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Conan's Morality and the Slaughter of Innocents


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#21 amster

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 04:50 AM

i always considered the people on other ships he was attacking (unless filled with nuns and orphans lol) to be like palace guards .
if the guards king is after conan but guard has no issue with conan does that mean hes an innocent ?
an when burning a village i really cant see him executing women and children men who could fight sure but not everyone ;)


To put this in a modern perspective, would you consider merchant sailors who are hijacked by Somali Pirates to be like "palace guards"?

As for the Conan stories themselves, I'll let REH dod the talking:

So they beat southward, and master Tito began to look for the high-walled villages of the black people. But they found only smoking ruins on the shore of a bay, littered with naked black bodies. Tito swore.

"I had good trade here, aforetime. This is the work of pirates."

"And if we meet them?" Conan loosened his great blade in its scabbard.

"Mine is no warship. We run, not fight. Yet if it came to a pinch, we have beaten off reavers before, and might do it again; unless it were Bel?t's Tigress."

"Who is Bel?t?"

"The wildest she-devil unhanged. Unless I read the signs awrong, it was her butchers who destroyed that village on the bay. May I some day see her dangling from the yard-arm! She is called the queen of the black coast. She is a Shemite woman, who leads black raiders. They harry the shipping and have sent many a good tradesman to the bottom."


REH was very clear in the language he used. The Tigress didn't prey on "palace guards". It preyed on merchant vessels. Tradesmen. People who didn't stand a chance against her. People who would "run, rather than fight". And she also didn't just prey on shipping, but on villages as well. Not walled cities with an organized militia. Villages who were hopelessly outmatched. And apparently it was not enough for Belit and her corsairs to merely rob them and let them keep their lives like most historical pirates did. The crew of the Tigress were particuarly bloodthirsty, preferring to slaughter their victims wholesale. Conan had no compunctions about joining up with them to share in their merry adventures, even after seeing first hand what they were capable of. The Black Corsairs, including Conan and Belit, were terrorists. Plain and simple.
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--Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, ca. June 1928--

#22 Fernando

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 04:56 AM

i always considered the people on other ships he was attacking (unless filled with nuns and orphans lol) to be like palace guards .
if the guards king is after conan but guard has no issue with conan does that mean hes an innocent ?
an when burning a village i really cant see him executing women and children men who could fight sure but not everyone ;)


To put this in a modern perspective, would you consider merchant sailors who are hijacked by Somali Pirates to be like "palace guards"?

As for the Conan stories themselves, I'll let REH dod the talking:

So they beat southward, and master Tito began to look for the high-walled villages of the black people. But they found only smoking ruins on the shore of a bay, littered with naked black bodies. Tito swore.

"I had good trade here, aforetime. This is the work of pirates."

"And if we meet them?" Conan loosened his great blade in its scabbard.

"Mine is no warship. We run, not fight. Yet if it came to a pinch, we have beaten off reavers before, and might do it again; unless it were Bel?t's Tigress."

"Who is Bel?t?"

"The wildest she-devil unhanged. Unless I read the signs awrong, it was her butchers who destroyed that village on the bay. May I some day see her dangling from the yard-arm! She is called the queen of the black coast. She is a Shemite woman, who leads black raiders. They harry the shipping and have sent many a good tradesman to the bottom."


REH was very clear in the language he used. The Tigress didn't prey on "palace guards". It preyed on merchant vessels. Tradesmen. People who didn't stand a chance against her. People who would "run, rather than fight". And she also didn't just prey on shipping, but on villages as well. Not walled cities with an organized militia. Villages who were hopelessly outmatched. And apparently it was not enough for Belit and her corsairs to merely rob them and let them keep their lives like most historical pirates did. The crew of the Tigress were particuarly bloodthirsty, preferring to slaughter their victims wholesale. Conan had no compunctions about joining up with them to share in their merry adventures, even after seeing first hand what they were capable of. The Black Corsairs, including Conan and Belit, were terrorists. Plain and simple.


IMO, Conan could had, during the time he was sailing in the Tigress, changed some Belit's manners... ;)

#23 amster

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 05:21 AM

IMO, Conan could had, during the time he was sailing in the Tigress, changed some Belit's manners... ;)


Perhaps we should rewrite the beginning of Chapter 2: :D

The Tigress ranged the sea, and the black villages rejoiced. Tomtoms beat in the night, with a tale that the she-devil of the sea had found a mate, an iron man whose affable nature finally chilled that crazy b!tch out.
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--Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, ca. June 1928--

#24 Axerules

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 05:24 AM

Hi Fernando!

"Customs differ in various countries, but if a man is strong enough, he can enforce a few of his native customs anywhere. And no man ever called me a weakling!".

So what?

Who said that the "customs" of the Cimmerians forbid "butchery"? AFAIK, Conan and his ilk didn't spare the settlers of Venarium.

Thus, I'm sure Conan would never allow butchering of innocents, neither rapes, when he was leader of whatever warriors - pirates, Zuagirs, Kozaks or Bamulas.

Wishful thinking, IMO.

The barbarian instigated a massacre in The Vale of Lost Women.

In case you forgot:

At her peep-hole, Livia stood frozen, white as a statue, her golden locks drawn back and grasped in a knotted cluster with both hands at her temples. Her eyes were dilated, her whole body rigid. The yells of pain and fury smote her tortured nerves like a physical impact; the writhing, slashing forms blurred before her, then sprang out again with horrifying distinctness. She saw spears sink into writhing black bodies, spilling red. She saw clubs swing and descend with brutal force on kinky heads. Brands were kicked out of the fires, scattering sparks; hut-thatches smoldered and blazed up. A fresh stridency of anguish cut through the cries, as living victims were hurled headfirst into the blazing structures. The scent of scorched flesh began to sicken the air, already rank with reeking sweat and fresh blood.
(...)
She was aware of no pity for the victims who were dying wholesale under the dripping spears. Her only emotion was blind, stark, mad, unreasoning fear. She saw Conan, his white form contrasting with the blacks. She saw his sword flash, and men went down around him. Now a struggling knot swept around a fire, and she glimpsed a fat squat shape writhing in its midst. Conan ploughed through and was hidden from view by the twisting black figures. From the midst a thin squealing rose unbearably. The press split for an instant, and she had one awful glimpse of a reeling desperate squat figure, streaming blood. Then the throng crowded in again, and steel flashed in the mob like a beam of lightning through the dusk.


REH used -twice- the word "victims".

Victims.
Not necessarily "warriors".

Conan unleashed his bloodthirsty Bamulan underlings on the Bakalahs, who were butchered.

Sorry, but I haven't read A SINGLE WORD in this story about Conan giving instructions to his fighters to SPARE the women nor the "innocents" during this bloodbath.
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#25 Axerules

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 05:32 AM

Perhaps we should rewrite the beginning of Chapter 2: :D

The Tigress ranged the sea, and the black villages rejoiced. Tomtoms beat in the night, with a tale that the she-devil of the sea had found a mate, an iron man whose affable nature finally chilled that crazy b!tch out.

:lol:
You're a meany man...who's mean, Amster. :P
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#26 Fernando

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 05:32 AM

Sorry, but I haven't read A SINGLE WORD in this story about Conan giving instructions to his fighters to SPARE the women nor the "innocents" during this bloodbath.


Hi, Axerules! :)

Did you forget TVotLW only shows Conan's deeds Livia saw, and Conan's speechs Livia heard? ;) I'm sure she was too frightened for hearing whatever Conan's single word for sparing Bakalahs women and children. B)

Who said that the "customs" of the Cimmerians forbid "butchery"? AFAIK, Conan and his ilk didn't spare the settlers of Venarium.


At Venarium, Conan was still a immature teenager in his first battle, not a 20-30-40 years-old leader. ;)

#27 Axerules

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 05:42 AM

I'm sorry, but it seems you didn't get my points, Fernando.

1) During the massacre, REH wrote "victims".

Apparently, those victims were not only fighters.

2) My other point was that the "customs" of the Cimmerians (evidently, Conan wasn't their leader back then) didn't forbid the killing of settlers. Thus your previous quote about "customs" does NOT prove that Conan was a good guy.
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#28 deuce

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 06:19 AM

IMO, Conan could had, during the time he was sailing in the Tigress, changed some Belit's manners... ;)


Perhaps we should rewrite the beginning of Chapter 2: :D

The Tigress ranged the sea, and the black villages rejoiced. Tomtoms beat in the night, with a tale that the she-devil of the sea had found a mate, an iron man whose affable nature finally chilled that crazy b!tch out.



:lol:
:lol:
:lol:

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#29 Crom's bells

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 06:43 AM

Interesting that you have used TVoLW as an example. To me, it never occurred that the "blacks" were innocent people, women or not, since Howard was also racist. The context of the story appeared that everyone in Bajujh's tribe was bad. If you think gender and innocence is synonymous, you're wrong. "Innocent" in the sense that perhaps they're unarmed, and unskilled with weapons, but certainly not do-gooders as we know that term. Look at Livia's female captor:

The young black woman laughed evilly, with a flash of dark eyes and white teeth, and with a hiss of spiteful obscenity and a mocking caress that was more gross than her language, she turned and swaggered out of the hut, expressing more taunting insolence with the motions of her hips than any civilized woman could with spoken insults.

Rather than this part just acting as filler, it is quite clear to me that Howard set this as the stage for a further explanation to Bajujh's tribe, on the malevolence of every single person in there. He does not mention the children though, so that leaves us open to further speculation on their fate, but for now, even if we assume that both men and women were killed in the fight, they were most probably anything but "innocent".

Sorry, but I haven't read A SINGLE WORD in this story about Conan giving instructions to his fighters to SPARE the women nor the "innocents" during this bloodbath.


It doesn't mean that he would personally commit the acts himself :).

He is a greedy man, therefore he often goes under the law to get what he wants.
He has never been explicitly mentioned to butcher innocent people (and in anticipation of such a reply, discounting the guy in RitH, since we don't know much about him too).

1) During the massacre, REH wrote "victims".


Interesting, but there's another way to see this figuratively - that they were "victims" because they were outmatched by Conan and the Bamulahs. They were drunk, they had just feasted, they had no time to gather their spears. It was like lambs to the slaughter, but only because they were helpless. That doesn't exclude the fact that they'd backstab Conan the next day.

--------------

Another thing to note in QotBC, is that Conan uses force and violence only when his circumstances deny his survivability. Look at this:

"I pay my way with steel ... by Crom, man, if you don't get under way, I'll drench this galley with the blood of its crew!"

Here, violence was used as the negotiating tool, but to what extent? Conan only uses it for intimidation, though he is true to what he says. Therefore, it's the bargaining chip - but could it have been much more? Conan had the option to cleave a few sailors to intimidate the captain, if he was truly that vicious.

I have something to say about Conan and the corsairs too. Just because he is with them, just because they slaughter innocent people, doesn't mean Conan partake in it. Firstly, he joined them only because he could either screw a really hot female pirate, or go down with the Argus. Secondly, just because he is Belit's first mate doesn't mean he has to slaughter helpless people begging for mercy. As mentioned, there are survivors of Stygian ships, suggesting that the Black Corsairs didn't just engage them on all out killing - plunder and loot was the ultimate goal. Could Conan possibly have spared those who were on their knees, offering their loot, hoping to be spared?

Also, Conan was "the arm that carried out (Belit's) ideas". True, killing was done, but this statement is shady and ambiguous at best. There are many ways that could have gone with this. I think for the most part, Stygian ships were the ones picked on, and in QotBC, the southern coast of Stygia was depicted as not a very nice place to trade in, where "ships did not put unasked (...), where dusky sorcerers wove awful spells in the murk of sacrificial smoke mounting eternally from blood-stained altars where naked women screamed". I think for the most part, Conan was busy fighting Stygians, and since I think he mentioned in another story that he has no love for Stygians, Howard has painted him in a "better" color rather than just an evil corsair.

It's possible that Conan would kill any resistance, as he still believed that Crom gives men the ability to fight, and therefore death was unavoidable in a fight. But people who he believed were weaker - there's a possibility that they were let off.

Edited by Crom's bells, 24 July 2009 - 06:46 AM.


#30 awesomeshotdude

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 03:38 PM

During Conan's days as a swashbuckling pirate, he burns and plunders villages, but does he actually slaughter innocents?


Innocents judged by a western 21st century standard or innocents judged by a pre-historic standard where customs and beliefs etc could (and do in the fantasy Hyborian world) vary immensely from our modern era ?

From a Cimmerian point of view, I wonder if it was wrong or frowned upon to kill "innocents" in the pursuit of personal benefit (survival of the fittest) or during the bloodlust of battle. Didn't the Cimmerians also raid the villages of neighbouring countries, Asgard and Vanaheim....sometimes in retaliation to their raids on Cimmerians. I wonder what happened to those that lived in those villages. When your body is coursing with adrenaline and your mind set is vengeful you do things that you might not normally do if thinking rationally. Perhaps starting out on a raid a person?s intentions might not be to hurt anyone unnecessarily, however, once the blood starts flowing, that person may see things differently or simply become out of control....

I don't think Conan slaughters innocent people simply because his beliefs are, for whatever reason, that those that he decides to kill are not innocent. He may have killed what he would perceive as innocents in the past through accident or in an uncontrolled killing frenzy where they were in the wrong place at the wrong time though, and possibly regretted it later on.

I think you've made some really good points in your post above this one, and I agree with some of it. I just wanted to address a couple of points from it though.

"I pay my way with steel ... by Crom, man, if you don't get under way, I'll drench this galley with the blood of its crew!"


Here, violence was used as the negotiating tool, but to what extent? Conan only uses it for intimidation, though he is true to what he says. Therefore, it's the bargaining chip - but could it have been much more? Conan had the option to cleave a few sailors to intimidate the captain, if he was truly that vicious.


Conan wasn't negotiating or bargaining here, he was threatening, there's a major difference. He probably didn't kill any sailors because;

1) He didn't really have time to,
2) He may not have thought that he needed to,
3) He didn't want to risk alienating himself from the crew/captain any further than what he already was, and
4) If he did, the captain may have been pushed enough to refuse Conan thereby seeing Conan getting caught by the Guard that was chasing him.......a threat may have been enough to convince the captain, slaughter of his crew may have been too much.

I have something to say about Conan and the corsairs too. Just because he is with them, just because they slaughter innocent people, doesn't mean Conan partake in it.


If it was Conan's belief that these were innocent people being slaughtered, and he consorted with their killers under the premise that it's Ok for him to stand by as long as he didn't take part in the slaughtering of those he thought of as innocent people, then that would suggest that Conan is capable of self delusion on a grand scale, which I don't think is the case. I just can't swallow that he could live as comfortably as he did in these times, with such a conflict of interests hanging over his head.
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#31 Buxom Sorceress

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 04:09 PM

All pirates [ who murder, rape, etc. ] should be hanged !
:angry:

BTW, I find it ridiculous that a thieving, murdering bastard like Conan could ever become king of a huge 'civilised' realm like Aquilonia.

him becoming a brutal 'king' of a small island of brutal pirates would be much more believable?

actually, now i think more of it... most kings come from powerful families of thieving, murdering bastards... so perhaps REH is making a deep statement about the raw stuff of ruthless kings and 'royal' families...?

Hang Conan...
and see how many vultures he bites before he finally dies...?? ;)
[ he has a strong neck ]

while we are on this 'pirating' subject:
most pirates rape, torture, and murder their innocent victims.
so can we assume that the big lusty Cimmerian did such dastardly crimes while he was part of the savage pirate gangs?

pretty uncomfortable thinking, eh?
no wonder REH quickly glossed over such horrors, and led us swiftly on into his action adventures.
--
but, this is fantasy swords & sorcery, so we should not get too picky?
but its interesting to discuss.
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#32 Crom's bells

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 06:31 PM

but, this is fantasy swords & sorcery, so we should not get too picky?
but its interesting to discuss.


Not being picky, but like you said, "interesting to discuss" is why I started this topic - I knew there would be so many differing opinions. The thing about Howard's Conan is that there is no fixed interpretation, and as much sense as one argument can make, it also cannot be considered a universally accepted truth because there is no hard evidence to support it. There is no detailed short story or text that explicitly shows what he did or did not do, or what he was like at certain points of his life. The only way to support one's perspective is to draw inferences and assumptions from other stories, and what one would think makes the most logical sense in the context.

Had Howard not died at such a young age, had he continued on with his career for several more years, we might have more yarns and text to solve this debate. I am even inclined to believe that he did not have the intention to leave Conan's legacy hanging like that. His death is such an ironic coincidence. Just think, if he did not pull the trigger, this forum might've been rather quiet. So, maybe it's all for the best ;)

#33 guilalah

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 06:19 PM

http://www.rehupa.com/?page_id=172

'Robert Ervin Howard Goes To The Movies'

Rusty Burke


REH to To Harold Preece, ca. July 1928
"I saw ?The Wizard? and thought it was red hot. Also ?What Price Glory? which is in my opinion the nearest thing to a masterpiece ever filmed. Those boys were tough, though frankly not as tough as I expected, though if they had been any more so they would have seemed brutal and would have lost the sympathy of the spectators, I reckon."

Edited by guilalah, 28 July 2009 - 06:20 PM.


#34 Libaax

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Posted 01 August 2009 - 04:26 PM

All pirates [ who murder, rape, etc. ] should be hanged !
:angry:

BTW, I find it ridiculous that a thieving, murdering bastard like Conan could ever become king of a huge 'civilised' realm like Aquilonia.

him becoming a brutal 'king' of a small island of brutal pirates would be much more believable?

actually, now i think more of it... most kings come from powerful families of thieving, murdering bastards... so perhaps REH is making a deep statement about the raw stuff of ruthless kings and 'royal' families...?

Hang Conan...
and see how many vultures he bites before he finally dies...?? ;)
[ he has a strong neck ]

while we are on this 'pirating' subject:
most pirates rape, torture, and murder their innocent victims.
so can we assume that the big lusty Cimmerian did such dastardly crimes while he was part of the savage pirate gangs?

pretty uncomfortable thinking, eh?
no wonder REH quickly glossed over such horrors, and led us swiftly on into his action adventures.
--
but, this is fantasy swords & sorcery, so we should not get too picky?
but its interesting to discuss.
----
THANKS for this topic, and the many great posts in here. :)



Glossed over ? Have you read Queen of the Black Coast ? Conan and his beloved pirate queen are shown to loot,kill. People of The Black Circle etc



The reason you dont react on the violent,murderous side of Conan is REH showed many scenes of that. Conan is of his "times" and people who looted and killed.

It would be unrealistic if Conan wasnt a villain in some of his stories. Seeing as who he is suppose to be and every kind of thief, other bad thing he has been..

Fantasy ? How about Vikings, they werent nice to the people they raided,killed but no one blames them for that today.
Heck every historical "hero" from Caesar,Alexander to Genghis Khan was mass murderer in their times.

'Civilised' realm like Aquilonia ? There are many times in history where the brute,the powerful conquers civilised a empire,kingdom. Military power,leadership has created many kings in history of other people.

Edited by Libaax, 01 August 2009 - 04:34 PM.


#35 Boot

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 04:37 PM

Conan is often portrayed as "good guy" in the comics and pastiches. Howard, to me, writes him more in the "grey', but not necessarily a "bad" guy.

What I'm curious about is how Conan copes during the times he's been the leader of a band of warriors--when he lead the Kozaki/Zuagir/Free Company/Red Brotherhood or even as the general of the host of some southern nation.

The kozaks, zuagir, and the Red Brotherhood, at least, were known for their maurading, pilliaging, and plundering. Isn't this type of activity synonymous with rape, theft, and murder? Weren't towns sacked and burned to the ground?

And Conan, as leader of these bands at different times in his life, condoned this activity, yes? He allowed his men to burn the houses of poor people? He allowed the murder of children? He allowed their mothers and sisters raped?

Or, are we to assume that the kozaks, zuagir, and Red Brotherhood (not to mention his Free Company and any army he's lead in his life) supported themselves in a "nice" way.

Thoughts?

#36 ZackDavisson

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 09:50 PM

I don't think he was any of these. From what I gather, Howard defined Conan by his barbarianism, meaning a more primal understanding of the world undefined by "civilized" notions of good and evil. Is the tiger good or evil? The wolf? The snake?


I am sure the more heady Howard scholars could chime in, but that is my understanding.

#37 Lunatic

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 10:02 PM

Historically it is the responsibility of the commander do discipline his men, but the culture and army tradition also play its part. I see Conan as an antihero-type. He will do what is right when he can, but he is not the crusader type. Also consider the culture of the cities burned...did they not have a slave economy? Did they not watch criminals be torn apart by lions for fun at weekends? "Greyness" indeed. But, we should analyze the Howard stories to get the answer, although I think Conan is more than the stories.

Frostgiant´s Daughter a rape story?

Well, to Conans defense, he did get a big punch on the head, denting his helmet. Dazed and confused he was teased with magic to chase the "white lady". Would he have had his way with her? He was certainly on his way, after killing the giants.

Still, REH does, end this chain of events, letting her supernatural father come to the rescue. So there is an answer I guess, he is not supposed to be a rapist. Immoral yes, thief yes, womanizer yes, will he slay you for a silvercoin? Maybe, but still with a code of honour.

The story ask the awkward question, is there a situation when a man would do bad bad things to a hot hot girl?

#38 Kortoso

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 10:15 PM

This related thread may be of interest:
http://www.conan.com...l=&fromsearch=1

#39 Gin-Wulf

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 11:29 PM

well i don't see frost giants daughter as a rape story , he is maddened by her and is half dead, she enchants men to fallow her, so in that it is not just conans own wants.and when she called for her farther was because conan was catching her, she was scared , no mortal had every done that or killed her brothers, she had bit off more than she could handle with conan.
and for his pirating and marauding days, id say his men cut down every person who picked up a weapon and fought back, and would for sure burn the city /town. but i don't see him being ok wit h slaughter of the unarmed and or those women and children running out of the town. and anytime he was in charge of a group marauding boarders or such the places he was raiding were more than not , kingdoms that were less than nice to there people or others.
take vale of the lost women, at first conan pretty much laughs at the girl who is slave there, knowing the land he is in it was common thing, then decides he should not act like that just because he is in that land and decides to save her with out forcing himself on her.
also a bit racist but in the black stranger, he says white men should not leave white men to be butchered by picts even if he is his enemy.and i believe the only time he has and issue with slavery is when people enslave there own kind, he makes reference to that in a few stories.

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 02:13 AM

Gosh! hero-antihero, the subject is complicated.

As I ramble on however, The Tower of the Elephant is a good example of Conan´s morality. In the beginning of the story there is a kothian swine of a man, bragging about his expertise in trafficking. Conan, is a thief in this story and so are most people in the drinking place. So no one is breaking the law. He wants information about the Elephant tower, so he approaches the Kothian. But, surely he could have gotten that from any other drunkard in that place.

It ends with a slaying, and Conan fleeing the scene. It wasn´t self defence because he was obviously picking a fight. He didn´t stalk the kidnapper in the alley outside, hiding the body in the cesspools like a cutthroat.

So, it wasn´t deliberate murder. He just got angry...

Of course this is my own reflections, about that story...I am just a spear carrier here.