Different On-Ramps to the Road of Kings

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Over at the REHupa blog not-quite-elder-statesman and pulphound-of-Tindalos Morgan Holmes debuted yesterday with a post entitled “A Howard Fan’s Journey Into the 21st Century: Part 1.” When I got to know Morgan in the mid-Nineties, he steered me to [redacted]’s five-novel Bard series (along with David Drake’s The Dragon Lord the most efficacious methadone with which to treat an addiction to Cormac Mac Art) and “Death’s Friend,” arguably the single best story Charles R. Saunders has written about Imaro; I steered him to David Gemmell. As Howard fans are in the habit of doing we also swapped origin stories, and Morgan’s was an eye-opener for me. Happening along in the wake of the baby boom, he essentially skipped the Sixties and that portion of the Seventies that preceded the proto-purist epiphany of the Berkley Conan collections. He had in a sense to double back later on to read Conan the Buccaneer and Conan of the Isles in the Ace reprints–O happy youth, to have Karl Edward Wagner cater his very first Cimmerian-themed party, one that wasn’t crashed by the emetic Sigurd of Vanaheim. To this day Morgan is not spirited away to a rec room reverie of Watergate hearings and Elton John singles the way some of us are whenever Barry (Windsor-)Smith’s tour de force work on “Red Nails” (The decidedly non-vegan stegosaur! That Tolkemec!) is mentioned, and he has no strong opinions about Roy Thomas either way, although my guess is the sword-and-sorcery savant in him might have enjoyed Conan the Barbarian fare like the two-part Elric guest-shot, the John Jakes-plotted issue, the adaptations of Norvell Page’s Flame Winds, a David A. English story, and Gardner Fox’s Kothar and the Conjurer’s Curse, or Thomas’ “Shambleau”-homage “The Garden of Death and Life.”

So the at least slightly atypical route that Morgan took to the Road of Kings prompts reflection that Time’s winged–and scythed–chariot has cut down the vanguard that met Robert E. Howard in the pulps as surely as it took the World War One veterans who still turned out for the Memorial Day parades of my childhood. The (few thousand?) readers who were initiated by the Gnome Press Conans can’t be far behind them. Assuming the Del Rey editions stay in print or at least serve as the template for subsequent re-launches, as the years drift or whiz by, for an eventual majority of Howard fans the jeremiads and j’accuses about posthumous collaborations, the “cut from the same cloth” generalization, Prince Conn, Juma the Kushite, Conan the Conqueror-versus-The Hour of the Dragon, and of course “The Treasure of Tranicos: Felony or Misdemeanor?” will be as distant and difficult to grasp as the Arian heresy and the Albigensian Crusade are for us. Not that the hoped-for traffic jam on the Road of Kings is likely to turn into a garlanded, starry-eyed, singing-from-the same-hymnal pilgrimage; the paradigm for Howard fans (except, overwhelming anecdotal evidence suggests, at Howard Days) will almost certainly remain Breck Elkins and buffalo hunters forced to “share” the same saloon…