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WHY I LOVE BARBARIANS

February 3, 2012

Most of the people I know who are fantasy fans—or fantasy authors—came into the genre by way of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or maybe the Narnia series. Some pretty stellar works, to be sure, but I’d never heard of them when I came across Conan the Barbarian.

I’ve blogged about this in detail before, so won’t belabor the point again here, but the Marvel Conan comics were my introduction to the fantasy genre. It didn’t take long after reading the first few of those I got my mitts on before I strode boldly into the Hyborean realms of Robert E. Howard’s original stories. And as you can imagine it was but a short trek from there to the many lands (including more than one of my own making) of the Dungeons & Dragons game.

To me, Conan is fantasy, and fantasy is Conan. Save your reluctant hobbits. I’ll take my heroes slightly disheveled, largely unafraid, and all-too-ready to cleave something in twain.

There’s just something viscerally satisfying about the barbarian outcast, something peculiarly American. I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that the author of The Lord of Rings was an Englishman, and the creator of Conan was a Texan. America oozes that “can do” individualism, an underlying contempt for authority that goes well beyond silly accusations of “class warfare.” I think Conan is a quintessentially American hero, as much as Batman or the Lone Ranger. He’s out there on his own, exploring a strange new world with only his wits and his sword arm to protect him, surrounded by enemies both savage (let’s just say that Howard’s take on Native Americans was no more enlightened than most Americans’ of the first few decades of the 20th Century) and civilized (like the Robber Barons of Depression Era America).

When Mel suggested we write a barbarian series, I was in without hesitation. After all, this is Depression Era America, too. The players are slightly different, the causes maybe a bit more creative, but the conditions are the same. And so, to me at least, the appeal of the mighty barbarian is no less fresh than the rampant unemployment, and general uncertainty of the times.

America takes a sort of vacation from its heroes from time to time, sometimes reveling a bit too much in their short-comings, as with the disgraced Christopher Columbus. We know that a whole bunch of our folk heroes, like Billy the Kid, John Dillinger, or Buffalo Bill, were hardly the action heroes we want them to be. At least two of the were violent, depraved criminals.

And so is Conan, at least a little.

And Arron? Well, ask a few of the bounty hunters of the Heteronomy if they would call him a heroic role model or a criminal fugitive. The best heroes tend to incorporate at least a little of both of those archetypes.

 

—Philip Athans

 

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark permalink
    February 4, 2012 3:44 pm

    Reblogged this on Fantasy Short Stories: the New Magazine of Fantasy and commented:
    We love them Barbarians too!

  2. April 20, 2012 2:47 pm

    Am I defective because I don’t like fantasy ? Everybody today writes fantasy with a very long trail of words and concepts.

    • April 20, 2012 3:45 pm

      I don’t think you’re “defective” if you don’t like fantasy. My wife doesn’t like fantasy, and we get along just fine. To each his (or her) own.

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