Aug 27, 2012

Conan the Barbarian

Robert E. Howard created Conan, the barbarian hero who wanders an antediluvian sword-and-sorcery world,  in a series of stories for the pulp Weird Tales beginning in 1932.  Though not terribly muscular, according to the taste of the age, Conan was aggressively heterosexual.  Other barbarian heroes in 1930s pulps traveled alone or with same-sex sidekicks and disdained women as unwelcome harbingers of civilization.  But Conan rescued women, fell in love with them, and usually intended to marry them before they were killed by sorcerers or turned out to be witches.  He had no room for a sidekick; those men he did manage to befriend invariably betrayed him before the story ended.

The stories fell out of favor for a generation or two, but they were rediscovered during the Swinging Sixties.  In 1966, heroic fantasy writers L. Sprague DeCamp and Lin Carter put them in chronological order, added additional materials, and published the series.  Other authors added their own tales to the mythos, specializing in endings in which Conan ravishes the naked lady after rescuing her (the original stories kept Conan chaste).

The covers, often by Frank Frazetta,  showed a nicely muscled Conan, but it was hard to find one that didn't also show a naked lady.

Marvel began the comic book series in 1970, with both adaptions and original stories. In 1974, the magazine-size Savage Sword of Conan printed more "adult" material (that is, you see breasts).

I bought the comic books whenever the covers DIDN'T show a naked lady lying on the ground, clutching Conan's leg (couldn't they stand up?).  So about one issue in six.

The stories inside had not a hint of bonding; women exist to be rescued and then either betray Conan or fall in love with him, and men exist to torture him.

But at least there was plenty of beefcake.

1 comment:

  1. The movie had a homophobic scene. A gay-coded man trying to get Conan to remove his robe. Naturally, he's part of the Thulsa Doom cult.

    Then again, there's also a woman who tried to seduce Conan and murder him. And the very first sex scene is Conan (at the time a slave) with a slave; the fact that neither party is consenting is never brought up.


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