Jump to content


Photo

Conan's Morality and the Slaughter of Innocents


  • Please log in to reply
113 replies to this topic

#41 Boot

Boot

    Mauler of Shadizar

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 965 posts

Posted 12 November 2011 - 03:18 AM

In Black Colossus, Conan notes how plunder is good for a mercenary company. If you steal a family's food and burn their house, you're condeming them to starvation and possibly death in the face of the elements. That's just the same as murder.

In Red Nails, Conan traveled leagues for one thing--to bed Valeria. And, Conan tells Valeria, in so many words, that if she hangs out in a war-camp of men, she can expect to get raped.

I think that the "heroic" version of Conan comes mainly from the comics and pastiches. I'm reading the Dark Horse Free Companions collection right now, and there is a scene where two of Conan's men are chasing down a farm girl in order to rape her. Conan sees this, stops it, and knocks his men around. The Robert Jordan Conan, certainly, is written as a more traditional hero than what Howard writes.

Of course, not all pastiches are written with a heroic Conan. Andrew Offutt's Conan The Sword of Skelos has an intense scene (that is translated extremely well in the Savage Sword of Conan Omnibus) where Conan is so intent on bedding Isparana that his actions would have been considered rape but were not only because Isparana finally relented and welcomed Conan's touch.

Isparana is an interesting character. Offutt's prose has Conan considering Isparana because she has been raped so many times in her past that now she just looks upon it as an fact of life. Conan admires the strength Isparana displays in being a survivor, no matter the trial.

I think Offutt has a better handle on the Conan character than he is usually credited, and I'm firmly in the camp that Conan is really a force of nature. He lives by a code, but that code is a barbaric code and not what we, today, would normally think of as "good".

In real life, Conan would be a scary sonofagun.

Edited by Boot, 12 November 2011 - 03:29 AM.


#42 Boot

Boot

    Mauler of Shadizar

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 965 posts

Posted 12 November 2011 - 03:33 AM

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.


Yet, in The God in the Bowl, Conan wins his freedom from captivity with a promise of murder. Literally, Conan intends to be an assassin, knowing little of his target, and seemingly not caring if his target is a "good" man.

Edited by Boot, 12 November 2011 - 03:34 AM.


#43 EM Erdelac

EM Erdelac

    Adventurer

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 324 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Beyond the border.

Posted 12 November 2011 - 04:43 AM

I think in a lot of his adventures Conan is not really a hero. He's the protagonist. In the course of his actions he sometimes acts heroic, but like it's been said, he's a barbarian. The things he does are almost never out of altruisim. He's a bit of a sociopath really, he lives according to his own code judging an individual's sense of worth on a case by case basis, doesn't he? I think if Howard had written more Conan stories, maybe we would've have seen his gradual transition into a more heroic person, probably as he gained his kingship. In Hour Of The Dragon he's furious at the thought of his people under another ruler. He has by this time in his life, come to see himself as Aquilonia's protector. I suspect chronologically in his life, Black Colossus was probably the first major turning point in his character. I'm by no means an expert on the chronology of the stories, but as I always saw it, Conan's career went, barbarian, thief/assassin, pirate, mercenary, commander, king, and so too, we must assume, evolved his personality. As he came to be responsible for the lives of worthy men, he probably started to care about his subordinates more.

Edited by EM Erdelac, 12 November 2011 - 04:44 AM.


#44 Ironhand

Ironhand

    The Mad Playwright

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,013 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Saint Louis, MO, USA

Posted 12 November 2011 - 07:52 AM


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.


Yet, in The God in the Bowl, Conan wins his freedom from captivity with a promise of murder. Literally, Conan intends to be an assassin, knowing little of his target, and seemingly not caring if his target is a "good" man.

You mean "Rogues in the House"?
"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

#45 Boot

Boot

    Mauler of Shadizar

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 965 posts

Posted 12 November 2011 - 08:02 AM

You mean "Rogues in the House"?


Yes, I do. :rolleyes:

#46 Ironhand

Ironhand

    The Mad Playwright

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,013 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Saint Louis, MO, USA

Posted 12 November 2011 - 08:06 AM

IMO, Conan's barbarian ethic is that anyone who isn't a member of his own tribe/clan/band/crew/kingdom is a legitimate target. He would never have conceived of following a career as a thief or an assassin within his own tribe, among his own people. I don't think this ethic even extended to Cimmerians not of his tribe; he, as I imagine any other Cimmerian would have, would have had no compunction about raiding other Cimmerian tribes. But as a reiver or a merc, his band/crew/ army replaced his tribe in his loyalties.

IMHO, the worst, most unethical thing that Conan ever did was in "Teeth of Gwahlur/Servants of Bit-Yakin", where he took a position as a general leading the army of the kingdom of Keshan, intending all along to betray the kingdom and his employers and followers by stealing the national treasure. IMHO Conan was thereby betraying his own ethics. In no other story did he sink so low, not in FGD, and not in VoLW.

Edited by Ironhand, 12 November 2011 - 08:09 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

#47 Gin-Wulf

Gin-Wulf

    Mauler of Shadizar

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 723 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:mountains always covered in fog

Posted 12 November 2011 - 02:23 PM

i don't see the TEETh story as like that, as you said he took the job in order to get at the treasure so the kingdom was not taking the place of his clan, it was a tool he used to get what he wanted. so i don't really see that as betraying his own ethics., now if he had known nothing of the jewels but then found out of them and left all his men to steal them that could be abandoning ethics. but as the story is conan holds to his ethics by going after what he was seeking being damned with the rest.

#48 Ironhand

Ironhand

    The Mad Playwright

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,013 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Saint Louis, MO, USA

Posted 13 November 2011 - 07:20 AM

By taking the job, he accepted leadership of his soldiers and responsibility to his employers. He probably had to swear some sort of oath of allegiance in order to get the position. The fact that his intentions were dishonorable does not lessen the dishonor.

Edited by Ironhand, 13 November 2011 - 08:55 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

#49 deuce

deuce

    The OG of "Psychotic Maladjustment"

  • Moderators
  • 13,194 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Serpent-haunted SEK, beside the Lake of the Mound

Posted 13 November 2011 - 08:41 AM

IMO, Conan's barbarian ethic is that anyone who isn't a member of his own tribe/clan/band/crew/kingdom is a legitimate target. He would never have conceived of following a career as a thief or an assassin within his own tribe, among his own people. I don't think this ethic even extended to Cimmerians not of his tribe; he, as I imagine any other Cimmerian would have, would have had no compunction about raiding other Cimmerian tribes. But as a reiver or a merc, his band/crew/ army replaced his tribe in his loyalties.


Very astute, Ironhand. B) Then again, we've always been on the same page regarding this issue.

IMO, the worst, most unethical thing that Conan ever did was in "Teeth of Gwahlur/Servants of Bit-Yakin", where he took a position as a general leading the army of the kingdom of Keshan, intending all along to betray the kingdom and his employers and followers by stealing the national treasure. IMHO Conan was thereby betraying his own ethics. In no other story did he sink so low, not in FGD, and not in VoLW.


Arguable, but I think you're right. Just one reason that "Servants" counts as one of my LEAST favorite Conan yarns (plot, etc, counts for the rest). In "Vale", Conan was just a gangster amongst a gangster culture.

Support the Robert E. Howard Foundation. It helps you and Robert E. Howard's legacy.


#50 amster

amster

    Maladjusted to the point of pychosis

  • Banned
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 6,219 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Outside the ordered universe, where the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity.

Posted 13 November 2011 - 11:55 AM


IMO, Conan's barbarian ethic is that anyone who isn't a member of his own tribe/clan/band/crew/kingdom is a legitimate target. He would never have conceived of following a career as a thief or an assassin within his own tribe, among his own people. I don't think this ethic even extended to Cimmerians not of his tribe; he, as I imagine any other Cimmerian would have, would have had no compunction about raiding other Cimmerian tribes. But as a reiver or a merc, his band/crew/ army replaced his tribe in his loyalties.


Very astute, Ironhand. B) Then again, we've always been on the same page regarding this issue.


I agree as well. Though I would point out that all humans are hardwired with a "Wolf Pack" mentaility, it would be especially true in barbaric cultures.

http://www.cracked.c...nkeysphere.html
Posted Image
Money and muscle, that's what I want; to be able to do any damned thing I want and get away with it. Money won't do that altogether, because if a man is a weakling, all the money in the world won't enable him to soak an enemy himself; on the other hand, unless he has money he may not be able to get away with it.
--Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, ca. June 1928--

#51 deuce

deuce

    The OG of "Psychotic Maladjustment"

  • Moderators
  • 13,194 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Serpent-haunted SEK, beside the Lake of the Mound

Posted 13 November 2011 - 01:07 PM


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.


Yet, in The God in the Bowl, Conan wins his freedom from captivity with a promise of murder. Literally, Conan intends to be an assassin, knowing little of his target, and seemingly not caring if his target is a "good" man.


Don't forget "Conan the Throat-Slitter" in BC.

Edited by deuce, 13 November 2011 - 01:07 PM.

Support the Robert E. Howard Foundation. It helps you and Robert E. Howard's legacy.


#52 deuce

deuce

    The OG of "Psychotic Maladjustment"

  • Moderators
  • 13,194 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Serpent-haunted SEK, beside the Lake of the Mound

Posted 13 November 2011 - 01:13 PM

i don't see the TEETh story as like that, as you said he took the job in order to get at the treasure so the kingdom was not taking the place of his clan, it was a tool he used to get what he wanted. so i don't really see that as betraying his own ethics., now if he had known nothing of the jewels but then found out of them and left all his men to steal them that could be abandoning ethics. but as the story is conan holds to his ethics by going after what he was seeking being damned with the rest.


Exactly how did the Keshani soldiers Conan led NOT get screwed by Conan's fine splitting of ethical hairs? He judged whether they lived or died AND he stole (or tried) their national treasure/birthright.

Support the Robert E. Howard Foundation. It helps you and Robert E. Howard's legacy.


#53 Gin-Wulf

Gin-Wulf

    Mauler of Shadizar

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 723 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:mountains always covered in fog

Posted 13 November 2011 - 02:10 PM

the soldiers did get screwed , but thats the thing he didn't care, he only went to the city to get the jewels nothing else. he didn't betray any moral code or do anything out of character, in fact at the end he looses the jewels , shrugs it off and plans to use his new girl to go sucker another kingdom out of its loot because they worship a white goddess that his new women can portray ,
it seems your judging conan by you ethics in the story, or by todays standard of them, that story is one of my favorites because of this this is conan at him self at that point in his life,

#54 deuce

deuce

    The OG of "Psychotic Maladjustment"

  • Moderators
  • 13,194 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Serpent-haunted SEK, beside the Lake of the Mound

Posted 13 November 2011 - 02:36 PM

the soldiers did get screwed , but thats the thing he didn't care, he only went to the city to get the jewels nothing else. he didn't betray any moral code or do anything out of character, in fact at the end he looses the jewels , shrugs it off and plans to use his new girl to go sucker another kingdom out of its loot because they worship a white goddess that his new women can portray ,
it seems your judging conan by you ethics in the story, or by todays standard of them, that story is one of my favorites because of this this is conan at him self at that point in his life,


Fair enough, GW. I think part of my problem with TSoBY is that I first read it in conjunction with Red Nails and Beyond the Black River. Those two yarns, IMO, are as good as Conan got.

Still, for whatever reason, I find "Servants" to be a weak story. I'd rather read "Vale", to be honest. That said, I don't think that REH wrote a "bad" Conan yarn. TSoBY has a lot of things going for it, but the sum doesn't quite equal the parts, IMO.

Try and tell me I'm judging "Vale" by "my ethics". I simply don't buy Conan as a "con-man". REH never wrote hard-boiled "heist" yarns. This shows why. Honestly, I'm more interested by Alkmeenon, Yelaya and the Servants than I am by Conan's ham-fisted scam.
Different strokes, as they say. "Servants" doesn't have the direct brutality NOR the mordant poetry of "Vale". Not in my opinion.

Support the Robert E. Howard Foundation. It helps you and Robert E. Howard's legacy.


#55 duaneshadow

duaneshadow

    Mauler of Shadizar

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 817 posts

Posted 13 November 2011 - 05:02 PM

does anyone else agree that ther is a degree of personal development through his career? even though REH didn't write the xtories chronologically, it's clear that the Conan in Hour of the Dragon and The Scarlet Citadel is more sophisticated than the raw youth in Tower of the Elephant The God in the Bowl. He dumps the ***** in the cesspit after murdering her lover in 'Rogues' but I find it hard to see him doing something like that by the time he's the war leader of the afghulis in PotBC. His exposure to civilization and his natural intelligence and adapability allow him to function successfully as a military commander and a king, and he shows a high degree of savvy when dealing with the different factions in The Black Stranger. He wouldn't have done that as a kid in the earlier exploits. There's no reason why he might not have developed a differnt view of morality as he matures too. While REH was not a neurologist, it's a biological fact that mens' frontal cortex doesn't fully mature until we reach our late 20s making us more impulsive and generally 'psychopathic' ( don't get all het up on the term, I don't mean it literally) until then and only afterwards are we able to see things in a more rounded way, so there's a sense that Conan would have naturally been more selfish, impulsive and amoral in his youth. Plus, his 'code' of 'chivalry' would have influenced how he matured anyway. When he was 20 he would have given Zenobia one and then moved on, but by the time the events actually happen, he decides to marry her, just like he doesn't just chop his antagonist's head off at the end of the war.
'why does he have to be a misfit? Why can't he be handsome and kind?'

'You're still a dreamer girl'.

#56 Gin-Wulf

Gin-Wulf

    Mauler of Shadizar

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 723 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:mountains always covered in fog

Posted 13 November 2011 - 07:47 PM

i would think yes he does grow over the years , or rather learn how to deal with the civilized better.
another thought on this topic is Venarium. in beyond the black river it is said that every man woman and child was slaughtered there and that conan was one of the first blood mad horde over the wall, then in red nails he thinks to himself how it sickens him more or less at thought of drawing his sword on a woman.
so from this , to me anyway, it seems cimmerians on a whole really don't care if the slaughter man woman or child of a foreign invader.but did conan take part in it, is that what shapes his attitude of not wanting to hurt women?

#57 amster

amster

    Maladjusted to the point of pychosis

  • Banned
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 6,219 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Outside the ordered universe, where the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity.

Posted 13 November 2011 - 08:07 PM

i would think yes he does grow over the years , or rather learn how to deal with the civilized better.
another thought on this topic is Venarium. in beyond the black river it is said that every man woman and child was slaughtered there and that conan was one of the first blood mad horde over the wall, then in red nails he thinks to himself how it sickens him more or less at thought of drawing his sword on a woman.
so from this , to me anyway, it seems cimmerians on a whole really don't care if the slaughter man woman or child of a foreign invader.but did conan take part in it, is that what shapes his attitude of not wanting to hurt women?


It goes back to the whole wolf-pack thing. When Conan was one of the blood mad barbarians storming the walls of Venarium, the inhabitants of that fort, which includes the women and children, were not considered part of his tribe and therefore were not considered as individuals with lives of their own. Paradoxically, when Conan took employment on the Pictish frontier, all of the settlers who depended on his protection became part of his wolf-pack, and he subsequently thought of them as people rather than "them". When Balthus dies, Conan takes it very personally (inside wolf-pack), and vows to take revenge by collecting the heads of ten Picts. It doesn't matter to him in the least bit if they happen to be the same Picts that killed Balthus or not. Why? Because Conan doesn't recognize them as "people", because they're outside his wolf-pack.
Posted Image
Money and muscle, that's what I want; to be able to do any damned thing I want and get away with it. Money won't do that altogether, because if a man is a weakling, all the money in the world won't enable him to soak an enemy himself; on the other hand, unless he has money he may not be able to get away with it.
--Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, ca. June 1928--

#58 Gin-Wulf

Gin-Wulf

    Mauler of Shadizar

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 723 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:mountains always covered in fog

Posted 13 November 2011 - 08:17 PM

amster i see your point and agree with you on that. but then threw the rest of his career we see him not like the idea of drawing swords on a woman, I'm not saying i think he wouldn't do it.

#59 duaneshadow

duaneshadow

    Mauler of Shadizar

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 817 posts

Posted 13 November 2011 - 09:03 PM

amster i see your point and agree with you on that. but then threw the rest of his career we see him not like the idea of drawing swords on a woman, I'm not saying i think he wouldn't do it.


actually, he says something about not killing women ordinarily, but doesn't entirely exclude it. not sure which story or how far into his career he is.

Amster - I struggle with the idea of conan being a 'pack' animal - he is the ultimate individualist. He is also the ultimate alpha male, so people would be more likely to follow his lead.
'why does he have to be a misfit? Why can't he be handsome and kind?'

'You're still a dreamer girl'.

#60 Fernando

Fernando

    WarLord

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,401 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Zamboula

Posted 13 November 2011 - 09:11 PM


amster i see your point and agree with you on that. but then threw the rest of his career we see him not like the idea of drawing swords on a woman, I'm not saying i think he wouldn't do it.


actually, he says something about not killing women ordinarily, but doesn't entirely exclude it. not sure which story or how far into his career he is.


Conan "says something about not killing women ordinarily" in PotBC, which happens years before Red Nails, where he doesn't "like the idea of drawing swords on a woman". I agree wuth Gin-Wulf about the fact Conan became more mature and less violent with women along the years. His attitude with women at 20 wasn't the same he had in his late 30 and early 40.