With Lionsgate’s Conan The Barbarian 3D fast approaching, now is the perfect time for a trip down memory lane. This won’t be the famous Cimmerian rogue’s first cinematic venture and, Crom willing, it won’t be his last. Can Jason Momoa (Game Of Thrones, Stargate Atlantis) show us a new side of a character already well established in the minds of fans around the world? CanMarcus Nispel (Pathfinder) breathe new life into the Hyborian Age?
Neither man has an easy job, they’re both stepping into the shoes of giants. Both Conan and his world of Hyboria have been the subjects of numerous adaptions before. From Robert E. Howard to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Roy Thomas and beyond, join me, your faithful chronicler, as we journey to an age undreamed of, when men were men, women were lusty and ethereal monsters roamed the land. This is…
The Conan Retrospective
Or: Bring me my wenches of reminiscing! Also: CROM!!!!
Part 1: The literary Conan
Conan’s father, author Robert E. Howard, had used the bronze-skinned, man-mountain, barbarian archetype before, and even had a stock character going by the name Conan several months prior, but it wasn’t until 1932 that he put pen to paper and went about the task of giving his creation an actual personality and a world to inhabit. “The Phoenix On The Sword,” published in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales, marked the first appearance of the Conan we all know and love. Oddly, instead of setting his story at an early point in the Cimmerian’s life, Howard made the decision to have the tale feature a Conan in his mid-50s and already sitting on the fabled throne of Aquilonia, following a bloody coup.
This method of introducing his character allowed Howard a lot of freedom for future tales, since the endgame of Conan’s journey was already known, the fun would be in learning how an uncouth barbarian from the northern wastes of Hyboria could possibly end up ruling the fantasy equivalent of the Roman Empire. Both Conan’s future literary and cinematic chroniclers would use this — “…and in time he became King by his hand… but that is another story…” — leitmotif to keep fans salivating till the next installment.
In subsequent stories, Howard wrote Conan as a brash youth and a stranger in a strange land, unfamiliar with many of the local customs, and whose rash manner rubbed wrongly against other men. However, it’s important to note that Howard’s version of the character was never (oh, how can I put this nicely?) a dundering meathead.
The “barbarian” adjective was based on other people’s perception of the Cimmerian, to the “civilized” eyes of the courtesans and Lords of the city-states south of Conan’s homeland, this black-maned giant was nothing more than a beast, good only for a bit of sword-swinging before dying on some nameless battlefield. While Conan’s physical abilities are well documented, fans might be surprised to learn that Howard’s version of the hero possessed a mind nearly as sharp as his blade. In the roughly 20 or so adventures published in Howard’s lifetime, Conan is often seen writing correspondence or deciphering ancient runes and text. He is a tactical genius, leading Lord Of The Rings-size armies into battle with cunning plans of his own devising… and winning!
Sadly, this bit of characterization as gone the way of the dodo in the years since Howard’s death. It’s ironic that the perception others had of Conan during his adventures has now become the reigning school of thought when it comes to the general public’s view of the Cimmerian, i.e., big, dumb guy with a sword.
The Tower Of The Elephant
Considered by many to be Howard’s finest Conan yarn and exemplifying many of the best attributes of his run on the character, The Tower Of The Elephant starts off with a bit of drunken shenanigans. Following a tavern brawl, instigated when a foolish Kothish rogue dared insinuate that the Cimmerian wasn’t brave enough to ascend the titular tower, Conan meets up with Taurus, the infamous “King Of Thieves” and the pair busy themselves with a bit of B & E. Featuring a giant spider (there’s always a giant spider in these things), a garden filled with lions trained to mask their approach by never roaring, and the ever-popular mad wizard, The Tower Of The Elephant remains, even after 78 years, one of the crown jewels of the Conan universe. It’s been adapted countless times, by several writers, but the original remains the definitive version of the story.
What variances were seen in the Conan comic book franchise?