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Conan's Morality

Water Bob

Adventurer
Conan is often portrayed as "good guy" in the comics and pastiches. Howard, to me, writes him more in the "grey', but not necessarily a "bad" guy.

What I'm curious about is how Conan copes during the times he's been the leader of a band of warriors--when he lead the Kozaki/Zuagir/Free Company/Red Brotherhood or even as the general of the host of some southern nation.

The kozaks, zuagir, and the Red Brotherhood, at least, were known for their maurading, pilliaging, and plundering. Isn't this type of activity synonymous with rape, theft, and murder? Weren't towns sacked and burned to the ground?

And Conan, as leader of these bands at different times in his life, condoned this activity, yes? He allowed his men to burn the houses of poor people? He allowed the murder of children? He allowed their mothers and sisters raped?

Or, are we to assume that the kozaks, zuagir, and Red Brotherhood (not to mention his Free Company and any army he's lead in his life) supported themselves in a "nice" way.

Thoughts?
 

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Votan

Explorer
I see Conan as having the typical morality of a steppe culture warrior. War is just one of those things that is part of life == even if it is not pretty.
 


Water Bob

Adventurer
My point is that he's really an anti-hero, rather than how he is sometimes portrayed. As he ravaged the Black Coast with Belit and became known as Amra The Lion, his men were burning the houses of innocents, murdering children, raping women, and committing other despicable acts.
 

David Howery

Adventurer
OTOH, he also saved countless lives by slaughtering all kinds of supernatural boogeymen, treated women rather chivalrously, and was apparently a pretty good king, since it is mentioned how he stood up for the commoners in his realm, not letting them starve, and the like. So, not all good, not all bad... in D&D terms, a card carrying neutral...
 

"Unaligned" (which is basically a type of true neutral) could also apply. He's a just a guy who tries to get through life. He'll be nice when he can but is perfectly willing to do bad if that's what it takes.
 


Desdichado

Adventurer
My point is that he's really an anti-hero, rather than how he is sometimes portrayed. As he ravaged the Black Coast with Belit and became known as Amra The Lion, his men were burning the houses of innocents, murdering children, raping women, and committing other despicable acts.
Yeah, well, actually we don't know that. Howard never wrote anything about raping women or murdering children, unless it was folks like the Picts or something, whom Conan despised. Howard's stories weren't meant to be realistic. While his men were often savage pirates, brigands and raiders--from time to time--Conan himself was always seen in opposition to that kind of behavior, and Howard certainly never said that it happened on his watch.
 


Water Bob

Adventurer
"Unaligned" (which is basically a type of true neutral) could also apply. He's a just a guy who tries to get through life. He'll be nice when he can but is perfectly willing to do bad if that's what it takes.

But, he does have a code he lives by. It's just that Conan decides what is "right" and what is "wrong", not society.





Yeah, well, actually we don't know that. Howard never wrote anything about raping women or murdering children, unless it was folks like the Picts or something, whom Conan despised. Howard's stories weren't meant to be realistic. While his men were often savage pirates, brigands and raiders--from time to time--Conan himself was always seen in opposition to that kind of behavior, and Howard certainly never said that it happened on his watch.

I think your point would have more weight if we were just talking about one group or marauders. But, Conan lead the Red Brotherhood, on two seas (the Great Western Ocean and the Vilayet), the Kozaki, the Zuagir, and his own Free Company--not to mention the armies of a few southern kingdoms (as with Black Colossus--and depending on whether you stick primarily with Howard or also include pastiches/comics).

It's hard to believe that all of these groups were reigned in by Conan's command and ceased the darker aspects of raiding, plundering, pirating, and marauding.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
It's hard to believe that all of these groups were reigned in by Conan's command and ceased the darker aspects of raiding, plundering, pirating, and marauding.
What's hard for me to believe is that Howard's audience in the '30s would ever once have considered the question of whether or not Conan's men raped women and murdered children.
 

Salamandyr

Adventurer
I think it's fair to assume that Conan, where he could, worked to minimize the more monstrous activities of the bandits, pirates, and cutthroats that served him. While he was more than willing to split the skull of any who opposed him, you never once see him brutalizing the weak. Conan in a couple places expressed his distaste at forcing women as well (he does show an inclination to rape one time...the Frost Giant's Daughter, but that could easily have arisen from her ensorcelment) So I imagine, if Howard were asked, he would explain that Conan's men killed the opposition, took the choicest valuables, and left the women and children alive, and unharmed with enough to survive on. Or that he limited his predations to fat merchants, nobles, and enemy warships, farms and villages having little to steal anyway.

It's not particularly realistic, but those kinds of scruples also helps explain why Conan kept losing his followers as well. For a charismatic leader guy, he sure got betrayed a lot.
 

Water Bob

Adventurer
What's hard for me to believe is that Howard's audience in the '30s would ever once have considered the question of whether or not Conan's men raped women and murdered children.

Why wouldn't they? Do you think his audience was all children? Do you think the definitions of raiding, pillaging, plundering, pirating, marauding described something different than they do today? Do you think people were less intelligent or less inquisitive in the 30's?
 

S'mon

Legend
It's hard to believe that all of these groups were reigned in by Conan's command and ceased the darker aspects of raiding, plundering, pirating, and marauding.

I don't recall REH ever describing Conan as 'reigning in' anybody. Conan might despise Picts for their committing atrocities vs Aquilonians, but I think he mostly just hated Picts as an ancient race-enemy of Cimmeria. He seemed to have no moral problem with massacring black villages, whether in service to Belit or while leading his own warband. Going by REH he seems to have had a fairly racialist view; Cimmerians, Hyboreans and presumably Aesir/Vanir get better treatment than less closely related races. By 'better treatment' I mean 'only kill armed men', that is.
 

S'mon

Legend
Why wouldn't they? Do you think his audience was all children? Do you think the definitions of raiding, pillaging, plundering, pirating, marauding described something different than they do today? Do you think people were less intelligent or less inquisitive in the 30's?

I think they read the stories for escapism, and with much the same view as they'd have read about the criminal exploits of John Dillinger and Bonnie & Clyde.
 

Water Bob

Adventurer
Conan in a couple places expressed his distaste at forcing women as well (he does show an inclination to rape one time...the Frost Giant's Daughter, but that could easily have arisen from her ensorcelment)

Let's not forget the beginning of Red Nails, either. The tale didn't protray rape, but Conan sure had one thing on his mind as he traveled all that distance in pursuit of Valeria.

If you want to go the pastiche route, there's the intense scene in Andrew Offutt's Conan The Sword of Skelos where it would have been rape when Conan took Isparana but wasn't only because she eventually submitted and welcomed him.

Isparana is an interesting character. Offutt's prose has Conan considering Isparana because she has been raped so many times in her past that now she just looks upon it as an fact of life. Conan admires the strength Isparana displays in being a survivor, no matter the trial.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
Why wouldn't they? Do you think his audience was all children? Do you think the definitions of raiding, pillaging, plundering, pirating, marauding described something different than they do today? Do you think people were less intelligent or less inquisitive in the 30's?
See, you're trying to apply today's paradigm, where we're all cynical and read George R. R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie to the '30s and figuring that if people then didn't think like we do now, then they must be less intelligent, inquisitive or otherwise somehow naive. That's a fundamentally flawed approach right there.
 

Water Bob

Adventurer
I think they read the stories for escapism, and with much the same view as they'd have read about the criminal exploits of John Dillinger and Bonnie & Clyde.

A point well put. And, I'm sure many did. But, I'm just as sure that many looked deeper than that, just as I have.
 


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