Friday, August 19, 2011

Review: Conan the Barbarian

As I’m sure everyone is aware, today is the release of the new movie Conan The Barbarian.

I only just recently read my first Conan in the form of the Conan The Barbarian collection from Barnes and Noble’s clearance shelf. The cover is terrible, the interior art sketchy and unimpressive, the paper thin, and in spite of what the website says about it, it’s actually a floppy cover; yet the stories reveal a Conan that is difficult, if not impossible to properly render on screen.

The tales included are: The Tower of the Elephant; Rogues in the House; The Frost Giant’s Daughter; Queen of the Black Coast; A Witch Shall Be Born; The People of the Black Circle; Red Nails; Beyond the Black River; and a background article for the stories, The Hyborian Age.

Prior to reading this collection I was only familiar with the 80’s Conan of the movies and the Conan the Adventurer cartoon from the early 90’s. Robert E Howard’s Conan is a very different character, and a much more interesting and complex one at that. While Conan is perfectly willing to kill and pillage, he does not do so wantonly. He is a very controlled character, in the same way a jungle cat is restrained.

The character of Conan is revealed though tales that are pulpy, generally short, and remarkably similar to Jack Vance’s Dying Earth in tone if not style. While Vance tends toward more grandiose language, Howard tends to keep things simple. In either case the worlds the characters inhabit are filled with strange and terrible things, dangerous and powerful, as well as many small and petty men. Death is easy and cheap, and the protagonists (I refrain from saying heroes very intentionally) must use a varying combination of force and wits to keep their heads. Another similarity is the wild swings of fate that both protagonists face.

How does this compare to the movie? No idea. I haven’t seen it yet. I’ll probably wait until I can use the free passes.  Especially since I have no interest in seeing it in 3D. (Edit: Oh no!  I was just informed that we are out of free passes!)


  1. How do you see Conan being difficult to render on screen? I think the Conan stories are practically ideal for cinematic adaptation. The only barrier would be those people wanting to turn off their brain and being annoyed that Conan isn't killing or wenching something every three seconds.

  2. The difficulty is exactly what you point out, the executives who control the studios. They have no interest in Conan for anything but a quick buck. It's going to take someone like Peter Jackson to make a good adaptation of REH's Conan.