Conan the Barbarian

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Conan the Barbarian – 1982
70% Rotten tomatoes

Conan the Barbarian was created by a man named Robert E. Howard and first published in 1932 in a pulp fiction magazine called Weird Tales. Pulp fiction ( is named so because it was printed on cheap pulp – it’s kind of a precursor to counter-culture interests. It was where non-mainstream creativity found a home. Science fiction and hard-boiled detective fiction has it’s roots in pulp magazines. World War II kind of killed pulp magazines; there was paper rationing, and also the realities of wartime tend to make the fantasy and make-believe lose their glamour. It’s interesting that the rise of pulp fiction coincides with comic books, but comic books persisted beyond war time and have maintained a popularity, albeit only recently mainstream. The common denominator here is that they provide an escape and an outlet and a sense of belonging for people who feel like they’re on the periphery of “normal”.

“Barbarian” culture:

What is a barbarian, exactly? Today we would use the term to refer to someone who behaves with no regard for humanity, usually in a brutal way. For example, third world warlords or sex traffickers. They achieve their typically greedy means, usually through violent misuse of other people. Or we also refer to seemingly dumb, yet physically powerful men who proposition uninterested woman in a very ungentlemanly manner.

Historically, the term comes from Greek, and was used to describe people who didn’t speak Greek. This is likely an example of in-fighting within a huge culture; there were many dialects of Greek in use at the time, so it’s kind of the equivalent of a cockney englishman calling a highlander a barbarian. Which likely happened. Both would be speaking English, but the dialects are sufficiently different enough to create an imagined division between two arbitrarily geographically separated peoples.

Later, when the Roman Empire rose to disgustingly potent power, they appropriate the word and used it to refer to anyone who was a foreigner. More proof (as if we needed it) that xenophobia is not a new concept. Although it likely would have been more merited back in the day when invasion and pillaging were still pretty common. The Huns, the Goths, the Saxons are all examples of what Rome considered Barbarian groups. The Huns were a group of nomadic group of people ranging from Eastern Europe to Central Asia, most famously led by Attila. The Goths were a Germanic people (visigoths in the west; ostrogoths in the east) and feature heavily in ancient history (who had a hand in the fall of Rome, gnuk, gnuk), and were renowned for their bellicose (they likey the fight) nature. The Saxons, also Germanic, may or may not be entirely distinct from the Goths. Ancient history is a bit fuzzy on fine details. They also enjoyed skirmishing and raiding. We can probably assume that these groups all behaved in the way we’re familiar with thinking about Vikings. Raiding, pillaging, battling, various versions of Valhalla, etc. There were likely a lot of alliances and fallings out among the Barbarian groups in any given region. They for sure had at least one thing in common, which was being a nuisance to the Roman empire.

If you want to get into a historian-nerd brawl, you can always introduce the topic of why the Roman empire ultimately fell. There are lloooooots of theories. The likeliest is that Rome’s borders became to vast to adequately protect from the constant pecking at from these Barbarian tribes. Hubris, y’all. Something to be learned here? Arrogant dismissal of outside cultures as being worthy or relevant? HMMMM… Other theories revolve around the rise of the eastern empire, too much military spending, reliance on slave labor, government corruption, christianity, NONE OF THESE SOUND FAMILIAR…

So……. is Conan a Barbarian? Supposedly Conan exists in the fictional Hyborian Age, which is around 10,000 BC (after Atlantis but before accepted ancient history), BUT the dude running things decided that the research into ancient history would be too difficult, so he based a lot of the movie off of the medieval period. Nice. God bless the 80’s. To be fair, Edward likely chose a fictional time setting for a similar reason – there is a freedom of movement and literary license when you can just make shit up. (Side note – Edward had an apparent bromance with H.P. Lovecraft – <make fun of Nikki>).

Conan may pre-date what we consider the barbarians as Rome saw them, but in spirit I’m not sure he fits the bill. He has a noble purpose for one, and though he does love battle and warring, he seems to be more intent on emancipating people than oppressing them. It could be that Edward created a romantic character based on the best aspect of the barbarians, which is the rejection of the established governance system under which only a select, small percentage of the population can prosper.

Horned helmets:

Horned helmets make us think of Vikings, mainly because of a nineteenth century artist who decided it looked cool on them, but there’s never been any archeological evidence to suggest that the vikings had horned helmets. HOWEVER, artifacts have been found of northern european cultures predating the vikings who had lots of junk on their helmets. Horns, antlers, other decorative items that have nothing to do with animals. They’re not practical for battling, however, and were probably used more for ceremonial purposes. (get caught on stuff, make the helmet too heavy or unbalanced, no purpose (stabby, but not unwieldy)).

Stream of consciousness:

  • Why man bangs?
  • Mom dies (wasn’t raped!!!)
  • Narrator sounds like Aku
  • Update – It IS Aku!!!


Arnold’s body building days:

Billed himself as “The Austrian Oak”. He started making movies, and unbeknownst to me, Conan was not his first (har har). It was actually his fifth. I’m starting to feel like this is a significant number, after learning that both Bruce and Brandon Lee had their biggest hits with their fifth movies. It’s probably just about the time that most actors hit their strides and has no significance beyond that. Regardless, at the time Conan was made, Arnold still had one foot in the body-building world, as evidenced by his MASSIVE body. As big as he is in Conan, the pictures of him as a body-builder are absolutely terrifying. It is grotesque in a way. What is body building, even?! I originally thought it was a call-back to the ancient olympians, but nooooooooo it grew out of circus sideshows – the strong man. The most famousest, who likely kicked it off as a desired profession, was named Sandow, and he was Prussian and flexed for Thomas Edison’s new-fangled motion picture camera, cementing both his fame, body-building as a thing, and the flexy-posing thing. Right on his heels was a body-building LADY who was Austrian (whhaaaat??). At 6 feet and 220 pounds, she was more like an Amazon. Her routine involved juggling cannon and tossing her 160 pound husband around like a baby. Holllaaaaa – her popularity and early appearance in the field may be why we saw so many lady body-builders and wrestlers in the 80’s and 90’s, and still have lady wrestlers through today. There aren’t as many as men, but they’ve been present in the profession for a long time, in a way that’s different from other physical professions, and seems especially significant for one that seems so obviously engineered for dudes. Abbye Stockton really helped break muscle-y women out of being a circus side show by appealing to the average woman and opening a ladies-only fitness gym. Eat your heart out, Curves! She was itsy bitsy – 5’1”.

Aside from Arnold, who do you feel is the most famousest body builder? LOU FUCKING FERRIGNO. Trivia – a childhood illness caused him to lose most of his hearing, which is why he got into body-building (bullies). 6’5” 285, baby. Get them bullies.

The Wheel of pain:

Was this task literal, or allegorical? There’s a surprising amount of internet chatter about this issue. But first: WHAT IS AN ALLEGORY?? Allegories are the clusterfuck that brought you down in your literary theory class in college. It’s a story that uses symbolism and/or imagery and/or metaphor which can reveal a hidden meaning that usually ties to a complicated and obtuse social or political issue. Cause THOSE never need context.

You know how I like to give movies too much credit…

It’s a giant fucking WHEEL being pushed around by slaves who are probably more expensive to maintain than donkeys, and for what purpose?? Is it a food mill? Is it a giant whetstone? Is it a primitive generator powering a primitive boombox for the off camera orgy? Or is it symbolic of something MORE? Are we watching an oppressive and arrogant culture making their slaves stronger than themselves by delegating the hard work of LIVING? Is the mindless toil what makes him strive to create a meaningful life for himself? OR IS IT JUST A FUCKING WHEEL? I HATE ALLEGORY.

Stream of consciouness, part two:

  • This movie has the most awkward sex scene ever.
  • Valeria looks like Steve Perry… or a wrestler. Sandahl Bergman – was a dancer and a fitness enthusiast. Not a wrestler.
  • Why isn’t that giant ruby better guarded?
  • How did we end up here? What is happening? How is a battle with a giant snake so quiet? Wouldn’t it be a basilisk at this point? Is this native music? Why is this chick swaying so much? Is there going to be an orgy?


Snake imagery:

In dreams – snakes are complicated because they represent either the positive or the negative: fear, hidden threats, the subconscious mind (anxieties or desires), sexual temptation, callous person, transformation, healing, creativity. In christian mythology (yikes) the snake pretty clearly represents temptation, but also deceit and selfishness. The ouroboros is the snake that eats itself. It can represent rebirth, unity of all things, and the endless cycle of creation and destruction, the cycle of life and death (the ciiiiiiiiiircle of liiiiiiiiife). Sometimes it’s represented in the shape of a circle, and sometimes in a figure eight, or infinity, shape.

In movies and television, the ouroboros is often used as a vehicle driven by an antagonist who’s meddling with things they shouldn’t be, usually mystically speaking. IMMORTALITY! FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH! SACRIFICING UNWILLING HUMANS TO ACHIEVE THESE ENDS!

In literature, the snake is a much used symbol, but it’s not limited to the common slithery serpent. Dragons are snake-like, as are sea-serpents and human hybrids like Medusa. These creatures generally do not have humanity’s greater good in mind. Think Voldemort’s life companion Nagini, Smaug, the dragons in Game of Thrones who feast on village children. But – they can also be used to symbolize fertility (they’re pretty phallic), temptation (garden of eden), or healing – think of the medical symbol, the rod of asclepius (NOT the caduceus, which is the symbol of Hermes – a winged staff with two snakes winding around it, and is a herald’s staff in general). The rod asclepius has but one snake, and lacks wings. Asclepius was a Greek god of medicine and healing. Moses and Aaron also had magic rods that could turn into snakes and perform miracles, so … the bible is confusing. So are snakes. Unequivocally – Thursla Doom is a bad guy, and a snake, so it seems safe to assume that we’re going with the negative connotation here.

Why is there chamber music in the mines (is it really chamber music?)?

Favorite Quote: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.” – Conan

What did YOU think of the topics we discussed? We’d love to hear from you!

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