This author of the well known Conan character was popular in the pulp magazines of the early 1930’s, and then, after his suicide in 1936 at the peak of his popularity, he disappeared for over thirty years as an author.
But then, in 1967, the Conan stories were revived in a posthumous collaboration with Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp, along with magnificent cover illustrations by Frank Frazetta that captured the incredible, larger than life vitality and charisma of the Conan character.
Unfortunately, although the career of Conan was renewed for new generations of readers- his character was ‘watered down’ to an extent by the other two ‘collaborators’, who found the amazing, powerful character of Conan- well, a little intimidating to later authors, who were in the throes of becoming politically correct. They tried their best to make Conan, a barbarian from the dawns of time, a modern sort of fellow…
Luckily, it didn’t work! Conan’s vitality, which literally leaps off the page, was irrepressible, and came through despite their best efforts to make him into a gallant sort of knight errant, instead of what he really was meant to be: a hero image from an age when heroic meant strong, mighty, brave, and fearless, rather than wimpy and empathetic. Conan’s true nature shone through!
Finally, in 1977 a volume was published by Karl Edward Wagner that featured the original, unaltered versions of Howard’s original Conan. This was huge, and brought about with the help of Glen Lord, who had protected and saved the Howard writings for decades. He was the fan of all fans, and preserved this material for all of us in the future.
The original writings of Howard’s Conan are a true revelation- rather than a black and white, kind of a goody-two-shoes Conan, we are shown a full color, raving and slaying barbarian who not only is foremost in battle and adventure- but who revels in the slaughter and mayhem!
The character of the real Conan is one that takes modern readers aback- he is as far from being politically correct as it is possible to be! And this is a major part of his appeal.
We live now in an age when to say what you think is taboo. We are, in the terms of Howard’s Hyborian age, in a time when decadence is rotting the fabric of our nations, of our all-too-fragile civilization. Howard, through his character Conan, warned us of this inevitable outcome, when our civilized world would collapse, leaving us once again facing the primitive realities of nature and the world.
He summed it up at the end of Beyond the Black River, where he left us with this: “Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”
I think that Howard was right, in fact far ahead of his time. Now, the rot in our civilization is all too apparent. We talk of eliminating police forces, and national borders as well. We welcome hostile immigrants to enter our civilized countries, and lavish free things upon them far beyond what their own failed lands could ever achieve. In other words, we are becoming childish, naive, and decadent.
Conan is the antidote! He is the antithesis of decadent, or above all politically correct. Conan is out of step with the times- he is strong where we choose weakness- he is a hero, albeit sometimes almost sinister in his naked will to power.
He is patently not mean, or petty, or misogynistic, or racist- although nowadays, in our decadent reality where the news media does not even try to tell the truth, and swamp dwelling politicians are as scurrilous and self-aggrandizing as any of the evil, semi-reptilian rulers of ancient Hyborian kingdoms such as Set and Acheron-
To model Conan- to be like him- is to face the truth, and to ally ourselves with what is right.