Sunday, January 15, 2012

100 Books #5 - Robert E. Howard's THE COMING OF CONAN THE CIMMERIAN

I wonder if Robert E. Howard -- or his most famous creation, the barbarian/mercenary/pirate king Conan -- has a lot of fans who are herpetologists, for snakes, giant or otherwise, get a really bad rap in this collection of the first several Conan stories. I mean, if it had been Conan versus the beetles or the giant fur-bearing gold-mining ants*, I might have been a little miffed.

But giant snakes are far from our hero's only problem, are they, this figure who spawned an entire genre (which I gleefully celebrate with my friends over at Shouty Men in Shiny Armour). Sorcerors, rival kings (when he's a king), Great Old Ones, rival pirates (when he's a pirate), sea monsters, more sorcerors... Even enumerating them is exhausting. But I am not a mighty-thewed muscle-man. Of superhuman cunning and resourcefulness. With a sword.

Interestingly, though, this book and my second of the year have had the lingering effect of making me want to try to become one. At least as much of one as a chick on the other side of 40 can be. Pass the kettle-bell. Conan, at least, prefers self-rescuing princesses who make the first move.

*Which it just as easily could have been. I can't imagine Howard having neglected to read his Herodotus. He was one erudite motherfolklore.


  1. Hah, why be a mighty-thewed muscle-man when you can be a steel-spring-and-whaleboned she-devil like Red Sonya or Dark Agnes? I think those two could even give Conan a run for his money.

    REH's thing with snakes in his fantasy works has been speculated as being based on the very real danger rattlesnakes and copperheads pose to Texans even today - just imagine what it would be like back in the days before modern roads and medicine.

    (Pedant mode, activate: Howard never depicted Conan as a slave, that's just the films and things based on the films. Pedant mode, deactivate.)

  2. Excellent poigs, sir! And thanks for the visit. Yes, I would more than settle for achieving Red Sonya stafus 8)

  3. Anyway, what I find most interesting about Conan is his relationships with women. The stereotype barbarian handed to us by pop culture drek purveyors is a roaring rapist, grabbing damsels, having his way with them and casting them aside like so many chicken bones. But Conan, Conan doesn't even hit on women. Every story so far has started out with a dame checking him out and all but drooling, and when she approaches him, he effectively says something along the lines of "sure, mama, name your place and position." And then he's fairly monogamous. How refreshing!


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