Post by keith on Apr 25, 2018 7:46:52 GMT -5
CONAN THE CIVILIZED MAN?
We're all familiar with the image of Conan the mighty barbarian, lawless roughneck from the wild hills of Cimmeria, who follows his urges and takes what he wants without regard for man, beast or demon. He's frequently described as "unpredictable" to civilized men. We're told ("Beyond the Black River") that contact with civilized men "had obviously not softened him, nor weakened any of his primitive instincts." Just before killing, with his bare hands, the strangler Baal-Pteor ("Shadows in Zamboula") Conan snarls to him, "You fool! Did you deem yourself strong because you could twist the heads off civilized men, weaklings with muscles like rotten string?" To Olgerd Vladislav, a civilized man turned savage outlaw, he says of the Zuagir desert tribesmen, "I understand them better than you, and they, me, because I am a barbarian too."
There's another aspect to the picture, though. The first Conan story ever published, "The Phoenix on the Sword", introduces Conan to the readers with a stylus and writing tablets in his hands, not sword and shield, making an effort -- proudly -- to add to scholarly knowledge by improving the maps of the northern lands! His companion in that scene is his closest friend, Prospero, a civilized, urbane noble. After his wild, lawless early life, Conan had adopted a civilized country as his own and become its king. He even made a pretty responsible one, better than average. "Today no Aquilonian noble dares maltreat the humblest of my subjects, and the taxes of the people are lighter than anywhere else in the world." ("The Scarlet Citadel.")
While Conan is often shown being scornful of civilized people and customs, it's significant that he is never shown in his land of origin, or in company with other Cimmerians. Prospero says of Conan that he laughs, drinks deeply, and bellows good songs, while other Cimmerians -- at least all he's seen -- don't laugh, are grim and gloomy, and chant dismal dirges. Conan doesn't dispute him, and says of his people, "They have no hope here or hereafter ... the ways of the Aesir were more to my liking."
He apparently got out of Cimmeria at the first chance, and never returned. Perhaps it was there that he didn't belong, and in civilized lands that he ultimately did, finding more freedom to be himself there, far from the strictures and taboos of barbarian custom. Even his early friends and allies, like Taurus and Murilo, are civilized men. His paramours, all that we're shown in the stories, certainly are -- Belit, Valeria, "the women of Shadizar the Wicked", Olivia, Natalia, and Zenobia ... all of them from Hyboria or eastern nations. If there's a barbarian girl among them anywhere, I missed it. The pirate Valeria has taken to a savage way of life, but she's Aquilonian, civilized by birth and rearing.
Maybe that echoes of REH's own frustrations, born in 1906 in rural Texas and feeling like a misfit. "The people hereabouts think I'm crazy anyway," he said ruefully, once. Nor did they regard writing for a living as "real" work. And there is that first-ever published image of Conan ... with stylus and writing tablets ...