[50/50] Story #7: “Queen of the Black Coast”

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Story #7: “Queen of the Black Coast” — Robert E. Howard (1934)

conanIf J.R.R. Tolkien was the sire of high fantasy, Robert E. Howard was the mac daddy of pulp fiction that would eventually be called “sword and sorcery,” heroic fantasy concerning great warriors cutting great bloody swaths across savage realms. Howard’s influence was equally broad and memorable, which is surprising considering how short his writing career turned out to be. He wrote a few dozen short stories and created several famous characters — including Conan the Barbarian — before shooting himself at age 30.

Howard never left central Texas, instead bringing the world to him through adventure stories he sold to magazines like Weird Tales. When the market for paperback books exploded in the 1950s, his work was rediscovered by another generation of readers and writers, a few of whom picked up the mantle and continued to create tales with the same characters. Reprinted and expanded upon again in the late 1960s, these dark swashbuckling adventures became a huge influence —for good or for ill— on comics, movies, and genre fiction. Games like D&D and, well, most modern video games, owe a great deal to Howard’s inventions.

conan100Like Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Warlord of Mars, I discovered Howard via Marvel Comics in the ’70s, through Marv Wolfman and John Buscema’s epic adaptations of Conan. They capped off a great run with a retelling of Conan’s most famous story, “Queen of the Black Coast,” as the grim barbarian and his girlfriend, lusty pirate captain Bêlit, terrorize the seas of Hybornia. Alas, Conan loses his soulmate when they go after a cursed treasure, but not before she returns from the Great Beyond as an avenging angel to block a fatal blow and save the muscle-bound hero from certain death. <sniff> Ah, true love.

“Queen of the Black Coast” has been adapted numerous times for comic books (and was pretty much half the plot of the 1982 movie that made Ahnold a star.) There has been a revival of Howard’s work in recent years, as scholars, fans and critics have attempted to reclaim his rip-roaring originals and separate them from the many adapters, imitators and usurpers. You could do far worse than going back to the source: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0600961.txt

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