We continue our discussion of Robert E. Howard's Conan with the second story in the chronology: The Frost Giant's Daughter. The chronology and the versions of the texts used in these posts follow the Del Rey three-volume edition of the complete Conan Stories. Anyone who wishes to remain spoiler free should not read on.
*Plot Material Ahead*
The Frost Giant's Daughter was not initially published as a Conan story, though it was written as one. Howard later retconned the adventure into the cannon with a sly reference to it in The Scarlet Citadel. In this second Conan story, Howard is already switching genres, moving from the fanciful historical-fiction feel of The Phoenix on the Sword to a tone more appropriate for a folk tale or one of Lovecraft's "weird tales." The Frost Giant's Daughter also switches abruptly from the later third of Conan's life to an event sometime in the first third during his time among the Nordheimr (building carefully on what Conan has said about his early life to Prospero in The Phoenix on the Sword). This radical shift sets the pace for future stories which will move back and forth in time with anchoring points for the reader to use in determining where in the chronology each story is taking place.
The tone of the story, as mentioned earlier, has an increasingly surreal and dream-like quality that comes to an abrupt and startling crash right at the action's climax. Following Poe's short-story dictum, the result is the achievement of a single effect: eerie wonderment. The final scene of The Frost Giant's Daughter invites us not to make a judgement on the supernatural so much as to experience a sense of awe. This abrupt shift in style and effect probably helps explain why the story was initially rejected by the editor. In retrospect, what it shows is the versatility of Conan as a character and the integrity of his world. He is "heavy" enough for reality, and reality can be narrated in vastly different modes.
Finally, this second Conan story serves to enhance the character's prestige. Wounded and dying, Conan is ferocious enough for minor deities to fear him. Whatever fate awaits, we know that we are not following the adventures of any mere mortal.
That's it for today. The next post will feature another abrupt shift in genre as we take a look at The God in the Bowl.