Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I've been reading a lot of Conan...

I've loved fantasy and sci-fi books as long as I can remember - though I really only started getting into reading them after I discovered D&D.

But as a kid I never read Conan, books which pretty much started the sword and sorcery genre.

Robert E Howard was an odd fish. A prolific pulp author, he wrote a prodigious amount of novellas and stories for pulp mags, worked out until he was fucking huge and, when his mother was dying, was so distraught he popped his clogs at just around 30 years of age.

He left a lot of work behind. And he was part of the Lovecraft-Smith group of writers who wrote Gothic horror and fantasy and in collaboration created an alternate earth with a lot of back-story to it. Howard even wrote an 8000 word essay about his setting of pre-historical earth - before the earth heaved and dashed it all away - solely to background his setting and ensure consistent continuity in the history over hundreds of stories.

I have a hat. I am doffing it.

The imitators are out there. Hell, the mythos spawned or rather inspired dozens of people to try their hand and this style of writing. And, like romance novels which too have certain language styles and plot elements, the text can border on tipping over from baby bear's porridge into lurid prose so purple you'd think Ancient Romans would hunt the slug that secretes it into extinction.

As David St Hubbins famously said, 'there's such a fine line between stupid and clever.'

When I was a child I used to read as I walked along. This led to problems, not just from a safety perspective but also a social one. However I was still ahead of that guy who got a hold of policeman's note-pads and seriously handed out tickets to kids mucking up at the bus stop.

Your average Conan book is about 200 pages long, has a moderate sized font, and has a spine robust enough to be bent back so you hold the book in one hand, the bent over pages pressed against the back of the side you are reading.

So recently ... I've been reading as I go on my walk. It's not hard if I choose a path I have wearily trod hundreds of times before. Though I confess that I do glance up every few paces and if I see another person coming I will wait until they pass before I start reading again. If only so I can watch them and make sure they don't try and biff me. Actually, I do that anyway and I make sure to glance behind me for ten seconds or so after the pass to make-sure they don't turn around and seek to bash my noggin.

Mock me if you must but I am not being paranoid. Just safety obsessed ... with a hint of OCD.

Back to Conan. The last Conan book I read, Conan the Avenger, had within a Swedish fan try his hand at writing Conan. Bear in mind English was his second language and he learned it by reading Conan. Even with an edit it bordered on the purple side. There's only so many synonyms for "panther" you can use after-all, which were the author's fave metaphor devices used to describe the barbarian. Also don't try and apply a D&D rule glaze to the books. The dude is tooling around with 200 hit points. Conan in D&D would not slip in blood, pass out drunk, or be cold coshed by a first level degenerate swamp-human.

I'm on to my next one which is simply titled Conan. At one point the copyright holders re-released all the stories in chronological order of Conan's life. Oddly this is book 3 even though it is called simply Conan.

So why the need to tell the world all this?

Well, as I went to the toilet, in the semi-dark, the distant glow of the lounge-room light my only illumination, as I neared the toilet door I had a sudden mental image of a flight of arrows striking the portal before me.

Without stopping to think ... I made arrow noises - thwok, thwok, thwok.

I think Conan has started to leak through my membranes.

I end this post with a simple question to you, that is related to the thwok, thwok, thwok.

All of us have this. All of us. All of us when pressed will know what to say.

What ... is your machine-gun noise?

Mine is Ehh Ehh Ehh Ehh Ehh.


  1. The reasons for Howard's suicide are more deeply-rooted than distress over his mother's impending death. Howard had been talking about suicide for years. His mother's tuberculosis was, essentially, terminal: it's hard to imagine him not coming to terms with the reality considering he and his father had been preparing for the eventuality for years.

    It's far more likely that Mrs Howard was the only thing keeping Howard alive: were it not for his sense of responsibility in caring for her, he may have commit suicide long ago. But as long as his mother was alive, someone had to look after her while her husband was away on his rounds, sometimes days at a time. When it was clear Mrs Howard would never awaken from her coma, REH's responsibilities were gone, and he felt free to take his own life.

  2. Anonymous9:40 AM

    Well, after years of reading comics (esp 200AD) the traditional machine gun sound is 'buddabuddabudda' :)

    I was a read-walker for years. If you hold the book at just the right height you can see over the top with periferal vision and avoid problems without having to stop and check. The only thing that gets you is branches hanging down.

    Still do it too. Ha! Walking and chewing gum is for pussies.

  3. Chuh Chuh Chuh Chuh Chuh Chuh Chuh!

    Also, I wrote an essay about Conan a while ago:

  4. Buddabuddabudda!

  5. Awesome essay! Awesome noises!


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