Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) wrote several stories and novellas in a variety of genres during the late 20's-early-to-mid-30's for various pulp magazines like Weird Tales and Adventure, but he's also credited with creating the "Sword and Sorcery" fantasy genre. Through the exploits of such characters as "Kull", "Brak Mak Morn" and the most famous of them all, "Conan the Barbarian", Howard created a dark, forboding yet exciting and frantic style that held the reader's attention with larger-than-life tales that combined fantasy, horror and action/adventure.
Three of Howard's Conan stories (including his one novel) have been collected in one volume, The Bloody Crown of Conan. The tales are set in the fictional setting of the "Hyborian Age" devised by Howard, where the adventures of Conan, a mercenary and thief from the region of "Cimmeria" who invokes the spirit of such fictional heroes as Rafael Sabatini's "Captain Blood", involve encounters with cruel rulers, evil wizards, pirates, monsters and damsels-in-distress. Howard peppers his tales with scenes of exciting sword fights, hairbreadth escapes from various death traps, hissable bad guys, and a sense of the macabre. The stories in this collection include:
"The People of the Black Circle": First published as a three-part serial in Weird Tales in 1934, this tale finds Conan forced to work with his adversary, the princess Yasmina, to prevent the world from being taken over by the evil "Black Seers of Yimsha".
The Hour of the Dragon: Howard's only Conan novel (first published in serial form in 1935)finds the now fortyish Cimmerian forced to defend his kingdom of Aquilonia by the allianace of rival rulers and their sinister accomplice, Xaltotun the undead sorcerer, one of the most memorable villians in the series. And wait'll you meet the seemingly immortal princess Akivasha, just one of the many bizarre characters encountered by Conan in this tale.
"A Witch Shall Be Born": From 1934, this tale focuses on the machinations of the evil sorceress Salome and her consort Constantius to conquer the kingdom of Khauran by imprisoning the Queen (Salome's "good" twin, Taramis) and getting rid of Conan, the one person who tumbles onto their scheme. Yes, this is the tale where Conan is crucified in the desert by the villains. But as any Howard fan knows, that just makes Conan more focused on his goals...
If you haven't read any of Howard's stories, The Bloody Crown of Conan (which you can reserve here) is a perfect introduction. The book also includes terrific illustrations by Gary Gianni, done especially for this volume, plus various notes and earlier drafts of the stories by Howard, and a informative, well-researched essay on the stories themselves by Patrice Louinet.
(I'm indebted to this site for assistance with this post.)