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“Know, O… er… oh prince…”

by Marcos Cronander on May 22, 2024
  • There has been some discussion online about the spelling of Robert E. Howard’s famous introduction to the world’s greatest barbarian. So we thought we would bring in our resident Conan Scholar, Jeff Shanks to help clear things up. So… here he is! Take it away Jeff.

    Thanks Marcos!

    The famous excerpt from the fictional Nemedian Chronicles that usually appears at the beginning of any Conan work has been the center of some discussion recently within Conan fandom. The point of contention: is the opening invocation, “Know, O Prince,” or alternatively, “Know, oh prince?” You will find both versions out there in print. So, which is correct? Well, the answer is “both.” Sort of.

    The Nemedian Chronicles passage comes from “The Phoenix on the Sword,” the first Conan story, published in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales, where it begins “Know, oh prince.” The next time it appears was in the 1967 paperback collection, Conan, edited by L. Sprague de Camp, this time as “Know, O prince.” For the next 30 years this is the version that most people would see. However, with the publication of the authoritative Robert E. Howard texts by Wandering Star/Del Rey in the early 2000s, it was changed back to “Know, oh prince,” as that’s how it appears on the original typescript — a fact I confirmed with my colleague Patrice Louinet, the foremost expert on the Howard texts.

    Conan The Barbarian "Know, O... er... oh prince..."

    Technically, it should be “O” as the phrase is in the vocative case — that is, it’s addressing someone (for example, “O Romeo” or “O Canada”). And in fact, Howard’s inspiration for the phrase was likely William Lane’s translation of The Arabian Nights, which uses variations such as “Know, O Prince,” “Know, O King,” “Know, O Efreet,” etc. “Oh,” on the other hand, is an interjection, usually used to indicate surprise.

    Even by Howard’s time, however, “O” was already considered archaic and was generally only used in poetry, with “oh” frequently being used in the vocative. But of course the Nemedian Chronicles are intended to feel both archaic and poetic. So the obvious assumption would be that Howard simply made a typo that Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright didn’t catch, and that de Camp corrected years later. But it’s not that simple!

    I decided to take a look at Howard’s own poetry, and what I found was somewhat surprising. Only once does he use “O” in the vocative case, while he uses “oh” nearly two dozen times. This suggests that its use in the Nemedian Chronicles was not a typo at all, but rather an artistic choice.

    While I can see the stylistic appeal of the archaic “O” construction, the teams at Titan and Heroic Signatures believe it is far more important to err on the side of honoring Howard’s original intention, a decision I wholeheartedly agree with. – Jeff Shanks

  • Marcos Cronander

    When not bashing intruders with an axe as Heroic Signatures' in-house barbarian, Marcos is getting the word out to the masses about all the things happening in the world of Conan.

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