Oh, soul of mine, born out of shadowed hills,
To clouds and winds and ghosts that shun the sun,
How many deaths shall serve to break at last
This heritage which wraps me in the grey
Apparel of ghosts?
NO, THAT IS NOT worrisome poetry you found written on your gothy little sister's notebook. It's by Robert E. Howard, the Texan writer of Conan, a character who has managed to tower over pop culture in the decades following his creator's suicide in 1936. Conan's lived on in the pulps, in Marvel Comics, and in film, first portrayed by the bronze glory of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and now rebooted with Game of Thrones beefcake Jason Momoa. (The new Conan the Barbarian was screened for press after the Mercury's deadline; here's our online review.)
But no film could truly capture the gruff, brutal spirit of Howard's original Conan stories. Howard was a nerd original, a fierce depressive who spent his short life squirreled away writing adventure stories, and his florid tales are awesome, melodramatic fun.
Take an exemplary Conan story, 1934's "Rogues in the House": Conan is rotting in a dungeon for trying to kill a crooked priest when a nobleman, fearing for his life, offers to help Conan escape if he'll kill a sorcerer. After Conan escapes, he pays a visit to the prostitute who turned him in to the authorities, kills her lover, and throws her in a cesspool. He then goes to kill the sorcerer, who, naturally, is protected by a vicious ape-man.
Many cues from the stories pop up in the movies—monsters, sorcerers, death traps, serpent cults, babes—but we have yet to see a film lifted straight from a Howard story. There is a definite arc to Conan's story, but Howard related it in the kind of tales you might hear in a bar. Maybe someday we'll get lucky and see an HBO miniseries; in the meantime, Howard's rich stories more than suffice.