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Author Topic: What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?  (Read 396 times)

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Offline BeorningTopic starter

What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?
« on: October 02, 2017, 05:29:38 PM »
Or, more specifically, what can you guys tell me about Conan stories' setting?

Let me elaborate :)

I recently realized that I really don't know that much about Conan and his world. I mean, Conan is one of these characters you're bound to keep hearing about if you're interested in fantasy fiction... and yes, I did keep hearing about him. I even read or two stories years ago. And heck, I even tried playing Age of Conan MMORPG.

In spite of this, I don't really know that much of this setting. I know Conan stories are set in the Hyborian Age, but what is the Hyborian Age like? Is it a medieval-like world, like Game of Thrones? Or is it something more barbaric? Do people in this setting look like people from the European Middle Ages, or more like people from Ancient Greece or Rome? Also, is this a setting with a lot of magic, monsters etc., or is it more pseudo-historical and semi-realistic?

Any opinions, guys?

Offline Inkidu

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Re: What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2017, 05:55:23 PM »
The Hyborian Age is by all accounts set after the Bronze Age Collapse but before the rise of the Greek city-states. Yes, it's supposed to take place in our world in a long-forgotten age of yore. It was penned before Tolkien popularized the idea of making your own unique settings, and they kind of needed to be set in some kind of age of antiquity (Camelot, Avalon, Atlantis, etc.)

Another interesting thing is that R.E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft were pen pals, so there's a lot of eldritch-style horror in the Conan books. It is a very low fantasy world, but also a very primitive world.

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2017, 06:36:28 PM »
So, it's a primitive world? I did some reading on Wikipedia today and I got the impression that at least some of the countries in the setting were quite civilized - Aquilonia and Nemedia, for instance...

Offline Inkidu

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Re: What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?
« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2017, 10:34:37 PM »
So, it's a primitive world? I did some reading on Wikipedia today and I got the impression that at least some of the countries in the setting were quite civilized - Aquilonia and Nemedia, for instance...
They're as primitive as any bronze-age civilization was, which is to say, just depends on where you are in the world. The tech level overall though had trouble passing early iron age from what I've read of the series, which is sporadic to be fair.

Offline wander

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Re: What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?
« Reply #4 on: October 05, 2017, 07:22:21 AM »
I'm a big fan of the Conan stories and have the thick ol' leather bound collection of pretty much most of what Howard wrote on the character, including his setting essays on how the Hyborian Age's map eventually became our early history. So, I'd like to think I'm good to talk on Conan a bit.  ;D

Howard was a history buff and the Hyborian Age was a way to reference differing historic tropes in one unified setting. As such though the general feel of the Age is that of 'D&D styled medieval', there are slight variations in tech level depending on where the story is set. There are as many civilised fantasy cities as there are primitive villages. Therefore, it carries a mix of archetypal historic tropes depending on the locale.

Conan is low fantasy, where wizards and monsters do exist, though they are not common at all, usually a lone monster or wizard ends up being the main villian of the story or centre-piece big boss that Conan must fight or outwit. People are superstitious, though it has more in common with Game of Thrones than Tolkien. Magic may have been more common in the past, though now it is only mad wizard's locked up in their towers that practice it and a monster is usually encountered deep in an old cave or stuck on an island in the middle of nowhere, they're not running rampant and targeting villages.

I wouldn't say Hyborea was primitive though. It is at least more advanced than the iron age and bronze age. It has that usual medieval feeling fantasy feel when you do read the books. There are pirates sailing the coasts and cossacks riding the Eastern steppes. There are places like the Roman Empire (Aquilonia) and Ancient Greece (Corinthia) mixed in with other elements.

Essentially Howard wrote Conan in locales around whatever he found interesting with a civilisation. D&D I feel takes a fair bit from Conan's Hyborean Age.

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?
« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2017, 11:59:00 PM »
Thank you!

But tell me, please: is Aquilonia really Roman Empire? I've seen it compared more to medieval France?

Offline wander

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Re: What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?
« Reply #6 on: October 06, 2017, 02:16:40 PM »
It has elements of them both, really. However location-wise it is placed where modern France would spring up from. It has more of the latter, though keeps the former element with having the trope of a place of civilisation protected from barbarians at the gates, the people of the Bossonian Marches protects Aquilonia from both the Picts and the Cimmerians making life in Aquilonia fairly serene. The Aquilonian army are also expansionist, spreading westward to try and advance their borders over the Pict's lands.

Nemedia, it's neighbour is mentioned by Howard to be the birthplace of philosophy, which could link it to Ancient Greece, though it also specifically has monotheism with Mithra preists who actively try to convert others. So, not quite a proper match, though you could do two different kinds of tales set in that locale. Notably Nemedia was also a place that Aquilonia wished to conquer, though never could.

The notable thing about the Hyborean Age's setting is Howard himself wrote about it's downfall and how an Ice Age came and shifted the lands into the continents we know today, with many cultures being left wiped out to the stone-age from the great cataclysms. This was also partly as come the end of the Hyborean timeline, the Picts took over Aquilonia thanks to their leader Gorm (his taking advantage of other's cultures didn't survive his passing, as Picts had no love or use for art or history) and the Northerners swept southward to avoid the oncoming Ice Age, pretty much most cultures fell to fire and ashes in those violent times.

Offline RubySlippers

Re: What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?
« Reply #7 on: October 09, 2017, 04:21:06 PM »
The people of Conan were Cimmerians a more serious and largely egalitarian people of Barbarians whose weapons were well regarded, depending on the source, Conan was in many careers and had many roles so was many things. Magic if it exists is often corrupting and in some cases not, generally wizards could be good or evil or neutral but almost always rare. And the magic there was leaned to summoning for example demons and creatures over flashy DnD spells.

Red Sonya is a contemporary figure to and in that some rare people have a mighty purpose having a potent spirit Red Sonya had it, likely Conan and a few others.

If you want the feel of it the Conan most recent movie is a good one over well earlier depictions IMHO.

Offline wander

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Re: What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?
« Reply #8 on: October 09, 2017, 06:38:21 PM »
The Mamoa movie is certainly more faithful to the lore of the books than the Arnie ones, however I do love the 80s charm that the earlier films had. I find the Mamoa movie a bit lacking in 'spirit' or 'soul' (as in a certain fire, not a lack of faithfulness to the adaptation) in comparison to the stories. Howard's Conan stories always had an element of passion and fiery emotion to them I felt, as in the highs of combat and risks of adventure.

Also it's true that in the first Conan story by Howard, he would have become a rogue in D&D parlance from his origin as a Barbarian class (hell that story does the whole adventure classic of busting into a wizard's tower to steal a gem and having to fight off the wizard's summoned monsters ;D ), though a very muscular one with higher Str and Con. He'd probably have a decent Will save too.  ;D

If you want another surprisingly faithful to the lore of the stories adaptation, I actually recommend checking out the 90s cartoon series, 'Conan the Adventurer', it's filled with references and outside his goofy pheonix comic relief sidekick is quintessential Conan. You can find episodes on youtube and if you want to get a visual representation of what the Hyborean Age was like, I'd for suggest checking that out too.

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?
« Reply #9 on: October 09, 2017, 06:51:37 PM »
Hm. Do you guys think that this new Conan RPG has Howard-faithful art?


Offline wander

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Re: What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?
« Reply #10 on: October 09, 2017, 07:08:06 PM »
I think the intro dialogue really hit the mood of how Howard described the locales, if you close your eyes and imagine those vistas, that's the Hyborean Age. It's hard to really say what's def. canon and faithful with Conan as everyone has their own ideas, I'm more traditionalist and keep to the Howard stuff only with the written stories, though I also love the Arnie movies and most things as fun fan-fic asides.

I'd recommend reading a few Conan short stories. Few are very long at all and some are in public domain, so can be read online on certain pages freely and legally. Then you can judge yourself how you imagine the Hyborean Age to be like.

For funsies though, watch the original Arnie flick, Conan the Barbarian. It has it's own mood, though does have a few bits from the stories placed in there (the bit where Arnie is crucified and bites to death a vulture coming down to peck at his eyeballs is straight from one of Howard's stories) and it's a fun romp. The sequel is less good, though also has a bit with a wizard and a brutish monster that's also taken from the stories and happens to have a neat payoff to a scene that involved a camel from the first film, I don't want to spoil it if you do happen to watch both.  ;D

Offline HairyHeretic

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Re: What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?
« Reply #11 on: October 10, 2017, 10:09:32 AM »
If you have an Android device, I found a collection of Conan stories on the play store and downloaded it to my phone. There's a dozen or more stories on there.

Offline IronQuill

Re: What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?
« Reply #12 on: October 14, 2017, 11:21:35 PM »
As I've understood it, Conan the Barbarian and his adventures, as written by R. E. Howard, are to invoke a romantic spirit of heroism and peril. It was written in a time when readers still enjoyed the concept of the hyper-capable hero. Conan was still a man, but one of infeasible capability. Before becoming King of Aquilonia, Conan was many many things. A wandering drunk who stumbles into his next adventure, a thief gliding through the night, a commander of men leading his soldiers into the chaos of battle, a shameless manwhore who beds any woman within days of meeting them, and a daring swordsman who slew beast and men alike with unmatched strength and speed. Conan understands honor and holds his own special sort of it, one tempered from his long years of adventuring.

A man he was, but also a god.

He is the Ur-example of the adventurer. Something to revere and revile in equal measure.

Offline wander

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Re: What can you guys tell me about R.E. Howard's Conan?
« Reply #13 on: October 15, 2017, 02:58:03 AM »
He was for sure an example of an escapist character, one who is purposefully a bit Marty Stu as the audience is intended to find escapism in him, to read his stories and place something of themselves in him as he goes on his daring adventures. He was far from a silent protagonist, though he had just enough personality to be interesting whilst still being a blank enough slate outside of the many physical attributes and abilities he held.

A lot like characters such as James Bond or Golgo 13. A character that is popular because they're cool and get shit done in whatever they do. His faults come down not to inability in his actions, though to things such as heavily drinking and womanising, set in a time of low fantasy where these things get handwaved and are there to say more 'this character is manly', which given the 1930s was more of a thing.

One of the earliest Conan stories that Howard wrote 'Black Colossus' tells of Conan bumping more or less incidentally into the beautiful Yasmela, the latter of which had just previously been advised by the god Mitra to save her kingdom by giving it's defence to the first man she came across, so Conan now becomes commander and general to her entire army to face against the forces of the wizard. It even had the trope of the evil wizard as the big bad. The main plot is even that the wizard is out to take Khoraja, the kingdom ruled by Yasmela, and then on to the rest of the world with Yasmela as his queen, with only Conan to save the beautiful damsel queen.

A very typical escapist story of daring adventure, though also an excellent read and for rpgers, it's a real classic. It's pretty easy to see also how it holds that escapist plot of hero saves princess from villian that made Conan a popular series.