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|Conan the Barbarian|
Illustration of Conan by Mark Schultz
|First appearance||Weird Tales (December 1932)|
|Created by||Robert E. Howard|
Conan the Barbarian (also known as Conan the Cimmerian) is a fictional sword and sorcery hero who originated in pulp fiction magazines and has since been adapted to books, comics, several films (including Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer), television programs (animated and live-action), video games, role-playing games, and other media. The character was created by writer Robert E. Howard in 1932 in a series of fantasy stories published in Weird Tales magazine.
Conan the Barbarian was created by Robert E. Howard in a series of fantasy stories published in Weird Tales in 1932. For months, Howard had been in search of a new character to market to the burgeoning pulp outlets of the early 1930s. In October 1931, he submitted the short story "People of the Dark" to Clayton Publications' new magazine, Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror (June 1932). "People of the Dark" is a remembrance story of "past lives", and in its first-person narrative the protagonist describes one of his previous incarnations; Conan is a black-haired barbarian hero who swears by a deity called Crom. Some Howard scholars believe this Conan to be a forerunner of the more famous character.
In February 1932, Howard vacationed at a border town on the lower Rio Grande. During this trip, he further conceived the character of Conan and also wrote the poem "Cimmeria", much of which echoes specific passages in Plutarch's Lives. According to some scholars, Howard's conception of Conan and the Hyborian Age may have originated in Thomas Bulfinch's The Outline of Mythology (1913) which inspired Howard to "coalesce into a coherent whole his literary aspirations and the strong physical, autobiographical elements underlying the creation of Conan".
Having digested these prior influences after he returned from his trip, Howard rewrote a rejected story, "By This Axe I Rule!" (May 1929), replacing his existing character Kull of Atlantis with his new hero, and retitling it "The Phoenix on the Sword". Howard also wrote "The Frost-Giant's Daughter", inspired by the Greek myth of Daphne, and submitted both stories to Weird Tales magazine. Although "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" was rejected, the magazine accepted "The Phoenix on the Sword" after it received the requested polishing.
"The Phoenix on the Sword" appeared in Weird Tales cover-dated December 1932. Editor Farnsworth Wright subsequently prompted Howard to write an 8,000-word essay for personal use detailing "the Hyborian Age", the fictional setting for Conan. Using this essay as his guideline, Howard began plotting "The Tower of the Elephant", a new Conan story that was the first to truly integrate his new conception of the Hyborian world.
The publication and success of "The Tower of the Elephant" spurred Howard to write many more Conan stories for Weird Tales. By the time of Howard's suicide in 1936, he had written 21 complete stories, 17 of which had been published, as well as a number of unfinished fragments.
Following Howard's death, the copyright of the Conan stories passed through several hands. Eventually, under the guidance of L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, the stories were edited, revised, and sometimes rewritten. For roughly 40 years, the original versions of Howard's Conan stories remained out of print. In 1977, the publisher Berkley Books issued three volumes using the earliest published form of the texts from Weird Tales, but these failed to displace the edited versions. In the 1980s and 1990s, the copyright holders of the Conan franchise permitted Howard's stories to go out of print entirely, while continuing to sell Conan works by other authors.
In 2000, the British publisher Gollancz Science Fiction issued a two-volume, complete edition of Howard's Conan stories as part of its Fantasy Masterworks imprint, which included several stories that had never seen print in their original form. The Gollancz edition mostly used the versions of the stories as published in Weird Tales.
The two volumes were combined and the stories resorted into chronological order as The Complete Chronicles of Conan: Centenary Edition (Gollancz Science Fiction, 2006; edited and with an Afterword by Steve Jones).
In 2003, another British publisher, Wandering Star Books, made an effort both to restore Howard's original manuscripts and to provide a more scholarly and historical view of the Conan stories. It published hardcover editions in England, which were republished in the United States by the Del Rey imprint of Ballantine Books. The first book, Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932–1933) (2003; published in the US as The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian) includes Howard's notes on his fictional setting, as well as letters and poems concerning the genesis of his ideas. This was followed by Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Two (1934) (2004; published in the US as The Bloody Crown of Conan) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Three (1935–1936) (2005; published in the US as The Conquering Sword of Conan). These three volumes combined include all of the original, unedited Conan stories.
The various stories of Conan the Barbarian occur in the pseudo-historical "Hyborian Age", set after the destruction of Atlantis and before the rise of any known ancient civilization. This is a specific epoch in a fictional timeline created by Howard for many of the low fantasy tales of his artificial legendary.
The reasons behind the invention of the Hyborian Age were perhaps commercial: Howard had an intense love for history and historical dramas; however, at the same time, he recognized the difficulties and the time-consuming research work needed in maintaining historical accuracy--and moreover, the poorly-stocked libraries in the rural part of Texas where Howard lived just didn't have the material needed for such historical research. By conceiving a timeless setting--"a vanished age"--and by carefully choosing names that resembled human history, Howard shrewdly avoided the problem of historical anachronisms and his need for lengthy exposition.
According to "The Phoenix on the Sword", the adventures of Conan take place "Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas."
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Conan is a Cimmerian. From the writings of Robert E. Howard (The Hyborian Age among others) it is known that his Cimmerians are based on the Celts or perhaps the historic Cimmerians, based on the described geography and the existence of said people. He was born on a battlefield and is the son of a village blacksmith. Conan matured quickly as a youth and, by age fifteen, he was already a respected warrior who had participated in the destruction of the Aquilonian fortress of Venarium. After its demise, he was struck by wanderlust and began the adventures chronicled by Howard, encountering skulking monsters, evil wizards, tavern wenches, and beautiful princesses. He roamed throughout the Hyborian Age nations as a thief, outlaw, mercenary, and pirate. As he grew older, he began commanding vast units of warriors and escalating his ambitions. In his forties, he seized the crown from the tyrannical king of Aquilonia, the most powerful kingdom of the Hyborian Age, having strangled the previous ruler on the steps of his own throne. Conan's adventures often result in him performing heroic feats, though his motivation for doing so is largely to protect his own survival or for personal gain.
A conspicuous element of Conan's character is his chivalry. He is extremely reluctant to fight women (even when they fight him) and has a strong tendency to save damsels in distress. In "Jewels of Gwahlur", he has to make a split-second decision whether to save the dancing girl Muriela or the chest of priceless gems which he spent months in search of. So, without hesitation, he rescues Muriela and allows for the treasure to be irrevocably lost. In "The Black Stranger", Conan saves the exile Zingaran Lady Belesa at considerable risk to himself, giving her as a parting gift his fortune in gems big enough to have a comfortable and wealthy life in Zingara, while asking for no sexual favors in return. Reviewer Jennifer Bard also noted that when Conan is in a pirate crew or a robber gang led by another male, his tendency is to subvert and undermine the leader's authority, and eventually supplant (and often, kill) him (e.g. "Pool of the Black One", "A Witch Shall be Born", "Shadows in the Moonlight"). Conversely, in "Queen of the Black Coast", it is noted that Conan "generally agreed to Belit's plan. Hers was the mind that directed their raids, his the arm that carried out her ideas. It was a good life." And at the end of "Red Nails", Conan and Valeria seem to be headed towards a reasonably amicable piratical partnership.
George Baxter noted that "Conan's recorded history mentions him as being prominently involved, at one time or another, with four different pirate fraternities, on two different seas, as well being a noted leader of land robbers at three different locales. Yet, we hardly ever see him involved in, well, robbing people. To be sure, he speaks about it often and with complete candor: "We Kozaks took to plundering the outlying dominions of Koth, Zamora, and Turan impartially" he says in "Shadows in the Moonlight". But that was before the story began. And "We're bound for waters where the seaports are fat, and the merchant ships are crammed with plunder!" Conan declares at the end of "The Pool of the Black One". But this plundering will take place after the story ends. When we see Conan onstage, we see him do many other things: he intervenes in the politics and dynastic struggles of various kingdoms; he hunts for hidden treasure; he explores desert islands and lost cities; he fights countless terrible monsters and evil sorcerers; he saves countless beautiful women and makes them fall in love with him... What we virtually never see Conan do is engage in the proper business of an armed robber, on land or by sea--which is to attack people who never threatened or provoked you, take away their possessions by main force, and run your sword through them if they dare to resist. A bit messy business, that. Armchair adventurers, who like to enjoy a good yarn in the perfect safety and comfort of their suburban homes, might not have liked to read it."
Conan has "sullen", "smoldering", and "volcanic" blue eyes with a black "square-cut mane". Howard once describes him as having a hairy chest and, while comic book interpretations often portray Conan as wearing a loincloth or other minimalist clothing to give him a more barbaric image, Howard describes the character as wearing whatever garb is typical for the kingdom and culture in which Conan finds himself. Howard never gave a strict height or weight for Conan in a story, only describing him in loose terms like "giant" and "massive". In the tales, no human is ever described as being stronger than Conan, although several are mentioned as taller (such as the strangler Baal-pteor) or of larger bulk. In a letter to P. Schuyler Miller and John D. Clark in 1936, only three months before Howard's death, Conan is described as standing 6ft/183cm and weighing 180 pounds (82 kg) when he takes part in an attack on Venarium at only 14 years old, though being far from fully grown. Conan himself says in "Beyond the Black River" that he had "...not yet seen 15 snows".
Although Conan is muscular, Howard frequently compares his agility and way of moving to that of a panther (see, for instance, "Jewels of Gwahlur", "Beyond the Black River", or "Rogues in the House"). His skin is frequently characterized as bronzed from constant exposure to the sun. In his younger years, he is often depicted wearing a light chain shirt and a horned helmet, though appearances vary with different stories.
During his reign as king of Aquilonia, Conan was
Howard imagined the Cimmerians as a pre-Celtic people with mostly black hair and blue or grey eyes. Ethnically, the Cimmerians to which Conan belongs are descendants of the Atlanteans, though they don't remember their ancestry. In his fictional historical essay "The Hyborian Age", Howard describes how the people of Atlantis--the land where his character King Kull originated--had to move east after a great cataclysm changed the face of the world and sank their island, settling where Ireland and Scotland would eventually be located. Thus they are (in Howard's work) the ancestors of the Irish and Scottish (the Celtic Gaels) and not the Picts, the other ancestor of modern Scots who also appear in Howard's work. In the same work, Howard also described how the Cimmerians eventually moved south and east after the age of Conan (presumably in the vicinity of the Black Sea, where the historical Cimmerians dwelt).
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Despite his brutish appearance, Conan uses his brains as well as his brawn. The Cimmerian is a highly skilled warrior, possibly without peer with a sword, but his travels have given him vast experience in other trades, especially as a thief. He's also a talented commander, tactician, and strategist, as well as a born leader. In addition, Conan has advanced knowledge of languages and codes and is able to recognize, or even decipher, certain ancient or secret signs and writings. For example, in "Jewels of Gwahlur" Howard states: "In his roaming about the world the giant adventurer had picked up a wide smattering of knowledge, particularly including the speaking and reading of many alien tongues. Many a sheltered scholar would have been astonished at the Cimmerian's linguistic abilities." He also has incredible stamina, enabling him to go without sleep for a few days. In "A Witch Shall be Born", Conan fights armed men until he is overwhelmed, captured, and crucified, before going an entire night and day without water. However, Conan still possesses the strength to pull the nails from his feet, while hoisting himself into a horse's saddle and riding for ten miles.
Another noticeable trait is his sense of humor, largely absent in the comics and movies, but very much a part of Howard's original vision of the character (particularly apparent in "Xuthal of the Dusk", also known as "The Slithering Shadow.") His sense of humor can also be rather grimly ironic, as was demonstrated by how he unleashes his own version of justice on the treacherous--and ill-fated--innkeeper Aram Baksh in "Shadows in Zamboula".
He is a loyal friend to those true to him, with a barbaric code of conduct that often marks him as more honorable than the more sophisticated people he meets in his travels. Indeed, his straightforward nature and barbarism are constants in all the tales.
Conan is a formidable combatant both armed and unarmed. With his back to the wall, Conan is capable of engaging and killing opponents by the score. This is seen in several stories, such as "Queen of the Black Coast", "The Scarlet Citadel", and "A Witch Shall Be Born". Conan is not superhuman, though; he needed the providential help of Zelata's wolf to defeat four Nemedian soldiers in Howard's novel The Hour of the Dragon. Some of his hardest victories have come from fighting single opponents of inhuman strength: one such as Thak, an ape-like humanoid from "Rogues in the House", or the strangler Baal-Pteor in "Shadows in Zamboula". Conan is far from untouchable and has been captured or defeated several times (on one occasion, knocking himself out drunkenly after running into a wall).
Howard frequently corresponded with H. P. Lovecraft, and the two would sometimes insert references or elements of each other's settings in their works. Later editors reworked many of the original Conan stories by Howard, thus diluting this connection. Nevertheless, many of Howard's unedited Conan stories are arguably part of the Cthulhu Mythos. Additionally, many of the Conan stories by Howard, de Camp, and Carter used geographical place names from Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborean Cycle.
A number of untitled synopses for Conan stories also exist.
The character of Conan has proven durably popular, resulting in Conan stories by later writers such as Poul Anderson, Leonard Carpenter, Lin Carter, L. Sprague de Camp, Roland J. Green, John C. Hocking, Robert Jordan, Sean A. Moore, Björn Nyberg, Andrew J. Offutt, Steve Perry, John Maddox Roberts, Harry Turtledove, and Karl Edward Wagner. Some of these writers have finished incomplete Conan manuscripts by Howard. Others were created by rewriting Howard stories which originally featured entirely different characters from entirely different milieus. Most, however, are completely original works. In total, more than fifty novels and dozens of short stories featuring the Conan character have been written by authors other than Howard.
The Gnome Press edition (1950-1957) was the first hardcover collection of Howard's Conan stories, including all the original Howard material known to exist at the time, some left unpublished in his lifetime. The later volumes contain some stories rewritten by L. Sprague de Camp (like "The Treasure of Tranicos"), including several non-Conan Howard stories, mostly historical exotica situated in the Levant at the time of the Crusades, which he turned into Conan yarns. The Gnome edition also issued the first Conan story written by an author other than Howard--the final volume published, which is by Björn Nyberg and revised by de Camp.
The Lancer/Ace editions (1966-1977), under the direction of de Camp and Lin Carter, were the first comprehensive paperbacks, compiling the material from the Gnome Press series together in chronological order with all the remaining original Howard material, including that left unpublished in his lifetime and fragments and outlines. These were completed by de Camp and Carter. The series also included Howard stories originally featuring other protagonists that were rewritten by de Camp as Conan stories. New Conan stories written entirely by de Camp and Carter were added as well. Lancer Books went out of business before bringing out the entire series, the publication of which was completed by Ace Books. Eight of the eventual twelve volumes published featured dynamic cover paintings by Frank Frazetta that, for many fans,[who?] presented the definitive, iconic impression of Conan and his world. For decades to come, most other portrayals of the Cimmerian and his imitators were heavily influenced by the cover paintings of this series.
Most editions after the Lancer/Ace series have been of either the original Howard stories or Conan material by others, but not both. The exception are the Ace Maroto editions (1978–1981), which include both new material by other authors and older material by Howard, though the latter are some of the non-Conan tales rewritten as Conan stories by de Camp. Notable later editions of the original Howard Conan stories include the Donald M. Grant editions (1974–1989, incomplete); Berkley editions (1977); Gollancz editions (2000-2006), and Wandering Star/Del Rey editions (2003-2005). Later series of new Conan material include the Bantam editions (1978–1982) and Tor editions (1982-2004).
In an attempt to provide a coherent timeline which fit the numerous adventures of Conan penned by Robert E. Howard and later writers, various "Conan chronologies" have been prepared by many people from the 1930s onward. Note that no consistent timeline has yet accommodated every single Conan story. The following are the principal theories that have been advanced over the years.
The very first Conan cinematic project was planned by Edward Summer. Summer envisioned a series of Conan films, much like the James Bond franchise. He outlined six stories for this film series, but none were ever made. An original screenplay by Summer and Roy Thomas was written, but their lore-authentic screen story was never filmed. However, the resulting film, Conan the Barbarian (1982), was a combination of director John Milius' ideas and plots from Conan stories (written also by Howard's successors, notably Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp). The addition of Nietzschean motto and Conan's life philosophy were crucial for bringing the spirit of Howard's literature to the screen.
The plot of Conan the Barbarian (1982) begins with Conan being enslaved by the Vanir raiders of Thulsa Doom, a malevolent warlord who is responsible for the slaying of Conan's parents and the genocide of his people. Later, Thulsa Doom becomes a cult leader of a religion that worships Set, a Snake God. The vengeful Conan, the archer Subotai and the thief Valeria set out on a quest to rescue a princess held captive by Thulsa Doom. The film was directed by John Milius and produced by Dino De Laurentiis. The character of Conan was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and was his break-through role as an actor.
This film was followed by a less popular sequel, Conan the Destroyer in 1984. This sequel was a more typical fantasy-genre film and was even less faithful to Howard's Conan stories, being just a picaresque story of an assorted bunch of adventurers.
The third film in the Conan trilogy was planned for 1987 to be titled Conan the Conqueror. The director was to be either Guy Hamilton or John Guillermin. Since Arnold Schwarzenegger was committed to the film Predator and De Laurentiis's contract with the star had expired after his obligation to Red Sonja and Raw Deal, he wasn't keen to negotiate a new one; thus the third Conan film sank into development hell. The script was eventually turned into Kull the Conqueror.
There were rumors in the late 1990s of another Conan sequel, a story about an older Conan titled King Conan: Crown of Iron, but Schwarzenegger's election in 2003 as governor of California ended this project.Warner Bros. spent seven years trying to get the project off the ground. However, in June 2007 the rights reverted to Paradox Entertainment, though all drafts made under Warner remained with them. In August 2007, it was announced that Millennium Films had acquired the rights to the project. Production was aimed for a Spring 2006 start, with the intention of having stories more faithful to the Robert E. Howard creation. In June 2009, Millennium hired Marcus Nispel to direct. In January 2010, Jason Momoa was selected for the role of Conan. The film was released in August 2011, and met poor critical reviews and box office results.
In 2012, producers Chris Morgan and Frederick Malmberg announced plans for a sequel to the 1982 Conan the Barbarian titled The Legend of Conan, with Arnold Schwarzenegger reprising his role as Conan. A year later, Deadline reported that Andrea Berloff would write the script. Years passed since the initial announcement as Schwarzenegger worked on other films, but as late as 2016, Schwarzenegger affirmed his enthusiasm for making the film, saying, "Interest is high ... but we are not rushing." The script was finished, and Schwarzenegger and Morgan were meeting with possible directors. In April 2017, producer Chris Morgan stated that Universal had dropped the project, although there was a possibility of a TV show. The story of the film was supposed to be set 30 years after the first, with some inspiration from Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven.
There have been three television series related to Conan:
Conan the Barbarian has appeared in comics nearly non-stop since 1970. The comics are arguably, apart from the books, the vehicle that had the greatest influence on the longevity and popularity of the character. Aside from an earlier and unofficial Conan comic published in Mexico, the two main publishers of Conan comics have been Marvel Comics and Dark Horse Comics. Marvel Comics launched Conan the Barbarian (1970-1993) and the classic Savage Sword of Conan (1974-1995). Dark Horse launched their Conan series in 2003. Dark Horse Comics is currently publishing compilations of the 1970s Marvel Comics series in trade paperback format.
Barack Obama, former President of the United States, is a collector of Conan the Barbarian comic books and a big fan of the character and appeared as a character in a comic book called Barack the Barbarian from Devil's Due.
Marvel Comics introduced a relatively lore-faithful version of Conan the Barbarian in 1970 with Conan the Barbarian, written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith. Smith was succeeded by penciller John Buscema, while Thomas continued to write for many years. Later writers included J.M. DeMatteis, Bruce Jones, Michael Fleisher, Doug Moench, Jim Owsley, Alan Zelenetz, Chuck Dixon and Don Kraar. In 1974, Conan the Barbarian series spawned the more adult-oriented, black-and-white comics magazine Savage Sword of Conan, written by Thomas with art mostly by Buscema or Alfredo Alcala. Marvel also published several graphic novels starring the character, and a handbook with detailed information about the Hyborian world.
The Marvel Conan stories were also adapted as a newspaper comic strip which appeared daily and Sunday from 4 September 1978 to 12 April 1981. Originally written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by John Buscema, the strip was continued by several different Marvel artists and writers.
Dark Horse Comics began their comic adaptation of the Conan saga in 2003. Entitled simply Conan, the series was first written by Kurt Busiek and pencilled by Cary Nord. Tim Truman replaced Busiek when Busiek signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics; however, Busiek issues were sometimes used for filler. This series is an interpretation of the original Conan material by Robert E. Howard with no connection whatsoever to the earlier Marvel comics or any Conan story not written or envisioned by Howard supplemented by wholly original material.
A fourth series, Conan the Barbarian, began in February 2012 by Brian Wood (writer) and Becky Cloonan (artist). It ran for twenty-five issues, and expanded on Robert E. Howard's Queen of the Black Coast.
A fifth series, Conan the Avenger, began in April 2014 by Fred Van Lente (writer) and Brian Ching (artist). It ran for twenty-five issues, and expanded on Robert E. Howard's The Snout in the Dark and A Witch Shall Be Born.
Dark Horse's sixth series, Conan the Slayer, began in July 2016 by Cullen Bunn (writer) and Sergio Dávila (artist).
In 2018, Marvel reacquired the rights and started new runs of both Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan in January/February 2019.
In 2003 the British company Mongoose Publishing bought a license and acquired in turn the rights to make use of the Conan gaming franchise, publishing a Conan role-playing game from 2004 until 2010. The game ran the OGL System of rules that Mongoose established for its OGL series of games:
In 2010 Mongoose Publishing dropped the Conan license. In February 2015, another British company, Modiphius Entertainment, acquired the license, announcing plans to put out a new Conan role-playing game in August of that year. Actually, the core rulebook was not launched (via Kickstarter) until a whole year later, in February 2016, reaching by far all funds needed for publication. Long after the Kickstarter ended the core rulebook was launched in PDF format on January the 31st, 2017. The physical core rulebook finally started distribution in June 2017 :