The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Conan the Prophet

I am avoiding OMGTRUMP as best I can, before I lose whatever friends I still have. I also like to sleep at nights, which TRUMPOMG is making difficult. To that effect I have been carrying off Robert Howard "Conan" books okay, I'll admit it - the Marvel comic adaptations. Over January I got through 230(!) comics in the mainline (give or take those issues I'm missing); and I switched to Savage Sword, this month. So last night I read "A Witch Shall Be Born", as redone by Roy Thomas.

The Eternal Salome takes over a kingdom. Conan, playing the part of Prophet, rejects her authority and gets crucified. Stylistically the narrative is delivered mainly from the viewpoint of other characters; this evokes certain scenes in the Gospels, the book of Job, and the Hadith. Robert Howard's theme here - if you could not tell - is that Conan is not Jesus. Conan has no interest in being Muhammad either.

I am told Howard rushed the manuscript. Some peeks around the 'net show me that its second-hand narrative has distracted most readers, like TVTropes and Howard Andrew Jones, who call foul on "Show Don't Tell". And they are right: especially Astreas (another nod to Bibliophiles) doesn't tell a story, he delivers exposition. Marvel's artists, as artists, are at least able to illustrate Astreas' epistle. So I can report, in this one case, that if you are looking for entertainment, which is why we read Conan in the first place, you are better off reading Marvel. Robert Howard himself would likely prefer you did.

Earlier in the Savage Sword series I'd read "Night of the Dark God". This retconned Conan's past to give him a first love, "Mara". When Conan Goes Home Again, some vikings are forcing a priest of "Mitra" to marry "Mara" to their chief. "Mara" will have none of it and just as Conan arrives, she kills herself. This didn't look like the Conan I know, even less like the Mitra I know. So I looked around and, sure enough, "The Dark Man" features Turlogh Dubh trying to rescue Moira, and the cowardly priest is a Christian. Here I think Howard would have disapproved Marvel's hack job.

I sense a general antipathy from the twenty-something Howard, living in the early 1930s, against the Christian myth. It's not that the religion is "Judgey" or "Hypocrites!" or "Boring" or whatever else they whine about in Boulder. Howard tells you all you need to know when he starts "The Dark Man" by quoting the Christian elegist Chesterton. The story calls shenanigans upon King Alfred's whole project. Howard's problem is Gibbon's: Christianity is weak. Howard, with Gibbon, sees the world as a savage place wherein only manly virtue and honour can protect the weak. For Howard's Uebermenschen generally, the Oglaf parody cuts close to home.

Howard isn't impressed with Lovecraft's Terrors From Beyond, either. It's Howard's thought that if some Elder God manifests itself on Earth, its avatar will be like a squid on dry land and thus vulnerable to a good sword and a strong arm. Although Howard has enough respect for Lovecraft's thesis that at least he doesn't parody it.

Howard might not know what society he wants instead. But he is young. While he figures it out he'll have his itinerant heroes Turlogh and Conan tear apart whatever humbug they encounter.

posted by Zimri on 10:00 | link | 0 comments

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