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Was Conan An Anti-Hero?


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#41 crossplain pilgrim

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 07:32 PM

I agree with Croms Bells that Conan has to be judged within the context of the world Howard created. I don't think Howard ever mentions a Hyborian democratic society based on the principles of justice and individual liberty. It's pretty much a medieval world dominated by ambitious, ruthless monarchs aided by corrupt officials and wealthy merchants. The laws that are in place largely protect those in power. Operating outside the laws or conventions of the Hyborian world would not be analogous with say a modern day bank robber in the United Kingdom.

We have debated aspects of this argument about Conan's moral code on other threads, not that there's not a reason to argue it further here. Arguing the philosophical inconsistencies in Howard's stories is a large part of what we do on the forum. I have always been of the opinion that Conan is the classic anti-hero as envisioned by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. He usually begins a tale acting out of self-interest, but by the end of the story he is usually, and courageously, saving some innocent bystanders (very often a lightly clad hot damsel) from malevolent sorcery or horrible monsters. As I have said before, Howard saw Conan as more of a good guy than anti-hero. There is a reason why Howard only alludes to Conan's nastier acts and never actually depicts Conan dispatching a truly innocent, defenseless character. The guys that the big Cimmerian does whack out of self-interest are always pretty nasty guys themselves and Conan usually gives them a chance to go for their swords. Why? Howard wanted the readers to like Conan. I think he succeeded.
A wild moon rode in the wild white clouds,
the waves their white crests showed
When Solomon Kane went forth again,
and no man knew his road.

"Solomon Kane's Homecoming"

#42 ?sir

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Posted 04 May 2009 - 02:04 AM

He doesn't have to save the world in order to not classify as an anti-hero. Granted, he has his selfish reasons for stealing the ring from Jungir Khan, but that doesn't make him any more evil than an opportunist. It's a good observation that Conan, before he becomes king, often resorts to using thievery to survive, but again, this is more survivalist than evil. He'd rather sacrifice the teeth of Gwahlur to save Muriela, and I don't think that at that point, he has a shortage of any girls to get laid with

I don't deny Conan is a thief, and even he admits that he is a petty thief too, using intimidation to get food, as he says to Tina and Belesa at the end of The Black Stranger, but even then, he gives them the rest of his jewels because he knows they aren't like him. The way I see it, he belongs more towards the "good" side when he sees others in trouble. Natala needed water, so he gave her what was left in his tumbler. Balthus was captured by Picts, so Conan uses his one and only spear to save him

Of course, it's sometimes hard to see the good in him by his actions. For example, he kills Zaporavo to become captain of the Wastrel. This can be seen as an anti-hero action, but it's possible that what Conan perceives as good, evil and moral grey areas differs from us. Perhaps he sees no harm in eliminating the evil pirate captain, and it can only be to his benefit. I can see where you are coming from when you point out Conan's selfishness in many parts of the stories, but I guess back then, about 100000 years ago, people have different perceptions about morals. Perhaps the best explanation for Conan's actions would be that getting rid of evil is an act of goodness unto itself


Wow. Him killing Zaporavo is not what I connect with his being an anti-hero, but rather for survival: To get off the island. But you keep saying he thieves to survive. I'd say he thieves for the heck of it. If he just wants to survive he can live on what the wilderness can offer. And he sure doesn't steal the magic fsck-me-ring to survive. :lol: I've never said that he's evil though. Being evil doesn't have anything to do with being an anti-hero.

#43 Ironhand

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Posted 04 May 2009 - 07:51 AM

When Conan kills Zaporavo, he is playing by the rules of the society in which he finds himself. Note he didn't pull a sneak assassination, he challenged Z and fought him man-to-man. Conan doesn't always play by the rules; it is a function of how much respect he has for the society in which he finds himself. If Conan were asked to justify his action, he might say "He was doing a bad job. I could do better. This is how we pirates remove bad [ie, incompetent] captains."

I used to wonder why Conan ambushed Z rather than challenge him publicly on board the ship where everybody could witness the fight. I finally decided it was because he thought that Z would never let him get away with a challenge; Z would order the crew to intercept and kill Conan, and enough crew members would obey as to make Conan's victory problematical, or result in a large number of crew being killed by Conan, when Conan wanted to lead them, not kill them.

But this is not the selfless public-spirited act of a Boy Scout. Does this make Conan an antihero? By the standards of a Norse saga or a Greek myth, he is a hero.

Edited by Ironhand, 04 May 2009 - 07:53 AM.

"Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man...!" - Conan, in "Shadows in Zamboula", by Robert E. Howard
"... you speak of Venarium familiarly. Perhaps you were there?"
"I was," grunted [Conan]. "I was one of the horde that swarmed over the hills. I hadn't yet seen fifteen snows, but already my name was repeated about the council fires." - "Beyond the Black River", by Robert E. Howard

Read my Conan screenplays at The Scrolls of Ironhand (in particular my transcription of THE FROST GIANT'S DAUGHTER in Act II of "The Snow Devil") at
http://www.scrollsof...d.us/index.html or at
http://www.delicious...ic=ConanProject

#44 ?sir

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Posted 04 May 2009 - 09:27 AM

By the standards of a Norse saga or a Greek myth, he is a hero.


I agree. But in my opinion we need to agree on which definition to use, the "old" or the "new" (which is accompanied by the "anti-hero" variation), or there will be unecessary misunderstandings as there always is if you dismiss a definitional difference as "minor".

#45 Crom's bells

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Posted 04 May 2009 - 11:56 AM

From your earlier post, I finally understand where you are coming from, but his original intents of selfishness doesn't make him any less of a hero than mythical heroes like Heracles or Robin Hood. But I do understand what you mean with the "new" and "old" distinctions of the term "hero".

Looking from the other side of the room, I can also see where Conan gets his anti-hero qualities from, being that he is an unconventional type of hero if going by your "new" age definition. In my opinion though, his image is still more hero than antihero. It's all a matter of perspective I guess, how you want to weigh the left and right traits. Certainly though, it's more apparent that he loses his antihero qualities as he grows older and becomes wiser with age.

Unfortunately, this debate may go on forever because Conan is such a complex character (note how Vincent Darlage classifies Conan as Chaotic Neutral in his early days, and Chaotic Good when he is King Conan), and because the only person who can ever etch a verdict has been dead for 70 odd years :).

I say we settle this debate with a contest of ale and swords!

On the sidenote I beg to differ regarding this:

Being evil doesn't have anything to do with being an anti-hero.


I do think a person who is bad by nature, yet ends up being the good guy at the end of the show without much reformity, classifies very much under the anti-hero category, as shown in the Wiki article. But then I know this has nothing to do with the point you're trying to bring forth. I'm just saying.

-edit-

After reading about some of the anti-heroes again and again, the fine line between heroes and anti-heroes has become even blurrer. To be frank, there are many characters not in the list that I'd consider anti-hero, and many on that list that I'd consider not anti-hero. Hulk, for instance, would be more of an anti-hero than Batman is. To be frank, looking at that list on Wikipedia doesn't tell me much about the difference between anti-hero and hero. In fact, it's only made it more confusing to distinguish both =\

Edited by Crom's bells, 04 May 2009 - 12:31 PM.


#46 ?sir

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Posted 04 May 2009 - 04:07 PM

From your earlier post, I finally understand where you are coming from, but his original intents of selfishness doesn't make him any less of a hero than mythical heroes like Heracles or Robin Hood. But I do understand what you mean with the "new" and "old" distinctions of the term "hero".


By the modern definition he's an anti-hero. Can we all agree that the modern definition is the one we use, and so Conan is an anti-hero, or does anyone want to vote that we use the old definition of hero as per ancient sagas and such, thus making Conan a hero? But not really, still. :rolleyes:

Looking from the other side of the room, I can also see where Conan gets his anti-hero qualities from, being that he is an unconventional type of hero if going by your "new" age definition. In my opinion though, his image is still more hero than antihero. It's all a matter of perspective I guess, how you want to weigh the left and right traits. Certainly though, it's more apparent that he loses his antihero qualities as he grows older and becomes wiser with age.

Unfortunately, this debate may go on forever because Conan is such a complex character (note how Vincent Darlage classifies Conan as Chaotic Neutral in his early days, and Chaotic Good when he is King Conan), and because the only person who can ever etch a verdict has been dead for 70 odd years :).


That, and the two axis of D&D suck really hard since they assume that good and evil are not philosophical concepts but laws of the universe. One of the great things about Conan is that he's human. He's multifaceted, he's deep of personality, he's got compunctions, morale and so on. And they're never static, but shifts from situation to situation just like in the real world. And by that he doesn't fit in a template, in my opinion.

I say we settle this debate with a contest of ale and swords!

On the sidenote I beg to differ regarding this:

Being evil doesn't have anything to do with being an anti-hero.


I do think a person who is bad by nature, yet ends up being the good guy at the end of the show without much reformity, classifies very much under the anti-hero category, as shown in the Wiki article. But then I know this has nothing to do with the point you're trying to bring forth. I'm just saying.


Yes, my point is that being evil is neither a prerequisite nor a impediment. It's irrelevant.

-edit-

After reading about some of the anti-heroes again and again, the fine line between heroes and anti-heroes has become even blurrer. To be frank, there are many characters not in the list that I'd consider anti-hero, and many on that list that I'd consider not anti-hero. Hulk, for instance, would be more of an anti-hero than Batman is. To be frank, looking at that list on Wikipedia doesn't tell me much about the difference between anti-hero and hero. In fact, it's only made it more confusing to distinguish both =\


Just like the axis of D&D doesn't add up if you analyze them for too long. Because it's not applicable to human nature in the real world, in my opinion. It's way to square and static.

Instead of looking at the definition of anti-hero and trying to figure out how to fit Conan in there, read some definitions of "heroism" and see if you think that he fits in there. If not he's obviously not a hero. Or is he?

In my opinion it all boils down to whether or not one believes there exists good and evil in the real world as it does in D&D or the "Lord of the Rings"-trilogy or any other fictional example.

#47 Crom's bells

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Posted 04 May 2009 - 06:17 PM

I guess this is one mystery best left unsolved

#48 ?sir

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Posted 04 May 2009 - 09:57 PM

I guess this is one mystery best left unsolved


I simply don't think there is an answer to the question but it's a matter of taste. In my eyes the "anti-hero" was a concept that appeared because obviously not all heroes were "sacrificing themselves for a greater good" as heroes do. So instead of changing the definition of heroism, they came up with a concept that encompass all main characters that don't fit the heroism bill making "anti-hero" a very wide concept that varies a lot on a case to case basis. That's also why I think we're having this discussion. Because anti-heroes can be significantly different from each other. The only trait that really unites them is that they're not heroes as per the definition.

#49 brakkk60526

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 06:08 PM

Conan is not evil ,but at the same time he would kill you for something as minor as a slap.And theres allways the debate about him being a rapist.He is a antihero,but there are different degrees.KEWs Kane is by far one of the most evil antiheros to come down the pike.

#50 ?sir

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 11:42 PM

..there are different degrees.


Not to mention different spectras. It's a very wide definition and about as unspecific as defining Conan as a human being in my opinion.

#51 Malak

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 12:59 AM

Out of curiosity, I looked up some more definitions for "antihero".


The American Heritage Dictionary:

"A main character in a dramatic or narrative work who is characterized by a lack of traditional heroic qualities, such as idealism or courage"


Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

"A protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities"

"Heroic" is defined as:
1: of, relating to, resembling, or suggesting heroes especially of antiquity
2 a: exhibiting or marked by courage and daring b: supremely noble or self-sacrificing
3 a: of impressive size, power, extent, or effect <a heroic voice> b (1): of great intensity : extreme <heroic effort> (2): of a kind that is likely only to be undertaken to save a life <heroic surgery>
4: of, relating to, or constituting drama written during the Restoration in heroic couplets and concerned with a conflict between love and honor


Wikipedia:

"In fiction, an antihero is a protagonist whose character or goals are antithetical to traditional heroism."

We get the following definition of "heroism":
"[...]hero (male) and heroine (female) came to refer to characters (fictional or historical) that, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice ? that is, heroism ? for some greater good, originally of martial courage or excellence but extended to more general moral excellence."



According to these definitions, there are two dimensions of heroism - a "martial" dimension (fighting ability, courage, etc.), and a moral dimension (idealism, self-sacrifice, etc.). While Conan clearly fulfils the criteria for "martial" heroism, his moral excellence might be doubted.

He is neither a perfect hero nor a clear anti-hero, but I believe he is closer to being a hero.
Although he tends to seek his own advantage, especially in his earlier years, he does so following a strict moral code. Many examples of selfless actions have already been mentioned. His activities as a pirate probably included some pillaging and plundering, but he is never pictured raping a woman or killing an unarmed, innocent man. Even as a thief in The God in the Bowl he seems to be a much more decent and honest man than the civilized people he has to deal with (and whom he is robbing). To me, he seemed to have the moral high ground in all of his stories, and I never felt he harmed anybody who didn't deserve it in a way, quite unlike Wagner's Kane, for example.

#52 Strom

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 01:12 AM

Many examples of selfless actions have already been mentioned. His activities as a pirate probably included some pillaging and plundering, but he is never pictured raping a woman or killing an unarmed, innocent man. Even as a thief in The God in the Bowl he seems to be a much more decent and honest man than the civilized people he has to deal with (and whom he is robbing). To me, he seemed to have the moral high ground in all of his stories, and I never felt he harmed anybody who didn't deserve it in a way, quite unlike Wagner's Kane, for example.


Conan does murder the unarmed, innocent dude who is nailing his girlfriend in Howard's epic Rogues in the House. "Innocent" relative to the age and land, that is. I think you have to consider the age as described by Howard - that could account for the difficulty in fitting the barbarian with a label.

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#53 Malak

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 01:51 AM

Many examples of selfless actions have already been mentioned. His activities as a pirate probably included some pillaging and plundering, but he is never pictured raping a woman or killing an unarmed, innocent man. Even as a thief in The God in the Bowl he seems to be a much more decent and honest man than the civilized people he has to deal with (and whom he is robbing). To me, he seemed to have the moral high ground in all of his stories, and I never felt he harmed anybody who didn't deserve it in a way, quite unlike Wagner's Kane, for example.


Conan does murder the unarmed, innocent dude who is nailing his girlfriend in Howard's epic Rogues in the House. "Innocent" relative to the age and land, that is. I think you have to consider the age as described by Howard - that could account for the difficulty in fitting the barbarian with a label.



Probably I should have put it differently. "Innocent" is just as difficult to define as "heroic".
Good point about the age as described by Howard. If somebody nails someone else's girlfriend nowadays, that may be a minor offense, but if someone does so in the Hyborian Age, killing him might be the logical and not necessarily immoral course of action... especially if you're a Cimmerian ;)

#54 ?sir

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 02:23 AM

I don't think there is a person alive today who would consider it a minor offense if someone nailed their partner. I don't think there ever was either.

#55 Bingam Vici

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 02:24 AM

Malak, you definitely are pleasant to me))))
All the same Сonan is not the antihero, all the same :blink:

#56 ?sir

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 02:33 AM

Oh, he is an anti-hero alright. You just have to define clearly what kind of anti-hero he is, in my opinion.

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"I did not have a hamburger."

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Edited by ?sir, 08 May 2009 - 02:38 AM.


#57 crossplain pilgrim

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 03:39 AM

I find Malak's attempt to define hero and anti-hero (with the help of some esteemed sources) the most reasonable so far. Still, I don't see that there has ever been a consensus on this thread on what defines hero and anti-hero, much less the unending debate attached to applying those definitions to Conan. Still, I am enjoying the discussion. I am on record, for what it's worth, that Conan starts out as the modern definition of anti-hero (lacking a moral compass from time to time, but never courage) and evolves into a true hero as King Conan.

As far as offing the young thief who was poaching Conan's private preserve, that is the closest thing to an evil act by Conan I can find anywhere in all the stories (and I have been going through my Del Rey's one by one). Still, as has been suggested, maybe the Hyborians took unfaithful behavior a little more seriously than we do today. Maybe the young thief was responsible for Conan's girl dropping a dime on him. I do think if word about the kid's fate got around the thieves' quarter, no one else was going to mess around with Conan's current squeeze.
A wild moon rode in the wild white clouds,
the waves their white crests showed
When Solomon Kane went forth again,
and no man knew his road.

"Solomon Kane's Homecoming"

#58 Sermon Bath

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 06:06 AM

I think Conan is an anti-hero...in fact I think he was one of the first. Of course he is more
anti heroic in some stories than others. In Drums of Tombulku by Howard and de Camp he is absolutely an anti hero. (fabulous story by the way...wonderful work by both writers)

In fact Amarlic, a friend, describes Conan as a horrible brute. Conan spends his time drinking,
wenching, gambling, and slaying with pretty much no thought of tomorrow....a very cool Conan in that tale indeed!
I don't worry...I have to much on my mind

#59 Ironhand

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 08:01 AM

Many examples of selfless actions have already been mentioned. His activities as a pirate probably included some pillaging and plundering, but he is never pictured raping a woman or killing an unarmed, innocent man. Even as a thief in The God in the Bowl he seems to be a much more decent and honest man than the civilized people he has to deal with (and whom he is robbing). To me, he seemed to have the moral high ground in all of his stories, and I never felt he harmed anybody who didn't deserve it in a way, quite unlike Wagner's Kane, for example.


Conan does murder the unarmed, innocent dude who is nailing his girlfriend in Howard's epic Rogues in the House. "Innocent" relative to the age and land, that is. I think you have to consider the age as described by Howard - that could account for the difficulty in fitting the barbarian with a label.



Probably I should have put it differently. "Innocent" is just as difficult to define as "heroic".
Good point about the age as described by Howard. If somebody nails someone else's girlfriend nowadays, that may be a minor offense, but if someone does so in the Hyborian Age, killing him might be the logical and not necessarily immoral course of action... especially if you're a Cimmerian ;)

As recently as the 20th century, and in Texas, no less, murdering your wife's lover was considered justifiable homicide.
"Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man...!" - Conan, in "Shadows in Zamboula", by Robert E. Howard
"... you speak of Venarium familiarly. Perhaps you were there?"
"I was," grunted [Conan]. "I was one of the horde that swarmed over the hills. I hadn't yet seen fifteen snows, but already my name was repeated about the council fires." - "Beyond the Black River", by Robert E. Howard

Read my Conan screenplays at The Scrolls of Ironhand (in particular my transcription of THE FROST GIANT'S DAUGHTER in Act II of "The Snow Devil") at
http://www.scrollsof...d.us/index.html or at
http://www.delicious...ic=ConanProject

#60 Bingam Vici

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 11:14 AM

Well, we will consider, who as thinks, so let and thinks further, for me Сonan never the antihero was.

And in general, I would look at you if you lived in Hyboria among magicians and murderers