The Hour of the Dragon, also known as Conan the Conqueror, is a 1935 fantasy novel written by Robert E. Howard featuring his seminal sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian. It was the last Conan story published before Howard's suicide although not the last to be written.
The plot is a loose melange of motifs from previous Conan short stories, most notably "The Scarlet Citadel", with which it shares an almost identical storyline. It takes place when Conan is about forty-five, during his reign as King of Aquilonia, and follows a plot by a group of conspirators to depose him in favor of Valerius, heir to Conan's predecessor Numedides, whom he had slain to gain the throne. To accomplish this they resort to necromancy, resurrecting Xaltotun, an ancient sorcerer from the pre-Hyborian empire of Acheron. With his aid the Aquilonian army is defeated by that of the rival kingdom of Nemedia and occupied. Conan, captured, is slated for execution until the sympathetic slave girl Zenobia risks her life to free him.
Conan's quest to retrieve the Heart of Ahriman in order to defeat the wizard and regain his throne takes him through many lands of the Hyborian Age. After his eventual triumph he vows to make Zenobia his queen.
The Hour of the Dragon is Howard's only full-length novel about Conan, and is considered by many to be one of his best works.
It was originally written for British publisher Dennis Archer and was submitted to him in May 1934. Archer had turned down a collection of works in 1933 but made a suggestion that Howard submit a novel. However, the publisher went bankrupt before the novel could be printed and it was held by the Official Receiver.
The story was first published as a five part serial in Weird Tales between the months of December 1935 to April 1936 (with chapter 20 being misprinted as chapter 21). It was first published in book form in hardcover by Gnome Press in 1950 under the title Conan the Conqueror, a title retained by later editions until 1977. The first paperback edition was published by Ace Books in 1954. The novel has been reissued a number of times since by various publishers, notably Lancer Books in 1967 and Berkley/Putnam in 1977; the latter, reedited by Karl Edward Wagner, was the first edition to restore the original magazine text and title, under which most subsequent editions have been issued. Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Inc. published an edition in 1989, with illustrations by Ezra Tucker, as volume XI of their deluxe Conan set.More recently the novel appeared in the collections The Essential Conan (1998), Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (2001) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Two (1934) (Del Rey, 2005). It has also been translated into Japanese, Italian, Finnish, French, German, Swedish and Spanish.
Reviewing the Gnome Press edition, Groff Conklin found the novel to have "real merit" considered as an imaginative work, but characterized Howard's writing as "only average [and] laden with bombast."
In the hardcover Gnome Press edition of the Conan stories, Conan the Conqueror follows the short stories collected as King Conan; in the paperback Lancer/Ace edition, it follows the short stories collected as Conan the Usurper. In both editions it precedes the Björn Nyberg/L. Sprague de Camp novel The Return of Conan (AKA Conan the Avenger).
In 1974, the story was adapted by Roy Thomas, Gil Kane and John Buscema in Marvel Comic's Giant-Size Conan #1-4 and Savage Sword of Conan #8, 10. The lead story in Giant-Size Conan #1 was a 25-page chapter from The Hour of the Dragon. The plan was to adapt the novel over the first six issues, but Giant-Size Conan #4 was the last full color chapter. The story was concluded in the black & white magazine Savage Sword of Conan #8 and #10.