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Monday, October 12, 2009

What if Conan Moved In Next Door?

Originally published in Janine Stinson's fanzine Peregrine Nations. PN is now on-line among other on-line zines and very good it is too, though it closed down some time ago. I am a fan of Robert E. Howard and in recent years I have discovered Kull as well, in the beautifully-illustrated omnibus editions. The Kull adventures are generally more light-hearted than the Conan ones and because Kull isn't travelling around as Conan does, there can be a number of regular characters.

But I wrote the article below in a fit of whimsy. It should be read in that spirit.

First, I’d like to make one thing quite clear: as a female fan of Robert E. Howard’s work, I have no desire to be crushed, panting, to Conan’s mailed breast, and never did have. If I was going to go out with a heroic fantasy hero, I’d rather have Tolkien’s hero Faramir, thanks. He’s a guy who’d not only be able to protect you from the baddies, but would remember your birthday and take you to some nice Minas Tirith restaurant for a birthday dinner, where you’d discuss art and music. If Conan remembered your birthday, he’d probably bring you a treasure from some ancient cursed tomb and you’d spend most of dinner watching in terror as he battled a slimy monster from before the dawn of time, come to take back its possession.

No - Conan wouldn’t be my idea of a boyfriend.

But he would make a very good next-door neighbour. He might not mow your lawn, and probably he’d have noisy feasts every other night, but he would make you feel utterly safe. Any stalker or burglar to invade your property would find himself hanging in midair, staring into a blazing pair of blue eyes under a long black mane, probably the last sight he ever saw. Any ex-boyfriend who tried to keep up a relationship you no longer wanted would be shaken thoroughly to make him understand that no means no and that a man of honour should understand this - then would be kicked down the street like a football. He would also knock on your door when you came home late from work to make sure everything was okay, or even come and pick you up from the station.

Conan appreciates an attractive woman, as we know from most of his adventures, and is only too happy to accept an offer from a charming lady - or a buxom wench - but never, ever forces himself on one. (You can’t really count the Frost Giant’s daughter - she’s just a challenge like any other, and Conan never turns down a challenge). It’s a part of his barbarian honour. In story after story, his behaviour is contrasted with that of arrogant, depraved noblemen of decadent civilizations. (I’m getting these visions of Conan showing his contempt for chardonnay-sipping yuppie males... Probably not a good idea to invite him to your dinner-party, though the backyard barbecue should be safe.)

I always liked it that the love of Conan’s life was Belit, a pirate queen. He had no problem with strong women, just with the ones who were trying to sacrifice him to some ancient demon, but the same applied to male priests who were doing the same. So he should have no problem with a strong professional woman living next door, as long as she showed him courtesy.

Well, Conan isn’t my next-door neighbour, alas, though the gentleman who lives in the next flat is nice enough. I can only find him between the covers of a book - in my case, one of the old Lancer editions which I first picked up on a remainders table, many years ago. I remember the wonderful Frank Frazetta covers, with Conan battling some monster or other, and the sheer joy of losing myself in his adventures. He may not be sitting with me in my study when I write, but I would probably never have had a go at heroic fantasy if not for those tales, or have joined the Society for Creative Anachronism, where I learned, at least, what you can’t do with a sword (it would have been much more fun to learn from Conan. I think he’d laugh at the idea, but help you out if you really wanted to learn).

The only thing is, if Conan moved in next door, he wouldn’t stay long. He would become restless for the next horizon - and probably run out of money and need another job. I think I’d miss him, too. Then again, he would probably leave you a souvenir ... such as a treasure from some ancient cursed tomb from before the dawn of time...


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