Why Conan (the Cimmerian) Sucks, except when he doesn’t

I’ve embarked on a new project–a video review of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The first stage of it is re-watching the trilogy (of which I own the extended editions), and recording timestamps of all the scenes that stand out as being either really great, or (more often) really, really bothersome. I got about fifty-five minutes in, to a point where the ringwraiths are right on top of the hobbits but somehow said hobbits still escape… and this was just the latest stupidity I was forced to remember in what had been basically a one-problem-per-minute viewing. It was giving me a headache, so I went on to something else.

Fortunately, a book I ordered, a fancy-shmancy new Lovecraft hardcover, arrived in the mailey-oh.

So naturally, I’m going to talk about Robert E. Howard’s Conan character!

As it happens I own all three of the Del Rey/Wandering Star volumes (this is the first) and lately I’ve been perusing them, largely just because I wanted a break from all my usual gaming and cartooning and stuff.

Let me be frank: the Conan stories can be pretty fun. Essentially, what REH does is creates a world that is part pre-history, but also part-Lovecraftian. The best way to put it is imagine Middle-earth if it had Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu wandering around, and the nations of men (no elves or dwarves here) were not led by divinity but were instead just primal creatures who evolved into societies, like in the real world, except here civilization is seen as something aberrant.

This is the attractive power of the stories. They create a world that is dark, dangerous and mysterious. That’s not to say its evil–if you’re thinking of something like a Frank Miller or Alan Moore comic, you’re on something of the wrong track. There are virtues in the Hyborian Age, but they are more primal, driven partly by survival instinct, and virtues that are the result of civilization are seen as annoying at best due to how they can confound what should be straightforward matters (the opening of “Queen of the Black Coast” is a case in point).

Conan, then, is a traveller from Cimmeria, a land where civilization never reached, except in tales and rumors. He was born to a warrior culture, and for reasons never given has decided to go through the lands south of his home and see what they hold for him… and they hold plenty.

Conan is, in essence, the ultimate male power fantasy. He does what he wants, and has the muscles and skill with weaponry to back himself up. If he is to go down, he would prefer to go down fighting. He is neither good nor evil, but rather is something like an animal in man’s form. He is pretty much the man all nerdy teenage boys wish they could be. That he exists in a world full of dark tombs of eldritch abominations and pagan sorceries just makes it all the better.

…Then there’s the women, and we get to the part I hate.

Now, to Robert E. Howard’s credit, his females are usually not “damsels in distress,” and in fact are usually strong-willed and proactive, capable of fending for themselves whether or not Conan is there to save them.

That’s all well and good, but would it kill them to get dressed? Invariably, the women of these stories either start out completely naked, or else become so at some point in the narrative (and when they are dressed, its usually not in anything much better than being stark naked to begin with). And of course, these are always the most gorgeous women ever.

If I may rant for a second, I understand that fantasy is largely written for a male audience (or was back then). The problem I have with the fantasy genre is that the males in question are interpreted, at least by the authors, as being horny adolescents who will like anything with a decent rack. I remember reading the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy, and after awhile it turned out everyone was having sex–not romantically, and in fact (if I remember right) without any real sort of buildup or development, just suddenly they all started doing it. Except Tasslehoff, of course, since hobbit sex would likely be seen as child porn by some nitpicky conservatives.

Even Robert E. Howard himself seemed to have this issue, since he wrote several disparaging comments about the male gender, and also expressed pride whenever he sold a story that “had no sex in it” (his words)–one such one being “Beyond the Black River,” one of the better Conan tales.

Am I a prude? No. What I am is a thinking creature, and whenever I see parts like this, I feel like I’ve been insulted. Like “Yeah, we know you’ll like this because it has tits!” When things treat me that way, it diminishes my will to keep on going. I’ve dropped plenty of anime for a similar reason.

This is just one part of the problem. Like I intoned earlier, I love the mysteries and places and cultures of the Hyborian Age, and I like hearing about the man who traverses them… but all too often, all the stuff that is actually interesting gets buried under the male pandering. Not just the sex, but also the “look at how handsome and strong this guy is.” The fighting and killing is all well and good but sometimes, it feels like the testosterone eclipses all the parts I really care about.

I’m not asking for a bowdlerization. Hell no–that would result in something as terrible as the Marvel Comics version of Conan, or the later L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter published fanfics. All I’m asking is for the camera to shift its focus a bit. To use an analogy, remember in AVGN’s “The Wizard” review when he expressed annoyance that the movie was showing two people talking when what he actually wanted to see was what game the kids were playing in the background? That’s sort of what I’m getting at here. Not just for Conan but for the fantasy genre as a whole.

The problem is not “sex is icky” or whatever the thirteen-year-old Tropers reading this blog are already thinking, the problem is that its mundane. Imagine watching an intense F1 race and all the sudden the race stops so they can talk about how green the grass is. I read fantasy for the fantastic–starfish aliens, magic rings, lands that never were (or maybe still are?) or new insights into the workings of the cosmos, and a mundane fact of life rearing its ugly head is an intrusion. Fantasy authors don’t feel the need to describe using the bathroom (well.. Stephen King does, but he’s a hack) so why this?

So, yeah, in a nutshell:

Conan is great fantasy, but it starts to suck when the “fantasy” gets overshadowed by other matters. Just like most authors who aren’t Tolkien.

(And how much you want to bet people are going to read this as prudishness despite my three paragraphs of extrapolation, because we all know the internet is mostly populated by half-literate teens whose brains are in their dicks?)

Why I Lag

Most long-time readers will notice that I don’t update on a regular basis, and lately ramble-muffins like this one have become more common than my original game review-esque posts which were my whole purpose in the first place. Well, let me be honest.

I hate my home, I hate where I live and I hate the people around me.

Unfortunately, for all of you saying “Well, move,” its actually not that easy. To move you need money, and I’m not exactly rich. My friend Geo aka WrathOfSeven was helping me out but he’s got problems of his own. I can’t go into a whole lot of detail, but I will say that his experiences have forever soured me on wanting to find romance.

Anyway.

The thing about the people around me is they’re all idiots, seriously. Worse than that they’re the ignorant types who… well, let me put it this way: I mentioned I was watching Marble Hornets to one of them, and she asked what its about. So I told her and when I got to mentioning Slenderman, she said “Oh, no, don’t watch that. You’ll start killing people, just like those girls did!” -__- This same person also bought into the “D&D is satanic” thing back in the 1980s, by the way.

See that’s what I hate about my area. I’m the one enlightened person in a pool of nimrods straight out of the 1960s. What’s worse is, I’m also the only one who is productive. I keep my apartment clean. They constantly complain about how dirty theirs is, but they never lift a finger to do anything about it. What makes matters worse is they like to criticize–if I have even one piece of paper on the floor for whatever reason, suddenly I’m a slob (even if the paper is there on purpose–like, say, because its a pad for a kitten who isn’t litterpan-trained yet).

As a matter of fact, “It’s bad when Edmond does it” seems to be a theme I’m running into.

With internet forums, for example. There was a case recently where I mentioned in passing that I found Ninja Gaiden on NES rather unfair. This immediately led to two fanboys of it popping in to say its absolutely perfect and has no flaws and I was just “mad” because I couldn’t beat it. I wasn’t even particularly critical until they opened their big mouths. The irony? Just recently these exact same people bitched about the difficulty of the first-person shooter Blood, going so far as to claim that the crawling hand enemies instantly killed you if they grabbed you (they don’t) or else that there’s no way to get them off once they latch on (there is, and its pathetically easy–just keep mashing the use key). So the same guys who got onto me for being a “scrub” turn out to be scrubs themselves. In fact I’ve often noticed that internet geeks project their own flaws into others.

At least the internet stuff is completely optional though–once I turn off the laptop I no longer care about it. The real life stuff isn’t so easy. Seems like its just the minute I’m getting into a groove is the moment where someone decides they have to bug me, and I’m just like “go the fuck away.” Unfortunately its always people who are in a position where they could make trouble for me so I have to be more tactful. It’s times like that when I can really understand Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories and why they appeal to so many people.

So okay, people in life suck, and people on the internet suck.

That makes it hard to really give a damn about writing or posting reviews or videos, really. I mean only one person I know in real life would even see the point of it, and the kind of people who would pay attention online are mostly the kind of people I don’t want to associate with.

This is the part where people would say “Well, do it for yourself!” but the problem there is, if there’s not an audience, I don’t particularly feel the need to produce. I mean yeah I could do a review of how great Might and Magic is… but that’s time spent that I could instead be putting towards actually playing the game.

Tho to be honest, part of the problem here is just… things got boring. Like, lately I don’t care much about playing games or reading books or doing anything. I’ve had a general “what’s the point?” funk for some time now, coupled with finding said things either too boring or too irritating. It’s not like when I was a kid, and could play these for hours on end. Reviewing them actually kinda makes it worse because then it feels like it’s become work, and turning it into work is the surest way to ruin things.

Sigh.

That all being said, this is not an “exit speech,” I’m not leaving the building, and the blog is not over. Cuz the fact is, every once in awhile I feel the urge to do it anyway, even disregarding all I just said. When lightning strikes, you have to get shocked.

I’m just saying that lately the lightning hasn’t been striking.

I’m thinking of making up for this by posting another classic childhood movie on Youtube, and also uploading Anime Aladdin to Zippcast. So many people have asked me to send them the full movie, and I’ve been unable to because of how my ISP works, but at least Zippcast offers a reasonable solution.

Anyway, that’s my ramble for the day. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest I’ll likely get back to fun stuff. See ya soon, maybe.