In my last article, I asked the question, “Is Conan Still Relevant in today’s social/political society?” The answer to this is quite simple; no, it isn’t. But that is exactly why you should read it.
These stories were originally created in the 1930’s so of course, people tolerated different things back then and so the stories got away with a lot more. The Conan stories were pulp narratives, which were mostly highly-sexualized and gore-filled guilty pleasures that people read behind closed doors.
There is a reason why Conan is seen in nothing but a loincloth in most stories or why most of the female characters wear sheer gowns or fur skin skirts or just some jewels covering up their more explicit parts. Although the Conan stories do use some cliché tropes that are heavily frowned upon today, when looking at these stories one must keep in mind the era that they were originally written in.
But if a man running around in a loincloth with a bloodied sword fighting off zombies while a shrouded figure looks like he is about to sacrifice a half-naked woman on a stone slab offends you in any way, then maybe reading the book wouldn’t be the wisest of ideas. In this article, I go over why Conan’s adventures are stories of their time and why that makes them so much fun.
I envy the writers of yesteryear; not only were they like rockstars but they would write what they wanted and not worry about any backlash based on any lines they may have crossed. Personally, I feel that with storytelling, the story itself decides which lines are to be crossed or whether there are any lines to begin with.
Take a moment to look at the stories we are consuming lately. Are they pushing your buttons? Are they making you feel disgusted enough or introducing you to characters that make mistakes that require them to develop as a human being to achieve redemption?
I can think of one modern story that gave me all of those things and that was Amazon’s The Boys (for another article maybe). Other than that, our stories are becoming too safe. They are giving us the same type of character who can do everything off the bat with hardly any shortcomings. They can do everything and know everything from the second they are on screen. Their amazing skill sets conflict with their backstory.
How can someone who has never flown a ship before suddenly pull off these amazing stunts? There’s no sense of risk when a character is so good at everything that there is no sense of dread at all.
One of my favourite Conan stories was one which featured him as a child. It went through how he learnt about hunting and tracking from the village’s hunters and when he was alone and cornered by a panther, how that battle wasn’t only a struggle for his own survival but the moment he went from being a boy to a man.
Conan can’t do everything and sometimes he may depend on another character to lead the way. Something a lot of characters in modern stories these days avoid. Maybe independence isn’t doing everything yourself but maybe knowing when to take charge and when to step back and rely on someone else when something is out of your area of expertise. That’s just a thought.
Damsels in Distress
Many argue that the Conan stories are offensive to women. I do feel the stories overuse the ‘damsel in distress’ storyline. But I think most of these ideas come from a quick glance of the books’ covers.
Yes, oftentimes these women throw themselves at Conan and I can see why some argue they are just seen as a reward for him after he saves them from an unspeakable evil or how the women are treated as pawns by their fathers who marry them off to cruel men in order to strengthen alliances between their nations.
But from what I’ve been reading lately, Conan is manipulated quite a bit by a lot of these women. He is betrayed countless times by women using him for their own gains. Although he has saved many damsels, quite a few of them have evolved from their days of being a victim and take a stand against the world that keeps putting them down.
One such example is a character that I am quite fond of, Olivia. I don’t want to spoil her amazing story arc but I will say that she really surprised me with how she was portrayed in the Conan Omnibus Vol 4 by Dark Horse Comics.
And, how can we not remember Valeria from the original movie? And, how much Conan depended on her throughout the film? Or Bêlit; who is by far one of the most influential women in Conan’s journey. There are others who aren’t named here that wield swords or daggers as well as wits while others just wield their wits.
Imagine if all the female characters in our stories were carbon copies of their male counterparts in these stories. There would be no sense of individuality for characters in storytelling. A female character doesn’t always have to wave a sword around to show that she is strong. Sometimes, the mind is stronger than the sword which is something a lot of these above-mentioned characters understand.
A Story Out of Time
So yes, Conan is not relevant today. It is an unapologetic story with an equally unapologetic character. It will push your buttons. If I had a dollar for every time Conan was a little mean to someone or uses the word ‘wrench’ to refer to a woman who got on his nerves, I’d be rich. He can be a jerk sometimes, as can you and I and every other person on this planet because we are human. These stories were written to entertain.
Some argue Conan is the embodiment of ‘toxic masculinity’ yet one of the most iconic pictures of him isn’t of him standing proud while an army of women wrap around his ankles but rather of him tied to a cross, wounded, defeated and near death.
No, he’s just a guy with a sword exploring a barbaric world.
And at the end of the day, how is that not an interesting premise to a story?
In my next and final article on the Conan series, I will go over how Conan has been adapted into various media as well as the possible future of the franchise.