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- Essay/Term paper: Disaster hits village
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This book, and the excellent essays within, were the first to take Robert E. Howard and his work seriously and to consider Robert E. Howard a major literary figure.
The essay, "The Dark Barbarian," sprung into existence as a continuation of an argument first begun by Don Herron in "Conan vs Conantics" Two-Gun Raconteur 3, where he argues that there is an intrinsic, and unfortunate, difference between the conception of Howard's original Conan character and the conception of the character as portrayed in the imitations.
The essay discusses the posthumous altering of Howard's Conan tales, the difference between Howard's Conan stories and other authors' versions of Conan, the characteristics necessary to capture the essence of Howard's Conan tales, and many other important -- nay, absolutely essential insights for Conan fans and would-be imitators alike.
For those who wish to adapt Howard's work into another medium such as television or film and still retain what made Howard's work immortal, this essay is invaluable. Don Herron sprung upon the REH scene with his article, "Conan vs Conantics" -- known as being the first knock-down, drag-out round in the battle against the imitations. In he published the seminal book, The Dark Barbarian.
Herron have also appeared in The Dark Man: Journal of Robert E. Howard Studies, numerous Robert E.
Essay/Term paper: Disaster hits village
Recently, he wrote Willeford , a biography of crime writer Charles Willeford. In addition to authoring numerous books, he has been written up in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and hundreds of other publications. Howard fans and scholars will be happy to know that The Dark Barbarian is now back in print as a trade paperback and The Barbaric Triumph, a sequel to the The Dark Barbarian, has just been published -- both from Wildside Press. I am the Dark Barbarian That towers over all. Howard of Cross Plains, Texas, created one of the great mythic figures in modern popular culture, the Dark Barbarian.
The inherent appeal of this character has generated a major sub-genre of the fantastic, the Sword-and-Sorcery or heroic fantasy tale, and put Howard in the select ranks of the literary legend-makers: Tolkien, and Ian Fleming. The characters and set pieces these writers created persist in the public imagination -- not only persist, in memory, in print and on the screen, but have assumed truly legendary stature in our culture.
Shelley in Frankenstein and Stoker in Dracula each embodied Horror forever in a name; while Lovecraft in his tales of Cthulhu, Arkham, and the Necronomicon later gave supernatural terror a knowing mythological authority that invoked all earlier horror fiction even as he looked aeons ahead to unimaginable terrors awaiting humankind in cosmic space. Burroughs presented the definitive Jungle Hero, Tarzan. When Lord Greystoke sheds the trappings of civilization to roam Africa in loincloth and knife as Tarzan of the Apes, a more barbaric image would be difficult to create.
The fact that he usurped the swordplay from Dumas and a good measure of supernatural horror from Lovecraft added to the distinction.
Yet the overriding difference is in mood and philosophy.
The famous lines at the end of the Conan story "Beyond the Black River" epigrammatize this philosophy: Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph. Beyond the Black River the barbarians wait their chance to rush in. His artistic leanings toward the poetic and the romantic, his compulsion for violence, his interests in history, myth and adventure all fell easily into this shadow of barbarism. As Howard wrote to Lovecraft early in I have lived in the Southwest all my life, yet most of my dreams are laid in cold, giant lands of icy wastes and gloomy skies, and of wild, windswept fens and wilderness over which sweep great sea-winds, and which are inhabited by shock-headed savages with light fierce eyes.
With the exception of one dream, I am never, in these dreams of ancient times, a civilized man. Always I am the barbarian, the skin-clad, tousle-haired, light-eyed wild man, armed with a rude axe or sword, fighting the elements and wild beasts, or grappling with armored hosts marching with the tread of civilized discipline, from fallow fruitful lands and walled cities.
This is reflected in my writings, too, for when I begin a tale of old times, I always find myself instinctively arrayed on the side of the barbarian, against the powers of organized civilization.
The entrenched Romans hold their own, but realize they will succumb eventually to exhaustion in the face of the day-and-night assault. The officers of the legion decide to counterattack, storming with all troops out the sally ports and slaughtering one third of the barbarians. The remaining barbarians, Price observes, prove their superiority to the Romans by outrunning them and escaping with their lives.
Conans all, they were not.
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Incomparably drilled and disciplined, the Roman legionary almost always made hash of his foes, until the society which had produced him rotted away. In medieval England, every yeoman of military age was required by law to have a longbow and spend a set number of hours per week practicing with it. In general, the civic background of an army is the most important element in its long-range success or failure. They can prevail over a civilization only after it has ruined itself p.
Howard was of course a student of history; even when he wrote of a character in a fully barbaric role, raising arms against civilization, he did not permit himself to forget reality. In the "Foreword" to Bran Mak Morn Howard is quoted as saying that he "was an instinctive enemy of Rome," and that his hero Bran Mak Morn, king of the primitive Picts of Caledonia, was "merely the symbol of my own antagonism toward the empire.
Bran, as a fantasy hero, wins a couple of battles with Rome: Howard portrayed the Pictish cause as doomed, and soon lets these words fall from the lips of the same Pict: Bran Mak Morn fell in battle; the nation fell apart. Like wolves we Picts live now among the scattered islands, among the crags of the highlands and the dim hills of Galloway. We are a fading people. Poems like "A Song of the Naked Lands" and many others are warnings to civilized readers to look to their standards.
In the essay "The Hyborian Age" Howard records the eventual triumphant invasion of the Picts into the civilized lands once roamed by Conan, after these nations have grown too soft to defend themselves. They do not elect to become kings of barbaric peoples; instead they use their abilities to put themselves on the thrones of civilized lands.
When they gain control they attempt to strengthen their countries -- against the inevitable onslaught of the barbarians. Conan in "Beyond the Black River" fights against the Picts, not with them. He is later king of Aquilonia, a nation that falls before Pictish invaders during that shadowy era imagined by Howard which comes between the end of his mythical Hyborian Age and the misty beginnings of recorded history.
They retain strongly barbaric virtues in civilized lands. Sprague de Camp notes in his introduction to the anthology Warlocks and Warriors , Sword-and-Sorcery stories are no further removed from reality than the countless yarns about superspys who race about in supercars from one posh gambling joint to another, finding a superbabe awaiting them in bed at each stop; or detective stories wherein, after the stupid cops have failed to catch the culprit, a brilliant amateur -- a reporter, a priest, or a little old lady -- steps in and solves the murder p.
Science fiction stories in the s and earlier which depict rockets to the moon were patently ridiculous by realistic standards of the day. The fact that humankind has now achieved limited manned space flight makes these early tales no better or worse as fiction, though it does lend them considerable social interest. Robert Bloch has recalled that in his novel The Scarf his deranged lead character has a dream in which he barricades himself in a tower with guns and ammo -- and begins sniping at passersby below.
The editors told Bloch that this image was ludicrous and unnecessarily violent; they cut the scene. Only later was it realized that Bloch had hit upon an obsessive, almost archetypal, desire of the modern psychopath. Tolkien and many others -- the deliberate artistic construction of a secondary imaginary world, usually one where magic, dragons and other wonders are not unreal. Poet and critic Donald Sidney-Fryer, however, points out that the sort of "modern " imaginary world adventure de Camp and Carter credit Morris with inventing may be found in The Faerie Queene of Edmund Spenser, a knowing art epic full of magic, with the sword-bearing Red Cross Knight.
Yet whether Morris, Spenser, or another writer is credited with bringing the form from the misty past of legend and folklore into modern literary usage, the recounting of adventures of the Hero in a fantastical worldscape is obviously a long tradition, one which Howard may be placed within.
This tradition itself falls into the larger category of heroic adventure. Why put Conan into one pigeonhole because he battles sorcerers and Bond into another because he battles superspys, when the imaginative substance -- adventure -- is the same?
Their universes are closer to the reality of contemporary life, true, but the flamboyant international escapades of Bond and the rough-and-tumble pursuit of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant by Jones are no more believable than Conan, although they are easier for a modern reader to identify with.
It is easier for most people, given the choice, to project themselves into a world of spys and Nazi plots than into a prehistoric age of red barbarism. Yet consider for a moment an Elizabethan reading both Howard and Ian Fleming.
Surely Howard would be the more believable, more realistic author for a person of that age. Readers can find more modern heroes of the same savage ilk to follow, who adventure in worlds closer to the ones they know.
Why then is Conan of such interest today, when more fully developed worlds of fantasy are to be found, when other heroes abound in the arts, when the entire concept of a sword-wielding barbarian seems so outmoded? Answers suggest themselves when one notes that the boyish, prototypical film swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks, Senior, whose films reached more people and influenced more imaginations than did any writer of swashbuckling action before him, and his later sound film counterpart Errol Flynn are being replaced in current movies by darker incarnations -- such as Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, boyish and adventurous, but with a brutal murderous streak.
One finds in comic books, a relative bastion of conservative values, staunch heroes such as Captain America who in the last decade or so have begun to question their values, to see the dark side of their warlike existence. He created heroes who anticipate and more than equal the modern macho anti-hero, who are as violent as Dirty Harry or Mike Hammer, and sometimes -- as in the case of Kull -- as questioning of their lives and values as any hero found in modern popular literature.
Opposing this viewpoint is Dr. Clark, editor of the first book collections of Conan stories published by Gnome Press in the s. Sprague de Camp, editor of the current uniform Conan series, agrees with Clark. Charles Hoffman, in the essay "Conan the Existentialist" Ariel, Autumn , presents one of the best supported arguments, noting: Howard instilled his personal world-view into his fiction, yet he chose to avoid the heavy, blatant symbolism used by many a more famous author.
When Conan becomes king, he is not acting out a role already preordained by fate; rather, he seizes the opportunity to make himself a king" p. And what, mused Kull, were the realities of life?
Was it the real Kull who sat upon the throne or was it the real Kull who had scaled the hills of Atlantis?
How could a man be so many different men in a lifetime? For Kull knew that there were many Kulls and he wondered which was the real Kull. With all deference to Dr. Clark and those who agree with him, it is apparent that Howard did have philosophical notions which he put into his fiction. Howard was a first-rate teller of tales, with a remarkable technical command of his tools and with a complete lack of inhibitions. With a fine and free hand he took what he liked from the more spectacular aspects of all ages and climes: This melange of influences was scarcely digested before Howard was, as it were, pouring it back onto the page" p.
Many people think of history in neat blocks of eras, ages, royal lines. The debunking of modern conceptions about life in ancient Rome makes amusing reading. But this approach is based upon what is known about history. A great deal is unknown. Immanuel Velikovsky in Ages in Chaos suggests that six centuries of the history of dynastic Egypt have been misplaced.
More reputable figures than Velikovsky disagree on whether or not Cro-Magnon Man came along and displaced Neanderthal Man, or whether they co-existed for ages. No one can explain with certainty how the dinosaurs met their deaths after untold ages of biological supremacy.