Conan the Barbarian is a fictional character created by Robert E. Howard in 1932. A popular figure in American fantasy, Conan is probably the most well-known barbarian in fiction. Howard was a fantasy story writer who wrote a series of Conan stories for the Weird Tales magazine. It was not easy for him to sell his Conan character, but a timely break gave way for the characterâs instant popularity. Conan was able to invade books, comics, TV, films, video and other games.
The creation of Conan as a new character was Howard’s answer to the growing market of pulp outlets of the early 30s. He felt that he had to introduce something new that readers would accept. Actually, Conan was conceived from a previous character, Kull of Atlantis. Howard created Conan to be a native of Cimmeria during the Hyborian Age. This is the reason why he is also known as Conan the Cimmerian.
During Howard’s vacation at Rio Grande in February 1932, he completed the characterization of his new hero, Conan. In fact, he also wrote the poem “Cimmeria” which told about Conan’s homeland. By the time he returned from that vacation he already had a final idea of the story in his mind. Some scholars say that Conan was influenced by “The Outline of Mythology”, Thomas Bulfinch’s work in 1913.
Just after his vacation, Howard got hold of his former Kull story titled “By This Axe I Rule!”. Having Conan in mind, he rewrote and re-titled it “The Phoenix on The Sword”. He also wrote another story inspired by Greek mythology – the tale of Daphne, titled “The Frost Giantâs Daughter”. He submitted these two stories to Weird Tales magazine, hoping that either would be accepted for publication. As though it were signifying the beginning of Conan’s popularity, “The Phoenix on The Sword” was accepted.
After carrying out some polishing up of “The Phoenix on The Sword”, it finally appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. That was the first appearance of Conan in print. From then on, Howard became one of the members of the Weird Tale’s stable of distinguished authors.
His colleagues were H.P. Lovecraft, Tennessee Williams, Clark Ashton Smith, Seabury Quinn, Robert Bloch, and others – every one a giant in his field of literature. After Conan’s first appearance, Howard wrote an essay in which he described the details of the “Hyborian Age”. This then became the basis of the settings of his succeeding Conan stories.
Immediately following “The Phoenix…”, Howard wrote “The Tower of the Elephant”. This story made the readers feel at home with the Hyborian world. He successfully wove Conan’s character into this fictional world so that readers could genuinely feel part of it. Weird Tales became increasingly more popular, and Howard wrote many more Conan tales. All in all, seventeen out of his twenty one completed tales were published. He committed suicide in 1936, after which it was found that he had several more unfinished works.
Howard’s death was unfavorable to Conan’s popularity. The character’s copyright was held by several people until it landed in the laps of L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. Through them, the character’s stories were abridged, revised, and if needed, rewritten. In the almost four decades that followed, the original stories were not reprinted, although some other authors during that period were writing Conan stories. It was not until the 1980s that the original stories went back into circulation.
In Howard’s original stories, Conan the Cimmerian is the son of a blacksmith. He became a warrior at age fifteen and fought for the destruction of the Aquilonian outpost of Venarium. After this, Howard created several different adventure tales in which he portrayed Conan as a wanderer – a traveling Paladin that encountered monsters, evil wizards, beautiful princesses, and tavern wenches.
He was portrayed as a thief, mercenary, outlaw, and pirate while he roamed around the Hyborian Age. Eventually, as he grew older, he became more powerful, taking command of his own group. The battles he fought and won were motivated either by his will to survive or for his own gain.
Conan has different appearances, but he is well known for his gloomy or fiery blue eyes and a black square-cut mane. In Howard’s presentations, Conan would wear whatever kind of garb that suited the culture of the place he is in. In comic books, he is shown wearing a loincloth or other similar clothing. Surprisingly, Howard did not exactly describe Conan’s height and weight, but simply used qualities such as ‘giant’ and ‘massive’.
Howard’s description of a Cimmerian is someone who is a proto-Celtic, having black hair and blue or grey eyes. The Cimmerians were also described when Howard wrote his essay of The Hyborian Age. Conan was then supposedly a descendant of the Atlanteans.
Marvel Comics produced its own Conan stories in the 1970s. Writer Roy Thomas and illustrator Barry Windsor-Smith worked on “Conan the Barbarian”. Smith was then replaced by John Buscema, retaining Thomas as writer. Marvel employed several other Conan writers, giving birth to “Savage Sword of Conan” in 1974. Now considered as a cult classic, this was one of the most popular comic series in the 70s.
In 2003, Dark Horse Comics took a comic adaptation of the Conan stories. The work was carried out by writer Kurt Buseik and artist Cary Nord. The title was very simple – “Conan”. Most of Dark Horse’s materials were interpretations of Howard’s writings. The second series, Conan the Cimmerian, was released in 2008. In December 2010, a third series titled Conan Road of Kings was initiated.
Arnold Schwarzenegger portrayed Conan in the first movie version of the character in 1982. Years before this, Edward Summer envisioned some Conan cinematic projects, but not one of his outlined six stories ever made it to the silver screen. “Conan the Barbarian” was a collaboration of Oliver Stone and John Milius. The two also got ideas from plots conceived by Howard and his successors.
The film was successful, and eventually it gave Schwarzenegger his break-through role as an actor. It was produced by Dino de Laurentiis and directed by John Milius. A sequel titled “Conan the Destroyer” was released in 1984 but it performed poorly compared to the original movie.