Like many of us, I watched the Schwarzenager Conan movies and was fascinated. Not by the plots, and definitely not by the acting. I liked the fantasy world. Magic, monsters, and swords. A time before time, in a geography unencumbered by any modern landmarks. The scenes touched my imagination and made me curious to know more about the world of Conan.
Then I read one of Howard’s novellas. Ugh. The descriptions were redundant, the Conan character flat and obvious. Even the plot was kind of sad; I knew from the start that Conan would end up with the girl and get all the treasure. I knew too that he would find some excuse for not taking it; to do so would have changed him from the adventurer he is to a wealthy and satisfied man who would have no use for further adventures. The twists were more flash than substance, almost an anti-climax. It has been said that his descriptions made the world he wrote about alive, and that his storytelling energy comes forth prominently in the Conan works. That may be true, but it cannot make up for the lack of plot and character development.
Ah, but then there was that world he created. As he said in his essay on the Hyborian Age, it was placed after the great flood but well before the first “civilizations” emerged; he was thus not limited by time or geography. And, as our knowledge of the period at that time was limited to interpretations of the magic, monsters, and legends of mythology (led particularly by the works of H.P. Lovecraft) he was left without any serious parameters to work within. As a final touch his hero, Conan, was made an adventurer from a land without the conventions of civilization. This made him comfortable and natural in the most interesting settings and an automatic antagonist when dealing with civilized areas.
I cannot say that I have adapted any of his writing style; the way he wrote is dated and has no place in any fiction of the modern age. But the idea of exploring a world before civilizations is a good one. And if we now know that there were no gods or magic, the people of the period did not.