Is there a recommended order of reading for Conan books? The order should include both Robert E. Howard's and other authors' material.
Don't really care about comics and other non-book sources.
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The Barbarian Keep by William Galen Gray looks like the most comprehensive timeline of Conan by Howard and others, but there is little in the canon that compels one to read in any given order.
I've read a handful of Conan books in random order without feeling like I'm missing anything, but I don't think that's really intended, particularly for the early books written by Robert E. Howard himself.
Several different authors have tried to put together a chronology, but according to Wikipedia:
A completely consistent timeline that would accommodate every existing Conan story is impossible for several reasons. These include:
(a) errors that crept into the earliest chronologies
(b) subsequent disregard by the early chronologists of chronological evidence in later-discovered Conan material contrary to the existing schemes
(c) similar disregard for this contrary evidence in the writing of much post-Howard Conan material, and
(d) disregard of both the existing chronologies and chronological information established in previous stories by Howard and others in the writing of other post-Howard Conan material.
The page I linked to has several of the major chronologies, so you could either pick one of those (I'm considering following the Robert Jordan version, since I'm a big fan of his), or you could look to see where they're similar and make your own.
I have the conan stories by Howard in the Gollancz Fantasy masterworks series. Its two books and claims the have all the conan stories by Howard in in-universe chronological order. That does not seem to be the order in which they were written.
A nice series of stories.
The 12 book series published by Ace that attributes the authors as Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter is an excellent start. The series includes stories by Howard that were published and unpublished, and the other two authors finished partially written manuscripts and outlines and ideas left by Howard. Howard had a grand chronology in place from early on, including maps, but he did not publish the stories in chronological order. The 12 books, in order, are: 1 Conan (with a fabulous Frazetta cover) 2 Conan of Cimmeria 3 Conan the Freebooter 4 Conan the Wanderer 5 Conan the Adventurer 6 Conan the Buccaneer 7 Conan the Warrior 8 Conan the Usurper 9 Conan the Conquerer 10 Conan the Avenger 11 Conan of Aquilonia 12 Conan of the Isles
As for other works I have not noticed that the authors totally respect the original Howard vision. Perhaps some do. I would not consider works outside of these 12 books to be canonical.
Truly the stories are not meant to be read in order. The stories were not published in a any particular order because REH meant for the reader to believe that the teller of the story, Conan, told the stories as he remembered them randomly.
Source: "As for Conan's eventual fate - frankly I can't predict it. 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." Robert E. Howard, Letter to P.S. Miller, March 10, 1936.