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YMMV / Conan the Barbarian

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In General:

  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Conan repeatedly does the right thing at his own personal expense, such as saving the girl rather than the gems of Gwaihlur or giving two orphans enough money to lead a comfortable life. It gets to the point where Conan could be seen as a barbarian version of The Cape. Then again, he has his moments of being pragmatic, ruthless, even brutal. . . character inconsistency, or Character Development? The Anachronic Order of the original Howard stories muddles this considerably.
  • Broken Base:
    • "Book/Comic Conan" vs. "Movie Conan". Some think Movie Conan is the only Conan and aren't even aware of the stories he was based on. Others are at least aware of (or have read) the stories, but prefer the film version for whatever reason. Then there are those who prefer Book Conan but enjoy the films on their own merits, and those who feel the films are utter bastardizations of Robert E. Howard's work that should never have been made. The Shallow Parodies that are more about Arnold than Conan don't help.
    • Robert E. Howard vs. other Conan authors. Can anyone ever really recapture what made Conan a joy to read in the first place? Are some of the other authors just as good as, perhaps even better, than original Howard?
    • In particular, the influence of L. Sprague de Camp on the Conan mythos. True-blue Howard fans tend to dislike de Camp's writing and interpretation of the character, often condescending to Howard's; some trace everything they dislike about how Conan is known in pop culture to de Camp's influence. On the other hand, if it weren't for de Camp and Lin Carter publishing the Ace paperback version of the stories, the character and Howard himself might have disappeared down the memory hole.
      • Notably, de Camp took to editing Howard's work, both to tone down the sex and violence and to de-purple some of Howard's prose. While de Camp got the same information across, Howard's writing style has a visceralness to it that lends the stories a unique quality, though some might see it as pretentious and overly-dense.
      • Aside from the above, de Camp also did the first biography of Howard himself, Dark Valley Destiny, portraying him as a suicidal nutcase with mommy issues. This didn't endear him to Howard fans who considered it as unfair armchair psychiatry. While Dark Valley Destiny has colored Conan and Howard discussion for decades, more balanced biographies have since appeared. This is on top of many such fans getting a feeling of condescension towards Howard and the stories themselves, perhaps extending even up to the entire sword and sorcery genre, from de Camp's introductions and editor's notes in the Conan books - like him insisting that the stories were written purely for entertainment and there was no further depth to them, nor should one look for it.
  • Complete Monster: See here.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Thoth-Amon. While a minor character who never met Conan face to face, possessing a number of redeeming traits despite being a villain made him extremely popular, so much so that any adaptions feature him as the Big Bad or an Expy of him.
  • Fair for Its Day:
    • While many of his female characters were stereotypical cringing females waiting to be rescued Howard also wrote some surprisingly strong female characters: Bêlit, Valeria and the Devi of Vendhya. It's highly debatable how much the cringing, fearful damsels were solely in the name of making the stories more marketable (including the all-important Margaret Brundage paintings of near-naked babes on the magazine covers) and if he would have preferred all the female characters be as capable and memorable as Bêlit, Valeria, and the Devi of Vendhya (though nearly all of them have enough character focus to have redeeming and memorable personality traits).
    • Howard's treatment of non-whites is a bit disjointed and complex. On the one hand is the revoltingly racist "The Vale of Lost Women" (though it's worth noting Howard apparently shelved it after one draft and never submitted it for publication; whether the constant, overt racism was too much even for him is open for debate). On the other hand Conan is surprised to find in "Queen of the Black Coast" that his black crewmen, who he had expected to panic and run, had fought and taken a toll on the werehyenas. The black guardsman who seeks to kill, and inadvertently frees, Conan in "The Scarlet Citadel" is given a sympathetic treatment. Yes, he wanted Conan dead but it was for a perfectly understandable reason - in Conan's pirate days as 'Amra the Lion', Conan had burned his village and killed his brother. While Howard's most famous Conan villain, Thoth-Amon, was non-white and extremely wicked, he had several noble qualities; he was brave, strong, intelligent, and genuinely cared for the advancement of his people (a quality Conan wouldn't acquire until he took Aquilonia's throne). In "Queen of the Black Coast," the Shemite Bêlit is described as being so mesmerized by the beauty of the treasure she and Conan find that it ultimately leads to her death. This is portrayed less as a Greedy Jew and more as an aesthetic fascination akin to what you might expect from Dwarves. "The Shemite soul finds a bright drunkenness in riches and material splendor, and the sight of this treasure might have shaken the soul of a sated emperor of Shushan." And Bêlit is a sympathetic, heroic (well, as "heroic" as anyone gets in a Conan story) character, who makes good on her promise to aid Conan from the afterlife. Complicating matters are Howard's thoughts on civilization and barbarism. Most of the African-equivalent peoples are painted as rough, vicious primitives, yet in Howard's mind this is a positive quality, marking them as superior to the civilized people. Conan's just more superior, whether due to his race or just being the main character.
  • Fan Nickname: In France, a stock joke to make fun of 'Conan le Barbare' is to switch out the final syllables, which leaves 'Connard le Barbant' (literally 'Dumbass / Jerkass the Boring').
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: The essay "The Hyborian Age" states that the red-headed Vanir conquered Stygia and built the vast empire of Egypt with the early pharaohs being descended from them. This is before the discovery that Ramses II was red-haired.
  • Ho Yay: Numerous examples, generally on the part of villainous or 'depraved' characters. Mostly of the LesYay subtype.
    • The scene in "The Pool of the Black One" where the Black Ones capture a handsome young pirate and force him to dance to a hypnotic flute is described in rather homoerotic terms.
    • Xuthal of the Dusk features Thalis whipping Natala as punishment for daring to superficially slash the Stygian in self-defense. The scene plays jump rope with the line between Fanservice and Fan Disservice.
    • In Black Colossus, Princess Yasmela sleeps nude surrounded by naked servant girls, at least one of whom she's shown to like and respect enough to take advice from.
    • The Vale of Lost Women features strange women capturing and kissing the female lead in order to paralyse her.
    • Salome of "A Witch Shall Be Born" says she wants "handsome men and soft women as my paramours and slaves." The syntax is just ambiguous enough that she might be linking the former to the later in both cases (men as paramours and women as slaves) or stating either can serve as both. Later, much is made of the excessive debaucheries of Salome's court, and while it's only directly indicated the men are taking advantage of the women Salome rounds up for the purpose, she's pretty clearly having those women defiled for her own amusement.
    • In Red Nails, Valeria assumes that Queen Tascela wants to drug her in order to have her way with her. She actually just want to suck her soul in order to keep her youth. There's also a scene in which Valeria whips the slave girl who tried to drug her.
  • I Am Not Shazam:
    • The term "Conan the Barbarian" is never said aloud in the original Howard stories. Instead Conan tends to be called "Conan the Cimmerian", "Conan of Cimmeria", etcetera. However, "Conan the Barbarian" was in use at least as far back as 1954 (as a book title) and probably earlier. And of course, one of the Marvel Comics series and the first movie used it.
    • While the Age of Conan is called the "Hyborian Age" in the stories, his world is not called "Hyboria" contrary to official merchandise. It's actually set in our world, just in an incredibly ancient time period that predates any and all surviving written records.
  • Just Here for Godzilla: Many who purchased the original books had no interest in reading them at all. They bought them for the lush, powerful paintings that served as the books' covers. Courtesy of Frank Frazetta himself.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: Howard is a rare case of the author himself using this trope. He justified the Anachronic Order of his Conan stories by saying he wrote them as if an aged Conan was recounting past adventures to him.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Conan of Cimmeria himself is a man who adheres only to the rules he himself sets. In the original stories, Conan sets out from Cimmeria to see the world, becoming a thief, reaver, slayer and eventually the king of the greatest kingdom in the world. Facing off repeatedly against sorcerers, monsters and rogues, Conan first becomes a brilliant thief who rescues the trapped creature Yag-Kosha from the evil sorcerer Yara. Throughout his career, Conan becomes a daring pirate and lover of the Queen of the Black Coast, Belit, whose love is enough to pull her back from death itself to fight at his side while constantly outwitting his opponents, taking control of countless crews or war bands with willpower and endurance enough to survive being crucified in the desert. Conan finally leads a rebellion against the depraved King Numedides of Aquilonia, killing him to ascend the throne where he reigns as a just and fair king, while constantly outplaying and defeating those who might seek his throne. Creating an immortal archetype for fantasy heroes willing to take underhanded means to stop greater evil, Conan remains a brilliant rogue through history.
  • Memetic Mutation: "Know, O Prince..."Explanation  It's become to Conan stories what "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" has to Star Wars.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Most sorcery requires you to cross one of these before you even begin. One example being magics which need candles made from the bodies of virgins strangled with their mother's hair and their virginity taken after their death by their father.
  • Only the Creator Does It Right: To a visible portion of the fanbase, the only true Conan is Howard's Conan. Anything else is referred to as "Conantics" or "pastiches," and backlash will ensue if you admit to actually liking anything by Carter or de Camp.
  • The Problem with Licensed Games: There was a video game adaptation on the Nintendo Entertainment System loosely based on the Conan franchise that was panned for having poor controls, graphics and having no sense of where to go.
  • Tear Jerker: Surprisingly quite a few. In Queen of the Black Coast there's the funeral pyre Conan gives Belit: and in The People of the Black Circle the opening scene where Prince Bhunda Chand, stricken by a terrible curse, commands his sister to kill him.
  • Vindicated by History: Though not by any means a failure, Conan was quite middle-of-the-pack in sales and acclaim as pulp heroes went during Howard's lifespan. However, when the stories were reprinted with their iconic Frank Frazetta cover art, Conan experienced a renaissance, and he is now far more famous than most of the characters who were once soundly outselling him.

In the Comics:

  • Audience-Alienating Era: When there have been comics going back nearly fifty years, there is bound to be a few of them.
    • During the first Marvel run, there was the "Young Conan Saga" in The '90s. It wasn't bad, as much as it was really at odds with established canon and characterisation. The fans hated it so much, the story had to be wrapped up with an Author's Saving Throw that hinted the whole thing was an older Conan telling a "Shaggy Dog" Story.
    • Brian Wood's take on Queen of the Black Coast from the Dark Horse adaptation is considered one, since it not only ignores Robert E Howard's tales, but the comic's own continuity as well, such as portraying Conan as unseasoned when he was already a skilled warrior and pirate by that point. That it seems to go out of its way to AVOID having pirate adventures is seen as a problem too.
  • Awesome Art: Barry Windsor-Smith was hired for his lower cost and delivered some stunning work, and would develop his Signature Style in the pages of this series.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • In the letters page of Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #267, a reader asks for back issues of the title, and expresses regret that the title was cancelled. The editor points out that a) Marvel doesn't directly give out back issues and b) the title's clearly still going. That title was cancelled by #275.
    • The Sons of the White Wolf from The Savage Sword of Conan #37 depicts an Eastern desert army of reavers emerging from a war between nations that seek to reestablish the "good old days" by ravaging everything on their path and its infamously repressive towards women. This group bears several uncanny similarities to terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, but what is more striking is that this issue was written in 1979.
  • Iron Woobie: Kalanthes in the Dark Horse version.
  • Moral Event Horizon: A number of characters cross it.
    • In Dark Horse's continuity Thoth-Amon finally shows that he's irredeemable by callously brushing off the death of his beloved sister in a plague HE Caused.
  • Tear Jerker: In the Dark Horse comics there's Conan's failing to save Iasmini and the Aesir from the "Day of Farewell" and Nestor's death.