Conan: The Sword of Skelos

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Conan: The Sword of Skelos by Andrew Offutt.

Andrew Offutt Conan The Sword of Skelos

I first read this one as a teenager, encountering it as number 3 in the Bantam Conan pastiche novel series. It features a 17-year-old Conan (a while after the events in Robert E. Howard’s “The Tower of the Elephant”) who nevertheless has a very complicated immediate backstory, evidently a product of the two previous novels in a Conan trilogy written by Offutt in the 1970s. (The earlier volumes were not published in the Bantam series, though, and I have not read them.) Although the titular Sword of Skelos is rivaled in importance by the Eye of Erlik in this story, the Eye was common to all three Offutt books. The setting is in the desert kingdoms between Stygia and Tauran, with the cities of Arenjun and Zamboula as foci.

The narrative voice varies throughout, although always in an omniscient third person. Some chapters begin with raw description and presume no prior exposition; they might stand on their own as short stories. Others are clearly oriented toward the larger structure of the novel and/or trilogy, and pick up with a presumed reader knowledge of prior developments. Characterizations are fairly vivid, and the pace of the action is fast. Conan does a lot of killing.

Not even in the somewhat skeevy Robert Jordan Conan novels does Conan feature as a rapist. Yet in this book, while Conan insists that he is not a rapist, his competitor thief and eventual ally Isparana contradicts him, but when he insists that his assault of her “was not rape,” she then looks “away in silent admission of the truth” (137). Still, the incident in question is quite clearly rape as described, an act of sexual violence questionably justified by the fact that Isparana had just tried to murder Conan (84-5). The narration also refers to their assailants in the desert as “would-be rapists” (98), as contrasted with the accomplished rapist who is the story’s hero, I suppose. And all of this business is sandwiched in with passages emphasizing Conan’s personal honor.

Actually, I would not be surprised to find out that Jordan’s Conan stories had been consciously modeled on those of Offutt. There are both cosmetic and structural similarities, and in narrative chronology Jordan picks up (with the youngest Conan of his novels, in Conan the Magnificent) immediately after the finale of The Sword of Skelos. So perhaps I should set Offutt at the headspring of the latter-day Conan style perpetrated by Robert Jordan and Roland Green. Offutt’s book does not suffer from the abrupt endings common to Jordan’s later efforts, though.

As with the other books in this Bantam series, there are interior line art and a wonderful map by Tim Kirk. [via]