CCC is the first of a three book series that will have all of REH's Conan stories in the order that Howard wrote them. Every attempt was made to insure that the stories would be as close as original as possible. In several cases with the stories in CCC several of Howard's manuscripts were used to create the version that is presented in the book. In cases were manuscripts were not avalible, the first printing from the issue of Weird Tales, were the story first appeared, were used.
Additionally, CCC contains excerpts from letters written by REH, to other writers, dealing with his thoughts and sources for several of the stories. Also, a first draft of the story, "Phoenix on the Sword", is included in the book. This first version of the story provides us with a greater picture of what life is like in Cimmeria. a dark and gloomy land that even Conan admits to finding depressing.
Anyone who has only read the Conan stories edited by de Camp and Carter should pick up this book. It is the pure Howard in the way it was ment to be read.
I finished the book yesterday and I must say I was quite happy with it. The stories do vary in quality a great deal, however. Some are really not that good. What surprised me most, however, was the racist language. It is quite harsh at times - in 'The Vale of Lost Women' particularly. I realize these stories were written in a different time, and what might have seemed neutral at the time of their writing now seems quite nasty. There is also a lot of sexism as well, but it is tempered by the inclusion of women of strength and character.
It is worth noting that much of the racism / sexism is present in the voice of the omniscient narrator, and not just in the dialogue of the characters.
I come from a background of literary criticism so I might be a bit more conscious of these things than other readers, but my wife - who is not a critical reader - shared my observations.
It has to be remembered that Howard was a product of his time and environment, a small town in Texas in the early decades of last century. From what I’ve read about Howard he was more open minded than many of those around him and showed signs that he was a person capable seeing past his upbringing. Remember we're talking about a time and place were some people that Howard knew still remembered Comanche attacks first hand. Many of the views Howard grew up around were neither enlightened nor educated.
That said, it can be agreed that the racist views can be rather jarring for a modern reader.
As for the sexism I’m more surprised by the strong female characters than the occasional sexist slant, remember these books were written just a handful of years after women had gotten the right to vote. This was a much different time.
You’re right, like any writer some of Howard’s tales were better than others but even the worst of his stories were better and more creative than 90% of the fluffy yet-another-trilogy fantasies we have today.
REH had his share of issues. I would say that the strong female leads had a great deal to do with his mother ( wow that sounded Freudean). He also was greatly influenced by HP Lovecraft whom he corresponded with.
It cannot be denied that Howard was a product of his times and location. That said, anyone who wants a greater insight into his position on race and his personal felings about such matters sould check out;