Conan the Cimmerian

Into the west, unknown of man,

Ships have sailed since the world began.

Read, if you dare what Skelos wrote,

With dead hands fumbling his silken coat;

And follow the ships through the wind-blown wrack-

Follow the ships that come not back.   –   Robert E. Howard

“Howard is a very interesting figure. He only lived 30 years. He was born in 1906 and shot himself in the head with a revolver in his car, outside his home. He wrote 160 stories, and the interesting thing about these stories is that they are pre-civilized in their settings; they are barbaric; they’re ultramasculine stories; and they deal with many themes which have been so disprivileged from much of the mainstream liberal humanist culture that they no longer exist…. Conan happens to be superman or super-barbarian, into which Robert E. Howard projected fantasies of undying masculinity, the heroic, adventure without end, heterosexuality, and a subliminated racial mystique…. I would contend that this pastiche of a Howard poem – itself part of a longer cycle – tells you everything you need to know about Howard’s fiction. We begin with the exhilaration, the sense of excitement, the existence of a Caucasian Superman, as the headlong action and narrative drive. The agelessness of the protagonists and the almost pulpish heterosexuality are very much in evidence. Likewise, magic is considered to be a normal part of life and, in this sword and sorcery universe, it is the equivalent of scientific writ in our own time. It is fascinating to think that Zukala’s version of Crowley or Louis Adolphe Constant is treated like the second law of Newtonian mechanics in this universe. Broadly speaking, the moral cleanness of the barbaric Conan in comparison to the civilized ones is also clearly pointed out. Indeed, one could say that all of Robert E. Howard’s barbaric heroes – Bran mak Morn, Kull, and Solomon Kane – all build up into the one Super-character, Conan; a man whose saga was left evident yet uncompleted on Howard’s death. I think the basic point of the Conan stories – and of Howard in general – is a moral corrective. For those who feel broken, lonely, afraid, cowardly, uncombative, and so on, the Howard mythos in its 16 or so volumes is a wilful counterpart. Morally, his entire mythos is a species of counter-culture or current.”    –   Jonathan Bowden, July 15, 2011, ‘Conan Barbarian and Robert E. Howard.’

I have the complete Chronicles of Conan, so I will just start typing out a page or two from one of his stories. This one is called ‘The Slithering Shadow’:

‘Crom!’ he ejaculated aghast. ‘You mean to tell me these people lie down calmly and sleep, with this demon crawling among them?’

‘It is only occasionally that he is hungry,’ she repeated. ‘A god must have his sacrifices. When I was a child in Stygia the people lived under the shadow of the priests. None ever knew when he or she would be seized and dragged to the altar. What difference whether the priests give a victim to the gods, or the god comes for his own victim?’

‘Such is not the custom of my people,’ Conan growled, ‘nor of Natala’s either. The Hyborians do not sacrifice men to their god, Mitra, and as for my people – by Crom, I’d like to see a priest try to drag a Cimmerian to the altar! There’d be blood spilt, but not as the priest intended.’

‘You are a barbarian,’ laughed Thalis, but with a glow in her luminous eyes. ‘Thog is very ancient and very terrible.’

‘These folk must either  be fools or heroes,’ grunted Conan, ‘to lie down and dream their idiotic dreams, knowing they might awaken in his belly.’

She laughed. ‘They know nothing else. For untold generations Thog has preyed on them. He has been one of the factors which have reduced their numbers from thousands to hundreds. A few more generations and they will be extinct, and Thog must either fare forth into the world for new prey, or retire to the underworld whence he came long ago. They realize their ultimate doom, but they are fatalists, incapable of resistance or escape. Not one of the present generation has been out of sight of these walls. There is an oasis a day’s march to the south – I have seen it on the old maps their ancestors drew on parchment – but no man of Xuthal has visited it for three generations, much less made an attempt to explore the fertile grasslands which the maps show lying another day’s march beyond it. They are a fast fading race, drowned in lotus dreams, stimulating their waking hours by means of the golden wine which heals wounds, prolongs life, and invigorates the most sated debauchee… Yet they cling to life, and fear the deity they worship. you saw how one went mad at the knowledge that Thog was roving the palaces. I have seen the whole city screaming and tearing its hair, and running frenziedly out of the gates, to cower outside the walls and draw lots to see which would be bound and flung back through the arched doorways to satisfy Thog’s lust and hunger. were they not all slumbering now, the word of his coming would send them raving and shrieking again through the outer gates.’

‘Oh Conan!’ begged Natala hysterically. ‘Let us flee!’

‘In good time,’ muttered Conan, his eyes burning on Thalis’ ivory limbs. ‘What are you, a Stygian woman, doing here?’

‘I came here when a young girl,’ she answered, leaning lithely back against the velvet divan, and intertwining her slender fingers behind her dusky head. ‘I am the daughter of a king, no common woman, as you can see by my skin, which is white as that of your little blond there. I was abducted by a rebel prince, who, with an army of Kushite bowmen, pushed southward into the wilderness, searching for land they could make their own. he and all his warriors perished in the desert, but one, before he die, placed me on a camel and walked beside it until he dropped and died in his tracks. The beast wandered on, and I finally passed into delirium from thirst and hunger, and awakened in this city. They told me I had been seen from the walls, early in the dawn, lying senseless beside a dead camel. They went forth and brought me in and revived me with their wonderful golden wine. And only the sight of a woman would have led them to have ventured that far from their walls. They were naturally interested in me, especially the men. As I could not speak their language, they learned to speak mine. They are very quick and able of intellect; they learned my language long before I learned theirs. But they were more interested in me then my language. I have been, and am, the only thing for which a man of them will forgo his lotus dreams for a space.’

She laughed wickedly, flashing her audacious eyes meaningly at Conan.

‘Of course the women are jealous of me,’ she continued tranquilly. ‘ They are handsome enough in their yellow-skinned way, but they are dreamy and uncertain as the men, and these latter like me not only for my beauty, but for my reality. I am no dream! Though I have dreamed the dreams of the lotus, I am a normal woman, with earthly emotions and desires. With such these moon-eyed yellow women can not compare. that is why it is better to cut that girl’s throat with your saber, before the men of Xuthal waken and catch her. They will put her through paces she never dreamed of! She is too soft to endure what I have thrived on. I am a daughter of Luxur, and before I had known fifteen summers I had been led through the temples of Derketo, the dusky goddess, and had been initiated into the mysteries. Not that my first years in Xuthal were years of unmodified pleasure! The people of Xuthal have forgotten more than the priestesses of Derketo ever dreamed. They live only for sensual joys. Dreaming or waking, their lives are filled with exotic ecstasies, beyond the ken of ordinary men.’

‘Damned degenerates!’ growled Conan.

‘It is all in the point of view,’ smiled Thalis lazily.

‘Well,’ he decided, ‘we’re merely wasting time. I can see this is no place for ordinary mortals. We’ll be gone before your morons awake, or Thog comes to devour us. I think the desert would be kinder.’

And such is the virtuosity of the Chronicles of Conan, interestingly written from around 1933 to 1936, in 1936 Robert E. Howard killed himself. It’s hard to fathom how he gathered the worldly experience to write like this at such a young age. He wrote for money, he didn’t write for love, his writing must have come from blood memory, as he lived in the desolate wastes of Texas and did not even want to be a writer. I remember, how could I forget the first time I saw the movie ‘Conan the Barbarian’, this was long before I knew of the writings of Robert E. Howard, I actually saw ‘Conan the Destroyer’ first, which was the sequel, it is nothing compared to ‘Conan the Barbarian’, for many reasons, but the main reason is the music, the Wagnerian music, which is the score for the film, but the film was made for the music and nor the other way round, which is normal, where did this amazing music come from? Certainly not Basil Poledouris, even though he has somehow managed to claim credit for the music, which seems like an old Hollywood switcharoonee; where they take someone’s work and attach another name to it. No, I would wager that the music score for ‘Conan the Barbarian’ was not written by Basil Poledouris, but by someone else. For example compare Basil Poledouris’s other music with the score of ‘Conan the Barbarian’, it is just boring old Hollywood film music compared to musical genius. Also in all Basil’s music after Conan, it is just poorly thought-out arrangements of Conan, as if someone has given him the music and he has attempted to copy it in different manners, but poorly and naively.

If the serpent dreamers get a hold of Conan they will have a field day but unlike mice, snakes are mythologized in such a way that only the Third Reich Pilgrim can unravel the threads of their mindless dreamings. There is much occult symbology in Conan, that only those wise in occult ways can see through. Doom’s children, the Children of Doom, in ironwood sat, the brood of Fenrir, on flesh of the dead, he reddens with gore, and in summer soon, would you know yet more? Snakes are despised, yet I even run from snakes. Where I live I go for a morning jog along secluded bush trails, where sometimes I find snakes seeking the morning rays, I skid to a halt and back off, even the eastern brown snake, grumpy for being disturbed will attack, a juvenile one unwise has strayed and out of instinct attacks with its fangs out, before darting into the bush scrub. In the morning I dodge poisonous snakes. I know the symbology of snakes, I have conquered the crooked serpent, for I am from the race of Mars, a child of serpents with dragons teeth for tools.


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