Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Revisiting Robert E Howard
I've been reading over some old Conan books lately, and checking out some newer more faithful editions/ Maybe I am just more forgiving than a lot of fans but I'm not particularly put off by the work of L. Sprague de Camp or Lin Carter from the famous, or infamous, ACE books series of the Seventies. Those were my introduction to Conan in those early days, along with their iconic Frazetta covers, so perhaps that makes me more immune to the liberties other authors took with Howard's work. Of course, I have read Howard's stories since in their unadulterated form, and they are better in many respects, but I cannot help but wonder if they would have come to such prominence in modern times if not for de Camp fanning the flames of the genre and particularly of Howard's Conan, often through de Camp's Amra zine, for so many years. As I read more of the stories again, I'll discuss what aspects make for good use in tabletop roleplaying game campaign settings, and how to help make the transition from the written page to the tabletop without taking away form the game aspect, that is, without restricting or railroading the play characters in the process.
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It's hard to play the "what if" game in regards to "what if de Camp never bothered with Conan and stuck to his science-fiction," mostly because there are so many vagaries. While it's possible REH could've languished in relative obscurity like Clark Ashton Smith, it's also possible that Glenn Lord could've done just as well without the various disagreements with de Camp.
The thing about de Camp is that he was human, not some maniacal villain or some saintly hero: he made good decisions and bad decisions. He recognized that there was something in the Conan character that a lot of people enjoyed, even if he never fully recognized what that something was, and had something of a skewed idea of S&S in general. In any case, what's done is done, the unadulterated Howard stories are out there as well as de Camp's and Carter's, and there's no denying the cultural impact of the Lancers and Aces.
True enough all around. Conjecture can rarely be proven. I'm just glad de Camp actually did do something about the Howard material he loved so much. It drew me toward genre fiction, particularly swords & sorcery short stories, which then got me into gaming and once D&D came out in 1974, I was hooked on Medieval Fantasy gaming and literature.
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