This article covers some of the major Conan chronologies that have been advanced over the years. From the 1930s onward a number of fans and scholars have attempted to create a chronological timeline into which the numerous Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard and later writers could be placed.
Going beyond a simple fan activity, these efforts have had a significant impact on the development of the popular conception of the character of Conan as well as economic consequences on the Conan franchise. As Paolo Bertetti observes, the focus on the creation of a character chronology outside of the work of the original author begins a "process that tends to transform the character into a social object of inter-individual construction and public debate, rendering it independent of texts in which it was born," and in the case of Conan, this has lead to the exploitation of the character for commercial reasons and perhaps encouraged and justified the proliferation of pastiche stories and novels over the years.
A number of factors have prevented the establishment of a consensus on order of the Conan stories, most notably the fact that Howard himself apparently had little more than a general idea of the character's career path and intentionally wrote the stories out of chronological sequence. While the earliest (Miller/Clark) timeline had at least partial endorsement from Howard, the addition of stories discovered and published after Howard's death in 1936 are more difficult to place. Fragments and synopses that were never completed are even more problematic and some contain what appear to be internal inconsistencies.
Miller/Clark/de Camp chronology
The essay A Probable Outline of Conan's Career (1936) was completed during Howard's lifetime by P. Schuyler Miller and John D. Clark. Howard, who reviewed it in draft and made a few corrections, stated it followed his vision of Conan's career "pretty closely." The version subsequently published in the Howard fanzine The Hyborian Age (1938) incorporated Howard's corrections. The chronology was revised over the years by Miller, Clark and L. Sprague de Camp to take into account additional Conan material, including previously unpublished stories by Howard and newly written stories by others. These revised versions of the chronology guided the order in which the stories were arranged when they were compiled into book form in the early series published by Gnome Press (1950–1957), Lancer/Ace (1966–1977), and Bantam (1978–1982), and text from the chronology was used in these series to bridge gaps between the stories.
The subsequent versions include An Informal Biography of Conan the Cimmerian (1952), a revision by Clark and de Camp used to bridge stories in the first hardcover edition of the Conan stories, published by Gnome Press. De Camp's final version of the chronology, Conan the Indestructible (1984), incorporated the first seven volumes of the series of Conan pastiches published by Tor Books.
While the chronology has Howard's general approval in regard to its placement of the stories covered by its earliest published version, such authority is lacking for later versions' placement of stories discovered after Howard's death. Most post-Howard Conan stories were written to conform to it. The chronology has been criticized for missing some in-story chronological indications pointing to a slightly different arrangement (such as "Xuthal of the Dusk" preceding "The Devil in Iron"), for force-fitting posthumously discovered Howard tales into its scheme (e.g. "The Black Stranger," in which Howard has Conan turn pirate between his stints as general and king in Aquilonia, rewritten by de Camp to omit the piratical interlude), and for having Conan wander "all over the Hyborian world in a scattered and illogical pattern, and at a break-neck pace."
Order (earliest and latest forms)
All stories added after the earliest version are indented."
Robert Jordan chronology
A Conan Chronology by Robert Jordan (1987) was the attempt of Conan writer Robert Jordan to create a new Chronology including all Conan material written up to that point, including fifteen of the first sixteen volumes of the series of Conan pastiches published by Tor Books (omitting the eighth, Conan the Valorous). It was first published in Conan the Defiant, by Steve Perry (Tor Books, 1987). It was heavily influenced by the Miller/Clark/de Camp chronology, though deviating from it in some respects, and covers more of the Tor series. Jordan seldom provided his reasoning on his departures from the earlier chronology.
Dale Rippke chronology
In 2003 Dale Rippke published The Darkstorm Conan Chronology, a completely revised chronology, including only those stories written (or devised) by Howard. Completions of Howard works by other hands and post-Howard works are not included. Rippke bases his story placements on the texts as Howard wrote them, which lead him to some of the same conclusions as an earlier timeline by Joe Marek. Most of his differences with Marek fall in the middle of their respective efforts. The Dark Horse comic series is based on and mostly follows this chronology.
- Bertetti, Paolo. "Conan the Barbarian: Transmedia Adventures of a Pulp Hero" in Transmedia Archaeology: Storytelling in the Borderlines of Science Fiction. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, p. 24.
- Shanks, Jeffrey. "Introduction" in The Hyborian Age: Facsimile Edition. Skelos Press, 2015 , p. x.
- Howard, Robert E. Letter to P. S. Miller, March 30, 1936. In Howard, Robert E. The Coming of Conan. Gnome Press, 1953. Online version
- De Camp, L. Sprague. "Conan the Indestructible." In Jordan, Robert. Conan the Victorious. Tor, 1984. Online version
- Marek, Joe. "Some Comments On Chronologies In Regards To The Conan Series." (REHUPA #148 and #149), 1997-1998 Online version
- Rippke, Dale. Article series: "Can Anything Good Come Out of Cimmeria?" (REHUPA #180), "Go East, Young Man..." (REHUPA #181), "Black Flag, Scarlet Skull... Black Flag, Golden Lion..." (REHUPA #182), combined in Rippke, Dale. "The Dark Storm Conan Chronology." Also published in Rippke, Dale. The Hyborian Heresies. Wild Cat Books, October 25, 2004.
- Jordan, Robert. "A Conan Chronology," in Conan the Defiant, Tor Books, 1987.
- Busiek, Kurt. "Introduction" in The Colossal Conan. Dark Horse Books, November, 2013.
- "A Probable Outline of Conan's Career," by P. Schuyler Miller and John D. Clark - a transcription of the original 1938 version
- "Conan the Indestructible," by L. Sprague de Camp - the final 1984 version
- "Conan the Indestructible," by L. Sprague de Camp - another transcription of the final 1984 version
- "The Conan Stories in Chronological Order as of 1989," by Curtis M. Scott (based on Robert Jordan's "A Conan Chronology"), from the GURPS Conan sourcebook, Steve Jackson Games, pp. 111–114
- "The Conan Timeline," by William Galen Gray - a transcription of the 1997 version
- "The Conan Timeline," by William Galen Gray - a transcription of the 2000 version
- "Robert E. Howard - Conan," by Joe Marek - a general discussion of the character. Marek's chronology is set forth in the section "Some Comments On Chronologies In Regards To The Conan Series"
- "The Dark Storm Conan Chronology," by Dale Rippke - a transcription of Rippke's chronology
- The Chronicles Of Conan The Cimmerian," by Amra_the_Lion - Determining the chronological order of Howard's Conan Tales