Crom!

In the early 20th century some wery interresting fairytales were written. Among these were the adventures of  Conan the barbarian, by Robert E. Howard. Nowadays it is often thought that fairytales are predominantly meant for the children, but is that so? Has it ever been so? Conan the barbarian for one was not by any measure a childrens book, even in its own time. It is best remembered by the eightees-film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, that set a model for a number of mind numbing more or less low budget barbarian movies. The original Conan movie was different to most of the films of this genre, in that it at least tried to follow an actual storyline of a book. Not many people have noticed, but the dramaturgy of the first Conan movie was the work of an aspiring genious of Oliver Stone. The film makers took a collection of shortstories that the Conan originally was based on and concluded a compelling storyline. The film was as epic an adventure as the novels and marvellous music by Basil Poledouris filled the gaps.

We may laugh at the bodybuilder image of the barbarian movies genre, but Conan the Barbarian was a film for the adult audiences and it did treat some of the basic questions of human cultures. If the harsh life Conan faces during the story seems alien to you, be happy. Be also aware how lucky you are, if this is so for you, since war, slavery, genoside and religious demagogues are far from gone from the world even today. I for one must admit that the film affected me, and my adolessen mind at first sight.

The story is classic. The avenging slave, who bears the hope for all oppressed. Conan is not acting to save the oppressed, or to stop the mighty who destroy and enslave nations, but for personal vengeance. A duty he feels for his own lost kin. Yet, it is not a praise to individualism. Without the help of his friends and those who love him, he would have perished before achieving his ultimate goal.

One wery similar story appears in finnish mythology. The story of Kullervo. He is also taken a slave as a boy and grows to be an exeptionally strong man as a slave. When a blacksmith buys him, from his original captor, the smith thinks to have “a slave worth a hundred men”, but nothing he does succeeds, because of the buried hate Kullervo holds for any work done as a slave. He seems to use far too much strength for any work.

In the traditional finnish culture the matron of a peasant household held much power. Perhaps the fact that women even today have actual political power in Finland, is partially derived from our historical tradition. Be it as it may, the blacksmiths wife does not like the new slave, and for a spite plants a stone in his bread, when he is sent to herd the smiths cattle in the forest. The stone breaks Kullervos last line to his childhood memories, as his fathers knife is broken while cutting the bread. Finally he escapes slavery as the cup of torment has been filled, but not before killing the blacksmiths illtempered wife. The smith cries for his loss and swears vengeance in turn. Along the way to freedom and an attempt to rehabilitate himself as a member of society Kullervo seduces a maiden, who is later revealed to be his sister. She commits suicide. Kullervo is almost at a dead end, but he has one more thing to do. He avenges his family and kills his slaver destroying all that man owned, killing all the people who are assosiated to this slaver and burning his village. That leads Kullervo to question his own existance, and as there is no-one else left he speaks to his sword. And the sword answers: “Why would I not drink the blood of a guilty man? Ihave drank the blood of the innocent just as well.” The short conversation leads to a wery finnish ending, Kullervo throws himself to the blade…

Conan the Barbarian does not kill himself. In the film for US audiences he carries the irritating princess he was sent to rescue (somwhere along the way) to the sunrise. It seems european audiences were not believed to fall for such a blatant ending, so the other version ends Conan simply meditating alone on the ruin of the temple of his arch enemy Thulsa Doom (magnificently interpreted by the talented James Earl Jones). Just before the end, when Conan is finally about to kill his opressor, Thulsa questions the cause of Conan by claiming Conan as a person is a product of Thulsas actions and wellcomes him as a son. The words are compelling. This conversation reminds me about the short dialog beween Kullervo and his sword.

Both stories the Conan the Barbarian and Kullervo tell us a simple lesson. The mighty of the world should better learn it before it is too late for them. You may build a perfect cultural  machine of terror and abuse the weak and the meak, but even a one man may make the difference, if the oppression reaches a certain level, it will invoke avengers. So, even if the oppressed masses would not rise, or even if their revolt could be surpressed, there is allways the possibility that one man gifted enough decides to exchange his life for that of the ruler. To choose to die, just to kill the oppressor.

Were Conan and Kullervo terrorists? They fought the system. In the case of the film version of Conan he fights a religious demagogue, who is revered by his followers. To a point that they are ready to make suicide by his order. Is Thulsa Doom not the duly appointed leader of his followers? We are not told the reasons why the Cimmerians (Conans people) were attacked by Thulsa. Maybe they were a troublesome barbaric tribe, that civilized people from the culture of Thulsa were tired of fighting and the attack on the home village of Conan was just a pre-emptive strike or even regarded as self defence. Conan was orphaned, but was he not only the result of collateral damage? He was sent to slavery, but not taken by Thulsa as such. Maybe that was something young Thulsa could not affect, because he could not change the economics of his time. Maybe he was gathering his forces to stop slavery all together, when Conan finally intercepted him. We do not know.

This thing about revenge works also in minor scale and all us common people should remember a person may only be pushed so far. It is heart breaking how easily normal everyday people punish those around them, if they themselves feel bad. We are constantly told, that revenge does not lead to anywhere. This is true in many ways, but as life in general, it is not that black and white. Revenge may serve its purpose. On the positive side it may be the motivator to stop opression and torment. However, we should act to stop these wrongs even if we had no vengeance to motivate us. 

I have heard they are making a new film version of the Conan the Barbarian. Shall the new film have anything worth while to contribute to the legend, or will it be just a copy with some boring and obvious digital effects? The remaking of once popular films seems to be the trend of the day. We live in an era that tries to replicate the past glory. New pop singers are made from people who imitate the succesful artists of the past days, like in the “Idols” series. Medievalists re-enact the romantic vision of an era long past…

If I had my way, they would make a new movie from the only actual full length novel about Conan. “The Hour of the Dragon” or “Conan the Conqueror” tells the story of Conan as an aging king who is once more bound on an adventure to survive and defeat a mighty conspiracy against his rule. It would be magnificent, if Arnold Swarzenegger was starring this film and if the film was made with same piety as the Lord of the Rings movies were made. In my opinion he is actually a wery devoted and talented actor and comedian, even though he has been typecasted as a robot. I have allways thought that this story was the best of the Conan stories anyway, and having the history on screen that the character has, would make it even more believable.

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