L. Sprague de Camp’s star fell during the middle 1970s with the bankruptcy of Lancer Books. A Robert E. Howard revival took place at this time largely engineered by Glenn Lord’s ceaseless work. There was an explosion of small press magazines that were Howard oriented, small press book publications by Fax and Donald Grant, and mass market paperbacks from Zebra. This in turn helped spark another wave of sword and sorcery fiction (much of it bad) in the late 1970s. Every other paperback had “In the Tradition of Conan” splashed on the cover including the Zebra editions of Talbot Mundy’s Tros of Samothrace (which predated Conan). One thing that was missing was Conan. Then in late summer of 1977, The Hour of the Dragon restored to its Weird Tales text came out from Berkley Medallion. Karl Edward Wagner was to edit the Conan stories in a new package of six volumes. The books had the best covers that Ken Kelly ever did. Wagner produced fact filled forewords and afterwords with no psychoanalysis, character assassination, and back handed comments. Just so there was no confusion, the covers said “The Authorized Edition edited by Karl Edward Wagner.” Then the series was killed. Hollywood was interested in making a Conan movie but wanted to deal with one entity. The end result was the formation of Conan Properties Incorporated. Kirby McCauley is probably the one who talked Glenn Lord into going along with L. Sprague de Camp. Henry Kissinger once said that NATO’s purpose was to keep the U.S. in, the Russians out, and the Germans down. CPI did the same thing in keeping de Camp in, Robert E. Howard down, and Glenn Lord out. A board that included de Camp, Lord, and a de Camp ally ensured that Congor would be inflicted upons future generations of unsuspecting readers. Glenn Lord would be overruled in voting.
Kirby McCauley had brokered a deal with Bantam Books for Karl Edward Wagner to write three Conan pastiche novels. One de Camp’s first acts was to kill the Karl Wagner book chronicling Conan’s rise to king of Aquilonia. Wagner had already written a Bran Mak Morn pastiche entitled Legion From the Shadows which was turned in late. He was supposed to write a sequel called Queen of the Night which he never wrote. Zebra had to scramble and David C. Smith & Richard L. Tierney were brought in to write a Bran novel (For the Witch of the Mist). I am one who is sceptical that Wagner would have ever written The Day of the Lion. If you read “The Truth Insofar as I Know It” by David Drake from Exorcisms and Ecstacies, it paints a picture of someone who consistently had problems delivering the promised goods. Wagner did write a detailed outline/synopsis for Day of the Lion that appeared in Simba (September 1978).
One version I have heard is Wagner salvaged some parts of Day of the Lion that were incorporated into what would become The Road of Kings. The Wagner Conan pastiche is an interesting book. Rick McCollum describes it as Conan as Che Guevara. It reads like a Kane story to me. Some people hate the novel, others really like it. Wagner used the Chinese terra cotta soldiers as the idea for the novel. Wagner turned in two–thirds of the novel in 1978 claiming the remaining portion has been accidently left out of the envelope. He then pulled an all nighter to finish the last chapter. L. Sprague de Camp would later complain that the Wagner novel did not fit in with his Conan chronology. There are stories that de Camp constantly harped on Wagner while he was working on the novel to make it fit in with de Camp’s ideas.
If you go over to David Drake’s website and go to his comments regarding the writing of Killer, there is a repetition of problems. He later never delivered on a medical thriller novel for Bantam. Later on, there were problems with Wagner when he worked on a comic script called “Tell Me Dark.” Either Wagner had incredibly bad luck with who he did business with or there was a problem with him delivering.
A Wagner version of Conan becoming king is intriguing and would have been preferable to what was delivered by de Camp. L. Sprague de Camp eliminated a rival editor and pastiche writer with extreme prejudice. No one was going to stand in his way.
Karl tells his side of the Killer and Tell Me, Dark stories in the last interview he did, posted at the Karl Edward Wagner: East of Eden website. Karl was and Dave is a friend, and I take no position one way or the other here, just note that Karl’s version of what happened is available.
With regard to the tale of Conan’s rise to kingship, after the formation of Conan Properties de Camp killed Karl’s proposal for Day of the Lion because he had already decided that it would be he (along with Lin Carter) who would tell the story. The result, of course, was the lame Conan the Liberator.