After Robert Howard’s suicide in 1936, his father, Dr. Isaac Howard, sent a trunk full of his son’s unpublished manuscripts, 128 poems and 32 unpublished stories, along with other personal items to Robert’s agent, Otis Adelbert Kline. Unlike a pirate’s chest, the trunk was not filled with precious gems. Most of the manuscripts were rejections, early drafts, and fragments. Kline pulled out what he thought was useful and found homes for about two dozen pieces of various lengths by the end of the decade. Oscar J. Friend bought the agency in 1948 after Kline’s death but neglected the trunk until the publication of Conan the Conqueror made all things Conan sellable.
Donald A. Wollheim had been reprinting Howard tales for his anthology series Avon Fantasy Reader. Presumably a “new” Howard story would generate more money for the estate than a reprint so Friend found a draft about a Conanesque barbarian titled “The House of Arabu” and “reworked” it into publishable quality. Wollheim paid him $86.00 and retitled it “The Witch from Hell’s Kitchen.” The story appeared with Howard’s name splashed across the cover of Fantasy Reader #18, probably around March of 1952, therefore still on the newsstand when The Sword of Conan appeared. The story never appeared in any Gnome book, yet would have a profound effect on the future of the Conan titles. (see The Return of Conan)
John D. Clark edited the volume and contributed the segments of introductory materials, which sought to place the two novellas and two short stories chronologically into the middle part of Conan’s long career.
Each story starts with a biographical paragraph situating the story within Conan’s chronology followed by the title, with the rest of the page filled using very large type. This seems to be an experiment that thankfully was never repeated.
Howard’s word portrait of Conan is included on the front flap:
“A tall man, mightily shouldered and deep of chest, with a massive corded neck and heavily muscled limbs. His brow was low and broad under a square-cut black mane, his eyes a volcanic blue that shouldered as if with some inner fire. His dark, scarred, almost sinister face was that of a fighting man, and his velvet garments could not conceal the hard, dangerous lines of his limbs.
Robert W. Lowndes, Dynamic Science Fiction, October 1953
All four [stories] are replete with action, atmosphere, and weird settings – and equally devoid of characters, believable backgrounds, and true weirdness. … If you like one [Conan story], you’ll love them all, and look upon the critic who explains so carefully why you should not like such drivel, more in pity than in anger.
Contents and original publication
• “The Nemedian Chronicles” (excerpt from Robert E. Howard, “The Phoenix on the Sword”, Weird Tales, December 1932).
• Introductions to stories (from “An Informal Biography of Conan the Cimmerian” John D. Clark and P. Schuyler Miller, adapted from “Probable Outline of Conan’s Career,” in Robert E. Howard, The Hyborian Age, Los Angeles: LANY Cooperative Publications, 1938).
• “The People of the Black Circle” (Weird Tales, September, October, and November 1934).
• “The Slithering Circle” (Weird Tales, September 1933).
• “Pool of the Black One” (Weird Tales, October 1933).
• “Red Nails” (Weird Tales, July, August-September, and October 1936).
The Sword of Conan, by Robert E. Howard, 1952, copyright registration 1Apr52, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number not given [retroactively 52-9402], title #19, back panel #18, 251 pages, $2.75. 5000 copies printed. Hardback, magenta cloth, spine lettered in black. Jacket design by David Kyle. David Kyle map of Hyborean Age on front and rear endpapers. “First Printing” on copyright page. Printed in the United States of America. Title page and copyright registration add “The Hyborean Age.” Back panel: 14 titles. Gnome Press address given as 80 East 11th St., N.Y. 3.