I'll start with some cross-posting from my initial announcement:
Ever since I got really into Robert E. Howard after my second gateway via Conan, I've wondered just why there isn't a counterpart to Robert Foster's Middle-earth Encyclopaedia. Here, I thought, was a world rich in atmosphere, facination and delight, with all the characters, places, events, relics and wonders one could possibly want. It seemed every line of exposition was pregnant with a story in itself. A character who appeared in a single sentence would have the foundations of their entire history encapsulated within a few words. A mere phrase opened up whole worlds of possibilities.
So where is that Hyborian Age Encyclopaedia?
Well, Deuce let the Smilodon fatalis out of the bag over at the REH Forums, so I figure there's no time like the present to announce The Big Secret. All those wondering what happened to Conan: Total War and the many other projects I've been working on can finally know the truth: all my effort over the past year has been put into a reference book for the Hyborian Age.
Actually, it's been far more than the past year. In fact, I'd been gathering notes, formulating theories, researching past scholarship, and seeking out scraps of information for years now. In the beginning, this was for Conan: Total War, but as numerous technical issues and general burnout took their toll, work on the mod started to dwindle almost to a crawl. But the search for information, the challenging of presuppositions, and the sheer thrill of excavating the Hyborian Age as if I was Jeff Shanks out on a dig never truly left.
Since those beginning days of me being a wet-behind-the-ears pup barking in the company of wolves, I've grown seasoned and more experienced. My time on The Cimmerian has been invaluable, and I've just recently started pubishing my first 'Zine in REHupa (more to come on that later). I'd even been nominated for a Venarium Award. I'd come a long way in that short space of time, though of course, I still have a long way to go. Still, even after five years among the online Robert E. Howard Fandom, there hasn't been a reference guide for the Hyborian Age, certainly not one that eschews pastiche and original material. With the new film coming out, the time seemed ripe for such an opportunity to bring the true majesty of Howard's work to the fore, to show that yes, despite the gulf in sheer volume, the Hyborian Age is just as full of magic and imagination as Tolkien's Middle-earth. Yet no encyclopaedia.
And so I wondered... maybe I should do the Encyclopaedia...
Initially, I was going to make it a website, modelled after the magnificent Encyclopedia of Arda. Crom knows there are plenty of great resources for the comics and pastiches, like Thulsa's Hyborian Age D20 resource, Dale Rippke's Gazetteer Hyboria, and the Conan Wiki, but to the best of my knowledge, there isn't a resource out there that has only Howard. Then I thought: why stop at a website, when I could do a book? I think I have enough momentum to go further, and get the book published. Of course, there are copyright considerations, but by Jove, I think I can make a case for it.
The Encyclopaedia Hyboriana will be a catalogue of the names, people, places, events, weapons, treasures, religions and fauna of the age of Conan, using only Howard's work as a source. Of course, the Conan stories, drafts, fragments and synopses will be the primary source material, and additionally those non-Conan stories which deal with the Hyborian Age in some manner, such as the Kull and James Allison tales, "The Haunter of the Ring," and select Solomon Kane and Bran Mak Morn tales. No pastiches, no comics, no video games, not even works by contemporaneous writers like Clark Ashton Smith and H.P. Lovecraft. This is pure Howard, and the only supposition and theorizing therein will be clearly delineated as such. This isn't a book-length version of the Hyborian Age Gazetteer: just the facts, and any reasonable hypothesis.
The aim is for the book to be informative without being too dry, and just detailed enough to be interesting without swamping the reader with too much information. The setup shall take after several other encyclopaedias, with a few tweaks for the purposes of the setting.
Here's an example of an entry regarding a place, kingdom or country, colour-coded and annotated:
A city on the black coast, ruled at one time by King Ajaga. Conan sacked the city during his time as chief of the Black Corsairs. Conan met two chiefs in the ensuing battle, one of whom he killed, while the other escaped with his life. After his capture and incarceration in the dungeons beneath the Scarlet Citadel, one of Strabonus’ black guards revealed himself to be the chief who fled, and the brother of the chief Conan slew.
*Possibly from Abomey, the capital of the West African kingdom of Dahomey. Abomey is well known for the earthen royal palaces built in the mid-17th Century by the Fon People, and a mud wall with a six-mile circumference encircling the settlement. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985.
(Note: Since neither Bêlit or the Tigress are mentioned during the conversation, it can be inferred that the sack of Abombi takes place during a speculative later period of Conan’s life, as chief of the Black Corsairs.)
See Black Corsairs; Black Coast, The; Kush; Scarlet Citadel, The; Shukeli
The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, “The Scarlet Citadel,” p.99
The format for people & things would be similar, though the blue section would be "appearance, biography and personality" for people, "appearance, natural history and individual encounters" for animals, "appearance, history and use" for objects, and so forth:
Description of appearance, history and culture
Possible etymological, mythological or cultural derivation
Notes on continuity, implications, thematic resonance, differences in draft or other stories, or similar items of interest
Other entries relevant to discussion in the Encyclopaedia
Volume and page number reference
One of three Black Corsairs Conan reckognized from his Black Corsair days. Some time prior to the resurrection of Xaltotun, Ajonga was captured, and set to galley work on the Argossean trading ship Venturer. He was freed by Conan in the ensuing mutiny. The fate of Ajonga, as well as the other blacks of the Venturer after Conan retrieved the Heart of Ahriman, is unknown.
*Possibly from the same source as Aja and Ajaga, or the Yoruba name Ajani, “he who fights for possession,” Wajanga in southern Libya as alluded by Rosita Forbes, or ajoga (“wizard”) of the Lango people of Uganda.
(Note: Ajonga is not mentioned in “Queen of the Black Coast,” and the final voyage of the Tigress had no survivors save Conan. Either Ajonga was on the Tigress at some point and left before the journey up the Zarkheba, or he was one of Conan’s shipmates during a speculative later time among the Black Corsairs.)
See Aja, Ajaga, Amra; Black Corsairs; Laranga; Venturer; Yasunga
The Bloody Crown of Conan, “The Hour of the Dragon,” p.191
Large, carnivorous, forest-dwelling primate. Also called the “gray man-ape,” the gray ape was indigenous to the mountains and hills that border the eastern shores of the Vilayet, and the lost jungles of Khitai. It was not unlike a human in general outline, but its face was clearly ape-like: close set ears, flaring nostrils, thick lips, tusk-like fangs, a bullet-shaped head, and small black eyes. Its huge body and limbs were covered in shaggy gray hair, sometimes flecked with silver. It walked in a bipedal motion on short bowed legs, with long, knotted arms, whose huge hands nearly reached the ground. Despite its size, the gray ape was tremendously agile and fast-moving. It had incredible vitality and strength, being capable of hurling rocks to a range comparable to siege engines.
The gray ape is a nocturnal creature. It typically dwells in the deepest and darkest part of the forest. It does not typically emerge into the open, only doing so when threatened or provoked. A curious aspect of the creature is that it is mute: it seems incapable of vocalization. The gray ape is carnivorous, and is known to strip a carcass to the bone, even breaking them lengthwise to access the marrow. Normally the gray ape was hostile to man, and became figures of fear and terror to the Hyborians, their memory passing into myth and legend as goblins and ogres. The gray apes of Khitai featured in unusual ceremonies among the adherents of Yogah: they dance to the pipes of the priests. The significance of the ceremony, and how it was accomplished, is unknown.
Yogah of Yag spoke to Conan of gray apes very briefly, though the Cimmerian later encountered a dislocated gray man-ape on the isle of Iron Statues. Conan was nearly slain in the ensuing fight, and only survived by dismembering and disembowelling the beast with his scimitar. Conan encountered a second gray ape in the dungeons of Belverus.
* The Gray Ape is most likely inspired by the many dangerous primates of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ canon, particularly the Tarzan tales. It could also have been inspired by the race of white apes in Lovecraft’s “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family,” itself possibly inspired by Burroughs’ The Return of Tarzan and Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. There is another possible inspiration in Am Fear Liath Mor – “The Big Grey Man” - a Scottish supernatural being that haunts Ben MacDhui, which first reported by Professor Norman Collie in 1891. The story attracted much media attention in 1925, when Collie recalled his experience.
(The gray ape may be related to the man-apes of the mountains east of Zamora, or simply a case of convergent evolution.)
See Lost Jungles of Khitai; Man-Ape; Vilayet.
The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, “The Tower of the Elephant,” p.94
The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, “Iron Shadows in the Moon,” p.202-203
The Bloody Crown of Conan, “The Hour of the Dragon,” p.113-115
Material or technique used in the production of swords, originating in Akbitana. Swords forged with Akbitanan steel were considered to be unbreakable.
(There are metals or alloys developed in history that have almost mythical qualities ascribed to them. Weapons forged with Damascus steel were said to cut through inferior swords, and even stone: the technique and formula has been lost for centuries, encouraging and advancing the legend.)
See Akbitana; Aquilonian steel; Hyrkanian steel.The Conquering Sword of Conan, “The Servants of Bit-Yakin,” p.34
For ease of browsing, I'm also wanting to make a small symbol beside each entry that indicates what the entry is: a coin would refer to a person, a coat-of-arms refers to a country, a mountain refers to a geographical feature, a sword refers to a battle, a book refers to... a book. I'd love to have illustrations: battle plans, maps, diagrams, that sort of stuff. I'm reluctant to include any commentary on pastiche at all, be it on the Uberboreans, Aquiromans or Special Sword, but there might be one or two occassions where something has to be stated. As with the theories, they would go in the brackets.
As of now, my notes, drafts, snippets and finished entries amount to over 900 entries comprising some 50,000 words(!), though a colossal amount of tidying-up remains, as well as rewriting into a readable format. Most of them are culled from various scraps I've cobbled from my own research, previously written work like the Hyborian Age Gazetteer, and extrapolations from journals, websites, forum posts and emails. I haven't even finished finalizing the letter A yet!
Work on the Newcomer's Guide has taken a decent chunk of my time of late, though I think it's just as important. Basically, I got sick and tired of waiting for a decent Robert E. Howard reference guide to come along, and until something better comes along, I might as well do it myself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Right, lads and lasses, I figure I might as well post a few factoids about my intentions for the Encyclopædia, just to give you a better idea of what it'll entail.
How many separate entries are there?
As of right now, 1,052. This may change as entries are conflated or divided, based on whether a given entry deserves its own spot, or should be absorbed into another.
What's the word count so far?
The master document, which has a fair portion of the information on it, is almost 54,000 words: out of that, about 10,000 is completely neat and tidy. There's still a metric boatload of information spread across dozens of files which hasn't been collated and applied, though.
In sculpting analogy, the 54,000 is the giant block of clay, with the 10,000 representing the completely carved sections -- but there's still a lot of clay in the studio to pile on.
Will it be as extensive as the Hyborian Age Gazetteers?
If they were, I'd never get the thing done! The average length for each entry is about 200 words, though that can vary from as little as 100 to as much as 2,000. So while it'd be awesome to do something like a Hyborian Age Gazetteer in book form, it would take a lot longer.
Does the world really need an Age of Conan Encyclopædia?
I think it does, and I think it's been a long time coming too. There are Hyborian Age resources out there, but they all utilize the work of other authors, leading to confusion. There are times when one can easily believe, for example, that Howard called the City of Thieves "Arenjun," or called the tribes allied with Tombalku "Mindango," and "Bigharma." There have been calls for such a resource on the Conan Forums, and such great Howard minds as Steve Tompkins believe it to be necessary. Indeed, there have been previous attempts, the most recent being Scott Oden's, but he eventually decided to concentrate on his historical fiction.
So you're essentially doing this because you hate pastiches?
Not at all - in fact, I hope this will make better pastiches. The pastiches which have come before have persisted through to new continuities, and this leads to its own problems. Let's take Age of Conan as an example. The developers say that their aim is to use mostly Robert E. Howard material, and use elements from the comics and pastiches only to fill out the world. However, where does the line between using some pastiches stop? In filling out the north, they use elements of de Camp stories, such as the Yakhmar of "The Lair of the Ice Worm." But if "The Lair of the Ice Worm" is canon, does this mean other de Camp stories - like the hated Conan the Liberator - are canon too? If not, why not? And if de Camp stories are canon, does this mean other pastiches are canon - even the very bad ones? This is bad enough when one considers quality, but then there are the cases where pastiches conflict with the game itself. A famous example is the use of a quote describing Cimmeria as "a treeless land"... which kinda contradicts the very wooded hills of the game, not to mention Howard's description.
So many RPGs, games, books and other pastiches have been influenced by the pastiches that have gone before. The Encyclopædia will allow new pasticheurs to start from the ground up: just Howard, nothing from anywhere else. No more Brylukas, Hydragons, Giant Mantids, and Spider-Things of Poitain running about the wilds of "Hyboria"; no more Arenjun, Haloga, Ianthe, Pathenia, or Uttara Kuru muddling up the map; no more Queen Vammatar, King Ferdrugo, Jenna, Thulandra Thuu or Sigurd of Vanaheim photobombing group photos; no more Cobra Crown, Herat of Tammuz, Atlantean Sword, or Mamajambo's War Club littering the treasuries of the age.
Besides, I'm sick of the Yakhmar turning up everywhere, and I even think it's one of the cooler* de Camp creations.
Are you going to publish it through Hulu, the REH Foundation, or another publisher?
That all depends on how Paradox/CPI want to do it (assuming they let me!): hopefully I can get a license and permission to do so.
Will the Encyclopædia be a super-elite-collector's-limited-extended edition hardback, or an affordable paperback?
Given the choice, the latter. I'd rather take after Barbara Barrett's Wordbook or Paul Herman's The Neverending Hunt than the lavish, gorgeous tomes A Means to Freedom and Collected Poetry.
Why "Encyclopædia" instead of "Encyclopedia"?
It's a tip to the hat towards the Encyclopædia Britannica and other tomes using the spelling. Besides, I love the æ ligature. I played about with different ideas: Lebor Hyborianach, Codex Hyboriana, The Hyborian Lexicon, even something quirky like Cyclopedia Hyboriana. I wasn't sure whether to go with Nemedian Chronicles or not, but I'm fairly satisfied with Encyclopædia Hyboriana.
Why "Encyclopædia Hyboriana" instead of "Encyclopædia Hyboria"?
Hyboria is a pastiche term, and is loaded with all sorts of possible misinterpretations: the idea of the land, or even the planet, being called "Hyboria" paramount among them. Rather than contribute to any possible misinterpretation, I decided to use a cod-Latin term with the "-a" suffix to give a general feel without using "Hyboria."
Anyone else with any questions, feel free to fling them over!
*I never apologise for puns.
I've also done a few blogs on the sort of things that come to mind while researching:
On Tsotha-Lanti's mother and Zamorian women, Pallantides and Ophir, the baton of authority, and alternate spellings
On the etymology of Belesa and Beloso
On the mythic and symbolic dragons in The Hour of the Dragon
So, everyone with questions, thoughts, musings, criticism, let's have at it!