Sprague1As mentioned in an earlier post, L. Sprague de Camp attempted to turn Sword & Sorcery down a logical, Science Fictional route (ala John W. Campbell’s Unknown) with his Pusadian stories, but in this he failed largely because of his other activities in Fantasy: the Gnome Press release of Conan in hard cover.

Gnome Press began in 1948, under the guidance of Martin Greenberg and David A. Kyle, to reprint classics of the SF Pulps in hard covers. Their first book was The Carnelian Cube by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp, a Harold Shea novel. Gnome would eventually publish Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Clifford Simak and many other SF giants. They also, starting in 1950, reprinted Conan. The first book was the novel “The Hour of the Dragon” re-issued as Conan the Conqueror.


According to Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds (1973), this book was sent to Fletcher Pratt for review but he disliked heroic fantasy and passed it onto de Camp. L. Sprague was about to begin an association that would last for the remainder of his career. Contacting Gnome, de Camp wanted to know if there was more Conan. Certainly there was but it was scattered through the old copies of Weird Tales. Collecting these, de Camp edited The Sword of Conan (1952), The Coming of Conan (1953), King Conan (1953) and Conan the Barbarian (1955), adding headings about Conan’s career from the famous outline made by P. Schuyler Miller and John D. Clark (1936). Contacting Howard’s old agent and others, de Camp managed to find several caches of unfinished manuscripts, which he completed for Tales of Conan (1955) and the pastiches of Swedish fan, Bjorn Nyberg for The Return of Conan (1957). This was the last Conan volume by Gnome Press before troubles that eventually saw the end of the company.

De Camp moved onto other things, most of which were non-fiction books, and one last Science Fiction classic, The Glory That Was (1960), but he could not leave S&S alone. He edited a series Sprague3of Sword & Sorcery anthologies, the first of their kind, to help keep Howard’s style of Fantasy alive. Swords & Sorcery (1963), The Spell of Seven (1965), The Fantastic Swordsmen (1967), Warlocks and Warriors (1971), all promoted the classic works of Lord Dunsany, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, C. L. Moore as well as new writers like Poul Anderson, Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock, John Jakes and Lin Carter. Many Howard purists revile the editing and pastiching work that L. Sprague de Camp did (much as Lovecraft fans often disparage August Derleth) but it should be acknowledged that de Camp kept the Sword & Sorcery flames burning during the interregnum between Gnome Press and Lancer Books.

For a while Conan slept again. But after the explosion that was The Lord of the Rings in paperback in 1965-6, de Camp returned to the Conan franchise, wanting to see it in paperback as well. He took the series to Lancer who issued the old Gnome volumes along with new stories, more uncompleted manuscripts as well as pastiches written by de Camp and his friend Lin Carter. With Frank Frazetta Sprague4sprague5covers, these books soon rose to sales close to Tolkien’s. The Sword & Sorcery boom of the late 1960s was on!

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  1. Evocative cover on Conan the Usurper. Who could forget the memorable scene I saw in King Conan where the single drop of snake venom fell on Conan chained in his dungeon of horrors? Decamp’s work in exhuming Howard will not be forgotten either.

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