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L. Sprague De Camp
Conan the Barbarian, the hero created by Robert E. Howard, has no equal in the realms of the Sword and
Sorcery genre. In the Fifties, L. Sprague de Camp edited Howard's
stories for the Gnome Press editions of his Conan stories. He
also took existing Howard tales and converted them into Conan stories,
finished unfinished manuscripts, and wrote some pastiches of his
Let me state my own biases before continuing. I enjoy
the pastiches de Camp wrote. They weren't as good as Howard, and
should not be published in the same volumes as Howard stories, but I liked
them. I even liked the posthumous "collaborations". What I do
not like is the "editing" de Camp did, which, to my mind, seemed more like
He didn't just edit Howard's Conan stories, he rewrote
some stories to fit his
conception of Conan's timeline. Editing is fixing commas or maybe
sentence structure, not changing the ending of a story. A huge
example of this can be found in The Black Stranger. It didn't fit into the de Camp "timeline"
for Conan's career, so de Camp rewrote it as "The Treasure of Tranicos,"
allowing Conan to get saved by Aquilonian nobles so he can have a
reason to go to Aquilonia and kill the king and take the crown. De
Camp further mauled the story by introducing Thoth-Amon into it for some
Editing is fine. Completely rewriting a story
is something else entirely. Imagine if I sat down and rewrote
portions of "Gone With The Wind" and published it as a posthumous
"collaboration", and worked hard to make sure the original text was
unavailable to casual readers. Essentially, that is what de Camp
Again, I have no problems with the straight out
pastiches. Conan the
Buccaneer may not be the greatest
non-Howard Conan out there, but it was fun to read. I enjoyed a lot
of the Tor books (Robert Jordan, John Maddox Roberts, Steve Carpenter,
et.al.), but I do have a problem with the rewrites. De Camp worked
hard to make sure that Howard's unedited Conan stories were unavailable to
the general public. I have a problem with that also.
a sample of de Camp's rewriting. From "The God in the Bowl", the
second paragraph of the story, as written by REH in his final draft (taken
from the original typescript):
"Arus stood in a vast corridor, lighted by huge
candles in nitches along the walls. These walls were hung with black
velvet tapestries, and between the tapestries hung shields and crossed
weapons of fantastic make. Here and there too, stood figures of curious
gods – images carved of stone or rare wood, or cast of bronze, iron or
silver – dimly reflected in the gleaming black mahogany floor."
The same paragraph as
re-written by de Camp (taken from the Lancer paperback):
watchman stood in a vast corridor lighted by huge candles set in niches
along the walls. Between the niches, these walls were covered with black
velvet wall-hangings, and between the hangings hung shields and crossed
weapons of fantastic make. Here and there, too, stood figures of curious
gods--images carved of stone or rare woods, or cast in bronze, iron, or
silver--dimly mirrored in the gleaming black
Was there a
need for that kind of "editing"?
Care for another example?
From "The Frost Giant's Daughter" we have the following:
example of de Camp's unwarranted editing can be found by taking just one
of the sentences from the unedited version and comparing it with the
Lancer/Ace version of "The Frost Giant's Daughter":
laughter floated back to him, and foam flew from the barbarian's lips."
De Camp re-wrote:
"Foam flew from
the barbarian's lips as her maddening laughter floated back to
What was the
point of that change?
Four "Conan" stories, namely "The
Blood-Stained God," "Hawks Over Shem," "The Road of the Eagles," and "The
Flame Knife," are not even Howard Conan stories. These are non-Conan
stories that Howard wrote, and de Camp rewrote so that they would be Conan
stories. I have a problem with that too. If there is a demand
for more Conan stories, why not just write an honest-to-gosh
pastiche? These four stories have no place in Conan's
L. Sprague de Camp had no respect for Howard or his
work. He has said so. He spent a lot of time and effort
demeaning Howard to make his thefts and mangling of Howard's work of
seemingly little import. He was making a lot of money off of the
Conan series, and the more he changed things in a story, the more money he
got. THAT is why he changed sentences around that didn't need
it. He opposed any and all efforts to publish non-de Camp edited
Howard stories - because he got nothing if he didn't edit it. And
the more he edited, the more money he got.
I have heard the
argument that Conan would not be a household word today if not for L.
Sprague de Camp. I just don't buy it. Who knows? Perhaps
the Berkley Conan series would have taken off successfully. It is
just hard to say. But right now, the most easily found Conan stories
are the Lancer/Ace stories, and until someone decides to bring out the
unedited Conan stories in a cheap format, people who do not know Conan
will probably continue to get to know him via the L. Sprague de Camp
Several companies are working toward bringing us
unedited Conan stories (Millenium in the UK, and Wandering Star in the
US), but they are expensive. Donald Grant has published most of the
Conan saga, but these have been found to have been edited as well, and are
a bit expensive to boot.
If you are interested in more information
on de Camp and Howard, The Barbarian Keep FAQ is a great resource to read.
If you have any requests for
Howard conversions, please email me.
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