From a letter to Lovecraft, ca. January 1931...
"When I dream of Rome, I am always pitted against her, hating her with a ferocity that in my younger days persisted in my waking hours, so that I still remember, with some wonder, the savage pleasure with which I read, at the age of nine, the destruction of Rome by the Germanic barbarians. At the same time, reading of the conquest of Britain by those same races filled me with resentment. Somehow, I have never been able to conceive fully of a Latinized civilization in Britain; to me that struggle has always seemed mainly a war of British barbarians against Germanic barbarians, with my sympathies wholly with the Britons."
~ Robert E. Howard ~
from The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, Volume 2: 1930-1932
I noticed that Al Harron's Aquiroman Holiday essays start off with the exact same quote, taken out of context (the proceeding lines presumably ignored because they don't exactly bolster the case being made).
Right, Amster, you know
that quote-mining is an especially
sore spot for me considering how often I express contempt for those who practise it, so you must
know that accusing me of doing that would get my heckles up in short order. So let me alleviate any worries you have that I specifically omitted the context and preceding lines because they'd hurt my ideas - I did not. I left them out because I don't share your opinion, that they "weaken" the Medieval Aquilonian argument in any way. Frankly, I think I've gone above and beyond the call of duty in giving the Aquiromian agenda fair dues. You'll note I spent an ENTIRE POST on the elements that COULD be considered "Roman." Why would I do that if I was solely interested in pushing my nefarious Medieval Aquilonians agenda?
Let's look at that quote again, except with the full context, which apparently undermines the argument:With the exception of that one dream I described to you, I am never, in these dreams of ancient times, a civilized man. Always I am the barbarian, the skin-clad, tousle-haired, light eyed wild man, armed with a rude axe or sword, fighting the elements and wild beasts, or grappling with armored hosts marching with the tread of civilized discipline, from fallow fruitful lands and walled cities. This is reflected in my writings, too, for when I begin a tale of old times, I always find myself instinctively arrayed on the side of the barbarian, against the powers of organized civilization. When I dream of Greece, it is always the Greece of early barbaric days when the first Aryan hordes came down, never the Greece of the myrtle crown and the Golden Age. When I dream of Rome I am always pitted against her, hating her with a ferocity that in my younger days persisted in my waking hours, so that I still remember, with some wonder, the savage pleasure with which I read, at the age of nine, the destruction of Rome by the Germanic barbarians
Why would this hurt my case? All it does is prove that the barbarism vs civilization dynamic was present in Rome. Nobody's disputing that. What I am disputing is the idea that Howard considered this exclusively the domain of Rome, when this was hardly the case. It was much of the debate in his discussions with H.P. Lovecraft, yes, but that's because much of the debate was about Rome itself.
I find it baffling that people insist that the classical Roman period is not the thematic basis for the Conan stories after reading these quotes.
See, here's the thing: this thematic basis of barbarism vs civilization is not the exclusive domain of Rome
. Every single thing you argue being an example of Rome has an analogue in the Middle Ages and beyond. Just because most of Howard's discussion of barbarism vs civilization with Lovecraft is in specific reference to a classical context does not automatically mean that the barbarism vs civilization idea can only be derived by, inspired by, or discuss a classical context.
The reason for my, and other's, insistence on Medieval inspiration for the Hyborian Kingdoms is that these elements, unlike the barbarism vs civilization argument, cannot be found in Classical milieu - and in the absence of other elements exclusive to classical milieus, by process of elimination we must assume that a Medieval milieu takes precedence.
Conan isn't Cormac Fitzgeoffrey of Turlough Dubn O'Brien, someone who's mostly a barbarian but on the other hand kinda civilized (ducks ). He's certainly not a "well, that depends on what you mean by barbarian" barbarian. Conan is a full blown 100% north of the border barbarian. That's why the Highlander analogy or Barbary Pirates of World War 2 just doesn't really work. In the Hyborian Age, the lines between civilization and barbarism are clearly defined; so clear in fact, that you can see it on the map, just as you can see it on any map of the Roman Republic or the Roman Empire. There's a clear frontier where civilization ends and everyone born on the other side are full blown 100% barbarians like Conan. I can see Conan working as essentially the same character as a Gaul or a Briton in the Roman Republic, someone born and raised on the other side, completely outside of the influence of civilization, but in a Medieval setting? Not so much. You end up with Cormac Fitzgeoffrey or Tulough Dubn O'Brien.
First of all, Cormac Fitzgeoffrey: no, he's not a full barbarian, but that's because a) he's half-Norman by blood, automatically excluding him on a genetic basis, and
he was raised by a Norman lord at the age of 8, which naturally affects his upbringing in barbarism. Here's a description of the Irish in the Cormac stories:"At twelve," grunted FitzGeoffrey, "I was running wild with shock-head kerns on the naked fens--I wore wolf skins, weighed near to fourteen stone, and had killed three men."
- "Hawks of Outremer"
That doesn't sound like it could describe the Gauls, Germans, even Cimmerians to you? What's more, look at the Battle of Dublin as Howard describes it:"Wars and massed battles I have seen in plenty," said he, lifting his great goblet. "Aye - I fought in the battle of Dublin when I was but eight years old, by the hoofs of the Devil! Miles de Cogan and his brother Richard held the city for Strongbow - men of iron in an iron age. Hasculf Mac Turkill, King of Dublin, who had been driven into the Orkneys, came sailing up the strand with sixty-five ships - galleys of the heathen Norsemen, whose chief was the berserk Jon the Mad - and mad he was, by the hoofs of Satan! So Hasculf came back to win his city again, with his Danes and Dano-Irish, and his allies from Norway and the Isles.
"Word of the war came into the west, where I was a boy running half naked on the moors, in the land of the O'Briens. We had a weapon-man whose name was Wulfgar and he was a Norseman. 'I will strike one more blow for the sea-people,' he said, and he went across the bogs and the fens as a wolf goes, and I went with him with my boy's bow, for the urge of wandering and blood-letting was already upon me. So we came upon Dublin strand just as the battle was joined. By Satan, the Norsemen drove the Normans back into the city and were shattering the gates when Richard de Cogan made a sortie from the postern gate and fell upon them from the rear. Whereupon Sir Miles sallied from the main gates with his knights and the ravens fed deep! By Satan, there the axes drank and the swords failed not of glutting!
"So Wulfgar and I came into the battle and the first wounded man I saw was an English man-at-arms who had once crushed my ear lobe to a pulp so that the blood flowed over his mailed fingers, to see if he could make me cry out - I did not cry out but spat in his face, so he struck me senseless. Now this man knew me and called me by name, gasping for water. 'Water is it"' said I. 'It's in the icy rivers of hell you'll quench your thirst!' And I jerked back his head to cut his throat, but before I could lay dirk to gulley, he died. His legs were crushed by a great stone and a spear had broken in his ribs.
"Wulfgar was gone from me now and I advanced into the thick of the battle, loosing my arrows with all the might of my childish muscles, blindly and at random, so I do not know if I did scathe or not, or to whom, for the noise and shouting confused me and the smell of blood was in my nostrils, and the blindness and fury of my first massed battle upon me.
"So I came to the place where Jon the Mad was leagued with a few of his Vikings by the Norman knights - by Saint John, I never saw a man strike such blows as this berserk struck! He fought half naked and without mail or shield, and neither buckler nor armor could stand before his axe. And I saw Wulfgar - on a heap of dead he lay, still gripping a hilt from which the blade had snapped in a Norman knight's heart. He was passing swiftly, his life ebbing rom him in thick crimson surges but he spoke to me faintly and said, 'Bend your bow, Cormac, against the big man in chain mail armor.' And so he died and I knew he meant Miles de Cogan.
"But at that moment Jon, bleeding from a hundred wounds, struck a blow that hewed off a knight's leg at the hip, though cased in heavy mail, and the axe haft splintered in the Viking's hand, and Miles de Cogan gave him his death stroke. Now all the Norsemen were dead or fled, and the men-at-arms dragged King Hasculf Mac Turkill before Miles de Cogan, who had his head severed on the spot. Now that sight maddened me, for though I loved not the Dane, I hated the Normans more, and running forward across the torn corpses, I bent my bow against Miles de Cogan. It was my last arrow and it splintered on his breast plate. A man-at-arms caught me up and held me high for Miles to view, while I cursed him in Gaelic and broke my milk teeth on his mail-clad wrist."
"'By Saint George," said Miles, 'it's Geoffrey the Bastard's Irish wolf-cub.'
"'Crush him,' said Richard de Cogan. 'He's half Gael - he'll make a wolf for the O'Briens.'
"'He's half Geoffrey,' said Miles. 'He'll make a good soldier for the king.'
"Well, both were right, but Miles came to curse the day he spared me. When I met him again in battle, years later, I gave him a wound that marked him for life.
"Barren fighting, in a barren land. By Satan, it seems though that now we are to be rewarded for our zeal. Did you station all the men-at-arms on the walls? It's a dark, star-less night and we must beware of Suleyman Bey. Ha, we've cozened him! We are as good as richer by ten thousand gold piece! Then you can rebuild this castle - hire more men-at-arms - buy armor and weapons. As for me, I'll gather together a band of cut-throat ruffians and fare east in quest of some fat city to loot."
I can see every single "barbarism vs civilization" concept evident in that one fragment.
What's more, there are plenty of details that square up to the Hyborian Age. We have barbarian Gaels fighting civilized knights and men-at-arms, just like the Cimmerians or Picts fighting the Aquilonians. A mere boy of eight fights in battle, and is filled not with fright or fear but rage - just as he described the children of the Aesir and Cimmerians. The Irish clad themselves in animal skins, but are described as "half-naked" - just like young Conan. We have the barbarian Gael who hates the barbaric Norsemen and rival Irish clans, but hates the civilized Normans more, just as the Cimmerians put aside their blood feuds to kick the invading Aquilonians out. Every time the Irish are described, it's in terms like "wild," "untamed," "fierce," "savage" and the like. The Irish fight with axes and swords, unarmoured, even half-naked; the Normans fight in heavy mail, from horseback, organizing sorties from the castle. There is nothing in that story, or subsequent stories, which is significantly divergent from Howard's description of the late antiquity Gaels in the Bran Mak Morn stories, or the Belgic and Gallic characters in various stories.
Still need convincing? Howard constantly and repeatedly referred to the Irish in 1014 - the High Middle Ages - as barbarians."Then, as now, the importance of that battle was underestimated by polite Latin and Latinized writers and historians. The polished sophisticates of the civilized cities of the South were not interested in the battles of barbarians in the remote northwestern corner of the world--a place and peoples of whose very names they were only vaguely aware. They only knew that suddenly the terrible raids of the sea kings ceased to sweep along their coasts, and in another century the wild age of plunder and slaughter had almost been forgotten-all because a rude, half-civilized people who scantily covered their nakedness with wolf hides rose up against the conquerors."
- "The Cairn on the Headland"
Yes, Howard describes the Irish *once* as as "rude, half-civilized" - but that's after making a clear distinction between northwestern barbarians and polished, sophisticated, civilized cities of the South. Just like the Hyborian Age
."Saint Brandon's cross, fashioned by the hands of the holy man in long ago, before the Norse barbarians made Erin a red hell--in the days when a golden peace and holiness ruled the land."I was no longer aware of any personality other than that of the barbarian who ran and smote. James O'Brien had no existence; I was Red Cumal, kern of Brian Boru, and my ax was dripping with the blood of my foes.
These two quotes are in respect to the Norse and Irish of 1014 AD.
And it isn't just the Irish: Howard describes the Afghuli in pretty much the same terms as he describes the 20th Century Afghans in the El Borak stories:He reflected in dizzy fragments that Gordon deserved whatever domination he had achieved over these iron-jawed barbarians.
- "Hawk of the Hills"Gordon's ideas of obligation, of debt and payment, were as direct and primitive as those of the barbarians among whom his lot had been cast for so many years.He trembled in the intensity of his passion. He was a blazing flame of fury and death, without control or repression. He was as wild and brute-savage in that moment as the wildest barbarian in that raw land.The Turkomans were crowded by the grim desolation and the knowledge that a horde of bloodthirsty barbarians were on their trail.There was a certain sophistication or innate mysticism in her which refused to let her put much faith in material weapons. Hers was that overrefinement of civilization which instinctively belittles physical action. With all her admiration for Gordon, he was, after all, to her, a barbarian who put his trust in lead and steel.
- "The Daughter of Erlik Khan"
20th Century barbarians, and these in the narrative voice. And, again, there's that dichotomy of the barbarian against the civilized, outside a classical context.
If one's going to argue a Classical core for the Hyborian Age, they have to go beyond the barbarism vs civilization argument - because Howard clearly saw this as not restricted to the classical period, but all of human history.
The Hyborian Age is just like the Middle Ages if the Middle Ages had had a big ass frontier with millions of bloodthirtsy barbarians on the other side of it.
Barbarians like the Tatars?The skies shook with the clamor of the kettledrums; the earth trembled with the thunder of the hoofs. The headlong speed of the yelling fiends numbed the minds of their victims. From the steppes of high Asia these barbarians had fled before the Mongols like thistledown flying before the wind. Drunken with the blood of slaughtered tribes, ten thousand strong they surged on Jerusalem, where thousands of helpless folk knelt shuddering.The red stallion's shoulder brushed the barbarian's stirrup and Cahal's sword flashed like a sunburst.The close proximity to the Kharesmians made him wary and he swung far to the east to avoid any scouts of the pagans who might be combing the countryside. He had no trust in the peace-token as a safeguard against the barbarians.
- "The Sowers of Thunder"
That's just in addition to the Irish, Norse, and Afghans, not to mention plenty of others who, while not described *as* barbarians, nonetheless resemble them, like the Turkomans, Lurs, Kurds, Circassians, Native Americans, African tribes...
It seems to me that the only thing which makes the Hyborian Age "thematically classical" is the barbarism vs civilization dyamic - and that's something that Howard's pointed out and played with in his historical stories from ancient prehistory to the 20th Century. In other words, there needs to be more than that.
Edited by Taranaich, 21 February 2012 - 07:02 AM.