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‘Of a Bygone Age’
An Untitled Conan Synopsis by Robert E. Howard


Formerly titled ‘The Jade Serpent’ with revisions

Reading from pages 399-400, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, Del Ray, 2002, NY

In a mere 300 or so words Howard sketched out for himself a straight up adventure story without a female co-adventurer. This story was in the vein of the Tower of The Elephant and The God in the Bowl. Conan is fleeing from a detachment of city guards led by a mercenary officer named Nestor. After they fall into a rockslide trap set by the barbarian, and all are killed but the officer, he and Conan fight it out and eventually decide to join forces in the plundering of the ancient ruin they had tracked Conan to.

The subtext hinted at in this synopsis is that enemies, who respect each other as men of honor serve a transcendent purpose. It is not intended as a successful treasure hunt, but as a bonding between outsiders striking out at the unjust world order that limits them both in their own way. The material quest is bound to leave them both penniless—a feature of most Conan tales—but the better for the adventure.

Conan does have a love interest of a more realistic type than usual, a boozing wench who encourages him to thieve for her but who stays loyal when he gets in trouble with the authorities. Nestor turns out to be a gruff, likable and luckless drunk, lucky only in combat. The ultimate enemies are the civil authorities, the magistrate a fat swine.

This piece has been done well in the 12 volume Ace series as a pastiche, by L. Sprague De Camp I think, as well as in comic form, so I won’t outline the balance. In the Ace pastiche there is a monster [referred to in Howard’s sketch as “the monstrous being which haunted the city”] that is based on the horror unleashed by the demon Queen of the Yagas in the unpublished Almuric novel. It is clear that the pastiche writers of the Ace series mined Howard’s unpublished fantasy and historical fiction material in their efforts to fill out the fictive barbarian’s career in a spirit adhering as closely as possible to Howard’s horrific vision.

I wonder why Howard did not come back to this story and write it out. I suspect that he thought his editor would have reservations about the not very heroic manner in which Conan slaughters the guardsmen with a rockslide trap. [Predicting the opinion of the editor and knowing his bent before striking the first key is one of the skills of the periodical writer—and Howard wrote for fiction periodicals. This is a skill less pronounced in novelists, adding to the difficulty I their getting accepted for publication.] As in a few other Conan stories, the Old West element in Howard’s fantasy fiction shows through here.

It is such a service to have his rough work available to study, making a read through the back matter of this volume a regular treasure hunt.

Add Comment
deuceJune 2, 2016 10:16 AM UTC

It's been theorized the wench is the same as the one in "Rogues in the House" and Nestor is the executed Gunderman.