Alternative Character Interpretation: Conan repeatedly does the right thing at 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.
"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.
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.
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, on top of getting a feeling of condescension from de Camp's introductions and editor's notes in the Conan books. While Dark Valley Destiny has colored Conan and Howard discussion for decades, more balanced biographies have since appeared.
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). His treatment of non-whites is more 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 for a perfectly acceptable 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.
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.
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.
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.
Also a little between the Jenna and Zula in the second movie.
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", etc. 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 use it.
Just Here for Godzilla: Many who bought the original books had no interest in reading them at all. They bought them for the lush, power paintings that served as the book covers. Courtesy of Frank Frazetta himself.
Memetic Mutation: "Know, O Prince..."Explanation The first words of "The Phoenix on the Sword," which nowadays can be randomly added to the beginning of any kind of story or long explanation.
Narm: At the end of The Scarlet Citadel, Conan decapitates a necromancer. Another sorceror, in the form of an eagle, swoops down, grabs the severed head, and flies off, laughing madly. The decapitated corpse then gets up, and staggers off in (classic, slow zombie-style) pursuit. Apparently, this is supposed to be utterly horrifying.
Values Dissonance: The vast majority of the characters are not meant to be moral even by the standards of the 1920s. However, there are a number of instances - the treatment of women and the veiled horror at "mingled races" among them - that may grate. Howard's plucked-from-history world building method also naturally led to racial stereotypes - just try to find an honest Zingaran, a gentle Pict or an atheist Stygian. But see also Fair for Its Day.
In the Comics:
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.
Dork Age: When you've had comics going back nearly fifty years, you're bound to have a few of these.
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 it's way to AVOID having pirate adventures is seen as a problem too.
"Funny Aneurysm" Moment: 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.
Harsher in Hindsight: 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 re-establish 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.