisoner and offers to allow Conan keep his throne in return for becoming Xaltotun’s vassal. Conan naturally refuses and is tossed into the dungeon to await execution. A slave girl named Zenobia risks her life to free Conan. Conan retrieves the Heart of Ahriman and uses it to destroy Xaltotun. In return for her aid, Conan takes Zenobia as his wife.