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Was Conan An Anti-Hero?


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#1 Bingam Vici

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 04:50 AM

Who considers Сonan as the antihero and why? Give reason, please

Forgive for an expression. I will explain. On a site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page it has been written that Conan the antihero. I have corrected a little, but 3 men have written again about the antihero.
I did not read Howard's texts in the original in English and much that I do not know, therefore have decided to ask you, whether so it?

#2 Kortoso

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 05:08 PM

BV, you probably mean to quote this:
http://en.wikipedia....n_the_Barbarian
and I might add this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antihero

I think that we have had various discussions about this, but that was some time ago, and never a dedicated thread. So let's see what everyone thinks. Is Conan an antihero?

#3 BloodNGore

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 05:42 PM

Yes of course he is, he's mainly out for himself, sure he won't stand by if an innocent needs his help but he won't go out of his way like Solomon Kane, all Conan wanted was Woman and treasure.
I think alot of people are under the impression that Conan was wondering Hyboria having a grand old time but in every story he's mainly dark and brooding with a few gusty laughs here and there, he didn't set out to encounter giant snakes and ape men he was just willing to cut a path through them to get what he wanted.
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#4 Mikey_C

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 07:18 PM

Looking at the Wiki definition he probably is one. He's certainly no "knight in shining armour" and Howard didn't intend him to be a role model. He's really a very modern "hardboiled" type of character placed in heroic surroundings. If he does good, that generally isn't his primary motivation. But then, he isn't a really evil person either, although he encounters enough of these. Also, his character develops as he ages. Conan the King of Aquilonia is not the impulsive young thief who would stab someone for a minor insult. In fact, he treats his people well.

Really, Howard was trying to create a believable character based around types he saw about him in the wild oilrush that hit Cross Plains. He was both repelled and attracted by these men. I would say he was more interested in real life than in trying to make some sort of arty "subverting the hero archetype" statement. So, sitting on the fence a little, I would say that Conan is not 100% antihero, although he has elements of being one.
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#5 Kortoso

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 07:53 PM

Right, he's not a "cookie-cutter" antihero any more than he's a "cookie-cutter" noble savage, although those are his mother and father, so to speak. ;)



#6 Taranaich

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 07:56 PM

Looking at the Wiki definition he probably is one. He's certainly no "knight in shining armour" and Howard didn't intend him to be a role model. He's really a very modern "hardboiled" type of character placed in heroic surroundings. If he does good, that generally isn't his primary motivation. But then, he isn't a really evil person either, although he encounters enough of these. Also, his character develops as he ages. Conan the King of Aquilonia is not the impulsive young thief who would stab someone for a minor insult. In fact, he treats his people well.


Exactly: As with a lot of things, it depends on what stage of his life you're talking about. Early on all the way up to the mercenary years, hell yes Conan is an antihero, one of the most well-defined examples of the archetype. The thief of "Rogues in the House" and the mercenary of "Black Colossus" fit the bill.

There are even some stories where it could be argued that Conan is a "villain protagonist", i.e. a character who would easily be the villain in another story: "Queen of the Black Coast" and "The Vale of Lost Women" are examples of Conan doing some decidedly un-heroic things.

By the same token, in some stories he is altogether more selfless, considerate and heroic: the King stories are about the closest to the "knight in shining armour" as Conan gets, though there are elements of some innate "goodness" even in "The Tower of the Elephant".

Some stories show him transforming between the amoral, selfish anti-hero and the good-intentioned, selfless hero: "Beyond the Black River" and "The Servants of Bit-Yakin" are the most potent examples. Conan had no obligation to warn the settlers before making for Velitrium, but he did, putting his own life at risk. Conan could easily have let Muriela plummet to her death so he could get the Teeth of Gwahlur, but he didn't even hesitate to save her.

So ultimately, trite as it might seem, descriptions like "hero", "antihero" and even "villain" aren't really adequate to describe Conan. Antihero is probably the best since it's both a middle-ground, and encapsulates most of Conan's career, but it loses a little something in the classification.

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#7 amster

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 08:31 PM

Thanks, Mikey and Taranaich. Now I have nothing to add.
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#8 ?sir

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 10:50 PM

Isn't there a saying that goes something like "The situation makes the hero"? So Conan is an anti-hero in my opinion, but in some situations he becomes a hero although it's not his drive to become one, and there's always something else in it for him.

#9 deuce

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Posted 29 April 2009 - 02:36 AM

Some great replies above (thanks Bingam!). I'll just add that we're going by the "wiki definition" of an anti-hero. Without straying into verboten "religion territory" (hopefully), I'll just say that the "heroes" from the legends and myths of the Sumerians all the way up to the Norse and the Gaels (with the pre-Exilic Hebrews in there somewhere) resembled Conan just as much as the "standard hero". The exploits of ancient heroes such as Hercules or King David do NOT hold up well in a "classic hero" test, when closely scrutinized. The concept of a "hero" has been bowdlerized (or "perfected", depending on one's point of view) somewhat over the years, IMO. Thus, the need for "anti-heroes" to fill the "heroic gap" left thereby (once again, IMO). I would broaden Taranaich's perceptive assertion by saying that MANY "heroes" of myth/legend/literature share Conan's hero/anti-hero/villain status, they're just not held up as "role models" very often in these times. :)

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#10 crossplain pilgrim

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Posted 29 April 2009 - 03:10 AM

The lordless samurai in Kurosawa's "Yojimbo" and the Man Without A Name gunfighter in Leone's "Fistful of Dollars" are classic anti-heroes. A simple definition for me of an anti-hero is a formidable protagonist who, while acting in his own self-interest, commits acts of heroism that benefit others than just himself. As Mikey C pointed out earlier, Conan certainly fits the anti-hero role in his early adventures, but although imbued with a healthy cynicism about human nature, the mature King Conan fits more solidly into the mold of a classical hero.
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#11 Grimr

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Posted 29 April 2009 - 07:44 AM

I go with the development theme. Anti-hero when younger, but as he matures and his values change then he does become a hero. Just ask the people of Aquilonia who he liberated from their tyrannical king - they certainly see him as a hero. And if he isn't one at the start of his reign (taking the crown could still be seen as a selfish act) then he certainly becomes one in the eyes of his subjects. Perhaps the difference between hero and anti-hero is how we as the reader see Conan, knowing his inner workings, motivation etc., and how he would be viewed by those he met in throughout his life. To some of those who met or had dealings with him, even the Eastwood's anti-hero 'man with no name' would be seen as a hero. A matter of perspective?

Edited by Grimr, 29 April 2009 - 07:47 AM.

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#12 Crom's bells

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Posted 29 April 2009 - 10:38 AM

Very interesting discussion. I agree with everyone here. It seems that in Conan's younger days, he would seem to be looking out only for himself, but like what Taranaich said, he has an innate good in him that differentiates himself from other anti-heroes, much like Han Solo. The unique trait about Conan is that his personality in his early years was simple, untampered and raw. His mentality was just to survive in a civilized society of degenerates. However, in stories like TotE, as mentioned Conan did possess traits like compassion. I wouldn't place him under the category of anti heroes, but I can't say REH doesn't make him out to be like one at times

#13 Bingam Vici

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Posted 29 April 2009 - 12:47 PM

Thanks for comments))
I think it is not necessary to underestimate young Сonan, because of that that he is a barbarian

(At each person is as positive, so negative qualities. What to speak about the literary character? It is not interesting to read about absolutely kind)

I am simply surprised by that, of Сonan always do it is not known whom.
He is not the villain it is exact))))

#14 ?sir

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Posted 29 April 2009 - 03:53 PM

..taking the crown could still be seen as a selfish act..


And it most certainly is in my opinion. Conan desires to try being king. It's an adventure for him. A new place to travel to. So he does. However once he becomes king he lives up to the responsibility and rules justly. Perhaps he used the situation to his advantage that the current rules was an ass and he knew that it was a perfect opportunity for him to take the crown, because people wouldn't object? So while going for what he wanted to try out he did it under circumstances that made him look like a hero in the eyes of those who didn't know his motivation. And once there he decided to settle down, and be a responsible adult? Just speculating..

#15 Crom's bells

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Posted 29 April 2009 - 04:55 PM

I believe that's the most reasonable speculation, as it's also what I had in mind. It just so happened that Nemedides was an irresponsible tyrant, who did not fulfill his duties as king. By the way, is there an official REH story detailing how and why Conan seized the throne? Or is this left to the comics and the imagination of the fans?

#16 Mikey_C

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Posted 29 April 2009 - 08:10 PM

By the way, is there an official REH story detailing how and why Conan seized the throne?


Sadly, no. The only version is by L. Sprague de Camp who blocked Karl Edward Wagner from writing a far better account.
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#17 Ironhand

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Posted 30 April 2009 - 10:38 AM

Some great replies above (thanks Bingam!). I'll just add that we're going by the "wiki definition" of an anti-hero. Without straying into verboten "religion territory" (hopefully), I'll just say that the "heroes" from the legends and myths of the Sumerians all the way up to the Norse and the Gaels (with the pre-Exilic Hebrews in there somewhere) resembled Conan just as much as the "standard hero". The exploits of ancient heroes such as Hercules or King David do NOT hold up well in a "classic hero" test, when closely scrutinized. The concept of a "hero" has been bowdlerized (or "perfected", depending on one's point of view) somewhat over the years, IMO. Thus, the need for "anti-heroes" to fill the "heroic gap" left thereby (once again, IMO). I would broaden Taranaich's perceptive assertion by saying that MANY "heroes" of myth/legend/literature share Conan's hero/anti-hero/villain status, they're just not held up as "role models" very often in these times. :)

Deuce, you've said some of the same things I would have said.

The definition of "hero" has changed, probably in the very late Middle Ages or Renaissance. The modern hero is a moral hero, meeting all the prerequisites of a Boy Scout, but grown up and physically superior to those around him. Prior to the rise of the modern hero, a hero was a protagonist who prevailed, and that was his primary characteristic. He was "diamond-hard", ie, he was not changed by his environment or circumstances, instead he left his mark on them. Some times that meant doing some really horrible things. In addition, he was loyal to his friends and followers. He would betray neither himself nor his friends and followers. Conan meets the definition of this old-fashioned hero. Does this make him an antihero by modern standards? I don't know.

Edited by Ironhand, 30 April 2009 - 10:48 AM.

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#18 Ironhand

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Posted 30 April 2009 - 10:45 AM

It is really hard, if not impossible, to analyze Conan's accession (usurpation?) to kingship. REH might have had something definitive to say about that, had he written about it. But he didn't, more's the pity. Maybe even REH found that a tough nut to crack, or maybe he would have written that story had he lived longer. I do think that any pastichier who wants to write this story needs to think hard and deep about it, and not set out to just write a romp, a fun adventure story.

Edited by Ironhand, 30 April 2009 - 10:50 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

#19 ?sir

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Posted 30 April 2009 - 12:07 PM

The definition of "hero" has changed, probably in the very late Middle Ages or Renaissance. The modern hero is a moral hero, meeting all the prerequisites of a Boy Scout, but grown up and physically superior to those around him. Prior to the rise of the modern hero, a hero was a protagonist who prevailed, and that was his primary characteristic. He was "diamond-hard", ie, he was not changed by his environment or circumstances, instead he left his mark on them. Some times that meant doing some really horrible things. In addition, he was loyal to his friends and followers. He would betray neither himself nor his friends and followers. Conan meets the definition of this old-fashioned hero. Does this make him an antihero by modern standards? I don't know.


Good point. In the old Icelandic viking sagas the heroes are certainly not always thoroughly nice people. There are more examples from that era as well.

#20 amster

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Posted 30 April 2009 - 12:49 PM

It is really hard, if not impossible, to analyze Conan's accession (usurpation?) to kingship. REH might have had something definitive to say about that, had he written about it. But he didn't, more's the pity. Maybe even REH found that a tough nut to crack, or maybe he would have written that story had he lived longer. I do think that any pastichier who wants to write this story needs to think hard and deep about it, and not set out to just write a romp, a fun adventure story.


Most writers would have felt the need to document how Conan went from mercenary to king. And they would have felt the need to document how Conan went from Cimmeria to civilization. But not REH. That's just not how he rolled. Maybe that's why no REH has ever been successfully translated to the screen, and why screenwriters are apparently dumbfounded by his work and unwilling to even try. They're simply not capable of thinking like him. They're stuck within their "safe" cliches of how a narrative is supposed to be structured.
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