The Phoenix on the Sword was the first published short story for Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian character.In the timeline of Conan’s life, the tale takes place towards the end, but I chose to begin reading the tales of Conan in publication order. I will continue to read and review all of Robert E. Howard’s works in publication order.
The first pages of this tale are political. Cloaked figures introduce a plot to supplant Conan as King of Aquilonia. The masses are displeased with their barbarian overlord and the scheming for his demise has begun. Yet even among those whom would kill the king of Aquilonia, there are parallel forces working at odds with one another.
Conan himself is melancholy. Taking the throne of Aquilonia was a life-long goal, but though he planned to take the throne, he had not planned how to hold it. The masses are angry and he yearns for the call of battle, the feel of a horse, and the freedom to roam. Ruling a nation is not as relaxing and wondrous as it seemed and it is hard for the barbarian to be tamed within the walls of the palace.
Partway into the story, Conan is warned in a vision of the dangers that approach, and some of the dangers are of the demonic variety. The being in his vision blesses his sword and Conan prepares for one of fiercest and bloodiest fights I’ve read in a short fiction story.
This was my first Conan story. The writing was brilliant, the characters thoughtful, and the fighting was fierce and politically motivated. There isn’t much more I could ask for in this short fiction tale. I was thoroughly impressed and I look forward to a full read of all of Howard’s Conan saga.
About the Author: Robert Ervin Howard was an American pulp writer of fantasy, horror, historical adventure, boxing, western, and detective fiction. Howard wrote “over three-hundred stories and seven-hundred poems of raw power and unbridled emotion” and is especially noted for his memorable depictions of “a sombre universe of swashbuckling adventure and darkling horror.”
He is well known for having created — in the pages of the legendary Depression-era pulp magazine Weird Tales — the character Conan the Cimmerian, a.k.a. Conan the Barbarian, a literary icon whose pop-culture imprint can only be compared to such icons as Tarzan of the Apes, Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond.