10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian

Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

Fans Think the Spider-Man: Far From Home Trailer Hints at Iron Man's Death

© 2018 - Marvel Studios
© 2018 - Marvel Studios

Marvel fans are seriously concerned for Iron Man. While Tony Stark is one of the few Avengers we know survived Thanos's snap at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, the new trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home seems to imply that the sarcasm-prone superhero might not make it out of Avengers: Endgame alive.

The detail in question comes from the first Far From Home movie trailer, which features Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) carrying a large check from the Stark Relief Foundation.

The panic regarding Stark’s fate is over the signature on the check—which belongs to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), the co-founder of the foundation. Fans became concerned when they saw that Stark hadn’t signed the check, with many jumping to the conclusion that Stark wasn’t able to sign the check himself because he had died at some point during the events of Avengers: Endgame. While it’s not confirmed whether Far From Home happens after Infinity War or Endgame, fans aren't willing to take any chances.

A few in-the-know viewers pointed out that a relief foundation is not the same as a memorial foundation, and that the organization was most likely set up for Stark industries, not for a deceased Tony Stark. As Potts was named the CEO of Stark Industries in Iron Man 2, it would make sense that she is the one signing the checks. These are valid points, but anxious MCU fans won't rest easy until they know that Stark is alive and well.

While Spider-Man: Far From Home doesn't arrive in theaters until July 5, 2019, Marvel fans will get the answers to at least some of their key questions when Avengers: Endgame hits theaters on April 26, 2019.

10 Fierce Facts About Jon Bernthal

Chuck Zlotnick, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Chuck Zlotnick, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Though the Marvel vigilante known as the Punisher has been portrayed by several actors including Dolph Lundgren and Thomas Jane, it’s Jon Bernthal who has left the biggest impression. The onetime The Walking Dead star has won over critics and audiences with his soulful performance as Frank Castle, a war veteran who grapples with his post-traumatic stress disorder by obliterating criminals.

For season 2 of The Punisher, an original Netflix series premiering on January 18, Castle is up against a fundamentalist group that embraces their right to bear arms; lurking in the margins is Jigsaw (Ben Barnes), a fellow soldier with a vendetta against Castle.

If the show has you curious for more information on the man behind the skull insignia, check out our round-up of facts about the Washington, D.C.-born actor, who has a reason for having such a pugnacious nose: He has broken it 14 times .

1. He nearly wound up in prison himself.

Jon Bernthal, whose father was a corporate lawyer (and now chair of the board of directors for the Humane Society), enjoyed a privileged upbringing in Washington, D.C. where he attended Sidwell Friends, the same private school that counts Chelsea Clinton and Sasha and Malia Obama among its alumni. But according to Bernthal, his preppy exterior masked a violent streak.

As a kid, Bernthal got into fights, sometimes with weapons. Much later, when he was in his 30s, a run-in with someone who was harassing Bernthal while the actor was out walking his dog led to a fight that nearly landed him in prison. In a 2017 interview with Esquire, Bernthal said he hit the man, who was following him home, and was brought in for questioning when the man hit his head on the pavement and was slow to regain consciousness.

“If that guy doesn’t wake up,” the cops told him, “you’re going away for life.”

Fortunately, the man recovered. Bernthal has limited the off-screen violence ever since.

2. He studied acting in Russia.

Bernthal became interested in acting in high school and was later accepted into Harvard's master’s in dramatic arts program. Before that, he was encouraged by his acting teacher, Alma Becker, to try out for the Moscow Art Theatre School. Bernthal went to Russia and was accepted into the school’s program.

"I absolutely fell in love with Russian culture, Russian people,” he later said. "I felt as an actor, there’s a real respect for the arts there that I don’t necessarily think too many of my peers at the time in America had.” As a result, Bernthal can speak fluent Russian. He also sports a tattoo of Becker’s name on his right wrist.

3. He almost punched out Oliver Stone.

Jon Bernthal in The Punisher
Cara Howe, Netflix

Years of scraping by as an actor were followed by a few breaks for Bernthal, including a part in director Oliver Stone’s 2006 feature World Trade Center. The famously temperamental Stone allegedly told Bernthal that his takes were subpar and that he was “vain.” Bernthal, who had not yet sworn off fistfights, replied that, "You might be Oliver Stone, but I will beat your f***ing a** right here on this set. In front of everybody here, I will beat your a**."

Stone wandered off. Nicolas Cage, who was starring in the film, was struck by the fact that Bernthal would stand up to the mercurial director. “Wow, man,” Cage told him. “There was adversity and you threw more adversity at it.” Bernthal said he and Stone later patched things up and the two became friendly.

4. He was once replaced by Andy Samberg.

With his feature film career still developing, Bernthal was excited to get a role in 2009’s I Love You, Man, starring Paul Rudd and Jason Segel. Bernthal played Rudd’s brother, but the familial attitude did not extend to the set. Bernthal said he was largely ignored by the cast (no, he had not threatened to beat anyone up on this set). He began to sense he might not be around much longer. After one day of rehearsal, he was fired and replaced by Andy Samberg. Fortunately, The Walking Dead came along not long after. Bernthal played Shane, one of the survivors of a zombie-infested wasteland, for two seasons.

5. His dog enjoyed peeing on Ben Stiller’s trailer.

Following parts in little-seen films like 2002’s Mary/Mary and 2004’s Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding, Bernthal got a glimpse of a major Hollywood production with 2009’s Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Bernthal played Al Capone opposite Ben Stiller’s hapless night watchman. In 2017, Bernthal told The A.V. Club that his dog, Boss, had a habit of urinating all over the side of Stiller’s trailer on the set. “I always would try to get him to not do it, but he did it anyway,” the actor said.

6. He starred in a sitcom.

Bernthal’s brooding persona is not seemingly one that would lend itself to a sitcom, but he nonetheless wound up doing one. For The Class, a 2006-2007 CBS series, Bernthal appeared in an ensemble comedy about a group of classmates who rekindle their friendship 20 years after meeting in the third grade. (His co-stars included Lizzy Caplan and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.) It lasted just one season.

“I remember we took a private jet to Vegas and [director] Jimmy Burrows sat us down and said, ‘Look, I’m going to tell you guys the same thing I told the cast of Friends,’” he recalled in 2017. “'This is the last time you will ever go to a casino where you won’t get mobbed by fans. And he was right about Friends, but he was simply not right about us.”

7. He’s related to pro wrestler Kurt Angle.

Jon Bernthal in The Walking Dead
Gene Page, AMC

To Bernthal, Olympic gold medalist wrestler and WWE performer Kurt Angle is “Uncle Kurt.” Bernthal married Angle’s niece, Erin Angle, in 2010, making Bernthal Kurt’s nephew-in-law. Bernthal attended at least one WWE event to see Angle in the ring in 2017.

8. Tom Holland helped him land The Punisher.

Bernthal and actor Tom Holland were both appearing in the 2017 film Pilgrimage, a medieval action drama about clergymen transporting an ancient relic through Rome, when the two were both up for Marvel live-action roles as the Punisher and Spider-Man, respectively. Bernthal helped Holland by reading lines off-camera for an audition type; Holland acted onscreen in a similar video for Punisher producers.

9. He’s not that enamored with Marvel.

While many actors are dedicated fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Bernthal is not among them. “I got respect for those people,” he told Esquire. “But I don’t feel that way. I just don’t. It’s nothing against what they’re doing. That’s not what I watch.”

Still, landing The Punisher created a sense of responsibility for Bernthal—not only for comic fans, but for members of the military who often adorn their weaponry or gear with the character’s skull iconography. “He means a lot to people, not only the comic book fans, who this character really belongs to, but to members of law enforcement and the military,” Bernthal told Variety in 2017. “He means something to guys who’ve gone to fight and have died for this country with that Punisher skull on their body armor.”

10. He’s joining The Sopranos.

'Punisher' season 2 star Jon Bernthal is photographed during a public appearance
Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images

The same week season 2 of The Punisher debuted, it was announced that Bernthal would be appearing in The Many Saints of Newark, The Sopranos feature film prequel co-written and produced by David Chase. The movie will feature several of the series' characters as they navigate the ethnic tension and riots of 1960s Newark. Bernthal’s specific role has yet to be disclosed.

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