So today is the birthday of pulp fantasy titan Robert E. Howard. One of my personal literary heroes and monumental influence in genre fiction, Robert E. Howard is the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Kull the Conqueror, and Solomon Kane. As you may have gathered, I’m a bit of a fan.
While Robert E. Howard isn’t as popular or ‘academic” as J.R.R. Tolkien, there’s a lot to be said about his more working-class, American style of fantasy prose. One that eschews Elvish linguistics and epic backstories for bare-knuckled grit and bronze-age spectacle, and made fantasy lit accessible to millions. On top of that, he inspired the kick-ass paintings of Frank Frazetta, basically the entire Sword and Sorcery genre, Khal Drago, Barbarians and Fighters in your favorite RPGs…the list goes on and on…
So happy birthday, Robert! And here’s a pretty grimdark birthday cake in honor of your legendary stories.
If you’d like my personal breakdown of why you should absolutely check out his Conan stories, here’s a handy link to my post on the subject. And by Crom, give these stories a shot, you won’t regret it!
I admit, I am a bit obsessed with categorizations. I love learning about new sub-genres in fiction, and seeing different flavors of fantasy, sci-fi and horror pop up over the years. Sci-fi for example, has gone from planetary romance a la John Carter, to the space opera of Flash Gordon, Isaac Asimov’s hard sci-fi, William Gibson’s cyberpunk, and the new wave of self and trad pub military space opera.
Fantasy too, is going through some very cool changes. What used to be a fairly straightforward genre of elves, dwarves and drow is rapidly ballooning into several unique and interesting sub-genres. And one of my all-time favorite fantasy subgenre, the subgenre that I personally write in…doesn’t have a name. You can look for it on Worlds Without End, but it’s not on there. And thus, in lieu of finding a genre category that these stories fit, I decided to name my own. North American Fantasy, or “Northam” for short.
“But hey!” I hear you say…”Isn’t that just Weird Western?” And to that I say no. There’s a lot of difference between the two, and here’s why, as well as my thoughts on this emerging sub-genre. My two cents on that below:
In the Genre Giants series, we look at book settings and series old and new, from historic franchises to new series with massive potential! Today, something wicked this way comes. Fantasy’s original dark antihero Elric of Melnibone steps into the spotlight!
“Edgy” is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, usually in a mocking way. These days, self-aware snark is in, largely thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and cult films like Scott Pilgrim that defined modern millennial culture. It also doesn’t help that the early 2000s were filled with unbearably cringy things attempting to be “dark,” which came across more like the Goth Kids from South Park than today’s subject.
And let’s not beat around the bush here…Elric is really edgy, but in a good way. It is at its core, a critique of the classic Tolkienesque good/evil dichotomy that’s dominated the genre for ages. And it’s thanks in large part to Michael Moorcock’s epic that we have books like A Song of Ice and Fire and Black Company taking up space next to Wheel of Time and Lord of the Rings.
In the Genre Giants series, we look at book settings and series old and new, from historic franchises to series with massive potential! Today we venture forth into the grim and wild world of Hyperborea, and meet its most famous and savage inhabitant….
King, Conqueror, Pirate, Warrior…Barbarian.
Conan is all these things, and a bad-ass character to boot. His world and setting are a rare sort these days, a bronze-age, sword-and-sandal affair. Though less common in the modern fantasy landscape, the Hyperborean world remains iconic and enduring in our pop culture. Games like Conan Exiles and movies like 2011’s Conan the Barbarian (as well as comics, tabletop games, etc) have kept the flame of this seasoned IP alive, even amongst shinier and newer peers like Warcraft and Sanderson’s Cosmere.
I’m a huge lover of all things genre pulp (especially H.P. Lovecraft’s Mythos), and Conan is no exception. It has however, dropped off in popularity recently, as have other sword-and-sorcery fantasy IPs. So I’m here today to try and convince the discerning reader that yes, these shorts are awesome. And here’s why: