Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Conan the Barbarian: The Novelization (2011)

     Hopefully concluding all things Conan for some time – unless I start playing Hyborian War again – I offer forth a few thoughts about Michael A. Stackpole's novelization of the disaster that was Conan the Barbarian (2011).  I have several criticisms and I feel bad offering them because I've already shot my mouth off at Mr. Stackpole.  On more than one occasion, though I would like to think that he took it in stride and understood me to be a fan.
     The novel is much better than the film.  It has a better sense of pacing and develops the characters in a much more satisfying manner.  Stackpole still lacks the vocabulary to describe action – be it swordplay as it is here or giant piloted war machines in the BattleTech novels – but he doesn't dwell on those moments (as Nispel did for the movie), so it isn't painful.  He is stuck with the same basic story from the film, which still doesn't feel like it belongs to Conan.  More of the world is mentioned and Stackpole makes efforts to have the geography make sense. 
     Stackpole's writing style suffers from a malady I know I share.  His dialogue is simply to modern, to knowing of modern cadence and nuance.  There is no sense of other worldliness in these characters.  Conan's accent is mentioned, but nothing is the speech patterns speaks of anything other than middle-American.  He also is light on description – another weakness of mine, though I'm sure much more evident in me than Stackpole – leaving any reader who has not seen the film to wonder just how the people, places, and things actually look.  Normally I don't mind authors who find ways to skimp on the descriptive text; I don't need twenty adjectives forced into a sentence to give me a sense of setting.  But Stackpole goes beyond the Richard A. Knaak level of scarcity with which I am most comfortable.
     If I had the choice between paying $7.50 to see the movie or spending $7.99 for the book, I'd probably opt for the film (because it would be over quickly).  I'm more than a little surprised I opted to see the film and read the book.  I do know that Stackpole fits in a few Lovercraftian references – which is fitting – but does not match the intensity, or the immaturity, of Robert E. Howard's Conan tales.

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