The Complete Chronicles of Conan pulls together all of the original Howard stories in their original forms (including those edited as a part of the Howard/de Camp/Carter paperback collections that cemented the character’s popularity). Unlike previous multi-part Conan collections, this book anthologizes the stories in the order Howard wrote and published them, rather than in chronological order according to the character’s history. This means a lot of jumping around through the different ages of the character (the first two Conan stories Howard published are actually two of the last pieces of the character’s life, both taking place when Conan is king of Aquilonia; the familiar thief, barbarian, slayer, et al came later in the canon). However, i prefer this arrangement because it shows off how Howard’s own understanding of Conan changed and grew over time. Though the later stories contain a few exceptions to the rule, most of Howard’s tales became even more engaging as his writing matured, the narrative and the character story reshaping itself into more complex and more satisfying forms.
Some of the Howard stories are better than others; some are more properly about the world than the character. (A surprise to a lot of people who read the Howard pieces for the first time is how often Conan appears only after other secondary characters have set the story up.) Many of the stories show their 30s pulp origins a little too strongly (most commonly with lines like “ ‘By the gods!’ Conan ejaculated.”). But taken all in all, the Howard canon creates a haunting and memorable mythology that stands the test of time, and which can’t help but make one wonder to what greater heights Robert E. Howard might have taken the character and the world of the Hyborian age if he’d had more time.