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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Robert E. Howard's Map

Seems like most fantasy authors these days build worlds from scratch for their characters to quest through. Not the case with some of the pioneers in the genre, I would guess.

I'm far from an expert on Tolkien, but the fact that his most famous fictional setting was a place called "Middle Earth" suggests that he intended some sort of connection with historic reality.

When introduced to Robert E. Howard's fantasy, I first assumed the Conan character's home world had been built from scratch, so foreign were most of the geographic and ethnic terms to me at the time. But as I delved deeper, I discovered clues now and then (some subtle, some huge) that Conan's world was Earth...maybe just in some sort of alternate history. (A whopper of a clue happened in the John Millius film when the Cimmerians are called "Northmen".)

In time, I came to understand that Conan did, indeed, live on Earth--but during the "Hyborian Age." From then on, I couldn't read a Conan story without trying to figure out how his geography fit into the maps I was familiar with. Some of it was determinable by logical means, like the Land of Shem and the Pictish Wilderness. But much of it left me scratching my head.

That's why I was delighted to discover a reproduction of this map, sketched by Howard himself, in which you can easily discern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa underneath his Hyborian boundaries. Now I (and you) have this handy reference to help us trace the barbarian's footsteps.


  1. I always found Howard's description of "Afghulistan" to be particularly accurate.

  2. LOL. The land, or the ghuls? ;-)

    In some of his stories, he refers to a nomadic horse culture from the Steppes as "the Kossiks." Didn't use up too much brainpower on that one.

  3. Howard is fairly explicit that the Hyborian Age is a "lost age" in our earth's history, before the Ice Age and after the sinking of Atlantis, Lemuria and other continents and lands in the Great Cataclysm. He makes this clear in "The Hyborian Age" essay. This was the same with Middle-earth, which Tolkien explained as being our earth in the distant past. Hobbiton's on the same latitude as Oxford, for instance.

    The reason many of the names are familiar is because those names are echoed in "modern" history: the Cimmerians of Greek Myth are based on half-remembered history of the Hyborian Age Cimmerians; the Aesir and Vanir of Norse Mythology are the deified folk memory of the two major strains of Nordheimr. Then you get conflations like Iranistan and Afghulistan. I don't recall "Kossiks" ever coming up, but Howard did mention "Kozaks" in several stories.

    Having said that, where did you get this map? There are two that I'm aware of in the Del Rey collections, but neither of them match up: on the other hand, the handwriting is fairly similar to REH's.

  4. Yeah - the map caught me by surprise - nice grab!

  5. It might very well be "Kozaks" instead of "Kossiks." My spelling is not great, even in post-Hyborian languages. :)

    Thanks for the insights on Middle Earth, the Hyborian Age, et al. I knew it was a "lost age" but didn't know it was after Atlantis and before the Ice Age. I'll have to look up Howard's essay some day. Seems like it would be the other way around, since there is no Mediterranean Sea (for instance) separating Europe from Africa on his map. But the expanding oceans from the melting glaciers would fill in the lowlands to separate the continents while simultaneously swallowing up Atlantis.

    See? Now I'm gonna be obsessing about that instead of enjoying the hack-and-slash!

    The reproduction of this map is toward the back of "The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian," which is a nifty collection for that and other reasons. BTW, it's available on VPP:


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