53. Tales of Conan


For all the commentary about the Conan books’ supposed weak sales, the fact remains that Marty Greenberg kept the line going beyond its expiration date. The ever-willing L. Sprague de Camp had a magical solution for producing more Conan when the barrel was empty. He went back to the pile of unpublished Howard manuscripts he had been given in 1951 and pulled out “tales of oriental adventures with medieval and modern settings,” as he wrote in the Introduction. “Converting them into Conan stories involved changing names, removing anachronisms, and putting in a supernatural element, but the stories are still about four-fifths Howard.” Some of the reviewers disagreed with that assessment, but the book undoubtedly sold by its title alone.

Three of the four stories in Tales were also sold to Fantastic Universe magazine, credited to Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp. “Hawks Over Shem” appeared in the October 1955 issue, “The Road of the Eagles” in the December 1955 issue as “Conan, Man of Destiny,” and “The Blood-Stained God” appeared in the April 1956 issue. (For whatever reason, “The Flame-Knife” never had a magazine appearance.) Since the cover dates on magazines represent the dates that they are to be pulled off newsstands, the first two stories must have been published before Tales’ copyright registration date of December 5, 1955. That makes the magazine appearances the true first printings of these stories.

Cover Art by Mel Hunter

Nothing to do with Conan, although his name is given prime billing, but Mel Hunter’s cover is one of my all-time favorites.

Gnome Notes

Dave Kyle’s map of the Hyborian Age was not used as endpapers, but appears as an inset opposite the title page, with Hyborean finally corrected to Hyborian.

ESHBACH states that 5,000 copies were printed. CHALKER agrees with that number, and notes that originally unbound copies account for the four later bindings; so does the de Camp bibliography which, however, gives the number printed as only 4,000. The need for multiple later bindings also belies notions about poor sales.

The known first printing is the red boards, with the black lettering and decorative lines that are similar to the design of the first five Conans. The four later bindings have never been dated and have no established priority. Nevertheless, I rate the gray boards earlier than the gray cloth because the former continues the cover design pattern and the latter does not. I put the gray cloth ahead of the green and black because it is easily available. The de Camp bibliography confirms the green boards, which were marked not seen by CURREY, but CURREY confirms the black boards not seen by the de Camp bibliography. Unfortunately, I have not been able to examine the green or black boards.


Anthony Boucher, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1956
[P. Schuyler] Miller’s introduction to the latest Howard volume … is so spiritedly infectious that one almost succumbs to his enthusiasm … until one tries to read the four long stories.

Floyd C. Gale, Galaxy Science Fiction, July 1956
Action and blood there are aplenty in the good old tradition and Howard fans will find exciting reading.

Contents and original publication

• “Introduction,” P. Schuyler Miller (original to this volume).
• “Ghostly Note,” L. Sprague de Camp (original to this volume).
• Biographical notes preceding and following stories (original to this volume; unsigned but presumably by L. Sprague de Camp).
• “The Blood Stained-God” (original to this volume; based on an unpublished story by Robert E. Howard titled “The Curse of the Blood Stained-God”).
• “Hawks Over Shem” (original to this volume; based on an unpublished story by Robert E. Howard titled “Hawks Over Egypt”).
• “The Road of the Eagles” (original to this volume; based on an unpublished story by Robert E. Howard titled “The Road of the Eagles”).
• “The Flame-Knife” (original to this volume; based on an unpublished story by Robert E. Howard titled “Three-Bladed Doom”).

Bibliographic Information

Tales of Conan, by Robert E. Howard, 1955, copyright registration 5Dec55, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 55-12268, 219 pages, title #53, back panel #29, $3.00. 5000 copies printed. Hardback. Jacket design by Emsh. Frontispiece of David Kyle map of Hyborian Age. “First Edition” on copyright page. Manufactured in the U.S.A. by H. Wolff, New York. Back panel: 39 titles. Gnome Press address given as 80 East 11th St., N.Y. 3.

          Variants, 1) has priority; 2) through 5) not known

1). (CURREY A) Red boards, spine lettered in black.

2). (CURREY D) Gray boards, spine lettered in red.

3). (CURREY E) Gray cloth, spine lettered in red.

4). (CURREY B) Green boards, spine lettered in black. [not seen].

5). (CURREY C) Black boards, spine lettered in red. [not seen].


Tales of Conan, jacket front, all variants
Tales of Conan, jacket flaps, all variants
Tales of Conan, red boards, black lettering, variant 1
Tales of Conan, gray boards, red lettering, variant 2
Tales of Conan, gray cloth, red lettering, variant 3