One thing that Tolkien's got over Robert E. Howard, is that the artists that Tolkien inspires draw more than chainmail bikini babes and more chainmail bikini babes.
Since the advent of the internet, I've been gradually trying to build up a small private collection of fantasy art purely for my own perusal and enjoyment, and possibly inspiration. (Lords of Khaldun
was inspired by an illustration by Keith Parkinson
for instance.) During my lunch break, when my connection wasn't acting wonky, I was working on that some today. (Working from home today, so I don't have to worry about misusing company resources, don'tchaknow.)
Anyway, while surfing boards about the upcoming Conan d20
game, I came upon a link to The Savage Conan Gallery
and was checking it out. There was some good stuff, but mostly it's pages and pages of the same basic picture over and over again -- a baroque-styled super-muscular guy wrestling a snake or a giant ape while a chainmail bikini babe with a huge rump kneels nearby.
I mean c'mon, it's one thing to give the audience what they want, but it's another entirely to just plain not be able to come up with anything else to draw. The best picture on the whole site was one of Solomon Kane, if only because it wasn't the same as every other picture on the site!
Compare this to a gallery of Tolkien-inspired art
, and it's a whole world of difference! There's Alan Lee's moody, melancholic watercolors, Catherine Chmiel's whispering romance-inspired charcoals, and Angus McBride's blood-colored battlefields, and those are just some of the top ten.
I think this may be one reason Conan (and REH in general) has such a niche audience, because he's pegged as a one-trick pony, while Tolkien has something for everybody, so to speak. There IS more to Conan than wrestling snakes and bikini babes ... taken as a whole the Conan tales are a study in the nature of law, power, civilization, and the influence any one person can have on the big world. But you have to dig, savor, and ponder to find it. For such two-fisted fiction, there are surprising depths to plumb.
Having said that, tho, I must admit in all fairness that for every grim insight you find, there are
two chainmail bikini babes, and that is kinda sad.
 It has been my experience that in real life, most of the women interested in wearing chainmail bikinis, were people who those interested in the topic would probably rather not see in bikinis at all. As a noted turtleneck-fancier myself, I'd be just as happy not to see bikini babes of any variety. Eowyn in her full Rohirrim gear gets my attention a lot more than Red Sonja ever did.